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Public and Private

Gender, Class, and the British Novel (1764-1878)

1997
Author:

Patricia McKee

Public and Private

Considers the connections between gender and power in the novels of the period.

By addressing novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Jane Austen's Emma through the lens of the theories of Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault, Patricia McKee explores the themes of production and consumption as they relate to gender and class.

“Public and Private sets out to trace the history of representations of public and private life in British novels as a shifting site for the reproduction of knowledge as social order. Public and Private provides some striking and intriguing readings of individual novels.” European Romantic

This groundbreaking work examines the emergent and fluctuating relationship between the public and private social spheres of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By assessing novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Jane Austen’s Emma through the lens of the social theories of Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault, Patricia McKee presents a fresh and highly original contribution to literary studies.

McKee explores the themes of production and consumption as they relate to gender and class throughout the works of many of the most influential novels of the age including Tobias Smollett’s Humphry Clinker, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Emma, Frankenstein, Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit and The Old Curiosity Shop, Mrs. Henry Wood’s East Lynne, and Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native.

McKee analyzes portrayals of a society in which abstract idealism belonged to knowledgeable, productive men and the realm of ignorance was left to emotional, consuming women and the uneducated. She traces the various ways British literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries worked to reform this social experience. Topics include Dickens’s attack on the bureaucratic use of knowledge to maintain the status quo; the function of antiprogressive depictions of knowledge in Trollope, Shelley, and Hardy; and Austen’s characterization of the protagonist Emma as an exception in a society that denied women’s productive use of knowledge.

Offering a sharp challenge to theorists who have charted a linear division of public and private experience, McKee highlights the unexpected configurations of the emergence of the public and private spheres and the effect of knowledge distribution across class and gender lines.

Patricia McKee is professor of English at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Heroic Commitment in Richardson, Eliot, and James (1986).

Public and Private

Patricia McKee is professor of English at Dartmouth College. She was the author of Heroic Commitment in Richardson, Eliot, and James (1986).

Public and Private

“Public and Private sets out to trace the history of representations of public and private life in British novels as a shifting site for the reproduction of knowledge as social order. Public and Private provides some striking and intriguing readings of individual novels.” European Romantic

“Patricia McKee’s Public and Private is an important contribution to our understanding of the connections between English social history and the novel. It will attract readers interested in the wide range of novels it considers, in the history of ideas, and in the politics of our culture.” Jay Clayton, Vanderbilt University

“Public and Private is an engaging study of the public/private theme across the wide scope of the development of the English novel from Smollett to Hardy. The historical sweep gives the book its import; beyond just exploring the thematics of public/private, McKee is suggesting that a historical transformation in the social meaning of public and private is registered in the history of English fiction.” John Brenkman, Baruch College

“This treatment of English social history via novels is challenging and thought-provoking.” Choice

Public and Private

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. Models of Stability: Production and Consumption in Humphry Clinker and The Castle of Otmnto
2. Productions of Knowledge: Emma and Frankenstein
3. The Emptied Subject of Public Knowledge: The Old Curiosity Shop
4. Public Knowledge, Common Knowledge, and Classifications of Will: Barchester Towers and Little Dorrit
5. Gender as Order in Public and Private: East Lynne
6. Naturalizing Class and Gender Distinctions: The Return of the Native

Conclusion

Notes

Index