A Serious Proposal to the Ladies

18th Century women writers and the reclamation of Milton’s Eve

May 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

Since its first publication in 1667, Milton’s Paradise Lost has continued to exert its influence over literature, having particular resonance with the romantics, Wordsworth citing it as among ‘the grand store-houses of enthusiastic and meditative Imagination’. Milton took what Genesis had put forward in a few brief lines and crafted an enthralling, skillful epic, using the creation story to justify the ways of God to men. Using the Bible as inspiration and basis for the poem awarded Milton’s text an authority, and thus his detailed portraits of Adam and Eve became particularly influential in discussions about the nature of men and women generally, having sprung from these two ‘parents’. Milton’s Eve gives credit to the attitude commonplace in his era, that women, though creations of God, are inferior to men: ‘both not equal, as their sex not equal seemed’.[Book IV] It is through Eve’s weakness of pride and vanity that mankind comes to fall in the Bible and the poem. However, for women writers living in the late seventeenth, and through the eighteenth century, political climate opened up a physical and imaginative space in which they had an opportunity to challenge these gender perceptions Milton’s influential work propagates. As Margaret Doody explains, ‘in England just after 1660 (and through the Revolution of 1688-89), the ontologies of both gender and politics were radically fragmented’, and around this time ‘for the first time it was really possible for a woman to enter [the] public realm of the kingdom’ through writing. Radical political change happened fast, creating a feeling that public opinion could be swung and changed with more ease than in previous years, and indeed, Doody goes on to comment that ‘aggressiveness is a dominant tone or manner of the Restoration, and aggressive questioning one of its norms’. Milton’s Eve was a figure for whom all other women were believed, quite literally, to be modelled from, and for women writers who had not existed in the ‘public realm’ for long, his work provided a popular base from which to work. For these writers to pave their way in the literary world, it was necessary to find a way in which to dispel the inferiority and weakness generally perceived in women. Returning back to the origins of women and original sin and filling out the external forces working on Eve meant tending to the problem at its source. Whether particularly consciously or not, these women, without directly taking issue with his content, attempted to re-model women in the public sphere by filling in gaps that Milton left open, reframing his poem in different ways. Much like Milton drew from the Bible for textual authority, women writers like Margaret Astell and Aphra Behn drew from Milton’s ideas for this same purpose, paying homage to the work, of which Virginia Woolf once claimed ‘all other poetry is the dilution’. Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies in particular works structurally to dispel female tropes before then suggesting a fresh start for women in a retreat, ‘which will be the introducing you into such a Paradise as your mother Eve forefeited’. [19]

Diane Mccolley makes a case for the ‘radical’ treatment of Eve by Milton, claiming that ‘Milton was radical in making Eve an ardent caretaker of the natural world, a passionate, sensuous, and pure erotic partner, a spontaneous composer of exquisite lyric and narrative poetry, a participant in numerous kinds of conversation including political debate’. Whilst perhaps ‘radical’ for his time, Milton informs us repeatedly in clear terms that in spite of all these faculties, Eve remains inferior to Adam: ‘Yielded with coy submission, modest pride’. [Book IV] In relation to this inferiority, Mccolley’s point that Eve is a ‘participant’ in conversation and debate is interesting, and something that Mary Astell, in her A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, also identifies. Many critics have noted that after Eve has tasted from the tree of knowledge, her oratory skills become much improved in their persuasiveness, much akin to Satan’s ability. However, it is also true that in her state of innocence, Eve is still able to reason and be persuasive, as exemplified in book IX where she reasons to Adam that they should divide their work between them separately:

‘Let us divide our labours, thou where choice /Leads thee, or where most needs, whether to wind /The woodbine round this arbour, or direct/The clasping ivy where to climb, while I/In yonder spring of roses intermixed/With myrtle, find what to redress till noon:/For while so near each other thus all day/Our task we choose, what wonder if so near/Looks intervene and smiles, or object new /Casual discourse draw on, which intermits/Our day’s work brought to little, though begun/Early, and th’ hour of supper comes unearned’. [book IX]

