Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early by Amanda E. Herbert

By Amanda E. Herbert

In the overdue 17th and early eighteenth centuries, cultural, fiscal, and political adjustments, in addition to elevated geographic mobility, positioned lines upon British society. yet by means of cultivating friendships and alliances, ladies labored to socially cohere Britain and its colonies. within the first book-length old learn of girl friendship and alliance for the early glossy interval, Amanda Herbert attracts on a sequence of interlocking microhistorical experiences to illustrate the power and significance of bonds shaped among British ladies within the lengthy eighteenth century. She indicates that whereas those alliances have been imperative to women’s lives, they have been additionally instrumental in development the British Atlantic world.

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50 For Bell and other Quakers like her, true spiritual companionship was achieved only when friends viewed one another as they imagined God had made them: as equals and equally loved. Medical and Physiological Texts While ideas about religious friendships led some early modern women to style their female alliances as spiritual bonds, other texts enabled them to depict friendship as a naturalized, bodily experience. On May 6, 1695, Rebecca Sherbrook (whose close relationship with her granddaughter 32 i d i o m s a n d l a n g u a g e s o f f e m a l e a l l i a n c e s Dorothea Crisp was mentioned above) understood female alliances as derived from women’s bodies.

These emotions were surely as varied as the women and the situations in which they were experienced: some women may have wept because they were truly sad or empathetic, while others may have wept because it was expected. Whatever individual women’s motivations for weeping might have been, women themselves strategically ignored medical and scientific prescriptions on controlling women’s natural emotions with the aim of creating and maintaining female alliances. Epistolary Texts The many examples I have given of women expressing their emotional attachments to other women in letters are not accidental, for letters served as a major mode of communication in the early modern British world, and they were centrally integrated into early modern British culture.

Several key features of female friendship are identified by tracing the impact of five literary forms and traditions that influenced elite women’s understandings of sociability, alliance, and friendship: first, writings on idealized, classically inspired friendships, a kind of relationship that early modern men often denied as being possible for women but, as we will see, was explicitly claimed by some women as constitutive of their own alliances; next, spiritual discourses on Christian friendship, which were used by women to explain and justify the ties they shared with other women, often in ways which challenged women’s subordination to men; third, vernacular, cheap-print medical pamphlets on such emotions as affection and love, said to be involved in women’s friendships; fourth, correspondence and epistolary guides, which helped to structure and inform women’s letters to their female friends, relatives, and neighbors; and finally—and critically for this book, because of their impact on constructions of gender identity—works of prescriptive literature about female behavior, which recounted how women were expected to act toward their friends.

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