Family Men: Constructing the gentleman in the eighteenth-century British novel

Berkowitz, Sarah, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wall, Cynthia, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

In this dissertation I explore how the novel allowed the gentleman to become equivalent to an entire community, and the opportunities and limitations such equivalency presents. Figures like Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones or Sir William Thornhill in The Vicar of Wakefield put boundaries on worlds where identities threaten to spin out of control and characters and readers do not know whom to trust.I trace contemporary ideologies of family, privacy, and patriarchy to show how novels taught readers to understand the gentleman’s authority as character. I read “the family” as a social form and show how families came to resemble character systems in novels, allowing for patriarchal authority to become sentimentalized as character. I focus on two novels that equate the character of a single gentleman with a broader community: Samuel Richardson's The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1752-53), Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). Then, I pivot to discussing the kinds of labor that enabled the gentleman’s character by looking at literature’s treatment of household servants.

I argue that the novel helped redistrict the family as private space and allowed for a conflation of gentility with paternal power at the very moment when patriarchy started to vanish from government. Then, I explore how conflating the gentleman with the paterfamilias produces the kind of moral value that can be used to underwrite entire character systems. Relying on the philosophies of John Locke and Adam Smith, I show how the father’s role in the child’s character formation becomes its own currency, and makes fulfilling the role of paterfamilias seem morally and economically valuable.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Gentlemen, Character, Family
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