Lucrare Women In The 18th Century. With An Illustration On Richardson, Defoe And Jane Austen

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      Women in the 18th century – the title sounds very alluring, but is it relevant nowadays? Why would be people interested in such a theme? 
        Before arguing the importance of it, I would like to specify that my diploma paper is going to be one of compilation, i.e. the description of the critical vision which I found connected to my subject.
       What was women’s experience of life and the world in the 18-th century in England? Historians believed they knew a great deal about men’s lives. But their knowledge of ordinary women, of the majority of the female population, was relatively limited. While the 1970’s had seen great strides in studies of medieval and 19th century English women, research into the intervening centuries seemed to lay behind, leaving the 16th and 17th centuries as the neglected Dark Ages of women’s history.
       There were all the myriad circumstances in which individual women might find themselves, variables of age, social rank, matrimonial, familial and sexual status and geographical locale. It is necessary to add personal and contingent factors, such as the doctrinal convictions which united or separated women along religious and political lines.
       Social historians had identified the elements of “popular culture” for the male half of the population. Did ordinary women have a culture of their own, or were they more onlookers or passive sharers in male popular culture?
       Why was women’s experience of marriage so similar across the class spectrum, when it had been predicted that structural factors related to social and economic rank would play more a role in creating disparate patterns? An obsession with the control of female sexuality, with women’s dependent and submissive self-presentation as the outward sign of sexual subjection, also seemed to crop up in what is regarded as alien contexts.
        My diploma paper contains three chapters. The first chapter is about woman’s social image from the Middle Ages to the Classical period. It consists of 5 subchapters. The first one: Defining terms and concepts works as an introduction to the chapter. The second one: -the Religious Teachings –; the third subchapter is about law connected with marital status, marriage, separation and child custody and also crimes made by and against women. Man and wife was one person according to the law, and that person was the husband. A wife could make no legal contract, except concerning her clothing and food, but her husband could sell her clothes. There was no legal way to end a marriage apart from a separation, which did not allow either party to remarry.
       Witchcraft was largely understood as a woman’s crime. As about the crimes against women, the most serious was rape. The fourth subchapter is about the women’s stereotypes. Virginity was prized in young women, but after a woman passed the usual age of marriage she was an object of suspicion. The term “old maid” was not very positive and desired by women. The wife had two stereotypes: the archetype of the good woman, which had an ideal state for marriage, motherhood and governance of a husband; and the negative stereotype of the wife, ever gossiping, her morals being loose. The other three women stereotypes challenged patriarchal control. Each of them built on specific fears: the scold, of the power of women’s tongues, the whore, of unbridled sexuality; the witch, a mirror reversal of all that the patriarchy deemed good in a woman. 
        The fifth subchapter describes the woman’s adult life: marriage, maternity or the life of single women. Wedlock marked a significant transition for women: the metamorphosis from “maid” to “wife” transformed every aspect of their existence. Some women found in marriage their greatest happiness; others – the most abject misery. Maternity, one of the blessings of marriage for many women, was a life-stage with both biological and cultural meaning. But not all women desired marriage. Many of them expressed reservations and had taken the term of “single woman”.
        The second chapter is dealing with the subject proper, it is named Women in the century of the Enlightenment. To give the real situation of the women in the Enlightenment, I would like firstly to give the definition of the Enlightenment. The concept of the Enlightenment refers to the 18th century and is associated with intellectual development and philosophers that bring forth new ideas about society. Authority, whether of the Bible or of the classics, was challenged as the touchstone of truth. It was not reflected out of hand but subjected to rigorous empirical analysis. The condition of the woman was also changed, but not too much. She was allowed, even advised to get good education, not in order to become equal to man, but to be a good companion for an intelligent man.
       Nowadays, when social ranks have almost disappeared or their existence is based upon the money’s value it is hard to imagine what aristocracy means. It is important to know this especially because when we are looking to the past and speaking about, for example, women, we think, first of all, about aristocratic women, because her social status in the most noble and privileged, and is having much more upon us then other social ranks. That’s why I decided to tell some words about aristocracy in the 18th century.
