Northampton Electronic Collection of Theses and Research

'Upon your entry into the world': masculine values and the threshold of adulthood among landed elites in England, 1680-1800

French, H. and Rothery, M. (2008) 'Upon your entry into the world': masculine values and the threshold of adulthood among landed elites in England, 1680-1800. Social History. 33(4), pp. 402-422. 0307-1022.

Item Type: Article
Abstract: Compared with studies of earlier and later centuries, discussion of masculinity in the ‘long’ eighteenth century has often concentrated on typifying discourses abstracted from conduct literature, or by reference to gender values expressed in prosecutions and publications relating to ‘deviant’ sexualities. Less attention has been given to identifying private understandings of masculine norms embedded in family correspondence. This study identifies values that were ‘routinized’ within a sample of landed families, that is, those norms rendered unremarkable by everyday rehearsal and mentioned only in passing. It focuses particularly on a ‘make-or-break’ moment in male development – sons’ departure from direct parental control. This pivotal step offered the chance to enact ideals of masculine autonomy, self-control and independence, but carried the risks of debt, disease or disgrace. This article evaluates three important aspects of the tense relationship between filial ‘entry into the world’ and parental expectations. Firstly, it explores parental understandings of this dilemma, and illustrates how fears were counter-balanced by recognition of the importance of personal autonomy within practices of elite masculinity. Secondly, it shows how families mitigated the perils of filial independence, particularly by inculcating ‘familial’ values, and selecting appropriate role models (often siblings). Thirdly, it examines sons’ responses to these efforts, and whether hidden differences of opinion were concealed beneath outward conformity. These private unpublished records demonstrate a number of insights into elite masculinity. Despite the inherent dangers involved in the process, the gentry deemed the beginnings of independence to be crucial to their sons’ development as men and negotiated the process in various ways. Ongoing support was provided by family members. Women were amongst the most important of these and mothers played a very important part in both advising and admonishing. Parents and other family members were more likely to recommend the example of living role models than to suggest particular conduct books or advice manuals. Family cultures of masculinity were apparent in this correspondence as well as the broader social assumptions about manhood that informed them, and demonstrate a greater degree of continuity in gender norms than has previously been supposed
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women > HQ799.95 Adulthood
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women > HQ1088 Men
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology > HM1001 Social psychology > HM1176 Social influence. Social pressure > HM1263 Elite
Creators: French, Henry and Rothery, Mark
Funders or Sponsors: British Academy
Grant Reference Number: SG-46123
Projects: Practices of Politeness: Changing Norms of Masculinity in Landed Society, 1660-1800
Publisher: Routledge
Faculties, Divisions and Institutes: University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > School of Social Sciences (to 2016)
University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > Faculty of Education & Humanities > History
Faculties > Faculty of Education & Humanities > History
Date: 2008
Date Type: Publication
Page Range: pp. 402-422
Journal or Publication Title: Social History
Volume: 33
Number: 4
Language: English
ISSN: 0307-1022
Status: Published / Disseminated
Refereed: Yes
Related URLs:

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