Seventeenth-Century Mother’s Advice Books

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This effort to de- intellectualise women is one of the most contrary and alarming aspects of literature intended to make women better individuals. The parallel between the book and the novel reflects a pleasure in teaching and being taught: yet as to who the pleasure and the benefit was aimed is more ambiguous.

eighteenthcenturylit [licensed for non-commercial use only] / Conduct Literature

Although female writers of conduct books were in existence, in the eighteenth century it was the male authors who experienced greater fame and respect for their works, which seems unusual considering the subject matter. In this passage the writer advises his daughters against being too bold and independent in society, stating that "wit is the most dangerous talent you can possess" Women were indeed "dangerous" to masculine authority and so setting out rules of behaviour for them to follow could allow society to govern them, under the pretext of it being for their protection.

Gregory's book highlights how women could only be perceived in relation to men in society, and thus they were cast as sexualised objects. Gregory frames this as "The power of a fine woman over the hearts of Men" in the above image. The implication is that female behaviour could elicit desire in the opposite sex, and it is their responsibility to not appear "indelicate". Gregory deplores the interaction of the sexes in public spaces but also reiterates and enforces the customs of high society which his daughters must abide by: "The great art of pleasing in conversation, consists in making the company pleased with themselves.

Indulge a secret pleasure I may say pride in being the friend and refuge of the unhappy, but without the vanity of shewing it.

This line promotes questionable behaviour, suggesting women look down upon the poor and abused in society. The preface below begins with the author dedicating his writing for a "young Lady". This is typical of the genre as it establishes a sense of familiarity and friendship between the author and the reader. The language in this pamphlet reflects the paternal, condescending style adopted by male conduct writers:.

In this respect, I am very happy in instructing the Females, who are not only cast in a softer Mold, but are by Nature of a more docile, and tractable turn. However Marriott falsifies an even more romanticised vision of femininity through writing this conduct piece as an poem. Image 12 , Female Conduct by Thomas Marriott, The writer employs allusions to classical figures and mythology in his poem, such as Antony and Cleopatra, woodland nymphs and Ovid.

The excerpt below reflects how the woman as a feeble and helpless character was fetishised by male conduct authors:. With what illusive Snares, are they inclos'd? Like Towns besieg'd, they can't their Danger know. From Hidden Mines, proceeds the Fatal Blow,.

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So Slipp'ry are the paths, young Virgins tread,. Some Hand, experienc'd, should their footsteps lead;. If you, fair Virgin, would commence a Bride. Be led by me; I will your Conduct guide. The question of knowledge here reflects how learning and education was a crucial tool to instil boundaries between men and women at this time.

The language prizes virginity and chastity as something delicate and to be treasured, which again intimates how the female reader is viewed solely in terms of sexuality and objectification. Representations of Conduct Literature in Art. Hogarth's 'A Harlot's Progress', might be read as a lesson on female morality. The story told in the plates follows Moll Hackabout, who falls into a life of dissipation as a prostitute in London. Moll begins in Plate I as an innocent and pure young girl from the country who is lured by the madam of a brothel into becoming the mistress of a wealthy nobleman.

Although Moll enjoys the lavishness of her new lifestyle, it is short-lived, and the heroine becomes a victim to vanity and a false sense of security. These plates read as a visual, almost anti-conduct manual, illustrating all the sins and temptations which writers such as Fenelon warn against. Hogarth's incredibly detailed depiction of reality in this art form recalls how real-life examples were a key part of didacticism in this period.

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The character's face is directed towards the viewer which invites you to look upon her, and Moll's suggestive upturned face implies an awareness at how she is being watched. The painter depicts some aristocratic men, enjoying drinking and conversing with ladies of a presumably disreputable character. The immodest dresses, dark colours which obscure what is happening in the background, and the physical proximity of the characters, reflects precisely what writers such as Boudier de Villemert and John Gregory feared.

Male conduct literature. While Conduct Books in the eighteenth century were typically connected with female education and specifically upper class- women, this does not mean such manuals did not exist for the opposite sex.

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Conduct Books were also an important part of aristocratic male upbringing, however there is a clear disparity in the content of the teachings. The author says that it is proper for a young upper-class man to be versed in these matters, as part of refining his manners. This contrasts with Fenelon's book which claimed women had no need of learning science or law.

