London: Printed and Sold by J. Robinson, 1751. First collected edition. Contemporary calf rebacked to style with gilt and morocco label to spine. Marbled endpapers. Measuring 190 x 125mm and collating complete: , 306. Contemporary ownership signature of James B. Newton to title page, otherwise unmarked. Small closed tears to lower margin of pages 177-178 and fore-edge of pages 305-306 not affecting text; small snag to pages 191-192 affecting four words, which remain legible. Occasional light marginal foxing, but in all a surprisingly fresh and clean example of this important and scarce feminist collection. ESTC reports fewer than 20 copies worldwide, with only 9 of these in the U.S.; and it has appeared only three times at auction (2018, 1907, 1891). The present is the only copy on the market.
At their initial publications from 1739-1740, these three separate tracts -- likely all authored by the same woman -- set 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).
Bound together in one place, Woman Not Inferior to Man, the hackneyed "response" tract Man Superior to Woman, and the powerful conclusion Woman's Superior Excellence showcase Sophia's skill and learnedness; they display a woman's ability to combine the logical strategies, rhetorical flourishes, and cross-voicing typically reserved for men's education and civic practice. Ultimately, together they reveal a longer-term strategy for her feminist argument being carefully plotted rather than quickly and emotionally jotted off as call-and-response pamphlets often were the century before.
Early on, scholars have suggested that these works were in fact written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; more recently, the works have been attributed to Lady Sophia Fermor. Regardless of the author's real life identity, the works stand as cornerstones of feminism, inspiring Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir. An assertion not only of women's quality, but of their personhood.
ESTC T223248. Feminist Companion 1008. Near Fine (Item #4388)