Jane Austen's Time - Continuation
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I want to survey the writings of radical men in Jane Austen's time. My focus will be very narrow; I want only to understand the way that those men thought about women and women's rights. This effort is meant to parallel the study of what literary men of Jane Austen's time thought about women and the situation of women - or at least, the ways those things were expressed in the novels of male authors. The views of radical women are surveyed in the next section.
Of course, neither literary men nor radical men necessarily represent the typical male voice. However, it is inevitable that the attitudes of male writers will examined for these clues, since the common man leaves so little record of his customs and beliefs. So, this is the thread in the two studies; both are concentrated on male writers - men who wrote for publication.
Some such men are mentioned in other places; for example, see our treatment of William Godwin. In particular, see our discussion of Godwin as a novelist.
Radical men met radical women in those days, there was much influence, collaboration, and social mixing, even marriage in many cases. However, there do seem to have been some differences between the sexes in this regard. Many, perhaps a majority, of the men were devout atheists, men such as Paine, Godwin, and Condorcet. There were religious radical men as well, Dr. Price and Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) for example, but an overt atheism was the predominant philosophy. Godwin, of course, evolved from a clergyman into an atheist.
I detect far less atheism amongst the radical women, and what there was, almost seems simulated for the benefit of the men. The best instance I can think of is a terrible example; as Mary Wollstonecraft lie on her deathbed, she asked her husband to arrange for last rights. Godwin thought this an abandonment of principles he was sure she held, and merely explained to her that she must be delirious and he did nothing else. The lovers and the husband of their daughter, Mary Shelley, were famous atheists, but I think I detected a similar abandonment of radical principles in my study of her The Last Man.
Another difference, it seems to me, is that the men were far more influenced by The Enlightenment. This was the time when the prevailing view was that reason and rationality were wonderful, wonderful things that would cure all ills - just make society more rational and it would become an ideal place. I don't see the same level of naivete among the radical women. (I certainly see nothing so naive in our Lady's novels, on the contrary.) Newton's accomplishments seem to have had a major impact in this regard, his recasting of physical science into an axiomatic basis (physical "laws") was ideal for the marriage of reason with empiricism, and his specific contributions are impressive to this day. Also, it was Newton who completed the revolutionary adoption of mathematics as the language of science. Perhaps this most happy example of rationality might also be applied to social problems - or so it was thought. So, Condorcet was a mathematician, Priestley was a chemist (the discoverer of oxygen), and even Paine studied the science of structures during his stay in America. The activity that is today considered the purview of cranks and crackpots was a devoted interest of the best thinkers in Jane Austen's time (the best male thinkers?)
We encountered Tom Paine more than once before - once, for example, in our discussion of his crucial role in motivating the Declaration of Independence, and once again in bolstering the resolve of the American people during the Revolution. Also, we should point to the fact that he witnessed the first meeting between Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. (He may have used that occasion to suggest to Wollstonecraft that she write her Vindication of the Rights of Woman.)
Paine came from a lower-class background in England, he was born into a Quaker family as "Tom Pain". He had several diverse early careers including that of his father, the maker of metal and whalebone stays for corsets. He also held the position of an excise-tax collector at times. His first taste of political activity was as a spokesman for the tax collectors in a labor dispute. He would not gain his literary voice (or the final "e" in his name) until he reached America where his talents and abilities would be fully appreciated. Today, he is known primarily as a progressive philosopher, but I like to think of him best as an inspirational writer. I mean, I like him best when reading his Crisis articles or his famous inspirational, polemical essay Common Sense (January, 1776).
Paine married twice in England; his first wife died very young, and the second marriage ended unhappily in a permanent separation. In America, he was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and was recognized by Thomas Jefferson. On his return to England, he was an inspiration for, and an associate of, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. It is often said that Paine drank too much, and that strikes me as an odd criticism because I always have had the impression that everyone drank too much in those days.
Paine gave an indication of his opinion of the state of women's rights early on in his literary career. This is an excerpt from his An Occasional Letter to the Female Sex (1775):
"Even in countries where they may be esteemed the most happy [women are] constrained in their desires in the disposal of their goods; robbed of freedom and will by laws; slaves of opinion which rules them with absolute sway and construes the slightest appearances into guilt; surrounded on all sides by judges who are at once tyrants and seducers ... for even with changes in attitudes and laws, deeply engrained and oppressing social prejudices remain which confront women minute by minute, day by day."
Well, I think we can call that position clearly stated.
