Fashioning Gender in Texts from Joseph Addison's Spectator

Seminar Paper, 2004

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Joseph Addison in the disguise of his persona Mr. Spectator is not what his name suggests. Instead of being a mere member of the audience in the theatrum mundi he actively takes part in the century’s favourite pastime: The Reformation of Manners.

The eighteenth century saw the rise of the new middle class which, not being included in the traditional hierarchy, had to find codes of conduct enabling commerce and communication with other classes.

In public, these relied heavily on presentation of the information necessary to inspire mutual confidence rather than on representation of the individual. In opposition to this, the private sphere was considered the place to be natural.

While men were associated with the public sphere women were thought to be naturally more fit for a life in private, domestic surroundings.

Far from being natural, however, living there also meant presentation following the rules of what was thought to be “women’s nature” rather than representation of one’s individuality.

I) The Reformation of Manners

“It is now commonplace, that the eighteenth century witnessed the rise of the middle class in England.”[1] Whether class consciousness existed from the very beginning or was developed later is highly disputed, however, men and women in those midlevel economic and social positions were conscious of the fact that they belonged neither to the genteel, aristocratic circles (to which they were not admitted) nor to the working i.e. domestic-servant classes (that they did not want to belong to).

Wealthy through their commercial activities but looked down upon by the upper class for lack of refinement, the mostly protestant middle class did nevertheless not take resolve to imitation, for: „within the flamboyant, high-style, sexually libertine culture that had carried the standard of fashion since the Restauration, the (...) mundane, bourgeois virtues were irrelevant, even antithetical.“[2]

Instead, through negotiation with „high” elite culture and “low” popular culture a compromise between the moral demands of a more puritanical middle class and the stylistic refinement of the upper crust was attempted.

But not only mediation on the level of social status led to a demand for new forms of polite conduct.

Richard Sennett argues that leaving small rural communities, settling in increasingly crowded urban structures not fit for social encounters made it difficult to know one’s neighbour by daily observation. The frequency of intergenerational status changes, too, led to the situation that “material criteria could hardly tell who was “real” in a world of appearances”[3]. Yet dealing with strangers could be rather irritating in social encounters as well as in business matters.

To overcome this dilemma, the urban population in the 18th century established codes of conduct that regulated dress and behaviour in public in order to facilitate social encounters of members of different classes.

These codes had to be spread across what would later be perceived as class boundaries. But no existing authority was powerful enough to impose them. Internalisation, or a “reformation of manners”[4] was needed.

It is in this period, March 1, 1711, that the first number of The Spectator appears. Joseph Addison, having already contributed to Richard Steele’s Tatler, is now more involved in editing and writing, the production thus being more evenly split between the men.

As the titles suggest, the paper’s approach is quite a different one. While the Tatler stresses loquacity, the Spectator replaces this notion by “the gaze”, implying objectivity.

Especially Addison’s articles gained his contemporaries’ praise for his dispassion:

He never “outsteps the modesty of nature”, nor raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures neither divert by distortion, nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity that he can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions have an air so much original that it is difficult to suppose them not merely the product of imagination.[5]

However, as is quite normal in times of change, the paper’s fictitious author Mr. Spectator, too, tries to contribute to the formation of new standards of behaviour by writing and publishing them. He states his objectives quite clearly:

Since I have raised to my self so great an Audience, I shall spear no Pains to make their Instruction agreeable, and their Diversion useful. (...) I have resolved to refresh their Memories from Day to Day, till I have recovered them out of that desperate State of Vice and Folly into which the Age is fallen.[6]


[1] Mackie, Erin: The Commerce of Everyday Life. London 1998, p. 5.

[2] Ibid, p. 11.

[3] “Ainsi, les critères matériels ne déterminaient guère ce qui était « réel » dans le monde des apparences.” (my translation) Sennett, Richard: Les Tyrannies de l’intimité. Paris 1979,

p. 57.

[4] „Reforme des Moeurs“ (my translation) Bony, Alain: Joseph Addison, Richard Steele: “The Spectator et l’essai periodique”. Paris 1990, p.45.

[5] Johnsohn, Samuel: Lives of the English Poets. Qtd. in: Nablow, Ralph Arthur: The Addisonian Tradition in France. Passion and Objectivity in Social Observation. London, Toronto 1990, p. 44.

[6] Addison, Joseph: The Spectator No. 10. In: Mackie, Erin: The Commerce of Everyday Life. London 1998, pp.88.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Fashioning Gender in Texts from Joseph Addison's Spectator
Université de Paris VII - Denis Diderot
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ISBN (eBook)
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Addison, Spectator, Gender, gender roles, bourgeoisie, public sphere, Richard Sennett
Quote paper
Anja Schmidt (Author), 2004, Fashioning Gender in Texts from Joseph Addison's Spectator, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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