Talk:An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex

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Preface by the scribe[edit]

While wandering the stacks in the library at Western Washington University, where I am a student, I came upon a six-volume collection entitled Conduct Literature for Women 1640–1710. This title piqued my general interest in feminism and gender attitudes, which I owe in large part to a handful of teachers from throughout my education who, as strong female role models, instilled in me a passion for the overlooked body of work left by women in every area of the arts and humanities, whose accomplishments, though now in the process of being rediscovered by vibrant communities of historians in women's arts and women's literature and feminist philosophy, still rarely get their just recognition amongst the general public, who could easily fill a page with the names of male artists, composers, filmmakers, authors and philosophers without being able to identify a single woman amongst their peers. Yet even my progressive education had led me to believe that John Stuart Mill had originated the rational defence of the equality of women’s intellectual capacities to men’s, yet An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex did this well over a hundred years before Mill was even a twinkling in any of his parents’ eyes.

On the essay[edit]

Judith Drake’s essay was first published anonymously in 1696. In her preface, Drake openly mocks the inclusion by her publisher of an engraving and accompanying couplet “The Compleat Beau,” depicting a well-powdered man preening in his mirror with the assistance of what Drake calls “an unlucky Rogue of a left-handed Barber, that looks like an ill Omen,” and assures her readers that she actively sought its exclusion. The second edition shared a cover with A Farther Essay Relating to the Female-Sex, an unattributed translation of the 1694 French work Les différens caractères des femmes du siècle by Madame de Pringy. Though it follows a similar style to Drake’s work in presenting archetypal characters to highlight human failings, it is by no means a feminist tract as it advocates mainly for the correction of improper behaviour in women. The third edition, which serves as the basis for this transcription, excludes de Pringy’s work and adds a letter from “J. D.”, probably Drake’s husband James, who indicates that he is often accused of being the true author of the work, an act of malice that he considers an inadvertent honour, but which he denies in mocking both Symson and his publisher: “I have known men (and so I fancy have you too) and those of no mean Reputation, that have affected to look grave and compos’d at the Repetition of another Man’s Jest, that it might be taken for their own; and, to say truth, if the World will mistake Men for greater, or Wiser, than they are, there are few that have Ingenuity enough not to help on the Cheat.” A fourth edition was printed in 1721.

According to Drake’s preface, the work was purportedly written at the request of one of her friends, following a group discussion on the topic. Amongst Drake’s friends was Mary Astell, who had published the first part of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest in 1694, advocating for educational reforms for women, so Astell has sometimes been credited as the author of An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex. However, a reading of James Drake’s poem and letter to the author, and her reply seem to render Judith Drake’s anonymity translucent at best.

The substance of Drake’s argument is that women are constantly held inferior to men due to their intellectual and moral shortcomings. She begins by stating that, if true, it must be due either to some natural intellectual deficiency or an environmental disparity between women and men. She quickly dismisses the natural by observing no difference in the mental capacities of animals of either gender, nor in those of peasants where neither husbands nor wives have any educational advantage. She therefore determines that the crux of the question is whether the disparity between the educations allowed to women and men create any intellectual advantage for the men. From here, she runs down the list of shortcomings attributed to women with regard to men and attempts to illustrate that for each there is an equal, if not greater, proportion of men who share the trait. Drake concludes that the education women receive in no way hinders their rational capabilities and may, in fact, be better suited to contemporary life that that of men’s, which she believes overemphasizes the questions posed in ancient Greek and Roman societies, while underemphasizing contemporary problems. Furthermore, she concludes that men do have an advantage over women in physical strength, and that society might better be served if women were taught in the ways of managing businesses, leaving the heavy lifting to the men. Drake’s argument is lively and witty, and though the language and style is dated, I believe it remains quite accessible to the modern reader.

On the source of this transcription[edit]

London publishing company Pickering & Chatto Limited published Conduct Literature for Women 1640–1710 in 2002 and holds the copyright for the added material in the collection. Most of the works selected for this collection by editors William St Clair and Irmgard Maassen are concerned with the etiquette and proper grooming of ladies in British society. Each is presented as a complete facsimile of a contemporary edition and includes a brief introduction by St Clair and Maassen. The fifth volume, however, includes two feminist works that argue against professions of women’s moral and intellectual inferiority, the other being The Female Advocate; or, a Plea for the Just Liberty of the Tender Sex, and Particularly of Married Women, written anonymously “By a Lady of Quality” and published in 1700 in response to a highly sexist sermon delivered by John Sprint and published the previous year under the title The Bride Womans Counseller, also included in the volume. Symson’s “translation” of A Farther Essay Relating to the Female-Sex is also included. St Clair and Maassen’s introduction to Drake’s essay is the source for most of the foregoing information.

