- Clio's Daughters: British Women Making History, 1790-1899
Women, of course, have not been traditionally regarded as the primary makers of history, not only in terms of determining the course of political and military events, but also in terms of writing about those events as professional scholars. Even today, history remains a male-dominated discipline, with women comprising a far lower percentage of the professoriate than is typical in most other sectors of the humanities and social sciences. Edited by Lynette Felber, the collection Clio's Daughters: British Women Making History, 1790–1899 attempts to restore "women making history, both as agents and as authors representing the past" to a position of greater centrality in the creation of nineteenth-century history and historiography (11). Equally significantly, this collection of essays tackles the thorny question of whether women have different concerns than men when they write about the past.
If the creation of historical narratives is mere recitation of dry, unassailable fact, then the gender of the author should not matter. But if Hayden White and others who argue that historiography is "constructed, not merely discovered" are correct, then gender may matter a great deal, since women may "write historical literature differently" from men (12). Some of the best essays in this volume address this issue, by demonstrating how gender is "entailed as part of the ideologies underpinning the aesthetic choices authors make" (20). Because women were not admitted to the exclusively male fraternity of professional historians during the Victorian era, they were freer to write in genres that allowed more scope for literary expression. "Victorian women took advantage of the authorial roles society permitted them and exploited these opportunities," writes Felber in the introduction, "not only to write histories or history as fiction but also to adapt nonfictional forms and subgenres not generally associated with history" (21–22).
Clio's Daughters is divided into four thematic sections. The two essays in the first section look at women writing about "uprisings": Stephen Bernstein examines Charlotte Smith's view of the French Revolution in her long poem The Emigrants, and Ann-Barbara Graff takes on the Indian "Mutiny" as depicted in Flora Annie Steel's popular novel On the Face of the Waters. Of the two, Graff more specifically foregrounds the issue of gender; she asserts that [End Page 461] Steel aggressively confronts the notion "that history is the record of great acts of great men" by seeking to "inscribe elite white British women into (the production of) history" (44). The next section looks at historical writing about four queens: Marie Antoinette, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. The writings of Mary Robinson and Mary Hays about Marie Antoinette, who was no less a lightning rod for opinion regarding "appropriate" feminine conduct in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than she is now, "drew on the lives of royal women in distinctly feminist ways, critiquing the patriarchal strictures that shaped their lives and the absence of feminine influence in the recounting of history" (74). Similarly, writings about Lady Jane Grey, who was a popular heroine in late Georgian and Victorian England, present the "nine days queen" as a "protofeminist educational role model" (97), though Rosemary Mitchell makes little attempt to distinguish between the perspectives of male and female authors. Rohan Maitzen analyzes the struggle of Victorian authors to represent the powerful political figures Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, and the "conflict between their roles as queens regnant and their natures as women" (126). Unlike Mitchell, he draws a sharp distinction between the views of the male author James Anthony Froude and the female Elizabeth Strickland: "While [the stories of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots] have in common the basic conflict between their supposedly natural womanly roles and their obligations as sovereigns . . . Froude and Strickland tell very different narratives about them . . . in attempting to make sense of or resolve these difficulties" (132).
The third section of Clio's Daughters looks more...