An Early Feminist: An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex

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An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, In Which are Inserted the Characters of a Pendant, a

Squire, a Beau, a Vertuoso, a Poetaster, a City-Critick, &C. by Judith Drake

Published in 1696, the authorship of An Essay in Defence of the Female sex has been a subject of debate for a long time. Initially the work had been attributed to the contemporary author of Judith Drake, Mary Astell. However this controversy has been cleared with Judith Drake as the decided author of this work. The controversy perhaps emanated from the fact that no author had been indicated on the letter. It was only stated, ‘Written by a lady’. This has been interpreted by some literary analysts as a having been done deliberately by the author to emphasize her message of feminism, the key theme in the work. (Hannah, 2006).

The main theme in Drake’s work is feminism, with the author seeking to disprove the male stereotypes that have painted women as being intellectually inferior. Written as a letter to a female friend, as is thus indicated: “In a letter to a lady”, the author is said to have been inspired to write the essay by some conversation between ladies and some gentleman. In vindicating the

intellectual strength of women and dismissing the belief by men that women are inferior, Drake employed the rationalist approach, similar to the approach used by John Lock in his work ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’. This framework followed only two other earlier works by female authors, Fancoise Poulain De La Barre’s analysis of cultural misconstruction of gender in her work ‘De l’egalite de deux sexes’ in 1673 and Mary Astell’s ‘A serious proposal

to the ladies’ in 1694 (Hannah, 2006). Using this rationalist approach, Drake successfully coun...

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...tions, are born

slaves, and live prisoners all their lives". Drake also joins other feminist writers in echoing their key concern for women, equal opportunity to education. (Jones ,1990).

Works Cited.

Smith, Hannah. "Abstract: English 'Feminist' Writings and Judith Drake's An Essay in Defence

of the Female Sex (1696)." The Historical Journal. Cambridge University Press, 2001. 18

December 2006 fromPage=online&aid=85583>. Devereaux, Johanna “Affecting the Shade”: Attribution, Authorship, and Anonymity in An

Essay in Defence of the Female Se,Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature(Vol 27) Number 1,

Spring 2008, pp. 17-37


Jones, Vivien Women in the eighteenth century: constructions of femininity, Routledge, 1990

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