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English 340: Major Women Writers Before Jane Austen

Page history last edited by Tonya Howe 13 years, 1 month ago

Introduction to the Course: During the eighteenth century in England, massive cultural and social changes were occurring--in the public sphere, in the private sphere, and in the negotiations between them. Politics and culture were fields of battle waged in coffee houses and the popular press, and as nation-states consolidated along commercial lines, consumers became citizens. Science and philosophy encouraged thinkers to look critically, clearly, and systematically at the material world, and evaluate it according to the operations of reason. England was taking to the seas, expanding its power and possession with often devastating effects. By the end of the century, America had declared its independence and France witnessed a bloody revolution--battles fought for the ideas of liberty, equality, and the natural rights of man. This is a period marked by its modernity, and aristocratic traditions and worldviews were ceding to those of democratization and the importance of the individual within a social whole.

Despite the brightness of this picture, it was also a world that in many respects excluded women’s voices. During the eighteenth century, women’s field of labor diminished, and they became more and more linked to the home and to the new spaces of consumption. Increasingly organized into and produced as modern feminine subjects, women were nonetheless highly conscious of the limits of their world; they wrote of these limits--and their negotiation--in romance and novel.  Taking up the pen in a time when to publish was considered unladylike (this was part of what helped the period understand what it meant to be a lady), women like Behn, Haywood, Davys, Lennox, Burney, Wollstonecraft, and Opie saw the world from the perspective of one often trapped within it. This course will examine a variety of fictions written by women famous in their day, though sometimes forgotten by ours. Our goal is not only to understanding the particular interests of, responses to, and shapes taken by Austen’s predecessors, but also to become more familiar with the “rise of the novel” tradition of literary scholarship, and the changing role of women writers within it.


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