English Woman in History

English Woman in History

English Woman in History

English Woman in History

Excerpt

My purpose in writing this book has been to display the place women have held and the influence they have exerted within the changing pattern of English society from the earliest down to modern times. This book, therefore, can only begin with the famous description of the women of the Germanic tribes written by the Roman historian Tacitus. It ends, save for an occasional excursion, with the publication of The Subjection of Women byJohn Stuart Mill in 1869. The evidence for more recent generations is so voluminous, and so many studies of individual women of this age have appeared that to carry my survey farther would have thrown the book out of focus. The material from which I have drawn my evidence is contemporary with the people of whom I write in the successive chapters of this book. Contemporary narrative history, the early laws, charters, and wills throw sometimes surprising light on the women of the early period of our history. The records of courts of justice, both the royal courts and those of the manor, grants of land, and wills are invaluable for the Middle Ages, and before they have ended the stream of correspondence has begun. The Paston letters have been a quarry for generations of historians. They are an astonishingly rich and lively source, and for their date they stand almost alone. Nevertheless, as the years pass the material soon becomes embarrassingly ample, and I have been able to use diaries, memoirs, and letters, sermons, and tracts dealing directly or incidentally with my subject.

All the women the reader will meet in these pages were real people who lived and worked in the England of their day. In my search for material I have deliberately avoided the romantic literature of the Middle Ages, coloured as it is throughout by an artificial embellishment of life. Nor have I used the novels of a later period. The active imagination of the novelist produces creatures' who seem for a moment to live more vividly than the real people of history, for they are tailored to fit a story, and the inconsistences and contradictions of real life are ironed out. The comments of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, quoted in this book, upon her contemporary, Samuel Richardson, and his famous Pamela should be read by every historian who is tempted to drive home a point by quoting . . .

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