Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. x + 228pp. Illus.: 4 halftones. $42.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8131-2116-7).
Miranda J. Burgess
University of British Columbia
The first word in the title of this book is tonally at odds with the second, and with the argument of the book as a whole. "Misogyny" sounds like a topic for an older or more naïve feminism than Mandell's fresh and sophisticated version, and its transhistorical ring belies the specificity Mandell brings to her cultural study of eighteenth-century economic history. But these impressions are misleading, as Mandell makes clear in framing her book. She begins by arguing that "[m]isogyny in representations is not about women but rather about society" (1). She ends with the assertion that the "[d]isgust allegedly aroused by women's bodies comes in fact from the stench of social inequity" (158). Moreover, she insists that "misogyny is not necessary" either to literature or to culture (158). Criticism that is to be effective in the twenty-first century must be "willing to see gender as a figure, not a thing" (157).
Yet according to Mandell's analysis, the figure of gender and an accompanying misogyny are everywhere in eighteenth-century writing, from the individual poems, plays and economic texts discussed in the first four chapters to the anthologies and critical writings that processed such works later in the century, addressed in chapters five and six. The key to the simultaneous ubiquity and unnecessariness of this seemingly essential discourse is the way in which eighteenth-century poets and Romantic anthologists and critics used misogynist rhetorics and practices to manage the pleasures of their readers. It is eighteenth-century readers and their pleasures, and the social anxiety these pleasures produce in contemporaries, that are the major topic of Mandell's book.