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18th c

LHMP entry

Beynon studies fictional (and biographic) narratives of "accounts" as a window on the gendering of economic competence in the 18th century. This specific article concerns two relationships between women that are framed or viewed in terms of their economic logicalness and success: Barker's embedded story "The Unaccountable Wife" in A Patch-Work screen for The Ladies, and Defoe's Roxana. The former is an odd tale of a married couple and their female servant who is, apparently, also the mistress of the husband.

This article examines two texts in the "reformed coquette" genre to look at changes in views of women's romantic agency and how romantic relationships between women were both presumed by, and a challenge to, the notion of marriage as based on mutual affection.

The journals and correspondence of Anne Lister have proven an absolute treasure for the internal life of an early 19th century upper-class woman whose erotic life was unapologetically oriented towards women. [Note: I’ll be covering the published editions of Lister’s journals in a future entry.] But, as Colclough notes, the extensive scope of the material means that research publications using it are necessarily filtered and skewed toward the particular interests of the writer.

Like Gonda’s article on Scott and Charke, Donoghue’s examination of the Anne Damer points out the artificially polarized popular view of affection between women, where very intense romantic friendships were acceptable and even praised so long as they avoided even the rumor of erotic activity. Damer failed to avoid those rumors, but it is unclear whether her refutation of the label of “Sapphist” lay in truth or definition.

The rise of a virulently negative attitude toward never-married women in the 18th c. seems to have been a peculiarly English reaction. While negative attitudes toward never-married women appear earlier, the 18th c. saw an increase in hostility. This occurs in parallel with the rise of feminist literature challenging sexist and patriarchal structures, and especially questioning the benefit of marriage to women. The negative screeds against “old maids" presage modern anti-feminist venom in framing singlewomen as simultaneously sexually frustrated and undesirable to men.

There’s a rich amount of data on singlewomen and female-headed households in medieval Germany. Tax records for selected cities in the 14-15th centuries show between 17-25% of tax-paying households headed by women. Widows were often labeled as such in the records but it isn’t alway possible to clearly distinguish never-married women, though estimates suggest they may have been as many as half of these households. This continued in the 16th century with tax records indicating that 20-25% of tax-paying urban households were headed by women.

This is a complex, data-heavy survey of sources for the demographics of singlewomen, the overall (very complex) patterns that emerge, and an analys of the theoretical frameworks that attempt to explain those patterns. For my summary, I’ve rearranged the topics to try to focus on single variables at a time.

Male-centric views of sexuality frame singlewomen either as lonely and frustrated (spinsters) or as dangerously promiscuous (whores), but this dichotomy ignores the possibility of the sexual desires of singlewomen being satisfied by other women. There is an idealized image of pre-modern lesbian that finds its epitome in the Ladies of Llangollen type from the late 18th century.

Introductory chapter to a collection of papers on the topic described in the title. The collection in general addresses the question of women living outside the “nuclear family”, and especially looks at systems and categories rather than treating singlewomen as isolated anomalies.

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