While the individual essays in this collection each examine a particular aspect of women's literary networks during the Romantic period, when taken as a whole, larger patterns begin to emerge and invite further exploration. Broadly speaking, these patterns might be organized according to five tentative claims: (1) networks led to a densely interconnected Romantic world; (2) manuscript letters and life writing were vital parts of literary networks and deserve re-examination as literature; (3) men were an important part of women's literary networks, but not necessarily in all the ways we have come to expect; (4) women used networks to become active in political, social, and religious causes and debates from which they were otherwise excluded; and (5) women's networks were intergenerational and trouble easy distinctions between literary periods.
An Interconnected Romantic World
The essays in this volume suggest that the era's fundamental alterations to the means and conditions of mediation not only made Romanticism possible, but drew in groups and writers often excluded from traditional accounts of the period. As has been well-documented elsewhere, the eighteenth-century world was a place of expanding social networks, buoyed by structural transformations in how information was produced, mediated, and circulated. Beginning with Habermas's foundational study of how print and periodical culture altered bourgeois public space at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a generation of scholars has productively explored, expanded, and challenged Habermas's work, producing a rich body of scholarship that illustrates the extent to which the eighteenth-century world was interconnected. More recently, Siskin and Warner have offered an important addition to this body of scholarship in This is Enlightenment, arguing that transformations to the means of mediation themselves – what they term ‘cardinal mediations’ (the post-office, turnpike, associational practices, coffee houses, etc.) – help to explain some of the larger social, political, philosophical, and literary projects that we have come to think of as the ‘Enlightenment’. What has been less well documented or considered is how these fundamental shifts in the conditions of mediation played out during the Romantic period, and what these changes meant for how Romantic-era writers thought about themselves, their relationships with one another, and their relationship to a rapidly-expanding public space.