This thesis tries
to trace the connections between women’s magazines in the past fifty years and
the formation of gender and identity of women. This first chapter has two
sections. The first examines the history and background of the genre of conduct
literature and the second section traces the history of feminism. Section one
includes an examination of a variety of books offering conduct advice from the ancient
times, down the middle ages, the Renaissance, the works of Addison, Steele and
Mary Wollstonecraft, up to the 19th century. The second section
studies some important developments of the feminist movement which is the
theoretical backbone of this research and also tries to gather some insights on
the position of women in the course of this historical purview.


Section 1: A Survey of Conduct Literature


i) Ancient and Medieval texts

conduct books are known to have originated in the middle ages in Europe. However, the earliest known literature containing
conduct advice is from ancient Egypt.
The vizier or prime minister of the pharaohs gave advice to the kings. These
were captured in texts like The Instructions of Kagemni or The Maxims
of Ptahhotep. Written over two thousand years BC, texts such as the second
one, contain the guidance of viziers (like Ptahhotep) to the King of Egypt. The
author mentions the reason for capturing such a document of instructions in the
introduction. He states that his advanced age and his wish to share the
knowledge of his ancestors is the main motive behind penning the book.


The maxims are a
collection of simple instructions on day to day living. They stress on various
virtues such as truthfulness and listening skill. For instance:

“Listening benefits the
listener.”; “God loves he who listens. He hates those who do not
listen.”; “He who listens becomes the master of what is
profitable.” Or “Injustice exists in abundance, but evil can never
succeed in the long run.”1

Kagemni too recommends humility, silence and restraint, warning that “it takes
only a brief moment to restrain the heart, and it is disgraceful to be greedy.”
He also adds that “The humble man flourishes, and he who deals uprightly is
praised.”2 So honesty, upright moral, kind and just behavior are the
central themes that are stressed upon in such ancient texts.


The two primary
ancient Indian texts that could be said to be the beginning of the conduct
genre in India
are the Panchatantra and the Arthashashtra. Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra was written in Sanskrit
around the 3rd century BC. It is a book of animal fables originating
from a much older oral tradition. The Panchatantra
had travelled widely, to various countries, and had been translated to many
different European languages by the 16th century. The Arthashashtra has been attributed to the
4th century BC writer Chanakya. It speaks specially of the
strategies of ruling a state and the duties of a ruler- of discipline, vices
and of dealing with the enemy.


Another genre
known for doling out advice on conduct and morals between the 1st
and the 5th centuries were the church orders. These were documents were
circulated in collections. Some of them included: Didache, or Teaching of the
Twelve Apostles, (1st-2nd century, Syria); Apostolic Church-Ordinance,
(about 300 AD, Egypt);
Apostolic Canons of Hippolytus (336-340 AD, Egypt); Testamentum Domini (5th
century, Syria);
Epitome of the eighth Book of the Apostolic Constitutions, or The Constitutions
through Hippolytus. M. Metzger and Paul F. Bradshaw proposed the term
“living literature”3 to refer to the church orders as in
most of these texts, only a portion had survived. These were updated and changed
generation after generation, mixing earlier parts with materials from the contemporary
uses and tradition.


developmental patterns for the content of this literature may be observed. For
instance, the more ancient texts, such as Didache, were mainly concerned about
moral conduct, thus they gave very little room to liturgy and to Church
organization. However, in the later texts the interest on moral issues waned
and liturgy became more prominent. Thus they became manuals providing
guidelines to the clergy, comprising of instructions on discipline, worship and
doctrine. Along with these, the works of the 4th century Latin
author Dyonisius Cato, were quoted repeatedly and finally published in the
medieval age. The Apostolic documents had specific orders against vices like greed,
hate, murder, adultery, theft, magic, sorcery, abortion, infanticide, speaking
evil, holding grudges, hypocrisy, maliciousness, arrogance, plotting evil
against neighbors, narcissism and so on. 
They also explained the connection between all of these – by reiterating
how one vice often led to another. For example anger could lead to murder, or concupiscence
to adultery.


The one major
difference between the earlier treatises and those written later in the middle
ages was that in the earlier works, the point of emphasis was on morals, but in
the later works it shifted to manners. It was from the middle-ages that the
notion of conduct literature per se came into existence. Medieval scholarship
had entertained the idea of conduct by privileging certain texts and calling
them conduct or courtesy books. Courtesy books mainly consisted of prose
treatises or poems teaching the ‘etiquette’ of the court. Courtesy literature
can be traced back to 13th century Italian and German books on court
manners. Conduct books were written for men, women and children alike. They
were agents of teaching people to behave. Thus, for every age, the conduct
literature would be a means of studying the social expectations from the people
living in that particular time.


