When a philosopher seems insensitive about the plight of a class of people, we are tempted to say that they are writing from the perspective of the ivory tower, and that they lack the knowledge needed to understand what the people they write about are really going through. Some commentators have been skeptical of Wollstonecraft’s views on marriage and love in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman because she was still single when she’d written it. Those same commentators don’t stop and note that her last work, written when she had been in two relationships and was a mother, gave an even straker account of the marital state, reaffirming all the caution she had put forward in the Vindication and more.
It is tempting to take a similar attitude to early 18th century philosopher, Mary Astell, who wrote a book about the marital state without having ever been married herself. But here, we have evidence that she knew in some details what she was talking about, even if not from personal experience. She was writing about the marriage of her famous neighbour, Hortense Mancini, the Duchess of Mazarin, who had just died, at the age of fifty-three, when Astell published her Reflections on Marriage, in 1700.
Mancini who was the niece of the Cardinal Mazarin, had run one of the most celebrated literary salon in 17th-century London, a salon infamous because she allowed women to drink and gamble as well as men. Married at 15 to a very rich man, who inherited through her the wealth and title of the Cardinal of Mazarin, Mancini ran away from her husband’s home after seven years of unhappy and abusive marriage, leaving behind their four children. Mancini survived – and indeed, thrived - through the patronage of powerful men, including Louis XIV and Charles II, while having affairs with both men and women. All these details Astell almost certainly knew as Mancini had recorded them on one of the earliest Memoirs published by a woman in 1775. Although she kept some details to herself (she was after all still alive), Mancini did not hold back when describing her marriage, and although we might be tempted to attribute some of the goriest details to spite, they are in fact confirmed elsewhere.
Given that Astell knew of the details of the Mazarin marriage, her diagnosis seems a little harsh. She writes that Mancini sought ‘Consolation under Domestick troubles from the Gaieties of a Court, from Gaming and Courtship, from Rambling and odd Adventures, and the Amusements mixt Company affords’. But this, Astell carries on, could only provide temporary relief, ‘Plaister up the Sore, but will never heal it; nay, which is worse, she makes it Fester beyond a possibility of Cure.’
Certainly there was no real way out for Mancini, no escape from the need for dependence on men for her survival. She could not take up a profession, or even receive an income – as she did from Louis XIV – without her husband being allowed to confiscate it. As a married woman in the seventeenth century, she had no right to property of her own. Nor did she have a right to her children. Had she attempted to take them with her, they would have been captured again and brought back to their father. So Mancini could not choose to take up a quiet domestic life, away from her tyrant of her husband, where she would be a virtuous mother to her children. Nor was retiring to a convent apparently much of an option: her husband did send her to a convent, but this was another way for him to control her. And shortly after he had her released, she escaped. Mancini’s only options were to put up with the domestic conditions that were her lot, or to set up on her own as a courtesan and a saloniere.
Astell does not argue that Mancini simply ought to have made the best of her domestic situation. She pities Mancini for having been forced into marriage with an extremely unsuitable husband and without having been prepared for it through education. Mancini, as a teenager, was a party girl, not a studious one. She did not have the resources to make the best of the isolation her husband inforced on her, or to attempt to reform her husband by modelling virtuous behaviour.
In her Memoirs, Mancini portrays her husband as extremely religious, mentally unstable and with a pronounced mean streak. Distrustful of his young wife’s fidelity, he took her away from Paris whenever the King did not require his presence there. And noting how she did not like to travel to remote parts of France, he made sure to take her with him whenever the King sent him on business, even insisting she travel long distance while heavily pregnant. Not only did h forbid her to have male visitors, but he conducted midnight searches to make sure she wasn’t smuggling them in. While they were not traveling, he required his wife to spend hours every day praying. The Duke of Mazarin’s unstability was well-known as it affected not only his wife, but his extensive art collection, in part inherited from his wife’s uncle. He was known for attacking and emasculating his sculptures with a hammer – either because he disapprove of sexual organs on display, or because he was jealous of the admiration they’d received from one of his wife’s friends. The Mazarin Adonis at the Louvres (now restored) was one of the statues he mutilated.
Although she cannot condone the wife’s running away, Astell aslo strongly condemns the husband’s treatment of the wife:
To be yoak'd for Life to a disagreeable Person and Temper; to have Folly and Ignorance tyrannize over Wit and Sense; to be contradicted in every thing one does or says, and bore down not by Reason but Authority; to be denied ones most innocent desires for no other cause, but the Will and Pleasure of an absolute Lord and Master, whose follies a Woman with all her Prudence cannot hide, and whose Commands she cannot but despise at the same time she obeys them, is a misery none can have a just Idea of, but those who have felt it.
