a Library publication

Library Catalog No. DTB1990
(reissued 21 August 2012)

An Early Challenge to the Precepts and Practice of Modern Science: The Fusion of Fact, Fiction, and Feminism in the Works of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623–1673). PhD diss. University of California, San Diego, 1990. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1990. 9023994.
(Item 10 of 12: Appendix A)
by Deborah Bazeley
e-Copyright © 2004–2016 < >
see also Part 1: Editor’s Introduction for Library Cat. No. DTB1990


Appendix A

The Seventeenth-Century
Context: Women and Science

The latest study to spark interest among scholars of the seventeenth-century English New Science movement is that by Wolfgang van den Daele. Briefly, he argues that the New Science movement is best understood in two stages, pre- and post- political incorporation by royal edict in 1662 as the Royal Society. According to Daele, the New Science movement pre-1660 was “emancipatory,” with close ties to the social reform projects of the Commonwealth years. At the center of this movement, Daele locates Hartlib, Dury, Comenius, and their radical program for a New Learning. He includes also the host of Paracelsian physicians, alchemists, mystical-hermetic thinkers, mechanical philosophers (all of whom intermingled facets of one another’s philosophies, making such labels somewhat erroneous), and other self-proclaimed Baconians who flourished during the Interregnum. Daele contends that six characteristics of the pre-1660 New Science movement signalled its emancipatory orientation: anti-authoritarianism, progressiveness, anti-elitism, pedagogic idealism, humanitarianism, and belief in the integration of philosophical and religious truth. Post-1660 (Daele dates the second phase of the New Science movement from the Restoration), the New Science was deliberately severed from its roots in social, political, and educational reform. Institutionalized science became a positivist science, characterized by its foresaking of ontological knowledge and a subsequent retreat into the purely mathematical description of phenomena. Post-1660, argues Daele, the aim of the New Science was no longer one of emancipation, but the establishment of the “true natural philosophy.”

While I do not quarrel with much of the overall picture Daele draws, I do, however, believe that his emphasis on the particular interpretation of Baconianism associated with the Hartlib Circle yields a somewhat distorted picture of the New Science movement, both pre- and post-1660. Daele writes that Baconianism “was not only a strategy of empirical science in the modern sense but a method and a program of social and political reform as well” (32). Certainly some members within the broad-based New Science movement had populist leanings (specifically, Puritan radicals such as Nicolas Culpeper, and others discussed by Charles Webster), but it is important to recognize that the vast majority did not. In general, the aspirations of the New Scientist were the same as those of the astrologers, the magicians and the alchemists — attainment of power through control of the natural world. The New Science sought an enlarged empire and to regain the deific status lost to man with Adam’s fall from grace. In his 1682 The Anatomy of Plants, Nehemiah Grew boasted that the New Scientist was not only a “Partaker of Divine Bounty” but also a “Copartner in the Secrets of Divine Art.”<1> Bacon, in his New Atlantis, proposed that: “The End of our Foundation is the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible” (Works 3:156). All this had a utilitarian justification — the “relief of mankind from outward miseries,” as eloquently spelled out by John Dury (qtd. Daele 36) — and was perhaps at times tied to concepts of social reform, but it also had a rather large self- (and class-) serving component that was anything but altruistic. According to Keith Thomas, the New Science was more concerned with “the achievement of marvellous effects and a desire to outdo the magicians at their own game ... than in catering for contemporary social needs” (Decline 662).

Our vision of the New Science, divided cleanly into pre- and post-1660 phases, muddies somewhat when women are introduced. Importantly, the focus shifts from learned (expert) New Science to popular New Science and to the interrelations between what Mumford has labelled an “authoritarian” and “democratic” technics. Although my focus here is on women, the history of women and science during the seventeenth century is closely linked to that of populist science. What Plumb has labeled “the spread of scientific intellectual enquiry beyond the confines of educated elites” first occurred on a mass scale during this century (316). A number of factors encouraged a populist science and technology: the rapidly expanding market economy; the breakdown of traditional authority structures and emergence of new ones; the spread of an ideology of self-help which arose with new occupations in the trades;<2> the intellectual ferment spawned by years of political revolution; the mind-expanding discoveries revealed by the lens of microscope and telescope, and from travels to the East and the West; and the vast compilation and dissemination of natural knowledge through herbals, almanacs, and innumerable “how to” books. Pre-1660, I would argue, a populist New Science movement flourished, amongst women and men of all classes. Post-1660, institutionalization sought to convert a broad-based New Science movement into a regulated (and regulating) scientific community, from which women and the general populace were excluded. I shall also argue that the pre-1660 New Science movement was populist in spite of, and not because of, the spirit of Baconianism. In my somewhat amended version of Daele’s theories, the New Science as a programmatic approach to nature and truth-seeking was from its inception elitist and antifeminist. The post-1660 incorporation of the New Science movement entailed the deliberate adoption of an alienating and exclusionary method, terminology, and discourse. Here I disagree with Daele’s idealized view that the post-1660 New Science “held fast to the rejection of traditional authority, to esteeming manual labor and experience of the senses rather than scholastic erudition, to the demand that its discussions and findings be made public, to universalistic evaluation and to the freedom of communication and exchange” (41). Finally, institutionalization is just one, albeit a very important, facet in the seventeenth-century story of women and science. Other factors than the New Science program, reform-oriented or not, were responsible for women’s burgeoning involvement in New Science activities. And other factors besides post-1660 institutionalization converged to push women out of their traditional positions of control in scientific and technical fields of endeavor.

A.1   Changes in the Division of Labor

Even casual perusal of seventeenth-century New Science texts reveals an early obssession with questions of class and the division of labor. In particular, from the outset of the New Science movement through about the mid-eighteenth century, there was a desperate rush to solicit upper-class participation — first gentlemen, and later ladies — in the New Science program. Francis Bacon, John Wilkins, Robert Hooke, Thomas Sprat, Robert Boyle, Joseph Glanvill, John Locke, John Harris, and multiple others — all sought “The engaging Persons of Birth and Fortune in a warm Application to useful and real Learning” (Harris iii–iv). In part, this flurry of solicitations addressed the needs of institutionalization. Both Daele and Wood point out that to solidify its status as an institution, the Royal Society had to deflect substantial criticism — from the Court, from commercial and trading interests, from the dominant Laudian faction in the Church, from within intellectual circles, and from the College of Physicians — and establish a permanent social basis for itself by attracting a prestigious, powerful, and committed membership. But there were also other underlying issues at work.

The seventeenth-century was an age of flux and turmoil. Newly-emerging systems of production, technology, and knowledge were gaining ground. Traditional power relations (including those between the sexes) were under seige. To retain their positions of power and control, the propertied classes had both to accommodate and appropriate changing circumstances. New technologies in particular offered enormous potential to those interested in the exercise of power. Francis Bacon, the prophet of the British New Science movement, clearly recognized this; his New Organon was an attempt to harness the future. He and later New Science publicists sought through the New Science to extend the empire of man, nation, race, and class. “My only earthly wish,” wrote Bacon, “is ... to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds”; “I am come in very truth leading you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave” (rpt. Farrington 62, 69). He who ruled nature could, Bacon believed, rule all.<3>

Originating largely in the new laboring categories created by the gradual dissolution of a feudal economy, modern science and technology was predominantly populist in its origins. The more rapid advancements in technology were tied to women’s labor as well as to the labors of the middling and lower classes. Bacon early on recognized this. In his vision, power, empire, progress, and truth all required vast human labors in the art of experiment as well as reason. Bacon situated manual labor squarely at the center of his New Science program. “Those noble effects which God hath set forth unto man” could only, Bacon observed, “be bought at the price of labour” and were not “to be attained by a few easy and slothful observances” (qtd. Thomas, Decline 278). It was largely Bacon’s emphasis on the importance of human labor that separated his New Organon from the learning of the past.

Nonetheless, the Baconian affirmation of the potentialities of human labor contradicted the aristocratic ethos, redolent of feudalism, that denigrated labor as an indicator of lower-class status. Without prior propagandizing, the “Great Men” of England for whom Bacon reserved the sought-after rule over nature would be loath to engage Bacon’s experimental method. Such propagandizing became one aim of many New Science texts of the period. In his History, Sprat devoted a good deal of discussion to the subject of whether or not gentlemen were as capable as “Tradesmen” in “Mechanick Invention.” The discussion entails an interesting redefinition of manual labor, cleansing it sufficiently of its lower-class origins in the world of work to make it suitable for pursuit by the nobility. According to Sprat, “Men of freer Lives, have all the contrary Advantages” that lend honor and glory to technical labors:

They do not approach those Trades, as their dull and unavoidable, and perpetual Employments, but as their Diversions: They come to try those Operations, in which they are not very exact, and so will be more frequently subject to commit Errors in their Proceeding: Which very Faults and Wandrings, will often guide them into new Light, and new Conceptions: And lastly, there is also some Privilege to be allow’d to the Generosity of their Spirits, which have not been subdu’d, and clogg’d by any constant Toil, as the others. Invention is an Heroic Thing, and plac’d above the reach of a low and vulgar Genius: It requires an active, a bold, a nimble, a restless Mind ... a large and unbounded Mind is likely to be the Author of greater Productions, than the calm, obscure, and fetter’d Endeavours of the Mechanics themselves....
(rpt. British Scientific Literature 57–9)

Sprat’s unique melding of mental and manual labor retained class distinctions while appropriating for the gentleman-scientist control over invention.

