The aim of this book is to offer a general panorama of female education in the 18th century in England and Spain. The study approached from a Bakhtinian perspective based on the analysis of the different voices present in the Enlightened discourse. In times such as ours, which are almost compulsorily postmodern, post-historical - regarding the apocalyptic though already very fragile theses by Fukuyama - and even post-human, as it has been called, not deprived of a certain tendency to an alarmist hyperbole; times in which it seems that greater importance is placed on simulation (according to Budrillard), appearance (though in not so deep a sense as that in which Plato had approached it), luxuriously enveloped falsehood and provisional nature, when research books want to be involved just with up-to-date issues, they stop being up-to-date too soon.
Heading for the culture of the ephemeral and fragmentary, advertising is its best example, we face the unpleasant, due to its persistence, demand to justify the need of the study and revision of the great concepts and facts from the past, of myths and of essential accounts, to put it otherwise, in order to assess them, not just as regards their historicisable dimension, but also regarding their possible essence of ideological foundation or of current issue of critical debate. Therefore, the attempt to reconsider the past and those concepts deemed absolute can lead, in a positive way, to find them again in a dynamics of problematizing and a search tending to the looking for solutions avoiding the merely emotionless and uncritical allocation; in a negative way, however, it can easily drift to the paradoxical enthronement of the present as an also absolute value, an inactive, simple, sedative present, endowed with the triumphant laziness that would accept "anything" as a alibi.
Some of these premises are those which, in my view, seem to support this work, written in collaboration, by Maria Isabel Garcia-Martinez, Maria Jose Alvarez-Faedo and Lioba Simon-Schuhmacher, lecturers at the university of Oviedo. This book is the result of a rigorous and profound research, and it deals, from a both integrating and contrasting perspective, with the gestation and introduction of the different models of education of the 18th-century woman, both in Spain and in England, and the role this education played in the active incorporation of women into the social, economic, and literary - all in all, public - life of those two countries which, as everyone knows, took separate paths in many aspects from the Renaissance. The revision of both models allows a broad-spectrum reading in which each detail acquires a dimension within its own context, which, at the same time, is enriched in its comparison.
The 18th century, that of the Enlightenment, infected since its early times by the virus of reason, encouraged by the values of intelligence and fondness of science, reluctant to obscurantism and to the hiding of knowledge, inclined to expansion and the spreading of learning, soon understood that the pursued light it was seeking was not to stay within the very compact walls where previous times had preserved it, but it was to be projected, as much as possible, on the individual and on society, on those it was to enlighten in their search or personal and collective development, and on their pursuit of freedom and happiness. In this sense, the Enlightened thought could not stop shedding its ideas, the light I was talking about before, in order to drive away the shadows in which, except in very scarce exceptional cases, a group that was not at all favoured by the advances in the field of education - that of women - had traditionally dwelled.
Throughout the 18th century, as the authors show in the pages of this book, the education of woman did not only - nor basically - lie in the achievement of a widely demanded right, but in a slow process of transformation of society which resulted in the establishment of areas of new and solid freedoms, of an area of thought and action of their own from which they could illegitimize the authority and hierarchy imposed by an eminently masculine society and, at the same time, legitimize a discourse of their own which reinvents the role played by home and family in education, as well as that of religion and its institutions. This new meeting place, this new role of women in society, favoured by education, goes through different stages and makes use of mechanisms of diverse nature: new conceptions of school - lay as well as religious - promenades, coffee-houses and saloons, the press, being their access to literature from their role as authoresses one of the most outstanding ones.
It allowed, without a shadow of a doubt, the modulation of a voice of their own and favoured an area for analysis and reflection, but also for the action leading to higher numbers of public participation and, by extension, to a fairer society. The achievement of social goals always results from a large history of personal and collective efforts. The gradual placing of women in 18th-century education in Spain and England is an achievement of obvious importance despite the more-or-less-covert reluctance and the evident rejections that had to be overcome. This book by Dr. Garcia-Martinez, Dr. Alvarez-Faedo and Dr. Simon-Schuhmacher offers a detailed and accurate account of this exciting process. And I shall say that is certainly up-to-date.