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Conduct Books in the 18th Century

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Conduct Books in the 18th Century

Throughout history, conduct books have played an integral part in defining what cultures believed were acceptable and desirable behaviors, as well as representing the ideal person. In the introduction to The Ideology of Conduct, Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse attempt to show how literature and conduct books have been important in relaying these messages and shaping a history of sexuality through the ages. They also point out the interesting fact that these books of conduct have been aimed more at women and far "surpassed in quantity and variety" (Armstrong and Tennenhouse 4) similar types of literature for men. Some of the examples they list of types of conduct literature include pamphlets on marriage, books on manners and morality, and devotional manuals designated for women of the aristocracy.

Even in our culture today this type of literature exists in the forms of advertisements, fashion magazines, and exercise books. Again, much of this type of literature is directed at women more than men, which these editors explain as an attemp...


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... of the messages being sent to women today: "Are you going too far to snag a man?" or "Bikini Body Bummers: Stretch Marks, Bikini Stubble, Flab, Back Acne--You name it, we help you banish it" and even "Cosmo's 10 Commandments" which include, among other things, "ditch the bitchy mood, fall for a nice guy, send thank you notes, keep underwear under cover, and never lose your cool." Even today conduct books remain an integral part of a culture's beliefs and ideals, documenting "a history of sexuality" (Armstrong and Tennenhouse 19) through time.

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