Mary Darby Robinson
Excerpts from A Letter to the Women of England on the Injustice of Mental Subordination
By Anne Frances Randall (alias Mary Darby Robinson) 1799 see image
Custom, from the earliest periods of antiquity, has endeavoured to place the female mind in the subordinate ranks of intellectual sociability. WOMAN has ever been considered as a lovely and fascinating part of the creation, but her claims to mental equality have not only been questioned, by envious and interested sceptics; but, by a barbarous policy in the other sex, considerably depressed...
Supposing that destiny, or interest, or chance, or what you will, has united a man, confessedly of a weak understanding, and corporeal debility, to a woman strong in all the powers of intellect, and capable of bearing the fatigues of busy life: is it not degrading to humanity that such a woman should be the passive, the obedient slave, of such an husband?
...if from prudence ...she presumes to take a lead in domestic arrangements ... what is she considered by the imperious sex? but an usurper of her husband's rights; a domestic tyrant; a vindictive shrew; a petticoat philosopher; and a disgrace to that race of mortals, known by the degrading appellation of the defenceless sex.
The barbarity of custom's law in this enlightened country, has long been exercised to the prejudice of woman and even the laws of honour have been perverted to oppress her...
Is woman persecuted and oppressed because she is the weaker creature? Supposing that to be the order of Nature; let me ask these human despots, whether a woman, of strong mental and corporeal powers, is born to yield obedience, merely because she is a woman, to those shadows of mankind who exhibit the effeminacy of women, united with the mischievous foolery of monkies? ...If woman be the weaker creature, why is she employed in laborious avocations? why compelled to endure the fatigue of household drudgery; to scrub, to scower, to labour, both late and early, while the powdered lacquey only waits at the chair, or behind the carriage of his employer? Why are women, in many parts of the kingdom, permitted to follow the plough; to perform the laborious business of the dairy; to work in our manufactories; to wash, to brew, and to bake, while men are employed in measuring lace and ribands; folding gauzes; composing artificial bouquets; fancying feathers, and mixing cosmetics for the preservation of beauty? I have seen, and every inhabitant of the metropolis may, during the summer season, behold strong Welsh girls carrying on their heads strawberries, and other fruits from the vicinity of London to Covent-Garden market, in heavy loads which they repeat three, four, and five times, daily, for a very small pittance; while the male domesticks of our nobility are revelling in luxury... Are women thus compelled to labour, because they are of the WEAKER SEX?
In my travels some years since through France and Germany, I often remember having seen stout girls, from the age of seventeen to twenty-five, employed in the most fatiguing and laborious avocations; such as husbandry, watering horses, and sweeping the public streets. Were they so devoted to toil, because they were the weaker creatures?
Man is said to possess more personal courage than woman. How comes it, then, that he boldly dares insult the helpless sex, whenever he finds an object unprotected? ...
What then is WOMAN to do? Where is she to hope for justice? Man who professes himself her champion, her protector, is the most subtle and unrelenting enemy she has to encounter: yet, if she determines on a life of celibacy and secludes herself wholly from his society, she becomes an object of universal ridicule.
There is scarcely an event in human existence, in which the oppression of woman is not tolerated. The laws are made by man; and self-preservation is, by them, deemed the primary law of nature. Hence, woman is destined to be the passive creature; she is to yield obedience, and to depend for support upon a being who is perpetually authorised to deceive her...
S uch is the force of prejudice, the law of custom, against woman, that she is expected to act like a philosopher, though she is not allowed to think like one. If she pleads the weakness of her sex, her plea is not admitted; if she professes an equal portion of mental strength with man, she is condemned for arrogance...
Why are women excluded from the auditory part of the British senate? The welfare of their country, cannot fail to interest their feelings; and eloquence both exalts and refines the understanding* . Man makes woman a frivolous creature, and then condemns her for the folly he inculcates. He tells her, that beauty is her first and most powerful attraction; her second complacency of temper, and softness of manners. She therefore dedicates half her hours to the embellishment of her person, and the other half to the practice of soft, languishing, sentimental insipidity. She disdains to be strong minded, because she fears being accounted masculine; she trembles at every breeze, faints at every peril, and yields to every assailant, because it would be unwomanly to defend herself. The embargo upon words, the enforcement of tacit submission, has been productive of consequences highly honourable to the women of the present age.
Since the sex have been condemned for exercising the powers of speech, they have successfully taken up the pen: and their writings exemplify both energy of mind, and capability of acquiring the most extensive knowledge. The press will be the monuments from which the genius of British women will rise to immortal celebrity: their works will, in proportion as their educations are liberal, from year to year, challenge an equal portion of fame, with the labours of their classical male contemporaries.
Had fortune enabled me, I would build an UNIVERSITY FOR WOMEN; where they should be politely, and at the same time classically educated; the depth of their studies, should be proportioned to their mental powers; and those who were incompetent to the labours of knowledge, should be dismissed after a fair trial of their capabilities, and allotted to the more humble paths of life; such as domestic and useful occupations... In half a century there would be a sufficient number of learned women to fill all the departments of the university, and those who excelled in an eminent degree should receive honorary medals, which they should wear as an ORDER of LITERARY MERIT.
