A Questioning of 'Truths' Universally Acknowledged: Gender and Literary Value in the Eighteenth Century
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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.1 (2002) 138-144



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Book Review

A Questioning of 'Truths' Universally Acknowledged:
Gender and Literary Value in the Eighteenth Century


Paula R. Backscheider, ed. Selected Fiction and Drama of Eliza Haywood (New York: Oxford University Press, Women Writers in English 1350-1850 Series, 1999). Pp. xlvi + 313. $49.95 cloth. $19.95 paper.
Jerry C. Beasley, ed. The Injur'd Husband: or, The Mistaken Resentment and Lasselia: or, The Self-Abandon'd(Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999). Pp. xlii + 162. $16.95 paper.
Alexander Pettit and Christine Blouch, eds. Selected Works of Eliza Haywood (Part I, 3 volumes). (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2000). Pp. lxxxii + 288 (vol. 1); 480 (vol. 2); 339 (vol. 3). $395.00 cloth.
Laura Runge. Gender and Language in British Literary Criticism 1660-1790(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Pp. 233. $64.95 cloth.
Kirsten T. Saxton and Rebecca P. Bocchicchio, eds. The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood: Essays on Her Life and Work (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2000). Pp. ix + 357. $32.50 cloth. [End Page 138]
Patricia Meyer Spacks, ed. Selections from the Female Spectator (New York: Oxford University Press, Women Writers in English 1350-1850 Series, 1999). Pp. xxii + 313. $45.00 cloth. $19.95 paper.

The field of eighteenth-century studies has seen a rapid expansion of feminist theory and criticism, as well as the significant emergence of gender studies, within its domain in the final decades of the twentieth century. One of the most pressing issues for feminists working in eighteenth-century studies has been canon revision and the restoration of women writers to the traditionally male literary canon. The overriding concern of making women's texts available in modern editions and compiling textual and biographical information has been usefully addressed by a number of critics in the past three decades. In addition to canon revision, feminist scholars of the eighteenth century have isolated significant feminist concerns within women's writing of the period. They have examined (among others) such issues as women's self-identity, women's legal status, the mother-child dyad, women's education, the emergence of a dominant ideology of domesticity, and a new ideology of femininity and of patriarchy in the eighteenth century. Further, they have validated the importance of so-called subliterary genres of romance, scandal chronicles, journals, periodical writings and familiar letters. They have also examined canonic (mostly male) writing from a feminist perspective, thereby opening new levels of understanding of eighteenth-century life and culture. Finally, women's social and historical position within the eighteenth century has been explored, enabling a revision of historical, as well as literary understanding of the period. The six texts reviewed below complement and complicate the existing body of work in a number of ways, making important contributions to the fields of feminist literary history and gender studies, and not incidentally to our broader understanding of eighteenth-century literary production. The first five texts, centered around the writing of Eliza Haywood, engage in the work of canon revision, while the last problematizes the notion of objectivity in any critical discourse.

Pettit and Blouch present "the first multi-volume edition of works by Eliza Haywood to appear in print since 1742" (I.ix). Following the precedent of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collected works, they include a biography by Blouch which significantly revises much of what had long been believed about the "frustratingly elusive" Haywood's life (Beasley ix). Spacks and Backscheider continue the work of the recuperation of Haywood with their respective editions of her periodical writing, as well as more of her fiction and some of her drama. Both of these collections are a part of the "Women Writers in English 1350-1850" series, launched by Oxford University Press, with the stated purpose of "[making] available a wide range of unfamiliar texts by women, thus challenging the common assumption that women wrote little of real value before the Victorian period" (vii). Beasley's text, a part of the University Press of Kentucky's laudable "Eighteenth...