A Philosophical, Historical and Moral Essay on Old Maids; by…

HAYLEY, William (1745-1820).

A Philosophical, Historical and Moral Essay on Old Maids; By a Friend to the Sisterhood. Dublin, William Porter for White &c., 1786.

First Dublin Edition. 3 Volumes, 12 mo (170 x 100 mm) pp. [xx] 280, 283, 277, with half-titles, with William Barker bookplates in each vol, (the imprint in volumes 2 and 3 omits William Porter), some light foxing but generally in very good condition, bound in contemporary tree calf with gilt-embellishment on bindings and and beautiful spines, if a little rubbed.

A fascinating and influential work on spinsterhood, female sexuality and the role of the unmarried woman in society. Although Hayley - whose friends included notable women writers such as Elizabeth Carter, Anna Seward and Charlotte Brooke as well as leading male literary figures such as Blake, Cowper and Southey - refers to himself as ‘a Friend to the Sisterhood’ and sets out to defend ‘Old Maids’, yet his work is consistently derogatory, leaving the archetypal figure of the crabby maiden aunt reinforced by his faint praise. ‘It is my intention’, he writes, ‘to redress all the wrongs of the autumnal maiden, and to place her, if possible, in a state of honour, content, and comfort’ (Introduction, p. xvi). However, his intention falls far short of the mark as he unwittingly recommends unmarried women to a servile and self-effacing role, presumes a strict correlation between virginity and the unmarried state and generally implies them to be an inferior subsection of an already subservient sex.

First published by Thomas Cadell in 1785, this was a widely read work, with second and third editions following in 1786 and 1793. This is the only Dublin edition. It is an important source for contemporary attitudes to a host of interesting minor characters in the fiction of the age.

ESTC t72880 lists BL, Cambridge, Oxford, NLI, Royal Irish Academy, Toulouse; Yale, California, McMaster and New York Society Library.

Keywords: English Literature
Print this page View basket Price: £350.00