Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman

Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman

By Tabitha Kenlon

“Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman” examines six centuries of conduct manuals and other instructive writing, analyzing the history of gendered expectations that have been debated in print from the fourteenth century and continue to influence our present thinking about women’s roles and abilities.

Hardback, 218 Pages

ISBN:9781785273148

March 2020

£80.00, $125.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Podcasts

About This Book

The longest-running war is the battle over how women should behave. “Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman” examines six centuries of advice literature, analyzing the print origins of gendered expectations that continue to inform our thinking about women’s roles and abilities. Close readings of numerous conduct manuals from Britain and America, written by men and women, explain and contextualize the legacy of sexism as represented in prescriptive writing for women from 1372 to the present.

This book presents a unique trans-historical approach, arguing that conduct manuals were influenced by their predecessors and in turn shaped their descendants. While existing period-specific studies of conduct manuals consider advice literature within the society that wrote and read them, this book provides the only analysis of both the volumes themselves and the larger debates taking place within their pages across the centuries. Building on critical conversations about literature’s efforts to define and construct gender roles, this book examines conduct manuals’ contributions to the female ideal prevalent when they were published, as well as the persistence or alteration of that ideal in subsequent eras.

Combining textual literary analysis with a social history sensibility while remaining accessible to expert and novice, this book will help readers understand the on-going debate about the often-contradictory guidelines for female behavior.

Reviews

“Ever wondered why listening to Fordyce’s Sermons in Pride and Prejudice made Lydia Bennet gape? In this lively and accessible look at conduct literature, Tabitha Kenlon ranges from fourteenth-century courtesy books to twenty-first-century rules. She shows how the ideal woman was constructed in the past, and questions her existence both then and now.” —Gillian Dow, Associate Professor, University of Southampton, UK

"Tabitha Kenlon’s ambitious, witty and well-written monograph, Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman, examines six centuries of conduct books and etiquette guides designed for women . . . [It] was a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking read and a must for any student or scholar exploring gender history. This book is also available as an e-book and an audio book and, as such, is one of the first academic publications to take advantage of the audio book format. This is a much-needed development in academic book publishing, given that it makes books more accessible to a wider audience." — Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/University of Glasgow, Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837, July 28, 2021

In a chronological exploration, each chapter homes in on the most popular conduct books published each century ... Overall, Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman was a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking read and a must for any student or scholar exploring gender history. - Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/University of Glasgow, Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837

Tabitha Kenlon’s engagingly written account of the history of conduct literature, Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman, provides an in-depth exploration of six centuries worth of conduct books, etiquette guides, and self-help books. The book guides readers through a close analysis of printed conduct literature from The Book of the Knight of the Tower by Geoffery de La Tour-Landry, to Alexandra Parsons’ twenty-first-century guide How to Be a Lady: Expert Advice for Aspiring Sophisticates —  Amy Solomons, Department of History, University of Liverpool, Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman, Women's Writing. 

In a chronological exploration, each chapter homes in on the most popular conduct books published each century ... Overall, Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman was a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking read and a must for any student or scholar exploring gender history — Dr. Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/University of Glasgow, Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837

Author Information

Tabitha Kenlon has a PhD in English. Her research concentrates on representations of women and the manipulation of genre in fiction, nonfiction and drama, with a focus on eighteenth-century Britain.

Series

No series for this title.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Explanatory Note; Introduction: Woman as She Should Be; 1. A Good Woman Is a Godly Woman, Obviously; 2. Conduct for Those Who Are Not Queen; 3. Look but Don’t Talk: Reflections of the Ideal; 4. Playing the Part as Nature Intended; 5. Victoria’s Angels; 6. Suff rage, Little Wives and Career Girls; 7. Feminism Changes Everything, Right? Right??; Coda: An Ideal End; References; Index.

Links

No Podcasts for this title.

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