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Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel
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Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  100 ratings  ·  7 reviews
Desire and Domestic Fiction argues that far from being removed from historical events, novels by writers from Richardson to Woolf were themselves agents of the rise of the middle class. Drawing on texts that range from 18th-century female conduct books and contract theory to modern psychoanalytic case histories and theories of reading, Armstrong shows that the emergence of ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 22nd 1990 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1987)
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Armstrong argues that sexual perversion in domestic spaces in Victorian novels reflects the political upheaval and social unrest of the period. The transformation of the political/social into the sexual is a universalizing gesture. She uses Foucault to argue for the socially constructed nature of desire.
Armstrong argues that the middle class domestic WOMAN is the INDIVIDUAL par excellence of the 18c and 19c--the domestic woman is the individual that Watt argues that the novel creates. She looks at conduct books and domestic fiction for how these discourses form GENDER and SEXUAL IDENTITY as the identity categories that "matter most"--building off of Foucault and his argument that the 18c and 19c see a sexual revolution in cultural monitoring/policing of sexual behavior. Although Armstrong's arg ...more
Desire and Domestic Fiction assigns a lot of historical agency to 19th century domestic fiction, and especially to the women who wrote such novels, and the female subjects at the center of those novels. Armstrong argues that these novels produced the modern subject and produced that subject as specifically female. As she asserts, “writing for and about the female introduced a whole new vocabulary for social relations” (4). The novels (starting with Richardson’s Pamela), which drew first on cond ...more
This is probably my favorite academic book and has really clarified a lot of my thinking about my thesis project. So interesting that I ended up reading pretty much every word. I even ended up telling Vincent about it because I was reminded of his work on the Supreme Court and its influence on language. Also: more justification for not underestimating the Brontës.
This book confused and frustrated me enormously. What, exactly, is "domestic fiction"? It is never clearly defined, but the term is used from the opening sentence as though it were already understood by the reader. Armstrong's writing took a great deal of effort to read and follow, and her arguments often didn't make sense to me.
This is a great look at historical novels, particulary from the 18th and 19th centuries in England, and the implications of how they both reflected and created women's roles in the home and in society. It also addresses acceptable expressions and conceptions of desire. It's much more interesting than my blurb right here sounds.
Another great text for examining gender roles, identity and politics in Victorian England.
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