Alexander Pope and the tracts advising women of the long eighteenth century
This thesis contextualises the treatment of women in Alexander Pope's Epistle to a Lady (1743) against three conduct manuals from the eighteenth century. These three texts are The Whole Duty of a Woman by A Lady (1696), The Art of Knowing Women by Le Chevalier Plante-Amour (1732) and An Essay in Praise of Women (1733) by James Bland. The Art of Knowing Women has been paid only passing reference by feminist scholars. The Whole Duty of a Woman appears to be known solely for the compilation of recipes which forms its final section, and An Essay in Praise of Women is, as far as I have been able to discover, completely unknown. Despite the critical work on the supposed misogyny of Pope, virtually no attention has been paid to the context supplied by these advice manuals, symptoms of their age. In my reading, however, these manuals function both as sources for the Epistle to a Lady, and as subjects of Pope's imaginative satire. I begin by surveying the relevant aspects of Pope's personal history. Drawing on recent historical scholarship, I go on to outline something of the situation of women in the eighteenth century. My comparative study follows. I take each manual in turn, comparing its ideological content and rhetoric with those of Pope. By contrast with these tracts, Pope's poem emerges as far from misogynistic. Indeed, it conveys a nuanced, complex and sympathetic attitude towards women.