After the American Revolution, Paine spent ten years in France to celebrate the revolution there. He was a good friend of the Marquis de Condorcet (the subject of our next section) and joined that man in an ill-fated attempt to write a French Constitution. Their effort was rejected by the radical wing and the subsequent fall - the subsequent plummet of Condorcet seems also to have diminished Paine's welcome. However, Paine's worst offense was to suggest, publicly, that maybe we shouldn't execute Louis XVI; his plea was based on an abhorrence of capital punishment and on the fact that Louis had rendered an invaluable service to Paine's "beloved America". For this, Paine was thrown in jail and his own execution was contemplated. Eventually, he was set free - free to leave the country.
While in Europe, Paine had written The Rights of Man, a defense of the French Revolution, and his anti-clerical The Age of Reason. The timing of the latter was very bad; his "beloved" America was undergoing one of its religious "born-again" phases and The Age of Reason did not sit well. In fact, Paine found himself a bit of a pariah upon his return to our shore. He ended up a bitter and quarrelsome old man who drank too much and who was perfectly neglected by official America upon his death in 1809. It is difficult to imagine, let alone understand.
Condorcet - Marquis
(Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat)
Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) was a political radical and a feminist of the first rank. He was one of the French Philosophes, a small group of writers given over to skepticism in religion, materialism in philosophy, and hedonism in ethics. Much of that was set down in L' Encylopédie published in 35 volumes between 1751 and 1776. Contributors included Condorcet, J. J. Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and other brilliant men of the time. The Encylopédie has been characterized as "a rational explanation of the universe marked by love of truth and contempt of superstition." It earned the hostility of the clergy and official classes.
Marquis de Condorcet
Condorcet was a good friend of Voltaire, Tom Paine, the radical English publisher, Joseph Johnson, and many others of a radical and progressive nature. He was educated in Jesuit schools where he developed contempt for his teachers and a disrespect of religion. He also developed considerable mathematical skills there, and eventually published a number of original works including an important work on the mathematical theory of probability (1785). At the same time, he established a literary reputation with the publication of biographies of the progressive minister Turgot (1786) and of Voltaire (1789).
In general, the Philosophes were not revolutionaries. Their goal was to make society more rational, not to overthrow it. However, Condorcet supported the aims of the French Revolution (1789) and rose to the position of President of the Legislative Assembly in 1792. His social philosophy was one of progress, based on a programme of public education; his plan for the revision of the French educational system was adopted and is said to be in place to this day.
He applied the calculus of probabilities to social phenomena, including voting patterns. (This application of mathematics to social and economic questions was later taken up by Poisson and Cournot.) For example, Condorcet invented a novel election scheme called "Condorcet's method" or "Condorcet's criterion". As far as I know, the scheme has never actually been used in an election, but it is periodically discussed by academics and you can find a large number of references to it on the Internet. Here is a description: suppose there are three candidates, call them A, B and C. The ballot that you and I are accustomed to looks like this list of the three names:
Things turned out very badly for Condorcet. They started to go bad when he undertook, with the aid of a committee, to write a French Constitution. The effort was rejected by the powerful Paris extremists (the "Jacobins") because, they explained, it was not democratic enough and because too much power was given to the provinces. The fatal move came when Condorcet complained about the deadly persecution of his supporters, the revolutionary moderates called "Girondists", whose only offense was moderation, and, for that, he was himself proscribed. He completed his most profound philosophical work Sketch of the Intellectual Progress of Mankind (1795) while in hiding; this is his theory of the perfectibility of mankind. (It was published in England by Joseph Johnson.) Condorcet was found dead in prison the day after his arrest in 1794.
Incidentally, the "Jacobins" were called that because the group originally met in a Jacobin monastery, and the "Girondists" party was so-named because so many members represented the French region ("department") of Gironde. Jacobins were responsible for "The Terror", and its most famous member was Robespierre (1758-1794). His termination date indicates that he did not long survive Condorcet.
Condorcet's contributions deserve a broader, deeper study; but, in the interim, I will excerpt from Claire Tomalin's biography of Mary Wollstonecraft to give a sense of his considerable commitment to feminism. Those excerpts are listed here followed by the page numbers in the biography.
"... Condorcet had given unequivocal support for a programme of immediate advancement of women to equal rights in his Lettres d'un Bourgeois de Newhaven in 1787. ... the same current of thought that had impelled the Dissenters and their associates to advocate political reform had arrived at its next perfectly logical objective. However, it had needed a man freed from all religious fetters to reach it. Condorcet, who loathed his Jesuit schoolmasters and had been charmed, soothed and re-educated in the salons, had no fear of women. The situation was different in England."
"English Dissenters were still held to the concept of a patriarchal system
with a male God at its head. ... God was responsible, they thought, for
inflicting various physical penalties and humiliations on women which no
amount of goodwill could overcome. (Condorcet dismissed menstruation as of no
more account than fluctuations in the general health of men.) ..."