On the transcription[edit]

My main purpose for choosing this work for Wikisource is the fact that it did not seem to be freely available in full text anywhere on the Internet. When I first submitted An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex it was not yet available on Wikisource, Project Gutenberg, the Library of Congress or Google Books, though I have since found a facsimile of the first edition at the Internet Archive, proving my initial assumption to be mistaken.

In transcribing this work, I used the facsimile of the third edition provided in Conduct Literature for Women and transcribed by hand. However, a page of errata appearing in the first edition proved helpful in cleanup. In the spirit of preservation, I have endeavoured to preserve the text as exactly as I found it, with every archaic spelling and every typographical quirk rendered as precisely as I am able. However, I am mindful that this is a mixed blessing for the reader; on the one hand, it represents a mostly unfiltered reproduction, but on the other, it makes reading and searching the text problematic for some people. Furthermore, my attraction to Wikisource is that hyperlinks to other Wikisource and Wikipedia pages within a text can potentially bring a great deal of added value to a text by providing the reader with some of the contextual information that can make understanding a work easier and more rewarding. It is, after all, the content, not the formatting, of the texts that makes them so valuable.

After consulting with the Wikisource community, I discovered that we can have it both ways by means of markup using the {{s}}, {{SIC}} and {{Modern}} templates in tandem with a subpage of the work titled /Modern. This changes all the appearances of the long s, ſ, to a standard lower-case s, corrects any typographical errors found in the original text (while noteing the error on the main page in hover text), and allows for the standardization of orthography to make searching more efficient and aid in comprehension of ambiguous spellings, such as “satyr” (“satire”), when the reader views the subpage.

When “modernizing” a text, I have used the following criteria:

  • All instances of the long s have been replaced with a standard lower-case s.
  • All capitalization and italics from the original have been retained, except where there is an obvious typographical error, e.g., “A ſtray Horſe is ſafer in the Spaniſh Quarters, than an Anonymous Piece, Scene, or Line among them” becomes “A stray Horse is safer in the Spanish Quarters, than an Anonymous Piece, Scene, or Line among them.”
  • All the original punctuation has been preserved, except hyphens at line and page breaks where one would not otherwise exist, where there is an obvious typographical error, where archaic contractions are used, and in rare instances where the original usage might be confusing to the modern reader, e.g., “I have neither Learning, nor Inclination to make a Precedent, or indeed any uſe to Mr. W’s. labour’d Common Place Book” becomes “I have neither Learning, nor Inclination to make a Precedent, or indeed any use to Mr. W’s laboured Common Place Book.”
  • Spellings have been standardized according to the heading in the Oxford English Dictionary. Where the text uses more than one of the OED spellings for the same word, the spelling found most often in the text is used as the standard.
  • Words that are compounded in current use, but are separated by a hyphen or space in the text, have not been changed unless one of the constituent words uses a nonstandard spelling, or where more than one convention is used for the same compound in the text, in which case the convention found most often in the text is used as the standard, e.g. “my self” and “themselves” have both been retained.
  • Proper names are unchanged unless it is a well-known name with a standard spelling in modern English, e.g., “Shakespear” becomes “Shakespeare.”

I have also used the {{popup note}} template to provide definitions for words that are either inusiate or were used in a distant sense in the 17th century. For the most part, I have been using the Oxford English Dictionary to research these definitions since it gives historical usages. I have been cautious about using this, as I wish to clarify, not alter, the intended understanding of the text, and in cases where the intended definition does not seem both obvious and unambiguous to me, I have erred on the side of leaving the word alone. I have also used hyperlinks to other Wikisource and Wikipedia pages wherever historical background might aid in the understanding of the text. These appear exclusively on the /Modern subpages.

I cannot claim to have submitted a totally error-free transcription, and I encourage anyone with questions to bring them up here or find the St Clair and Maassen book. In spite of my efforts to give the reader the most hi-fi reading experience possible, the fact is that my fingerprints are all over it, as I have used my own judgment in determining how to modernize the text. If there is any doubt as to the helpfulness of any of my hyperlinks, modernizations, definitions, etc., I wholeheartedly encourage your improvements. Imperfections notwithstanding, I hope that you enjoy reading this text as much as I did.


With love from
Your most humble servant
Ivanhoe.


Last edit: Ivanhoe (talk) 23:34, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

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