Abstract

Abstract:

The exhibition of extraordinary examples of female learning, often in the form of gifted girls, became fashionable in the eighteenth century among European aristocracy and courts. It was performed through elaborate rituals that brought together political and religious authorities, everyday society, and intellectuals, reinforcing the prestige of the girls' families and of the nation, in an age of strong cultural and political contestation. This essay considers the most celebrated Spanish female "prodigies" of the century in a comparative perspective, particularly in relation to their more widely researched Italian counterparts. My aim is to open up discussion regarding the ways in which female intellectual "exceptionality" was constructed in Europe in the eighteenth century: the different cultural, social, and political circumstances that shaped that exceptionality, the forces at work in defining it, and the possibilities and limits it offered to real women.

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