"Condorcet returned to the subject in his essay Sur l'addission des Femmes au droit de Cité in 1790:
"Condorcet's arguments remain the classic feminist ones. But they did not
reach England, and Mary [Wollstonecraft] herself was either wholly ignorant of
his work (in spite of Paine) or preferred not to mention it. ..."
"... There is no doubt that Condorcet's ten pages pack more logic than Mary
[Wollstonecraft]'s three hundred; but, on the other hand, she hit the exact
tone of righteous indignation that is still effective - indeed it has become
the staple tone of much successful journalism. Her book [Vindication]
is still read, his essay has never been reprinted. ..."
Ms Tomalin expresses an interesting view of good journalism and good writing there. There are many other things to delight us in that short excerpt. The good news is that Ms Tomalin's own writing is excellent - transcends her recommendation.
"The course of the feminist movement in France during the Revolution was
confused and, though it began hopefully enough, tragic in its outcome. Much of
the theoretical discussion of women's rights had come from men initially, in
their capacity as legislators. Even apart from Condorcet, the early work of
the Comité de législation had been inspired by a wish to give women
equality before the law. The patriarchal family, emblem of the monarchical
system, was to be recast, and women were to have the same property rights as
men, and an equal voice in family matters. There was talk of their 'natural'
rights being restored to them, from men such as Danton, Desmoulins, and
Couthon as well as Condorcet."
"Before the end of 1793 the feminist movement was crushed. Only Condorcet, hidden in an upstairs room near the Sorbonne, continued to write on the subject of equal education and equal rights for women until the last days of his life. ... he grew increasingly panic stricken of what might happen to [his wife] Sophie and his daughter as well as himself. ... both in the Esquisse and in another fragment in which he sketched a plan for an improved society, he reverted to the feminist cause."
That would be in the famous 10th chapter of his last work. Among the other things that Condorcet mentioned there is this wise observation:
"... His wife no longer dared to visit him and he agreed with her that she should divorce him under the new law for the sake of their daughter's inheritance rights that would otherwise be lost. He wrote directions that the child should be taught English (she was only three) and sent to Lord Stanhope or to America in the event of the deaths of both her parents. He also wrote a letter to her to be read when she was old enough, urging her never to feel bitterly about what happened. ..."
"... He poisoned himself on his first night in prison. Madame de
Condorcet's divorce was granted when he was already dead, but she did not
learn of that until several months later. ... [his daughter] grew up to marry
an exiled Irish revolutionary, Arthur O'Connor, nearly as old though nowhere
near as wise as her father."
I must say, after reading of the extent and depth of feminism in this period, it is difficult to support a commonly held view that Jane Austen was a crypto-feminist. I mean that the spirit of the times was such that I cannot believe that Jane Austen might have felt a need to encrypt anything. - If she were the feminist that some people hope for, she could have let it all hang out as did, say, the women I am about to survey and the radical men described in the previous section. To me, a feminist is the counterpart - the exact mirror image of a misogynist, and I contend that Jane Austen had no such prejudice against men.
I will make a short survey of the writings of some of the radical women from Jane Austen's time. As was the case in our discussion of the radical men, I will place emphasis on the feminism (or lack of same) of these radical women writers. (Of course, a good starting point for a study of this kind, is a study of the lives and works of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley.)
There are some generalities to be made in this regard. For example, a disproportionate number of English radical women came from Dissenter families. That was not always the case, but it was true often enough to be interesting. They usually began as supporters of their oppressed co-religionists, grew then to oppose hereditary, autocratic rule, and evolved from there into feminism. (Incidentally, the word, "feminism", is a modern invention - was not used in Jane Austen's time.) Something of the same thing can be said of the men; Godwin, for example, was the son and grandson of Dissenting clergymen.
Nearly all of the women I will survey became close friends of Mary Wollstonecraft at some time or other. Wollstonecraft was born into a Church of England family, but became involved in the Dissenter community early on in her career as a writer. One of her biographers, Claire Tomalin, puts it this way:
Finally, I can mention one other common thread; nearly all of these women were associated with the publisher of radical tracts, Joseph Johnson. The connection was always professional and often social but never romantic. The Dissenter preacher, Dr. Price, was also an inspiration to many of these women.French Revolution and
Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the first feminists, but only one of the first English-speaking, woman feminists. Before Mary Wollstonecraft, there were the French feminists; indeed, those men and women were among the vanguard of the French Revolution [Tomalin-MW, Chapter 13]. For example, we can mention Condorcet in that regard.
French women made impressive gains in those heady, revolutionary days. Women were given the right to vote and there were plans to appoint women as civil servants and to educate them to take up careers in farming, banking, business, and teaching. Women were to have the same property rights as men, and they were to have more say in family matters. As is always the case, there was a feminist demand for easier divorce and that was achieved as well. (Isn't it curious that feminists always seem to place a priority on easy divorce which, on the face of it, seems to benefit both sexes?)
