The Matrimonial Trap

Laura E. Thomason

Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Redefine Marriage

216 pages
ISBN 9781611485264

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.

"The critic who undertakes to write on the risks and dangers to women of marriage in the eighteenth century is challenged to cut a new path through trampled terrain [...] Find her own way, however Ms. Thomason does ..."
"Ms. Thomason's study solidly contributes by raising new questions about women's experience of matrimony in the period and suggesting new uses for familiar sources."
-Kathryn R. King, University of Montevallo, The Scriblerian, Spring/Autumn 2015 Vol XLVII No. 2 - XLVIII No.1

"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)

"Thomason usefully reminds the reader that even conservative rhetorics of gender offered considerable room for rhetorical play and self-determination. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."
-M. E. Burstein, SUNY College at Brockport; CHOICE (July 2014)

"In this thoughtful and engaging study, Laura E. Thomason describes the ways women writers over the course of the long eighteenth century depicted and dealt with what she calls the matrimonial trap... As Thomason intends, these women's accounts are collectively more powerful than the sum of their parts. By bringing them together and analyzing them in relation to one another, Thomason successfully demonstrates that 'marriage, though socially and economically necessary, [was] hazardous' (17)."
-Ann Campbell, Boise State University; 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, Vol. XXII (2015)

"Thomason analyzes the rhetorical self-fashioning of six women writers, nearly all of the social elite. As Thomason demonstrates, women theorized the companionate marriage ideal, rather than taking it as a fait accompli, and shaped their characters to maximize their own freedoms.... Thomason usefully reminds the reader that even conservative rhetorics of gender offered room for rhetorical play and self-determination. Recommended. "

About the author:

Laura E. Thomason is associate professor of English at Macon State College.

Also available in paperback, ISBN: 978-1-61148-705-3, Price: $44.99


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