During a period when the idea of fatherhood was in flux and individual fathers sought to regain a cohesive collective identity, debates related to a father’s authority were negotiated and resolved through competing documents. Melissa Shields Jenkins analyzes the evolution of patriarchal authority in nineteenth-century culture, drawing from extra-literary and non-narrative source material as well as from novels. Arguing that Victorian novelists reinvent patriarchy by recourse to conduct books, biography, religious manuals, political speeches, and professional writing in the fields of history and science, Jenkins offers interdisciplinary case studies of Elizabeth Gaskell, George Meredith, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, Samuel Butler, and Thomas Hardy. Jenkins’s book contributes to our understanding of the part played by fathers in the Victorian cultural imagination, and sheds new light on the structures underlying the Victorian novel.
"This is a distinctly new kind of book on fatherhood: an innovative study of the troubled relations between real and fictional fathers and sons, and the extra-literary texts that shaped them. Juxtaposing J.S. Mill and Max Weber, Melissa Jenkins's lively and provocative analysis tracks shifting notions of patriarchal authority from Gaskell to Gosse through engagement with conduct books and family prayers, palimpsests and science writing, to create an 'idea of the father' perpetually under reconstruction." --Valerie Sanders, University of Hull, UK
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