Thursday, 15 September 2011

Case study: the shifting form of the table of contents in Judith Drake's An Essay in Defence of The Female Sex (1696)

Posted by
Judith Drake's Essay in Defence of The Female Sex (1696, formerly attributed to Mary Astell) has no major structural breaks dividing its content into books, chapters, or sections.  Perhaps the author or printer thought the work too short to warrant such divisions.  This lack of explicit structural divisions may account for the absence of a table of contents, though some of the functionality of the table of contents is provided elsewhere.  At the very entry-point of the book, on the title page, the major elements of content are listed (a series of "characters" that are depicted therein--"A Pedant," "A Squire," "A Beau," etc.) along with an indication of the larger framing genre ("In a Letter, to a Lady") to give a summary of what the reader can expect to find inside, but all without page numbers.  The other elements of the book contents in the preliminaries--a dedicatory letter, a preface to the reader, and a commendatory poem on the work by James Drake--are easy to distinguish by their physical form, and they are conventionally placed in the front of the book, so they are easy to locate.  The former two elements also have running titles ("Dedication," and "Preface") to aid navigation.
fig. 1. Title page of Drakes An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex (1696).

In the main body of the book, marginal notes are the only markers of a new section of content (e.g."Character of a Vertuoso" [sic] fig. 2). 

fig. 2 Marginal note marking the start of a new section of content

The one element of the book's architecture that gives an explicit signal of representing "THE CONTENTS" comes not in the form of a table correlating section breaks with line numbers, but rather an index at the back of the book, an example of how close in function these two navigational aids are (fig. 3).  In some cases, these subject headings, like the list of contents on the title page, are marked in the margins of the text (fig. 2).

fig. 3 "Contents" as index
The images in this entry are of a copy in the Boston Public Library and were taken from the Internet Archive:

Works cited:

Drake, Judith. An essay in defence of the female sex:  in which are inserted the characters of a pedant, a squire, a beau, vertuoso, a poetaster, a city-critick &c. in a letter to a lady. London, 1696.