She gently coaxes him with the collective address, ‘let us’, and her pleasingly sonorous alliterative speech, ‘where’, ‘whether’, ‘wind, ‘woodbine’ compels Adam to comment, ‘Well hast thou motioned, well thy thoughts employed’. [book IX] Adam’s praise seems clear indication that her reasoning skills are good, and further than this, they manage to sway him, suggesting that her capacity for reasoning is as good, if not better than Adam’s. Astell saliently expresses this sentiment, writing, ‘GOD has given women as well as men intelligent souls’,[22] using the established logic to justify that without the capacity to reason, hierarchically, women would be no better than animals. Eve’s productive conversation in this part of the poem is undermined by the fact that fundamentally, her success in ‘winning’ the argument put her in a position of vulnerability leading to the Fall, implying that persuasive power in women is a dangerous thing. In her own writing, Astell does not try to express the sentiment that women are infallible, but in disagreement with the implications Eve’s reasoning power has, she reaches to other biblical figures to level her textual support: ‘The Holy Ghost having left it on record, that Priscilla, as well as her Husband, catechiz’d the eloquent Apollos and the great Apostle found no fault with her’.[24] To call on Priscilla here diverts readerly attention away from Eve to a successful story of a woman utilising power and responsibility, placing Eve, perhaps the most infamous woman in the Bible, into a context of being one amongst many other more godly women, showing her to be an anomaly: ‘she must be as bad as Lucifer himself who after such enjoyments can forsake her Heaven. ‘Tis to unreasonable to imagine such an Apostacy, the supposition is monstrous, and therefore we may conclude will never, or very rarely happen’.

However, as the supposed first woman and mother of all women after, Eve remained, and remains a figure representative of women and womanhood, and both the Bible and Paradise Lost clearly lay out Eve’s vulnerabilities and the severe consequences these had. From the very outset of Milton’s poem, it is hinted from Eve’s recollection of her creation that her susceptibility to vanity and pride, both sins which Lucifer has committed:

‘As I bent down to look, just opposite,/A shape within the wat’ry gleam appeared/Bending to look on me I started back,/It started back, but pleased as I soon returned,/Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks/Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed/Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,/Had not a voice warned me, What thou seest,/What there thou seest fair creature is thyself’ [Book IV]

Eve’s admiration of what is her own reflection draws immediate parallels to the classical myth surrounding Narcissus, who met his end through very similar vanity, and indeed, the line ‘pined with vain desire’, leads one to imagine that had ‘a voice’ not warned Eve of what she was doing, she may similarly have carried on looking vainly at herself forever. Her beauty is the defining feature marking the difference between her and Adam, and the characteristic constantly enforced, as we see even in these lines when being told to refrain from admiring herself, she is addressed, somewhat paradoxically as a ‘fair creature’. Astell does not oppose this vanity trope, but instead picks up on the inescapability of the paradox women face:

‘she who has nothing else to value her self upon, will be proud of her Beauty, or Money, and what that can purchase ; and think her self mightily oblig’d to him, who tells her she has those Perfections which she naturally longs for. Her inbred self-esteem and desire of good, which are degenerated into Pride and mistaken self-love, will easily open her ears to whatever goes about to nourish and delight them’[12]

Like Eve, Astell’s vision of a woman agrees that women have in them the capacity for vanity and pride. However, what she makes apparent that Milton does not is that these sins are nourished, naming ‘pride and mistaken self-love’ a ‘degeneration’, suggesting a state descended to, and brought about not just by the woman herself but by ‘him’, the man who encourages her only in pursuit of beauty, perpetuating her degeneration into sin. This considered, Satan’s seduction of Eve begins to make more sense, as he doesn’t use flattery entirely different from the way she has been spoken to and about throughout the poem. The ‘voice’ speaking to Eve upon her creation calls her a ‘fair creature’, whilst Satan describes her as the ‘Fairest resemblance of thy maker’, also noting her ‘celestial beauty’ where she has previously been described as ‘angelic’. By pointing out the cycle of vanity fuelled by those around them, Astell provides a new frame for looking at women’s vanity, and we re-perceive the incident, seeing Satan’s words as ventriloquism of those used by Adam, and even God himself to speak to Eve. Astell laments with ‘resentment’ that women should ‘enshrine no better than Egyptian Deities’, a descriptive with a sense of hollowness, criticising the view of women as aesthetic objects and nothing more.

