restricted access Women of Quality: Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England, 1690–1760 by Ingrid H. Tague (review)
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182 thinks immediately of Pamela II), while those who give birth to ‘‘adulterous or illegitimate children—like Moll Flanders, Roxana, or Swift’s ‘breeders’—are stigmatized as lusty, headstrong, unnatural, and monstrous.’’ Although many of the essays concern obscure texts, the book’s great strength is its broad context of the feminineantitype. The range of essays featuring solid scholarship and historical insight makes it a superior introduction. Stephen A. Raynie Gordon College INGRID H. TAGUE. WomenofQuality:Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England, 1690–1760. Rochester : Boydell, 2002. Pp. xvii ⫹ 205. $85. Resisting the reductive pleasures of finding one-to-one correspondences between the prescriptive literature written for women and the descriptive works penned by those women themselves, Ms. Tague provides a vibrant account of the complex interplay between thedictatesof proper behavior and the nuances of lived experience. In particular, she draws attention to the inadequacy of the wellestablished separation of public and private spheres in the eighteenth century, with women obviously relegated to the private realm. Although the personal writings she reviews comment primarily on domestic matters, their female authors fully regard these matters as having public consequences. Conduct literatureoddly enough makes women’s private conduct a matter of public concern. Yet as Ms. Tague herself suggests, attacks on the concept of gendered spheres have already become something of a cliche ́, and her true contribution lies in her attentiveness to how moral didacticism can give leverage to the sophisticated, self-aware, educated correspondent, the ‘‘woman of quality’’she has made theobject of her study. One such case is that of Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, the model of self-conscious, rhetorical strategist. A mistress of the Prince of Wales, she remarkably used the language of wifely submission to gain not only legal separation from her debauched husband , but also vindication in the eyes of the public. When her husbandreproached her for leaving him, she replied she only did so at his command, as he no longer found her a suitable wife. Making public her affair with the Prince of Wales would have greatly altered her husband’s public standing, her silence on this matter constituting just another example of wifely submission. Although noneoftheotherwomenfeatured is as clever as the Countess, a clear pattern emerges in Ms. Tague’s account: psychologically bound by the dictates of conduct literature, women of quality find considerable play within those limits. They adoptthe languageofloveandwifely submission to discuss their openly economic marriages, yet remain attuned to how seeming submissiontoauthoritycarries its own power. For these highborn women, containment in the home brings with it unobstructed power over lowerborn others and sanctions their influence over landed property and domestic finances . They continue to recognize the value of fashion in forging politicallyand socially advantageous alliances, yet also see the virtue in a new language of moderation that can be used strategically to critique the excesses of fashion practiced by their competitors. For theseelitewomen , sociability can never be a private affair , as all interactions are matters of public scrutiny; yet this does not keep them from using the heightened emphasis on ‘‘naturalness’’in didactic literaturetodis- 183 tinguish their own superiorbehaviorfrom that of their more artificial counterparts. Ms. Tague discusses thesewomen’sdirect participation in public life, an option the conduct book prohibited its middleclass female audience from pursuing. Only two chapters ‘‘address areas central to didactic authors’ vision of the ideal woman’’; the others deal with concerns more tangential and more clearly connected to elite society. To her credit, Ms. Tague’s project seems driven by her primary sources, ‘‘some particularly rich troves of female writing’’; yet, as she details them, the secondary apparatus starts to feel tacked on, the conduct books an unwieldy and, arguably, inappropriate instrument for examining these works. Thesewomen are,afterall,notthesubject of these didactic texts, but the object of their attack. More disappointing, her reading leaves largelyunchallengedthese texts’ dry representation of the middleclass woman who remainslessinteresting than these more complex women of quality . Cynthia Richards Wittenberg University MARGERY A. KINGSLEY. Transforming the Word: Prophesy, Poetry, and Politics in England, 1650–1742. Newark, Delaware ; London: Associated University Presses, 2001. Pp. 223. $39.50. Ms. Kingsley reads five ‘‘canonical’’ works of the Restoration and early eighteenth century...