A Woman’s Thoughts About Men: Malthus and Middle-class Masculinity in Dinah Mulock Craik's John Halifax, Gentleman

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From its publication in 1856 to the present-day Dinah Mulock Craik’s John Halifax, Gentleman has intrigued readers in its representation of masculinity and potential to be read “aslant”, offering a divergent model of manliness, or even the “split consciousness” of the woman writer’s self-image refracted through her depiction of a cast of male characters (Showalter, 1975). Most recently Karen Bourrier has discussed the novel’s exploration of industry and invalidism as told through the narrative framework of an “intense homoerotic friendship between a strong man and his disabled friend” (Bourrier, 2015), and, in a 2007 article, Silvana Colella uses gift theory to demonstrate the intrinsic codes of gentlemanliness inherent in capitalist economics faithfully embodied in the text. This article considers Craik’s representation of men in the novel as a lens through which Craik could engage with, and question, some of the largest theoretical areas of nineteenth-century, male-dominated intellectual life: economics, science, and politics. The article begins with an examination of the novel in relation to Malthus’ economic theories of population and the tensions between Lamarckian and Malthusian ideology in the field of evolutionary theory in the works of Robert Chambers, George Drysdale, and others. The article will then explore the effect of Malthusian theory on discourses that emphasised masculine self-control as articulated in the symbiotic relationship of the two male protagonists, before concluding with Craik’s intervention in the history of the woman writer as woman writer. I will demonstrate how this enormously popular novel interrogated and intervened in the assumptions of sentimental fiction by contextualising Craik’s construction of a male narrative voice and an interdependent male relationship in terms of nineteenth-century economic, scientific, and political theoretical debates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-249
Number of pages19
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number2
Early online date21 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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