Complete Story


Summer 2001, pages 33-52

Gender, Commerce, and The Transormation of Virtue in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Abstract: This article examines the shift in views of virtue in eighteenth-century Britain as the emerging middle-class attempted to legitimize commerce and forge a broader concept of citizenship. I illustrate how middle-class values were sanctioned, in part, by relocating the source of civic virtue from the public to the domestic or private sphere. During this transition, women came to be seen as the "civilizing" agents of society, and I demonstrate how this new ethical role prescribed for them was reflected and instantiated in eighteenth-century culture through specific pedagogical practices. By analyzing eighteenth-century conceptions of civic virtue in terms of how they were implicated in specific historical configurations of gender and class, I illustrate the need for further studies that approach ethics as a contingent, unstable category.