The implication here is that man is the foundation of national political authority: noblemen are the law makers and enforcers which explains why they require these subjects. It is the man's duty to guide in society and particularly to be a guide to the 'fairer sex'. This difference it appears is firmly rooted in the perceived spheres associated with men and women, that of the public domain and that of the private, domestic world.

The proliferation of the conduct book over the eighteenth century carries a specific link to the epoch: with the many social and economic changes ongoing in the period bringing about new mercantile trades, public interaction with the sexes, and a class movement, there was evidently a need to reassert moral education.

Conduct manuals might be read as cementing class divides as well as gender divides, although this is problematised by the fact that presumably anyone could read this book addressed to a "nobleman".

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The author describes himself as a "moral architect who builds a man" 31 , an act he compares with a labourer who forms a palace out of stones. This description is particularly enlightening because it shows how the manual author saw themselves as fulfilling a kind of humane obligation. In both cases of conduct writing the project is fundamentally similar: the construction of a perfect individual. Once more the writer uses the style of epistolary writing to frame his conduct manual. Conduct writing for men can be characterised by a more elevated purpose and intellectual angle for its readers.

The instructions focus less on how to behave at a ball or how to dress modestly, but rather how to be a politically conscious individual who remembers his duty to his monarch and his fellow citizens. Thomas Gisborne's text An Enquiry into the Duties of Men is specifically aimed at the "higher and middle classes". The complete ostracisation of the lower strata in society is a common theme of contemporary conduct writing.

This is perhaps elucidated by fictional representations of the lower classes, particularly the serving class of servants and maids, in writing from the time. The contents pages demonstrate a highly patriotic and politically minded discourse on male behaviour. We might contrast such a book with Gisborne's An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex , which he first wrote in Of course, the difference in content of these two conduct books might be simply explained by the fact that women did not occupy the sphere of politics and government, and therefore did not need a lesson in how to behave in such a world.

What becomes clear nevertheless is how in restricting women from the male activities of legislation, oration, and sovereignty, it effectively restricted women from the entirety of society. The fact that two different books exist differentiating rules for male conduct, and rules for feminine conduct, enforces a sense of difference between the sexes even as both genders were merging in public.

The language of Conduct. Thus far the conduct material I have analysed has been directed towards a female readership. In these texts we see how an unease over changing gender relations and feminine autonomy is masked by an image of women as softer and more vulnerable by nature, requiring direction. Yet I would like to briefly consider how conduct was not only a concern linked with the fairer sex, but with humankind in general. The tone of this piece, written at the beginning of , perhaps refers to the recent history of political rebellions and the Seven Years' War in the comment on the, "Depravity of Human Nature".

It is significant to note here that the author believes writing is powerful enough to enforce a better code of conduct for society. The article recommends these texts because they will give "Delight" to the reader, but also instil "proper Sentiments of Religion, Justice, Honour and Virtue. Amongst the works which the author recommends to young gentlemen and ladies is "Letters and Cards on the most common, as well as important occasions of Life.

The majority of Conduct books in the middle and latter half of the eighteenth century are aimed at gentlewomen, yet this newspaper article reminds us of the precepts upon which conduct books were founded: distinguishing right and wrong, leading a pious life, and practicing humility.

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All of these are teachings which can be applied to both "young gentlemen and ladies". Conduct Writing, Letters and Novels. Through analysing these examples of conduct manuals, the significance of letter writing becomes increasingly apparent. Lady Wharton's conduct guide to her daughters is written in a genuine letter form, intimating how this style reflected intimacy and trust between the writer and its recipient. John Gregory's conduct book exemplifies how the two forms came explicitly together.

The personal letters written to his daughters on modesty, morality and the art of conversation in society entered the public domain to great acclaim. Contemporary readers seemed to enjoy the pedagogic tone of writing, indicative of the philosophies regarding self-cultivation and education developing in this epoch.

Letters in conduct literature function in a very similar way to the epistolary form in novels: they give a sense of immediate reality to the writing which makes the advice trustworthy but also pleasurable to read. Directing not only the Requisite Style and Forms to be Observed in writing Familial letters; But how to think and act justly and prudently in the common concerns of Human Life.

In this text Richardson writes a variety of letters under different personas, from mothers to noblemen, which were intended to help the aspiring literate classes in both writing and comportment.