Skip to main content

About this book

Despite current debate over the paternal role, fatherhood is a relatively new area of investigation in literary, historical and cultural studies. The contributors to this illustrated, interdisciplinary volume - one of the first extended investigations of paternity in nineteenth-century Britain and its empire - penetrate the stereotype of the Victorian paterfamilias to uncover intimate and involved, authoritarian and austere fathers. Finding surprising precursors of the 'new man' and the 'lone father', Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers provide an essential overview of changing ideologies and practices of fatherhood as the family acquired its distinctively modern form.

Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century:
- offers nuanced re-readings of artistic and literary representations of domesticity, investigations of fathering at home and at work, and of legal, political and religious discourses, suggesting that fatherhood generated more anxiety and debate than previously acknowledged
- explores how traditional conceptions of paternal authority worked to accommodate the 'cult of motherhood'
- examines how paternal power was embedded in social institutions
- shows how models of social fatherhood provided powerful men with a means of negotiating their relationship with working-class men and colonized subjects.

As these innovative essays demonstrate, the history of fatherhood can illuminate our understanding of class, society and empire as well as of gender and the family. Together they form an indispensable resource for anyone studying Victorian fatherhood as part of a History, Literature, Art, Social or Cultural Studies course.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Empire of the Father

Introduction: The Empire of the Father

In his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–9), William Blackstone described the father’s absolute legal power within his family as ‘the empire of the father’. The mother, by comparison, was ‘entitled to no power, but only to reverence and respect’.1 This construction of fatherhood proved remarkably resilient and continued to underwrite family law. Despite this, the ‘empire of the father’ was assailed over the nineteenth century, as the home and family were, to a significant extent, annexed to the moral dominion of the mother. In this book, the first full-length study of paternity in Britain and its colonies to encompass the long nineteenth century, we begin to investigate the ideological work of the father figure — the construction and effects of fatherhood as discourse — and the very different experiences of being a father at a time when middle-class ideals of motherhood and domesticity held unprecedented sway, and when paternal status, authority and credibility were sharply inflected by family shape and social position.
Trev Lynn Broughton, Helen Rogers

Rights and Responsibilities


1. Fatherhood, Religious Belief and the Protection of Children in Nineteenth-Century English Families

Throughout the nineteenth century in England, fathers stood at the symbolic centre of family, home and household, and of relationships between families and other social and political worlds. This position was not just symbolic, as fathers were invested with considerable power and authority, invisibly built into many social institutions. As this chapter will show, an implicit and often taken-for-granted aspect of fatherhood was providing protection for dependants, a complex role which shaped inequalities of power between genders and generations. Both formal and informal sanctions against fathers who were unable or unwilling to fulfil this role were at a historically low ebb as community governance of aberrant fatherhood was in decline, and legal remedies were limited.2 Nevertheless, the rights of fathers were challenged at many levels, from everyday family dynamics to the political movements for women’s rights and child protection which gathered momentum over the century. The transmission of religious and moral orthodoxies between generations thus emerged as a key index of fatherly competence and a significant arena for the reshaping of familial relationships.
Megan Doolittle

2. ‘Married Men and the Fathers of Families’: Fatherhood and Franchise Reform in Britain

Fatherhood is generally regarded as being a private matter, since it concerns personal relationships within the familial and domestic spheres. The public implications of fatherhood are rather more difficult to establish, not least because we are accustomed to conceptualizing formal politics as a sphere that is separate from ‘the private’, and because historians tend to assume that men have dominated the political world without critiquing these roles. The pioneers of the history of masculinity, however, always asserted that familial and public masculinities were inseparable. Michael Roper and John Tosh argued in 1991 that men’s power in the political domain has historically been justified along patriarchal lines, in terms of the relationships ‘between father figures and their dependants’.1 This chapter will therefore focus upon the debates surrounding the parliamentary franchise in Britain in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but will place the issue of fatherhood at the centre of the question. In this way, it will explore both the implications of gender for this key constitutional debate and the place of politics in nineteenth-century ideologies and practices of the family.
Matthew McCormack

3. ‘What Do You Want to Know about Next?’ Charles Kingsley’s Model of Educational Fatherhood

‘Kiss the darling ducks of children for me,’ Charles Kingsley told his wife at the end of a letter of 1849, when he was away in Devonshire trying to recoup his health: ‘How I long after them and their prattle. I delight in all the little ones in the street for their sake, and continually I start and fancy I hear their voices outside. You do not know how I love them; nor did I hardly till I came here.’1
Valerie Sanders

Patterns of Involvement


4. Father as Mother: The Image of the Widower with Children in Victorian Art

In 1876, Sir Luke Fildes exhibited The Widower at the Royal Academy annual summer exhibition. Fildes’s inspiration for the scene, he later recalled, was an incident that occurred while he was working on his better-known Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874. According to Fildes, he was painting in the fellow standing against the wall when the model became tired of standing. The artist suggested that the man, who was modelling with his child, take a rest while Fildes went on to work on another section of the canvas. After a while, Fildes peered behind the screen where the man had been sitting and saw the tableau which prompted The Widower. The artist related what he saw to the Strand magazine: ‘The child had fallen asleep, and there was this great, rough fellow, possibly with only a copper in the world, caressing his child, watching it lovingly and smoothing its curls with his hand.’1
Terri Sabatos