Sandra Gilbert, writing on patriarchal poetry, suggests that Milton draws deliberate parallels between Eve and Satan, suggesting that ‘Milton’s Eve falls for exactly the same reason that Satan does: because she wants to be ‘as Gods’ and because, like him, she is secretly dissatisfied with her place’. Whilst these parallels are evident and entrench further the demonization of Eve and womankind, the most marked difference between Eve and Satan lies in their education, a point laboured over by women writers like Astell in their attempts to revise the role and perceptions of women. Satan, or ‘Lucifer’ before his own fall from grace, was an angel very close to God in a similar way to Adam. Eve, however, whilst still a creation of God, is shut out from certain things Adam has access to. Lucifer’s fall was considered with full knowledge of God’s workings, whereas it is indicated that when Raphael is instructed to warn Adam and Eve about the dangers of transgressing like Lucifer, Eve is not present, and instead the information is relayed in part to her through Adam, having been standing apart from the pair in a ‘shady nook’.[Book IX] It is this point, of a lack in education or failed communication which women writers identify as the primary cause for vanity and weakness in women as well as their inferiority. Aphra Behn, writing in the 1680s for instance bestows complete gratitude on ‘the unknown Daphnis’ for allowing her access to Lucretius through a translation, in her poem To the unknown Daphnis on his Excellent Translation of Lucretius:

‘Till now I curst my Sex and Education,/And more the scanted Customs of the Nation,/Permitting not the Female Sex to tread/The mighty Paths of Learned Heroes Dead,/The Godlike Virgil and Great Homers Muse/Like Divine Mysteries are conceal’d from us’

Here the lines present a kind of chronological realisation, with the poet first cursing her own sex, then the ‘customs of the nation’, attributing her inferiority not to her birth but to external conditions preventing her from being equal. The mention of the ‘paths’ of ‘heroes’ like Virgil and Homer also implies that the poet herself, enabled in education, is able to tread their paths in a literary sense, insinuating that armed with knowledge, it is possible for a woman to equal a man’s literary achievements. Astell similarly points out the injustice in women being denied education, alluding all the while to the genesis tale, with mention of ‘temptation’ and ‘poyson’, alluding to snakes:

‘to introduce poor Children into the World, and neglect to fence them against the temptations of it, and so leave them expos’d to temporal and eternal Miseries, is a wickedness, for which I want a Name[.]’ [11]

Again, in her allusions to Milton’s poem, Astell reframes the focal point of Eve’s temptation and Fall, pointing out a ‘neglect’ in not providing Eve with all the same knowledge as Adam, instead nourishing her sense of beauty and vanity. The mention of ‘wanting a Name’ for this practice signals that Astell has introduced an external catalyst for Eve, and women’s, misdemeanours, shifting the blame, claiming that ‘many persons who had begun well might have one to the Grave in peace and innocence, had it not been their misfortune to be violently tempted’.[40] Were Eve really afforded all the education and knowledge Adam was allowed, women writers imply that she may have been better fenced against the forces of temptation.

It was in the direct interest of women like Aphra Behn, Mary Astell, and Margaret Cavendish, to re-fashion the model of women, or as Gilbert phrases it, device ‘their own revisionary myths and metaphors’ in place of ‘Milton’s myth of origins’, for their own work to be taken seriously. For a society in which, as John Spurr describes, ‘Every town and every city, almost every parish, was divided’, these women seemed to find wriggling room to take Milton’s Eve as a representative of all women, and fill her character out, not denying a work which was considered genius, but exposing the driving forces behind her behavior as truly in the hands of the society and men who conditioned her.

Read more

Mary Astell: England’s First Feminist or Product of the Patriarchy?

April 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

Mary Astell is often attributed as being England’s first feminist because of her writing which questioned gender politics of the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. For the time period, Astell’s writing was groundbreaking. She examined the nature of gender bias in a manner that overturned commonplace conceptions of gender and marriage and supported female autonomy and equal education opportunity. In A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Astell explores the role of custom in the perpetuation of female subjugation, and she asserts that it would be most beneficial for women to ignore the custom of favoring the physical body over the mind in exchange for a focus on mental and spiritual development. Astell writes about the importance of female thought, and she strongly believes that women should focus on expanding their minds rather than obsessing over their bodies. In Some Reflections upon Marriage, Astell continues her early feminist examination of gender politics. Astell examines the marriage customs of the time period, and she subverts from the idea that a woman’s one true purpose is to marry and have children. The rigidly gender biased climate that Astell lived in made her writing seem radical at the time, but modern feminist critics may recognize that Astell’s version of feminism was particularly conservative in comparison to modern feminism. While Astell was very much in favor of some degree of female autonomy, her writing demonstrates a clear influence from the overpowering patriarchal views of her environment that weakens her position as a feminist by modern perspectives. Some aspects of Astell’s argument on gender demonstrate an incredibly forward way of thinking for the 17th century and 18th century.