Although the final appropriation of decision-making processes by a new professional elite would not actually occur outside the realm of New Science discourse until the nineteenth century (see Berman), early seventeenth-century attempts to stratify the New Science movement were successful. Changing economic conditions favoring the upper classes coupled with the act of institutionalization awarded control of the formal New Science program to “Great Men” by reserving for them the powers of “philosophy” (theory and interpretation), associated with high-status mathematical and verbal skills, and assigning a lower status to the visual and manual skills allotted to working artisans — today’s technicians, technologists, and assembly-line workers (see Ferguson, Hacker).

A.2   Women’s Burgeoning Participation in Science and
     Technology Pre-Institutionalization

As noted, much of the knowledge and experimental/observational data later appropriated by the institutionalized New Science was first contained in the seventeenth-century world of work (i.e., agriculture, the crafts and trades) and tied to a domestic economy where women played an important role. The fifteenth-century feminist writer Christine de Pizan located women’s greatest innovations in the arts and sciences in craft traditions: the spinning of wool, silk, and linen; in sum, “creating the general means of civilized existence” (qtd. Schiebinger, “Winkelmann” 176–7). This was still largely true through most of the seventeenth century, when women developed numerous technologies associated with the production of food, drink, and clothing — three trades controlled by women.

Among all classes, traditional female spheres of expertise included horticulture, botany, chemistry, animal husbandry, and medicine (physician, nurse, apothecary, surgeon). Additionally, seventeenth-century housewives spun flax and wool, brewed beer, ran dairies, and generally shared equally in getting the family’s livelihood, whether from land, a craft, or trade. The great diversity of skills which housewives commanded “enabled them to contribute valued practical help in their local communities,” allotting the housewife an important, albeit unacknowledged, public role (Thirsk 12). During the seventeenth century, the demanding role of housewife encouraged women to experiment with traditional technologies and to invent new ones (Thirsk 12–14). Women, for example, engaged in wide-ranging experimentation in the preparation of aromatic waters, herbal infusions, and distillations for medicinal and culinary purposes. By 1600, there was a continual flow into Europe of new shrubs, trees, and flowers from the Middle East (and beyond) as well as from North America (Plumb 317). The expanding trade in rare vegetables and fruits made these newly available to those below even the “middling” ranks of society. As a result, women experimented with techniques for both cultivation and preparation of such novel foodstuffs, developing new methods of food processing, detoxification, cooking, and preserving. Concurrently, women’s already extensive botanical knowledge was expanding. Women began to compile herbals and “manualls” detailing “Receipts in Physick and Chyrurgery” and other domestic skills. A broad range of wild plants were studied, experimented with, classified, and cultivated for medicinal purposes and for eating. Plants were also experimented with “for an infinity of other practical purposes,” including thatching, lighting, making pillows, cushions and mattresses, repelling insects, dishwashing, dying, carrying, glueing, and so on (Thomas, Natural World 73).

A growing market economy “imposed fresh domestic and commercial demands on women’s energies,” many of which culminated in increased scientific activities (Thirsk 14). Expanding markets, with new interstices within which women could freely operate, promoted technological experimentation and innovation. Typical of the age was Virginia Ferrar, whose experiments with silkworms were eulogized by Samuel Hartlib in his 1652 text, A Rare and New Discovery of a Speedy Way, and Easie Means, Found Out by a Young Lady in England ... For the Feeding of Silk-Worms. Women in agriculture also responded to the new challenges of the market. During the seventeenth century, women were largely responsible for the growth of the dairying business and for innovations in productive processes. Women were also a key influence in the expanding consumer society. In their important dual role as producers and consumers, women promoted rapid expansion of the market in vegetables and fruit (Thirsk 13). This, as already discussed, resulted in widespread experimentation with new techniques for cultivation, food processing, and food preservation.

A.3   Counterforces Driving Women from Positions of
     Authority and Control in the New Science Movement

A.3.1 Changes in the Organization of Production

During the seventeenth century, productive processes began to move out of the home. Increasingly, manufacture was no longer organized on a domestic basis; home and paid work were gradually separated. The separation of the workplace from the home had serious repercussions for women. It robbed the family “of half its sphere of influence, broke its unity, and deprived the women of half their functions. It carried the male members away to rule more flamboyantly in the public world” (Thirsk 14). Under patriarchy, men soon assumed the controlling roles as capitalists and workers within the new industrial enterprises, leaving women the narrowly-defined and newly-devalued domestic sphere.

The enforced leisure of women of the “middling” sorts severely restricted their role in the emerging science and technology of the age. Mental and physical exertions were discouraged. Removed from work in the fields, crafts, and trades, women ceased to develop further skills in the newly-developing agricultural and technological sciences. Circumscribed within the private sphere of home, family, and close friends, women’s once important public role in local affairs was curtailed. Medical (and other) ministrations to the poor and neighborhood needy were no longer a natural function of class. Ironically, women’s abilities to heal the sick and ailing were neglected in lieu of what Celia Fiennes described at the end of the century as “these Epidemick diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness?” (qtd. Reynolds 166).

Women of the laboring classes continued to work for pay well into the nineteenth century, but their role in the new capitalist enterprises was clearly a subordinate one. The transformation of domestic work into an activity with no commercial value de-skilled the lower-class housewife, as it did women of the upper classes. And their new role in the emerging industrial enterprises denied them the control over their labor, characteristic of the earlier cottage economy, that had encouraged women’s active participation and innovations in scientific and technical areas.

A.3.2 Professionalization

As productive processes moved outside the home, various technologies traditionally the task of women — for example, in horticulture — were gradually transformed into professional work and science (Rowbotham 2). Concomitant with this, those “mechanick arts” remaining to women within the home sphere were denigrated as “domestic” arts — crafts, not technology, just as the accumulated experience and knowledge traditions of countless generations of women were ranked as “old wives’ tales,” not science.

Along with professionalization came a gradual formalization of rules governing the trades. These discriminated against women. Increasing mechanization competed against older craft skills and introduced a need for new skills. As the importance of traditional craft knowledge waned, women were denied access to needed training that would re-skill them in their trades. Midwifery is a case in point. In this trade (as in others), women were quick to join in the blossoming spirit of New Science inquiry and experiment. In a heroic attempt to synthesize the new with the old, Jane Sharp (in 1671, a midwife for over 40 years) wrote a handbook for midwives that combined the lessons of an extensive hands-on experience with new discoveries in anatomy, obstetrics, and gynecology that she had gleaned from French, Dutch, and Italian texts. Sharp well understood the importance of medical theory in upgrading (not replacing) the skills of contemporary midwives and hoped to encourage similar attempts by other women in medical practice. Other midwives shrewdly foresaw the trend towards professionalization in their field and argued its potential benefits for women. The indomitable Elizabeth Cellier (fl. 1680) petitioned James II and engaged in polemics with the powerful Chamberlen family and Royal College of Physicians concerning incorporation and licensing of midwives. Where others called for incorporation of midwives under the sponsorship of the Bishop of London, the Royal College of Physicians, or the invidious Dr. Peter Chamberlen, Cellier envisioned a self-governing college for midwives that would offer instruction and act as the arbiter of standards, to be closely associated with a midwives’ guild. Her visionary project included a hospital for foundling children who, as apprentices of the college, would be taught skills that would ensure their later employment either at the hospital or elsewhere. This remarkable proposal also advocated childcare payments for midwives — both instructors and students — at the college and other features that would be considered “progressive” even by today’s standards (Hilda Smith, Reason’s Disciples 99–102).<5>

However, such visions for the future were not to be. During the seventeenth century, both male physicians and the “man-midwife” began to encroach on women’s prerogative in the increasingly-lucrative field of childbirth. By the end of the eighteenth century, the rapid ascendancy of the man-midwife was complete. Despite the efforts of Sharp and Cellier, male monopolization of science and technology relating to disease and illness succeeded in ousting women from control over childbirth (see Faulkner). As use of the forceps, invented mid-seventeenth-century by Dr. Peter Chamberlen, became commonplace, women were restricted by law from using them or any other tools during the birthing process. Equally important, women could not study the new medical theories in prestigious medical institutions either at home or abroad, and they were vigorously discouraged from probing into matters of male and female anatomy. By such means, women were refused opportunities for professional advancement and subordinated to their less-experienced, but more “expert” male counterparts.