        And in the most important subchapter, women as “the other” for men in the 18th century, I assign the men’s glance on the feminine nature, woman’s reason and the role of women. Then I focus on the status of the married women of aristocracy and the folk couple. About the women at work there are many words to say but I only stressed the idea of unequal status between man and woman. The female laborers worked the same amount as the man but they never could become skilled workers. The education and culture of women in the 18th century was developing, but slightly. Women were allowed to read, to write, but not to think. In the end of the chapter I wrote some words about prostitution, as a way of many poor girls to earn their existence.
       In the next chapter I decided to write about the women characters from the 18th century novels. I chose to focus on Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Richardson’s Pamela and Jane Austen’s Emma. They all three are different, their social ranks and possibilities in life were different, but each of them was fighting for their happiness. They were somehow independent, and sometimes dependent, but their life depended only on themselves and they had done all in order not to become victims of a story with an unhappy ending.
      Moll Flanders renders her introspective self-consciousness as a means of separation from actuality. Moll acquires a greater ease and learns rather quickly the tricks of self-preservation and plausible self-invention, defining herself as someone who learns quickly to analyze social possibility in generalized terms and to situate herself accordingly. Moll surveys the sexual field after her second husband leaves her: “They, I observe, insult us mightily, with telling us of the Number of Women; that the Wars and the Sea, and Trade, and other Incidents have carried the Men so much away, that there is no proportion between the Number of the Sexes; and therefore the Women have the Disadvantage; but I am far from granting that the number of the Women is so great, or the number of the Men so small”. The problem, says Moll, lies rather in the limited number of men “fit for a Woman to venture upon”. Moll thus begins her career with a cynical sense of the fluidity or indeed the irrelevance of society’s categories. Moll Flanders rehearses the contradiction that the free, intensely unique individual is somehow the result of an exactly rendered and accumulating necessity, a social totality partly obscured by the energy and inconsistency of Moll’s autobiographical retrospection.
      Pamela’s interiority is functionally subordinate to the external social and political drama that she insistently keeps in front of us. Pamela is a terrified teenager, the victim of an attempted rape, kidnapped and held in the country against her will, driven on the verge of suicide, and we are not meant to see her resistance as calculated or her protestations of virtue and innocence as anything else but performances. Mr. B’s conversion and his marriage to Pamela are complete just a bit more than half way through the book, for the post-nuptial conquest of Mr. B’s gentry world is an essential part of Richardson revision.
        Pamela is an exhibit, a rarity of a servant who, in her exceptionalism, proves the rule of difference and division among the social orders. And all the while Pamela’s discourse is for a modern reader fairly offensive in its exaltation of B and in its self-abasing humility, as she declares over and over again that she is unworthy of her master’s goodness to her. For most modern readers Pamela’s protestations are deeply embarrassing, and yet within the narrative they have the effect of keeping social realities in full view, of emphasizing two related and crucial facts – that B inhabits a realm of wealth, power, and privilege beyond the wildest dreams of the daughter of a day-laborer and that Pamela has extracted by her extraordinary virtue and beauty this amazing condescension. But she knows what to do and with her love and virtue she transforms him in the same social rank husband and lover.
        Emma’s original rejection of marital bliss is significant in the development of domestic fiction, for, in Emma, Austen has established a character so confidant in her self worth and desirability that she is able to renounce matrimony altogether. Although Emma resolves never to enter into matrimony herself, she occupies her leisure time with the tasks of uniting prospective lovers. Emma’s transformation, culminating in her marriage with George Knightly, further emphasizes the importance of marriage in the 18th century society and clearly shows that a woman’s path toward personal fulfillment must involve becoming a wife.
        I hope that my work will be interesting for the students and people in general, who are fond of literature and especially for those who are attracted by the glamour of the woman as a symbol of beauty, virtue and warmth since God made Eve.

Chapter I – The Woman’s Social Image from the middle Ages to the Classical Period (18-th century)

1. Defining terms and concepts
        Early modern England was a hierarchical society with gradations of social degree a rank. The term “elite” is used as shorthand for the wealthiest and most educated members of society, from the nobility to the minority. “Middling“ characterizes the group of men and women whose relative prosperity distinguished tem from about one – third of the population who lived in poverty the terms “ ordinary” or “ plebeian” refer to the female population.