In A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Astell blames societal customs for the subjugation of women and the women’s acceptance of their subjugate roles. She contends that society’s emphasis on beauty and the physical self forces women to ignore their spiritual selves. Astell writes, “’Tis custom therefore, that tyrant custom, which is the grand motive to all those irrational choices which we daily see made in the world, so very contrary to our present interest and pleasure, as well as to our future” (356). Astell’s exploration of the source of gender bias is very much aligned with modern feminist ideology. There is still a modern belief that societal customs, such as the sexual objectification of women, continue to impact the perception of femininity and the role of women in society. In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Astell, Alice Sowaal and Penny A. Weiss note the contemporary ideology of Astell’s assertions. They write: Recent scholars have highlighted the modern feminist sentiment in these words. […] Astell suggests that women are disadvantaged compared to men—or that they have a certain “incapacity” by virtue of their womanhood—but that their incapacity is a social construct rather than the product of nature or biology. (Sowaal and Weiss) Astell’s logic in A Serious Proposal to the Ladies seems strongly feministic in its defense of women and their capabilities. Like modern feminists, Astell recognizes the role that societal norms play in a woman’s ability to be seen as equal. In writing A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Astell was not necessarily meaning to be a proponent of radical women’s equality. Astell, a supporter of the Church of England, only wished to encourage women to seek the same comprehension skills as men so that the women could understand their religion on a deeper, more spiritual level. Astell “argued that reason infuses human beings with divinity” (Johns 31). Her desires were to bring women closer to their spirituality, but this implies that she believed that women were, in fact, not then capable of using reason on their own accord. By modern feminist standards, it could be argued that Astell was slightly misogynistic in her perception of women being base and currently incapable of critical thought. Modern feminists may recognize that, although Astell seems to be in favor of some form of equality, her ideology is based on patriarchal assumptions of women. Astell writes, “By a habitual inadvertency we render ourselves incapable of any serious and improving thought, till our minds themselves become as light and frothy as those things they are conversant about” (356). This ideology is inadvertently influenced by patriarchal views.

Although Astell means to improve women with her writing, it can be seen that her perception of women was very much influenced by the societal norms of the time period. For Astell to believe that women need improvement, she is acknowledging the belief that women are, like patriarchal ideals suggest, insufficient in their current form and have something to improve upon. She presents women as being almost oblivious to and unconcerned with their proposed shortcomings. This notion can be viewed as a reinforcement of the emptyheaded female stereotype of Astell’s time and of today. Astell’s “proto-feminism,” as it is branded by William Kolbrener in Mary Astell: Reason, Gender, Faith, was certainly much more accommodating to the existing notion that women were inferior or flawed, whether from inherent corruption or societal influence, than modern feminism allows (193). Indeed, Astell’s feminism is so notably different from modern feminism that it necessitates a new word to describe it. “Proto-feminism” perfectly describes Astell’s ideology. While Astell did produce feministic concepts, they were truly conservative by today’s standards. Astell’s staunchly conservative religious and political views were in disagreement with any of her feminist ideals, and this weakens her position as a feminist, at least by modern perspectives.

Kinnaird notes, “In A Serious Proposal she makes no plea that the universities should admit women as well as men to enter the professions and take part in the public part of the nation” (Kinnaird 64). Astell’s concerns in A Serious Proposal were largely religious and did not necessarily champion women’s rights as a whole. In fact, she wants her readers to recognize that she is not speaking too far in favor of women’s equality. She writes, “We pretend not that women should teach in the church, or usurp authority where it is not allowed them; permit us only to understand our own duty” (361). She was more concerned with the female relationship to God than the female role in society when she explores the idea of the female autonomy, and she explicitly states that she does wish to change a woman’s role in society. Rather, she implies that women have false piety, and she offers them advice on how to improve their spiritualties. Astell is, by nature of the work itself, criticizing women in a manner that is incongruent with modern feminism. Her implication that women are incapable of understanding religion because they are suppressed by trivial customs casts a negative light on the female will, and it reinforces patriarchal stereotypes of women.

