The Boarding School; or, Lessons of a Preceptress to her Pupils
Boston: Isaiah Thomas and E.T. Andrews, June 1798.
Boston: Isaiah Thomas and E.T. Andrews, June 1798. First edition. Contemporary sheep with morocco label to spine. Measuring 170 x 103mm and complete in 252 pages. Binding generally rubbed with minor chipping to spine label. Inner front hinge starting but holding well; a bit of worming to the rear pastedown and lower corner of rear endpaper. Contemporary ownership signature of Hannah Weed to front endpaper and bookplate of collector Bruce Lisman to front pastedown. Scattered foxing throughout, else an unmarked copy. The second work by the first native-born American woman novelist, it has become quite scarce. Currently the only first edition on the market, this title has appeared only four times at auction since 1983.
The rare second novel by best-selling Massachusetts author Hannah Webster Foster. Only one year before, the release of her epistolary novel The Coquette made Foster a literary sensation. "Not only was it the first novel written by a native-born American woman, in its depiction of an intelligent and strong-willed heroine, the novel transcends many of the conventions of its time and place" (History of American Women). Her sophomore release was no less important. Continuing to deploy the popular epistolary form of its predecessor, The Boarding School "promotes improved female education through its depiction of an exemplary boarding school teacher" and remained "equally concerned with the status of women in the early republic" (ANB). At a time when the fledgling nation was debating women's status and establishing its earliest statutes on schooling, Foster uses her platform to argue "the many advantages of a good education and the importance of improving those advantages." Dividing the work into two key sections, Foster uses the first portion to describe "the finishing school run by Mrs. Maria Williams, including exhortations on social conduct, reading, and general preparations for survival"; meanwhile, the second portion is dedicated to "letters from the students to the teacher and to each other, demonstrating the beneficial effects of Mrs. William's instruction" (History of American Women). Recent scholarship has emphasized that The Boarding School builds upon an already central concern in Foster's prior novel: "the crucial role played by tightly knit circles of women" which "would have been deeply resonant to the young women who were her primary readers" (Pettengill). Like The Coquette, her second book "portrays women during the crucial transition in their lives from daughterhood to wife-and-motherhood, from parental to husbandly authority. But the boarding school set is younger, with school days still fresh in their memories, and the complications of courtship and marriage only just coming into their range of vision...in The Boarding School, the male world is shadowy and vague...[not yet] jostling the women with demands that threaten even as they support the logical self-sufficiency of sisterhood and the female sphere" (Pettengill). By bridging the didactic advice book with the epistolary novel, Foster suggests that women need education as "the foundation of a useful and happy life" and that school provides them with this as well as with a lifelong female community built on shared experience. The "perfect Republican mother," Mrs. Williams provides the girls with the perfect model on which to base themselves, giving Foster a means for arguing that women must educate other women in order to create a strong and lasting national foundation (Newton).
BAL 6242. ESTC W29990. Evans 33748. (Item #5655)