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A Most Sensible Oeconomy: From Spectacle to Surveillance in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall

Nanette Morton, McMaster University

Volume 11, no. 2, January 1999

©McMaster University, 2015. All articles published on the Eighteenth-Century Fiction website are protected by copyright held by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, a journal published by the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University.


Mary Astell’s anonymous proposal for the establishment of a Protestant “Monastery” for unmarried ladies was given a practical, if fictional, application more than sixty years later in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall (1762). Scott’s meticulous imagination envisioned a community of women which, in spite or perhaps because of its “retirement,” actively influenced the world around it. Critical examinations of Scott’s vision of this female community have focused on her attempts to redefine the role of women: George E. Haggerty points out that Sarah Scott “challenges … our conceptions of female sexuality in the eighteenth century in our preconceptions concerning female-female relations.” Dorice Williams Elliot contends that Scott details the community’s involvement in the business of philanthropy in order “to show that a woman who was not married could define herself as something other than an ‘old maid’ or a ‘fallen woman.”’ … Scott’s attempt to redefine the role of women is profound, for the female community of Millenium Hall represents a reordering of the eighteenth-century economy of power, in which woman’s body is moved from its contemporary position as an object of spectacle and exchange to one in which her “value” rests upon her utility and her ability to survey. What is equally true, however, is that these changes have inescapably conservative implications. I shall argue, finally, that this power to survey efficiently shores up an existing social hierarchy.

Other ECF articles on the topic of “Sarah Scott” include:

Sarah Scott and America: Sir George Ellison, The Man of Real Sensibility, and the Squire of Horton
by EVE TAVOR BANNET (ECF 22.4, Summer 2010)

Secretaries of the Interior: Narratorial Collaboration in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall
by WILLIAM H. WANDLESS (ECF 21.2, Winter 2008-9)

The Tyranny of Gift Giving: The Politics of Generosity in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall and Sir George Ellison
by JULIE MCGONEGAL (ECF 19.3, Spring 2007)

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