In the early middle ages and the renaissance, a genre loosely
known as Mirrors for Princes became very popular. These were texts were aimed
at educating kings, princes and rulers of states in the rules of governance as
well as behaviour. This particular tradition of writing was influenced by the 4th
century BC Cyropedia, written by Xenophon, a student of Socrates. Cyropedia
is about the education of Cyrus, to become a ruler. Two texts on conduct can be
named from the 13th century. In 1215, Thomasin of Zerklaere wrote a
treatise of manners – Der Walsche Gast. Then in 1265 Dante’s teacher
Brunetto Latini published his Tesoretto. An interesting point to be
noted from these texts is the change and development in manners along with
improved life styles and conditions. The fundamental basis of ‘good’ manners
changed over a period of time.


ii) The Renaissance


The academic universe of late medieval scholasticism was
criticised as being limited to a series of dialogues between concepts of science
and philosophy by the humanists in the Renaissance. Humanism was an educational
and philosophical movement that rose in England in the 16th and 17th
centuries. This period had its own set of rules of conduct for men and women.
The movement mainly benefited men and boys as women were kept on the periphery.
Humanism had originated in 14th century Italy, spread through the educated
classes of early 16th century England
and continued its influence into the 17th century. 16th
century humanists like Thomas More, Thomas Elyot and Vives offered an
educational and linguistic programme for those who wished to pursue the
“New Learning”.4 They stressed on learning classical
languages, philosophy, law, personal ethics and civic duties. Though
theoretically the humanists had a lot to offer to women, in practice, such
learning was to be found at the Universities, thus making it out of women’s reach.


The early 16th
century was a paradoxical time in Britain. It was considered
unwomanly to write, yet a number of women at this time wrote conduct books,
pamphlets and other texts. It is interesting to note the position of women
during this period. Women at this time had no status in law. They were only
daughters, wives or widows of men. Their roles were that of silent listeners,
not writers or speakers. The church prescribed them to remain silent and listen
to the advice of husbands and pastors. They were regarded as the daughters of
Eve, with a continuing proneness to temptation and a disproportionate burden of
guilt. However, it must not be assumed that the patriarchy was upheld by men
alone. Women themselves were often the strongest to absorb and reflect the
tropes of misogynist thinking.


Hilda L. Smith
in her essay “Humanist education and the Renaissance concept of
woman”, argues that women existed more as “a category in the minds of
Renaissance authors than as disparate individuals”. Renaissance humanism,
Smith says, was “closely tied to a gentleman’s career”. 5 Women
continued to be omitted from it. Famous humanist texts which provided political
guidance and advice, included Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516, Latin;
1551, English), Baldassare Castiglione’s The Courtier (1531, Italian;
1561 English), Thomas Elyot’s The Governour (1531), and Niccolo Machiavelli’s
The Prince (1569, Italian, 1640, English). Castiglione’s book addressed
proper behaviour at court and Machiavelli’s was a guide for princes. Both of
these books were written in Italian. Nevertheless, they were a powerful
influence on developing the concept of public virtue in 16th century
Each of these authors counselled the ruling and governing classes on practical
and ethical questions.


Machiavelli’s Il Principe or The Prince was written
in a style similar to mirrors for princes. It covered matters of importance to
princes like virtue, states, military, qualities (reputation, generosity,
cruelty, mercy), or prudence (conquests, honour, staff). The Prince has often
been interpreted as going against the basic tenets of monarchy and being more
pro-republic. Critics have differed in their opinions, where some felt that it
was a satiric work, others argued that it was a carefully crafted book of advice.
Rousseau in his Social Contract wrote:


“Machiavelli was a
proper man and a good citizen; but, being attached to the court of the Medici,
he could not help veiling his love of liberty in the midst of his country’s
oppression. The choice of his detestable hero, Caesar Borgia, clearly enough shows
his hidden aim; and the contradiction between the teaching of the Prince and
that of the Discourses on Livy and the History of Florence shows that this
profound political thinker has so far been studied only by superficial or
corrupt readers. The Court of Rome sternly prohibited his book. I can well
believe it; for it is that Court it most clearly portrays.”

— (Social
Contract, Book 3) 6


One of the most popular and influential conduct books in the
Renaissance, was Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano or The Book of the Courtier. The book
mostly addressed the process of becoming a perfect courtier, and in the final
installment, Castiglione also writes about how to be a perfect lady. In England, the vogue for such literature resulted mainly
from Elizabethan translations of this and two other sixteenth-century Italian
texts on courtly manners and morals: Giovanni della Casa’s Il Galateo (1558) and Stefano Guazzo’s La
Civil Conversazione (1574). 


