Advice to Young Women

James Fordyce and Co.

By tea-time… the dose had been enough, and Mr Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies.

Mr Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for every thing announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. –

Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. –

Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons.

Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him…”

-Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Collins
During the Regency there were a wealth of books provided to instruct young girls in all the finer points of deportment and the arts of their sex. One such, Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women” (1765) was chosen by Mr. Collins as proper instruction for the Bennet girls. Reading Dr. Fordyce’s views, one can see why Lydia was so disgusted. I wonder if Jane Austen would have approved of mary Wollstonecrafts views, though?

James Fordyce
On Being Weak and Passive:
In your sex manly exercises are never graceful a tone and figure of the masculine kind are always forbidding men of sensibility desire in every woman soft features a form not robust and demeanor delicate and gentle Nature appears to have formed the (mental) faculties of your sex, for the most part, with less vigour than those of ours, observing the same distinction here as in the more delicate frames of your bodies.

On Submission to Neglect:
I am astonished at the folly of many women who are still reproaching their husbands for leaving them alone, for preferring this or that company to theirs, when, to speak the truth, they have themselves in great measure to blame.

had you behaved to them with more respectful observance studying their humours, overlooking their mistakes, submitting to their opinions in matters indifferent, giving soft answers to hasty words, complaining as little as possible your house might be the abode of domestic bliss.

On Education:

As a small amount of knowledge entertains a woman, so from a woman a small expression of kindness delights, particularly if she has beauty.

On Being Pleasing to Men:

Never perhaps, does a fine woman strike more deeply than when composed into pious recollection she assumes without knowing it superior dignity and new graces the beauties of holiness seem to radiate about her.

Dr. John Gregory
Dr. John GregoryOn Being Ignorant:

Be ever cautious in displaying your good sense. It will be thought you assume superiority over the rest of the company. But if you have any learning, keep it a profound secret especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts and a cultivated understanding.

On Being Pleasing to Men:

When a girl ceases to blush, to has lost the most powerful charm of beauty.

The men will complain of your reserve. They will assure you that a franker behaviour would make you more amiable. But, trust me, they are not sincere when they tell you so. I acknowledge that on some occasions it might render you more agreeable as companions, but it would make you less amiable as women; an important distinction, which many of your sex are unaware of.

On Reserve and Modesty:

One of the chief beauties in a female character is that modest reserve, that reitiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye.

On Concealing One’s Love:
Violent love cannot subsist, at least cannot be expressed, for any time together, on both sides, otherwise the certain consequence however concealed, is satiety and disgust.

Mary Wollstonecraft on Conduct Book Advice:
Mary WollstoncraftEverything that women see or hear serves to fix impressions, call forth emotions and associate ideas that give a sexual character to the mind. False notions of beauty and delicacy stop the growth of their limbs and produce a sickly soreness rather than a delicacy women perceive that it is only through their address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to be obtained. Besides, the books professionally written for their instruction, which make their first impression on their minds, all inculcate the same opinions.

Pleasure is the business of a woman’s life, according to the present modification of society; and while it continues to be so, little can be expected from such weak things Regard for reputation, independent of it being on of the natural rewards of virtue took it’s rise from the grand source of female depravity, the impossibility of regaining respectibility from a return to virtue, though men preserve theirs during the indulgence of vice.

I am persuaded that in the pursuit of knowledge women would never be insulted by sensible men, and rarely by men of any description, if they did not by mock modesty remind them that they were women Men are not always men in the company of women, nore would women always remember that they are women, if they were allowed to acquire more understanding.

Mary Wollstonecraft sees true modesty as ‘purity of mind’, rather than regulation of behaviour, and that it is acchieved by cultivating the understanding.

Reprinted with permission, from The Jane Austen Society of Australia’s Newsletter.

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