However, excesses set in and all was to be thrown away as a severe reaction and regression was set in place. Gangs of female political thugs roamed the streets of Paris where they physically assaulted anyone whose politics or appearance gave offense; these were the infamous citoyenes. The most egregious attack was against the person of Theroigne de Mericourt who, although an accomplished feminist, was found to be too mild by the citoyenes. They stripped her and beat her about the head with rocks; the result was a permanently deformed face and a permanently damaged brain. The citoyenes scared the wee out of everyone else - everyone else including Mary Wollstonecraft! Indeed, Mary Wollstonecraft was in France during these events but you will find her perfectly silent on the subject of French feminism. Also, the most infamous political assassin of the day was a woman, Charlotte Corday. A reaction set in and all of the gains were rolled back by a disgusted populace. As a result, French women would not regain the right to vote until 1945 - yes that was 1945!
Something of a similar nature occurred in England; there, a reaction against feminism began in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. That was fueled, in part, by the association, in the minds of many, of feminism with the radical politics of the French Revolution. The Revolution had fallen out of favor in England during a protracted, bloody war with Napoleon (and an Emperor Napoleon in the bargain). Even before that, the English were turned away by the violence and the politics of the "Terror". That was even true of most English radicals, especially those that had actually been in France. They seemed almost embarrassed by their initial enthusiasm and support. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote this to Johnson after seeing Louis driven through the streets under guard,
"... I cannot dismiss the lively images that have filled my imagination all the day. Nay, do not smile, but pity me; for, once or twice, lifting my eyes from the paper, I have seen eyes glare through a glass-door opposite my chair, and bloody hands shook at me. ... My apartments are remote from those of the servants, the only persons who sleep with me in an immense hotel ... I wish I had even kept the cat with me!--I want to see something alive; death in so many frightful shapes has taken hold of my fancy.--I am going to bed--and, for the first time in my life, I cannot put out the candle."
[Tomalin-MW, Chapter 11]
Also, Godwin's Memoir of his feminist wife did not paint Mary Wollstonecraft in the favorable light that Godwin intended, not even in the minds of some other radical women. In fact, a number of woman writers, conservative and radical, became the chief critics of the feminism of the previous decades. Certainly, a number of men were outspoken in this regard, but the number of female critics so engaged is surprising. (See especially, the novels of the Blue Stocking, Hannah More.) Jane Austen's novels were published at the height of this period of criticism, in the period 1811-1818.
The historian, Warren Roberts, takes an interesting and extreme position in his book, Jane Austen and the French Revolution? (See the "References" for this section.) I will quote from his preface where he summarizes his Chapter 4, "Women and the Family", which could just as well have been titled "Feminism". Basically, Roberts believes that Jane Austen, in her Juvenilia and in the characters of Catherine Morland and Elizabeth Bennet, shows a feminist impulse, but in her later novels, especially in the characters of Fanny Price and Anne Elliot, adopts the conservative, counter-feminist view. Here is the excerpt from his preface.
"Finally, the subject of the last chapter [in this book] is feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman, appeared in 1792, and quickly became part of the debate carried on in England over the French Revolution. ... since she applied [certain principles of the Revolution] to Vindication, this was bound to happen. Those supporting Wollstonecraft's views about the role of women were by no means all in the radical camp, at least initially. Increasingly, however, as the radical cause was discredited in England, so too was the feminist cause. Out of the debate over the position of women and a related discussion on marriage and the family came a set of attitudes that would have a deep impact on nineteenth-century English life, contributing to the primacy of the family that was such an important feature of the Victorian era. Austen lived through the period of this debate and in her fiction worked out her own responses to it. Her way of doing this was consistent with the stand that she took on a wide range of other contemporary issues, and reflected a conservative social vision. In throwing her weight behind the family she valued an institution capable of maintaining order and stability and furthering social continuity. That she did so was another of her responses to the stresses and strains of the Revolutionary Age."
No Janite rejects the suggestion that our Lady valued family life, but the hint that she might have been a counter-revolutionary propagandist, strikes me as absurd. Roberts is intelligent, knowledgeable, and credentialed; however, a judgement of this kind requires a reading of the novels as well as a reading of history. I don't find Roberts's reading of the novels compelling, on the contrary; and, so, I am not influenced by his thesis.
Of course, Roberts presents one extreme view and the opposite extreme is in play as well because everyone is desperate to believe that Jane Austen is on his side. For example, Claire Tomalin declares that Jane Austen's feminism was wonderfully subtle. (Well, if "infinitesimal" is somewhat synonymous with "subtle", then I might agree.) My own view is that Jane Austen was an artist and above all this political prattling. I like to think my view more compatible with the more creditable treatment of our lady's novels by Mary Waldron - perhaps I flatter myself.