But Astell does not believe that even documented cruelty of a husband justifies a woman leaving home:
The Christian Institution of Marriage provides the best that may be for Domestick Quiet and Content, and for the Education of Children; so that if we were not under the tye of Religion, even the Good of Society and civil Duty would oblige us to what that requires at our Hands.
Domesticity, Astell thinks, is a natural way for people to live with one another in mutual dependence, and improve one another. An older, patient husband may educated by his wife, so that she is better able to live with him in peace and harmony. An educated wife may set the example for her husband, helping improve his character, and also educate her children, so that they may in turn have happier lives. But just as importantly, an educated woman will have the inner resources to bear an unhappy marriage, to have the necessary patience to live with a tyrannical husband, and to preserve themselves from falling into a slave-like dependency, their spirits crushed by the constant need to obey.
This is cross-posted from my other blog, with some corrections.
Phillis Wheatley Peters was born circa 1753 in Africa. At the age of 7 or thereabouts she was captured and transported to the coast where she was sold to a slaver on his way to Boston. The ship that transported her, and many others, as cargo was called The Phillis. This was the name the man who bought her in Boston gave her, along with his own surname, Wheatley.
Phillis was taken to the Wheatley family home, and, we are told by biographers, some who knew people who had met her, that she was treated as ‘one of the family’. Boston philosopher, Hannah Mather Crocker reported that
“Mr Wheatley purchased her [Phillis] he bought her to wait on his only daughter. She was a pretty smart sprightly child. they grew very fond of her and treated her as well as if their own. her young Mrs who was Miss Mary Wheatly [sic], and was afterwards the very amiable wife of Dr John Lathrop [1740–1816]. Phillis was sent to school and educated with Miss Mary. She soon acquired the English language and made some progress in the latin She never was looked on as a slave she could work handsome [i.e., sew and do needlework skillfully], and read and write well for that day.” (Carretta, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of A Genius in Bondage, 23)
We know, however, that she worked as a maid, she ‘tended tables’ at 13 and later was a ‘sempstress’. While the daughter of the family, Mary, (grown up when Phillis was bought) may have done some sewing, or at least embroidery, it is unlikely that she waited tables.
Phillis’s biographer Caretta also suggested that was treated somewhat better than the indentured servant who ran away from the Wheatly home (22). But Phillis was a child at the time the young male servant ran away, and with no prospect of being freed. Her escape would have led to an advert being placed for her capture with a reward.
One thing that is clear is that the Wheatley family taught Phillis to read and write. And when it became clear that she had talent as a poet, they encouraged it, had her work published, in newspapers, and later as a book, for she travelled to London. This could have been kindness on their part, or the recognition that genius had to be encouraged, wherever it was. Or perhaps they benefitted from her fame socially and financially.
So where was ‘home’ for Phillis?
Phillis’s writings rarely talk about home life. The word ‘home’ itself is used in her poems to refer to heaven. Many of her poems are elegies, addressed to bereaved mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, or in one case of the preacher Whitefield, to his patron, an English aristocrat. The dead have gone ‘home’ in her poems, suggesting that any previous dwelling was not that.
In one letter, Wheatley refers to her masters’ house as ‘home’, when she writes to Obour Tanner in 1773, and again to John Thornton, one of her London friends. These letters are written upon her return from England, where she spent a mere six weeks (after a passage lasting …) and was celebrated and shown the attractions of the town. Rather than staying in England where she would be free, Wheatley extracted a promise from the son of the man who had purchased her as a child that she would be freed upon her return. And when she did return, it was to the house where she had been a slave.
Nations also take on family roles in Wheatley’s poetry: England – Britannia - is in many poems the mother of America, who should not overtax her child. In later poems, England’s sons are the soldiers she sends to fight Americans, and they are recalled in shame and disgrace. Africa is never a parent. It is the place untouched by religion. The only time when her going back to Africa was suggested (by others) was so that she could chase ‘away the thick Darkness which broods over the Land of Africa’ and trave ‘to her Native Country as a Female Preacher to her kindred, you know Quaker Women are alow’d to preach, and why not others in an Extraordinary Case’ Phillis refused, perhaps because she would have had to travel with two men she did not know, and take one of them as her husband, or perhaps because she saw herself as a writer more than a preacher.
