- Bluestocking Feminism and British-German Cultural Transfer, 1750-1837 by Alessa Johns
Studies dedicated to transnational history of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries typically focus on the stories and networks of men. They are constrained by the relative lack of sources that attest to women’s active participation in cross-border social and cultural exchange. Recent transatlantic works, even those authored by women historians, such as Julie Flavell’s insightful work When London was Capital of America (2010) and Jennifer Clark’s engaging book The American Idea of England, 1776-1840: Transatlantic Writing (2013), might suffice to illustrate the problem. The preponderance of accessible documentation from this period is typically about men and by men. Alessa Johns’s recent work Bluestocking Feminism and British-German Cultural Transfer, 1750-1837 makes an important contribution in presenting numerous examples of women’s engagement in the exchange of ideas in Europe. As such, it comes as a welcome addition to previous studies.
Johns’s laudable objective with this volume is to identify the ways in which the transfer of ideas across national boundaries helped to promote social reform, with particular emphasis on new discourses of liberty regarding women’s place in society. Her context is the often-neglected intellectual encounters and exchanges between Britain and German lands during the era of the personal union between the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (commonly referred to as the House of Hanover) and the British monarchy. Göttingen, as the important university city of the Electorate, is the main and initial point of contact, but other cultural centers in Germany (such as Weimar) also play a role. While Johns acknowledges sources for early feminist ideas among male scholars, academics, travel writers, and publishers on both sides of the English Channel, she rightly contends that women’s roles in cultural transfer have been underrecognized. [End Page 271]
The first two chapters—on the role of the transnational book trade and translation, respectively—offer the most focused insights into the ways in which women contributed to the spread of ideas and were central to transnational networks. These chapters introduce fascinating women who were well connected to important intellectual centers and networks, including Anna Vandenhoeck, the English-born wife of a Dutch publisher based in Göttingen, who was active in presenting English books (in translation) to German readers, and Meta Forkel, who was intimately connected to an early Romantic circle of educated German women and worked for Georg Forster’s “translation factory” in the revolutionary Republic of Mainz, introducing progressive English ideas to Germany (p. 55). Both chapters also present examples of translation and book publishing that sent innovative and emancipatory ideas in the opposite direction, from Germany to Britain.
An example of the intricacy of Johns’s material is the final chapter, “Travel and Transfer: Anna Jameson and Transnational Spurs to European Reform,” which points to the discernment with which Jameson in her travelogue Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838) writes about the First Nations and in particular about social issues such as war and gender equality that lead her to critique both the treatment of the native peoples by Europeans and the gender relations that dominated European society. Johns reviews the positive reception of Jameson’s work on Canada in the German press of the late 1830s, which suggests (in turn) a clear engagement of Germans with progressive English women’s writing. In Social Life in Germany (1840), a translation of and commentary on plays written by Princess Amelia of Saxony, Jameson introduces her English readers to German social institutions central to women’s lives (including divorce and lay-convents as alternatives to marriage) that improve upon British conventions. While this work technically falls outside the period listed in Johns’s title, it attests to the continued interest on the part of British feminist reformers in German social models. Furthermore, Jameson’s mediation of German ideas stands in contrast to the dominant imports of German culture—the literature...