Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman
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.
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About the Author
Tabitha Kenlon is assistant professor of English at American University in Dubai. Her research concentrates on representations of women and the manipulation of genre in fiction, nonfiction and drama, with a focus on eighteenth-century Britain.