Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This study discusses Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writings on the issue of the education of women, an eighteenth-century English aristocrat who produced an extensive body of letters and other literature. I focus primarily on a number of letters which Montagu wrote to her daughter, the Countess of Bute, during the early 1750s, discussing the education appropriate for the countess' daughters. My approach to these texts involves an awareness of the historical context in which Montagu wrote, particularly of early eighteenth-century educational theory as it was influenced by the writing of John Locke. The thesis is also informed by poststructuralist feminist theory, especially by Judith Butler's ideas concerning normative gender boundaries, subjectivity, and the possibility of a resisting subject. I suggest that Montagu, while constrained by the construction of gender which underpins her culture, employs rhetorical strategies that subvert notions of appropriate gender roles current in her society. Overall, the thesis seeks to elucidate the ways in which the educable female subject postulated by Montagu differs from, and is similar to, the types of female subjectivity already available within her social and historical context. The first chapter of the thesis focuses on Some Thoughts Concerning Education and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke. These texts were highly influential in encouraging the more progressive tendencies in eighteenth-century thought on education, yet had substantial mainstream appeal. Locke's works offer a paradigm against which the subversive nature of Montagu's ideas can be understood. While Locke has long occupied a significant position within the history of philosophy, his Education has received comparatively little critical study, with the issue of gender in this text being almost entirely overlooked. My second chapter engages Montagu's letters on the education of her granddaughters directly, considering the tensions and awkward moments in the texts as areas of conflict between the disruptive potential of her ideas and her need to present her ideas to her audience in a manner which remained intelligible within her social context. As with Locke, relatively little critical work has been written on this subject; consequently, the thesis presents a new perspective on Montagu's thought, focusing on her vision of the educable female subject.
Dixon, Deirdre, "'If their Genius leads them naturally to it:" Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Education of Women" (2000). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6363.
McMaster University Library