The Relationship Between Women and Men
in the 18th Century
Love’s Wild Desire is a dialogue between men and women debating two elemental forces driving human emotions: Love versus Desire. or in more succinct terms, - Reason versus Biology!
The witty language of the 18th Century distills a bitter-sweat brew. These intoxicating words still possess the power to seduce us, charm, amuse, even startle our “modern” sensibilities.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for today’s reader is the range of topics under discussion: from courtship, seduction, marital contentment or conflict, illegitimacy and to the emotional agony of abortion. Centuries old, yet the poetry and songs are accessible and relevant. They "spring to light" illuminating such complex and compelling emotions revealing these long dead poets as flesh and blood relatives rather than ghostly ancestors.
The 18th Century was an era of ferment and rebellion and questions of women’s education, property and marriage were much discussed. Poets, dramatists, cartoonists and musicians chimed in on one side or the other with much heartfelt advice, humour and satire.
The conservative argument followed the law. English Common Law made two people one... that being the husband. Sir William Blackstone (1765) stated in Commentaries on the Law of England, “A man can not grant anything to his wife... for the grant would suppose her to be a separate existence...”
remarked, “I Jonathan Swift cannot conceive [of women] being human creatures, but a sort of species hardly a degree above a monkey: who has more diverting tricks than any of you [and] is an animal less mischievous and expensive!
Dr Benjamin Rush declared, “The subordination of [the female] sex to ours is enforced by nature, by reason and by revelation.” Benjamin Franklin conceded that “even at marriage, a young woman’s mind was still capable of cultivation - under guidance.” Sagely, he added, “the mutual respect which generally exists before marriage must be maintained afterwards.”
Rising voices of opposition argued that other things being equal, a woman’s brain was as good as a man’s. Daniel De Foe stated that “the members of his own sex had designed women’s training as to produce the very ignorance and superficiality with which men were in the habit of taxing women.”
It is said that Thomas Paine reported on the American Indian’s assessment of Christian marriage as follows: “either your God is not clever or else he doesn’t concern himself with your marriages. Not one in a hundred has anything to do with happiness or common sense.”
Mary Astell reflected “that marriage was a pact of mutual esteem which was impossible if men looked upon women with condescension and disdain.”
Treading through a maze of emotions, opportunities and challenges remains a tricky balancing act for contemporary couples seeking