La fête des femmes : the feminine republic of letters in the long eighteenth century

Hargreaves, Emma Jane

September 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 Emma Jane Hargreaves. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This dissertation examines a plethora of women’s literary engagements during the long eighteenth century. It relates this literary output to the established and recognised body of works by men and women which have come to be known collectively as the querelle des femmes. However, it argues that a distinct trend of women communicating, responding to one another and documenting their experience through a variety of literary forms and homosocial practices can be seen to have developed externally to the narrow confines of the querelle des femmes. This literary community is part of a wider trend of women writing for and about their own sex which I term the feminine republic of letters. This dissertation takes the Anglo-French communicative bonds between women which evolved from the institution of the salon that originated in the seventeenth century. It goes on to consider how, in the 1790s, women read and wrote in response to a revival of Rousseauvian philosophies and adapted pre-existing forms into new methods through which to discuss women’s proscribed position in society and through which to envision a utopian alternative predicated on feminine community. I end with an analysis of Mary Hays’s Female Biography which exemplifies women’s endeavour to found and celebrate a history of their own, through which they can begin to assert themselves as part of a visible community: a feminine republic of letters.

Department of History, The University of Hull
Capern, Amanda L.
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