O! my unenlightened country-women! read, and profit, by the admonition of Reason. Shake off the trifling, glittering shackles, which debase you. Resist those fascinating spells which, like the petrifying torpedo, fasten on your mental faculties. Be less the slaves of vanity, and more the converts of Reflection. Nature has endowed you with personal attractions: she has also given you the mind capable of expansion...
There are men who affect, to think lightly of the literary productions of women: and yet no works of the present day are so universally read as theirs. The best novels that have been written, since those of Smollet, Richardson, and Fielding, have been produced by women: and their pages have not only been embellished with the interesting events of domestic life, portrayed with all the elegance of phraseology, and all the refinement of sentiment, but with forcible and eloquent, political, theological, and philosophical reasoning. To the genius and labours of some enlightened British women posterity will also be indebted for the purest and best translations from the French and German languages. I need not mention Mrs. Dobson, Mrs. Inchbald, Miss Plumptree, &c. &c. Of the more profound researches in the dead languages, we have many female classicks of the first celebrity: Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Thomas, (late Miss Parkhurst;) Mrs. Francis, the Hon. Mrs. Damer, &c. &c. Of the Drama, the wreath of fame has crowned the brows of Mrs. Cowley, Mrs. Inchbald, Miss Lee, Miss Hannah More, and others of less celebrity. Of Biography, Mrs. Dobson, Mrs. Thickness, Mrs. Piozzi, Mrs. Montagu, Miss Helen Williams, have given specimens highly honourable to their talents. Poetry has unquestionably risen high in British literature from the productions of female pens; for many English women have produced such original and beautiful compositions, that the first critics and scholars of the age have wondered, while they applauded.
LIST OF BRITISH FEMALE LITERARY CHARACTERS Living in the Eighteenth Century
Anspach, Margravine of --- Tour to the Crimea, and Dramatic Pieces.
Barbauld, Mrs. --- Poems and Moral Writings.
Brooke, Mrs. --- Novels and Dramatic Pieces.
Bennet, Mrs. --- Novelist
Carter, Mrs. --- Greek and Hebrew Classic, Poetess, &c. &c.
Cowley, Mrs. --- Poems, Comedies, Tragedies, &c. &c. &c. &c.
Crespigny, Mrs. --- Novelist.
Cosway, Mrs. --- Paintress.
Chapone Mrs. Letters on the Mind &ca
Dobson, Mrs. --- Life of Petrarch, from the Italian.
D'ArblŠy, Mrs. --- Novels, Edwy and Elgiva, a Tragedy, &c. &c. &c.
Damer, Hon. Mrs. --- Sculptor, and Greek Classic.
Edgeworth (Miss) Education--Novels--Tales
Francis, Mrs. --- Greek and Latin Classic.
Gunning, Mrs. --- Novelist.
Gunning, Miss --- Novelist, and Translator from the French.
Hayes , Miss --- Novels, Philosophical and Metaphysical Disquisitions. & Female Biography
Hanway, Mrs. --- Novelist.
Hunter Mrs. Novels
Inchbald, Mrs. --- Novels, Comedies, and Translations from the French and German.
Linwood, Miss --- Artist.
Lee, Misses --- Romances, Comedies, Canterbury Tales, a Tragedy, &c. &c. The Recess
Lennox, Mrs. --- Novelist.
Macauley Graham, Mrs. --- History of England, and other works.
Montagu, Mrs. --- Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare; being a Defence of him from the Slander of Voltaire.
More, Miss Hannah. --- Poems, Sacred Dramas, a Tragedy, and other moral pieces.
Piozzi, Mrs. --- Biography, Poetry, British Synonymy, Travels, &c. &c. &c.
Plumptree, Miss --- Translations from the German, a Novel, &c.
Parsons, Mrs. --- Novelist.
Porter (Miss) Novels--
Ratcliffe , Mrs. --- Romances, Travels, &c. &c.
Robinson, Mrs. --- Poems, Romances, Novels, a Tragedy, Satires, &c. &c.
Reeve, Miss --- Romances and Novels.
Robinson, Miss --- Novelist.
Randall--Letter to Women
Anna Maria Roche--Novels
Seward, Miss --- Poems, a Poetical Novel, and various other works.
Smith, Mrs. Charlotte --- Novels, Sonnets, Moral Pieces, for the Instruction of Youth; and other works. History of England
Sheridan, late Mrs. --- Sidney Biddulph, a Novel.
Smith--Miss F: Translations of Klopstock--Letters
Thomas, Mrs. late Miss Parkhurst --- Greek and Hebrew Classic
Thickness, Mrs. --- Biography, Letters, &c.
Talbot Mrs. Essays, Reflections, Poems
Wolstonecraft , Mrs. --- A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Novels, Philosophical Disquisitions, Travels, &c.
Williams, Miss Helen Maria --- Poems, Travels, a Novel, and other miscellaneous pieces.
West, Mrs. --- Novels, Poetry, &c. &c Letters to a Young Man, Letters to Young Lady
Yearsley, Mrs. --- Poems, a Novel, a Tragedy, &c. &c.
This website is 'work in progress' and therefore pages may not yet be started, let alone finished.