Women a Long Way from Liberation; Women in Early Modern England. by Sarah Mendelson and Patricia Crawford. (Oxford University Press, Pounds 25). Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist and Rebel. by Pam Hirsch (Chatto & Windus, Pounds 20). Reviewed by Monica Foot

The Birmingham Post (England), January 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

Women a Long Way from Liberation; Women in Early Modern England. by Sarah Mendelson and Patricia Crawford. (Oxford University Press, Pounds 25). Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist and Rebel. by Pam Hirsch (Chatto & Windus, Pounds 20). Reviewed by Monica Foot


When Anne Dormer, the second wife of Robert Dormer of Rousham, wrote to her sister, Lady Elizabeth Trumbell, in 1689, about her life and its routines - social, financial, sexual and personal - she described her marriage as a cage: "I must not exasperate him, for I and my poor children are in his power."

"Dormer's jealousy," write Mendelson and Crawford, "had led his wife to resolve never to go beyond the garden; sometimes she did not see another face for two months." Nominally the mistress of a huge household staffed by 30 domestics, including several loving and loyal maids, she complained that she had "not a person to send", for the servants were likewise under her husband's dominion.

She complained bitterly in her letters about Robert's "fury' and the "little quiet" of her life. Yet when he died, she repined even more and felt haunted by his spirit.

These intriguing ambivalences run through Mendelson and Crawford's huge and scholarly study of the life of English women from 1550-1720, a period encompassing, among many other themes, the supposed-levelling of the Civil War and the reign of the first globally-important female monarch, Elizabeth 1. It is obvious that the vast majority of personal testimonial from this time must derive from those who can read and write - the better-off. But visual images, court and church records, chap books, household accounts and much more have been drawn on to give a picture of this complex world, just beginning to move away from the superstitious yet stable cosmos of the Middle Ages.

Mendelson and Crawford are based a hemisphere apart. Mendelson is an assistant professor in the arts and science program (sic) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and Patricia Crawford is professor of history at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

They have been working on this immensely-ambitious project since 1982 and magnificently claim that "we have shared ALL the work that went into the making of the book." Using e-mail and every other communication technique, they overcame their geographical problems to report with one voice from the opaque, buried, muffled voices of the women of their chosen time. …

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Women a Long Way from Liberation; Women in Early Modern England. by Sarah Mendelson and Patricia Crawford. (Oxford University Press, Pounds 25). Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist and Rebel. by Pam Hirsch (Chatto & Windus, Pounds 20). Reviewed by Monica Foot
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