This essay sample essay on A Serious Proposal To The Ladies Summary offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion are provided below.
The late 17th century is known as a time of religious devotion. Though the Church of England’s monopoly on Christian worship was coming to an end, its ideological influence remained. Throughout the scientific revolution and into the enlightenment, many notable thinkers (i. e. Newton, Descartes and Spinoza) shaped the intellectual landscape while remaining devout in their faith.
Despite the obvious challenges their discoveries yielded, the groundwork for modern science and philosophy was set in Christian values.
The origins of feminism are not dissimilar; Mary Astell, often accredited with being the first English feminist, was a deeply religious writer. Her Tory Anglican views helped persuade the highly devout and conservative aristocracy in advocating the establishment of academic institutions for women, which otherwise may have been dismissed as radical.
In her book, A Serious Proposal to the Lades for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest, Astell aims to promote women’s education by appealing to Christian values.
The thesis and key points of part I of A Serious Proposal are nicely summarized in the excerpt titled “A Religious Retirement”, in which Astell outlines her argument for the erection of a “monastery” dedicated to women’s education (Astell 18). This monastery, or institution as she calls it (deliberately eschewing the word convent), is suggested to be a kind of seminary where women would be taught things like literature, philosophy and “Christianity as professed by the Church of England” (22).
Astell says that such an institution will have a two purposes; to keep women “out of the road of sin” (19), and to “expel that could of ignorance which custom has involved [women] in” (21). That it would function as both an isolated retreat, where women would be kept innocent and uncontaminated, and academic academy, where useful knowledge could be feasted upon. Astell stresses quality over quantity. In true Anglican fashion, she boldly (or, perhaps, naively) envisions a perfect educational ideal. [The retreat] will be the introducing you into such a paradise as your mother Eve forfeited, where you shall feast on pleasures that do not disappoint your expectations,” she writes, “[which] will make you truly happy now, and prepare you to be so perfectly hereafter” (19). This undoubtedly sounds pretty appealing. To anyone ignorant of the “good works” she refers to (namely, most women of the time), this highly romanticized account of education as “entertaining employment” would sound not only fun, but life-affirming.
Astell’s vision is of a high-functioning, efficient institution, committed solely to necessary and relevant works, always striving toward perfection and against impertinency. The genius of this argument is it’s ability to appeal to more several demographics. It not only appeals to women readers enticed by this pedagogical utopia, but male readers as well, many of whom would have been highly educated and conservative. In the passage, “[She need not] trouble herself in turning over a great number of books, but take care to understand and digest a few well chosen and good ones” (22) Astell speaks to the erudite, conservative male mentality.
Astell argues that women have an equal capacity for knowledge as men. The influence of Descartes (whom she later mentions) is apparent in her treatment of mind and body as separate entities. “For since God has given women as well as men intelligent souls, why should they be forbidden to improve them? ” she writes, “Since he has not denied us the faculty of thinking, why should we not we employ our thoughts on himself their noblest object? ” (22). This statement is the crux of Astell’s argument and was probably its most controversial, the assertion that both sexes have equal intelligence would have been highly disputed.
Astell supports her claim by pointing out the egalitarian root of Christian values. “Being the soul was created for the contemplation of truth as well as for the fruition of good,” she writes, “is it not as cruel and unjust to exclude women from the knowledge of one as from the knowledge of the other? ” (23). This line of reasoning is rhetorically brilliant because of its multi-audience appeal; on one hand it speaks to women about the unjustness of being denied education, on the other it appeals to the men of the time by its appeal to Logos. As the argument progresses, the intended audience seems to shift further toward males.
Astell points out that the education of women would benefit not only the women themselves, but those who have to spend time with them. The line “learning is therefore necessary to render them more agreeable and useful in company” (23) suggests that uneducated women are not very good conversationalists, and are likely to tend toward insipid or banal subjects. Astell argues that the view that women are concerned only with vapid, frivolous issues is merely the result of ignorance, and that with a better education, women would be more relatable and easier to talk to.
There is a prevailing sense that education allows women to be better judged by God. Astell argues that our earthly “habitude and temper of mind” carries over into the afterlife, and that those who have reflected upon “noble and sublime truths” will be better prepared for Heaven (23). She criticizes the idea that innocence, when resulting from ignorance, relieves a woman of sin, evident in the line, “seeing our beatitude consists in the contemplation of divine truth and beauty” (23), which shows that she believed active engagement in theological issues was necessary for salvation.
She underscores the importance of a deep, spiritual seriousness in intellectual pursuits and warns against studying the trivial, secular topics of plays and romances. This is seen in the lines, “There is a sort of learning indeed which is worse than the greatest ignorance: a woman may study plays and romances all her life, and may be a great deal more knowing but never a jot the wiser” (23). Astell makes a strong distinction between spiritual and secular knowledge, her entire argument is in support of the former. To her, the spiritual is the practical, and the only type of knowledge worth pursuing.
She defines practical knowledge as that which “will convince us of the absolute necessity of holy living as well as of right believing, and that no heresy is more dangerous than that of an ungodly and wicked life” (24). Her vision of “necessary” knowledge taking precedence over the frivolous “froth and trifles” (23) popular in women’s entertainment of the time is given considerable weight throughout the book, which turns her argument, in part, into a critique of superficiality. Modern readers may have trouble reconciling Astell’s religious convictions with her feminist beliefs.
Indeed, her version of feminism is a far cry away from the sexually liberated second- and third-wave feminism we know today. I would urge such readers to look closely at what she really means by things like holy retirement, and freedom from sin. What Astell is suggesting is an earnest commitment to a pursuit; she is asking women to take themselves seriously. The greatest obstacle she saw for the establishment of women’s education was an obsession with “froth and trifles” (23). She saw that in order to effect significant change one first had to care deeply and sincerely about their cause, and it was in spiritual devotion that she saw this.
It is no surprise she reveres the biblical saint Priscilla, who found the inspiration to do missionary work from her profound devotion to her cause. And much like Priscilla, Mary Astell found the strength to lead her cause in the face of fearsome opposition from a deep, sincere commitment to Truth. She had no idea, at the time, of the enduring influence her writing would have thereafter. Works Cited Astell, Mary. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. London: Pickering & Chatto Ltd. 1997