Rachel Dobbs

Dr. Morgan-Curtis

English 5330

December 6, 2007

 Women and Marriage

In my selected reading, the representation of women and marriage is not positive. In the 17th and 18th centuries, women were generally not highly valued. They rarely held positions of power, unless there was not another male in the family to fill the position. Few women even worked outside of the home and even the long, grueling hours at home were not adequately appreciated. Women who were not of nobility or gentry were not educated. Women were seldom even in the public eye. It was not until 1660 when “all gathered to witness the most astonishing new spectacle of all: women on stage in a public theater” (Sherman 2127). It was not until this time that women were actually allowed to play female roles, which had previously been performed by male actors in disguise.

The lesser opinion of women held by many in society carried over into literature. Women were often not portrayed well in literature and female writers were very seldom as equally respected as their male counterparts. Although “during the eighteenth century, for the first time, books by women became not exotic but comparatively counterplace” (Sherman 2131), there remained strong resistance to the concept. Many in society held the belief that a woman’s role was strictly a domestic one, in other words, a woman’s place was at home. Girls were often viewed as a commodity to be married off to secure financial stability for the family (Sherman 2131). One woman who resisted such societal conventions was Mary Astell.

Mary Astell was a “pioneering feminist” who believed that “women’s powers of reason were as worth cultivating as men’s” (Sherman 2427). In “Some Reflections upon Marriage,” Astell’s portrayal of women, particularly women and marriage, is not positive. Of course, it is not because of her viewpoint on the subject, but the viewpoint held by society that so strongly impacts women. Astell reveals that the way society has allowed a man to view his wife is as if “she was made to be a slave to his will” (2428). Astell’s personal beliefs and opinions however, strongly opposed those held by the mainstream of the time. Astell argues for education of women and questioned the very institution of marriage for them. Her fight contributed to the enablement of 21st century women to have equal opportunities for education and to have a choice in marriage.

In her writing, Astell reveals the common treatment of women during this period. She claims that men are “void of understanding and full or ignorance and passion” (Astell 2428) toward their wives. She criticizes the traditional beliefs held by many in her society that a woman’s only real choice is being married, as well as the idea of a man’s authority over his wife. Astell suggests that a woman “has been taught to think marriage her only preferment” (2430) and that “her husband must govern absolutely and entirely, and that she has nothing else to do but to please and obey” (2431). Astell offers an alternative to women—that they can “duly examine and weigh all the circumstances. . . and either never consent to be a wife, or make a good one when she does” (2434). Although the traditional thoughts of her time continue and are even expressed in the reading years later, she laid the groundwork for women to come after her and continue to fight for equality and better treatment.

The Age of Reason was a time of education and improving one’s mind. Astell argued that the same should be afforded to women. In fact, she calls to men that they be reasonable and acknowledge that “women’s powers of reason were as worth cultivating as men’s” (Astell 2427). Astell asks men to use the reason they claim to possess and on which they place so much importance. She questions, “If women’s understanding is but small, and men’s partiality adds no weight to the observation, ought not the more care to be taken to improve them?” (Astell 2432) Women, she claims, should be given better opportunities by men such as education to improve them for their society.

Furthermore, Astell argues that “blind obedience is an obeying without reason” (2434). She concludes that since men are placing such an importance on reason during this time, their women should act with reason as well, rather than simply doing whatever their husbands tell them to do.

In contrast, the predominant attitude was that women were not usually viewed with such optimism and potential as Astell encouraged. As we have previously studied in The Beggar’s Opera, for instance, women were often portrayed during this period as commodities and disposable goods by men. In The Beggar’s Opera, prostitutes ran rampant and Macheath freely two-timed women. In marriage, women were under their husband’s control similarly to Astell’s description of marriage at that time. In The Beggar’s Opera, “a husband hath the absolute power over all a wife’s secrets” (Gay 2724).