Phillis’s own attitude to Africa has been harshly criticized by some modern critiques who thought she was turning her back on her own heritage and participating in America’s and Europe’s racism. Her short poem, ‘On Being Brought from Africa to America’ describes her being taken from her native land as a ‘mercy’ because it brought Christianity to her, a blessing she would not have known had she stayed:
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
The last four lines address the issue of racism. All are equal in the eye of God, and all can be taught to worship so that they will go to heaven. This suggest that she should have found the idea of Christian missions to Africa attractive – many of her country men and women would receive the same ‘mercy’ that she did, without having to be kidnapped and enslaved. But her biographer, Caretta, reminds us not to read her poems as autobiographical. She was a manipulator or words, and wrote elegies on demand, so why not also a defense of the slave trade in the name of religion? It could also be that she felt no ties to Africa as she had left at a very young age. She never mentions her childhood there in the writings we have.
Later in life she might have wanted to revisit memories of her childhood, reacquaint herself with the land and the people she grew up with. She might even have recalled that she once had her own religion, whether Pagan, as she writes in the poem, or Islam, as has been suggested by Wheatley scholar Will Harris and the author of a beautiful Wheatley biography in verse by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Age of Phillis. But Wheatly died at the age of 31, after a mere ten years of freedom, which is too young, perhaps to turn back to one’s childhood.
Phillis Wheatley was freed when she returned from London in 1773. Had she remained in England, she would have become automatically freed. But she would have had no home, and no friends she had known for more than the six weeks of her visit. In Boston, she had connections. So she extracted a promise from her master, in writing, and sailed back to Boston. She stayed with the Wheatleys for some years, probably working as a maid still, perhaps paid, or simply granted the right to sleep and eat in the house. She stayed with them until the death of her mistress in 1774, and then moved in with John Peters, a free black man, educated, and with a business of his own. They were married a few years later. But his business failed – as many during the war – and the couple had to move around to avoid prison. They had three children who did not survive infanthood. Peters eventually did go to prison, and Phillis died shortly afterwards, in 1784.
Mary Wollstonecraft was not known for her dedication to domesticity. She is said to have once entertained the Marquis de Talleyrand in her lodgings on George Street, and served him tea, then wine, in a breached teacup (Elizabeth Pennell, 1885. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. London: W.H. Allen &co, p.72). Wondering where Pennell had gotten the anecdote from, I asked the Twitter Wollstonecraft community, and got the following story:
First Emma Clery, specified the source of the Pennell reference: John Knowles, the 19th century biographer of the man who rejected Wollstonecraft in 1792, Henri Fuseli, described her as a 'sloven ', citing the breached teacup anecdote as evidence.
Fuseli found in her (what he most disliked in woman) a philosophical sloven: her usual dress being a habit of coarse cloth, such as is now worn by milk-women, black worsted stockings, and a beaver hat, with her hair hanging lank about her shoulders. These notions had their influence also in regard to the conveniences of life; for when the Prince Talleyrand was in this country, in a low condition with regard to his pecuniary affairs, and visited her, they drank their tea, and the little wine they took, indiscriminately from tea-cups.
But this, it turns out was not the first reference to the anecdote, but Eileen Hunt Botting pointed me to one published 4 years before that, in a Vermont journal:
Perhaps their idea of an "educated lady" is associated in their mind with nothing better than some starched nun, or round mouth pedant; or the famous authoress of England, M. Woolstonecroft [sic], who could appear before her guests in a ragged garment, and serve their drink in a broken tea-cup; because, forsooth, her literary occupations would not allow her otherwise.
Note that the Vermont piece, but not the Knowles or Pernell ones, mentions that the cup was breached!
Knowles's biography was published six years after Fuseli's death. Knowles claims that his evidence came from letters from Wollstonecraft to Fuseli, letters that Fuseli had refused to return when Wollstonecraft asked him to. Knowles was Fuseli's literary executor, so had access to the letters straightaway.
The Vermont piece appeared three years before the publication of Knowles's memoirs, and two years after Wollstonecrafts' death? Was there another source? Or could someone else have seen the letters and quoted from them? Certainly Sophia Fuseli, Henry's wife saw them – possibly before Fuseli's death. Godwin asked to see them after Wollstonecraft died, so he could use them for his biography, but was refused. Their grandson, Sir Percy Florence Shelley ('Percy Jr annoys me to death' twitted another Wollstonecraft expert), bought them and had them burnt. According to Emma Clery, C Kegan Paul, friend of Godwin and supporter of Wollstonecraft, did see the letters before they were destroyed and claims there was nothing in them that could bring shame on Wollstonecraft (not that a breached tea-cup is shameful!).
So possibly the reports of slovenliness are simply that – retellings of their contents, exaggerated for the sake of gossip. This could have been the work of Knowles himself, or perhaps Fuseli's widow, Sophia, who may have born a grudge from Wollstonecraft's attempts at forming a ménage à trois with Henry and Sophia.
