History Literature

Mothers of the Novel: 100 Great Women Writers Before Jane Austen

Mothers of the Novel: 100 Great Women Writers Before Jane AustenDale SpenderPandora1986

The printing press was invented in 1450 but it took nearly 300 years before the idea of ‘fiction’ (rather than lying) was accepted. And then it was women who took over the form and made it their own. Not that these women – who were denied education – were acknowledged by the male literary establishment.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was one of the first to be hugely successful: she had more than 70 publications to her name and many of them were concerned with women’s rights to sexual freedom. One of her novels – Oroonoko (1759) was based on her trip to the West Indies, and is accepted as the first novel that was about the abolition of slavery!

Delarivière Manly (1663-1724) was the mistress of the scandalous political novel who made much use of ‘carelessly dropped letters’ in her numerous publications. Eliza Haywood (1693 -1756) a prolific writer and best seller (more than 60 publications) – introduced the first non-aristocratic heroine in English literature in the form of Miss Betsy Thoughtless: Betsy not only discussed the issue of pregnancy termination with her female friends, but posed the moral question of whether a wife was entitled to leave her husband – if he was boring. The answer was yes!

Fanny Burney 1752-1840 was the bestselling author for decades (Evelina) and Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) wrote more than 10 novels where the heroine was a mature woman with a rotter of a husband! Nothing like it ever before!

This was the tradition – along with 195 other wonderful women writers – that Jane Austen inherited. It was one where the only education that women could access outside their own experiences, was through the writing of these daring and inspirational authors. No wonder Jane Austen’s books were self help guides for finding the right husband!

Dale Spender spent two years in the London Library removing every work of fiction from the shelves to find these forgotten women. It was an eye-opening experience to know that with such limited resources, women had achieved so much – and gained so much enjoyment from their creativity.

It’s all here in this readable and often ‘racy’ book – where each of the 200 Mothers of the Novel and their works are listed. The inner lives and struggles of women are revealed – at a time when they had no other options than to become wives. It’s women’s version of women’s history.

Table of Contents

1. Fact and fiction: Lady Mary Wroath and Anne Weamys
2. Publish and be damned as a woman: Katherine Philips
3. Biographical beginnings: Anne Cllifford, Lucy Hutchinson, Anne Fanshawe, Margaret Cavendish
4. ‘The fair triumvirate of wits’: Aphra Behn, Delariviere Manley, Eliza Haywood
5. Gross deception: 100 women novelists
6. Power and propaganda
7. The myth of the isolated achievement
8. Male romance
9. Women’s view: women critics
10. Sarah Fielding and misrepresentation
11. Charlotte Lennox and North America
12. Elizabeth Inchbald and independence
13. Charlotte Smith and real life
14. Ann Radcliffe and the Gothic
15. Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays and autobiographical fiction
16. Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and the height of achievement
17. Lady Morgan and political fiction
18. Amelia Opie and the novel of ideas
19. Mary Brunton: premature death and a rich bequest