During the 1840s, British novels suddenly abandoned the country manor house and advocated a greatly diminished, single-family household as the only way of life that was necessary, natural, desirable, and morally right. Insofar as they indicated that the unpaid labor of a wife and mother could compensate for fluctuations in her husband’s income, these novels not only authorized women as household managers but also shifted the blame for the economic failure of the unit she supervised from the new wage economy onto her. Her success in this respect reproduced the economic inequities that maintained the limitations of class in successive generations. Insofar as it provides a rationale for dismantling the welfare state, the same concept of the single-family household has continued to define the family even under neoliberalism. What does it mean, then, that novelists now writing for a global anglophone readership have suddenly and single-mindedly stopped reproducing the domestic ideology on which the novel rose to hegemony, that to live minimally productive and happy lives, individuals, men no less than women, had to form households? What does this vanishing act mean for the affective labor liberalism once arrogated to women? In abandoning the Victorian household, do contemporary novels gesture toward some other way of organizing daily life?
Disavowal and Domestic Fiction: The Problem of Social Reproduction
nancy armstrong is Gilbert, Louis, and Edward Lehrman Professor of English at Duke University and editor of the journal Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Her books include Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford University Press, 1986), The Imaginary Puritan: Literature, Intellectual Labor, and the Origins of Personal Life (University of California Press, 1992), Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism (Harvard University Press, 1999), How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism, 1719–1900 (Columbia University Press, 2005), and (coauthored with Leonard Tennenhouse) Novels in the Time of Democratic Writing: The American Example (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).