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Carroll Smith Rosenberg: The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America

I. Problematics
  • female friendship of the 19th century has been neglected by historians
    • but it was an integral part of American society (cf. Little Women?)
  • problems in defining and analyzing same-sex relationships
    • most historians concentrate on individual psycho-sexual frameworks
      • she suggests viewing within a cultural and social setting
        • {question: is there really any other way?}
  • so she examines women's overall relations with other women
    • she "shifts the focus of the study from a concern with deviance to that of defining configurations of legitimate behavioral norms and options" (54)
  • concentrates on families in the literate middle class : their letters
  • the women had intense emotional relationships and love, sometimes including physical relations
    • these were totally accepted by society
      • maybe because these women remained within their social gender roles, e.g. Chauncey
        • {this is an incredibly rosy view, it seems: were there no instances of repression or negative experiences? Too optimistic and nostalgic for me: seems as if she wants to return to this time, when men didn't intrude upon the women's spheres of contact.}
    • she's not interested in examining their sexuality but their sociality

II. 19th Century Characteristics
  • rigid gender role differentiation, sexual segregation
  • women's circle safe and thrived
    • gives detailed examples of women's support for each other
  • men were excluded, even kicked out of bed
  • the mother set the social and gender example to be followed
  • boarding schools were also formative places
    • {are these support networks representative?}
  • she writes that "hostility and criticism of other women were so rare as to seem almost tabooed," (67)
    • there were "taboos against female aggression and hostility" (65)
      • {once again, this just seems too idealistic, is it really probable?}
  • in essence, then, the 19th century didn't have taboos against female relationships
    • even throughout a woman's life they were acceptable
  • emotional closeness and uninhibited physical contact was not present in male-female relationships
    • however (or therefore?) it did occur in female-female ones
  • concludes: there is a spectrum of sexual and emotional impulses
    • these are "strongly affected by cultural norms and arrangements" (75)
      • the 19th c. allowed great freedom for movement within this spectrum.
  • {last sentence comes out of nowhere for me: the Victorian sexual ethos was actually responsive to the needs of particular individuals -- huh? how has she showed this, and what about straight women, who couldn't form emotional bonds with men?}

Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1995 for German 711 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Article Summary and Presentation on Carroll Smith Rosenberg." Website Article. 21 March 1995. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/711Rosenberg.html>.