Restoration and 18th-Century Literature [FORMERLY ENGL 357]
MWF, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
“The Rise of the Professional Woman Writer”
Although many women wrote before the eighteenth century, this age marked the first time that women openly and sometimes profitably wrote for the burgeoning literary marketplace. Beginning with Aphra Behn, widely acknowledged as the “first professional woman writer,” and continuing through a tradition of woman poets, playwrights and novelists, women established themselves as active participants in a world previously reserved for men. Not only did they usually write under their own names (a practice not discouraged until the nineteenth century) but they appealed to a widening world of women readers. This development was not without controversy, and women writers found themselves under increasing pressure to produce the “right” kind of material. Moreover, they belonged to a world in which perceptions of women’s role in British society were transforming, a process in which they themselves participated. On the one hand, the eighteenth century marked the emergence of the first feminist movement, with authors from Mary Astell to Mary Wollstonecraft demanding, above all, greater participation by women in higher education and the professions. On the other hand, conservative men and also women resisted this trend, stressing that the proper place for women was in the home, or what we now call “the domestic sphere.”
In this class, then, we will explore the first great movement of women into public life, along with literary reactions to this revolution by women and men. The texts will span all the major literary genres – plays, poetry and novels – from Aphra Behn to the late eighteenth century. Evaluation will be based on in-class essays, a major research essay, a final exam and class participation.