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10 - Women’s voices

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2011

Pamela Clemit
Affiliation:
University of Durham
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Summary

After the fall of the Bastille in July 1789, British women took to their pens. They were already writing novels, lyric poetry, conduct books – genres dominated by women and the ones to which they had been historically relegated. Now urgent political concerns surfaced in their domestic tales. Women tried their hands at historical writing, traditionally a male preserve, and experimented with a variety of unladylike genres: proto-journalism, polemic and life-writing in the form of memoirs. They all wrote letters which they deployed for purposes beyond personal communication. As a result, through the 1790s a ‘women's war’ took shape in print in which their reactions to momentous events across the English Channel kept pace with those of their male contemporaries.

Like men, women expressed a range of complex positions on the religious and political issues of the day. But a curious thing happened: in joining the debate, women writers found themselves and what they wrote becoming enmeshed in the French Revolution quarrel. Writing about politics, they risked being viewed as suspect agents of a cross-Channel movement to radicalize Britain. In the extended crisis during the 1790s, women's intrusion into the male republic of letters signalled momentous changes in gender dynamics. The ancient question of the nature of woman was now debated against the backdrop of impending reforms in education, and the possibility of reform of laws concerning women. There was no more explosive topic for women to write about than the ‘woman question' itself. The Revolution debate became even more contentious as it incorporated competing views on women's nature, roles and education.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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  • Women’s voices
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.010
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  • Women’s voices
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.010
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Women’s voices
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.010
Available formats
×