comment on Addisons treatment of women and thier numerous follies and fropperies with reference to the Coverley Papers

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dixon349 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Honors

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Joseph Addison's contributions to “The Spectator” are said to have perfected the essay as a literary form. His prose style was the model for pure and elegant English until the end of the 18th century; his comments on the manners and morals were widely influential in forming the middle-class ideal of a dispassionate, tolerant, Christian world citizen. His fictitious Sir Roger De Coverly Papers, according to William Makepeace Thackeray, give a full "… expression of the life of the time; of the manners, of the movement, the dress, the pleasures, the laughter, and the ridicules of society" for the period in a way that no pure history or autobiography ever could.

An English squire of Queen Anne's reign, Sir Roger exemplified the values of the honorable country gentleman of the best kind, and was portrayed as lovable but somewhat ridiculous ('rather beloved than esteemed' (Spectator no. 2), making his Tory politics seem harmless but silly. He was said to be the grandson of the man who invented the dance: Roger de (or of) Coverley (also Sir Roger de Coverley or ...Coverly) is the name of an English country dance and a Scottish country dance (also known as The Haymakers). An early version was published in “The Dancing Master” 9th edition (1695). The Virginia Reel is probably related to it. The name refers to a fox, and the dance's steps are reminiscent of a hunted fox going in and out of cover.

Roger de Coverley came from Coverley Hall, had a family, liked hunting, and was a solid squire. The effect was something similar to a lighthearted serial novel, intermixed with meditations on follies and philosophical musings. The paper's politics were generally Whig, but never sharply or pedantically so, and thus a number of prominent Tories wrote "letters" to the paper (the letters were generally not actual letters but, instead, contributions from guest authors). The highly Latinate sentence structures and dispassionate view of the world (the pose of a spectator, rather than participant) was essential for the development of the English essay, as it set out a ground wherein Addison and Steele could comment and meditate upon manners and events, rather than campaign for specific policies or persons (as had been the case with previous, more political periodical literature).

If you are looking to apply Feminist Theory to Addison's portrayal of a "honorable country gentleman of the best kind," I suggest examining the repression of women in 18th-century society and how Addison's characterization of De Coverly reinforces that attitude. Perhaps a close reading in this manner will expose the thesis you are searching for. However, remember that Addison's "treatment" of women is representative of his historical era and that he was highly respected and actually set the standard in many cases that society followed.

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