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“The lover's instructor”: Courtship advice in Anglo-America, 1640-1830

Carolyn May Barske, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the behavioral recommendations of courtship advice literature published in Britain and in British North America during the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These recommendations gave white middling class women and, increasingly during the eighteenth century, their male counterparts models of appropriate courtship behavior and ideal partners. I argue that shifts of opinion that began to emerge in these two areas during the eighteenth century, in large measure a consequence of the impact of the Enlightenment, the American Revolution and the growth of a more mobile urban society, involved a change in the cultural understanding of the power and autonomy of women in courtship. Middling white women's greater control in courtship dynamics also reflected a decline in parental control over courtship, women's better access to education and a changing societal understanding of women's roles as mothers, citizens and wives. I further discuss how British courtship advice literature heavily influenced North American authors and how after the American Revolution North American authors often struggled to distance themselves from their British counterparts in creating an uniquely American system of courtship. I contend that the advice contained in a diverse group of sources, ranging from sermons and short newspaper articles on breach of the marriage promise suits to extensive courtship advice manuals and novels, documents the efforts of authors of courtship advice literature to modify the traditional patriarchal system of courtship without completely overthrowing long held notions of gender inequality and coverture.

Subject Area

American studies|European history|Womens studies|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Barske, Carolyn May, "“The lover's instructor”: Courtship advice in Anglo-America, 1640-1830" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3461981.