When it was first published in 1984, this book filled an acknowledged gap in the social history of the period and made available hitherto inaccessible sources. The work draws on newspapers and journals, memoirs, diaries, courtesy books, county surveys and records, but also on the literature of the period, its novels, poetry and plays. It examines the role assigned to women in eighteenth-century society and the education thought fitting to perform it. It looks at attitudes to courtship and marriage, chastity and sexual passion. It explores the role of women as wives and mothers, as spinsters and widows, and focuses on the living and working experience of women whether in the home, agriculture, industry or domestic service. It contrasts the expectations of the rich and the poor, the leisured lady and the underpaid female agricultural labourer, the unmarried mother and the prostitute.
Introduction 1. Ideas of Female Perfection 2. And the Greatest of These was Chastity 3. Female Education 4. Approaching Marriage 5. Marriage and After 6. Women’s Legal Position: Marriage Law and Custom 7. Women without Husbands 8. Crime and Punishment 9. The Female Poor 10. Women and Agriculture 11. Women in Industry and Other Occupations 12. Female Domestic Servants 13. Women Protest