Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1887. First edition. Original publisher's cloth bindings with gilt to spines and front boards. Brown coated endpapers. Measuring 185 x 125mm each and collating complete including half titles to both: viii, , 309, [1, blank]; , 3-278. Spines gently rolled with chipping and loss of cloth to extremities and corners. Some rippling to cloth on volume I; hinges starting but sound. Early bookseller's prices to front endpapers. Contemporary bookplates to front pastedowns, including presentation plates from the author to the South Place Ethical Society (later Conway Hall Ethic Society) with stamps of the same to full and half titles of volume II. Signed and inscribed by the author on the half title of each: "For the Library of the South Place Ethical Society from the Author Frederika MacDonald. Nov. 1888." A scarce novel held at only 11 libraries according to OCLC, it is the only example in trade.
Now better known as a biographer and fan of Charlotte Bronte, Frederika MacDonald was a popular novelist in her own time. The Flower and the Spirit was the third of her fiction works, rising to popularity among the borrowers of Victorian lending libraries (At the Circulating Library). Notable for its depiction of Miss Adelaida, a fairy-tale translator and dreamer, the novel traces how the world -- and other women in particular -- perceive a woman who does not fit its normative categories. Consistently labeled weak-minded, middle class, and an "old maid" by other characters such as Miss Josephine Coqueliquot, Adelaida possesses no sexual, marital, or economic ambitions beyond the quiet exploration of London and the fantasies the city evokes in her mind. Like Adelaida, the headstrong and brilliant Marion also moves through the world without sexual desires. She is ambitious, and she is focused on the development of her own mind; but unlike her friend, she is perceived as desirable, young, and therefore more dangerous for her aversion to the status quo. Indeed, unlike Adelaida she endures both social judgments from women as well as unwanted sexual and romantic pressures from men who do not take her at her word.
A study of women's age, economic and social class, and asexual identities shape their internal and external lives, MacDonald presented the work to the South Place Ethical Society the year after publication. Considered the oldest surviving freethought organization in the UK, it was founded in 1787 as a bastion of secular humanism and a rebellion against religious conceptions of judgement and damnation. (Item #4949)