Mary Astell

The very title of this selection speaks to what Mary Astell sought: Serious Proposal to the Ladies. Serious. At a time when women's concerns were thought to be the opposite of serious, Astell focuses on how her argument is different.

She asks for a place to which women can retreat, a Protestant place, to contrast with existing Catholic religious retreats. Indeed, the first word she uses to describe the retreat is monastery, but she quickly retreats from the Catholic connotations of that word. And, by exercising intellectual faculties and excluding sinful temptations, women will be prepared for the Afterlife with God. To this good place, the ladies are explicitly and inclusively invited.

Mary Astell writes her own words; there is no translator standing between her words and our eyes. That is refreshing, and becoming more common as the book moves quickly into the modern era. I have to wonder how many woman rhetors are lost to time, either through being truly lost or successfully hiding their identities behind a man's name.

One of the difficulties of Mary's proposal is that her audience would not necessarily want to be told that they are deficient by lacking education. She must carefully frame the argument as a benefit not only to men but to women. And yet, this careful framing does not mean that she circumlocutes unintelligibly. "If therefore we desire to be intelligible to every body, our Expressions must be more plain and explicit than they needed to be if we writ only for our selves" (82). Knowing that she writes to an audience, she sets for clear arguments meant to persuade without insulting either men or women.

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