Stirring away from malicious gossip, the tea-cup story has a much more plausible explanation Wollstonecraft was poor. And at the time she lived in George Street, where Talleyrand visited her, she was just starting out as a professional writer, had debts to pay and family to support, so she had very few furnishings. Although glass objects were already a consumer item, wine glasses were nonetheless expensive, and a luxury that the singly professional woman, who had to move frequently, could perhaps not afford. It was not until she moved from George St, after meeting with Talleyrand, that she started to buy furniture:
In September 1791, she removed from the house she occupied in George-street, to a large and commodious apartment in Store street, Bedford-square. She began to think that she had been too rigid, in the laws of frugality and self-denial with which she set out in her literary career; and now added to the neatness and cleanliness which she had always scrupulously observed a certain degree of elegance, and those temperate indulgences in furniture and accommodation, from which a sound and uncorrupted taste never fails to derive pleasure. Godwin. Memoirs. Chapter 6.
With thanks to Eileen Hunt Botting (@EileenHBotting) Emma Clery (@austeneconomics) and Bee Rowlatt (@BeeRowlatt) for sharing all these sources and making yesterday afternoon's work much more fun than it would have been otherwise!
What does philosophy have to contribute to the understanding of 'home'?
Analytic philosophy is in the business of conceptual analysis, finding the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be what it is. Plato started it with his questions about the forms: 'What is Justice?' 'What is Beauty?' etc. Descartes pursued it from his armchair by the fire, asking 'What am I?', and philosophers have been chasing concepts with definitions ever since.
A conceptual analysis attempts to capture a set of intuitions we have about a concept, so that once we come up with a definition, every instance of that concept and nothing else falls under it. So for instance, armchairs cannot be defined as 'comfy seats' because there are things that are comfortable to seat on which are not armchairs, such as sofas. So is an armchair a comfy seat for one person? Perhaps, but a good conceptual analysis would look for armchairs that don't fulfill the conditions of 'comfy' or 'seat', and for things that do that aren't armchairs before settling on that definition.
Can we use appeal to the tools of conceptual analysis to help define the home? Attempting to capture the home in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions is a task that, if not doomed to failure, turns out to be singularly unproductive. Although most of us agree on the basic intuition that we need homes, these homes tend to look different according to what needs they serve, and that varies a great deal according to places and times. A home may or may not be a dwelling, something physical or not, that ties a family together, or a community, it may or may not involve property and land. This leaves room for plural definitions, perhaps definitions that succeed in capturing a certain 'family resemblance' in uses of the word across time and space.
The idea that instances of a concept sometimes shared a 'family resemblance' rather than a set of necessary and sufficient conditions comes from Wittgenstein, who, when he attempted to say what a game was, found that some games had very little in common with others (say bouncing a ball against a wall, and D&D). He concluded that games, though definitely belonging to one concept, were not tied together by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions:
I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: "games" form a family.
Morris Weitz applied the Wittgensteinian idea of family resemblance to the concept of art, after noticing that it was impossible to bring all the things that we count as instances of that concept under a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. A definition of art would have to accommodate that have as little in common as a Greek tragedy and an 18thcentury piece of furniture. (Weitz, Morris (1956). "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics". Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 15: 27–35.) Weitz concluded that art was an open concept, that could expand in order to accommodate new forms of art.
It seems that had analytic philosophers bothered to define the home, they would have come to the same conclusion, for reasons stated above. The home covers too many disparate intuitions for it to be reasonable to expect it to fall under one set of necessary and sufficient conditions. But it does not follow that the home cannot be defined philosophically: it simply needs to be stated that the definitions capture only one version of the home, at one place or one time. And in order to do that, what better strategy than to study what women philosophers of the past have written about the home?
In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir describes domesticity as akin to the fate of Sisyphus:
Legions of women have in common only endlessly recurrent fatigue in a battle that never leads to victory. Even in the most privileged cases, this victory is never final.
One could object that there is more to the life of domesticity than just housework: there is also the work of caring for children and other dependants. But Beauvoir also takes mothering into account:
Simone de Beauvoir not only thought that domestic work was a form of drudgery, but choosing housewifery, and sometimes motherhood, struck her as examples of bad faith. Women don't really enjoy doing the housework or changing diapers, or if they do, it is because they have forced themselves to stop looking for enjoyment in more rewarding places.
