Mary Collier and Anne Finch Break the “Rules”

Many people were wary of women writers in the eighteenth century. Women were supposed to be seen and not heard, and the fact that women were trying to be writers and voice their opinions broke this “rule”, two women who broke this “rule” with their writing were Mary Collier and Anne Finch. Mary Collier’s “The Woman’s Labour” is a provider of sorts for 18th century working conditions and how gender and authority worked. Anne Finch’s “The Introduction” talks of how society wants women to be small and meek and not have the voice that writers should have. On the other hand Finch’s poem “Letter to Daphnis” defies her opinion of marriage and instead she shows the love that could be seen in her marriage. These women show that women during this time worked harder than men and that they should not be categorized by society, that they can do whatever they put their minds to.

Mary Collier was a washerwoman, so she knew how the life of a laboring woman was. She wrote “The Woman’s Labour” in response to Stephen Duck’s poem “The Thresher’s Labour” because in it Duck criticized women for being lazy workers and also because he didn’t take working women seriously whatsoever. Collier is trying to convey in this poem that both the men and women of the working class are slaves to the upper class and that Duck should admire this instead of separating them based on gender, because in reality women of the working class work a lot harder than men do. In every line of her poem Collier is writing a comeback to Duck, so that he can understand that women workers are not lazy but in fact work as hard as men if not harder. Collier points out at the beginning that Duck would not have been successful if not for a woman’s help “Immortal bard! Thou favorite of the nine!/Enriched by peers, advanced by Caroline” (1-2), Queen Caroline only offered Duck everything she thought he deserved after reading his poem even though it was an insult to working women, so apparently not all women had each other’s back in the eighteenth century. Collier shows that she does not have respect for Duck in her poem by sarcastically (well I read it sarcastically) saying, “And you, great Duck, upon whose happy brow/The Muses seem to fix the garland now” (31-32). This shows that most people believe he is great because he is receiving a garland made by the Muses which indicates some type of honor. Duck should not be given any honor especially when he is trying to make working-class women, like Collier, seem lazy and unfit to be good workers. “Your threshing sooty peas will not come near./All the perfections woman once could boast,/Are quite obscured, and altogether lost” (220-222) shows that women have always had it hard in life and that maybe at one point women were able to show the world what they were made of, but at one point in history things changed and women were no longer able to be boastful like men now are.

At the end of the poem though everything changes, of course Collier is still fighting Duck on his criticism but also shows him in a new light: “So the industrious bees do hourly strive/To bring their loads of honey to the hive;/Their sordid owners always reap the gains,/And poorly recompense their toil and pains” (242-246). These lines bring worker women and worker men together and allows them to see that gender is not the problem in the workplace, but that instead the upper class is the enemy that they should confront. The upper class takes and takes and the lower class gets nothing in return. So Collier shows that in a world where people discriminate because of gender instead both genders should come together as one and fight the real enemy.

Anne Finch possessed a modern understanding of what “gender” is, the social construction of femininity/masculinity, and it shows in her poem “The Introduction”. This poem was actually never published because she was a woman and women were not supposed to be writers. In this poem Finch shows how women are and how society wants them to actually be, she challenges the standard that people have for women and shows them that in reality women can be who they want to be. The poem starts off with “Did I, my lines intend for public view,/How many censures, would their faults pursue” (1-2), which shows that, as a woman, if Finch were to publish this poem many people would have disapproved of her writing. She goes on to explain that it would be because she is a woman: “Alas! A woman that attempts the pen,/Such an intruder on the rights of men” (9-10). This proves that the problem is not in her writing but instead in the fact that writing is not something a woman should even attempt to do because it is a job for men to have, and not for a woman to attempt. She goes on to show that society does not believe they should be writers but should do what women do, “They tell us, we mistake our sex and way;/Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play/Are the accomplishments we should desire;/To write, or read, or think, or to enquire/Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time” (13-17). Men and society believe that women are not very intelligent creatures and that they should do what they do best, and that is to sit down and just look pretty. This society believes that if you offer women something pretty or shiny they’ll blink and be distracted from wanting to do something intelligent, like to read or think.

It’s sad to say that even today some people still believe that women should be seen and not heard. There is hope, Finch says, that one women will rise above the rest and hopefully after one the rest will follow “And to be dull, expected and designed;/And if some one would soar above the rest,/With warmer fancy, and ambition pressed,/So strong, th’ opposing faction still appears” (54-57). This connects to modern day because even nowadays we just need one person to step up and the rest will follow, and once the rest follow change can finally happen in the world and hopefully then society won’t have an idea of what a woman should be like.

With this idea in mind one could think that Finch had extreme views on the relationship between man and wife at the time. Finch had her own beliefs of marriage, how it affected women and believed it was a form of permanent servitude. Even though she believed these things of marriage, her own marriage was one filled with love, her own husband even supported her writing and would transcribe her poems for her. In “A Letter to Daphnis” Finch shows the love she and her husband have in their marriage. The poem begins by saying “This to the crown and blessing of my life,/The much loved husband of a happy wife” (1-2). Since this is a depiction of Finch and her husband’s love it shows that in fact this marriage is one built on love and not one on the enslavement of women. “To him, whose constant passion found the art/To win a stubborn, and ungrateful heart” (3-4) it’s obvious here that Daphnis loves his wife no matter the flaws she may have, and even she admits to her flaws. Even with all the love they have for each other, though, it seems like this love is sort of an obsession “Daphnis I love, Daphnis my thoughts pursue,/Daphnis my hopes, my joys, are bounded all in you” (8-9). Finch’s ideas, in this poem and her poem “Unequal Fetters”, show that she believes that marriage is a form of servitude and even though she claims to have a marriage filled with love these lines make it seem like she is a slave to this love and her husband, especially when she says “[…] are bounded all in you” (9). So in a way this line challenges her poem and even her own marriage because of the thought that the wife in the poem is “bounded” to her husband forever, because in marriage man and wife are bound “until death do them apart”. Even though these lines seem to contradict her ideals Finch goes on to say that she is writing this out of love: “But this from love, not vanity, proceeds” (12), so maybe in the end love does conquer all. Maybe love blinded Finch that she did not notice the fact that was enslaved to love for the rest of her life. In a way she did not to the ideas of servitude like other women have, but instead she lived to serve love to hand over her love on a silver platter to the husband she loved so much.

Throughout history many people did not believe in women writers because there a rule that was technically not there that said that women should be seen and not heard. Two women broke this “rule”, Mary Collier and Anne Finch. Mary Collier believed that gender should not affect how working class women were seen. In her poem “The Woman’s Labour” she fights back against what another poet says about working women being lazy. Collier being a working women did not take this and wrote her poem to fight back against the ideas many people had of working women, and showed that one gender in the working class is not the enemy but instead the enemy is the upper class. Anne Finch believed that women should break free of the way society wants them to be and instead they should be who they want to be. Finch shows this in her work “The Introduction” where she changes the world by saying that she a woman wrote it and that she and other women should not have to conform to society. Finch also had negative views on marriage, but even with the negative views she had she still wrote in “Letter to Daphnis” of the love her and her husband had for one another. At times it seems like she is her own slave to love which would make her a slave to marriage, which goes against her beliefs. Either way both of these women were ahead of their time in trying to make their marks on the world as women writers.

Leave a Comment