5. Hands-on Fatherhood in Trollope’s Novels

When the child care guru Benjamin Spock died in 1997, his son John in a post-obit interview commented, ‘He was very Victorian. He’s never been a person who gave me a hug. He wouldn’t kiss me.’1 In describing the cold detachment of his father as ‘Victorian’, he fed into a nexus of assumptions and associations that people commonly make about Victorian men in general and fathers in particular. Anthony Trollope, for his part, has largely been viewed as the chronicler of men wielding their power in their vestries, in their ministries and on their estates. There has been little focus on his portrayal of their domestic milieu. This is a sad oversight, for when we set to examine his men round the hearth, remarkable and stereotype-challenging detail emerges. Trollope’s novels advance a consistent theme of masculinity, within which men achieve their true potential by embracing their feminine side. This is not the anachronism that it might seem, since in Phineas Redux Laura Kennedy writes to Phineas Finn for news about how her brother and sister-in-law are shaping as parents: ‘You have enough of the feminine side of a man’s character to tell me how they are living.’2 Phineas Finn (whose affections have all the constancy of a butterfly) is thus identified as a man who knows his own nurturing side, and is observant about other men as parents. Early on in Phineas Redux he has written to these friends asking, ‘Does Oswald make a good nurse with the baby?’ (Vol. 1 p. 18). When he goes to stay with them we read, ‘he rode Lord Chiltern’s horses, took an interest in the hounds, and nursed the baby’ (Vol. 1 p. 26). Trollope’s men push the pram, nurse the baby, change the nappies and put the children to bed. Indeed, men such as Phineas who philander their way through the novels still get to marry the girl if they are seen to nurse a baby along the way.
Margaret Markwick

6. Father(ing) Christmas: Fatherhood, Gender and Modernity in Victorian and Edwardian England

In popular perception, the Victorian Christmas has come to epitomize an authentic vision of the Christmas festival centred on the family and the domestic hearth. Its seminal text, A Christmas Carol (1843), celebrates the familial affections of Christmas, but also the obligations of giving and the duties of paternal care. Scrooge’s transformation from miser to fountain of benevolence finds special resonance in his relationship with Tiny Tim, sanctifying fatherhood at the spiritual core of Christmas. Later in the Victorian period, the link between Christmas and fatherhood became reified through the dissemination of Santa Claus rituals of gift-giving, with particular emphasis on Christmas stockings. Such rituals are not without wider significance for the nineteenth-century family. Scholars such as John Gillis have argued that, during this period, Christmas and other holidays became symbolic occasions where families, particularly of the middle classes, celebrated idealized conceptions of themselves.2 Within this scheme a study of the Christmas festival can add to our understanding of the nature of the father–child relationship in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. In what follows I draw upon a wide social range of evidence from memoirs and private family papers to explore the shifting attitudes and fathering practices during the Christmas festival. While the emergence of Santa Claus rituals gave fathers a more structured role, it complicated their symbolic authority as patriarchs, particularly in the gift relationship. These rituals are also considered in relation to the public iconography of Santa Claus, who had become a major feature of Christmas commercial and philanthropic campaigns by the beginning of the twentieth century. Representations of Santa Claus were frequently aligned with images of aircraft and motor cars that epitomized a consciously modern age, and, though humorous in tone, they may hint at a masculine ambivalence towards the Christmas festival and the broader trends of modern society.
Neil Armstrong

A Different Class?


7. Father’s Pride? Fatherhood in Industrializing Communities

The dual role of the father as family man and provider has received surprisingly little attention and, despite recent work on the development and consolidation of the ‘breadwinner ideal’, there has been little examination of how this ideal was implemented and negotiated within distinctive workplaces.1 This chapter argues that the sexual division of labour and the role of the father in the home and the workplace were contingent on particularities of specific occupations, labour markets and cultures, and that older patterns of gendered labour were not always displaced. Based on the Sheffield trades and the South Yorkshire mining industry, it explores the reproduction of the paternal role in the workplace, and the relationships between particular patterns of family labour and wider cultural discourses on fatherhood.
Andrew Walke