In Reflections upon Marriage, Astell asserts a more firm grounding for future feminist ideals in her examination of a gender politics in marriage. Still, her conflicting views are clear, and the contradictive nature of her arguments makes it difficult for modern feminists to agree with her writing entirely. As Patricia Springborg notes in Mary Astell: Theorist of Freedom from Domination, the conflict between Astell’s religious and political views and her championing for women’s causes “seems anomalous to modern readers” (32). When reflecting upon marriage, Astell tells women to choose their husbands wisely because they may otherwise be stuck with a tyrannical leader for a husband. Astell also suggests that women might live more happily if they never marry. Her religious convictions pervade her reflection on marriage, as seen in the multiple Biblical references to female subjugation. Her feminist views and her religious views conflict a great deal in her Reflections upon Marriage. She establishes as a fact that once married, males are superior and females are inferior. She offers no advice on how to improve female subjectivity in marriage; rather, she suggests that the one solution is that women must be more careful in choosing their husbands. Modern feminists, if examining female subjugation in marriage, might recognize and criticize the presence of male entitlement, which Astell does, but she also focuses on the female role in choosing a husband, as if females are partially to blame for their subordination. Modern feminism is less in favor of laying blame on women than Astell’s proto-feminism is.

In conclusion, Mary Astell’s position as England’s first feminist is secure, but her feminism is very conservative in comparison to modern feminism. Astell theorized gender politics in a groundbreaking manner in A Serious Proposal to the Ladies and Reflections upon Marriage, but some of her ideology conflicts with a modern feminist perspective. Astell’s writing demonstrates shortcomings in its feminist assertions, and this can be attributed to her religious and political convictions and the predominant view of female inferiority that existed in her society. Although Astell was a supporter of female autonomy to some extent, effects of patriarchal ideology pervade her writing and weaken her feminist stance. In A Serious Proposal for the Ladies, she suggests that females are quite flawed and must improve in order to be considered intellectual equals. In her Reflections upon Marriage, her argument is disagreement with modern feminism in suggesting that women are the ones who must improve instead of men. Astell was a feminist by definition of the late 17th century and early 18th century, but her acceptance of certain aspects of patriarchal ideology is condemned by modern feminism.

Works Cited

Astell, Mary. “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by James Black, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Broadview, 2013, pp. 356-361.

Astell, Mary. “Reflections upon Marriage.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by James Black, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Broadview, 2013, pp. 362-372.

Johns, Alessa. Women’s Utopias of the Eighteenth Century. University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Kinnaird, Joan K. “Mary Astell and the Conservative Contribution to English Feminism.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1979. JSTOR Journals, permalink: http://dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.175682&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Kolbrener, William. Mary Astell: Reason, Gender, Faith. Routledge, 2016.

Sowaal, Alice, and Penny A. Weiss. Feminist Interpretations of Mary Astell. Penn State Press, 2016.

Springborg, Patricia. Mary Astell: Theorist of Freedom from Domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Permalink: http://dsc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=146158&site=eds-live&scope=site

