There is a dilemma at the heart of the history of eighteenth-century married women. Their ‘story’ is so closely bound up with considerations of gendered authority that, until recently, this has been the primary, sometimes the only, frame for analysis. It is true that patriarchy conscripts and uses women to enable some men to reach their full potential and privileges. In so doing, it simultaneously makes married women integral to the functioning of society, economy, and polity, and writes them out of this story. There are other ways to tell the history of wives, however. This review article revisits the recent history of eighteenth-century wives to encourage all scholars to place wives at the heart of their accounts, including histories that do not define themselves predominantly as women’s or gender history. By summarising recent scholarship and new directions in history that forefront and feature wives, it shows their centrality to the functioning of society, economics, culture, and politics and proposes that it is time for ‘mainstream’ histories to incorporate, even centre, these findings in order to produce fuller understandings of Britain and its place in a trans-global context.
Department of History, Philosophy and Culture
Year of publication: 2022Date of RADAR deposit: 2022-01-18