Spender's book is a reasonable guide to the world of the 18th-century female novelist. It's designed for the general reader (although at the time, Spender was an academic working in this field. She's since moved on to other pastures), and is very accessible. What's striking about the book is the sense of excitement that Spender feels in "discovering" the works of these largely unknown women. I felt the exact same thing when I started researching in this area. Spender writes:
I cannot, however, begin to convey a sense of the joy I have experienced in finding these women writers. When I had thought that I had read most of the women novelists who had ever been published, the discovery of yet another one hundred "new" old novelists was in itself a source of tremendous excitement. And the last two years of avid novel-reading has been, for me, one of the most moving and illuminating events of my life.(1)So far, I have read 39 of these 600 books. Which is more than most have read, no doubt (not boasting, it's just a fact), but it's not enough! There's still a very big world of women's novels out there that I haven't read yet, and that's a wonderful thought.
Anyway, I will keep you updated as I go along and I may even type up a list of the novels in question! Let's see how procrastinaty I feel...
(1) Dale Spender, 'Mothers of the Novel: 100 Good Women Writers Before Jane Austen'. London: Pandora Press, 1986.