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a serious proposal to teh ladies

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Dr.Carla Hustak

1 HIS245Y –Lecture 6 A Serious Proposal to the Ladies: Educated Women Make the Case for Cultivating Women’s Minds The Proposal: -1694 Mary Astell advocates a “female monastery” or “religious retirement” -“a Seminary to stock the Kingdom with pious and prudent Ladies, whose good Example it is to be hop’d, will so influence the rest of their Sex, that Women may no longer pass for those little useless and impertinent Animals” -cultivating women’s minds , she manages to get her proposal published -she binds education to Christian virtue -she was focused on women’s minds, her main focus was the lack of education for women and the importance of creating a space for their minds and tied it to virtue -the education that they were giving at the time do not provide useful for function within society -she compares them to animals in the sense that lack of development of reason -she proclaimes herself to be a lover of her sex –sisterhood –speaking on belhalf of her sex and tries to do them a service -she is optimistic that women can develop their mind Mary Astell on Courtship: -she comments on intimate relationship btween men and women -“The deceitful Flatteries of those who under Pretence of loving and admiring you, really served their own base ends.” -men in society have primarily exalted women as beautiful object and created ideal that they have to emulate and they then consented to this system by development themlseves solly for marriage -“Even the Men, as exact as they wou’d seem, and as much as they divert themselves with our Miscarriages, are very often guilty of greater fault, and such, as considering the advantages they enjoy.” –she referrs to elite men and how they contributed to the denial of women from getting degrees or entering professions . since men are educated they should have had a more enlightened perspective on the education of men, and that they have contributed to the faults they accuse women of What The Proposal Will Change: --women are being educated w/o virtue in the state of education, and its primarily the prep them for marriage and domestic duties to please potential suiters -“Let us learn to pride our selves in something more excellent than the invention of Fashion, and not entertain such a degrading thought of our own worth, as to imagine that our Souls were given us only for the service of our Bodies, and that the best improvement we can make of these, is to attract the eyes of Men.” –what is essentially valued of women is their bodies and attraction and domestic labour and breeding ; also mentiones the importance of fashion to women , at the time there were a lot of commodities coming to England, so materialism was taking hold in society and shape the way women are defining themselbes accomplishment: dancing, music, things that make u a good social partner Astell addresses Consumption and Education: 2 -“When a poor Young Lady is taught to value herself on nothing but her Cloaths, and to think she’s very fine when well accoutred; When she hears say, that ‘tis Wisdom enough for her to know how to dress herself, that she may become amiable in his eyes, to whom it appertains to be knowing and learned.” --how each gender defines themselves, she addresses one who have a mind that is developed, the women is defining herselfe by her clothing, by creating this outward display –heterosexual attraction Astell’s Proposal within Certain Limitations/Constraints: -The woman at the retreat should not “trouble her self in turning over a a great number of Books, but take care to understand and digest a few well chosen and good ones.” –which lit would be good for women and which weren’t (romantic or salacious comedies) -she was known as a loyalist—supported the monarchy --she was conservative, in terms of gender roles, that education would make women make them better wives and mothers –thus uses virtue as an argument for women -Astell and royalist conservative politics -Virtue as an argument for education Education and opportunities within Limits - “we pretend not that Women shou’d teach in the Church, or usurp Authority wehre it is not allow’d them; permit us only to understand our own duty.” -there are limitations to her views: she ties education to Christianity –arguments that educated women are less corrupt and more moral and she responds to these claims, --also intelligent sole claim, that education is a religious duty -education would not undermine their domestic duty Questions: 1. How might we better understand what seem to be tensions or contradictions in Astell’s “serious proposal”? 2. Why might Astell have been so radical in her claims on the one hand and so conservative on the other? 3. How did the Serious Proposal fit into the broader context of England and Europe? 4. How does Astell’s proposal relate to other developments in women’s education across Europe? A. Astell’s Life and Writing A Serious Proposal to the Ladies -Astell’s argument for “intelligent souls” in historical context -she was operating under specific conditions that changes the peramator of what she could or couldn’t do -she argued if they were spiritual equals, why cant they be mental equals -women’s tong as loose and immoral -Astell on the theme of Beauty & femininity—femininity and education are not incompatible , gives a different kind of beauty -“Ornaments”, “Treasures from the Indies”—this is her promise to women if they get educated 3 -Education “Wou’d help you to surpass the Men as much in Vertue and Ingenuity, as you do in Beauty, that you may not only be as lovely, but as wise as Angels.” Political and Economic Context of Astell’s Proposal: -she comes out of a loyalist tradition -Newcastle, Hostmen coal merchants, royalists -Peter Astell and George Errington -Interregnum (1642-1660) context, King Charles I (1649) -English Civil Wars (1642-51), Oliver Cromwell, Protectorate (1653-59) -Restoration (1660), Charles II, libertinism—Charls lives in exile in France -James II (reigns 1685-1689), The Glorious Revolution 1688 -William of Orange (William III) and Queen Mary II **main point: she lives in a period of political and social/religious instability I. Astell’s Early Life -issue of economic support and female headed household, from age of 12 -her dad passed away and left them with only 500, not enough to support a whole family , ante and uncle as well -Ralph Astell, tutoring, St. Nicholas’s Church -17 or 18 years old, she becomes depressed, she feels the burden of a female headed household, writes poems on isolation -there wasn’t a lot of examples of female writers at the time. London, ambitions to earn a living (example of Aphra Behn) , her finances are streched -Archbishop Sancroft and Rich Wilkin (conservative publisher) II. Astell on Education, Training, and Cartesianism -needlework, literacy, Northern England context for women -Cambridge Platonists: Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whithcote, John Worthington -Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan(1651), materialist philosophy—what is necessary for social order is to relinquish their rights to this soverine leader , w/o this, society would turn chaotic and a war of all against all, ppl are selfish and governed by passion and greed, this was a way to keep ppl in line. He can be seen as materialist in the sense that he sees humans as governed by desires and passions that needs to be checked -women’s souls and mind, Rene Descartes and Cartesianism, mind/body dualism—this is critical to his philosophy, esp to women who advocate educational reform (the mind has no sex), emphasises the mind as the source of the mind. Decard’s “meditation” , he questions what he knows for sure and and tosses everything that cant be grasped by the mind alone, this created the mind, body dualism, can I trust my senses? What I see? Division between mind and body. His philosophy does ge
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