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Reading Questions for Mary Astell's "A Serious Proposal to the Ladies"

Vocabulary: Enlightenment, erotema

Introduction: According to the introduction, Mary Astell had her early writings supported financially by what other author we are reading this term?

What was Astell’s goal in writing “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies”?

Lecture or Handouts: none

Identify the following characters: Mary Astell

Reading Questions:

  • [A religious retirement]
  • In the first paragraph, what sort of structure does Astell want to found or build? Who will have access to it?
  • In the second paragraph, Astell declares “Here are no serpents to deceive you.” What or whom is she thinking about in this passage? What biblical connotations does this have? What Freudian connotations?
  • In the third paragraph, what cloud will the institution seek to “expel”?
  • Explain in the fourth paragraph the connection between “blindness” and “will” that Astell describes.
  • What does Astell see as the cause of women’s conversations being “insipid” and “foolish”?
  • What is Astell’s stance on women serving as preachers or teachers at Church?
  • What language does Astell say most ladies already speak and read from their readings of romances? What sort of book does she suggest they read instead?

Passages for Identification/Discussion:

A. One great end of this institution [the religious retirement] shall be to expel that cloud of ignorance which custom has involved us in, to furnish our minds with a stock of solid and useful knowledge, that the souls of women may no longer be the only unadorned and neglected things.

B. For it is not intended she should spend her hours in learning words but things, and therefore no more languages than are necessary to acquaint her with useful authors.

C. For since God has given women as well as men intelligent souls, why should they be forbidden to improve them?

D. We pretend not that women should teach in the church, or usurp authority where it is not allowed them; permit us only to understand our own duty, and not to be forced to take it upon trust from others, to be agt least so far learned as to be able to forming our minds a true idea of Christianity.

E. I know not how men will resent it to have their enclosure broke down, and women invited to taste of that tree of knowledge they have so long unjustly monopolized. But they must excuse me, if I be as partial to my own sex as they are to theirs, and think women as capable of learning as men are, and that it becomes them well.


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