Juan Luis
Vives’s Instruction of a Christian Woman (1529) and his Plan for
Study of Girls (1523); Thomas Elyot’s Defence of Good Women (1540);
and John Aylmer’s defence of Elizabeth’s
rule, A Harbour for Faithful and True Subjects (1559) against John
Knox’s attack on women rulers, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the
monstrous regiment of women(1558) were some important humanist texts
concerning women. Boccaccio’s Concerning Famous Women (1359; first
English translation, 1963) and Herricus Cornelius Agrippa’s work, A Treatise
for the Nobility of Womenkind (1542) were a model for many others to present
examples of women’s superiority – linguistic, historical and mythical. Agrippa,
for instance argued that ‘Eve’ stood for soul, and so was linguistically
superior to ‘Adam’, associated with earth. 7


An important
controversy which surfaced in the conduct books during this period was that
concerning women’s education. It was centred around whether women needed
education and if so, to what extent they should be allowed to study. This
debate revealed itself in many of the books providing conduct advice. Edward
Gosynhyll expressed that this debate was a lucrative one that led to financial
gain. 8 Much writing, therefore, was published on this theme during
the 16th century. Gosynhyll himself, for instance, wrote The
Scholehouse of Women (1541) to ridicule women’s learning. But in The
Praise of all Women (1542), he praised the character and intelligence of


It was Juan Luis
Vives’s work, Instruction of a Christian Woman that set the parameters
of women’s learning in the 16th century, but it was only a narrow view
of the proper education of women. The book addressed only the aristocratic class
of women and just nine pages of his book were devoted to the actual education
of women. Most of the book treated “manners and family, especially how a
wife should establish respect toward her husband and his relatives”.9
In his  “Plan for Study of Girls”,
Vives offered guidance to help women to develop into well-informed and charming
companions to their husbands, pious and good Christians, who were easily able
to understand and deal with Scriptures.


Vives stressed
that it was wrong for women to want to learn beyond their needs or to go
abroad. He also stressed on the necessity for strict female chastity He added
that women should not teach lest they ‘bring others into the same error’ as
individuals of ‘weak discretion, and that may lightly be deceived’. 10
Women’s responsibility thus, was tied to ‘honesty and chastity’. In any case,
her domestic life left her with little time for learning or ‘wandering out from
home’. In his Instruction of a Christian Woman Vives stressed that women’s
education must be closely supervised so that it did not encourage them to raise
questions beyond their capabilities or take them out of the home into crude and
improper public debates and discussions.


Vives has been criticised
for a flawed view of women’s education. However, other 16th century writers
also restricted women’s learning and public role while advising them on conduct.
These included Thomas Elyot in The Governor and The Defence of Good
Women and Richard Mulcaster in his treatise on general education which had a
brief chapter on educating girls. More and Vives both limited the ends of
women’s education to the family circle, but unlike Vives, More also urged for a
training in positive language. Though Latin was the language of learned men of
the time, Elyot’s  The Governor
was published in English to show that abstract disciplines could also be
expressed in English. Here, Elyot talks of ‘inferior governors’ or magistrates,
a class, at which much of his educational plan was directed. In this text, Elyot
provided tips on bringing up a child (boy). He said that a boy’s education
should begin with music, dancing, painting. By the age of fourteen the pupil
should concentrate on rhetoric and logic, and read Cicero. Law was prescribed at fifteen and
after that he should devote his time to the study of philosophy and government.
Such a wholesome education would help to instill grace, valour, reason and judgment
in young men according to Elyot.


Elyot’s Defence
of Good Women was written in a dialogue form and lacked the systematic
structure of The Governor. It centered around Lady Zenobia, a woman
interested in learning. Two debaters argue on whether Aristotle’s view of women
as different and ‘imperfect’ was true and should stop them from pursuing
learning. The defence of this view was significantly weak and Zenobia herself joins
in the debate to stress that her goals for education would not get in the way of
her subordination to her husband. This was followed by examples of ancient heroines
who had sacrificed everything for their husbands and children. Patience and
conservation were highlighted as women’s duties in this book and it was
acknowledged that these required more skill than strength and acquisition which
were the responsibilities of men. The Defence of Good Women, however,
did not incorporate women’s education into humanist values.


Thomas More, in
his letters, instructed his daughters to work diligently, read the Scriptures
and to be modest. More insisted on linguistic and rhetorical perfection and he
expressed pleasure that their letters maintained appropriate standards,
“full of fine wit, and of a pure Latin phrase”.11 He tells
his daughters to write letters to him everyday and concludes that women are
“prattlers by nature”. Hilda Smith mentions that More was one of a
handful of Renaissance thinkers who gave or advocated equal education to
daughters and that in many ways his is the most positive humanist voice in 16th
century England.

