This book brings together a mass of detailed and dispersed material on women in early modern Europe, as well as giving readers a new interpretation of the considerable study of women which has emerged over the list two decades. The author's range is ambitious and, unlike previous works in the field which isolate particular aspects of the lives of women or of the versions of woman, she considers the situation of all kinds of women, all aspects of their lives, across the whole of Western Europe, particularly England and France, and over three centuries. The book's approach is thematic with chapters on female rites of passage - girlhood marriage, married life as well as norms, sexuality, witches and saints.
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'The Prospect Before Her' is a landmark in the writing of the history of Women. In a work of tremendous intellectual and geographical range, and of marked humanity, Olwen Hufton distills the work of three decades, Her own and that of other scholars, to present not only a magnificent work of synthesis, but a truly original contribution to, and advancement of, our understanding of past lives – those of men as well as those of women.
Hufton's book consider the situation of all kinds of women in all aspects of their lives across the whole of Western Europe (properly cognisant of national differences) and over three centuries.
Few historians write with such mastery, ease and illumination about how men or women gained their livelihoods in the pre-industrial era, be they silk-workers in Lyons or sausage-makers in Augustenburg. It was a harsh world: disease, political upheaval and, for the many, food shortages and poverty were ever-present; changes in economic circumstances benefited some but crushed others; the churches, Catholic and Protestant, contested for control of societies and the minds of ordinary men and women.
In all this, women had little apparent strength – land, wealth, power and prestige were almost entirely in the hands of men. How far this was so Olwen Hufton makes very clear; but one of the book's great virtues is that it also shows what a commonality of interests men and women in fact had, and how much – without thinking of it in those terms, or indeed for the most part hardly being aware of it all – women were actually able to influence and control.
Another virtue of this book is its close examination of the different stages of women's lives – girlhood, work, marriage, motherhood and widowhood; Hufton's discussion of each is masterly. She also looks in details at the unusual, at those women who, by accident or choice, did not conform – prostitutes, witches, nuns, saints, the early women writers and (in the French Revolution, where the book ends) the rioters and early feminists who realised politics could be used to alter the position of women. What does each of them have to tell us about what was usual and everyday as well as about what was exceptional?
'The Prospect Before Her' takes us from the end of medieval Europe to the dawn of the modern age, laying before us a rich panorama of the past that should allow Hufton's book to be seen, not only as one of the most significant history books to be published this year, but also as a true classic.
"There is no other modern work which covers the history of women in this period, nor is there likely to be, because it's hard to imagine anyone other than Olwen Hufton with the range of skills to take on and accomplish such a task. The panorama she offers is wholly convincing; it is bolstered with great learning; it is not oversimplified, but neither are we deluged with mere details. The concluding pages constitute one of the most insightful pieces of historical integration I've seen in many years and are in themselves worth the price of the book."
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1995. Trade Paperback. Book Condition: New. 654 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 21555