There are a number of essays contained in ‘The Thing’. ‘The Drift From Domesticity’ is Chesterton’s examination of reform in light of the family household and what forces were beginning to destroy it even in his day and why the Catholic faith had shown a history of defending the family against destruction.
My complaint of the anti-domestic drift is that it is unintelligent.
People do not know what they are doing; because they do not know what they
are undoing. There are a multitude of modern manifestations, from the
largest to the smallest, ranging from a divorce to a picnic party.
But each is a separate escape or evasion; and especially an evasion
of the point at issue. People ought to decide in a philosophical
fashion whether they desire the traditional social order or not;
or if there is any particular alternative to be desired.
As it is they treat the public question merely as a mess or medley
of private questions. Even in being anti-domestic they are much
too domestic in their test of domesticity. Each family considers
only its own case and the result is merely narrow and negative.
Each case is an exception to a rule that does not exist. The family,
especially in the modern state, stands in need of considerable
correction and reconstruction; most things do in the modern state.
But the family mansion should be preserved or destroyed or rebuilt;
it should not be allowed to fall to pieces brick by brick because
nobody has any historic sense of the object of bricklaying.
For instance, the architects of the restoration should rebuild the house
with wide and easily opened doors, for the practice of the ancient
virtue of hospitality. In other words, private property should be
distributed with sufficiently decent equality to allow of a margin
for festive intercourse. But the hospitality of a house will always
be different from the hospitality of a hotel. And it will be different
in being more individual, more independent, more interesting than
the hospitality of a hotel. It is perfectly right that the young
Browns and the young Robinsons should meet and mix and dance and make
asses of themselves, according to the design of their Creator.
But there will always be some difference between the Browns
entertaining the Robinsons and the Robinsons entertaining the Browns.
And it will be a difference to the advantage of variety, of personality,
of the potentialities of the mind of man; or, in other words,
of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” – from The Thing, 1929
She and her essays have often returned to my thoughts in the past couple of years, because she helped me dump some of my guilt about how I organize my days. Somewhere — I can’t remember where, and it’s been driving me crazy — Didion describes how domestic tasks have been an integral part of her writing process. She works in the morning, eats lunch early, and then turns to cooking or gardening in the afternoon, perhaps returning to work once again later in the day. At least, this is how she described her life before the deaths of her husband and daughter.
Part I, 'Concealing Continent: Settings for Intimacy and Resistance', presents three essays which are contextualized within the physical and philosophical settings assigned to women in the period: marriage, the bedchamber, and interiors of the body. Lisa Hopkins, through The Duchess of Malfi, explores the interiors of women's bodies. Despite entombment, fashionable clothes and Ferdinand's fetishisation, the Duchess rises above patriarchal classification through her independent voice and spirit. Interiors represent safety to her, exteriors the dangerous world. Her death enables her to escape the world of exteriors but her interiority enables her to remain unmarginalized. Through The Taming of the Shrew, Corinne S. Abate analyzes marriage, seeing it not as a barrier to women's agency but a safe realm for female agency. The private and domestic spaces offered by marriage provide an avenue of removal from patriarchal restrictions. Katherine develops a marital interiority, a space that makes the public sphere immaterial, providing an escape from her father's domination and her poor public reputation, providing her with a private space. While both are inter-related, the lack of public existence becomes intensely beneficial. Kathryn Pratt takes the medium of Mary Wroth's Urania to [End Page 183] bridge the female private sphere and the public world that both repudiates and mirrors that world. Tree imagery, passion, possession, and the ownership of land emphasize the precarious position of self-ownership in a society that deprived women of legal rights pertaining to self and property. Wroth shows how the intersection of two notions, 'estate' as property and 'estate' as a mental, moral, or agentive status, reveal the subject's failure to achieve an identity which is unified. Pratt's exploration of the disjunctions between the body and the material world raises key issues faced by women in the Early Modern period.
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The essays in this collection present an English literary perspective on female spaces in Early Modern England. Through the medium of plays by Shakespeare, Wroth, Cavendish, Marvel, and Ford, female experience could transform the domestic and private sphere, providing agency and authority to English women. Though catalogued as English literature, the collection of essays is a welcome addition to gender studies, exploring 'indistinguished space', and presenting possibilities other than those of basic misogyny and the concepts often associated with vagina dentata.
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Part II, 'Hospitable Favors: Rituals of the Household', focuses on customary practices and family and household habits, and the opportunities which such spheres allowed women, either to resist or negotiate. Nancy A. Gutierrez explores the wider ramifications of arranged marriages through John Ford's The Broken Hearted. The dynamics of conflict can divide households, rupture the state, and threaten women's sanity. However, rather than portraying Penthea as a victim, Gutierrez shows that Penthea uses her victimisation to create her own space (by food refusal), thus establishing agency and concept of self. Theodora A. Janowski cites the poetry of Andrew Marvel and Margaret Cavendish to explore women's eroticism. Cooking was perceived by both as a highly erotic activity that challenged patriarchy. Although women were restricted to the domestic sphere, this did not deny them power to use their talents, needlework, voices, and culinary pursuits, for the pleasure of both themselves and other women. Their unwillingness to marry or reproduce imposed its own restrictions on inheritance and family dynasties. Catherine G. Canino explores female dominion over male identity in The Faerie Queen, portraying other ways in which patriarchal designs could be upset. The essay underlines the point that the power of the female characters and their domination of male identity in Spenser's work mirror that of the childless and unmarried Elizabeth I in the 1590s.
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