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Jump to Content Jump to Resources. Menu Menu Close Search. The latest offering from Susan Staves, Professor Emeritus of English at Brandeis University, is profoundly important, not surprising given the caliber of her previous contribution to the field of early women—literary and otherwise. 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.

The book is carefully organized, with much attention paid to chronology and genre, neither of which Staves side-steps. The chapters are arranged chronologically, with the era she covers divided into seven shorter periods, yet within each are discussions separated by genre—poetry, polemic, translations, drama, histories, and novels. Each chapter is headed with a useful chronological list of the primary texts and authors that Staves addresses there, followed by a succinct introduction to that period.

It was not just the fact that she was female but that she was an Englishwoman that put her on a pedestal with so many of her countrymen and women.

Literary feminism

Ultimately, it would be her republican political views that advanced her popularity beyond British borders, to America and France, both places in which she spent significant time. What makes the anecdote humorous is that such a female historian is risible — a joke. Before Macaulay, many of the British women writers who wrote histories chose to publish them anonymously or pseudonymously or not to publish them at all. It is interesting to speculate on what the impact of these two histories might have been had Scott chosen to publish under her own name or to publish anonymously but marked as a woman.

This statement, the last sentence of her introduction, indicates no irony, though she does use it to make an apology Many prefaced their works with requests seeking chivalrous treatment from critics. It may well be that Catharine Macaulay was the first in English history to have used that phrase in print to refer to herself Her history, Alexiad written —48 , was appreciatively cited in many eighteenth-century sources. At least some eighteenth-century readers, then, understood that history writing by women had a history.

Why, in Great Britain at least, were there only a handful of successors to her or rivals to her prior to the s — in other words, during her lifetime? Macaulay was worshipped more broadly and energetically than has been previously documented, and she was made the butt of jokes in ways that we have not yet fully explored. The poems were both worshipping and satirical. There, Macaulay is imagined as a Christ-like figure, sent to redeem the male sinners of history writing. Unpublished private letters, too, add to our sense of the ways in which Macaulay was worshipped.

Subject Guide: Literature

For example, dozens of anecdotes about Macaulay circulated in popular jest books. A study of these jokes would be a worthy project, as there are so many references to her in these works of wit. Many set out to ridicule her republicanism, attempting to expose the supposed hypocrisy of her views on social class. Johnson, it is said, told Macaulay that he was so convinced by her ideas that he asked her to invite her footman to join them at the dinner table But most of the anecdotes about Macaulay ridicule her on the basis of both gender and social class.


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On rare occasions, these jokes about Macaulay are written in such a way as to provide her with the opportunity to deliver the punch line More often, Macaulay was the object of ridicule. Macaulay was writing her republican history of England, she frequently attended at the [British] Museum, to examine the manuscripts of that collection, where she was accompanied by some of the old sages of the age.

One of these old gentlemen forgetting his company, retired into a corner for his occasions, when somebody suddenly discovering some curious anecdote, the Doctor ran back to the table before he had composed his affairs, when suddenly seeing Mrs. The Doctor retired into a corner of the reading room to empty his bowels. When he was alerted by another reader to an interesting discovery in a text, he ran back to the table without rearranging his breeches and accidentally exposed himself to the female historian.

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She takes offense either because she is, as a woman, angered by his lack of gallantry, or because, as an author, she is angered at his excess of it. Her reply insists that she belongs at the British Museum, but the anecdote implicitly asks whether a polite woman can conduct research there. Women might be as likely to be exposed to male impropriety there as in any male-dominated public space. The joke suggests that even in as staid a place as the British Museum Library, women were at social risk.

But the tension that the joke highlights is one Macaulay faced throughout her career.

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In the joke, Macaulay is shown arguing for herself as a famous woman who belongs among intellectual men. To do so, she draws attention to her sex, while simultaneously denying its relevance. In this joke, as in her life, it must have been a difficult tightrope to walk. Macaulay would seem to have exploited her uniqueness as a female in a male-dominated field.

Mary Hays, in her account in Female Biography from , expresses frustration that Macaulay was judged based on her looks and her beauty, rather than on her talents as a historian No doubt this state of affairs was sexist and unfair. But we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the ways in which Macaulay appears cleverly to have capitalized on her gendered fame and fashionability to forward her career.

Were any of these caricatures based on an element of truth or endorsed by Macaulay herself?


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The worshipping birthday party thrown for her by her male admirers in Bath in has been made much of in recent scholarship, as has the unorthodox statue of her that the Reverend Thomas Wilson erected in his church, St. Did she exercise poor judgment in allowing herself to be worshipped on a throne at the party or in allowing her likeness to be displayed in a church?

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By using our website you agree to our use of cookies. Dispatched from the UK in 2 business days When will my order arrive? Home Contact us Help Free delivery worldwide. Free delivery worldwide. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. Description Drawing on three decades of feminist scholarship bent on rediscovering lost and abandoned women writers, Susan Staves provides a comprehensive history of women's writing in Britain from the Restoration to the French Revolution.

This major work of criticism also offers fresh insights about women's writing in all literary forms, not only fiction, but also poetry, drama, memoir, autobiography, biography, history, essay, translation and the familiar letter. Authors celebrated in their own time and who have been neglected, and those who have been revalued and studied, are given equal attention.

Catharine Macaulay : The ‘Female Historian’ in Context

The book's organisation by chronology and its attention to history challenge the way we periodise literary history. Each chapter includes a list of key works written in the period covered, as well as a narrative and critical assessment of the works. This magisterial work includes a comprehensive bibliography and list of prevalent editions of the authors discussed.

Table of contents Introduction; 1. Public women: the Restoration to the death of Aphra Behn, ; 2. Partisans of virtue and religion, ; 3. Politics, gallantry, and ladies in the reign of Queen Anne ; 4. Battle joined, ; 5. Women as members of the literary family, ; 6.