Limiting Enlightenment Women Writers Bibliography July 1996

Query From Julia Tragnitz or 29 July 1996

In March, I asked for help in locating references from the Early Modern Period to limiting women to writing poetry, or more specifically, to keep women from writing satires during the early Enlightenment. I am interested in actual statements to that effect, especially by well-known and/or influential literary personalities. I received two asking to share whatever information I received, and one who referred me to contemporary sources like Zantop and Blackwell's Bitter Healing.

Since there seems to be no actual written source of this prohibition, is there any "documented" proof other than the vague but abundant references by women themselves alluding to this limitation. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


>From Terry Tompkins-Walsh 30 July 1996

Mary delarivere Manley did write satire, but complained in her work about the limitations, both personal and professional, that restricted women's behavior. The prohibition applied to all public display or presentation of skills: art, writing, performance. Writing was okay if read only to small social or family groups, but any public exhibition was akin to prostitution.

I have been away from this period for some time now, but there were many books written by both men and women on appropriate behavior for women. You will likely find the kind of thing I'm talking about in rare book rooms. Samuel Johnson is another possible source on the limitations of women's intellect, satire being pyrotechnic display of intellect. The books on manners and the magazines (also available in their entirety in rare book rooms) are good places to start. Good Luck.

>From Janice Liedl 30 July 1996

While not a specialist, I've recently read Olwen Hufton's excellent survey: The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe (London, HarperCollins, 1995).

Vol. One covers the period 1500-1800 and discusses some of the criticisms leveled against women writers of the time with this summary:

"Of course, there was no specific set of written rules to prohibit the female sex from publishing its works. The activity was not illegal. We have seen that the reputations of great court or patrician ladies were not sullied by the endeavor, particularly when it took the form of occasional verse. However, these were very isolated and rarefied beings. For the generality, the activity could be presented as immoral, or rather as not quite moral." [425]

Hufton cites a few examples condemning women writers that might interest you, but her point is well taken. Criticism could be leveled at women doing anything that drew attention to themselves--women writers were certainly an easy target, but not particularly singled out by society.

Return to H-Women Home Page.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]