Mary Hays's Appeal to the Men of Great Britain
Mary Hays (1760-1843) was a young Dissenter, living in London, when she became a disciple of Mary Wollstonecraft after reading Vindication of the Rights of Woman. That was a role Mary Hays would never relinquish. Hays convinced Joseph Johnson to introduce her to Wollstonecaft and thus the friendship began. Hays was also a close friend of William Godwin and corresponded and conversed with him as often as possible. It is believed that many of those communications are set down in one of Hays's novels.
In fact, Hays brought Wollstonecraft and Godwin together to become reacquainted. This was after Wollstonecraft's first suicide attempt and, judging by subsequent events, this second meeting with Godwin presumably went far better than their first.
Mary Hays was liberated in a number of ways. She had taken a lover when very young and they wished to marry; however, he died before that could happen. She would rail against the hypocrisy of men in their insistence on female chastity. Mary was devastated after her loss, but she was determined to marry and she began a number of fruitless attempts to convince various men to marry her. She would always insist upon the woman's right to propose. However, Mary Hays was unattractive and her manner was not the usual one women adopt to bring a man to the altar - she was liberated and artless.
I discuss the feminist fiction of Mary Hays in another place. My focus here is on Mary Hays's feminist tract, Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women. That might seem impossible at first because Claire Tomalin informs us, in her biography of Wollstonecraft, that no copy of Hays's philosophical work survives. (Well, that was true when Tomalin published in 1974, but one of our own "male" voices managed to find a copy on sale, online, at worldbookdealers.com for a mere $30,000!) A contemporary review of Hays's feminist tract appeared in Joseph Johnson's The Analytical Review (July, 1798); Ms. Tomalin kindly placed that review in an appendix for us; and, that will be my source here.
Hays's had been encouraged to publish Appeal by Joseph Johnson (even though he was in prison at the time) shortly after the shocking, premature death of Mary Wollstonecraft. Johnson published the work anonymously in order to protect Hays.
The "review" was written in the voice of a man and seems to be very negative in nature. Personally, I doubt the sincerity of the reviewer in both instances; especially so, given where it was published. (The reviewer is identified only as "A.G.") I am sincerely negative, but I may not serve you best by debating principles with a woman no longer able to defend her position. However, I will contrast Mary Hays's representations of men, women, and the situation of women with those same things as we find them in Jane Austen's novels.
Apparently, Hays's Appeal was divided into four sections, I will quote Hays from the introduction and each of these sections. I am, of course, excerpting from the excerpts I found in the "review". Begin with an
Appeal to the Men of Britain:
"I address myself to you, oh man, clothed with the authority of your own assuming, and clothed with the strength to maintain what you have assumed. You maintain it by the same law by which the strong oppresses the weak, and the rich the poor; and by which the great and powerful, crush the friendless, and him who has none to help him."
Jee-eeze! Well, this was not a unique worldview in Jane Austen's time; for example, see the view expressed by Tom Paine. (Notice that Paine wrote that some 23 years before Mary Hays. Let us continue with Hays's polemic.
Section I: The erroneous ideas which men have formed, of the characters and abilities of women
"Queens may at all events be fairly stated against kings, and I believe will lose little by the comparison. ... of the few females who have been permitted to wield the scepter, most of them, nay nearly all of them, have made themselves remarkable ... That [Royalty] is particularly fitted for the purpose of comparing to each other, is obvious; because both sexes of this class generally receive an education the nearest upon an equality of any other. And what have been the consequences?--Just what reasonably speaking, was to be expected; that their capacities and talents appear to be nearly so likewise.
That there is something unbending and inflexible either in the natural or acquired character of man, which by no means belongs to, nor is at all affected by the other sex, nobody pretends to deny. But it is rather wonderful that they should pride themselves upon this rugged quality of the mind ... since it is equally tenacious of right or wrong--And since it unfits men from enjoying happiness themselves, or communicating it to those about them on easy terms, or in all situations.
... the minds of women are more pliable, and yield more readily to the pressure of circumstances, without sinking under them ... That elasticity in their animal spirits, which has a constant tendency to restore them to their natural state, and which supports them wonderfully, under many a trying scene, we should almost be tempted to rank high among the virtues, from its analogy to philosophy and common sense, as well as its influence on general happiness--but that it seems to be rather a felicity of constitution,--a gift of nature,--given to counterbalance many of the evils of life."
So, "the minds of women are more pliable, and yield more readily to the pressure of circumstances" do they? Well that judgement certainly applies to Jane Bennet and Harriet Smith, but what about Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, or Mary Musgrove? Hays's view is typical of feminist thinking, it always springs from sweeping generalizations and stereotypes.
