Saturday, April 08, 2006

What, women wrote before 1800?

There's a meme going around; the "female author's meme," it's called. Now, I'm not criticizing the people who've done it, nope, I'm happy to get reading ideas from folks. I saw that Kermit did it, and Kermit links to Phantom Scribbler, who links to Slow and Steady, who links to Mon at My So Called (ABD) Life. Mon says she developed it from several top book lists around the web; recalling her list in March for Black literature, she decided to honor women, too.

That's a GREAT idea. Seriously, yay Mon.

But, can I just ask that we look back a little and include some women who wrote a bit earlier? (And the absence I'm sure reflects absences in the lists Mon was looking at.)

Partly my frustration comes from being 400 years behind in my reading. Partly from just being behind.

But the list reflects for me the way that women today often treat historical women. Women's studies classes and women's writing classes often seem to teach or assume that women before, say, 1800, really aren't important, or didn't write, or were just so oppressed as to be totally uninteresting, or whatever.

As someone who does earlier lit, I've long gotten the sense from some feminist colleagues that my work is invalid, that I can't possibly be a feminist scholar (not because, apparently, of my massive personal failings, but because Shakespeareans can't be feminists in the popular imagination).

It's as if feminist scholars really believe that Virginia Woolf's inability to find earlier women writers reflects their real absence rather than the difficulties of doing good historical research into women writers at the time. You know, difficulties like not having easy access to Pollard and Redgrave's Short Title Catalogue, perhaps? (The earliest date I can quickly find for the STC is 1937, referring to the microfilm series. No doubt it's earlier, but I couldn't find it. The earliest copy my library has is 1945, and we don't have the microfilm series.)

So, in honor of really dead writers everywhere (my favorite kind), I'd like to create a meme of really dead women writers! As with all writers, the deader the better here! Let's say, dead for at least 300 years, or so?

Here's the idea: I'll put in five women writers. If you're interested, pick up the list, add five more of your favorites, and drop me a line at Bardiacblogger at yahoo dot com to check your site. With even a few contributors, we'll get a great meme with fewer of my idiosyncracies than if I do it myself. (And yes, it will probably end up Euro-centered, but I'd love to learn more about non-Euro earlier women writers, too, so add them in, please!)


Behn, Aphra - Oroonoko

Christine de Pisan (aka Pizan) - The Book of the City of Ladies

Julian of Norwich - Revelations of Divine Love

Locke, Anne (aka Ane Lok, etc) - A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner

Marie de France - The Lais of Marie de France


  1. People spent all day on Friday adding their suggestions to the list at my site, so you're not the only person who thought it was lacking in some way.

    As for the question of whether Shakespeareans can be feminists, what's Marjorie Garber? Chopped liver?

    If I can think of 5 early writers I'll post them for you, but for right now, here are two: Mary Rowlandson, The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson; and The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln.

  2. I just posted some additions at my place. Oh, and did you know your Marie de France link leads to Julian of Norwich?

  3. Anonymous8:25 AM

    I've added five of my own to your list. I added them before I saw Dr. Virago's list, though, so we overlap just a little.

  4. Some that come to mind for me:

    Sappho!!! (How can she NOT be on this list?)
    Margaret Cavendish (Not as early as you noted, but still not on the list, and even Woolf remembers her.)
    Anne Bradstreet

    And I'm a 20th century person, and yet STILL I was able to come up with these without really any thought. The day that Sappho is not on a list of women writers that Danielle Steele is on makes me think that we might be headed toward apocalypse :)

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  6. Okay! After much backing and forthing, I've added some of my own on my blog--while incorporating the additions of Dr V and Amanda as well.

    Awesome meme, B.

  7. That's a challenge if ever I heard one... OK, with an unintentional overlap with Dr. Crazy (Sappho), I've posted 5 at my site! But I admit this so-called "literature before 1800" makes me a bit insecure. :)

  8. Hear her! Hear her!! I'm all for this meme - I've picked up yours and the expansion of yours from Dr. Virago on my blog....let's shake off that moss!

  9. Ahem - lest there be confusion, I did not mean to identify Dr. Crazy as Sappho, but rather to declare our point of overlap.

  10. Great Idea, Bardiac! I added Hildegard von Bingen, Rachel Speght, Anna Comnena, Frau Ava and Dhuoda.

  11. Fact is, enough of us have taught something akin to Med-Ren Women Writers that we could mine our syllabi and come up with a list as long as Phantom Scribbler's original.

    Come to think of it, that list would be mighty helpful for folks putting together a MRWW syllabus for the first time.

    (Egeria! Trotula! Hrotsvit of Gandersheim!)

  12. Great one Bardiac-- you rock!

    I've added some Early American on mine...

