Carers or Consumers?

Barbara Taylor

  • Women and Enlightenment in 18th-Century Britain by Karen O’Brien
    Cambridge, 310 pp, £17.99, March 2009, ISBN 978 0 521 77427 7

In 1779, a Scottish doctor called William Alexander published a two-volume History of Women. Alexander was a man of the Enlightenment who regarded politeness to women as a mark of civilisation. Savages and ‘musselmen’ might treat their women as sexual helots, but a gentleman was solicitous of his womenfolk. Whether women deserved such treatment was another matter. Modern European women were commendably good-hearted, always ‘exerting themselves in acts of benevolence and charity’, but also dissipated and extravagant: ‘Is not the course which you steer in life, almost entirely directed by fashion and pleasure?’

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[*] Women, Gender and Enlightenment edited by Sarah Knott and Barbara Taylor (Palgrave, 2005).