Daniel Defoe Questions and Answers

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Why did Defoe write his essay "On the Education of Women"?

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We can trace Defoe's interest in the education of women to as early as 1705–1706, when he was working on behalf of the British government for the union of Scotland and Britain in 1707. For example, among groups that were trying to address the problem of Scots not speaking the English language of London, Defoe was a member of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, and one goal of this society was the teaching of (London) English at a boarding school for girls, the Merchant Maiden School in Edinburgh. From that experience, it is reasonable to believe that Defoe's interest in women's education in general grew and culminated in his essay of "On the Education of Women," written in 1719, the same year of the publication of Robinson Crusoe.

The essay is directed, of course, to men. Women in the early eighteenth century were still considered in many ways as little more than chattel—that is, possessions. Although they had a few civil rights, their power was limited by tradition, religion,...

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