Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ladylike and Manly Books

We often think of genre literature as gendered--romance for women, westerns for men--but we don't usually see books themselves as explicitly gendered. In this case, it is hard not to notice. These are two conduct, or etiquette, books from the late 18th century: the first edition of Chesterfield's Letters (London: J. Dodsley, 1774) and an American edition of Mrs. Chapone's Letter's on the Improvement of the Mind (Boston: Isaiah Thomas, 1783).

Guess which is written for men and which is for women. The Chesterton is such a manly book. Imposing in stature, with a title page filled with, well, titles, it is too large to hold comfortably and seems at home on a gentleman's library table. The Chapone's two slender volumes are designed to fit neatly in a young woman's hand. They are portable and suggest a more intimate reading. In a way, they are fulfilling their missions--Chesterton is trying to make a gentleman out of his son with his Letters, and Mrs. Chapone is trying to produce ladies. The differing reading experiences would have conformed to the 18th-century distinction.

Take a look by asking for Val 825C42 S83 and Presses T363c.

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