Pamela Joseph Benson,
in attempting to explore The Invention of the Renaissance Woman, sets
Renaissance writings about women into a broader rhetorical context. She argues
that the Renaissance humanists followed two alternatives for the model woman –
the “justice” model, which contended that women could possess
cardinal virtues along with men; and the “care” model, which
glorified the higher/superior moral nature and virtue of women. 12


iii) The 17th  and 18th century


By the 17th
century, a new form of conduct books- periodicals- aimed mainly at women,
became very popular. Sir George Savile, Marquis of Halifax wrote several essays with advice on
conduct. Halifax’s
writings in “Advice to a daughter” (1688) lacked the intellectual seriousness
of More’s text. He advised her to have tolerance and rationality and was more
concerned with preparing his daughter for her responsibilities as an adult in
society. The work has a pleasant, rare mix of reason and faith. For Halifax, “Religion
is exalted Reason”. 13 The role he outlined for his daughter’s
married life is quite similar to More’s, but with less focus on serious
scholarship. She should simply follow her father’s guidelines for pursuing rational
Christianity rather than developing an independent path. Unlike More, Halifax explicitly
discusses the differential power relationships between the sexes:


“…there is inequality in sexes, and
that for the better economy of the world; the Men, who were to be the law
givers, had the larger share of reason bestow’ed upon them; by which means your
sex is the better prepar’d for the compliance that is necesssary for the
performance of those duties which seem’d to be most properly assigned to it.” 14


Halifax admitted that the marriage contract was
harsh for women and the emphasis on compliance of their duties stronger within
marriage. Women’s supposed inferiority was, for him, to be balanced by the
might of their gentleness over male reason and power, their control of the children
and their lifelong influence on men. Marriage dictated women’s lesser status,
and the “institution of marriage was too sacred to admit to a liberty of
objection to it.” There was sufficient evidence of women’s being the
‘weaker’ sex to accept it. He thus stated to his daughter that:


“You are therefore to make the best of
what is settled by law, and not vainly imagine, that it will be changed for
your sake.” 15


The rest of his
book contained some advice and encouragement on handling difficult husbands no
matter what they were like – drunkards, wasters or without any reason. She was
to always maintain her modesty and to remember that “discretion and
silence will be the most prevailing reproof”.16 While integrating
concepts of science and power, Halifax’s
picture is just as restricted as More’s for an adult woman. He either accepted
women’s intellectual inferiority or simply wanted his daughter to believe in it
for her own sake. Benevolent men like More and Halifax stressed obedience to husband and
piety toward God as central goals of their girls’ training. Humanist education
thus did not transform women’s lives as it did for boys and men.


In spite of many
differences, two common themes seemed to emerge from all these works. Firstly, it
was clear that the humanist educational and social programme preparing men for
learning and responsible positions did not apply to women. Secondly, women were
steeped in the Christian virtues associated with the earlier medieval world more
than men. Demands for morality and chastity inhibited women and narrowed their existence.
Ruth Kelso noted this in her ground breaking work of 1956, Doctrine for the
Lady of the Renaissance:


“The moral ideal for the lady is
essentially Christian…as that for the gentleman is essentially pagan. For him
the ideal is self expansion and realization …For the lady the direct opposite
is prescribed. The eminently Christian virtues of chastity, humility, piety,
and patience under suffering and wrong, are the necessary virtues.” 17


In the 17th century,
tracts on women demonstrate a nasty turn. Authors debated whether women were associated
with the devil and if men could beat their wives. From the 1620s, advice
literature pertaining to women adopted a more puritan tone in William Gouge’s
description Of Domesticall Duties (1622) and in conduct books like
Richard Brathwaite’s, The English Gentlewoman(1631).These books avoided
the misogynistic approach of Joseph Swetnam’s The Arraignment of Lewd, idle,
froward and unconstant women (1615). But they advocated restricted,
domestic lives of women.


   Daniel Defoe
was one of the prolific writers of the early 18th century in
England. He wrote numerous pamphlets and conduct manuals. His most popular
conduct manual was The Family Instructor (1715). In this manual, he
created a new style of providing conduct advice, very different from that found
in the post –Restoration conduct book which was usually dry, preaching men and
women on the do’s and don’ts of ethics, religion and morality. Defoe, in The
Family Instructor, created a basic set of characters in a ‘moral’ middle
class nuclear family. Through their dialogues, he delivered the rules of
conduct and spirituality. Thus, this new format of a ‘Religious play’ 18
served to both entertain and educate the readers. The family adheres to a rigid
definition of gender roles that confines women to the home under the d


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