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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s bold attack on Pope’s satire in “Verses Addressed to the Imitator of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace” (1733) positions her in a place of literary and cultural authority. Montagu critiques Pope’s satire – “an Oyster-Knife, that hacks and hews” – on the grounds that his indiscriminate personal attacks violate the benevolent spirit of Horatian satire and fail to produce sufficient moral effects. Satire should aim judiciously at targets, she explains, and the satirist must always wield the pen with precision and self-restraint. Like a surgeon’s knife, satire will cut and wound, but it is ultimately meant to heal and should never be used to bludgeon literary, political, or personal opponents.
This collection of innovative essays by leading scholars on eighteenth-century British women satirists showcases women's contributions to the satiric tradition and challenges the assumption that women were largely targets, rather than practitioners, of satire during the long eighteenth century. The essays examine women's satires across diverse genres, from the fable to the periodical, and attend to women writers' appropriation of a literary style and form often viewed as exclusively masculine. The introduction features a new theory of women's satire and proposes a framework for analyzing satiric techniques employed by women writers. Organized chronologically, the contributors' essays address a wide range of authors and explore the ways in which satiric writings by women engaged in contemporary cultural conversations, influencing assumptions about gender, sociability, politics, and literary practices. This inclusive yet tightly-focused collection formulates an innovative and provocative new feminist theory of satire.
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