Let us move on to
Section II: What men would have women to be
On the conduct exacted from the wife on the occasion of the husband's infidelity: "Here is one of those absurdities of which I accuse men in their system of contradictions. They expect that this poor weak creature, setting aside in a moment, love, jealousy, and pride, the most powerful and universal passions interwoven in the human heart, and which even men, clothed in wisdom and fortitude, find so difficult to conquer, that they seldom attempt it--that she shall notwithstanding lay all these aside as easily as she would her gown and petticoat, and plunge at once into the cold bath of prudence, of which though the wife only is to receive the shock, and make daily use of, yet if she does so, it has the virtue of keeping both husband and wife in a most agreeable temperament. ... Dear generous creatures!
"What a chaos!--What a mixture of strength and weakness,--of greatness and littleness,--of sense and folly,--of exquisite feeling and total insensibility,--have they jumbled together in their imaginations, and then given to their pretty darling the name of woman! ...
... in the composition of man's woman, wisdom must not be spoken of, nay nor even hinted at, yet strange to tell! there it must be in full force, and come forth upon all convenient occasions. This is a mystery which, as we are not allowed to be among the initiated, we may admire at an awful distance, but can never comprehend."
... Woman ... is the sport, of the vices and infirmities of her tyrant; and however formed by nature to virtue and benevolence,--however trained by education,--here she finds all this against her. Here she finds that her time and endeavours would have been much more happily employed, in strengthening the opposite habits of selfishness and uncharitableness. ..."
Jane Austen noticed that a wife is sometimes the first to make herself "happy" - before the husband thinks to act in that way. Think about Jane Austen's Maria Bertram or Eliza Williams.
The next Section begins with a theoretical underpinning that seems to anticipate the analysis that DuBois would later advance for the state of mind of subjugated African-Americans.
Section III: What women are
"... any class of rational beings,--though by no means inferior originally in intellectual endowments,--may be held in a state of subjection and dependence from generation to generation, by another party, who, by a variety of circumstances, none of them depending on actual, original superiority of mind, may have established an authority over them. And it must be acknowledged a truth equally infallible, that any class so held in a state of subjection and dependence, will degenerate both in mind and body. ... we have only to bring home the application to the state of woman in general, who, degraded and humiliated in society, and held in a constant state of dependence,--can it be wondered, that they have lost even the idea of what they might have been, or what they might still be? ... they are likewise bound by chains, of such enormous weight and complicated form, that the more they are considered, the less hope remains of being able to unloose them by perseverance, or break them through by force. Or if impelled by an ardent love of liberty, by genius, or by despair, 'burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords away'--Alas! the consequences too often are--Ruin to the individual, without benefit to the whole.
Respecting the frivolous propensities imputed to the sex, it is well remarked, 'taking women on the footing they now are, and on which they will probably remain for some time at least, the tide of their passions must waste itself on something; and thus being forced into wrong channels, there it flows ... Thus many a good head is stuffed with ribbons, gauze, fringes, flounces, and furbelows that might have received and communicated, far other and more noble impressions. And a fine imagination has been exhausted upon these, which had they been turned to the study of nature, or initiated into the dignified embellishments of the fine arts, might have adorned, delighted, and improved society."
At first, one might guess that Jane Austen's Mrs. Allen is an excellent example of the kind of "stuffed" head that Mary Hays is describing. On the other hand, after reading Jane Austen's letters, one comes away with the impression that the Austen daughters thought a great deal about "ribbons, gauze, fringes, flounces, and furbelows"; while, at the same time, it can said that the younger "adorned, delighted, and improved society." And Jane Austen did that far better than any of Mary Hays's acquaintance ever did or could have done.
Here is one final excerpt from Section III:
"... And though it is often alleged, that the public influence of the men, is balanced by the private influence of the woman; yet if there is truth in this remark at all, it is that kind of back stair influence, which is enjoyed by the unworthy, than the virtuous part of the sex."
Well, the sad truth is that the vast majority of men have no "public influence" whatsoever and no prospect of same. And yet, the wives will dominate the homes. Boys are raised by women - first by mother, aunts, and neighborhood women and then by teachers - I mean, governesses - I mean, day-care providers. Some few young boys have a masculine influence, but those are the few lucky ones. - Most dads are too exhausted and too frustrated by their encounters with the world to be the men they would prefer to be. This supposed other influence - this public influence - is a product of Hays's imagination. A necessary invention for her polemic, but totally meaningless in the real world.
Think about the female dominance in Jane Austen's novels. Lady Catherine ruled Collins with an iron hand, and only in part because she controlled his professional advancement - it was a natural consequence of the personalities involved. She tried to control Darcy, but he was too strong and too clever for that. And Collins married only where Charlotte Lucas led him. One senses that a struggle for power would someday break out between Lady Catherine and Charlotte, and Collins would be a casualty of that conflict.
