Making a Suburban Home
British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Annual Conference, Oxford, UK, 6 January 2011
While the modern suburb of prosperity emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century, a paucity of literary criticism on these early suburban spaces currently exists, which I will begin to redress in this paper. Jane Austen’s Emma, published in1818, reflects the variety and fluidity of suburban spaces that emerged through the eighteenth century. These spaces include the village of Highbury, culturally and economically interdependent with London which is only sixteen miles away; genteel and middle-class houses like Hartfield, Randalls, and the Coles’; Maple Grove, a merchant’s villa outside Bristol; and Brunswick Square, a new development for the professional classes on the edge of London. The pursuit of privacy, individualism, leisure, and nature, as well as access to urban employment and amenities are key features of the suburban and are expressed spatially. In this presentation, I will talk about how married couples’ creation of suburban space is gendered by focusing particularly on John and Isabella Knighteley and Mr. and Mrs. Weston. I will interrogate how husbands and wives together and separately create and emotionally invest in social spaces (by controlling specific spaces through occupation, conversation, or activity) and material spaces (through possessing, decorating, or cleaning, for example). While I am particularly interested in gender dynamics, these two couples demonstrate how variances in class and personality create different experiences of the suburban, emphasizing how a wide range of people were beginning to conceive space in suburban terms.
““I wish they were…safe at home!””: The West End as Suburban Safety Zone during the Napoleonic Wars
Ordnance: War, Architecture and Space, Cork, Ireland, 16 September 2009
The rapid expansion of the built environment in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries occurs largely in places adjacent to, rather than in, cities—in suburban, rather than urban, spaces. The establishment of suburban form effected a fundamental change in British and North American attitudes towards built environments; however, a paucity of literary criticism on these early suburban spaces currently exists, which I will begin to redress in this paper. Specifically, I will theorize the suburbs as “safety zones” during the Napoleonic wars. To this end, I will look at the spatial positioning of bodies, focusing specifically on gender, and I will consider contemporary architecture and interior decorating as well as critical literary geography, feminist geography, and postmodern spatial theory. This paper also brings to light the novel Modern Times: or, the Age We Live In (1814) by the once critically and popularly acclaimed, but now neglected, writer Elizabeth Helme. Following the example of urban historian Donald J. Olsen, I label London’s West End suburban as it develops adjacent to the urban spaces of London (such as the City). Helme reconfigures the language and acts of war to depict suburban spaces that are unstable and even dangerous, spaces in which bodies become objects for others to view and consume. Meanwhile, war and war culture also allow for suburban safety zones. The gains of war find material expression in the West End: Sir Charles Neville, a retired general, refurbishes an “elegant” town house in Portman Square. Some people, including Sir Charles’ young male protégées, must venture outside the safety zones. However, in doing so, they defend it and those within it (particularly young women) from, for example, the physical and sexual violence of libertines. Hyde Park becomes a “field of battle,” but it is reestablished as a suburban safety zone when the libertines are forced to “fly” (2.198). Moreover, as soldiers, the protégées go abroad to protect the nation, and I will show how suburban safety zones become the fundamental units of a national safety zone.
‘“[D]anger nor dishonour can never assail us”’: Soldiers, Seduction, and the Suburban (West End) in Elizabeth Helme’s Modern Times
Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, London, UK, 9 July 2009
The protagonists’ eventual retirement to their Durham Manor house in Elizabeth Helme’s Modern Times (1814) apparently reaffirms the country estate’s ideological supremacy. However, Helme gives another location—London’s West End—a position of centrality in terms of textual space (the West End section spans most of volumes two and three of this three-volume novel). The West End’s material and metaphorical spaces are also in a position of centrality: characters embody, challenge, and renegotiate the values of the titular “modern times” in the spaces of Portman Square and Hyde Park.
I will look at London’s West End as a suburban space (urban historian Donald J. Olsen also labels it suburban, which reflects its development adjacent to more urban spaces like the Borough of Southwark and the City). Suburban spaces and ideals took hold during the Romantic period fundamentally changing Anglo-American attitudes towards built environments, and I will begin to redress the paucity of literary criticism on these early suburban spaces. I will also illuminate the work of the once critically and popularly acclaimed, but now neglected, writer Elizabeth Helme.
I will theorize the suburban West End as a ‘safety zone’ during the Napoleonic wars. To this end, I will consider urban history, critical literary geography, and postmodern spatial theory. Helme reconfigures the language and acts of war to depict suburban spaces in which bodies are at risk of (physical) danger and dishonour (to female virtue and male courage). Meanwhile, war culture also allows for suburban safety zones. Soldiers, as father figures and lovers, defend these safety zones and those within them (particularly women) from the dangers and dishonour associated with libertines. The soldiers also protect the nation in battles abroad, and I will show how suburban safety zones become the fundamental units of a national safety zone.
The ‘odious trammels of order and improvement’?: Becoming Suburban in London’s West End
Arts Faculty Postgraduate Seminar Series, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK, 23 June 2010
The Farmer of Inglewood Forest Moves to the ‘Burbs: The Cultivation of the Suburbs and the Middle Classes in the Late Eighteenth Century
Aldrich Interdisciplinary Conference, St. John’s, NL, Canada, 22 March 2009
Both the modern middle classes and suburbs emerged in the Romantic era. This paper redresses the absence of literary scholarship on the suburbs of the period, while also focusing on a critically neglected writer, Elizabeth Helme (died c. 1816). Ecocriticism and recent work on the Romantic-era city provide a theoretical base. In The Farmer of Inglewood Forest (1796), Helme defines a distinctly middle-class body created through self-determination and moderation. Suburban space, where the body is theoretically free physically and ideologically from danger and temptation, is where the middle classes construct this body. Self-cultivation and the cultivation of the suburbs are therefore dependent on each other in the development of middle-class identity and ideology. While the middle classes begin asserting hegemony over other bodies and spaces by incorporating them into the suburban model, Helme's use of Gothic tropes points to the corruption of suburban and middle-class ideals.