Writing the Eighteenth-Century Household: Leapor, Austen, and the Old Feudal Spirits

Elizabeth Veisz, Bridgewater State University
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Spring 2011), 71-91

This essay argues that Mary Leapor’s poem “Crumble-Hall” (1751) and Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey (1818) guide us to a new framework for interpreting domesticity and domestic ideology in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British literature. Both works are set in estates with feudal foundations, and both authors use this setting to underscore the tensions between tradition and modernization that shape the domestic sphere. Working in different decades and from different class positions, Leapor and Austen nonetheless make some tellingly similar aesthetic choices in these works: both employ a self-consciously knowing and parodic voice, contain thematic elements that would come to be associated with Gothic literature, and render visible the ordinarily invisible figure of the domestic servant. The servants’ presence undermines an evolving paradigm that prescribes a strict separation of work and home centered symbolically on the figure of the “leisured” bourgeois wife.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]