Who, in truth, controlled Mansfield Park? Clearly, it was Aunt Norris who directed the education of the children until it became obvious just what her policies had wrought. It was only Fanny Price and Mary Crawford who saw what was happening - Sir Thomas was clueless and helpless. Take a real male bastard, like Willoughby, and consider his influences and influence. Hays might have us believe that Willoughby is a product of patriarchal society and his actions are encouraged and approved by other men. The fact of the matter is that Brandon tried to put a bullet into him. Even a Willoughby is controlled by women. He is beholding to his wealthy cousin, Mrs. Smith, for his inheritance and when she disowns him, he marries a wealthy woman, who so controls him that he submits to allow her to dictate his letter to Marianne.
If you study Jane Austen's letters, you will discover that she rarely complained about the men in her family. Where she did, she most often complained that they had let their wives become too dominant.
Here is Hays's final section.
Section IV: What women ought to be
"... from such an attention to improving the minds, and forming the characters of women, as I propose; consequences of the highest importance will ensue.-- ...
Notwithstanding then that men have planned every thing in their own way, ... the consequences are not equal to their hopes or expectations; for they complain bitterly both in public and private, of the folly, the inconsistency, the extravagance, and the general relaxation of manners amongst women. ... when it is at any time argued and proved that to bring about reformation, the first step ought to be, the reformation of the moral conduct of the men themselves; and the next that of educating women on a more liberal and unprejudiced plan, and putting them on a more respectable footing in society; then it is that the generality of men fly off, and are not ashamed to declare, that they would rather a thousand times take women as they are;--weak, frail, dependent creatures. ...
The consequences from the liberation of women reasonably to be expected, are, such as seldom fail to ensue, when any individuals or societies, or classes of mankind are restored to their natural rights; that is to say when they find themselves at ease in their proper places; not degraded nor fettered by unnecessary confinement, but bound by such wholesome restraints, as prevent liberty from degenerating into licentiousness. In such a situation, all will perform their appropriate parts, with redoubled ability, cheerfulness, and alacrity; ...
... Of this however we are certain, that if universal justice were to prevail among mankind,--in which of course we include womankind,--that we should then be on the high road to happiness; of which we might reasonably hope to taste a competent share in this world, and might safely trust to a good providence for the perfection of it in another."
Things did not end so well for Mary Hays - not so very badly, just not so well. There was a reaction against feminism early on in the nineteenth century, fueled in part by the association, in the minds of many, of feminism with the radical politics of the French Revolution. Also, Godwin's Memoir of his feminist wife did not paint Mary Wollstonecraft in the favorable light that Godwin intended. On the other hand, it was not always politic to attack Wollstonecraft directly, so her good friend, Mary Hays, made an excellent substitute. Hays was physically unattractive, strident, occasionally obtuse, and made herself seem ridiculous in her loud, unsuccessful pursuits for a husband. So, she became the target of radical women writers as well as the butt of the jokes of conservative ("Tory") writers. Her revolutionary spirit left her and it appears that her radical writing ended well before her life was over.
The Poetry and Prose of Anna Lætitia Barbauld
We turn here to the writing of Anna Lætitia Barbauld (née Aikin). Barbauld was a poet, education writer, and a political radical who, as in the case of so many other radicals, had been born into a Dissenter family. But was she a feminist to the extent that her good friend, Mary Wollstonecraft, might have wished? We will explore that question.
My answer to the question is "no". I might also say that I find Barbauld the most impressive intellect in her radical-woman's community.
Here is a poem by Barbauld that might illustrate my view of things. (I found this at the Saskatchewan site - see "References and Links" for this section.) At first reading, it seems that the first six stanzas were intended to please any feminist of any generation. However, even there, the poet seems to be encouraging and sympathizing with a group that does not include herself - the authorial voice seems detached, cheering from the sidelines. Everything changes in the last two stanzas - the last two lines indicate a kind of wisdom and insight that might have prevented a Barbauld - and very possibly an Austen - from committing to the feminist movement.
A committed counter-feminist like myself would be very interested to explore the last two lines with anyone willing to do so. I read the last two lines only in the context of the last two stanza's; I interpret them as Barbauld's warning to feminists that by separating the struggle for the rights of women from the struggle for the rights of mankind, they had separated themselves from men. And, that they can only reunite with men, in a loving relationship, by embracing the commonality of the struggle for human rights.
The good news is that you do not have to take my word for it - that Barbauld was not a feminist. Claire Tomalin, is far more familiar with the writings of Barbauld than I, is sympathetic to the feminist cause, and concludes this way about our subject:
"Like many Dissenting women, Anna Barbauld was a fierce champion of democracy as well as the rights of her coreligionists; Johnson published her political pamphlets, and she attended political dinners. ... But although she was fierce about the rights of man, she was not prepared to champion her own sex: in fact she had turned down a proposal to run a college for young women on the grounds that such an institution was unnecessary. ..."
