London: for John Hawkins, 1740. First Edition. Early 20th century half-calf over marble boards with morocco and gilt label to spine. Minor shelf-wear to extremities; spine label gently rubbed. Half-title and full title pages with mild soiling to edges not affecting text. Pages 33-36 unopened; pages 37-40 partially opened. Loosely inserted 1933 sales slip from Henry Sotheran at rear. Internally an exceptionally pleasing copy of this rare and important feminist work, of which ESTC lists only 9 institutionally held copies and which has never before come to auction.
Woman's Superior Excellence Over Man made history at its 1740 publication, setting a new tone for the Querelle des Femmes debates that had questioned women's humanity since the 14th century. While "Sophia" was not the first woman to join the argument, she set herself apart as a female voice asserting women's superiority. Unlike her predecessors Christine de Pisan and Ester Sowernam, Sophia did not soften her tract with assertions of natural female gentleness or modesty. Expanding on the ideas of 17th century allies James Norris and Francois Poullian de la Barre, Sophia brought the Querelle into "the 18th century, when a new radical content began to transform the thematic concerns of the old debate. Although still reactive to misogyny, feminists...felt themselves part of a new and hopeful future for women...they were animated by a notion of progress and intentional social change" (Kelly). Unabashedly, Sophia urges readers to abandon traditional assumptions written by men that posit women's inferiority. "I do not think myself obliged to believe all they say...especially where I see them carried away by popular prejudice to favor a cause themselves are party in." Rather, observers should consider how much women have accomplished despite bars to their education, should grieve "the immense fund of knowledge, and useful discoveries which [men's] groveling jealousy robbed the world of,” and should expand educational access to prevent its continuance. Women, she claims, are ultimately superior to men, for though the sexes "have an equal aptitude to sense and virtue," men's lack of generosity sets them on a lower rung. Balancing logic and emotion, Sophia marks a new generation of woman. "Rather than only elaborate their ideas in writing, they used [their writing] to modify or organize social forms in which women might be free of male power and authority" (Kelly). Scholars have suggested that this and Sophia's prior work Woman Not Inferior to Man were in fact written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Regardless of the author's real life identity, the work stands as a cornerstone of feminism, inspiring Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir. An assertion not only of women's quality, but of their personhood. ESTC T2976. In The Feminist Companion to Literature, in English 1008. Near Fine (Item #2197)