Luxuriously Bound Volumes in Outstanding Condition, With Advice Addressing Every Stage of an Englishwoman's Life

[THE ENGLISHWOMAN'S FAMILY LIBRARY].THE WOMEN OF ENGLAND, THEIR SOCIAL DUTIES AND DOMESTIC HABITS; THE DAUGHTERS OF ENGLAND, THEIR POSITION IN SOCIETY, CHARACTER AND RESPONSIBILITIES; THE WIVES OF ENGLAND, THEIR RELATIVE DUTIES, DOMESTIC INFLUENCE, AND SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS; THE MOTHERS OF ENGLAND, THEIR INFLUENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY.

(London: Fisher, Son & Co., 1843). 190 x 118 mm. (7 1/2 x 4 5/8"). With 8 pp. publisher's catalogue bound at rear of "Mothers." Four volumes.

Attractive near-contemporary green pebble-grain morocco, covers with graceful gilt arabesque design, smooth spines in compartments with intricately incised gilt central panels, gilt titling, all edges gilt. Daughters with engraved frontispiece with tissue guard. Carlson, "Influence, Agency, and the Women of England: Victorian Ideology and the Works of Sarah Stickney Ellis." (2011); Chase and Levenson, "The Spectacle of Intimacy: A Public Life for the Victorian Family," (2009), p. 66. One corner just gently bumped, but A SPECTACULAR SET in virtually mint condition, the text entirely clean, fresh, and bright, the bindings with no signs of wear.

This is a virtually untouched set of a series of popular and influential advice books addressing every stage of an Englishwoman's life, offered here in the publisher's most luxurious binding. Educated primarily at home but urged to read widely by her Quaker father, Sarah Stickney Ellis (1799-1872) began writing poetry and stories at an early age. When financial adversity hit, she decided to use her talents to help support her family. Her first published work was the anti-slavery story, "The Negro Slave: A Tale Addressed to the Women of Great Britain" (1831), and it was followed by a number of morally uplifting tales. Miss Stickney was an established author by the time she married William Ellis in 1837, but her greatest success was yet to come.

When the new Mrs. Ellis produced "Women of England" in 1839, she had a runaway bestseller--and the beginning of an influential series--on her hands. According to DNB, the book and its sequels "focused on the role of women in the middle-class family, and emphasized the moral influence a Christian woman, particularly as wife and mother, should bring to bear on the men of that family. . . . [She] accepted that women were socially and legally subordinate to men, but she endorsed the concept of ‘separate spheres’ in order to claim considerable autonomy for women within the domestic sphere. She also believed in the inherent moral equality of the sexes, but argued that women's seclusion in the home protected them from many of the temptations to which men succumbed; domestic seclusion could therefore give the moral advantage to women, which it was their duty to exploit. Her endorsement of ‘separate spheres’ thus becomes an argument for the empowerment of women through moral influence, albeit an influence exerted covertly, lest the ostensibly superior status of father or husband be compromised." Ellis' works were very well-received by and had considerable impact on her intended audience; in the opinion of Chase and Levenson, she "must stand alongside Dickens as one of the deep designers of the mid-century family imagination.”

While 20th century feminist critics largely dismissed Ellis for supporting the patriarchy, newer critics are taking a different view: Carlson notes that "the main goal in Ellis‘s writings is to give women more independence, more control, and more agency in a society where women were expected to be submissive and dependent. . . . Ellis argues for a broad education that will serve a woman regardless of her station. She wants her readers to be capable not only of taking care of a husband and house, but also the accounts and most importantly, herself. . . . Ellis‘s views on engagement and marriage, . . . are, to say the very least, disenchanted. Ellis makes an effective argument against most types of marriages and leaves her reader with the impression that remaining single is frequently the best option for a woman. Ellis only approves of marriages where the woman is absolutely certain before her wedding that her husband will treat her as an equal. Given her hesitancy about advocating marriage, it is no wonder that Ellis makes such a big deal about the need to educate women so that they can be independent." In 1844, Ellis joined forces with her friend Isabelle Hurry to establish Rawdon House School, a non-denomination school for girls that taught practical skills of domestic management in addition to such feminine accomplishments as music and art.

Our set was released in 1843, when the final book in the series, "Mothers of England," appeared; the publisher's catalogue at the end of that volume offers the complete series in three different bindings: "cloth neat"; "cloth elegant, gilt edges"; and "morocco elegant." A morocco case was offered for an extra 10 shillings. Our former owner may not have sprung for the case (or perhaps it has not survived), but our volumes remain in as close to original condition as one can imagine.
(ST16433)