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  • The Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing in Britain, 1660-1789 ed. by Catherine Ingrassia
  • JoEllen DeLucia (bio)
The Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing in Britain, 1660-1789, ed. Catherine Ingrassia Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xx+263pp. CAD$32.95. ISBN 978-1-107-013116-2.

Recovering women novelists in order to rewrite Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel (1957) seemed the surest way to incorporate women into the literary histories of the eighteenth century. This tactic rapidly changed the makeup of the canon. By the late twentieth century, anthologies and courses regularly featured the prose fiction of Aphra Behn, Eliza [End Page 762] Haywood, and Frances Burney alongside the works of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding; however, recent debates in gender and literary studies about the function of both “women” and “the novel” as analytics have troubled this approach. Although the intense focus on the novel has fostered productive conversations about marriage, domesticity, the patriarchal family, and sexuality, it has reinforced simplistic understandings of the division between public and private and, as detailed in Catherine Ingrassia’s new Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing in Britain, 1660-1789, limited our understanding of women writers’ contributions to other developing media and genres, from periodicals and ballads to travel writing and satire. Ingrassia and the contributors to her excellent volume chart twenty-first-century directions for the study of women’s writing, directions that both trouble the role the novel has played in our literary histories and outline a new brand of criticism that reaches beyond the private, domestic, and feminine spaces the novel famously codified for it readers. Ingrassia’s volume will aid scholars and students in, as Felicity Nussbaum suggests in her essay on drama, mapping a “more fully integrated” eighteenth-century history of print that includes women writers across genre and media (120). This companion will also foster difficult conversations about how “women” as a category might function once the private and domestic concerns foregrounded in much novel criticism are no longer dominant.

By looking to women’s participation in the wider field of print culture, the contributors to this volume provide frameworks for understanding the interactions of genres, challenge long-standing ideas about masculine and feminine literary forms, and provide new maps of literary influence and exchange. Expanding our sense of women as consumers of print, Mark Towsey draws on circulating library records and correspondence to prove that women read widely, effectively challenging the long-standing stereotype ofthe “morally delinquent female novel reader” (34). In an essay on women as editors of, contributors to, and reviewers for periodicals, Mary Waters highlights the interactions of literary texts and columns on conduct and “domestic advice” with essays and news reports on “public issues, including government and foreign affairs” (231). Turning to poetry, David E. Shuttleton and Melinda Rabb recount how women’s poetry has either been overlooked or dismissed as mere verse in critical accounts because it does not fit comfortably within the Age of Satire framework. In a provocative reading of Mary Evelyn’s Mundus Muliebris (1690) and Jane Collier’s An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (1753), Raab argues that while the tearful “excesses” of the sentimental novel have been enthusiastically historicized as appropriate for the female pen, the equally affect-filled but aggressive female-authored satires of the Restoration and early eighteenth century have been difficult to recover [End Page 763] because they fit awkwardly with entrenched conceptions of femininity. Also focusing on poetry, Sarah Prescott adapts John Kerrigan’s model of archipelagic criticism to illustrate the national tensions and competing cultural and regional networks that shaped female literary influence and exchange within the four nations of the British Isles. In addition to challenging literary hierarchies built around reductive understandings of the core and periphery, Prescott suggests that this framework “provides a transferable model” for thinking about not only transnational but also transatlantic feminism (67). Complementing Prescott’s archipelagic approach, Harriet Guest demonstrates how Mary Robinson and Hester Thrale Piozzi used their reflections on travel in Wales to meditate on the nature of progress, civilization, and gender. In one of the most engaging essays of the...


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