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Astell, Mary) Wotton, Mr.

Bart'lemy Fair. BOUND WITH Some Reflections Upon Marriage.


[Astell, Mary].  Some Reflections Upon Marriage.  With Additions. London: Printed for William Parker, at the King's Head in St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1730.
8vo.; two titles bound together; heavy laid paper, lightly and evenly yellowed throughout; previous bookowner's heraldic labels on front endpapers; discrete signature on title page of second title; full calf, decoratively stamped in gilt; red morocco spine label stamped in gilt; tiny accession number discretely written in white at heel of spine; some loss to tips; else a lovely survival of a fine and beautifully bound set. In a specially made quarter-morocco slipcase.
First edition of Bart'lemy Fair (Rothschild 58), and fourth edition of Some Reflections Upon Marriage, widely considered Astell's most significant text. Rare in any early edition: the earliest copy of this title held by the Library of Congress is a 1970 reprint, followed by other, later reprints of collections of Astell's works containing this title from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.  
Astell, universally held to be the single most influential pre-19th-century feminist author and activist, usually channeled her activism into polemics such as these. Bart'lemy Fair, written as an answer to moral philosopher Lord Shaftesbury's Letter Concerning Enthusiasm (1708), is an attempt by the avidly devout Astell to bolster up 17th-century religious piety in the face of growing skepticism.  While to some a defense of organized religion might seem curious coming from an active feminist, Astell had no such conflict:  she was both a dedicated conservative Anglican and an assiduous proponent of equal rights for women and did not see the two stances as mutually exclusive.  
Some Reflections Upon Marriage has been described by more than one critic as Astell's most clearly feminist and most lasting women's rights work. It is certainly the work that has been reprinted most often in the last 20 years, presumably catering to the widespread growth of women's studies as an academic field and market. At its heart, Some Reflections Upon Marriage - one of the first sophisticated critiques of the institution of marriage from the perspective of its effect upon women-points out the pitfalls of a bad marriage and urges women to think carefully before entering into any such union.  Astell argues, strongly and at length, that to be a wife means to agree to become subservient. This being the case, she concludes that no woman should undertake this state of quasi-slavery lightly.  In part:
 They who have only felt it, know the Misery of being forc'd to marry where they do not
 love; of being yok'd for Life to a disagreeable person and imperious temper, where
 Ignorance and Folly (the ingredients of a Coxcomb, who is the most unsufferable [sic]
 Fool) tyrannizes over Wit and Sense: To be perpetually…borne down by Authority,
 not by Argument; to be denied one's most innocent Desires, for no other Reason but
 the absolute Will and Pleasure of a Lord and Master, whose Follies a Wife, with all
 her Prudence, cannot hide, and whose Commands she cannot but despise at the same
 Time that she obeys them… (4-5)
This 132-page polemic is followed by an appendix comprised of a carefully crafted argument spanning 50 pages, in which she argues that women were not Biblically created inferior to men, and discusses the position of women in the bible vis-à-vis Judaism:
 Where shall we find a nobler Piece of Poetry than Deborah's Song? Or a better and
 greater Ruler than that renowned Woman, whose Government so much excell'd that of
 the former Judges?  And though she had a Husband, she herself judged Israel, and
 consequently was his Sovereign, of whom we know no more than the Name. Which
 Instance, as I humbly suppose, overthrows the Pretence of Natural Inferiority. For
 it is not the Relation of a Fact, by which none ought to be concluded, unless it is
 conformable to a Rule, and to the Reason of Things: But Deborah's Government
 was conferr'd on her by God Himself . Consequently the Sovereignty of a Woman
 is not contrary to the Law of Nature; for the Law of Nature is the Law of God, who
 cannot contradict Himself; and yet it was God who inspir'd and approv'd that great
 Woman, raising her up to Judge and to Deliver His People Israel… (161-2)
There is arguably no more notable pre-19th century British feminist than Mary Astell. Janet Todd writes,
 M[ary]. A[stell].'s importance as the first widely read, expressly feminist
 polemicist is incalculable.  She was perhaps the first respectable woman
 prose writer in England, the prototype for the Bluestockings of the next
 generation.  She inspired many of the women intellectuals of her own
 time: Elizabeth Thomas, Lady Chudleigh, Elizabeth Elstob, and Lady
 Mary Wortley Montagu.  She was satirized in The Tatler for her otherworldly
 Platonism, but her ideas - and often her language - were picked up and
 imitated by the leading male authors of the day, Defoe, Steele, and
 Richardson… (A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800
(Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman & Littlefield, 1987)
Copies of her works in any condition are extremely scarce; fine copies of first and early editions of her work are almost unheard of.

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