Similarly to The Beggar’s Opera, in this week’s study of the paintings in A Rake’s Progress, women are often depicted as whores. On Plate 1, the young man, Rakewell, is trying to rid himself of “the weeping woman whom he has made pregnant” (Hogarth 2785). On Plate 3, the men are using the women at their disposal in an orgy. Three of the women are mentioned in a negative way, as mere sexual objects, one as a “prostitute”; another as “a woman [who] disrobes in preparation for an obscene dance”; and yet another who is “tattered, pregnant, and ignored” (2787).

Plate 5 clearly illustrates the idea of women as a commodity in marriage. Rakewell continues to dismiss Sarah (the weeping, pregnant woman from Plate 1). Hogarth reveals that Rakewell is instead “Intent on wealth, not the love Sarah offers, Rakewell weds an old woman” (2789). His lack of loyalty and concern for women is strongly evidenced, as he not only abandons Sarah, but also “proffers [his bride] the ring while eyeing her maid” (Hogarth 2789). Hogarth’s portrayal of Rakewell’s playboy status gives evidence of “the shows that filled his eye in the turbulent London neighborhood of Smithfield where he grew up” (2783).

Nonetheless, there was indeed a rise in the importance of women, partly due to such outspoken people for women’s rights as Mary Astell. Papers such as The Athenian Mercury began to take notice and “being willing to oblige ‘em, as knowing they have a very strong party in the world” (Dunton 2487). The paper addressed feminine issues beginning once a month and increasing to once a week. The Tatler, the Review, and the Spectator also published more material regarding issues such as love and marriage and urged both sexes to “ground their marriages in reciprocity, love, and reason, rather than financial gain or impulsive passion” (Sherman 2483). This obviously differs from society’s treatment of women as depicted by Hogarth.

These papers, though they addressed women’s issues, were written by men and often included men’s thoughts and opinions. For example, in Addison’s Spectator No. 128, he conveys the long-standing opinion of the differences in the sexes. He writes of the characteristics that he attributes to each sex, and although he states that it “is not to be taken so strictly,” he holds that it is “what seems to have been the general intention of Nature, in the different inclinations and endowments which are bestowed on the different sexes” (Addison 2492). This writing is still a step forward regarding women because at least they are being spoken to and written about, even if there are rash generalizations in them.

The misogynist attitude found in Addison’s Spectator is also found in The Athenian Mercury. The first question printed in the section concerns the lawfulness of a man to beat his wife. The answer is shocking in that it is inconclusive. The responder for the paper continues by emphasizing the husband’s power and control over his wife: “The power was at first vested in man specifically” (Dunton 2488). Although the writer does not specifically condone a man’s behavior to beat his wife, he does support the husband’s sole authority over his wife which holds to inequality in marriage.

The next question urges women toward marriage as the only appropriate way of life. The editor even goes as far as saying that not marrying is condemnable as he writes, “We should contribute to the destruction of states, condemn the wisdom of the first Institutor . . .” (Dunton 2488). This emphasis and encouragement toward marriage obviously concerns men, but the emphasis here is on the woman’s responsibility to her husband especially considering that the target audience for the paper is female.

The end of the answer to whether a young lady should pray for a husband, however, does convey a different message suggesting that a woman has the option to “be truly happy in my choice [emphasis added]” (Dunton 2489). Likewise, a similar shift in attitude is conveyed in the last answer included in the paper. The answer concerns a woman who believes she is being two-timed. The editor suggests that the man in question is “a very ill man to endeavor to deceive you both, which we should think would do a good way toward taking off your love from him, and settling it on a more worthy object, that neither will nor can deceive or abuse you” (Dunton 2490). This attitude is in stark contrast to Hogarth’s paintings, for instance, which portray this very behavior. Even though these were written from a male slant, they still managed to support the women’s cause to be viewed as more than a commodity or exploit.