Much the same story can be pieced together for other disciplines in natural history and philosophy. Always the terms of entry into the new professions excluded women. By legal and other means (chiefly cultural pressures), women were “denied access to education, and specifically to the theoretical grounding in mathematics and mechanics upon which so many of the contemporary inventions and innovations were based” (Griffiths 56). We know from a comment by the editor of the Ladies Diary in 1718 that a number of women readers were active in submitting answers to the mathematical puzzles in calculus and geometry featured in the journal.<6> But this situation did not continue indefinitely. After 1720, the Ladies Diary was “preempted” by men due to the increasing difficulty of the mathematical problems and foreign-language enigmas, although as late as 1739, mathematical problems were still being addressed to the “Ingenius ladies of the British isle.” The number of women solving these problems was, however, rapidly dwindling (Meyer 60, 64; Rossiter 42). Concurrent with this, conduct books advocated that women be taught arithmetic, but not mathematics.<7> Mathematics and other difficult facets of Newtonian physics were believed neither “adapted to the Understanding of Women” nor “within the Bounds of what concerns their Duty”:

... true Wisdom consists in knowing exactly your Duty; and whatsoever carries a Woman farther than that, is generally either dangerous or unprofitable. For, to be plain, how doth it concern you, to know, whether the Sun or the Earth move, or after what manner Thunder and Tempest are form’d in the Skies, and a Hundred other Things as little necessary as these?
(Dr. George Hickes, Instructions to a Princess, qtd. Reynolds 293)

Of course, any formal training in the New Science (encouraged in later years) was reserved for women of the “middling” sorts and higher. And this, too, was kept to a modicum. As Lady Mary Chudleigh complained in 1703: “But ’t is not reasonable to expect that a Woman should be nicely skill’d in Physics: We are kept Strangers to all ingenious and useful Studies, and can have but a slight and superficial Knowledge of things” (qtd. Reynolds 147). Bathsua Makin, the learned sister of the mathematician John Pell, and an open admirer of Margaret Cavendish’s intellectual independence, opened the first school to offer formal instruction in the experimental philosophy to young gentlewomen. During the early Restoration period, her pupils learned philosophy and mathematics, geography, history, and astronomy, in addition to foreign languages, oratory, and logic. Makin placed particular emphasis on instruction in names, natures, values, and the use of “Herbs, Shrubs, Trees, Mineral-Juices, Metals and Stones” (qtd. Hilda Smith, Reason’s Disciples 104). But her innovative school had no successors. Instead, from the late 1600s through the end of the eighteenth century, women’s formal training in the New Science was largely appropriated by men. The new profession of popularizer to women was extremely lucrative, due to mass sales of instruments and other scientific paraphernalia, textbooks, and periodicals, supplemented by substantial fees for lectures and private tutoring. Male family members also instructed women in the New Science, and women learned through their own pursuits in experiment and observation. However, in none of these cases were women instructed in theory or encouraged to assume a controlling or innovative role in the formulation of the new cosmology.<8>

A.3.3 Expanding Market Economy

As we have seen, the expanding market economy during the early modern period at first offered many new opportunities for women. However, market growth also eventually led to bigger workshops, a more complex division of labour, and the breakdown of informal customary arrangements that had originally favored women’s involvement in the trades (Rowbotham 2, Thirsk 14). Growth also worked against women in more subtle ways. For example, the growth of a national market in plants and flowers, including the seed and nursery trades, generated pressures towards standardization and a formalized nomenclature (marked by the advent of catalogs) that helped erode women’s controlling role in horticulture (Thomas, Natural World 84; Plumb 323–6). And the enormous influx, from the early decades of the seventeenth century onwards, of new drugs from America and the East helped seal the fate of women herbalists. The flood of new drugs enabled learned doctors to distance themselves from an earlier reliance on the knowledge, skills, and products of herb-women. Exotic cures meant higher incomes and prestige for doctors struggling to establish themselves as a well-paid professional class — in the words of J.H. Plumb: “ever-increasing profit is not made in a world of traditional crafts and stable fashions” (316). Physicians were able to downgrade local herbal remedies (and discredit the competition) at the same time they promoted themselves. As early as 1656 the art of the herbalist was said to have grown “contemptible” (Thomas, Natural World 84).

Perhaps most important, an expanding market economy meant that capital replaced land as the basis for accumulating wealth. Yet, until the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act, women were denied access to ownership of capital (considered personal property). While a wife retained the rights to any real property she owned,<9> women were legally restricted from owning personal property independent of their husbands. This prevented women from accumulating capital and from entrepreneurship in their own right. The close association of science and technology with nascent capitalism, and the increasingly capital-intensive nature of New Science experiment and invention, effectively closed off the New Science to women.<10>

A.3.4 Institutionalization

Institutionalization of the New Science enforced a final separation of popular from learned views of the natural world. Natural knowledge traditions pre-1660 were rooted in the conditions of social life. The bulk of natural knowledge, closely tied to the world of human labor, was sought after and accumulated according to its demonstrated utility or meaning for both women and men (Thomas, Natural World 91). Institutionalized science post-1660 sought to separate natural knowledge from its social context. Accordingly, popular knowledge traditions were derided as “narrowly utilitarian” (Thomas, Natural World 74) and women’s concerns were no longer a prominent factor in the acquisition of natural knowledge.

At first, the New Science depended for its progress on absorbing much popular knowledge.<11> From the Tudor period onwards, almost every one of those we now regard as a pioneer scientist was assisted by dozens of now-forgotten helpers and correspondents, many of them women. Agricultural workers, hunters, fowlers, bird-catchers, mole-catchers, ostlers, husbandmen, gamekeepers, gardeners, bee-keepers, butchers, miners, stonemasons, sailors, soldiers — all passed on much-needed natural history and philosophy to the gentleman-scientist.<12> The knowledge of herb-women was indispensable to early naturalists, and physicians and apothecaries had long depended upon herb-women for their medicinal supplies. Early doctors and man-midwives were dependent on women patients and midwives for knowledge about birthing. Housewives shared a vast knowledge of simples, herbs, plants, chemistry, and so on with New Scientists. Within the more intimate family structure, women shared a great deal of knowledge with their fathers, sons, and brothers in the New Science. Webster points out that it was Elizabeth Ray, the Blacksmith’s wife at Black Notley, “reputed to have been an able medical adviser,” who introduced her far more famous son, John Ray, to botany. And Dorothy Burton, reported “to have excellent skill in chirurgery ... and such experimental medicines, as all the country where she dwelt can witness, to have done many generous and good cures upon divers poor folks,” introduced her more famous son, Robert Burton, to techniques for anatomizing physical and psychological ailments (Webster 255).

Institutionalized New Science also drew heavily on the highly-elaborated popular taxonomy for plants, birds, animals, fishes available in the lexicon of early modern England (Thomas, Natural World 71). Typically, popular knowledge traditions were first assimilated, and then systematically devalued as superstitious, ignorant, ungodly, and eventually, “old wives’ tales.” Associated with women and others of lower social status, oral culture (and the body of knowledge it preserved and repeated) was characteristically downgraded by patriarchal society in general and by the propagandists for the New Science in particular.<13> From the later seventeenth century, the denunciation of “vulgar errors” (see, for example, Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica) became “an increasingly obsessive theme” in New Science writings (Thomas, Natural World 78–9).

During the early modern period, centralization in any sphere was almost always accompanied by the systematic oppression of women. Organized New Science offered no special reprieve for women. Women were, of course, formally excluded from Royal Society membership, despite the fact that upper-class women played an important role in the formation and development of all early scientific societies and organizations, not only through their patronage, but also by acting as hostess, audience, adviser, confidante, and colleague during lengthy experimental sessions and periods of intense philosophical debate and discussion.<14> This is in marked contrast to the later German model of institutionalization where women such as Maria Winkelmann held semiofficial positions with the Berlin Academy of Sciences.<15> In Germany at this time, astronomy remained a craft tradition, thus fostering women’s participation. Unlike the Royal Society, the Berlin Academy retained vestiges of the guild system, drawing much of its revenues from two trades (calendar making and silk making) and hiring artisans to carry out the tasks required. The Academy was thus organized in two tiers: a top tier (closed to women) of university-educated “gentlemen” members, frequently of noble standing, and a bottom tier (open to women) of artisans whose labors in astronomy and other areas financed Academy projects.

The formation of a British Royal Society meant regulation of scientific activities and a need for uniform standards. This was necessarily accompanied by a new-found intolerance for anomalous practices. Because institutionalization of the New Science in England was coupled with the careful crafting of a superman image for Royal Society members and an emphatic antifeminist stance, the woman scientist, by definition became anomalous, and her traditional knowledge systems, methods, and investigatory practices likewise condemned.

