Through women’s writing: connecting to others with kindness, 1748-1815

Armstrong, Samantha-Jo E. (2022). Through women’s writing: connecting to others with kindness, 1748-1815. University of Birmingham. M.Phil.

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Kindness was fundamental to the lives of eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century men and women. These men and women understood kindness as both an emotion and a mode of cultural interaction. The complex meaning of kindness ensured its continual usage throughout the century, and the concept appeared regularly in written documents such as letters, diaries, and published works. However, the contemporary significance of kindness has been obscured in modern scholarship. Efforts to reclaim a fuller understanding of kindness is hindered by a problem common to historical research: that of mining written language and vocabulary for the wider world that these documents occupied, while acknowledging that they only encapsulate a limited range of lived experiences. Emotions, especially, provide a challenge within written documents since individual emotions—both on the page and in lived experience—changed according to country, century, and within individual smaller groups. To address the problem of emotions, this thesis uses Monique Scheer’s emotional theory of ‘emotional practice’ to identify and locate kindness as a tangible practice that can be seen on the pages of written documents. Concurrently with situating these usages within cultural and social contexts, this thesis presents a careful analysis of the contours of kindness as a mode of cultural interaction. By focussing on the word ‘kindness’ in diaries and letters of women, alongside the published literature of both men and women, this project analysizes how kindness fits within the wider world of the eighteenth century. In doing so, this thesis finds there were two ways of performing kindness, namely actions and expressions, which were grounded in Christian religious theology and secular ideology. This ideology of kindness promised women participation in the construction of a proper orderly society, since feminine virtues shaped them into the ideal, pliant women who assumed the position of being constantly kind in all circumstances. Being exposed to the fundamentals of kindness through written material and the people in their lives permitted women to understand the intricacies of the practice well enough to flex the ideals, sanctioning a space to fulfil their agendas. In this way, women could assert themselves, their wants, and their needs, while retaining their status as respectable women.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Phil.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Phil.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of History
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain


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