Although most of these papers gave men another opportunity in which to instruct women, Eliza Haywood invoked a female voice in The Female Spectator. In this particular issue, Haywood is able to further Mary Astell’s plea for women’s education. Haywood printed a letter from a female reader (Cleora) that addresses the importance of “improving the minds and manners of our unthinking sex” (Haywood 2496). Cleora reveals her intelligence and challenges men by asking, “Why do they call us silly women, and not endeavor to make us otherwise?” (Haywood 2497) She challenges the lack of education that women receive at the time.

Likewise, Cleora challenges the idea that Steele had asserted in an issue of the Tatler that there is a “sex in souls,” or an essential difference between men and women. She argues, “There are undoubtedly no sexes in souls . . . Surely our bodies were not formed by the great Creator out of the finest mold, that our souls might be neglected” (Haywood 2497). This statement challenges and contrasts the previous idea of the power vested in the man over the woman by stating that women’s bodies were made of the finest mold, finer even than men’s.

Although the portrayal of women and marriage was not always a positive one, it is clear that advancements were made during this period in order to question the previous treatment of women. Additionally, there were expressions and suggestions regarding the appropriate treatment of women, as well as appropriate behavior and equality in marriage as there should be in The Age of Reason. Such writings in the 18th century made it possible for women’s liberation movements in the 20th century and the continued freedom women have today is owed to authors such as Astell and Haywood who initially gave women a voice.


Works Cited

Addison, Joseph. Spectator. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2491-2493.

Astell, Mary. Some Reflections upon Marriage. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. 3.1C. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2428-2437.

Dunton, John. The Athenian Mercury. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. 3.1C. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2487.

Gay, John. The Beggar’s Opera. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. 3.1C. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2719-2765.

Haywood,  Eliza. The Female Spectator, Vol.2, No. 10. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. 3.1C. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2496-2497.

Hogarth, William. A Rake’s Progress. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. 3.1C. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2785-2792.

Sherman, Stuart, ed. “The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 3.1C. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 2121-2144.

Joseph Hawkes-Beamon

English 5330/ Studies in the Age of Reason

Dr. S. Morgan-Curtis

Journal#6 Revised

December 2, 2007

Representations of Women and Marriage

The argument of the women’s role in a marriage has been a heated topic, especially in Judeo and Christian traditions. As history has progressed, women have taken enormous strides in solidifying their place in the family. Man’s role in the marriage could be defined as the protector, the breadwinner, and, most notably, the protector. During the 18th century, the common English housewife was viewed as insignificant and that their singular purpose in the marriage was to tend to the rearing of the children, make sure the home was presentable and satisfy their husband. Women in the 21st century have been placed on equal ground with their male counterparts in terms of education, employment, and household duties.

In reading the selected readings from The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Restoration and the 18th Century, I found three readings: Joseph Addison’s (1672-1719) Spectator No. 128, Eliza Haywood’s (1693-1756) The Female Spectator, Vol.1, No.1 and The Female Spectator, Vol. 2, No. 10, that show the negative image of women who get betrayed by the men who they choose to love, the differences that make up men and women, and their need for one another. With the creation of these readings, men and women in the 21st can realize how important marriage and companionship can be.

Stereotypically, women have had the glaring reputation of being more sensible and happier than men. Men are the indulgers of fine wine, good food, and political jargon, while women are the lovers of poetry, flowers, and rhythmic music that overwhelm the soul. Addison’s argument is that within the home, men and women complete each other. Without the unity amongst men and women in home, the home cannot survive. Addison mentions,

            Man and woman are joined together for life, and the

            main burden rests upon the former, nature has given all

            the little arts of soothing and blandishment to the female,

            that she may cheer and animate her companion in a

            constant and assiduous application to the making a

            provision for his family, and the educating of their common

            children. (2492)

Addison in this passage is expressing the joint role that Aristus and Aspartia. Even though Addison is showing the dominance that he [Aristus] has over Aspartia, he knows that only with the assistance of his wife with the upkeep of the home, the family can continue to grow and prosper. Aspartia knows that her purpose and role in the marriage is to be Aristus’ companion through out the rest of their lives, but also is aware of Aristus’s role as the dominating figure who feels that being the protector and leader of the family is his main role. Man and woman are joined at the hip because one cannot function without the other.

