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A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain, 1660-1789


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Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Public women: the Restoration to the death of Aphra Behn, 1660-1689; 2. Partisans of virtue and religion, 1689-1702; 3. Politics, gallantry, and ladies in the reign of Queen Anne 1702-1714; 4. Battle joined, 1715-1737; 5. Women as members of the literary family, 1737-1756; 6. Bluestockings and sentimental writers, 1756-1776; 7. Romance and comedy, 1777-1789; Recommended modern editions; Select bibliography.

Promotional Information

The history of women's writing in Britain from the Restoration to the French Revolution, now in paperback.

About the Author

Susan Staves is Paul Prosswimmer Professor of Humanities Emerita at Brandeis University.


Review of the hardback: 'The decades of expertise evident here in the seemingly effortless syntheses of historical movements, and incisive arguments about a wide spectrum of authors are presented in wonderful prose, like backbone under fine linen. Any serious scholar of early women writers must own this book. As an aid to research it is a treat; as a teaching resource, a trove; as a meditation on what we are all about in our current reading of early women's texts, a challenge.' Chantel Lavoie, Eighteenth-Century Book Reviews Online
Review of the hardback: 'An astute and informed history interested in observing complex patterns of continuity and change, and on occasion, instances of regression ... In its skillful narrative articulations, its inclusiveness, and its attentive close readings, this literary history generously fulfils its stated objective and in the process compliments the intelligence of both eighteenth-century writers and twenty-first-century readers.' April London, Eighteenth-Century Studies
Review of the hardback: 'This is a beautifully produced and immensely valuable work by one of the most learned scholars of eighteenth-century British literature now writing. ... Despite its size, this enjoyable book is a model of careful reading, orderly thinking, and elegant presentation, both a work of interpretation and a useful reference tool. Staves brings texts to light and raises questions about them that will guide future scholarship.' Toni Bowers, Journal of British Studies
Review of the hardback: 'Susan Staves's A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain, 1660-1789 is a remarkable achievement. For the depth and breadth of her reading alone, the volume deserves a place in the library of all literary scholars working on the history and literature of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.' Frances Ferguson, Modern Philology
Review of the hardback: 'Bringing together a range of familiar and relatively less well-known writers and their historical and biographical details, Staves' perspective reinvigorates our existing understanding of her subjects, while realigning the extent and nature of their contribution to literary history ... Staves's history ... is invaluable not least of all because of her methodology. Staves is interested in the aesthetic merit of the writings of her subjects, an approach which does not involve promoting writers solely in accordance with their feminist credentials.' Anna Fitzer, Women's Writing
Review of the hardback: 'To the vexed question of whether literary historians should make aesthetic judgments Staves answers ... in the affirmative, cogently arguing that moving out of 'hermenutic circle' of literary standards developed in and for a male canon means adapting criteria for aesthetic value, not rejecting them. ... This magisterial book justifies Staves's confidence in the possibility of her enterprise. ... When, as here, the appetite for a wide range of texts is voracious, the historical imagination is generous, and the critical judgment is astute, it is possible to write very good literary history indeed.' Jane Spencer, Romanticism
Review of the hardback: 'Susan Staves's meticulous and encyclopaedic study of women's writing from the Restoration to the outbreak of the French Revolution is something of a paradox. The product of some forty years of research, this literary history is, nonetheless, absolutely of its moment: both a compendious account of the fruits of four decades of feminist scholarship, and a subtly argued manifesto for the future of our field. Students new to the subject are presented with informative and helpfully contextualized readings of a rich array of texts, while even the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable scholars of women's writing are bound to discover works about which they knew little before.' Jennie Batchelor, Notes and Queries
Review of the hardback: 'If ... there has for a couple of decades been a hesitation to attempt women's literary history for the eighteenth century on a grand scale, there has been no lack of excellent, enabling work on individual writers or genres. Nourished by this work, Staves's own depth and breadth of historical scholarship are distilled into insightful generalisations about specific cultural moments ... Staves admirably demonstrates the viability of a feminist criticism which holds that the reputation and ultimate canonical place of eighteenth-century women writers can withstand, even benefit from, a scrutiny of the complete range of their literary expression.' Betty Schellenberg, Eighteenth-Century Fiction
Review of the hardback: '... an indispensable tool. Staves's prose is direct, clear, and engaging enough for students, and her bibliography of secondary sources effectively constitutes a reading list for an eighteenth-century field exam ... Yet her nuanced readings of texts and careful connections between developing women's literary genealogies make the book rewarding for the specialist as well. This literary history is invaluable in its delineation of developing themes and ideas in women's writing over the long eighteenth century.' Kathryn Stong, Women's Studies
Review of the hardback: 'A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain, 1660-1789 is a tour de force, a comprehensive guide that, just as Staves claims, shifts our focus from writers' lives to their writings, and from current theories to their original context. Although this book is sure to stir debate rather than settle a women's canon, it marks the noble beginning of an overdue process.' Claudia Thomas, Eighteenth-Century Life
Review of the hardback: '... monumental work ...' BARS Bulletin and Review
"In its skillful narrative articulations, its inclusiveness, and its attentive close readings, this literary history generously fulfills it stated objective and in the process compliments the intelligence of both eighteenth-century writers and twenty-first-century readers." April London, University of Ottawa, Eighteenth-Century Studies
"...takes on more than the telling of a story of literary development. It gestures toward placing its account of writing in the context of social and political history....It openly asserts the importance of evaluation, declaring it a primary principle of inclusion....Her book makes ample reference to a range of modern criticism, offers an excellent critical bibliography, an even supplies a list of good modern editions. The ambition of her enterprise is awe-inspiring; so are the energy and scrupulosity with which she pursues it....Each chapter opens, helpfully, with a list of the works it discusses and their dates, followed by a brief review of political and social actualities in the years under study. Abundant subheadings help the reader keep track of the chapter's topics....Staves summarizes expertly, enabling her readers to assess the place and importance of even unfamiliar works....The book lends itself well to use as a reference work....Staves displays her greatest powers when discussing women who have received less literary attention....Staves provides incontrovertible evidence of multifarious literary accomplishments by eighteenth-century women and organizes her account of them into an orderly narrative of development....Her book provides valuable information, an important record..." --Patricia Meyer Spacks, University of Virginia, Modern Language Quarterly
"...her account of 129 years of women's writing promises to redirect the future course of feminist literary history....Her book tells a story of the "rise of the woman writer," whose combined achievements and compromises she calls "bittersweet." Her history is consistently useful and inspiring from its Introduction to its select Bibliography....exemplifies a new direction for the history of eighteenth-century women's writing." --Deborah Heller, Western New Mexico University, The Scriblerian

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