A.3.5 “Improved Masculine Spirits”

Bacon heralded the New Organon as the “Masculine Birth of Time,” and his early self-conscious equation of “true” knowledge and method with masculinity was to echo throughout the century.<16> Henry Oldenburg, in his prefatory remarks to Boyle’s best-selling Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours (pub. 1664), announced that it was the intention of the Royal Society to “raise a masculine philosophy ... whereby the mind of man may be ennobled with the knowledge of the solid truths” (see Boyle 1:667). After a number of years spent combating the “males-only” mood of institutionalized New Science, Margaret Cavendish remarked with her usual perspicacity that “though the Muses, Graces and Sciences are all of the Female Gender, yet they were more esteemed in former Ages, than they are now; nay, could it be done handsomely, they would now turn them all from Females into Males: So great is grown the Self-conceit of the Masculine, and the disregard of the Female Sex” (Observations 350). Perhaps unbeknownst to Cavendish, Abraham Cowley had already attempted precisely that: “Philosophy, I say, and call it, He, / For whatsoe’re the Painters Fancy be, / It a Male Virtue seems to me.”<17>

Joseph Glanvill, a masterful publicist for the Royal Society and New Science movement, voiced yet another Baconian sentiment when he explicitly argued that truth-seeking and masculinity were in desperate straits by mid-century. Writing in 1661 after years of civil war, social upheaval, and intellectual experiment, Glanvill assessed the current state of knowledge and proclaimed that “the case of Truth is desperate” (Vanity 118). Why? Because “the Affections wear the breeches: and the Female rules ...” (Vanity 135):

The lower Powers are gotten uppermost; and ... The Woman in us, still prosecutes a deceit, like that begun in the Garden: and our Understandings are wedded to an Eve, as fatal as the Mother of our miseries. And while all things are judg’d according to their suitableness, or disagreement to the Gusto of the fond Feminine; we shall be as far from the Tree of Knowledge, as from that, which is guarded by the Cherubin.
(Vanity 118)

In order to counter his many imperfections and present “impotence”<18> in the quest for truth, man must rid himself of “the Woman in us.” The truth-seeker must first become what Glanvill referred to as an “improved Masculine Spirit” (see his letter to Margaret Cavendish, A Collection of Letters and Poems 136).

For Glanvill (and multiple others), this male purification rite was best achieved via the “Free, Experimental Philosophy” — the only method able to settle the mind “in a strong and manly Temperament, that will master and put to flight all idle Dotages, and effeminate Fears” (Glanvill, Essays IV:14). Man would be truly masculinized only when his “inordinate Passions, & lawles desires” are “subdu’d & rang’d” through methodical inquiry into the created order (Boyle; qtd. J.R. Jacob 78). Hence, it was not accidental that Glanvill viewed the scientific investigation of nature (conceived in terms of unmitigated male power and control) as a means of supplanting troublesome sexual relations with women and re-asserting masculinity:

And perhaps humane nature meets few more sweetly relishing and cleanly joyes, then those, that derive from the happy issues of successful Tryals: Yea, whether they succeed to the answering the particular aim of the Naturalist or not; ’tis however a pleasant spectacle to behold the shifts, windings and unexpected Caprichios of distressed Nature, when pursued by a close and well managed Experiment. And the delights which result from these noblier entertainments are such, as our cool and reflecting thoughts need not be ashamed of. And which are dogged by no such sad sequels as are the products of those titillations that reach no higher then Phancy and the Senses. And that alone deserves to be call’d so, which is pleasure without guilt or pain....
(Scepsis Scientifica b2v–b3r)

The displacement of threatening sexual and emotional energies into carefully controlled and circumscribed truth-seeking activities was commonplace among Restoration scientists.<19> In part, this explains the aggressively “masculine” cast of New Science empirical and rationalist approaches.

Despite Royal Society claims to having discovered the secret to masculinization through its experimental method, the history of Western science and technology abounds with examples of “the Woman in us.” Science is as much the product of the “feminine” — the unconscious, the subjective, intuition, passion, emotion, and just plain serendipity — as it is the product of “masculine” reason and method. Nonetheless, such “emasculating” traits have long been suppressed, recast, or even flatly denied by a New Science movement that has equated itself from the outset with an “improved” (i.e., less vulnerable) masculinity. Of course, in banishing “the Woman in us” from conscious consideration, New Scientists also justified the systematic exclusion and alienation of the very real and omnipresent women among us.

A.3.6 Approved Methods

Under both Cartesian and Baconian New Science programs, “truth” was defined as the product of methodical rational-experimental inquiry. “Philosophy is Reason methodiz’d, and improved by Study, Observation and Experiment,” Glanvill summarized (Essays IV:23). In theory, New Science methods of experiment and reason were open to all. In practice, however, they shared an elitist and androcentric bias, as recognized early on by Margaret Cavendish (see chapter 4).

A number of scholars have argued that the New Science movement (both Cartesian and Baconian strains) was characterized by a new-found emphasis on the “authority of experience” — personal experience and observation — coupled with a conscious rejection of tradition and custom (e.g., Daele; Shapiro, Probability and Certainty). Such a stance would appear to favor everyone equally, permitting a multiplicity in approach, perspective, and experience characteristic of decentered knowledge-seeking. Indeed, Wood states that the diverse membership of the Royal Society “ensured that the widest possible range of experience and interests could be utilized in the verification of the particulars which the Society examined” (9). Robert Boyle would appear to substantiate Wood’s reading; he early on promoted “the advantage of having persons of differing qualities, professions and sexes (as not only ladies and lords, but doctors and mathematicians) to witness” an experiment and confirm its findings (Works 1:106).

However, we must remember that there were clear limits on the “range of experience and interests” allowed within the Royal Society. As we have already seen (ref. A.1), the restriction of Royal Society membership to a small body of “Great Men” ensured that only a minority of interests were represented by institutionalized science. We must also remember that the “authority of experience” did not extend to everyone. Not everyone’s experience was deemed equally valid (see B.6.3 below). For example, women’s vast experiential knowledge was consistently trivialized or dismissed. Boyle, for one, considered “housewives” injudicious observers of natural phenomena who lacked credibility (Works 1:110). Substantiation for such libel was neither requested nor offered.

Another tendency in conventional history of science scholarship is to credit the New Science movement with developing an inherently democratic empirical epistemology (e.g., Shapiro, Probability and Certainty 268). While an empirical approach to nature was certainly a new phenomenon in certain learned circles, popular science already drew on a long-standing, relatively sophisticated empiricist tradition. As Keith Thomas and others have shown, popular knowledge traditions were at base empiricist. Even the search for correlations between disparate events characteristic of investigations into prodigies, omens, and portents was an empirically valid form of inquiry.<20> Female knowledge traditions (especially those associated with the wise woman) were also solidly grounded in the empirical investigation of nature (Faulkner 90; Arnold and Faulkner 29). Although neglected by mainstream historiography, the empirical traditions of the wise woman predate those of medieval science and hermetic magic, as well as the New Science.<21> Women also carried on a centuries’ old tradition of chemical experiment which predates that of institutionalized science.<22> Similarly, the self-proclaimed “sons of art” had no monopoly on alchemical researches, although women traditionally pursued alchemy for medicinal purposes rather than in a consuming quest for the philosopher’s stone. Indeed, it could even be argued that populist empirical traditions were more “scientific” (in the modern sense) than the experimental methods of institutionalized New Science.<23>

What then distinguished the New Science experimental program from more popular experimental methods? From Bacon on, the New Science portrayed the proper investigation of nature as a formal program with norms of inquiry that marginalized popular empirical methods. Although full professionalization of the New Science was still a ways off, the Philosophical Transactions provided a means for formalizing norms of inquiry characteristic of professional science.<24> The new norms of inquiry — “rules and procedures policed by juries of peers through which disputes could be settled” (Harding 228) — assumed Royal Society membership (membership in any of its continental counterparts would also do) or association with that august institution by way of the elaborate correspondence networks initiated by Samuel Hartlib and greatly expanded by Henry Oldenburg. Few outside of Oldenburg’s correspondence loop were privy to indoctrination in the sanctioned theoretical frameworks of the New Science that guided perceptions, observations, and methods. With access to the Royal Society restricted by class, gender, and education, New Science experiment was gradually converted from “a widespread practical art” into a method of inquiry practiced by an elite few (Plumb 323). Prejudicial definitions of “ethos” assured that the empirical investigations of women, cottagers, peasants, journeymen and countless other groups associated with the popular rather than learned science movement were treated with condescension, if not outright disdain (see B.6.3). Equally prejudicial characterizations of the favored experimental model worked to exclude women in particular.

