The division of the country-house ethos in English Renaissance literature

Lyle, Joseph Lawrence, Department of English, University of Virginia
Maus, Katharine, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Kinney, James, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

In the Renaissance, the house was supposed to represent the owner's character. Following Vitruvius and Alberti, Inigo Jones and Henry Wotton argue that a well-proportioned design is the mark of a well-tempered owner. As the wealth of Europe increased in the period, more people built houses in a bid for social status, and the guardians of the social order scrutinized architectural aesthetics more closely. The obviously fictitious nature of the house-owner metaphor complicates its operation, prompting most architectural writers to include an iconoclastic note in order to preempt moral censure. The very suspicion of material artifice that informs the hierarchy of architectural aesthetics compromises the use of architecture as a representation of character: the criterion is at odds with its enabling metaphor. The ethic that replaces the Vitruvian-Pythagorean standard of proportion is that of production. In the tradition of the country-house poem, houses are justified by the fertility of the estate. Since the labor of commodity production is carried out by tenant farmers, and the labor of sexual reproduction by women, the male householder's connection to the estate's productivity is imagined in this genre as insemination. The reproductive metaphor furthermore spatializes the sexual division of labor and rationalizes the separation of public and private, work and home. The consequences of this division are evident in Paradise Lost, where even the radically primitive society of Adam and Eve centers around the division of roles framed by their bower in Eden: this division helps to structure the drama of the fall. Samson Agonistes demonstrates the consequences of this division in postlapsarian politics, where Samson's blindness and Manoah's historical project blur the line between public and domestic acts. Like the country-house poets, Milton uses iconoclasm to clear a space for a more transcendent edifice. Unlike the country-house poets, Milton's new edifice strives to obliterate the division between public and private by moving the criterion of value into a pre-novelistic psychomachia. This struggle depends on a latent differentiation between the career of the poet and the support services of the family.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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