Conférence – Matriarchal economies: women inheriting from women in eighteenth-century wills, courts, and fiction

Le lundi 16 mai 2022 à 11h00 se tiendra la conférence Matriarchal economies: women inheriting from women in eighteenth-century wills, courts, and fiction  de Jolene Zigarovich (NIAS; U Northern Iowa).

Lieu : Simon Stevin (Plateaustraat 22 – Vergaderzaal 0.1) – Gent

While acknowledging that a gendered economy was clearly harmful to women, my talk explores the fact that women can regard property in a similar fashion as men, and that in eighteenth-century wills and courts women do find forms of economic agency. Despite the legal tradition of primogeniture in eighteenth-century English culture, women did in fact inherit money, land, and property. Further interrogating issues involved with primogeniture, my talk will illuminate the little examined practice of female-to-female inheritance. Novels in the period depict several women who inherit, distribute, or are gifted money and property from other women, as seen in Frances Burney’s Evelina and Cecilia, Charlotte Smith’s The Old Manor House and Emmeline, and Charlotte Lennox’s Henrietta. But how rare was this cultural practice? Are these fictional cases imaginative fantasies of female economic independence and power? Utilizing regional case studies of wills and courts, this talk will examine how matriarchal economies emerged in wills where women wielded their power by directing their own inheritances to deserving daughters and female relatives. I argue that fiction will react to legal developments restricting heiresses’ rights by propelling the heiress from the margins of legal discourse to the center of novel plots. By comparing the types of female relatives and friends involved, as well as the types of property willed and inherited, I magnify and complicate women’s roles in the transmission of property, claiming that in both actual and fictional cases women’s financial legacies and bequests could successfully navigate patriarchal economic structures that often disenfranchised them.

Jolene Zigarovich is associate professor of English in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of Writing Death and Absence in the Victorian Novel: Engraved Narratives, and she is editor of Sex and Death in Eighteenth-Century Literature as well as TransGothic in Literature and Culture. Her monograph Death and the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel had the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and is forthcoming in 2022 at the University of Pennsylvania Press. In Spring 2021 she was a visiting research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh and is currently a fellow for the academic year at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, Amsterdam. Her talk stems from her current work in progress tentatively titled Legal Bodies: Women, Economies, and the Law in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.

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