Some reflections upon marriage. With additions. Mary Astell.
Some reflections upon marriage. With additions.
Some reflections upon marriage. With additions.
Some reflections upon marriage. With additions.

Some reflections upon marriage. With additions.

London: [Samuel Richardson] printed for William Parker, 1730.

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Octavo: 19.5 x 12 cm. [viii], 180, 16pp. Collation: A4, B-M8, N2, A8 (Complete with the first and final advertisement leaves).

FOURTH EDITION (first ed. 1700), revised and with additions by the author and publisher.

Bound in modern quarter calf and marbled paper over boards, citron label, gilt. A tall copy with ta few light blemishes. Contemporary ownership inscription ‘J. Robertson” on fly leaf, effaced inscription, “S… Society” on title, causing very small hole (not affecting text.).

Mary Astell's “Some reflections upon marriage” first appeared in 1700 and was prompted by the unhappy Duchess of Mazarine coming to London after separation from her husband. The Duchess's account of her marital troubles aroused the sympathy of Mary Astell for her Chelsea neighbor and furnished her with the material for this treatise on marriage. Although Astell’s “Reflections” went through four editions: 1700, 1703, 1706 and 1730, all are extremely rare. A combined search of Wing and OCLC locates a mere 3, 4, 6 and 9 copies respectively .

This edition is substantially longer than the third edition of 1706, and Mary Astell’s revisions were probably the last literary work of her life; she died of breast cancer in 1731. What has become the book’s most famous passage, “If all men are born Free, how is it that all Women are born slaves?” in this edition is moved from the preface to a greatly expanded “Appendix”, and appears at p. 150.

“‘Reflections’ is Astell’s most obviously feminist work. She is unsparing in her denunciation of the various parties responsible for the plight of women. There are three objects of Astell’s attacks: first, the men, or to be more specific, the gentlemen, for as such they see themselves -gentlefolk, who lay claim to the virtues of courtesy and consideration that the term was supposed to imply. The second object is the ladies themselves, whom she indicts chiefly for their folly, and the third is the growing Whig faction, to which John Locke and his cohorts belonged.” (Christine Mason Sutherland, ‘The Eloquence of Mary Astell”, p. 82 ff.)

“The case of the Duchess of Mazarine served, Mary Astell wrote, ‘as an unhappy shipwrack to point out the dangers of an ill Education and an unequal Marriage’. Neither side escaped her censure but her sympathy was reserved for the duchess ‘who being capable of everything must therefore suffer more’.

“‘To be yok’d for Life to a disagreeable Person and Temper; to have Folly and Ignorance tyrannize over Wit and Sense; to be contradicted in everything one does or says, and bore down not by Reason but Authority; to be denied one’s most innocent desires, for no other cause but the Will and Pleasure of an absolute Lord and Master, whose Follies a Woman with all her Prudence cannot hide, and whose Commands she cannot but despise at the same time she obeys them; is a misery none can have a just idea of, but those who have felt it’. These words sum up Mary Astell’s whole condemnation of so many upper class marriages.

“Nevertheless, she saw marriage as ‘too sacred to be treated with Disrespect’. Being the ‘Institution of Heaven’, it was not just the ‘only Honourable way of continuing Mankind’ but provided ‘the best that may be for Domestic Quiet and Content, and for the Education of Children’. Happy marriages, she insisted, were possible but they required care –above all a choice based on reason with the chief inducement that of friendship. But if marriage was ‘such a blessed state’, why were there so few happy marriages? In large part the blame lay with men in their motives for entering into marriage and their ill-conduct within it. More often than not such motives were mercenary; ‘What will she bring’? Is the first inquiry. ‘How many acres?’, ‘How much ready coin?’. Mercenary marriages were doomed…

“Marriages for love, if rarer, were no different. Equally irrational, men were ‘govern’d by irregular Appetites’ or a man might think himself in love with a woman’s wit but ‘cannot hope to find a Woman whose Wit is of a size with his’, and when the occasion arises for a woman to turn her wit on him he might find it less agreeable! When you add those who ‘Marry without any Thought at all, further than that it is the Custom of the World’ to those who marry for money, love or wit, there are very few marriages remaining.

“Mary Astell would be the first to admit that it is not just men who are in the wrong, but as ‘a Woman… cannot properly be said to Choose’, as ‘all that is allow’d her, is the Refuse or Accept what is offer’d’, women are more to be pitied than censured. If a man can anticipate no happiness from marriages for money, wit or beauty, how much less can a woman expect of them? Hers is by far ‘the harder bargain’ for ‘if the Matrimonial Yoke be grievous, neither Law nor Custom afford her that redress which Man obtains’. If she has the bad fortune to marry a man with a ‘Disagreeable Temper’, she will be ‘as unhappy as anything in this World can make her’.…

“To survive the trials of marriage, women, Mary Astell argued, needed ‘a strong Reason… a truly Christian and well-temper’d Spirit’ and ‘all the assistance the best Education can give her’. Little wonder that women married so hastily, for if they stopped to consider ‘they seldom would Marry at all’. More education would ensure that women ‘marry more discreetly’ or that they ‘never consent to be a wife’.”( Bridget Hill, “The First English Feminist”, pp. 31-38).

For Astell’s revisions and the editorial work of the printer, see John Dussinger, “Mary Astell’s Revisions of Some Reflections upon Marriage (1730)”, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 107, No. 1 (March 2013), Additional literature: Smith, Mary Astell, pp. 19 and 119-130.

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