This is an attempt to understand the psychology of the late 18th century Virginia gentry by exploring the writings of some of its more prominent male menbers. Lockridge culls his evidence from the commonplace books of Thomas Jefferson and William Byrd, in which the subjects collected jokes, quotations, and parables that they found to be particularly illuminative. While Lockridge acknowledges that the perspectives of two men cannot be wholly transferable to their entire class, he hopes that his subjects are representational enough that some insight into the general beliefs of the gentry can be found in their writings. However, by focusing on narrow periods in the authors' lives in a strictly constructed context, while adding a heavy dose of his own (questionable) psychoanalysis, Lockridge excludes much evidence that could provide a more balanced assesment of gentry values.
Lockridge rests his case on the belief that the personality failings of Jefferson and Byrd were somehow representational of a broad misogynistic conviction among upper-class Virginia men. While continuously undermining his own argument by admitting that among the scores of commonplaces he has read, he found nothing similar to the "misogynistic rage" uncovered in the writings of these two men, he is nonetheless certain that these aberrations were somehow deeply reflective of true patriarchal hatred for women. Despite the fact that his own sources make clear that these expressions of misogyny appeared in response to personal failures with women (Byrd was spurned in romance, and Jefferson was unhappily controlled by his mother during his rebellious teenage years) Lockridge argues that it is not enough to agree that these outbursts were reflective of bad personal experiences with women, but that we need to "understand what mental categories are invoked on such an occasion." Understanding what Lockridge means by this would be far more enlightening, however. He goes on to insist that because entries concerning women appear in the same time frame as those about power and rebellion, they must be indisputably connected in the authors' minds, despite the fact that the two men had much to say about these themes in other contexts.
Despite the problems in the work, the conclusions Lockridge ultimately draws about patriarchy are rather convincing, though more concrete evidence than he has presented would be required to prove them. He argues that rather than fearing women for their sexual or political power, it was economic control that most consternated gentrymen, as widows had the ability to control their own property (though Jefferson's attempts to change the legal code so that females could inherit property from their parents would seem to contradict the idea that he personally felt this way.)
Lockridge claims that the point of his study was simply to show that males were under pressure from women because female economic power had the potential to undermine male hegemony in controlling the structure of their newly created world. This is certainly a valid and interesting point; it is thus all the more unfortunate that the body of his essay does little to reinforce it.