From the beginning, New Science empiricism was aggressively gendered as masculine: “Mind was male, Nature was female, and knowledge was created as an act of aggression — a passive nature had to be interrogated, unclothed, penetrated, and compelled by man to reveal her secrets” (Fee, “Critiques” 44). Examples of this attitude abound in New Science literature. Bacon repeatedly affirms that “the secrets of nature reveal themselves more readily under the vexations of art than when they go their own way” (qtd. Easlea, Sexual Oppression 83). At the end of the century, John Evelyn, F.R.S., wrote admiringly of how Boyle, with his experimental art, was always able to extort from “stubborn matter” a “confession of all that lay in her most intimate recesses” (qtd. Easlea, Sexual Oppression 85). And in his biography of Robert Hooke, Richard Waller described Hooke’s “wonderful Sagacity, in diving into the most hidden Secrets of Nature, and in contriving proper Methods of forcing her to confess the Truth, by driving and pursuing the PROTEUS thro’ all her Changes, to her last and utmost Recesses” (67). Although women had been active empiricists for centuries, they were portrayed as too tender and compassionate to participate in the methodical experimental interrogation of nature required by the New Science. Boyle is instructive here. During the course of some Baconian-type “I wonder what would happen if ...?” experiments with a vacuum chamber, Boyle and numerous associates dispassionately observed the suffocation of a bird when air was removed from the chamber. The women in the audience, unable to sanction such animal torture, interrupted Boyle’s experiment, which then had to be continued in secret. As Boyle describes it:

Another bird being within about half a minute cast into violent convulsions, and reduced into a sprawling condition, upon the exsuction of the air, by the pity of some fair ladies, related to your Lordship, who made me hastily let in some air at the stop-cock, the gasping animal was presently recovered, and in a condition to enjoy the benefits of the ladies compassion. And another time also, being resolved not to be interrupted in our experiment, we did at night shut up a bird in one of our small receivers....
(Works 1:106–7)

The Royal Society provided an administrative mechanism for the collective development of natural knowledge, but only by so circumscribing the collective, that it also circumscribed actual returns on its program of inquiry. Its “new” empiricism was in fact neither “new” nor superior as a means of understanding ourselves and our universe. I have already noted the capital-intensive nature of much New Science experiment, requiring a substantial outlay of funds for equipment, supplies, and craft labor (see A.3.3). Capital investment was in keeping with the newly-centralized, programmatic approach to experiment. Expensive group experiments soon assumed the cachet of wealth and status, and with this, the mantle of epistemological verity.

Not only the empirical, but also the rationalist, approaches favored by institutionalized science discriminated against women and the general populace. For contemporary practicioners of natural magic and for the influential Paracelsus, vis imaginativa rather than reason held the key to scientific discovery. Interestingly, Paracelsus in particular feared women, to whom he (and society at large) attributed a more fecund imagination (Easlea, Witch-Hunting 102). In the New Science program, any fear that women might make superior truth-seekers was dispelled by dismissing the important role of the imagination in truth-seeking activities. Reason soon supplanted imagination in the scientific arsenal.

To a nascent feminist movement and other social groups seeking equality, influence, or empowerment, Cartesian rationalism held great liberating potential. It required neither special erudition nor a classical education, merely the ability to reason, common to men and women alike. Like others, early feminists such as Margaret Cavendish, Poulain de la Barre, Mary Astell, Lady Mary Chudleigh, and women writing in the tradition of the querelle des femmes justified their claims to speak and be heard by appealing to Cartesian methods, principles, and promises.<25> A growing acknowledgement of woman as a “rational being” encouraged feminist rationalism on an even larger scale. But women were not to be educated in the precepts of Cartesianism in order to upset the social order by advancing themselves or their causes. Rather, the logic of scientific reason was to operate as a check on woman’s presumed emotional instability and intensely sexual nature.<26> It was to counteract her subjectivity, her imagination, her capacity for dissent.<27>

As interpreted by Royal Society propangandists, not all men (and few, if any, women) were capable of using reason to discover truth. There was reason; and then there was Glanvill’s “Reason methodiz’d”:

Now all Men partake of Reason in some degree (of the prime Principles at least, and the Faculty of deducing one thing from another); But the most use that little perversly, and to their own deception, arguing from prejudices of Sense, Imagination, and customary Tenents, and so filling up their minds with false and deceitful Images, instead of Truth and Reason. ’Tis the office and business of Philosophy, to teach Men the right use of their Faculties, in order to the extending and inlarging of their Reasons....
(Essays II:51)

Only reason that has been “extended and inlarged” sufficiently to supplant all other forms of knowing was assumed capable of discovering truths. Intuition, sentiment, imagination, and other extra-rational forms of knowing were no longer perceived as valid forms of demonstration. The resulting “Reason methodiz’d” was exceedingly rigorous in its construction and presentation. Conclusions and findings were to be “thoroughly examin’d” by accepted procedures in order to win “Assent that is difficultly obtain’d, and sparingly bestow’d” (Glanvill, Essays II:46). And argumentative procedures, like experimental ones, were learned only by way of membership in the New Science community.

Even if women were not excluded from (or sometimes relegated to the periphery of) the New Science community, “Reason methodiz’d” was deemed not for them. It was widely held that women’s “nature” (too cold and moist, or too delicate) would not permit sustained acts of disciplined reason (see 2.1.1). Instead of “Reason methodiz’d,” women were believed limited by their gender to “the Womans Reason,” characterized by Glanvill as no more consciously rational than unthinking belief “by meer custome” (Essay Concerning Preaching 31). Glanvill set both these forms of thought in clear opposition to the demonstrable logic of “Reason methodiz’d” and denied them any truth status (Vanity 127).

With the foregoing criticisms, I do not wish to imply that Royal Society methods were contrived solely in a deliberate effort to monopolize truth-seeking and truth-telling functions for particular ruling-class males. Bacon and his immediate successors did not dissemble regarding their conviction that determinations of “truth” were the province of an elite corps of men, “inspired by the Philosophy I recommend” to transcendent heights of omniscient neutrality (Glanvill, Plus Ultra 147). But they also earnestly believed that their prescribed methods would yield the most accurate possible data and judgments of the natural world. In this, they were quite wrong. We now know that it is not method of any kind — even in the favored forms of experiment or logical demonstration — that secures the objectivity or truth of our judgments of things.<28> Early Royal Society members erred in failing to see that the methods they devised to compel “the assent of reasonable men” were in fact methods governing the justification rather than production, objectivity, or truth of knowledge-claims. As summarized by Carolyn Miller, truth — “or the knowledge for which science seeks” — is a byproduct of “the correspondence of ideas, not to the material world, but to other people’s ideas. Certainty is found not in isolated observation of nature or in logical procedure but in the widest agreement with other people. Science is, through and through, a rhetorical endeavor” (“A Humanistic Rationale” 616).<29> A new school of “historical realism” in the philosophy of science now points beyond popular notions of “objectivity” — i.e., hypothesis matched against “fact” — associated with New Science (and successor) empiricist and positivist positions.<30> It is increasingly accepted that scientific “theories and other representational devices are neither true nor false,” although “statements about their scope or range of application are; thus the fruitfulness of theories is judged relative to the presuppositions and interests of scientists, and not their truth.”<31>

A.4   Women’s Newly-Subordinated Role

By mid-eighteenth century, the mass of women had lost any controlling role as originators of New Science projects and technologies. Although women continued to play an integral role in the development of the New Science, their role was clearly a subordinate and limited one. A letter from the correspondent “Philo-Naturae” to The Female Spectator in 1745 summarizes rather well women’s changing status and new-found subordinate role in the New Science. With great enthusiasm, “Philo-Naturae” claims for every upper-class woman the potential of becoming a “fair Columbus,” an explorer and discoverer of new natural worlds:

As ladies frequently walk out in the country in little troops, if every one of them would take with her a magnifying glass, what a pretty emulation there would be among them, to make fresh discoveries? — They would doubtless perceive animals which are not to be found in the most accurate volumes of natural philosophy; and the Royal Society might be indebted to every fair Columbus for a new world of beings to employ their speculations.
(qtd. Meyer 83)

Here, natural inquiry and discovery have been specifically suited to women’s increasingly restricted social role. Most important perhaps, observation and data accumulation have been separated from any theoretical context; the power of “speculation” (explanation, interpretation, synthesis) is reserved for exercise by Royal Society members only. “Fresh discoveries” are newly defined by their absence from a book — the enclyclopedia of natural philosophy — rather than by their social use value. And women’s social practice (shared skills and labor for purposes of healing and human nurture) has been redefined as group study within the limited circle of “little troops” of ladies who vie with one another in “pretty emulation,” with all its overtones of jealousy and competitiveness, in their new creative role — searchers after the perpetually “novel” and different, discoverers of nature’s toys and baubles.

Thus, although restricted from theorizing and forming syntheses, women were allowed to participate in the more tedious labor of detailed observation and data acquisition.<32> Explained Glanvill:

For in things of Fact, the People are as much to be believ’d, as the most subtile Philosophers and Speculators; since here, Sense is the Judge. But in Matters of Notion and Theory, They are not at all to be heeded, because Reason is to be Judge of these, and this they know not how to use....
(Essays VI:38).