            Men and women in the 21st century both take responsibility in the duties of the home. As the gender roles have take on a new approach over the years, men and women share the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, rearing of the children and, paying of bills. Addison’s argument of men and women joined together for life, only justifies that with out man, woman can survive and the same can be said about the man.

            There have been cases where smooth-talking and mysterious men have benefited from the misfortunes of women. Even though I am sure that there are men to this day that still partake in this cruel act on women, one can guess that the manipulation men would use on women in order to take their valuables in the 21st century, can be traced back to the 18th Century. In Haywood’s, The Female Spectator, Vol. 1, No. 1, Haywood talks about Seomanthe, a young mistress that if married by a man would receive a huge fortune. As word got out that Negratia, Seomanthe’ aunt had Seomanthe living with her, the flood gates opened up with potential suitors not looking for love, but looking for a huge pay day. While sitting at Sunday service, Seomanthe noticed that there was a strange man looking at her every chance he got, which Seomanthe appreciated. Haywood paints the attraction that Seomanthe and the strange man had and, “the looks that passed between them afterwards, during the time of divine service, confirmed her in the opinion that he was no less charmed with her than he said he was” (2495).

            Arrange marriages have not been known to be uncommon in the 18th century, but are they common in the 21st century? Haywood focuses on the fact that it was common for men in the 18th century to marry women solely for their monetary riches. Depending on their societal standing, women would be kidnapped by the man, impregnated, and returned to their parents with the man looking to cash in. Not wanting to face disdain from the public, the family agrees to let the rapist marry their daughter, which leads them to the spoils. As better employment for both men and women have opened in the 21st century, the collective income of married couples have become astronomical.

 The strange man would leave letters for Seomanthe that were filled with flames, darts, wounds, love, and death, which can be taken as a sign of love that the man had for Seomanthe. Seomanthe would leave the safety of her aunt Negratia’s home, and run off with a man that she barely knew. When Seomanthe and the man were married, the man had took all of her money, priceless possessions and her precious jewels, unbeknownst to Seomanthe. The strange man, whose money is all in his clothing, was able to use his ability to manipulate the younger Seomanthe so that he could take her fortune and leave her out in the cold.

Women have had the dubious distinction of being thought of as being insignificant by men. While there are some who are looking for a good time, women are looking for those life companions that will not only be their lover, but their partner going through life and the challenges that they face. In Haywood’s Female Spectator, Vol. 2, No. 10, Haywood reacts to a fan’s letter about the role of women in the marriage. Cleora mentions that men have lost touch with women and that they feel men does not need to blame all of life’s problems on women, because women usually place men ahead of them in the family hierarchy. Cleora asks a question, “Should we not be more obedient daughters, more faithful wives, more tender mothers, more sincere friends, and more valuable in every other station in life?” (2497). Haywood analyzes this question and provides that women are faithful wives, obedient daughters and tender mothers because, next to the stubbornness and pride that men carry with them, the woman is the calming presence that the family needs. Haywood maintains that women in the 18th century were served their purpose as women by being obedient, faithful, and sincere to the men they stand by.

             I feel that during 18th Century society, women were inferior to men. The men where head of households, whose other responsibility, included having final say in all decisions concerning money. Women were forced to take care of the home while the men would go out and provide for his family. In 21st century society, men and women are mirror images of each other as each share the same freedoms and have the same employment opportunities. As men depending on geographic location go out into the world to claim his dominance, women served a purpose by staying home and maintaining the overall foundation of family stability. Addison and Haywood both affirms that as society continues to change, men and women are going to need each other even more. 

Work Cited

Damrosch, D, & Dettmar, K. J. H. The Longman Anthology of British Literature:

            The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. New York: Pearson, 2006.


