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Thursday, October 27, 2005

English 3621: Makin, Astell, and Wollstonecraft

There’s this guy in my American Poetry class. Likes talking. A lot. Also, he seems convinced of his own genius. But he never makes any sense, and rarely either knows what he’s talking about or says anything relevant to the conversation at hand. Normally it’s just annoying, but today it was head-desk-thumpingly bad. I’m given to wonder... does he get high before coming to class? That might explain it, I suppose. I mean, I try not to be mean - when someone says something in class, I try to interpret their statements in the most favourable way possible, and unless someone really gets on my nerves (which hardly ever happens... in a classroom setting) I never shoot anybody's ideas down. But I've got my limits, and today I was sorely tempted to say some things that I probably would have regretted.

(Man, I hope I don’t sound like that. I don’t think I do… I tend to know what the hell I’m talking about most of the time, and I try to keep my comments in class relevant to whatever discussion is going on.)

Anyway. On to this week’s English 3621 readings.

On Makin:

Makin’s interesting. I know I’ve studied her before in my late ren. class, but I have to admit she never stuck out in my head before. (Maybe I missed that class or something…) Now that I’ve read her "Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen" in more depth, I’m quite impressed by her elegant rhetorical strategies – definitely one of the strongest arguments on the subject I’ve seen put forth in her time period. She covers all her bases, such as speaking about the dangerous power of tradition ("Custom, when it is inveterate, has a mighty influence") and making it clear that bad traditions should be changed, as well as presenting an echo of Plato’s own argument for the betterment of women in Greece ("Were Women thus Educated now. I am confident the advantage would be very great: The Women would have Honor and Pleasure; their Relations Profit, and the whole Nation Advantage.") One can even see the shadow of the first wave feminism of the suffragettes, when she says "Let not your Ladyships be offended, that I do not (as some have wittily done) plead for Female Preeminence. To ask too much is the way to be denied all." She’s making her demands strategically and powerfully, but trying to avoid doing so in a threatening manner lest she scare away those who would otherwise be sympathetic to her argument and, as a result, she ends up with nothing.

According to my Broadview anthology, the pedagogy of the treatise was greatly influenced by "the writings of the philosopher and educationalist Johan Amos Komensky (Comenius)." I have no idea what that means, but it sounds very insightful and important.

One specific excerpt that I wanted to comment on:

“The Papal Chair could not defend itself, but was invaded by a Woman, for her Excellency in Learning above the men of her Times; As Volateran, Sigebertus, Platina, and others, that have writ the Lives of the Roman Bishops, do declare. She is remembered likewise for this purpose by Boccasius in his Book de Claris Mulicribus.”

Neat little historical fact: Most (though not all) scholars consider the tale of "Pope Joan," who supposedly ran the church from 855-8, to be a myth. More specifically, it is believed to have been a bit of propaganda created by protestant England to make fun of the Catholics, though after a while they started believing in their own propaganda. Because, y’know, having a woman as the head of their religion is insult-worthy. Never mind that the Monarch was also the head of the protestant church of England, and thus the protestants had two women heads-of-church in a row soon after the Reformation – nothing to see here, move along, move along…

On Astell:

I think I need a bit of context on the Duchess Mazarine matter.

Of course, marriage is really something of a misnomer applied to the text – yes, she deals with marriage itself a great deal, but it seems her primary interest is more in gender relations as a whole. About one-third to one-half of the way through the text, she starts periodically broadening the focus of her argument outside the bounds of marriage, which I think betrays the ultimate goal of the text – to present and subsequently the pitfalls society sets for women, both within and without marriage.

An excerpts worthy of focused comment:

"Thus, whether it be Wit or Beauty that a Man's in Love with, there's no great hopes of a lasting Happiness; Beauty with all the helps of Art is of no long date, the more it is help'd the sooner it decays, and he who only or chiefly chose for Beauty, will in a little time find the same reason for another Choice. Nor is that sort of Wit which he prefers of a more sure tenure, or allowing it to last, it will not always please."

I’m not the romantic I was in my younger-years, but it seems to me that she’s attacking a purposefully poor vision of marrying for love and thus being dishonestly unfair to the idea… Essentially, she’s saying that marrying for love is basically marrying for an attraction to wit, which is (these days) hardly true wit at all; in other words, she’s saying that marrying for love usually isn’t, and as a result marrying for love isn’t a worthwhile goal. This is known as a straw man argument. A more honest rhetorical strategy would be to attack the idea of marriage based on actual love, rather than the false-love she turns it into. (Not that marrying for love was often viable in her day – personally, I think she would have had more success in building an argument against marriage for love through pointing out how it makes other aspects of marriage so difficult in her society when it is the only consideration.)

I guess what I'm saying is that this portion of her argument seems somewhat intellectually dishonest.

On Wollstonecraft:

I’ve read excerpts of her "Vindication" text before, but never dealt with her in any great depth. Unfortunately, since I’ve only managed to get about a third through the text and I'm now a tired, tired badger, it seems this will remain the case for now. Suffice to say, I don’t really feel equipped to say much about her.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 1:24 a.m.


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