Although the New Science publicists disclaimed against the many “deceptions” of the human senses, they also acknowledged that there were numerous times when “the plain Evidence of the Senses of Mankind” was to be accepted. As long as the power to validate or invalidate sense experience remained with an elite corps of New Scientists, then women and the generality of men were free to labor in the projects of natural history.<33>

In addition to their diminished role as observers and gatherers of data — collectors of shells, plants, insects, and fossils — women continued to experiment with nature, but the type, purpose, and method of experiment changed drastically. With consolidation of the New Science as an all-encompassing Philosophica Britannica,<34> women’s experimental activity no longer drew force or direction from an empirical tradition rooted in the alternate labor practices of generations of women. Fed by the exhilaration of an age intoxicated by the achievements of an aggressively expanding commercial and capitalist society, mass experiment (even though quite restricted in its area of investigation) had become a testament to human power and potential. Man became the “improver” of — not just a partaker in — nature’s bounty. This was the siren call of the new Philosophica Britannica: a promise to man to rebuild his lost world of Eden through the empirical manipulation and control of nature.

J.H. Plumb contends that women as well as men were avid experimenters throughout the eighteenth century, breeding animals (horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, and dogs in the country; song birds, pigeons, ornamental fish in the city) and plants. “Tens of thousands of men and women, probably hundreds of thousands, were actively concerned in horticulture,” he claims (326). Nonetheless, the percentage of women involved in such experimental activity was declining. As he later points out, only a relatively small section of the population could afford the subjects of experiment; the vast number of poor, dispossed of land and livelihood, could not afford to buy seeds or animals for experimental play (333).

Woman’s experimental activity, no longer closely tied to her required labors, became mostly recreative. For centuries, gardening had been the purview of women since the production of food and medicine were both largely female responsibilities. However, by the end of the seventeenth century, gardening was becoming known as “The Lady’s Recreation.” And, within the garden of the upper classes, a new division of labor by gender had occurred: as “the curious Part of Gardening in general, has been always an Amusement chosen by the greatest of Men ... so the Management of the Flower-Garden in particular is oftentimes the Diversion of the Ladies.”<35> Herbs and basic foodstuffs were replaced in the lady’s garden by flowers and exotic plants. Flower-gardening, viewed as a merely decorative pursuit, was considered particularly appropriate for the newly-leisured gentlewoman, who was widely held to share with flowers an ephemeral beauty that “inveigles and deludes” men.<36>

During the eighteenth century, women’s experimental activity, no longer integrated with truth-seeking and the systematic accumulation of natural knowledge, became more limited in scope and achievement. While Boyle addressed hundreds of experiments of varying degrees of difficulty to male colleagues and newcomers in the New Science movement, he directed only the “pretty tricks” to women — “easy and recreative experiments, which require but little time, or charge, or trouble in the making, and when made are sensible and surprizing enough” (Works 1:664). This attitude was characteristic of the body of popularization literature and instruction directed at women during the eighteenth century. Women were encouraged to conduct experiments in the New Science as an aid in instruction and a source of entertainment. They were not, however, encouraged to embark on a sustained program of empirical inquiry into the natural world. As we have already seen, any serious program of methodical experimental study was reserved for men.

In addition to their allotted roles as data collector and dilettante experimenter, women labored as technical communicators for the New Science. Elizabeth Blackwell provides an early instance of this. In 1739, she made a major contribution to the field of botany with her A Curious Herbal, containing exquisite drawings and medical information on 500 different plants. Blackwell, however, considered her book an “artistic” rather than “scientific” achievement, written for the sole purpose of securing her husband’s release from debtor’s prison. Although the illustrations were her own, the accompanying text was not original. The majority of it was copied from Joseph Miller’s Botanicum Officinale, and supplemented by information drawn not from personal experience or the accumulated experiences of other women, but from interviews with Isaac Rand, Curator of the Botanical Garden at Chelsea (Reynolds 185–7, 435). Blackwell’s publication marks an important change in women’s role as authors of scientific information. For generations, women had authored herbals for home and village use, but during the eighteenth century they ceased to compile data on plants for their own attempts at systematizing about natural phenomena, and became instead communicators for the New Science. Over time, women became the transmitters rather than creators of technical information, performing much-needed but low-status tasks as compilers, popularizers, bibliographers, librarians, abstractors, editors, and so on (see Rossiter).

Women also, of course, continued in their customary ancillary role as “servants and attendants” of male scientists — Bacon’s only function for women in his visionary Royal Society, the House of Salomon.<37> But despite their many activities on behalf of the New Science — as servant and attendant to her male counterparts, or as observor, natural historian, communicator, and experimenter in her own right — women were more often than not on the receiving end of an alien New Science and technology. For example, although many English feminists appeared to revel in the prospects of a boundless universe, the majority of women apparently were awed and alienated by the infinitely expanding world portrayed by the New Science — a world from which they clearly were excluded, as the woman’s “sphere” gradually contracted even further inward within the private space of the home. This general discomfort on the part of women with the concept of an infinity of worlds finds frequent reference within the popularization literature directed at a female audience. Compare the attitudes of male and female on this subject in Fontenelle’s very popular Discovery of New Worlds:

But said she, I see the Universe to be so vast, that I lose my self, I know not where I am.... This confounds, afflicts, and frightens me. And for my part, said I, it pleases and rejoices me; when I believ’d the Universe to be nothing, but this great Azure Vault of the Heavens, wherein the Stars were placed, as it were so many golden Nails or Studs, the universe seem’d to me too little and strait; I fansied my self to be confin’d and oppress’d: But now when I am perswaded, that this Azure Vault has a greater depth and a vaster Extent, and that ’tis divided into a thousand different Tourbillions or Whirlings, I imagine I am at more Liberty, and breath a freer Air; and the Universe appears to me to be infinitely more Magnificent. (133)

New Science popularization literature was impelled by such attempts to sell women on the “hard,” “masculine” — and supremely alien — visions of the universe bequeathed by Cartesian and Newtonian physics. That women by and large preferred the competing visions of astrologers — where natural forces interacted in complex ways with the world of humankind concerning even the most mundane details of daily life, and nature was something more than simply matter in motion — was well-known.<38> Gerald Meyer gives sundry examples of New Science agonizing over women’s attractions to astrology, particularly judicial astrology with its “strange Arts of Wonder and Prediction” that promise “the more recondite Knowledge, as we know it was in the first Temptation” (Joseph Glanvill; qtd. Jobe 350).<39> Any clear-cut opposition of the New Science and astrology during this period was, of course, disingenuous. Numerous Royal Society members dabbled in astrology, while astrologers were very influential in promoting the New Science to a mass audience (Capp 51, 180–214). Although institutionalized New Science eschewed all formidable arts of prognostication, Bacon had nonetheless dreamed of the day when science could take over astrology’s role in the public declaration of “natural divinations of diseases, plagues, swarms of hurtful creatures, scarcity, tempests, earthquakes, great inundations, comets, temperature of the year, and divers other things; and we give counsel thereupon what the people shall do for the prevention and remedy of them” (New Atlantis, Works 3:166). In reality, claims Keith Thomas, the New Science was for some time less effective in its predictions and explanations than was astrology and magic of all kinds (Decline 668). New Scientists and women alike were not unaware of this.

As we have seen (ref. A.2), woman’s role as consumer, when coupled with that of producer, had earlier led to expanding markets for new technologies and a marked increase in the quantity and quality of goods consumed. However, when woman-as-producer disappeared from the New Science movement, woman-as-consumer lost her important influence over the design and type of available manufactures and services and assumed a predominantly passive consumer role (Rothschild, “Technology, Housework, and Women’s Liberation” 83). The targeted group for much New Science salesmanship — of knowledge, collectibles, books, periodicals, technical gadgetry, scientific instruments, children’s toys, science shows/fairs — women soon became passive recipients of products and services designed exclusively by men.

A.5   The “She-Philosopher”

As Glanvill wrote to Margaret Cavendish, “Women may be Philosophers, and, to a Degree fit for the Ambitious emulation of the most improved Masculine Spirits” (A Collection of Letters and Poems 136). But they could not, by definition, themselves become “improved Masculine Spirits.” They were instead “she-philosophers.” Towards the end of the seventeenth century the “she-philosopher” (also referred to as a “philosophress” or “philosophical lady”) appeared as a new literary type. This added subcategory of learned lady struts frequently across the Restoration stage, the object of satiric comment and lewd innuendo. She was repeatedly caricatured in the popular literature.

Of course, inherent in the very nominal itself is the notion that natural philosophy is properly the study of males. The “she” prefix indicts the female natural philosopher as an aberration of the norm, and her early literary image fixates on this aberration. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the she-philosopher is portrayed as an usurper virago, pretentious to excess in her learning, language, and lifestyle, a woman dangerously out-of-bounds and thus disruptive of domestic order. But by the close of the eighteenth century, the portrait of the she-philosopher softened to reveal a learned and domestic(ated) companion for man, a woman of controlled imagination with a new-found religious reverence for the natural and social order. The linkage of woman and natural philosophy was apparently no longer perceived as threatening, but desirable. Woman, like nature, had been tamed by the New Science. The usurper became a handmaiden.

