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DRAKE, Judith.

An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex.

In which are inserted the Characters of a Pedant, a Squire, a Beau, a Vertuoso, a Poetaster, a City-Critick, &c. In a Letter to a Lady. Written by a Lady. The second edition.

London: printed for A. Roper & E. Wilkinson, & R. Clavel, 1696 Stock Code: 140062
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""One of the greatest works of early modern 'feminism'""

Second edition, published the same year as the first, of "one of the greatest works of early modern 'feminism'" (Smith, p. 727), already in its third edition by 1697.

Anonymously published, and previously attributed to Mary Astell or Jane Barker, the Essay is now generally credited as the work of author and medical practitioner Judith Drake (c.1670-1723), active as part of an intellectual circle which included Astell and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Her husband was James Drake, a Fellow of the Royal Society, physician, and writer on medicine and politics; his name is given to the commendatory verses which introduce the present work. Judith completed, edited, and published his posthumous medical opus Anthropologia Nova in 1707.

The Essay is now considered "one of the most significant English contributions to the early modern debate concerning women" (Smith, p. 727). Written in the form of a letter to a female friend, "the tract vigorously and wittily vindicated female intellectual abilities and character. Drake drew upon John Locke's An essay concerning human understanding to construct a rationalist framework upon which to argue that it was custom and language which engendered the belief that women were intellectually inferior to men. Drake then proceeded to reject the cult of the ancients and, in their place, championed the worth of 'modern' learning and the value of information education for women Drake's welding of rationalist epistemology to 'feminist' argument was of particular originality within the context of early modern pro-women writings. For, despite the proliferation of such works in the late 17th century, only two 'feminist' texts had previously employed such a methodology as a foundation for their discussion, and only one had been English. The earliest was The woman as good as the man (1677), a translation of François Poulain de la Barre's Cartesian analysis of how gender is culturally constructed, De l'égalité des deux sexes (1673). Two decades later, another Cartesian-inspired tract joined the debate. This was Mary Astell's A serious proposal to the ladies (1694 and 1697), which argued for the foundation of places of 'Religious Retirement' that would allow women to retreat from the world to practise contemplation" (Smith, pp. 728-29).

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Small octavo (173 x 105 mm). Contemporary tree calf, rebacked to style, red spine label, raised bands.


Engraved frontispiece of "The Compleat Beau".


19th-century engraved bookplate (Tipping family of Brasted Park, Kent), 20th-century book label (Peter Stewart Young, Tillingham), and early ink name (mostly erased) to front pastedown. Corners bumped and worn, free endpapers renewed at an early date and browned from turn-ins, frontispiece slightly cropped at foot (loss to one line of caption), a few neat paper repairs to frontispiece and title leaf (removal of old ink signature along top edge of latter causing some disruption to border of title page, subsequently filled in in ink, date "1759" remaining), contents generally clean, a little soiled in places with the occasional short closed tear and small patch of dampstain. In all a very good copy.


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