Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: essays

How about an essay or two (or three) for a change?  I've been reading The Essays of Elia (Classic Reprint)* and here are a few of my favorites.

Charles Lamb

"Modern Gallantry"  The roots of feminism are probably located in pre-history, but the earliest published feminist work that I'm aware of is A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft.  (1792)  It was published when Lamb was a youth, and it may be a stretch to assume that he read it, or that it influenced him, but  "Modern Gallantry" proves that he gave some thought to the condition of women.  In this essay, Lamb exposes the hypocrisy of his age, in which gentlemen took pride in their gallant behavior toward "ladies" but at the same time, treated women from ungenteel backgrounds with total contempt.  It's not a feminist essay.  You could argue that it's anti-feminist because he objects to the fact that women endure the same capital punishment that is meted out to men. (Equal treatment, right?)  However, he does show how gallantry does not illustrate a respect for women, but only a respect for their beauty or wealth.  You can read the full text here.

"A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig"  I believe this is Lamb's most famous essay.  No need to explain the text because the title says it all, but it's so charmingly written, although, perhaps may elicit some winces from animal lovers.  Full text here.

"A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People"  Here, Lamb is a 19th century Bridget Jones, decrying the smugness of the marrieds and their often-repulsive offspring.  Lamb says, "When I consider how little of a rarity children are--that every street and blind alley swarms with them--that the poorest people commonly have them in abundance--that there are few marriages that are not blest with at least one of these bargains--how often they turn out ill, and defeat the fond hopes of their parents, taking to vicious courses, which end in...the gallows,--I cannot for my life tell what cause for pride there can possibly be in having them."  I am married (and with four children) but I can relate, particularly to the bits about smug parents.  Full text here.

Down with smugness

* The link to the Charles Lamb book is an affiliate link.


  1. I guess it never occurred to me to read more of Lamb's essays--you remind me of how clever he is.

  2. Thanks for the links. I'm pretty sure the only Charles Lamb I read was in college, and I have no memory of what it was. I'm definitely going to read two of these three. (Not sure I can handle the roast pig.)