Bad faith for Beauvoir meant something different than what it meant for Sartre. Sartre saw bad faith as using one's situation as an excuse for one's life – 'I am a wife, I can only obey my husband' or 'I am a mother, my nature dictates that I should care for my children'. Sartre, rejecting essentialism, believed that one could always choose to react differently to one's situation, except for one odd essentialism of his own: human beings, he thought, were bound to fall into the category of dominator or dominated. Beauvoir rejected this essentialism too:
If Sartre thought human beings were by nature doomed to desire domination, then there really was no exit from living our own oppressors. Beauvoir's philosophy, by contrast, refused 'the consolations of lies and resignations' – it was an excuse to think that it's just human nature to dominate or submit. (see Kate Fitzpatrick, Becoming Beauvoir, loc 3475.)
This was an ethical disagreement: for Sartre, a woman's bad faith is measured according to her failure to participate in males' projects of seduction (see Toril Moi, 2008, Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman, 150-154). Beauvoir's ethical stance was, like Sartre's underlain by a metaphysical one. Sartre believed that we became free through a situation, that we could realize our freedom by transcending that situation. But Beauvoir objected that women's situations were not and could not be transcended, because they were part of the world that made them who they were, and in many cases, that world made it impossible for them to assert their freedom. Turning away from Sartre's analysis, she went back to Heidegger and the idea that human beings are at one with their world (Mitsein) and to Husserl's phenomenology in order to make it clear that it is the lived experience of women, rather than their situation we need to focus on in order to help them achieve freedom. (see Kate Fitzpatrick, Becoming Beauvoir, loc4298, and Manon Garcia, On ne Nait pas Soumise, on le Devient).
So how does this help us understand women's relationship to the home? Women, for Beauvoir cannot simply transcend their situation, nor should they accept them as inevitable: there is something that can be and should done. Resistance to any given aspect of women's lives, whether it is domesticity, motherhood, or subservience, is hard, but not futile, and it involves turning the world around, one meaning at a time.
But what singularly defines the situation of woman is that being, like all humans, an autonomous freedom, she discovers and chooses herself in a world where men force her to assume herself as Other: an attempt is made to freeze her as an object and doom her to immanence, since her transcendence will be forever transcended by another essential and sovereign consciousness. Woman’s drama lies in this conflict between the fundamental claim of every subject, which always posits itself as essential, and the demands of a situation that constitutes her as inessential. How, in the feminine condition, can a human being accomplish herself? What paths are open to her? Which ones lead to dead ends? How can she find independence within dependence? What circumstances limit women’s freedom and can she overcome them? The Second Sex, 37.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman is best known perhaps for her short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. In that story, a young mother, suffering from postnatal depression, is cared for by a loving husband who is also her doctor in a quiet country house. Her husband makes sure that in order to recover, she does not exert herself, does not do anything too stimulating, such as seeing lively friends, or writing; that she rest, that she spends time with her baby (but with the help of her sister in law for any actual work involved caring for the baby). This sounds like a loving and reasonable way to treat someone who is depressed. But at the end of the story, the heroine has lost her mind, thinking that she has been taken over by a woman who'd been imprisoned inside the hideous yellow wallpaper of her bedroom.
The story is seminal, in that it depicts clearly and painfully, a malaise that Betty Friedan would later call the 'problem with no name'. Neither the heroine nor her husband are able to articulate what it feels to be her, as a woman suffering from depression – specifically postnatal depression -, and they're stuck with some very unsatisfatory and harmful prejudices, that she needs rest and inactivity, mental and physical, that she will be fulfilled by motherhood, and that she doesn't need anything else in life.
Perkins Gilman, when she penned that story, was writing from experience.
She too had suffered from post-natal depression, and she too had been advised to rest and spend time with her child in order to get better.
Perkins Gilman had in fact visited a famous physician Dr Silas Weir Mitchell, a pioneer of neurology who specialized, among other things, in the treatment of 'hysterical women'.
His mission, when treating discounted women was to help become ‘more loving, giving, gentle with her family, and more peacefully content with herself’ through overfeeding and oversleeping. (Mary A. Hill: Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist 1860-1896. Temple University Press, Philadelphia 1980, p.148)
Perkins Gilman took Weir Mitchell’s rest cure, and of course hated it. Most of her difficulties with motherhood, on top of the hormonal issues that most sufferers of postnatal depression have to deal with, was the fact that she had less time to do the work or the physical exercise she thrived on. Like her aunt Catharine Beecher, Perkins Gilman was a fitness freak, going to the gym daily, taking classes, and running.
In an article published in the October 1913 issue of The Forerunner (14 years after the publication of the short story) "Why I wrote the Yellow Wallpaper" Perkins Gilman describes her experience with Weir Mitchell's rest cure:
For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia -- and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again" as long as I lived. This was in 1887. I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.
Virginia Woolf was also prescribed the rest cure, and like Perkins Gilman, she suffered much from the requirement that she not exert herself by doing what she loved best, writing and talking. Whatever the benefits of the cure, it was clearly also designed to domesticate intelligent women and keep them within the domestic circle.
