Monday, September 29, 2008

Not-So-Frequently Asked Questions

Greetings, and welcome to Letters for Literary Ladies!

Um, what is Letters for Literary Ladies exactly?

First and foremost, it is a book by Maria Edgeworth.

Secondly, it's now a blog! To be more specific, it's a blog about the wonderful (and often weird) world of the 'literary ladies' of the eighteenth-century.

Like who?

Like the many female novelists who were amongst the first writers in the English-language to write in what was then the emerging form of the novel.

I thought Jane Austen was the first female novelist.

Well, then you would be wrong. Jane Austen was building on the achievements of all those women that came before her, as she acknowledges in Northanger Abbey.

But I can't name anybody that came before Jane Austen!


So why should I care?

Because these women wrote some of the most interesting, funny and clever novels you'll ever read. In fact, in the eighteenth-century, women were so dominant in the world of the novel, a lot of men pretended to be women in order to sell more books.

That is one reason why eighteenth-century novels are cooler than Victorian novels, by the way. In the Victorian era, women were pretending to be men.

Another reason is that eighteenth-century novels are much racier. That got your attention, huh?

But maybe these women were forgotten for a reason?

That reason being that the history of the novel has been written predominantly by men, who have traditionally devalued the writings of women. Consequently, there was a concentration on the five "canonical" male novelists of the eighteenth-century (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Smollett) . However, in their day, these women were highly respected and very popular: equal to, and even more so, than the men I have listed.

However, there has been increasing recognition that women were central to the development of the novel.

So who are you?

I'm currently undertaking a PhD in this very field. I became interested in the 'untold'* story of these women while writing my Honours thesis, and am loving the opportunity to read all these amazing novels that have been left unread and undiscussed for so long.

* There is increasing interest in these novelists in academia. Fanny Burney has recently become quite fashionable, Maria Edgeworth is not far behind her, and Mary Robinson is just starting to get the kind of interest that makes me think she might well be the Next. Big. Thing. However, this interest has been largely confined to people working in the field.

So this blog is just about a bunch of dead chicks?

Yes and no. I'll be reviewing their novels, discussing eighteenth-century writing generally, and occasionally throwing in some fun stuff about gossip, fashion and period films about the era.

While I am studying these novels 'seriously', this will be less about academics and more about having fun. I can't promise you that they won't be long, but I can promise that they will be fun.

And if I make even one person interested in reading even one of these novels, then this will be all worth it.

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