8. ‘First in the House’: Daughters on Working-Class Fathers and Fatherhood

Conventionally, and in contrast to memoirs by mothers, autobiographies by Victorian men disclose little about their experiences of parenthood, though they often detail their relationships with parental figures in childhood.1 Consequently, our understanding of the father–child bond in the nineteenth century has been refracted through the perspectives of sons and daughters and, above all, through the accounts of the antagonistic filial bond foregrounded in early twentieth-century psychology, fiction and memoirs. Modernism’s debunking of the Victorian paterfamilias can be read as a revolt of gender and of generation and as evidence of ‘the end of paternal deference’ and ‘the flight from domesticity’ that John Tosh detects from the 1870s onwards.2 Yet the authoritarian and reticent Victorian papa characteristic of modernist writing bears the traces of a historically distinctive family form — that of the professional, mercantile and well-to-do middle classes. Though the father figured very differently in other social classes, few scholars have responded to Carolyn Steedman’s call for ‘a reading of history that reveals fathers mattering in a different way from the way they matter in the corpus of traditional psychoanalysis [and] the novels that depict the same familial settings’.3
Helen Rogers

9. ‘Speechless with Grief’: Bereavement and the Working-Class Father, c. 1880–1914

Many working-class families from the middle of the nineteenth century were typified by a sexual division of labour. It is unsurprising, then, that the historiography of working-class family life has tended to privilege the relationship between mothers and their children.1 Within this framework, the working-class father has featured primarily as a wage-earner whose livelihood defined the status of his dependants. For instance, Karl Ittman’s Work, Gender and Family in Victorian England (1995) approached the working-class father and husband through the lens of his occupational status, examining how the identity of the ‘provider’ shaped and interrelated with a political and trade-union consciousness. Ittman does not remove fathers entirely from a domestic sphere, noting that the working-class family cannot be reduced to an economic unit when so little is known about how work and family interact. None the less, fathers feature little in his analysis of the interpersonal dynamics of working-class life beyond a conception of paternal duty: discipline and breadwinning.2
Julie-Marie Strange

Frontiers of Fatherhood


10. Missionary ‘Fathers’ and Wayward ‘Sons’ in the South Pacific, 1797–1825

Fatherhood was central to nineteenth-century evangelical theology and social theory.1 As Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall have shown, the family on earth was to emulate the heavenly family. Women’s role was to ‘guide the house’ and bring up children, extending their maternal skills to the care of the local community and, more contestedly, to the regeneration of the nation. Sermons and conduct books disseminated knowledge of biblical fathers such as Jacob, Abraham and Joseph, and of God the Father, at once mysterious and known, benevolent and punishing, while implicitly prescribing good fatherly conduct. Men, as husbands and fathers, were placed at the head of the family, providing authority, protection and kindness, and operating as a role model to sons and others entrusted to their care.2 Fatherhood was also a metaphor for the wider influence or ‘empire’ of men, as notions of paternal authority contributed to emerging middle-class and, later, national cultures and identities.3 Good Christian men, as members of a missionary movement for global change, were expected to manage, guide, discipline and nurture ‘other’ males identified by missionary philanthropic discourses as objects of reform and in need of a careful steering from ‘heathen’ childhoods to Christian maturity.
Alison Twells

11. A Wealth of Fatherhood: Paternity in American Adoption Narratives

If early nineteenth-century American commentators believed that the orphaned, abandoned or deprived children of the poor needed employment to save them from their parents’ criminality or fecklessness, their early twentieth-century heirs increasingly contended that such children needed families. Although multiple methods of dealing with displaced children existed, including institutionalization, state-subsidized foster care, and forms of quasi-apprenticeship in which the child exchanged labour for room and board, eventually most social theorists and many lay persons agreed that adoption was the ideal. Between 1851 and 1929 every existing state enacted public adoption laws so that needy children might find homes.
Claudia Nelson

12. Fatherhood Real, Imagined, Denied: British Men in Imperial India

Looking back on her childhood during the First World War and the 1920s, the novelist M. M. Kaye recalled one of her father’s rare trips to England in the course of his Indian Army career. For Kaye’s mother, his return ended a separation that was, by the standards of British families linked to empire by virtue of the fathers’ professions, a fairly brief one following her own earlier journey back from India. As was customary in officer-class families, however, his three children born in the subcontinent had long since been sent home for their schooling, his eldest son Bill at the age of six. Since the war postponed his next visit, by the time Cecil Kaye rejoined his family on leave it had been eight years since he had last seen his son. Kaye’s rendition of their family reunion underscored the problematic relationship between father and son that was part of the ‘price of empire’ which such Raj families paid:
When the day and the hour of his arrival finally came, all four of us were lined up waiting with our noses pressed to the window-panes of Mother’s bedroom upstairs … when at last the taxi stopped in front of the gate and [he] got out, Bill, who had not seen his father for the best part of a decade and thought this must be a stranger, said: ‘Who’s that funny little man?’ … Now that is real tragedy … Those five words … were Bill’s instant reaction on seeing again the loved and admired parent to whom, as a bewildered and tearful little boy, he had waved goodbye so many long years ago … We never told [our father] what Bill had said. Their situation was difficult enough without that. And they had so little time in which to resolve it and get to know each other. That they never did succeed in closing the gap left by those lost years is not surprising: it yawned too wide and they had barely ten days in which to build a bridge that would span it.1
Elizabeth Buettner
Additional information