Gaile T. Mann

Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis

English 5330

6 December 2007

 Women and Marriage

    Mary Astell argued that women’s power of reason were as worth cultivating as men’s.  She further advocated this stance in “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies” where she imagined an all female academy for unmarried women to develop their reason and deepen their knowledge (2427).  She believed that women could find self-sufficiency outside of marriage (2428).  Astell  made this statement about the ambitions of women, “But, alas! What poor woman is ever taught that she should have a higher design than to get her a husband?  Heaven will fall in of course; and if she make but an obedient and dutiful wife, she cannot miss of it (2433).  From Astell’s point of view women’s intellect could be developed beyond the shallowness that permeated their lives. If  properly educated women could converse with men on topics that were of importance and not have to pretend to be dim.  In “Some Reflections upon Marriage” she states, “that as the monarch rightfully possesses absolute authority over the state, so does the husband over his wife – why, then, would a woman wish to enter into so self-immolating a contract as marriage in the first place?” (2428). She may have been the first person to consider women’s rights as a political question (2428).

     Isaac Bickerstaff a fictive writer of the “Tatler” instructed men and women on who they were and what they should become and how they might merge in love and marriage.  The “Tatler,” the “Review” and the “Spectator,” were periodicals that espoused that marriage should be based on love and reason, not on financial gain or impulsive passion.  Even though they instructed their readers on these concepts, they were not always fair to the fair sex because most of these articles were written by a man (2483).  John Gay satirized love and marriage in the “Beggar’s Opera” where everyone, goods, votes, and spouses were a commodity that was exchanged and recorded in a ledger (2719).  In the play Mrs. Peacham belittles her daughter Polly when she (Polly) says that she married MacHeath for love, saying (Mrs. Peacham) I thought she had been bred better (2728).

     In Richard Steele’s “Tatler”  No. 104,  Mr. Bickerstaff states that he found that his sister Jenny had assumed some of her husband’s manner in her remarks, phrases and tone (2491).  His advice to her for making her husband still want her even when she is old and not so pretty anymore, is to always please him (2491).  Joseph Addison who was one of the creators of the “Spectator” writes that “nature has given all the little arts of soothing and blandishment to the female that she may cheer, animate her companion in a constant and assiduous application to the making  a provision of his family”(2492). 

       Marriage was a tool for social control, but was later reconfigured to also become profitable to the merchants who used their daughters for social mobility (2131).  Marriage could increase the status of whole families. The dowry represented financial stability for the heirs and income for widowhood (2131).  Marriage was equivalent to erasure for women.  They were expected to write letters to occupy her time.  This was a form of self-entertainment and one of the characteristics of a gentlewoman.  In the novel by Samuel Richardson titled “Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded” the main character Pamela enjoys letter writing.  She acquired this skill from Mr. B’s

mother who taught her how to be a lady though she [Pamela] was a servant.  Women did not frequent the places where men went and had to fill their time with doing what their contrived education had prepared them for, which were subjects that were of a lighter nature which didn’t demand and ability to reason. 

          The Blue Stockings were a group of educated women and men who met regularly in salons.  It gave women an opportunity to be with literate men.  They discussed the plight of women and the need for social change and what could be done about it (81).  They believed that education was the key factor lacking from the lives of their working class fellow-sisters. One reader who wrote to the “Female Spectator” expressed this very conviction.  She said that women behaved inappropriately because they had a wrong education and it was the fault of men (2497). Astell also places the blame on men. “We never see or perhaps make sport with the ill effects of a bad education, till it come to touch us home in the ill conduct of a sister, daughter, or wife. Then the women must be blamed, their folly is exclaimed against, when all this while it was the wide man’s fault who did not set a better guard on those who according to him stand in so much need of one” (2432).  Even those women who were wealthy did not receive a proper education. They had a lot of free time on their hands since they had servants who took care of domestic chores such as housekeeping, cooking, and childcare. Part of their time went toward managing the servants.  “Needlework, dancing, and music could be employed to please men and were considered proper “studies”; science, history, and philosophy were not (82). A great deal of their time was spent playing card games (82).

