London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1809. First edition. Contemporary half morocco over drab boards with gilt to spines. All edges marbled. Marbled endpapers. Corners of volume I bumped and gentle shelfwear to edges of rear board; else a pretty, square, and pleasing set. Armorial bookplate of John Warneford Armstrong (1770-1858), the known atheist and republican heir of landed peer Andrew George Armstrong, to front pastedown of volume III. Ink fingerprints to the margin of page xx of volume I and small closed tear to lower margin of pages 129-130 of volume III, neither affecting text. In all, internally fresh, unmarked and lovely, with pages measuring 170 x 110mm. Collating xxviii, 223, ; , 272; , 192; , 290, [2, notes]: bound without the terminal advertisements to volume IV but else complete including half and full titles to all volumes as issued.
Intelligent and independent, Sydney Owenson supported herself as a governess turned novelist before her marriage to Sir Charles Morgan, opting to continue as an author after becoming a wife. After all, her parents' penury and her mother's early death had taught her the dangers of women's dependence on men. Therefore, "in her marriage contract Sydney kept her own property separate, and so was always financially independent" (Byrne-Costigan). An incredibly popular novelist in her own time, her works continually emphasized the intellectual and social strengths of female protagonists. The present work was inspired by the suggestion of antiquary William Gell, who recommended several books to her about the cause of liberty in Greece. The result was Woman, or Ida of Athens, a character study that "attempted to delineate perfected feminine character in its natural state and Greece as the perfect setting for doing so -- although the final scenes (with Ida suddenly enriched) take place in London" (ODNB). In addition to lengthy considerations on topics including education, civil and religious freedom, natural beauty, and morality, Owenson infused throughout feminist concerns about women's place and ability to contribute to or benefit from such structures. An early feminist novel, written by an author who enacted those principles in her own life. (Item #3895)