The interesting story of the she-philosopher takes many forms. I wish here to use botany as an example storyline. As mentioned under A.2, the systematic study of plants and their properties was traditionally the purview of women. Their knowledge was vast: as noted by one Jacobean commentator, “every silly woman” knew more about plants and animals than the majority of New Science naturalists (qtd. Thomas, Natural World 73). Because sciences developed by women have traditionally been oral and dialectic in nature rather than written (Ginzberg 95), scholars tend to question whether women’s natural knowledge is truly “scientific” or merely a “craft,” meaning that it lacks formal codification and a theoretical foundation. We “do not know exactly how much theory the wise women did develop: little was passed on in written form,” muses Wendy Faulkner (98). In answer, I would argue that women’s natural knowledge was codified (certainly to the same extent as her male counterparts in the New Science movement); that herb women engaged in system-building as much as any empirical scientist of their age; and that left to their own devices, and given a free hand in directing New Science interests and activities, women would have continued to build increasingly complex and explanatory theoretical systems.<40> Ogilvie among others notes the outgrowth of “a new intellectualism” from technological advance during the early modern period (8).

Women’s extensive knowledge, when translated into practice (particularly healing, but also the production of food and drink, household technologies, etc.), competed most effectively with both the “ancient” and “modern” knowledge systems of learned men. Women’s natural knowledge was as formidable a competitor to the New Science as aristotelian science and hermetic magic. The expertise of herb women was generally respected throughout the community (Webster 255). The diagnostic and therapeutic abilities of women healers usually far outclassed those of the rising medical professions.<41> Even Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes preferred the ministrations of the “old woman” to those of licensed physicians (Thomas, Decline 14). Among the upper classes, the dedication and achievements of some women healers were so extensive as to win international acclaim.<42> Within the lower classes, “witches” developed the use of herbal remedies such as ergot (to hasten labor), belladonna (to inhibit uterine contractions in the threat of miscarriage), and digitalis (for the treatment of heart ailments), all of which pharmacologists still use today (Fausto-Sterling 43). Peasant women “bound moldy bread over wounds centuries before Alexander Fleming ‘discovered’ that a Penicillium mold killed bacteria” (Stanley 12). Despite New Science representations (all too often echoed in mainstream historiography), the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century preference for traditional forms of healing and the herbal remedies of women “was based on rational calculation, not mere superstition” (Stone, Family 80–1).

Notably, while institutionalized New Science early succeeded in wresting control of the physical sciences (e.g., physics, astronomy, geology, geography, and to a lesser extent, chemistry), the mass of women remained very active in the study of botany. Among large groups of women, traditional expertise was being supplemented by the tools, skills, and insights of the New Science. At the same time, for many women botany had become a recreation rather than a regimen tied to labor and livelihood. The “she-philosopher” was flourishing and alarmingly out-of-control. As we have seen, many factors contributed to the subjugation of the “she-philosopher,” but in botany, one of the most important was the development of botanical Latin. New Scientists first appropriated much of women’s natural knowledge concerning plants and then later changed the rules of the discourse so that the mass of women could no longer participate. Herbals traditionally recorded both the learned and popular names for plants, but the standard botanical handbooks that replaced them (e.g., John Ray’s Historia Plantarum) were always in Latin and excluded all references to the vernacular. With the introduction into England during the early 1760s of the Linnaean system of nomenclature, botanical Latin became the only acceptable means for discoursing about the plant world. The new repositories for botanical learning and study were thus effectively closed off to the mass of women.<43>

The privileging of Latin allowed men to appropriate the power of naming from women. As documented by Keith Thomas, New Science writers deliberately rejected traditional picturesque names for objects in the natural world (the majority coined by women in their work with plants and herbs) because of their strong visual, emotional and human connotations, evoking a popular cosmology complete with fancied potencies and resemblances (Natural World 70–87). John Ray openly proclaimed this in his 1678 Ornithology: “We have wholly omitted what we find in other authors concerning ... hieroglyphics, emblems, morals, fables, presages or aught else appertaning to divinity, ethics, grammar or any sort of human learning; and present ... only what properly related to natural history” (qtd. Thomas, Natural World 67). Thomas observes that this manifesto was of course “easier to issue than to implement” (67). Traces of the human being and his cultural milieu necessarily survived in the work of Ray and Willoughby, as in that of their successors. But a Latinate terminology permitted New Scientists to ensure that the cosmology signified in a name was theirs, and not that of women.

The change in terminologies incorporated changing taxonomies as well. The earlier classification schemes found in herbals (and favored by women) sorted plants according to criteria such as scent, taste, medical properties, moral character, religious significance, and so on. The new Linnaean system was, in contrast, highly artificial; plants were suddenly categorized according to “the number, situation and proportion of the parts of fructification, the stamens and pistils.” Notably, the heavy sexual emphasis of Linnaean taxonomy meant that botany now “seemed a doubtful recreation for young ladies when it involved so close a scrutiny of the ‘private parts’ of wild flowers” (Thomas, Natural World 86, 65–6).

During the Victorian period, botany once again became “the girls’ science.” It could become so only because now operative within a New Science framework that ensured the subordinate position of women. For one thing, the codification schemas for plants were no longer those associated with a female natural knowledge tradition. For another, any further system-building was a task reserved for the “improved Masculine Spirits” of institutionalized New Science. Too, botany was advertised to girls (and their parents) as more an elegant than exact science, perfectly suited to feminine skills and talent: the objects of investigation were beautiful and delicate; botany encouraged exercise in the fresh air; it promoted cheerfulness of disposition; it was inexpensive and easy to pursue; it demanded no special bodily strength; it could even be pursued in retirement. Most important, there was no danger that the pursuit of botany would inflame the imaginations of young girls; rather, it would heighten moral taste and piety through the controlled study of God’s works (Rudolph). At this point, there was little to fear from the new “she-philosopher,” and everything to gain from her (cheap, often unpaid) labor in low-status positions. The transformation from usurper to handmaiden was complete.

Appendix B >>


1. Rpt. in British Scientific Literature 67.

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2. On this subject, see Keith Thomas, Decline 663 and Sandra Harding’s summary of the influential theories of Edgar Zilsel (The Science Question 218–9).

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3. John Wilkins was even more grandiose in his schemes for the New Science. He dreamed of extending the dominion of the British Empire beyond terrestrial bounds to new celestial worlds: “’Tis the Opinion of Keplar, that as soon as the art of Flying is Found out, some of their Nation will make one of the first Colonies that shall Transplant into that other World. I Suppose, his Appropriating this Preheminence to his own Country-Men, may arise from an Over-partial Affection to them. But yet thus far I Agree with him, That whenever that Art is Invented, or any other, wherby a Man may be Conveyed some Twenty Miles high, or thereabouts, then, ’tis not altogether Improbable that some other may be Successful in this Attempt” (Discovery 138).

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4. I have drawn on a number of primary and secondary sources for the data in this section. Among the latter, I wish to acknowledge the following: Dot Griffiths 53–8; Arnold and Faulkner 32–40; Wendy Faulkner, “Medical Technology”; Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English; Londa Schiebinger, “Winkelmann”; Jean Donnison; Alice Clark; Joan Thirsk 8–16; Ruth Bloch; Carolyn Merchant; Brian Easlea, Witch-Hunting; and Sheila Rowbotham.

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5. Cellier’s proposal bears comparison with those of the father-and-son Chamberlen team, both of whom sought monopoly control over the organizing, training, and licensing of midwives. The elder Chamberlen first petitioned Francis Bacon in 1616 for the enforced incorporation of midwives. The younger Chamberlen continued his father’s scheme, supplemented by a similar-type scheme for large-scale poor relief (here Chamberlen advocated use of the joint-stock principle to create a fund which would provide subsistence, schools, and hospitals for 200,000 workers, with profits to be made from their enforced labors, from the engines and inventions of the artisans working in the project, and from an associated academy of talented foreign scholars). See Webster, The Great Instauration.

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6. He wrote: “I have seen [women] solve, and am fully convinc’d, their Works in the Ladies Diary are their own Solutions and Compositions. This we may glory in as the Amazons of our Nation; and Foreigners would be amaz’d when I shew them no less than 4 or 5 Hundred several Letters from so many several Women, with Solutions Geometrical, Arithmetical, Algebraical, Astronomical, and Philosophical” (qtd. Reynolds 15).

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7. It was argued that the study of arithmetic promoted domestic order: “She ought also to understand the Four first great Rules of Arithmetic; you may make good use of them, in teaching her thereby to keep your Accompts.... Now’t is sufficiently known how much Exactness of Accompts conduces to the good Order in Families” (Dr. George Hickes, Instructions for the Education of a Daughter, pub. 1721; qtd. Reynolds 292).

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8. The mass of popularization literature which advocated scientific study by women disavowed any intention of producing true scholars in the New Science and properly “adapted” all information for its female audience. At mid-century, “Cleora” (correspondent to The Female Spectator) argued that women should study history, geography, some of the more agreeable parts of mathematics, and a natural philosophy revised for the ladies in the successful tradition of Fontenelle — “Enchanting Philosophy, its path strewed with Roses” (qtd. Reynolds 217). Another correspondent, Philo-Naturae, also recommends passionately that women pursue scientific studies, always, however, within certain parameters: “It is easy to see, that it is not my ambition to render my sex what is called deeply-learned”; women need cultivate only “a general understanding” of the New Science (qtd. Reynolds 217).

