Thursday, May 31, 2012

Women Writers and Historical Bias. . .

What follows is a brief list of a number of interesting English Women writers (mostly active during the first half of the 19th century). They are mostly writers I have run across during my research for my biography of Mary Russell Mitford. I have finished the first draft of that bio and am now working on a rewrite and the compiling of the footnotes. Besides the very interesting knowledge I have gained concerning the life of Mary Mitford, my research has allowed me to discover a whole group of women writers who as fascinating as they are ignored by the literary establishment. I had done years of research concerning authors of English Romanticism but my experience demonstrated the degree to which women writers have been ignore. Many of these women writers are fascinating figures as well as very accomplished authors and the more I read, the more I am convinced that their historical oblivion is the direct result of their gender.

Here is a short list. (I have not included Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning becasuse they are by far the best - and sometimes only - known English women writers from the era. Though it should be said that EBB is particularly interesting because she is arguably the first woman poet in English who has been given an historical status exclusively as a poet.)

-Baillie, Joanna (1762-1851)
-Barbauld, Anna Laetitia (1743-1825)
-Cook, Eliza (1818-1889)
-Edgeware, Maria (1767[8?]-1849)
-Eliot, George (1819-1880)
-Elizabeth, Charlotte (Tonna) (1790-1846)
-Ferrier, Susan Edmonstone (1782-1854)
-Gaskell, Elizabeth (1810-1865)
-Gore, Catherine Frances (1799-1861)
-Hamilton, Elizabeth (1756-1816)
-Hemans, Felicia (1793-1835)
-Hofland, Barbara (1770-1844)
-Howitt, Mary (1799-1888)
-Inchbald, Elizabeth (1753-1821)
-Jameson, Anna Brownell (1794-1860)
-Loudon, Jane (1807-1858)
-Martineau, Harriet (1802-1876)
-Mitford, Mary (1787-1854)
-Morgan, Lady (Syndey) (1776-1859)
-Oliphant, Margaret (1828-1897)
-Opie, Amelia (1769-1853)
-Owenson, Sydney [Lady Morgan] (1781?-1859)
-Proctor, Adelaide Anne (1825-1864)
-Rowson, Susanna (1762-1824)
-Scott, Mary (1751-1793)
-Seward, Anna (1747-1809)
-Taylor, Ann (1782-1886)
-Trimmer, Sarah (1741-1810)
-Trollope, Frances (1779-1863)

I would be interested in an honest confession from readers of which of these authors they have heard of or, better yet, read. The most famous names on the list are surely George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. For me the most interesting names on this list these - Eliza Cook who published a journal for a number of years and advocated for a number of progressive causes. Jane Loudon who published a book called The Mummy which is, by many accounts, the first real science-fiction novel in English. And Maria Edgeworth whose short novel Castle Rackrent was groundbreaking in a number of ways including being one of the first stream of consciousness books, one of the first historical novel (it influence Sir Walter Scott in a significant way), and one of the first novels written from the point of view of an unreliable third-party character.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list but it is a good reflection of the women writers during the period. As I said, any thoughts on the list would be interesting.


Owen Gray said...

Except for George Eliot and Mrs. Gaskell, Kirby, I must admit to the limits of my education. I'm not familiar with the other ladies.

However, I found your post on Mrs. Trollope really interesting. Obviously, Anthony owed a great debt to his mother.

doconnor said...

What about Mary Shelley who is well known and respected as the writer of the first Science Fiction novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.

kirbycairo said...

@doconnor - I didn't include Mary Shelley for the same reason that I didn't include Austen and the Brontes. On the basis of one novel and the fame of her husband she is almost universally known.

As far as Frankenstein being the first Sci-fi novel, I really don't think so for a number of reasons, particularly when you compare it to The Mummy. Frankenstein is a gothic novel which takes place in the time contemporary to the authorship, and though it does have a scientific element it, if you read it side by side with Loudon's book you really see the difference. Louden's novel takes place in the 22nd century and the world that it illustrates is not simply a future version of the 19th century world but is truly a vision of the future with steam-powered robots and radio-like devices etc. .