romantic women's writing

Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape

Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011). ISBN: 9780521768658. $90.00.

Reviewed by
Patricia Peek
Fordham University

This volume, a recent addition to the Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture series, should be of great interest to both Romantic and Victorian scholars. Spanning nearly one hundred years of literature about gardens and horticulture, Page and Smith discuss how women engaged in discussions of topics not limited by their domestic sphere. The motivating agenda for this work is an exploration of how in “a period marked by major political, technological, and cultural changes, the domesticated landscape was central to women’s complex negotiation of private and public life” (1). The act of gardening, botanical study and writing, and sketching the landscape both within and beyond the garden gate created opportunities for women in the nineteenth century to stretch beyond the boundaries set for them by society, in an attempt to participate in the larger socio-political arena. The essays found in the volume demonstrate how these acts “served as a ground for both social and intellectual experimentation” (11). Both Romantic and Victorian scholars will feel at home in the tangencies found in this genre and with the socio-political currents of each period, as Page and Smith see in their "domesticated landscape" the familiar (but always fresh) prospects of gender, female education, the tensions of class and labor, as well as the more abstract concept of sympathy.

Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 2nd ed.

Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002. 172pp. $39.95/$17.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0253337135, Pbk; ISBN: 025321369X).

Reviewed by
Sarah M. Zimmerman
Fordham University

Anne Mellor's latest book brings to bear on the field of British Romantic women's writing recent debates about women and the public sphere. She invokes two pervasive critical accounts: Jürgen Habermas's theory of the emergence of a "bourgeois public sphere" in eighteenth century Europe, and feminist narratives of the development of gendered "separate spheres" that culminated in the Victorian ideal of a domesticated womanhood. These historical paradigms do not readily map onto one another (chronologically, geographically, or theoretically), yet both accounts rehearse the rise of a predominantly masculine realm of public debate and discursive exchange. Mellor challenges both models, finding Habermas's "conceptual limitation" of the public sphere to propertied men "historically incorrect" (2), and "the theoretical paradigm of 'the doctrine of the separate spheres'" limiting for our understanding of the period's lived experience and literary culture (7).

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xviii + 328 pp.  Price. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-81668-8).

Reviewed by
Kathryn Pratt
Auburn University

Feminist inquiry in Romantic studies achieves new sophistication with the publication of books such as Adriana Craciun's study, which addresses the need for scholarship on sexuality in order to supplement the vast range of works on gender that have already enriched the field.  After the early emphasis on male writers' representations of women and, in recent decades, the recovery of popular and respected women writers who had been written out of the Romantic canon, critical attention necessarily turns to the historicizing of Romantic feminism.  In other words, recent developments in feminist theory demand a self-conscious critique of feminist ideology: how do feminist notions of gender and sexual difference reify the women they purportedly seek to liberate?  Examining how representations of the body disrupt normative notions of sexual difference at the very moment of their cultural enshrinement in the early nineteenth century, Fatal Women of Romanticism offers a compelling and timely argument for the importance of women's literature to an understanding of the cultural history of the Romantic Period in Britain.

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. x + 228pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $42.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8131-2116-7).

Reviewed by
Miranda J. Burgess
University of British Columbia

The first word in the title of this book is tonally at odds with the second, and with the argument of the book as a whole. "Misogyny" sounds like a topic for an older or more naïve feminism than Mandell's fresh and sophisticated version, and its transhistorical ring belies the specificity Mandell brings to her cultural study of eighteenth-century economic history. But these impressions are misleading, as Mandell makes clear in framing her book. She begins by arguing that "[m]isogyny in representations is not about women but rather about society" (1). She ends with the assertion that the "[d]isgust allegedly aroused by women's bodies comes in fact from the stench of social inequity" (158). Moreover, she insists that "misogyny is not necessary" either to literature or to culture (158). Criticism that is to be effective in the twenty-first century must be "willing to see gender as a figure, not a thing" (157).

Yet according to Mandell's analysis, the figure of gender and an accompanying misogyny are everywhere in eighteenth-century writing, from the individual poems, plays and economic texts discussed in the first four chapters to the anthologies and critical writings that processed such works later in the century, addressed in chapters five and six. The key to the simultaneous ubiquity and unnecessariness of this seemingly essential discourse is the way in which eighteenth-century poets and Romantic anthologists and critics used misogynist rhetorics and practices to manage the pleasures of their readers. It is eighteenth-century readers and their pleasures, and the social anxiety these pleasures produce in contemporaries, that are the major topic of Mandell's book.

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