Complementing the current upsurge in feminist writing on the eighteenth century, and giving students the chance to make their own re-readings of texts, this anthology gathers together a range of material from conduct manuals to medical texts.
I have not had this much pleasure out of a book in a long time.
While really the title should be Mostly Upper-Class, Mostly British Women in the Eighteenth Century, within those borders lies a whole wealth of weirdness. There are some choice pieces in here; I've got quotes from it scribbled everywhere. For those who, like me, had a rather perfunctory intro to Women's Studies--a quick stop at Wollstonecraft and straight on to the late 19th century--this book is excellent at showing that she was juI have not had this much pleasure out of a book in a long time.
While really the title should be Mostly Upper-Class, Mostly British Women in the Eighteenth Century, within those borders lies a whole wealth of weirdness. There are some choice pieces in here; I've got quotes from it scribbled everywhere. For those who, like me, had a rather perfunctory intro to Women's Studies--a quick stop at Wollstonecraft and straight on to the late 19th century--this book is excellent at showing that she was just one of many, many voices in her time, clamoring from all sides and with a whole range of ideas as to what it meant to be a woman.
There are some WTF pieces in here; there are some yes! fist pump! pieces in here, and there are some that truly break your heart, as you watch the author in question wrestle deeply with the inherent contradictions between what she has been told her role should be (and which she wants to keep, at least in part) and her desire to learn, to be treated as an equal, to be taken seriously.
All of which I read slowly and with pleasure and with a lot of "no freakin' WAY" at some of the most idiotic stances against the ladies (who knew the study of botany was so very corrupting?), or this choice bit of Fordyce (Austen fans will know Fordyce's Sermons, as they are what Mr. Collins helpfully regales his cousins with in Pride and Prejudice):
"What shall we say of certain books, which we are assured (for we have not read them) are in their nature so shameful, in their tendency so pestiferous, and contain such rank treason against the royalty of Virtue, that she who can bear to peruse them must in her soul be a prostitute, let her reputation in life be what it will."
But here's the rub: I read all this . . . and then I read that Elizabeth Wurtzel essay that just came out, in which she states that, "I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that," and I thought to myself, three centuries gone now? For ****'s sake.
We are overdue to put some things to bed, no pun intended. We are overdue to call some questions done, to stop entertaining those who would drag the dialogue back to old ground. Because the thing about this book is, it shouldn't have been this pleasurable. It shouldn't have been so amusing. Because this kind of enjoyment is founded on familiarity, and we're three centuries gone now; this should have been bewildering in its strangeness, not reminding me of people I read and know. ...more
This is really a great introductory anthology for people who are new to studying the didactic and conduct literature of the long eighteenth century. Jones has excerpted the most famous passages by some of the most famous writers in the genre, making this a wonderful first step to understanding the constructs of social femininity in the upper-class, Christian household.
This book provides insight into 18th century literature through selections on women, how they were expected to conduct themselves, and criticisms of their limitations in that era. It's a reminder of how far society has come and, unfortunately, how far we still haven't.