Frances Harper (1825-1911), free-born abolitionist poet and speaker, and Anna Julia Cooper (1859-1964), philosopher and historian born into slavery, both contemporaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, also wrote about the home and its place in human progress. Unlike Perkins Gilman, they believed that domesticity was an aid to women's emancipation. Perkins Gilman, a racist, regarded black people as inferior, and therefore did not concern herself with any particular issues that black women might face. Harper and Cooper both argued that black women faced the same problems that white women did, but that as black women, and women who had often been born into slavery, they also faced a number of other issues. Harper, or indeed Cooper, were not merely agreeing with the likes of Catharine Beecher who promoted a difference feminism where women drew strength from the good management of home and children.  For Harper and Cooper, part of the defense of domesticity was aimed at the betterment of the life conditions of the black people of America.
In a letter to a Philadelphia correspondent, Frances Harper wrote the following:
While I am in favor of Universal suffrage, yet I know that the colored man needs something more than a vote in his hand: he needs to know the value of a home life; to rightly appreciate and value the marriage relation; to know how and to be incited to leave behind him the old shards and shells of slavery and to rise in the scale of character, wealth and influence. Like the Nautilus outgrowing his home to build for himself more 'stately temples' of social condition. A man landless, ignorant and poor may use the vote against his interests; but with intelligence and land he holds in his hand the basis of power and elements of strength. (William Still, The Underground Railroad, 1872).
Part of Harper's concern is with men and drinking: as a temperance activist, she fears that the whole human race is at risk of hereditary depravity and that black people, more vulnerable to social ills because of their recent insertion in free American society, are particularly to be protected. A good home, where you can come home to after a day's work, where you can be happy surrounded by a loving family, and where churchgoing and bible reading are common pastimes, is the best remedy against alcoholism.
She also knew from her own experience that it is hard for a black female to maintain a home without a husband. Having lost her own husband to premature death, she found herself kicked out of her home, all her possessions reclaimed. "I did not feel" she recalled in a 1866 talk to a National Woman's Rights convention in New York, "as keenly as others, that I had these rights, in common with other women, which are now demanded."
Notwithstanding the above considerations, the passage cited above may strike one as a little moralizing: why should the home be a priority for someone who has had no freedom of movement, someone who was forced to live and work on the land of a man who had the right to beat them, rape them or sell them? Why should such people, upon becoming free, seek to live in the way of their oppressors, adopting the same notions of respectability, the same structures and the same values?
A slightly more nuanced interpretation is needed here. We saw that in any case Harper's arguments came from a different position than Beecher's and the American cult of domesticity. Her position takes into account the lives of black men and women, their attempts at making a place for themselves in American society, and the backlash they were confronted with from people who'd agreed they should be free, but nonetheless did not want them to live among them as equals and looked for every opportunity to show that they were not. So a non-domesticated, alcohol addicted black man, was not just that, but also an indictment against all black men and women. On the other hand a home meant a way of entering society from a stable position, that is not only a home, a church, but a school district, a job, shops and access to medical care. For that reason it is wrong to read Harper as moralizing even if we can question her actual allegiance to the value of domesticity.
Cooper's vision of domesticity is, perhaps more obviously than Harper's, a feminist one: domesticity empowers women, it enable them to put their particular strengths and virtues to practice for the betterment of humanity.
A stream cannot rise higher than its source. The atmosphere of homes is no rarer and purer than sweeter than are the mothers in those homes. A race is but a total of families. The nation is the aggregate of its homes. As the whole is sum of all its parts so the character of the parts will determine the characteristics of the whole. A Voice from the South, Dover Thrift edition – 11.
The home is essential to the nation. Until black people have homes which are well run by educated women, they will not be in a position to take up their full and rightful place into American society. That women are essential to this process is clear from the fact Cooper says they must be educated: this is in part because their principle task as home-makers is the training of children 'a task on which an infinity of weal and woe depends. Who does not covet it?' - 8.
Cooper is in some sense a perfectionist, who believes that happiness lies in the progress we make towards evolving goals, not in the achievement of perfection. We need to be active in our pursuit of these goals, and indeed in the setting of them in order to flourish. And education, the higher the better is a large part of that process. In order for black Americans to partake and participate in the general flourishing, they need homes where future generations will be shaped. And for that to be successful, she argues, black women must be educated. So domesticity Cooper argues, as it requires educated women, can help emancipate women.