     Marriages were oftentimes arranged for women by their father or an uncle, usually for financial reasons.  Mary Pendarves Delaney suffered such an ordeal of this nature.  Her uncle arranged her marriage to sixty-year-old Pendarves when she was seventeen (86).  He was repulsive to her, “He was fat, much affected by gout, and often sat in a sullen mood, which I conclude was from the gloominess of his temper.” …when I was led to the altar, I wished from my soul I had been led …. to be sacrificed.  I was sacrificed.  I lost not life, indeed, but all that

makes life desirable – joy and peace of mind” (86). After his death,  Pendarves’ inheritance to

her was meager (87).   These statements express the pain and sacrifice that women made.   

     During the “Age of Reason,” women were seen as second class citizens without rights.  Men saw no purpose for women to know how to reason and thereby didn’t need to be educated since they would always be under the direction of a father, brother, or husband. Sophia (1739) questioned, “Why is learning useless to us?” and her answer was, “Because we have no share in public offices.   And why have we no share in public offices? Because we have no learning” (84). Women weren’t allowed to participate in politics during this period, not even to vote.  Furthermore they had no economic power, nor could they own property.  If they inherited property it was usually controlled by the husband. 

     Dr. John Gregory  was a father who meant well, he expressed his sentiments about women’s intellect, to his daughter, saying, “Wit is the most dangerous talent you can possess” (82).  Women were expected to hid their intelligence from men because intelligence was not considered ladylike.  Yet women were considered silly for not being knowledgeable.           

     Women had no control over any aspect of their lives.  In Alexander Pope’s “Eloisa to Abelard,” even though the couple married, her uncle forced Heloise to enter a convent and he had Abelard castrated (2655).  The fact that Elosia was married was not even a consideration for her uncle. He could still treat her anyway he pleased and her husband along with her.

     In Astell’s “Some Reflections upon Marriage” she speaks about the thoughts of men, “ ‘tis no great matter to them if women, who were born to be their slaves, be now and then ruined for their entertainment” (2433).  This can also be seen in “The Beggar’s Opera” when MacHeath says to Lucy, “Tis true, I go to the house; I chat with the girl, I kiss her, I say a thousand things to her (as all gentlemen do) that mean nothing, to divert myself” (2743). 

     Astell and other likeminded contemporaries brought enlightenment to the condition of

women and their status in society.  It took decades for their work to have an impact, and the struggle is not over.

Works Cited


Addison, Joseph. Spectator. The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 3rd ed. Vol.1C


      of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Stuart Sherman. New York: Pearson


       Longman, 2006. 2492


Astell, Mary. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 3rd


      ed. Vol.1C of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed Stuart Sherman. New York:


      Pearson Longman, 2006. 2427-8


Astell, Mary. Some Reflections upon Marriage. The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 3rd


      ed. Vol.1C of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed Stuart Sherman. New York:


      Pearson Longman, 2006. 2433


Dobbs, Jeannine. “The Blue Stockings: Getting It Together.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women   


          Studies. Vol. 1, No. 3. (Winter, 1976): 81-2 84 86-7


Gay, John. The Beggar’s Opera. The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 3rd


      ed. Vol.1C of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed Stuart Sherman. New York:


      Pearson Longman, 2006. 2719 2728 2743


Haywood, Eliza. The Female Spectator Vol.2, No. 10. The Restoration and the Eighteenth


       Century. 3rd ed. Vol.1C of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed Stuart


       Sherman.  New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 2497


Sherman, Stuart, and David Damrosch. Eds. The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 3rd


      ed. Vol.1C of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed Stuart Sherman. New York:


      Pearson Longman, 2006. 2131


Steele, Richard. “Tatler. No 104” The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 3rd


      ed. Vol.1C of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed Stuart Sherman. New York:


      Pearson Longman, 2006. 2491

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