Read more

Role of Women in the Restoration Period

January 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

There are many texts that deal with the role of the individual male in society; their positions are discussed politically, socially and personally. However, in-depth discussion of the individual female role in society is often lacking during the Restoration period. Women are props, background objects, prizes. They are often viewed simply as aesthetically pleasing, sexual beings. In William Wycherley’s play The Country Wife, men discuss women as sexual objects to be won, shared, or used. The perfect contrast to the themes regarding women in this play is Mary Astell’s essay, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. In the portion of the essay found in the DeMaria anthology, Astell praises women’s abilities and encourages them to rise above and become equal to men in every way. The two texts provide an interesting contrast with one another on a theme that was lost during the period amongst political treatises and industrialization.Mary Astell speaks directly to women about their advancement and position in society, which will also lead to their placement in heaven. Straightaway, she seeks to “improve [women’s] Charms and heighten [their] Value by suffering [them] no longer to be cheap and contemptible” (Astell 423). She states that the things women are involved in now are “flitting and fickle as that Chance which is to dispose of them” (Astell 422), and she proposes a “Proposition that comes attended with more certain and substantial Gain” (Astell 422).Essentially, Astell uses her essay to convey to women that in order for their beauty and lives in general to amount to something “lasting and permanent… from a corruptible Body to an immortal Mind” (Astell 423) they must become equal to men in every way. She believes there is too much value placed on men, while women are “respected” for matters that lack real worth, such as empty physical beauty. Women should not only “be as lovely, but as wise as Angels” (Astell 423) and begin “ennobling [their] minds with such Graces as really deserve [them]” (Astell 423).Astell writes that women should be respected and known for their minds and thoughts, not only for inane things such as their dress or dancing skills. Women are not just for show, as “Tulips in a Garden… good for nothing” (Astell 424). According to Astell, women during the Restoration period can and should amount to more than showpieces and sexual prizes.William Wycherley uses humor to discuss the subjects of sexuality during the Restoration in his play, The Country Wife. Through the characters’ actions and words, Wycherley creates a world for the viewer or reader in which women are objects, owned or exchanged by men. Women are purely sexual conquests to men, and defined in terms of sexuality and their connection to men. Thus, it is established by Wycherley that a woman’s role in society is to keep men (specifically her husband) content, whether that be by remaining faithful and loyal only to the man she is married to, or by remaining pure if she is not committed to any man. What is perhaps the most telling evidence of the role of women in society is what the play is centered around; Horner and his lies about being a eunuch to get into the lives of women and then sleep with them. The fact that women can be tricked into trusting him shows that they are not seen as creatures of wit within the society. This notion fits in perfectly with what Mary Astell wrote, because she disliked the way women’s intelligence (or lack thereof) was viewed and the way some women even played into the idea that women are too simple to be as smart as men. Although there are some men in the play that are also blatantly and stupidly unaware of certain things, such as the fact that they are being cuckolded, the depiction of women is still unbalanced because they are seen as one-dimensional beings in regards to their role in the social order.The objectification of women is clear in many scenes of the play. One of the subtle ways Wycherley works it into characters’ discussion is in the conversation between Alithea and Mrs. Pinchwife in Act 2.1. The scene begins with the women discussing how Mr. Pinchwife does not permit his wife to see certain people or go certain places Alithea then says that a wife “requires as much airing as her husband’s horses” (Wycherley 2.1, line 26). Her statement, seemingly innocent as it may be, actually speaks volumes of the objectification of women by comparing them to horses.One of the topics Astell does not really bring up but is rampant throughout The Country Wife is that of reputation as an identifying force. Men in society can be identified by their economic status, among other things, but it appears that in the play the opinion of a woman is based not only on her loyalty and connections to a man, but on her reputation, specifically her sexual reputation. Mr. Pinchwife fails to see his own wife’s betrayal but accuses Alithea of being a “notorious town-woman” (Wycherley 2.1, line 39) and “keep[ing] the men of scandalous reputation company” (Wycherley 2.1, line 49). The fact that Alithea is in fact the most innocent and loyal woman in the play only furthers the fact that a woman’s reputation is important to defining her role as an individual as society; she is judged by her reputation, whether it be correct or false, and is thus placed in society in regard to how she treats men, in essence. Almost all of the women in The Country Wife are hypocritical, putting on a front of purity and loyalty to their husbands but involving themselves with Horner. Wycherley’s play is a satire, however, and so all characters and characterizations are not to be taken too seriously and some are even meant to display the opposite of the truth. Comparatively, Astell also writes about some women in a somewhat negative sense. That is to say, she speaks of those that fill their heads with “what Colours are the most agreeable, or what’s the Dress becomes [them] best” (Astell 423) when they should be looking into their “own Minds, which will discover irregularities more worthy your Correction” (Astell 423). She believes that women should focus on the “Beauty of the mind” (Astell 424) rather than “the mean Case that encloses it” (Astell 424).Interestingly enough, this same concept is brought up in The Country Wife. In a discussion with Mr. Pinchwife, Horner actually makes a statement Astell would agree with: “But methinks wit is more necessary than beauty, and I think no young woman ugly that has it, and no handsome woman agreeable without it” (Wycherley 1.1, lines 395-7). This is a surprising statement to find in a play in which the women don’t seem to be very intelligent, and any intelligence they do have does not appear to be of value to the men anyway.The comparison of these two texts is interesting in that it brings up many differences in ideas of woman’s role in society, but also many unexpected similarities and connections. Both the play and the essay show a reality in which women are viewed as either objects or beings solely concerned with vanity and folly. However, Astell’s intentions are to write on this subject so that women will see the mistake in behaving as such and improve themselves. Wycherley, on the other hand, uses his play as a satire on typically aristocratic people, and plays upon stereotypes and exaggeration of both character and plot. Both texts, in different ways, provide accounts and opinions on how women fit into society.

Read more
Order Creative Sample Now
Choose type of discipline
Choose academic level
  • High school
  • College
  • University
  • Masters
  • PhD

Page count
1 pages
$ 10