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Astell, Mary) Anonymous.

Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, An. Bound with Lowndes, Report Containing an Essay for the Amendment of the Silver Coins.


[Astell, Mary] Anonymous. An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex. In which are inserted the characters of a pedant, a squire, a beau, a vertuoso, a poteaster, a city-critick, &c. In a letter to a lady. Written by a lady. London: Printed for A. Roper and E[lizabeth] Wilkinson…and R. Clavel, 1696.
12mo.; frontispiece glued to front endpaper; pages evenly browned; light foxing.
Bound in full calf together with and boxed with:
Lowndes, William. A Report Containing An Essay For The Amendment Of The Silver Coins. London: Printed by Charles Bill and the Executrix of Thomas Newcombe, deceased, Printers to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, 1695.     
12mo.; light foxing; top and bottom edges of text occasionally clipped in trimming for binding.
Second edition of the first avowedly feminist tract by an English woman, with James Drake's dedicatory poem, "To the Most Ingenious Mrs. - or her Admirable Defence of Her Sex." All standard references save CEBL attribute authorship to Astell (1666-1731), now regarded by many as the first English feminist; CBEL names Judith Drake as the author. In her preface, the author explains her anonymity:
[This book] was occasioned by a private conversation, between some gentlemen and ladies, and written at the request, and for the diversion of one lady more particularly…By them I was with abundance of complements [sic] importun'd to make it publick…Yet I presume not so far upon the merits of what I have written, as to make my name publick with it. I have elsewhere held, that vanity was almost the universal mover of all our actions, and consequently of mine, as well as of others; yet it is not strong enough in me, to induce me to bring my name upon the publick stage of the world…tho' I might otherwise be very ambitious of appearing in the defence of my sex, cou'd I persuade myself, that I was able to write anything sutable [sic]to the dignity of the subject, which I am not vain enough to think…[In addition, t]here are a sort of men, that upon all occasions think themselves more concern'd, and more thought of than they are…These men are apt to think, that every ridiculous description they meet with, was intended more particularly for some one or other of them. The knowledge of this, with the consideration of the tenderness of reputation in our sex…made me very cautious…This made me resolve to keep 'em in ignorance of my name.
Characterized as a hot-tempered reactionary, Astell (1668-1731), one of England's earliest feminists,  made her mark with A Serious Proposal to the Ladies…By a Lover of Her Sex (1694, 1695; 1697). Herself educated by her clergyman uncle, in her polemical debut Astell set forth an educational alternative to marriage:
She geared her plan toward wealthy, upper-class women who sought a permanent alternative to life in a patriarchal society," arguing "that education was the natural right of all thinking people and that marriage prospects should not be treated unthinkingly. While her ideas and their implementation were not intended to train women for a waged occupation in the outside world, Astell's education proposals theoretically empowered women to reason out their disadvantaged situation in society. Moreover, the establishment by Astell (and some friends) of a girls' charity school in Chelsea suggests that she also believed that laboring women were entitled to receive some instruction. (Ferguson, 180).
Her other publications include Letters Concerning the Love of God (1695); A Farther Essay Relating to the Female-Sex (1696); Some Reflections Upon Marriage (1700; with an appendix, originally the preface to the third edition, 1706); and The Christian Religion as Profess'd by a Daughter of the Church of England (1707, 1717). "A conservative radical, tempted by fame though publishing under pseudonyms, consistently intellectual, sharply witty and quotable, always ready to step out of her way for a feminist point, incalculably influential, she was attacked by Swift, Centlivre and Cibber…" (Blain, 35).

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