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Sociable Letters: Inequality in Social and Economic Status

Literacy in the twenty-first century is usually written in a literal manner, making it simple to deduce the story’s meaning. Unlikely, Sociable Letters, published in 1664, is regarded as “a valuable virtual representation of the material and social factors of English literature in eighteenth-century England” (Sarasohn, 200). It portrayed literacy in the seventeenth century when monarchs and common people had a large gap between them so that nobles would write letters to each other about petty matters. Letter 55, for example, is a letter sent to an unknown wealthy friend to “express the humour of mankind” (Cavendish 106). Margaret Cavendish, the author of Sociable Letters, was the youngest of Sir Thomas Lucas’s children and one of the few prominent female authors without a formal education. Cavendish tends to be a liberal, using satire and humour to criticize the social system and persuade her wealthy friend to see the truth of peasants’ lives, oblivious of the difficulties peasants face in their pursuit of happiness in comparison to nobles.

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Cavendish employs satire and humour to persuade her viewers of the monarch’s ludicrous views. Cavendish uses her friend to illustrate the monarch’s attitude toward the lower classes: “you did almost admire the peasants for working so happily” (Cavendish 106). Her friend considers the lives of peasants to be peaceful, but in fact, rich people are happier than poor folks. The amount of property owned by nobles is defined as “aspects of growth and high fortunes is not so easily handled” (Sarasohn, 209); in other words, the wealthy complain about having too much fortune to worry about, while the common people have none. Who would not want to live a happy and safe life? Nobles believe that ordinary folk has improved physical health because they work every day. Peasants must work every day to survive, but monarchs say that working makes them happier because “labour is healthy and recreational” (Cavendish 106). Although common people are responsible for the farm and do not partake in the same elegant rituals as monarchs, they are content with their work.

Furthermore, monarchs place a higher value on the concept of beauty than peasants. Cavendish states, “A pimple or mark on [common people’s] skin tortures not [peasants’] mind” (107). It means that nobles cannot bear a tiny criticism on their face because the upper classes desire flawless beauty free of flaws. While for peasants, a mark on their skin is simply a flaw on their skin that does not affect them at all. Peasants will sleep at night, “not interrupting their sleeps to consider fashions, but working hard to sleep peacefully” (107). Peasants want to relax after a hard day of work, while nobles are preoccupied with what to wear for tomorrow and how to look better than others. The writer then demonstrates how difficult the lives of peasants are by stating that peasants “rise to sweat to get their food, their desires are not queasy with surpluses, but sharpened with fasting” (106). It implies that peasants must work extremely hard to obtain their food, while nobles, on the other hand, become sick of their food because they receive a large quantity of similar food.

Even though peasants strive hard to obtain food, they do not have enough to eat and are starving. Peasants and monarchs, on the other hand, are content to do various things. As mentioned in the preceding sentence, monarchs value beauty without flaws, while peasants would be concerned with how much fun they would have. Nobles seem to be unable to be content when engaging with other individuals because they do not like interacting with others and therefore are jealous of others’ beauty. Cavendish observes, “great ladies at community forums do not take such true pleasures because of their jealousy at each other’s beauty” (107). Nobles would be envious of someone who seemed to be more beautiful than commoners in public because they take flawless beauty seriously. Peasants will treat the group, and those around them, with honesty and friendliness, bringing them together and loving one another. Furthermore, nobles would instead grow peevish and forward by jealousy than caring and kind through the community (Cavendish, 107). Cavendish would discuss the disparities between the two groups in terms of leisure time and public engagement.

The author begins to discuss how both groups value things differently in the middle of the book and how nobles conceal their true self. She reveals that both groups place different values on things: there is more competition for courage than courtesy, for the position than affection, there is more vainglory than enjoyment and vanity than true substance (107). Nobles value social status more than friendship, accomplishments more than enjoyment, glory over happiness, and pride over the contentment of their true self, as mentioned in the quote above. The quotation demonstrates a substantial distinction in the assessment of two separate groups.

Poor people value happiness more than beauty and confidence, but noble’s value self-pride and personality above all else because they believe it will bring them joy. Apart from that, nobles are adept at concealing their identities by excessive drinking and corruption. Cavendish says: The better sort of citizens, such as princes and gentry, are to be applauded in one respect, having more resources to sustain their debaucheries than peasants do, who are for the most part intoxicated at their departing (107). The quote demonstrates how nobles can have more of anything, including drinking, since they have an infinite fortune. As a result, two groups of people have different perspectives on happiness.

In the end, Cavendish demonstrates the true happiness gap between the upper and lower classes, demonstrating that nobles care about their beauty and are jealous of each other. In contrast, peasants care about the people surrounding them. She assumes, however, that “happiness exists not in external display or concourse, but indulgently in the mind” after everything she has said about the happiness of two groups (108). People’s happiness can come from their inner thoughts and feelings rather than from their surroundings. Nobles will be exhausted and depressed because they are concerned with the external appearance and what society thinks about them. Cavendish adds, “I am not a fit judge for the various kinds of degrees, or courses of lives or acts of mankind, as to determine which is the happiest,” (108). She asks who she is to judge happiness or who is happier after a long letter about Cavendish’s thinking or nobles’ views on peasants’ happiness. Since people cannot see happiness from the outside, they can appear happy when they are really sad.

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Work Cited

Cavendish, Margaret. Sociable letters. Broadview Press, 2004.

Sarasohn, Lisa T. “8 The Role of Honour in the Life of William Cavendish and the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes.” Authority, Authorship and Aristocratic Identity in Seventeenth-Century England. Brill, 2017. 196-215.

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