"An important book. Students of social history, literature, psychology, and gender studies, and of related disciplines, will find here an exploration of hitherto uncharted territory-relationships between women and their female companions-supported by a broad and solid view of eighteenth-century England."
"Extraordinary . . . engrossing."
Several factors fostered such relationships. Husbands and wives of the period lived largely separate social lives, yet decorum prohibited genteel women from attending engagements unaccompanied. Also, women of position insisted on having social consultants and confidantes. Filling this need were the many well-born young women without sufficient funds to live independently. Because family money and property were concentrated in the hands of eldest sons, these women frequently had to seek the protection of female benefactors for whom they performed unpaid, nonmenial tasks, such as providing a hand at cards or simply offering pleasant company.
The companionate relationship between women could assume many forms, Rizzo notes. It was often analogous to marriage, with one partner dominant and the other subservient, while some women experimented in establishing partnerships that were truly egalitarian. Rizzo explores these various types of relationships both in real life and in fiction, noting that much of the period's discourse about women's relationships can be seen as a tacit commentary on marriage.
Provocative and engagingly written, this authoritative work casts new light on women's attempts to deal with a patriarchal power structure and offers new insight into eighteenth-century social history.
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