The Mental World of Stuart Women

Three Studies


In this path-breaking study, Sara Heller Mendelson explores the mental and cultural universe that defined women's social role in seventeenth-century England by examining the lives and writings of three Stuart women: Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick, and Aphra Behn. All three are noteworthy for the quantity and variety of their writings, which show women's distinctive view of the world and how it differed from that of their male contemporaries. Mendelson discusses such themes as female life stages, patriarchalism in theory and in practice, control of female sexuality, and limitations inherent in women's conventional role and reactions provoked by those who challenged it.

Cavendish wrote on many subjects, and her writings offer a vivid view of Stuart female mentalité. Behn's Restoration dramas are of particular interest because they defied the traditional feminine ideals of modesty, dependence, and chaste married love. Rich's voluminous diary is a fascinating personal account of a widespread female type, the "ordinary" woman who adopted a life of piety.

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