Conduct Books’ Advice to Women on Economy in Georgian EnglandLi-ching Chen
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The instruction of conduct books constituted an essential part of women’s education in Georgian England. Apart from the subjects—religion, conduct and behavior, amusements, as well as friendship, love and marriage—covered in the widely read and highly applauded Father’s Legacy to His Daughters (1774) by John Gregory (1724-73), economy, extolled as “an art as well as a virtue” (147) by Hester Mulso Chapone (1727-1801) in Letters on the Improvement of the Mind (1773), assumed no less importance in contemporary conduct manuals.
This paper aims to examine the contradiction underlying the discourse of economy in Georgian conduct manuals. It will explore how the discourse in eighteenth-century English conduct books addressing to women contrived systematically to limit women’s spending by turning their attention from the many and diversified pleasures to household management and to charity practices. This paper will further point out that by constructing a science of household management, these conduct manuals intended to convince Georgian women that besides household spending, alms giving was the only justifiable expenditure for them. The basic argument of this paper is that while conduct-book teachings on economy imposed on women a notion that the private domain is their destined place in life and strategically confined them at home, charity practices of women somehow provided an opening for women to enter the public sphere and legitimized their participation in public activities. Ultimately this newly invented branch of knowledge, though gender-biased, is not entirely without sense. For, the focus on women’s general education and lucrative employments, in effect, bestowed on them some prerequisite knowledge of citizenship of modern England.Keywords ： conduct books in Georgian England, conduct literature, eighteenth-century English women, economy, frugality, charity practices, household supervision,