Bluestockings

Take a good look at Bluestocking Hester Mulso’s little treatise, “Matrimonial Creed,” written in the 1750s (same decade as Voltaire’s Candide) but published later after her death. This piece shocked her older male contemporaries, one of whom swore that, based on what he saw in it, she would never marry (he was quite wrong). Can you imagine why he and others found her reasoning dangerous–or are we today simply too far away from the sort of expectations regarding marriage that prevailed until the Enlightenment? (Indeed, it’s probably truer to say “that prevailed up through the Enlightenment and in some respects into the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth”).

Here are a couple of more focused questions:

(1) Why is “friendship” a key term for Mulso in this treatise? Why does she need that concept?

(2) Why, according to her, is it necessary for a woman to choose a husband whose superiority she genuinely believes in? Do we still have any sense of the significance of this today? Why or why not?

Finally, what are the ‘first duties” she alludes to in article 1?

Friendship is a key term for Mulso because friendship implies equality. People with different positions in society (say, the owner of the house and a servant, even today) cannot really be friends due to the power disparity. This was (and probably still is) the case for many marriages. Today, many men continue to marry women who they can dominate or influence (there are degrees of this disparity). Thus, friendship between a wife and husband is of outmost importance because, in friendship, both parties are of equal standing. Though the treatise at first appears as old fashioned (arguing for women to choose men who their superiors), it is not really that outdated. Instead, the emphasis on friendship shows that it is actually quite progressive for the time.

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