A Letter to the Women of England:
British Women in the Eighteenth Century
Márcio Hemerique Pereira
(Department of Arts and Humanities, University of Minho, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal)
Abstract: This essay attempts to increase awareness of the scope of the letter, A Letter to the Women of England on the Injustice of Mental Subordination by Mary Robinson who wrote it to persuade readers towards peace, revealing the warfare threatening the heart and home of women, the historical conditions in which they worked, their subject matter and style, and the ways in which they manoeuvred rhetorically within male-dominated publishing and political arenas. In such case, the poet places the reader in the radical’s shoes and depicts the current social state that privileges the wealthy in order to reveal the conspicuous lack of equality and democracy. In this poem, Mary took advantage of her authority in domestic matters as a woman and nurturer and explicitly identified the government as a threat to both nuclear families and the national family. Women claimed their place in public discourse by publishing poetry that frequently recounted tales of fallen fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons and thus transformed impersonal casualty statistics into actual family members and real trauma. I shall discuss the letter which is a consequence of the sorrows of Robinson and all British women under male domination unjustified, ‘slavery’ and its impact in the British society. Mary Robinson’s work not only advocated a (re)evaluation and reversal of the moral codes to which eighteenth-century women were subjected to but also argued against the educational disadvantages experienced by women.
Key words: British society, Women, eighteenth-century women, poetry.
I agree that, according to the long established rule of custom, domestic occupations, such as household management, the education of children, the exercise of rational affection, should devolve on woman. But let the partner of her cares consider her zeal as the effect of reason, temporizing sensibility, and prompting the exertions of mutual interest; not as the constrained obsequiousness of inferior organization. […] She is obliged to labour for their mutual support, to watch in the chamber of contagious disease; […] Hapless woman! Why is she condemned to bear this load of persecution, this Herculean mental toil, this labour of Syssiphus; this more than Ixion's sufferings, as fabled by heathen mythologists? Because she is of the weaker sex! (Mary Robinson, A Letter to the Women of England on the Injustice of Mental Subordination, 1799:66-67)
The 1790s are seen as a period of war for the equal rights. They were indeed a period of substantial social and political stress and they carry their own issues from years far behind but it is in this decade that they will be expressed ‘violently’ in British society. It is the period that the French Revolution broke out and the so-called Industrial Revolution was gathering its momentum. Many were the reasons for unrest the outbreak of war led to substantial depression and unemployment was increasing because of loss of export markets and terrible population growth. During the early 1790s there was a massive movement of popular radical societies campaigning for political reform. Religion also was having its part, growing fast - Evangelicalism spread throughout the country. This was the period British people were seen fighting for ‘civil and political rights for all, women and men alike.’ (Alves, 1991:28) All the controversies that came on behalf of women outlined by writers of the 1790s, many of them, claimed respect to the intellectual talents of women as compared with men, getting together in a fair fight. The eighteenth-century, in this respect, however, has produced a most important and talented group of female worthies, becoming, then, a subject of notice in a well-known literary world, distinguished from classical and erudite to popular knowledge, a source of intelligence and idealization in women that they will, now, fight for.
 A Letter to the Women of England on the [Injustice] Cruelties of Mental Subordination, with Anecdotes by Anne Frances Randall (London: Longman & Rees, 1799) 8vo; first appeared as "Thoughts on the Condition of Women" 2nd edition by Anne Frances Randall (London: Printed for Longman & Rees, 1799); reprint edited by Jonathan Wordsworth (New York: International Publishing Group, 1998).
 The causes of the Industrial Revolution were complicated and remain a topic for debate, with some historians feeling the Revolution as an outgrowth of social and institutional changes brought by the end of feudalism in Britain after the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. The period of time covered by the Industrial Revolution varies with different historians. Eric Hobsbawm held that it 'broke out' in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s, while T. S. Ashton held that it occurred roughly between 1760 and 1830. Some twentieth century historians such as John Clapham and Nicholas Crafts have argued that the process of economic and social change took place gradually and the term revolution is not a true description of what took place. In our study, I will consider Eric Hobsbawn’s understanding for the British Industrial Revolution see: O'Brien and Roland E. Quinault, The Industrial Revolution and British Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
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- Marcio Hemerique Pereira (Author), 2009, A Letter to the Women of England, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/153168