Joseph Addison

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What social aspects did Joseph Addison explore in his periodical essays?

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Joseph Addison's periodical essays, written in the early 1700s, reflect numerous aspects of social existence which are indicative of the social constructs of that era.

For example, Addison expresses a common belief that men and women have different strengths and that women should present themselves as mild-tempered and always beautiful. In the essay dated Saturday, May 5, 1711, Addison reflects that he has seen women "blow up in ... passions" and has heard them "uttering Calumnies and Invectives" that ruined their otherwise "fine Features." Women, Addison maintains, should remember that they were created to "temper Mankind ... not to set an Edge upon their Minds." This hints at the societal expectations that women should be beautiful, quiet, and even-tempered about all things and that they are not positioned as man's equals in society.

In the midst of a growing British middle class who lacked generational wealth and status which was so valued by the upper class, there was also a movement to formalize certain codes of conduct which would designate social stratification. Addison hints at this social discord in his essay published on Tuesday, July 17, 1711. There is a difference, he reflects, between the "Behaviour and Good Breeding" between those who live in urban areas and those who live in the country. Language, fashion, and manners divide citizens in ways that characterize those who live in the country as "behind-hand" and living in "the last Age."

Addison's periodical essays were both reflective and instructional, offering social commentary and attempting to sway readers in matters of behavior, conflict, and respectable citizenship.

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