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9. Widows “usually retained tenancy of land or inherited their husbands’ trade in preference to any sons” and laws relating to labor and property did not differentiate between women and men (Arnold and Faulkner 37).

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10. As early as 1665, Robert Hooke paid tribute to the “men of Business” whom he believed ultimately responsible for “the good fortune” of the Royal Society. The close association of the Royal Society with mercantile capital had meant that “several Merchants ... have adventur’d considerable sums of Money, to put in practice what some of our Members have contrived” (Micrographia g1v).

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11. See Thomas, Natural World 73; also Lévy-Leblond 166–7.

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12. See Thomas, Natural World 281, 282, 70–87.

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13. E.g., in his 1688 treatise on language, John Wilkins asserted the primacy of written over oral language, claiming that language by nature is essentially something written; in Wilkins’ schema, oral language is founded on the written language, rather than vice versa (Ong 280).

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14. Katherine Ranelagh, Robert Boyle’s influential sister, is a prime example of this. Webster writes that her “familiarity with the affairs of the Invisible College [precursor of the Royal Society] is shown by the letter of June 1647 which transmitted correspondence from Worsley to Boyle. While as a woman she may have been reticent about formal membership, there are numerous testimonies of her forceful participation in religious, political and philosophical debates among puritan intellectuals. Even as a young woman she was venerated by her family and acquaintances alike. In time her reputation became inseparably linked with that of her brother.... Accordingly her role [in the Invisible College] was much more than that of a patronness and clearing house for correspondence. She would certainly have exerted as much influence as a full member and her numerous associates would have provided a clientele for recruitment” (The Great Instauration 62).

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15. My information on this subject derives from Londa Schiebinger’s article on Maria Winkelmann.

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16. Bacon’s The Masculine Birth of Time is a fragmentary piece, translated and printed in Benjamin Farrington’s The Philosophy of Francis Bacon.

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17. These are lines 5–7 from Cowley’s poem, “To the Royal Society,” first published as a prefix to Sprat’s famous 1667 apologia, History of the Royal Society.

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18. This wording occurs in Glanvill, Essays VII:21; see also Bacon, New Organon, Book I, Aphorism LXXXIV.

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19. For example, see Hooke’s comments in Micrographia d2r; also Boyle, Works 2:6–7 and Glanvill, Plus Ultra 147.

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20. Writes Thomas: “the analysis of God’s portents was often conducted in a highly meticulous manner” (Decline 91).

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21. Indeed, Arnold and Faulkner argue that the campaign of terror inflicted by the witch hunts during the early modern period was a ruthlessly effective means of checking female knowledge traditions that competed with or threatened a patriarchal Weltanschauung. “By the time the natural philosophers were beginning to organize themselves, the church had virtually silenced any female claim to a ‘new’ philosophy” through the witch hunts (Arnold and Faulkner 29; see also Easlea, Witch-Hunting, plus Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English).

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22. For example: experiments in the still-house to distill and chemically process medications; experiments in Paracelsian iatrochemistry; experiments with cosmetics and perfumery; and so on.

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23. Baconian experimentation of the sort associated with the Royal Society was “not a critical activity but a kind of creative play” answering the question “I wonder what would happen if ...?” rather than “If I do X, will Y be the result?” (Medawar 119, 134–5). In contrast, more traditional empirical investigations were frequently performed in order to test a particular hypothesis.

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24. See Barbara Eisenstein 695; Michael Hunter; and James Paradis, “The Royal Society.”

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25. The following scholars all include a discussion of the relations between Cartesian rationalism and early feminism: Joan Kinnaird; Carolyn Lougée; Katharine Rogers, Feminism; Michael Seidel; Hilda Smith, Reason’s Disciples; and Simon Shepherd.

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26. LeGates 32–33; see also Jordanova 66–7.

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27. For example, Ambrose Phillips’ periodical The Free Thinker was devoted to an attempt at fortifying the female mind “against the idle fears and superstitions of the vulgar” (qtd. Meyer 66). Phillips affirmed that a sufficient understanding of New Science principles would enable women to “behold the uncommon operations of Nature, unmoved by any other passion but admiration” (qtd. Meyer 70). See also separate discussion under A.5 below.

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28. Dobrin argues this point at some length in his article “Is Technical Writing Particularly Objective?” 237–40. Like Dobrin, I use the term “objectivity” in the sense of “shared by the group.”

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29. The science-is-rhetorical school of thought has numerous proponents, myself included. For an introductory survey of these, see Charles Bazerman, “Scientific Writing as a Social Act.” For a diversity of views on the subject as it relates specifically to scientific/technical discourse, see the work of Charles Bazerman, Paul Campbell, Scott Consigny, David Dobrin, G. Nigel Gilbert, S. Michael Halloran, James Kelso, Carolyn Miller, Michael Overington, Herbert Simons, Philip Wander, Andrew Weigert, Walter Weimer, and John Ziman.

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30. Leading figures in this school include Imre Lakatos, Dudley Shapere, Stephen Toulmin, and John Ziman. All except Ziman are expertly discussed in Frederick Suppe’s exhaustive study of the history and future of philosophy-of-science scholarship.

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31. This is the argument of Stephen Toulmin, as recounted in Suppe 670. I should add that such thinking does not, as some would have it, reduce to a subjectivist rejection of materialism or science. Toulmin and others in the “historical realist” camp assume that science can and does yield knowledge descriptive of how the world really is, and that observational interaction between humankind and that world plays an important role in obtaining such knowledge (Suppe 652).

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32. This particular division of labor by gender still plagues Western science today; see Vera Rubin’s recent study.

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33. The remarkable Celia Fiennes envisioned a somewhat more challenging role for women in the spirit of New Science observation and reportage. Touring through England on horseback circa 1685–1703, Fiennes recorded her detailed observations in a travelogue (left in publishable form at her death) comprising an astounding assemblage of facts concerning English roads, bridges, markets, dwellings and grounds, churches, food prices and quality, dress, pictures, furniture, manners, customs, pageantry, processions, ceremonials, etc. In her preface “To the Reader,” Fiennes recommends to “the Ladies” such “observation ... within their own compass in each country to which they relate,” claiming that this study will provide subject matter for “conversation” and, more importantly, that it can also be used profitably to “studdy now to be serviceable to their neighbours especially the poor among whome they dwell, which would spare them the uneasye thoughts how to pass away tedious dayes, and tyme would not be a burden” (qtd. Reynolds 166). Fiennes’ suggestion that women harness their powers of observation in the service of their community was unique and quite radical in its implications. Notably, her text (Through England on a Side Saddle) was not published until 1888, and women were given no opportunity to publicly debate her ideas.

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34. Arnold Thackray documents the political imperatives that drove the Royal Society to push Newtonianism as “the one true story” of the universe, thus consolidating its hold on British science in the face of competing claims from Leibniz, a favorite of George I and the Court of Hanover.

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35. These observations are from a 1717 text by Charles Evelyn (1–2).

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36. The phrasing is Boyle’s; see his Seraphick Love in Works 1:260 and 1:275. See also Thomas, Natural World 238–9.

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37. In Bacon’s New Science utopia, women were at the base of society, their unvalued labor providing the foundation upon which the scientific edifice was built. Women serviced not only the nine groupings of scientists, but also all their novices and apprentices (New Atlantis, Works 3:165).

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38. See, for example, the commonplace-type throw-away comments of Margaret Cavendish in The Comical Hash (1662 Playes 573–4) and Walter Charleton in The Ephesian Matron (sig. A5r) on the subject.

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39. See Meyer’s The Scientific Lady in England 57, 68, 70.

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40. As with any “ethnoscience,” the systematic coherence binding together the diverse elements of women’s natural knowledge was located in oral tradition, culture, myth, cosmology. Despite the many barriers that kept women from the written word, a natural theory fused with women’s practice was slowly emerging in print: in herbals, household recipe books, diaries, almanacs, and assorted “how-to” books by women.

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41. On this, see Wendy Faulkner 98; Keith Thomas, Decline 667–8; Jean Donnison; and Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English.

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42. This was true of Elizabeth Grey, Duchess of Kent (1581–1651) as well as Anne Murray Halkett (1622–1699).

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43. Walter Ong has characterized Learned Latin as a “male language,” the “Father Tongue,” counterposed to the vernacular or “Mother Tongue” — the language of women. Partly, this is attributed to the fact that indoctrination in Latin was traditionally a male initiation rite conducted within an all-male education system. But Ong believes there was another reason for the affinity between men and Latin. As a chirographically controlled language, Latin is notably disconnected from the “intimate human lifeworld”; it does not (and cannot) apprehend “the areas of experience which figure in Virginia Woolf’s novels” or certain “areas of consciousness and of the unconscious” — i.e., those areas relegated to the female sphere and register (Ong 37).

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