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Elite Women and Polite Society in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

Elite Women and Polite Society in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

Katharine Glover
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Elite Women and Polite Society in Eighteenth-Century Scotland
    Book Description:

    Fashionable "polite" society of this period emphasised mixed-gender sociability and encouraged the visible participation of elite women in a series of urban, often public settings. Using a variety of sources (both men's and women's correspondence, accounts, bills, memoirs and other family papers), this book investigates the ways in which polite social practices and expectations influenced the experience of elite femininity in Scotland in the eighteenth century. It explores women's education and upbringing; their reading practices; the meanings of the social spaces and activities in which they engaged and how this fed over into the realm of politics; and the fashion for tourism at home and abroad. It also asks how elite women used polite social spaces and practices to extend their mental horizons and to form a sense of belonging to a public at a time when Scotland was among the most intellectually vibrant societies in Europe.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-850-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
  6. 1 Elite Women and Eighteenth-Century Scottish Society
    (pp. 3-23)

    When a weekly dancing assembly was set up in Edinburgh in the winter of 1723, it prompted Margaret, Countess of Panmure to comment in a letter to her husband that ‘att last … Old Reeky [i.e., Edinburgh] will grow polit with the rest of the World’.¹ Dancing assembly rooms had begun to develop in English resort towns from the late seventeenth century, and their popularity quickly spread, so that by the time the Countess was writing, assemblies were one of the defining social spaces of what had become known as polite society.² The concept of politeness lay at the heart...

  7. 2 Education and Upbringing
    (pp. 24-49)

    In June 1745, Amelie Murray, a thirteen-year-old Edinburgh schoolgirl, took up her pen and wrote out the following letter:

    Dear Madam

    I received a letter this day, with the accounts of your being recoverd, from the small Pox: I don’t know how any trivial mind, would bear the loss you have had, by them; I mean that of so much beauty, as before you enjoy’d; but you possess the beauties of the Mind, & have so many good Qualities, to make you esteemd by all, who are so happy as to know you. Its true, the Croud who Loved you...

  8. 3 Reading and Print Culture
    (pp. 50-78)

    From the vantage point of her old age in the 1790s, Elizabeth Mure wrote of early eighteenth-century Scotland that ‘The weman’s knowlege was gain’d only by conversing with the men not by reading themselves, and not picked up at their own hand, as they had few books to read that they could understand. Whoever had read Pope, Addison & Swift, with some ill wrot history, was then thought a lairnd Lady, which Character was by no means agreeable.’¹ Women, she suggested, had been both practically and prescriptively unable to access information through print, and even a slight acquaintance with the...

  9. 4 Polite Sociability: Space and Social Practices
    (pp. 79-109)

    Sociability, as previous chapters have demonstrated, was a key preoccupation of the polite. Chapter 1 introduced the ideological importance placed by the polite on elite women’s participation in heterosocial activities; Chapter 2 demonstrated the centrality of the preparation for this role in the upbringing of young girls; and Chapter 3 examined the potential for reading to cement social relationships. This chapter asks how polite sociability was acted out in practice by elite women in eighteenth-century Scotland, and how polite social practices and the spaces with which they were associated influenced the experience of elite femininity in that society. As the...

  10. 5 Politics and Influence
    (pp. 110-138)

    In 1756, Margaret Steuart Calderwood wrote from Brussels of the distress felt over public affairs by a Jacobite acquaintance, 'Lord Bellow', an Irish peer. ‘I tell him I wish I may never have the toothack till I be troubled about the publick,’¹ she reported. The previous two chapters investigated women’s engagement with the worlds of print culture and polite society. For Habermas, these formed the ‘literary’ public sphere, differentiated from the ‘political public sphere’ by the ‘factual and legal’ exclusion of women and dependants.² Margaret Calderwood’s protestations of lack of interest in ‘the publick’ might appear to support this exclusion,...

  11. 6 Travel, Tourism and Place
    (pp. 139-165)

    ‘We propose to go for Mavisbank [the Clerks’ Midlothian country house] on the 7th’, wrote Janet Clerk of Penicuik in her devotional diary in June 1748. ‘O that my removing from place to place may not hinder me in my dutie but rather stir me up.’¹ Writing, as was her habit, from the family house at Penicuik, she had only just arrived back from a visit to her daughter at Bonhill in the Vale of Leven, having also spent time at Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond. Later that summer, she travelled south-west to Dumcrieff near Moffat to visit...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 166-172)

    In recent years, British historians have sought to reach beyond the instruments of state and those who wielded them, beyond the metropolis and its dominant culture, and into a much more varied hinterland of historical experience populated by individuals, women as well as men, whose personal life experiences might be deemed uneventful and unremarkable. Through such personal sources, this book has explored the impact of polite social practices on the women of the Scottish gentry and aristocracy, ca. 1720–70. It is through such sources as the schoolgirl letters and journals of Amelie Murray, through the page upon page of...

  13. Appendix: Biographical Backgrounds
    (pp. 173-182)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-204)
  15. Index
    (pp. 205-218)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-219)