 For Beecher, women derived power specifically from domesticity: '[Woman's] true position in society, as having equal rights with the other sex; and that, in fact, they have secured to American women a lofty and fortunate position, which, as yet, has been attained by the women of no other nation.' 35Treatise on Domestic Economy, Miss Catharine E. Beecher, Boston: T. H. Webb, & Co.1842
 She cites Stael, on p.2: "Happiness consists not in perfections attained, but in a sense of progress, the result of our own endeavor under conspiring circumstances towards a goal which continually advances and broadens and deepens till it is swallowed up in the Infinite". I could not trace the original.
Social philosopher Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a contemporary of Shaw – Judith Allen said that 'she is the Bernard Shaw of America; or should we say that Bernard Shaw is the Charlotte Perkins Gilman of England?' (2009, 2) – wrote that :
every human being should have a home. The single person his or her own home; and the family their home. […] The home should offer to the individual rest, peace, quiet, comfort, health and that degree of personal expression requisite; and those condition should be maintained by the best methods of the time
Unfortunately, Gilman goes on to argue in The Home, Its Work and Influence, these conditions do not in general obtain for most people who do have homes. Homes as they were in nineteenth century North America did not provide much for children, especially in terms of health, education or personal development, no peace, rest or comfort for servants, who lived in a house that was not their home, but that of their employers, and very little for women, for whom the home meant first and foremost confinement, and domestic labour. The myth of the home, Gilman argued, was a dangerous one, which not only perpetuated misery for many, but also obscured the importance of the public sphere, in particular places of learning, for human progress and wellbeing.
The home, for Perkins Gilman, was a necessary part of human flourishing, but a very different institution from what it was perceived to be in the era of the Cult of Domesticity, where women were perceived as angelic creatures, making the home a place of health and virtue by drawing on their natural feminine character: nurturing, patient, and pious. So Perkins Gilman believed everyone ought to have a home, but not a 'home' in the full sense understood by many. Insofar as her work is a critique of the existing understanding and realization of the home (in early 20th century USA), it does not consider whether the home is in fact necessary for human fulfillment, and whether other ways of living might not work as well, or indeed better for some portions of the population, such as communal dwellings, movable monadic dwellings, or a series of temporary dwellings, whether hotel rooms, or the home of friends and family members, or indeed dwellings provided by the work place.
Yet nor does Perkins Gilman deny that these non-traditional (if tradition is late nineteenth century, early twentieth white, middle class America) types of home can bring about flourishing. In fact, her central argument, that the home's main function should be to complete and support the framework supplied by the states' institutions, in particular educational ones, would seem to favour a more minimal approach to the home. In that sense, Perkins Gilman's picture is very Athenian: it is the public life that shapes us and ensures our flourishing, the city is responsible for educating its citizens, and organizing their lives so they can make the most of what have. The role of the home is simply to keep us warm, fed and rested in between excursions to the public forum.
The main problem presented by the home, for Gilman, is that the home, such as it was at the time she wrote, fails to do even that, that it, it fails to keep its citizens healthy and safe. The American home, she says, exercises too much control over the health, nutrition and education of its inhabitants, with too little qualification to do it well. Home cooking, she says, is not by its very nature superior to food that be bought in restaurants or hotels – it is simply more convenient for feeding the young, but at the same time keeps a woman tied to her home. But unless each home cooking woman is educated on healthy diet and food preparation, there is no reason to think that home cooking will be anything else than 'slow-poisoning' of our bodies, resulting in 'Dyspepsia' and 'false teeth before they are thirty' (chapter 8). As far as safety of the young is concerned, she says, houses which serve as homes are not in fact designed with the safety or well-being of children in mind, they are out of scale for them, and inhospitable and dangerous. Because parents are not trained in the treatment of childhood ailments, she adds, when homes are considered the best place for a child to grow up, mothers will simply transmit and perpetuate the mistakes that were committed on them as a child, resulting in ill-health but more generally stunted development of children (ch. 12). Finally, she argues, the home, no matter how good a home it is supposed to be, cannot provide enough in the way of social progress, it cannot train citizens, nor make them fit into the society they are meant to help build or improve, if children are under the control of the home during the period where they should develop, and all their lives, if they are women.
What is most problematic about the home then, according to Gilman, is not only that it fails to keep its inhabitants safe, but that at the same time it blocks their access to the educational, health and civic resources that they would need in order to flourish and to contribute to human progress. The image of the home as the place where we can live safe, happy, and in privacy; a place where we can retreat from the world and at the same time be educated to live in it, she claims, is both a fundamental to what we understand the home to be, and deeply flawed. There is a feeling, she says, that 'home is more secure and protective than anywhere else', and that feeling, she claims is at the heart of whatever myths we still believe about the home. These myths, she concludes, must be dispelled, and the home must open up to social progress, and change to accommodate our real needs as human beings and citizens.
