The Sentimental Fashion System: Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women and the Magdalen House for Penitent Prostitutes

  • Jennie Batchelor


With its blend of the rhetoric of the pulpit and the paternalist prose of the conduct manual, James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women (1765) was an avowed success. Apparently inspired by an ‘unfeigned regard for the Female Sex; [and] a fervent zeal for the best interests of society’ (p. iv), the Sermons outlines, at considerable length, a feminine ideal which, in established conduct book tradition, promises to improve the female character and thereby repair the nation’s moral fabric. Unlike other conduct manual writers, however, Fordyce disregarded the form of the familiar letter and instead turned to the heart-felt sentiments and grand rhetorical flourishes characteristic of the eighteenth-century sermon. In addition to its more noble aspirations, the Sermons constituted an intriguing generic and literary experiment designed to satisfy the author’s ‘secret desire … of trying whether that style of preaching, which to him appears, on the whole, adapted to an auditory above the vulgar rank, might succeed on a subject of this nature’ (p. iv).


Young Woman Female Character Dress Code Moral Legibility Feminine Ideal 
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Copyright information

© Jennie Batchelor 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennie Batchelor
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishUniversity of KentUK

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