Barbauld "attended political dinners" including one to celebrate the French Revolution. Walpole referred to her as a "revolutionary fiend".
Anna Barbauld was a good friend of Mary Wollstonecraft, perhaps even more so after the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman than before. (However, as I will show, Barbauld did not much care for Godwin.) Wollstonecraft refers to Barbauld in the Vindication; I have found two such places - perhaps there are others - but these are sufficient to show just where these two close friends differed in their thinking and in their natures. The first reference is in a footnote to Chapter 4; Wollstonecraft is complaining about the sensuality that is injected into a woman's education and she adds this footnote.
" 'Pleasure's the portion of th' inferior kind;After writing these lines, how could Mrs Barbauld write the following ignoble comparison?
But glory, virtue, Heaven for man designed.'
'TO A LADY WITH SOME PAINTED FLOWERSSo the men tell us; but virtue, says reason, must be acquired by rough toils, and useful struggles with worldly cares."
'Flowers to the fair: to you these flowers I bring,
And strive to greet you with an earlier spring.
Flowers, sweet, and gay, and delicate like you;
Emblems of innocence, and beauty too.
With flowers the Graces bind their yellow hair
And flowery wreaths consenting lovers wear.
Flowers the sole luxury Nature knew,
In Eden's pure and guiltless garden grew.
To loftier forms are rougher tasks assign'd;
The sheltering oak resists the stormy wind,
The tougher yew repels invading foes,
And the tall pine for future navies grows;
But this soft family, to cares unknown,
Were born for pleasure and delights alone.
Gay without toil, and lovely without art,
They spring to cheer the sense, and glad the heart.
Nor blush, my fair, to own you copy these;
Your best, your sweetest empire is--to please.'
Je-eeze! Lighten up, Wollstonecraft! Mary Wollstonecraft was not a romantic. I especially like the lines, "With flowers the Graces bind their yellow hair / And flowery wreaths consenting lovers wear." Although that word "consenting" gives a Sappho twist to things, does it not? In fact, there is that resonance throughout.
The other reference I found is quite positive. This is a footnote to Chapter 5 of Vindication - a footnote to the following paragraph.
"Most prospects in life are marred by the shuffling worldly wisdom of men, who, forgetting that they cannot serve God and mammon, endeavour to blend contradictory things. If you wish to make your son rich, pursue one course--if you are anxious to make him virtuous, you must take another; but do not imagine that you can bound from one road to another without losing your way.*
*See an excellent essay on this subject by Mrs Barbauld, in Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose."
Right, they were good friends so Wollstonecraft must have approved of Barbauld in several instances.
But, how did Anna Barbauld regard Wollstonecraft's husband, William Godwin? Well, the answer to that question is amusing - her thoughts were the opposite of those of Mary Hays who admired Godwin to a great extent. Here is a little background: Tomalin quotes from a letter written by Barbauld shortly after the marriage of Godwin to Wollstonecraft. Mary was pregnant. Mary had been known as "Mrs Imlay" because she had claimed that she was married to the father of her first daughter, Fanny Imlay. That was not true and may have been one of the reasons that a group friends dropped their connections with the Godwins after Mary's marriage to Godwin. Anyway, here is Tomalin's excerpt from Anna Barbauld's letter - brace yourself.
" [Godwin] winces not a little on receiving the usual congratulations. In order to give the connection as little as possible the appearance of such a vulgar tie as matrimony, the parties have established separate establishments, and the husband only visits his mistress like a lover, when each is dressed, room in order, &c. And this may possibly last till they have a family, then they will probably join quietly in one menage, like other folks. He says he submitted in compliance with the prejudices of Mrs Imlay [Mary Wollstonecraft]. Now as it is plain she had them not, at one time at least, the excuse will barely serve."
Well, Mary was only a few months away from her painful death (September, 1797) from an infection resulting from childbirth - the child would become Mary Shelley. Afterwards, there were several published attempts to evaluate her life and contributions. One of the more positive assessments was published anonymously in The Monthly Visitor, February and March 1798. Claire Tomalin attributes the article to Anna Barbauld,
The article itself contains these interesting lines.
"In soul, in information, in understanding, and in manner, [Godwin and Wollstonecraft] are eminently distinct. ... that she ever loved Mr Godwin, is at least improbable."
Well Barbauld was a religious Dissenter, but that means she was religious. Maybe it was, for that reason, difficult for her to warm to one of England's most famous atheists.References and Links
First Page: Jane
Second Page: Women
Contents of this Page
Fourth Page: The Raging
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