Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage
Mary Delany's phrase ''the matrimonial trap'' illuminates the apprehension with which genteel women of the eighteenth century viewed marriage. These women were generally required to marry in order to secure their futures, yet hindered from freely choosing a husband. They faced marriage anxiously because they lacked the power either to avoid it or to define it for themselves. For some women, the written word became a means by which to exercise the power that they otherwise lacked. Through their writing, they made the inevitable acceptable while registering their dissatisfaction with their circumstances. Rhetoric, exercised both in public and in private, allowed these women to define their identities as individuals and as wives, to lay out and test the boundaries of more egalitarian spousal relationships, and to criticize the traditional marriage system as their culture had defined it.
"Thomason's study of marriage provides a thoughtful examination of how women writers consciously and meticulously honed through writing their identities as women and would-be wives. She demonstrates that these women harnessed the power of rhetorical restraint and audience analysis in ways that were sophisticated and used those skills to empower themselves in a system that was purposefully constructed to strip them of such agency. For a well-trod academic topic, Thomason extracts a refreshing analysis of how female writers employed remarkable rhetorical dexterity to spring the matrimonial trap."
--Melissa Wehler, Central Penn College, The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer, September 2014
"The Matrimonial Trap succeeds admirably in demonstrating "that the novel was only part of a larger conversation about the meaning of marriage...[as writers attempted] to stabilize the social and individual value of marriage while the morals and standards that had traditionally justified it were shifting" (p. 154)."
--Katherine Montwieler, University of North Carolina, Wilmington; Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature (2015)
About the author:
Laura E. Thomason is associate professor of English at Macon State College.
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