London: Saunders & Otley, 1832. First edition. Late 19th century green cloth with morocco and gilt labels to spines. All edges speckled burgundy. Top edge a bit darkened and spines a touch sunned. Contemporary ownership signature of Frances Bass to half title of volume I and title of volume II; early ownership signature of E. V. Arnold to front endpaper of volume I. Internally a surprisingly fresh copy without the typical offsetting from the vignettes; unmarked but for occasional penciled lines to the margins. Collating , lxi, , 225, [1, blank]; , 326: complete, including half title as called for in volume I, pictorial dedication page, and all 50 vignettes designed by the author. A pleasing copy of this important study of 23 of Shakespeare's most notable female characters, with their roles placed within the context of 19th century debates on women. Scarce institutionally and in trade, with multiple libraries reporting incomplete sets, and the present being the only first edition on the market.
"In her thirty year literary career, Anna Jameson's major publications were non-fiction prose...almost all of her work was about women and, she claimed, designed for women readers" (ODNB). For this work of Shakespearean criticism she earned the greatest praise of her career, with Thomas Carlyle bestowing upon her the epithet "the celebrated Mrs. Jameson." Charlotte Lennox and Elizabeth Griffith, Jameson's predecessors in feminist Shakespeareana, had opened the door for her work in the field; they also provided counterpoints in achieving success. For while Lennox's Shakespear Illustrated garnered the ire of the literary world for its sharp critiques of the Bard's drama, Griffith was embraced for her more laudatory views. The Characteristics of Women strikes a balance. Rather than focusing on Shakespeare himself, it emphasizes the lessons to be learned from his dramatic heroines. Categorizing the women based on their strengths (for example "Characters of Intellect," "Characters of Passion and Imagination," or "Characters of the Affections"), Jameson looks at figures like Portia, Juliet, Rosalind, and Miranda not only within their respective plays but as they relate to the concerns of 19th century women readers. Education, self-worth, and social interactions with men are topics woven throughout. Written with women readers in mind, the book also invites male readers to consider the female perspective and view Shakespeare's plays through a different lens. Near Fine (Item #3535)