Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century


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It is therefore our hope that Nordisk kvindelitteraturhistorie will inspire future histories to read women writers in dialogue with male writers of their own day. The rest are either completely forgotten — however great their impact, popularity, and significance in their day — or they are allocated a special place in the history of literature, a place where the women are kept. The message being: the subject matter of a female pen is so particular that it falls outside normal literary evaluation. And it is thus no great problem to pick the few women writers out of accounts of literary history — leaving the methodology unaffected for the simple reason that the literary system of periods, genres, themes, qualitative evaluation, and comparison is constructed around male oeuvres, by male scholars, organised and structured on the basis of a male perspective on the world, examining male identity.

Including, of course, and not least, a male perspective on women and femininity. We chose the latter model, and asked ourselves what would actually happen if we made the women writers the central characters of a story in which they had hitherto been marginalised. Very soon — fortunately — we realised that a theory of that kind is an impossibility.

Today there is no inclusive concept of what a woman is, or what femininity is. And so we just had to wait until the outline gradually materialised from the material we were working with, which in many cases had never been studied before. The first real confirmation that we were on the right track came at an international seminar, when a German professor exclaimed in indignation that we were catapulting ourselves out of the scholarly tradition. That was the first time we felt confident about the project we had embarked upon.

Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century

The tricky bit has, of course, not been the study of women authors and their works. The challenge has been to conduct the research in critical opposition to — but without forgetting — the tradition in which we as literary scholars have been trained.


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As far as we could see, this was the only scholarly valid methodology. Another challenge was inherent in the composition of the group running the project, which spanned three or four generations of scholars. One hundred contributors from university settings throughout the Nordic region have had to collaborate from their backgrounds of widely differing nationally-determined methodologies and theoretical parameters.

The editorial board has therefore had the major task of structuring a large, in part unfamiliar, and certainly never previously juxtaposed material, while at the same time working out a structure that would allow a large degree of freedom for the individual contributors. This condition of the process has had a number of consequences for the manner of exposition. The crucial factor is possibly that we have written ourselves clear of the very different theoretical schools to which the scholars belong.


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And we have all made an effort to be very open in our evaluation of each oeuvre, entailing as little ideology and as much freedom for each contributor as possible without losing sight of the whole. Nordisk kvindelitteraturhistorie comprises five volumes in all: four volumes of text and a concluding bio-bibliographical volume. The story begins in Iceland during the transition from oral narrative tradition to the introduction of written culture.

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Each volume has a title indicating the place, the energy or inspiration, from which women of the period wrote — seen, that is, from the vantage point of scholars today. We follow the movements between various forms of writing, pursuing stories that flow into one another and which occasionally come to a dead end. Through the various institutions of the Church, through the learned culture, the theatre, and Pietist revivalist movements, through prayer books, friendship albums, family books, autobiographies, and journals, we move towards the texts that, in the eighteenth century, would gradually demand to be seen as part of a public literary domain.

And we end the first volume with a Nordic chapter on the oral literary tradition which went on to attain a literary reputation. Skram and Benedictsson exposed the double standards and sexual hypocrisy in late-nineteenth-century bourgeois marriage, which in many ways fitted well with the s feminist rebellion in the wake of which there was a wave of re-publications and literary research studies. Personally, he wrote, he liked to bathe each one of his sentences in light or in music. Seen from our viewpoint, the first half of the nineteenth century was claustrophobic in its confinement of women to the family, in its almost total exclusion of women from public life.

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

The Romantic femininity proved, nonetheless, to be an achievement that had to be abandoned. In particular, the juxtaposition of femininity and motherliness made for problems. Everything that did not fall into the sphere of motherliness was considered to be unwomanly affectation. However, women had also adopted the Romantic philosophy of self, which was thus on a collision course with the Romantic gender philosophy. It almost goes without saying that this tension came to full expression in the life and work of the women writers.

Thomasine Gyllembourg, Fredrika Bremer, Mathilde Fibiger, Fredrika Runeberg, and Camilla Collett, for example, were all agents for a Romantic view of human nature, but their passion for writing was in itself overwhelming proof that — as women — their ambitions and desires went beyond the domain of motherhood.

Women Writers of America

The yearning in their pens, the euphoria and hope of a completely other life is still controlled by a belief that it is possible to win an identity without simultaneously losing femininity. But there is one feature the women writers share: the house of the father. The patriarchal self-perception can be seen in recognition and rebellion alike. In that sense, nineteenth-century women remain daughters, and the house of the father is the sphere from which women write throughout the century.

From the hostess in her salon to the good femininity of Romanticism and on to the unhappy narrative of naturalism, the house of the father is filled with nineteenth-century Nordic light and darkness. Verified Purchase. As a book historian, I found Turner's book to be a great introduction to women writers during the 18th century, particularly women whom Turner defines as Professional Writers i. Most of the main women authors of this time are represented Wakefield, Trimmer, Behn, Smith , plus many others one may not have heard of.

This book also includes an appendix of women authors and their works, which is a goldmine. Well-researched and thoughtful! The previous reviewer mentioned Dickens a man who wrote during the Victorian era.

This book is solely about women writers during the 18th century. One person found this helpful. Cheryl Turner covers a subject that is well Cheryl Turner covers a subject that is well researched with a flair for interesting observations. Go to Amazon. Feedback If you need help or have a question for Customer Service, contact us.

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