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Through the Looking Glass: A Glimpse into the Private Lives of Women in England, 1650-1750

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What is known about the lives, and especially the private lives, of English women in the early modern era is not at all satisfactory in terms of sources, scope, or

What is known about the lives, and especially the private lives, of English women in the early modern era is not at all satisfactory in terms of sources, scope, or understanding. Because the act of writing and reading was already exclusive to the upper classes, what sources do survive are not representative of the majority of the female population, leading to more speculation on behalf of historians. The sources which do survive, by and large focus on the role of religion and spirituality in a woman's life, since it was the most acceptable reason for an early modern woman to be writing about. However, I hoped to prove how women were interested in more than just self-improvement through religious devotion, thereby demonstrating that early modern English women were as complex and rich in personality and interests as a modern woman might consider herself to be. After a brief introduction and explanation of the research process, this project then begins to individually analyze the three women who were chosen for study based on their mutual practice of keeping a diary during their lives in early modern England. These women were Elizabeth Freke, Lady Sarah Cowper, and Mary, Countess Cowper, all of whom operated within the feminine social hierarchy during this period, but each of whom demonstrated a particular interest beyond that of marriage and family, including economics, religion, and politics. I believe that each woman analyzed proved how unique and varied the lives of early modern English women were through their writings.

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  • 2016-05