So, it’s been quite a long time since the last time that I had a second to post anything on my blog. For that, I apologize.
Since then, I’ve done A LOT of things. My son is now 18 months old, I’ve been through two more semester of college, I graduated from college, and I started hunting for a job. I also started writing (and am nearly finished writing) my “senior thesis.”
Even though I already graduated, the professor that I’ve worked with has agreed to continue advising me on my project. It was a lot of work to get finished in one semester and I honestly wasn’t thrilled with what I had at the beginning of December, when UMD’s semester ends. It’s taken me a long time to think, research, and write on this topic and I wanted to make sure that I had the best possible product. That, and I am interested in finding a place to submit it when it’s finally finished.
So what is it about? Well let me give a little background.
I was reading Our Mutual Friend (one of my absolute FAVORITE novels ever) and I noticed that something a little weird happens at the end. Bella has just married John (then Rokesmith) and she has started reading all these domestic manuals (think Isabella Beeton) to learn how to become a good housewife and mother. That part is totally normal (for the nineteenth century) but Bella also does something a little out of the ordinary: in a conversation with John about what her perfect house would have, Bella states that she would love an aviary filled with exotic birds.
This might not seem weird to you, but it instantly struck me as something that I needed to look into. After months of learning about animals in the nineteenth century and finding nothing useful on birds, I finally decided to look back to the place where Bella started: the domestic manuals. I read as many as I could find (in total I found 6) and noticed that three books talked specifically about birds and their place in the lives of young women.
Since then, my project has developed into an argument about the role of domestic manuals in creating the domestic woman and how the inclusion of animals in these manuals impacts what we think the manuals are doing. When most people think about domestic manuals, like Isabella Beeton, we commonly imagine a text that is creating the perfect housewife, the perfect image of domesticity. And I’m not arguing that that isn’t true because I believe that it is, I just think that it’s more complicated than that with some of these manuals, including the most popular text of the nineteenth century (after the King James Bible, of course).
Beeton’s Book of Household Management
Some texts obviously totally support the idea that a woman belongs in the home and no where else, drawing hard lines between the male and female spheres. But a lot of the texts that I have looked at, including Isabella Beeton’s, draw lines that are a bit blurry. While many of these still encourage a woman to cook, clean, and raise her children, they also encourage women to learn as much as they can about the natural world around them. Some provide ‘practical’ reasons for this education (like understanding where one’s food comes from or being able to raise one’s children) but some do not: they merely present the biological and taxonomical information to the reader and allow them to determine it’s use.
It is here that I am developing my piece. I am currently at 30 pages but I have a lot more writing and editing to do so we’ll see where I end up.
But this was a nice post to bring me back. I’m currently reading Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Nancy Armstrong) so it might be a while before I get around to posting a piece about that text. I just finished Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and George Eliot’s Silas Marner, so expect posts about those texts in the near future. It’s great to be back!