  13. Elizabeth Cary's Tragedy of Mariam is oddly missing from the lists I've seen on the various blogs.

  14. Also, check out Brown's Women Writers Online for a very full list of women writers and texts, 1400-1850.

  15. What about Hildegard von Bingen?
    And (one of my personal favourites) the Comtessa de Dia.

  16. some overlap
    lady kasa
    louise labe
    catherine of seinna
    the tamil religous poet andal
    margery of kempe

  17. Bardiac,

    I'm going to admit my ignorance here...I can't quite get my list to pop up with the links. They are on my site though...

    Sorry, I'll have to put "learning html" on my list of things to do!

  18. I've put five up on my blog, picking up from Heo Cwaeth. (One Japanese and three Chinese - although the latter are writing one book...)

  19. Anonymous2:28 PM

    I started to continue the meme on my blog, then followed other commenters and saw that many of the writers I'd thought of had already been mentioned. Still, I thought of two whom I haven't found mentioned yet: Fanny Burney (Evelina, etc) and Ann Radcliffe (The Monk and the whole gothic thing).

  20. I've listed several on my own blog.

    I have female letter writers on my list, becuause I feel they fit the criteria.

  21. Hey all, THANKS for all the responses!

    Having spent most of the day on the road, and yesterday either on the road or visiting a friend, I'm back home now, and I'm having a blast reading through different people's blogs with suggestions.

    Keep them coming, please, and once the taxes and grading are done, I'll compile the list as best I can and post it.

    I'm loving the suggestions for better editions, too.

    And history geek, so long as they're REALLY dead, and women writers in some sense, they're welcome on our list.

    Keep the suggestions coming, all! Thanks. It really warmed my heart to start reading through these this evening.

  22. I only have one, but she's really cool: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695). I wrote about her and put up two of her poems on my blog.

    Thanks for creating this wonderful meme!

  23. Over at my place, Karl the Grouchy Medievlaist suggested the following:

    Perpetua, Passions of Perpetua and Felicity

    Heloise's 1/2 of the correspondance with Abelard

    More Christine de Pizan: The Path of the Long Study; Christine's Vision

  24. I don't see these ones yet, but please forgive any overlap!
    Baudonivia - Vita of Saint Radegund (in the AS)
    Heloise - Letters
    Gwerful Mechain - Poems
    Margaret Porete - Mirror of Simple Souls
    Mechtild of Magdebourg - The Flowing Light of the Godhead
    Mary Astell - A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Some Reflections upon Marriage

  25. Anonymous8:26 AM

    I added my own entries here, one of which I think is significant: Elizabeth Tudor. OK, she's famous for other reasons, but she was still pretty eloquent.

  26. Anonymous9:40 AM

    I'm not at home, so my spelling of the names is iffy. But I want to contribute the Japanese author Lady Murosaki, who wrote the Story of Gengi back in the 11th century. It's a great story.

  27. Anonymous10:17 AM

    Katherine Phillips (1631-1664), poet who also went by the name "Matchless Orinda."

  28. Wait -- one more!

    Huneberc of Heidenheim's Hodoeporicon of St. Willibald (8th century, Latin).

    Here's a website with a modern English translation and introduction:

  29. Oops, that site only has the preface, but it's the most interesting part for a women's writers list since it makes a justification for the woman writer.

  30. Anonymous5:04 PM

    One of my male friends perused various lists and asked, "Why has no one mentioned Mary Wollstonecraft?"

    Probably someone has, but I haven't found it yet. In any event, I shamefacedly went back and added her to my list.

  31. Anonymous1:58 AM

    I hope I haven't overlapped too much at my blog by adding;
    Mary Robinson(1758-1800)
    Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825)
    Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681)
    'Ephelia' (c. 1679)
    Bathsua Makin (1600-1675)

  32. Anonymous5:05 AM

    An Collins Divine Songs and Meditations (1653) (There is some dissent over whether this is a woman or not. I studied the author as female.)

    Veronica Franco Rime (1575)

    Hadewijch devotional poet (13th century)

    Abigail Abbot Bailey The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey (1790s)

    Anonymous Eliza's Babes or The Virgin's Offering (1652)

    I don't think this duplicates any already stated, I checked, but it might.

  33. Just posted two more goodies for ya'll :)

    And holly, thanks for giving us all the DOH! moment for the day!

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  35. Ok, my additions are posted.

    Margaret Fell--Women's Speaking Justified, Proved, and Allowed by the Scriptures (1666)
    Mary Astell--A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest (1694)
    Queen Hatshepsut--Speech of the Queen
    Phillis Wheatley--Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
    Lucy Terry--"Bar Fights"

    When are we gonna see the entire list???? I'm just giddy in anticipation!

  36. Matthew Lewis wrote "The Monk," not Anne Radcliffe, who wrote "The Mysteries of Udolpho," and "The Romance of the Forest," as well as others.

  37. Anonymous6:27 AM

    Good Job! :)