Dictionnaire des femmes des Cinq parties du monde. Europe. 1ere Partie. 3eme division. [France, 1833?].

Manuscript on paper, 4to (212 x 165 mm). [272] pages, including 3 blank leaves (1, 37, and 136), written on rectos and versos in a legible cursive hand in brown ink, mostly 24-25 lines. A draft, with many crossings out and additions. The date 1833 (apparently in a different hand) inscribed on front blank leaf. Untrimmed and unbound, formerly stab-stitched, a few sections pasted together at gutters. Worming in gutter margins of last 20 leaves, one or two marginal stains. Housed in a new fitted blue cloth solander case, morocco lettering-piece.***

An unpublished “women’s geographical dictionary,” or anthropological survey of women of different nationalities. The accounts of the anonymous male author reflect the prejudices of his time. While sincerely supporting women’s education, he views women as objects of sexual interest; this conventional Enlightenment view is paired with an unflagging interest in social customs, dress, and the influence of climate and food on regional culture, traditions, and character types. A rich source of anthropological arcana, the manuscript also represents an early exploration of gender roles and attitudes.

Each chapter is devoted to the psychology, customs and appearances of women of a different country or region, and of their roles in society. The author cites in passing a few travel accounts, such as “Dr. Henderson” on Iceland (Ebenezer Henderson’s Iceland: Or, The Journal of a Residence in that Island, first published in 1818); and philosophers, including Montaigne, Voltaire and Montesquieu, but some of the observations may be firsthand. Countries covered (in order of appearance) are Hungary, the Low Countries, Ireland, Iceland, Italy (with separate chapters on Naples, Rome, Sicily, Tuscany, and Venice), Lapland, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland (including separate chapters on Bremgarten, Geneva and Lausanne), and Turkey. Some asides treat separate religious communities, such as the Moravians in the Low Countries, or ethnic communities like the “Morlachs” of Hungary (i.e., Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia). The latitude of each region is given in the heading. Each section is complete within itself, but as the title refers to the “Five parts of the World,” and this manuscript covers Europe only, the project was evidently intended to cover the globe.

The unknown author’s tone is worldly and fairly cynical, especially regarding religion (usually with good reason). He describes the lack of rights and mistreatment of women drily, but tends to place the blame on cultural norms rather than on men. For example, in describing Morlach women, he states that the “the girls keep themselves clean only until the day after their weddings; once they are assured of a husband, they disdain all the ways of maintaining his affection; thus they are treated with scorn, even verbally. When the Morlachs speak of their wives they excuse themselves, with a “begging your pardon.” They make [their wives] sleep on the ground next to their beds, awaiting their orders... “ (fol. 6v).

Women are very much objectified, sounding at times like pieces of meat: “The Dutchwoman does not resemble other European women at all: the more watery air, the constant fogs, are causes of her rosy complexion, while rendering her skin white and soft; the nature of her food – milk and the cheeses made from it, result in a plumpness extreme enough to offend good taste; they also produce a softness of the flesh...” Such crude physical descriptions are tempered by observations on the effects of the environment and socio-economic factors. In the case of the Netherlands, the author attributes to the overriding preoccupation with commerce a moderating effect on the women’s natural voluptuousness... and he praises Dutch women as the continent’s best housewives (whose houses, however, are often cleaner than their persons).

Women are very much objectified, sounding at times like pieces of meat: “The Dutchwoman does not resemble other European women at all: the more watery air, the constant fogs, are causes of her rosy complexion, while rendering her skin white and soft; the nature of her food – milk and the cheeses made from it, result in a plumpness extreme enough to offend good taste; they also produce a softness of the flesh...” Such crude physical descriptions are, however, complemented and often tempered by observations on the women’s socio-economic environments. In the case of the Netherlands, the author attributes to the overriding preoccupation with commerce a moderating effect on the women’s natural voluptuousness... and he praises Dutch women as the continent’s best housewives (whose houses, however, are often cleaner than their persons).

Besides the influence of local cuisine on women’s physiques, their clothing and local costumes are described in detail. Other aspects of daily life include hospitality to strangers, ways of greeting, sex and relations between the sexes, funerary customs, especially those in which women wail and a large amount of alcohol is consumed (Ireland), and women’s “gossip.” Groups of women talking freely without men are described as “orgies” (Ireland); but elsewhere the abolition of women’s parliaments (Iceland) is described as regrettable. The author, a Frenchman, approves of women’s education, and compares several countries unfavorably to France, the land of salons and wit. The Italians, for example, treat their women like children, providing them with no education. “But one remarks in their commerce what they [Italian women] would be capable of with a different education. The culture of the minds of women is as neglected there as is that of the country, and the `world’s garden,’ (sobriquet given to Italy) is covered with brambles and sends out pestilential odors.” Further prejudicing our writer against Italy is its association with Greece, the land of homosexual love, a practice which persists in certain Roman enclaves, and leaves him indignant for Greece’s neglected women. Item #2931

Price: $2,500.00

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