Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Unaccountable Wife (Jane Barker)

18th century English novel featuring a devoted, if one-sided, friendship between a woman and her servant.

LHMP entry

The paper opens with a consideration of the use of the term “queer” in modern academia, combined with a more literal meaning indicating deviance from the norm. But then it dives into a somewhat unusual use of the word in the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840) who appears to use “queer” as a name for female genitalia—a use that doesn’t seem to have a clear origin or parallels.

This chapter tackles the question of how "sameness" in the context of same-sex relations reflected and represented concerns about social leveling. It begins by considering an example of the "metamorphic" framing: a 17th c. book of curiosities that included a chapter of 24 instances of persons changing sex. Though the book was reprinted regularly, the sex-change chapter was dropped, perhaps reflecting a shift from an earlier miracle-accepting age to one more concerned with rational explanations.

In this chapter Donoghue examines texts, both fictional and biographical that examine close and long-term friendships between women. The selection here is focuses on the complexity and difficulties of real lives rather than those that idealize friendship.

Beynon studies fictional (and biographic) narratives of "accounts" as a window on the gendering of economic competence in the 18th century. This specific article concerns two relationships between women that are framed or viewed in terms of their economic logicalness and success: Barker's embedded story "The Unaccountable Wife" in A Patch-Work screen for The Ladies, and Defoe's Roxana. The former is an odd tale of a married couple and their female servant who is, apparently, also the mistress of the husband.

Subscribe to The Unaccountable Wife (Jane Barker)