      The term “patriarchy” originally referred to the classical nation that fathers should rule.  Although the understanding of patriarchy in the political sphere shifted during the 17th century, the authority of fathers in the domestic sphere remained unchallenged. By the end of 17th century monarchs might hold their crowns at the invitation of parliament, but society still recognized the God -  given right of husbands and fathers to govern wives, children and servants. Nowadays the term “patriarchy” is used in two ways: first, in the 17th century sense, to characterize a political system based on the domination of husbands and father over his household; and secondly, as a modern analytical concept too refer to a social system witch favours men over women
         The term “feminism” also has both an early modern and a late 20th century meaning. Feminism can be understood as a critique of women’s position in society and as a desire to improve it. Feminism takes diverse forms in a different historical context. In early modern England women expressed feminist views in a number of ways. Some voiced their criticism of injustices suffered by the female sex; others adapted various forms of resistance.
      To contemporaries, the difference between the two sexes was a fundamental Principe upon which society was constructed. Writers assumed that woman was inferior to man. Unresolved was the problem of social levees, the contradictions between class and gender. Contemporaries knew that Queen Anne was not inferior to her lowest footman, but they still insisted at all women ought to be subordinate in some sense.

2. Religious teachings
        During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the religious establishment was perhaps the most powerful medium through which theories about human nature and society were disseminated to the general population. Church attendance was compulsory for women as well as men of all ranks, although penalties for recusancy (absence from parish church services) were at certain periods slightly less severe for women. 
        Aside from expositions of theology and morality, Church teachings dealt with more personal matters such as the sexual relationship between husbands and wives.
        The theology of gender in early modern Europe began with a paradox. On the one hand, Protestant clerics assured women of their equal spiritual status, the doctrine that “souls have no sex.” Paul had laid the textual basis for this axioms, stating that “in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, man nor woman” [Galations 3:28]. The decree remained unaltered by the sixteenth century Reformation; indeed Europeans of every denomination prided themselves on what they regarded as Christianity’s superiority to Islam in granting women full spiritual rights. English girls, like boys, attained religious adult hood with their first communion at age 16.
        But the doctrine of equal souls did not entitle women to equal participation in the Church’s temporal hierarchy. Women might hope to benefit from the doctrine of “equal souls” in the next world, but not in the present one.
In practice, men monopolized the institutional expression of religion, formulating and disseminating religious “information” about gender issues as well as other matters. Lacking the feminizing aura of Virgin Mary, protestant writers laid great stress on the fatherhood of the godhead, as well as the masculine traits and appearance of Christ as bridegroom. The spatial symbolism of Church seating, in which the two sexes sat apart in separate areas, also promoted a sense of women’s “otherness” in moral and religious as well as social terms. With the exception of the queen regnant, women could claim no formal magisterial role in the religious establishment.
      The rationale for women’s subordinate status in the Protestant Church was based on contemporary interpretations of passages from the Old and New Testaments. Two fundamental postulates defining women’s role in the Christian commonwealth had been deduced from these texts, to be endlessly repeated and elaborated by early modern theologians. The first, an interpretation of Eve’s secondary creation from Adam’s rib, was the premise that the woman was made for the man. This was applied specifically to wives duties to husbands as obedient “meet helps”, and more generally in the assumption that the female sex was subject and subordinate to the male sex.
      The second key nation affirmed Eve’s moral and intellectual weakness as the primary cause of the Fall and its disastrous sequel of mankind.
Women’s restriction to a maternal role was token to be another consequence of the Fall. Eve’s punishment of pain in childbirth was generalized to include feminine responsibility for the troubles of rearing as well as bearing offspring. Meanwhile, women’s actual sufferings in childbirth served as a frequent reminder of Eve’s transgression and its consequences for the female sex, while contemporaries of both sexes cited female labor pairs as “proof” of the logic of female inferiority.
        Theology defined the good daughter, wife, mother, and widow in terms of her conformity to her role, and laid special stress on the importance or relative duties “in women’s striving for salvation.”
       The punishment of subjection to Adam was used to justify women’s dependent status in every sphere, not just the hierarchical relationship between husband and wife. Writers on legal topics, for example, borrowed from theology to justify female exclusion from the political realm. As soon as wives were declared subject to husbands, women as a sex were seen as dependent beings who had lost all freedom of action. Only with the changing intellectual climate of the late seventeenth century did a few writers begin to take a fresh look at the scriptural grounds for women’s subordination, distinguishing the status of wives from that of widows and spinsters, who had no matrimonial masters.
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