Exploring the Lives of Women 1558-1837 is a collected work of essays from a number of contributors, including the four principal editors Louise Duckling, Sara Read, Felicity Roberts, and Carolyn D. Williams. This book was created to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837. This group was created Yvonne Noble to gather together researchers who felt outside of the mainstream element of academia. The community and companionship fostered by this book not only shows the strength of this group, but also the power of women in history.
To begin the book itself is a collection of academic essays, while these are created with a focus on academia they are made to be read by those who do not typically read critical historical writings. Depending on how you feel most comfortable you can either read through this book as a whole or you could pick and choose the sections that you feel most drawn to. Exploring the Lives of Women 1558-1837 looks at how the lives of women did not always adhere to strict norms, which were often expected by patriarchal society during this time frame. There are not only powerful women of history discussed within the book, including queens of England, but there are also discussions of societal elements that impacted women.
One such topic was the focus of one of my favorite chapters. ‘God-Given Pleasure: Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Sexual Pleasure in Early Modern England’ delves into a topic that is often considered taboo. In the late 1600’s it is noted that a man attempted to gain an understanding of why he and his wife had been unable to conceive children. This is then used to examine how many works during this period tied the ability to have children to Godliness or God’s blessing as only those who upheld the ideals of marital sexuality would be able to bear children. Women were often seen as the reason that a couple could not conceive, which led them to be the subject of insults in their community. While many writers during this time focused on the idea of the woman being the issue, there were others who focused on aphrodisiacs and ways that could help to benefit both partners in their quest to have children.
‘Scold, Punish, Pity or Seduce? The Confused Rhetoric of Advice to Unmarried Women (1791)’ examines the tone used when providing women with advice on how to behave. Tabitha Kenlon specifically examines the pamphlet Advice to Unmarried Women and how the author shows sympathy in some ways while also being overly critical and also using a professorial tone to lecture his readers. This idea of multiple tones contradicting each other fits with the idea of women receiving a variety of advice in how to live their lives that set up an almost unattainable existence. In terms of women’s lives there are also discussions of female focused athletics, female friendships, women in certain career fields, and so much more. If you are interested in learning about the diverse histories of women and how society as impacted them you would really enjoy this work. You can get your copy of Exploring the Lives of Women 1558-1837 from Pen & Sword today.