Of course reading a guidebook of female deportment written in the 18th century is going to make a 21st-century feminist scream. And certainly lines like "if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts, and a cultivated understanding" aren't exactly guaranteed to win me over. And here's another gem:
"But though good health be one of the greatest blessings of life, never boast of it, but enjoy it in grateful silence. We so naturally associate the idea of female softness and delicacy, with a correspondent delicacy of constitution, that when a woman speaks of her great strength, her extraordinary appetite, her ability to bear excessive fatigue, we recoil at the description in a way she is little aware of."
EW. It couldn't just be, "Honey, you know how you're bored out of your mind when a guy goes on and on about how many pushups he can do? Well, just remember that when it's *your* turn to talk." Oh, no. It had to be all about how precious the idea of a wispy, delicate little *silken-thread* of a girl is to Mankind. Yech.
And yet I found this book not only fascinating but, in places, endearing. A man who isn't sure he'll live to guide his motherless daughters to womanhood writes anxious advice to them and hopes that, if he *does* live, they will always think of him as their friend and confidant. And some of his advice isn't bad, even now:
"I KNOW nothing that renders a woman more despicable than her thinking it essential to happiness to be married. Besides the gross indelicacy of the sentiment, it is a false one, as thousands of women have experienced. But if it was true, the belief that it is so, and the consequent impatience to be married, is the most effectual way to prevent it."
Okay, "despicable" is a little harsh. But he goes on to say:
"I am of opinion, that a married state, if entered into from proper motives of esteem and affection, will be the happiest for yourselves, make you most respectable in the eyes of the world, and the most useful members of society. But I confess I am not enough of a patriot to wish you to marry for the good of the public. I wish you to marry for no other reason but to make yourselves happier. When I am so particular in my advices about your conduct, I own my heart beats with the fond hope of making you worthy the attachment of men who will deserve you, and be sensible of your merit. But Heaven forbid you should ever relinquish the ease and independence of a single life, to become the slaves of a fool or a tyrant's caprice."
"I am not enough of a patriot" -- that's pretty adorable.