Columbia Library columns (v.42(1992Nov-1993May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.42,no.1(1992:Nov): Page 22  

22                                  Patricia A. Cahill

people have recognized their importance. While conduct books for
men, works such as Castiglione's Book of the Courtier and
Sir Thomas Elyot's A Book Named the Governor, have long enjoyed
canonical status, those written for women have largely been

Recently, however, people have begun to pay attention to female
conduct books and have made it plain that, whatever their "liter¬
ary" qualities, these texts are well worth reading. More specifically,
scholars have demonstrated that books instructing women on man¬
ners and morals are not merely quaint or amusing; rather, they are
invaluable sources for a history not yet written. Scholars have begun
to use them to explore topics such as changes in Western concep¬
tions of marriage, childhood, and gender; the rise of the profes¬
sional woman writer and a female market for books; the connec¬
tions between Daniel Defoe's novels and his domestic guides; and
the formation of the English middle classes. PUmpton's marvelous
collection of conduct books, a collection especially strong in works
published in England and America between the seventeenth and
early nineteenth centuries, is, in other words, a rich resource not
only for those engaged in traditional bibliographical studies, but
also for those exploring newer avenues of research. In an attempt to
make this resource better known, I offer below a brief survey of
some of the more interesting works in his collection.

One of the earliest of these works is the English translation of
Juan Luis Vives's De Institutione Foeminae Christianae, published in
London around 1527 as A Very Fruteful and Pleasant Booke Called the
Instruction of a Christen Woman. Translated by Richard Hyrde, who
was probably the first English author to argue in print in favor of
women's education, the work was an immediate success. Before the
century drew to a close, it had been translated into Dutch, French,
German, Italian, and Spanish and had appeared in over forty edi¬
tions. Addressing the small group of upper-class women who might
be lucky enough to receive an education, Vives prescribes a rigorous
program of study in which the writings of the church fathers and of
Plato, Cicero, and Plutarch are all required reading. In spite of this
  v.42,no.1(1992:Nov): Page 22