What shape should the new home take? Gilman doesn't say. But we can derive some possibilities from suggestions she makes. First, she points out that all homes are built according to a model that is nearly identical, and in particular, that those homes that are deemed unsuitable for families by landlords, are the very same as those in which families do live. So perhaps she would argue that families with children need to live in different sorts of buildings than families without children, and that these choices should be made not according to income size, as they mostly are, but need.
Secondly, she points out that we may be better off in many cases eating out than cooking in. And her arguments that women become slaves of domestic work seems to suggest that she would be a fan of take out dinners (though perhaps not daily pizza). Simone de Beauvoir, drew a similar conclusion, bypassing the question of health (perhaps because French restaurant food at the beginning of the century was no less healthy or balanced than what people prepared at home), when she pointed out that single working women often made life more difficult for themselves, compared to their male colleagues, by insisting on cooking their own meals instead of eating out at conveniently located restaurants and hotels (vol 2, part 4, ch 13, 593.) The point is that not all homes need kitchen, not all home-cooked food is better, and very little home-cooked food is better than the freedom of not having to cook everyday for your entire family. Kitchens are also dangerous places, where knifes and heavy objects are kept, intense heat, and of course, germs, which require constant and intensive cleaning.
The very realization that home life does not necessarily requires cooking may change our expectations as to the shape of the home. Unless cooking is something that is essential to one's flourishing, unless someone enjoys spending time preparing food on a large scale, there is not much need for a kitchen in a home. A kitchenette is sufficient, such as may be found in a trailer home, or a shared kitchen, as in students halls, or, if you don't cook at all and you live alone, a hotel room (which is Beauvoir's own recommendation) is even better, as you will not be required to do any housekeeping, but will be guaranteed a clean place to sleep every night, and somewhere safe to keep your things.
Perkins Gilman, as we saw at the beginning of this section, does not claim that we do not need homes. Rather, she argues for a twofold position. First, the home as her nineteenth century readers knew it, was harmful both because it didn't provide a safe or healthy environment for its inhabitants, but also because it promoted itself as an ideal, which could not and should not be modified. Secondly, she recommended that we recognize the cult of domesticity for the harmful myth it was and start thinking in terms of modifying the home, adapting it to a less dominant but still essential role, that of supporting human beings in their quest for flourishing in society. Taking up where Perkins Gilman left off, we can now ask whether the home, in this minimal role, must still resemble in any way what we now think of as a home.
When Eliza Doolittle in the musical version of Bernard Shaw's play, Pygmalion, first appears on screen after her altercation with Professor Higgings she is singing 'All I want is a room somewhere'. What she wants, it seems, is a place of her own, where she can sit down after a day's work without having her earnings taken from her, or without being shoved out of the way by parent, step-parent, or sibling – and where she can eat chocolate. But the smiling face of Audrey Hepburn, together with the Technicolor quality of the film suggests that she wants something more: a home with a family of a her own, a home where she is no longer poor, and no longer has to go out to the streets to work, but can be a proper, respectable woman.
At the end of the play, she has achieved some of this: she has a home and a flower shop with a husband she has chosen for herself. However, she has disappointed her maker, Professor Higgins, who would have liked to keep her to himself, offering her his home to share (why doesn't she just move her husband into her room on Walpole street, as she would a piece of furniture?), or indeed her writer, Shaw, who suggests, by telling us how both her marriage and her business turn out to be unprofitable, her choice was a mistake, not ambitious enough – she has failed to achieve independence, to fly away, and insofar as Higgins was the one charged with bringing her to life, it is also his failure. Eliza has settled down, and she has settled down, after all the promise of her transformation, for very little – she lacks enthusiasm about her husband and her job, and is perhaps more concerned still with the lives of Prof Higgins and the Colonel than with her own. On the other hand, she has successfully escaped from the (tyrannical) meddling hands of her father and Prof Higgins, and that was perhaps the best chance for independence she had, figuring out that it was harder to interfere with a married woman than with a single one. Having her own home, away from Walpole place, meant that she had a chance at becoming her own person, even if she had fewer tools at her disposal for self-development.
Where, in the coming to life of a character, the reaching for independence, should the getting of a home figure? And why should it figure at all – can one not break away from interference without settling (as indeed, Eliza's sister in law, Clara, ends up doing)? Can one not be a fully developed human being without having a home?
The question is fraught, not just because of the enormous power the idea of the home has on us, but because depending on our answer, we may exclude ways of flourishing that do not fall within the 'domestic norm', or at the very least, marginalize them, because we think that domesticity is the key to human growth and flourishing. And this is what I'm going to be working on, so watch this space!