British Women Writers

The number of women writers in the British literary tradition started growing in the English Renaissance, which began in the later part of the fifteenth century and lasted until the 1660s. Before 1500 few works are known to have been written by British women, while between 1500 and 1640 more than 100 works were written or translated by women. That figure compares to thousands of works published by men. During the Renaissance British women worked on prose narratives, poetry, prayers, essays, confessions, diaries, letters, prefaces and translations. The subjects included religion, motherhood, social commentary and others. Among the most famous women writers of the period is Katherine Phillips (1632-1664). Aphra Behn (1640-1689) is seen as the first professional woman writer in English. A prolific dramatist of the Restoration, Behn wrote a number of plays that dealt with topics such as racism and slavery. A good example is Oroonoko published in 1688. Aphra Behn's works include also the plays The Amourous Prince, The Town Fop, The Dutch Lover and her only tragedy, Abdelazer. Among the well-known women in Bristish literature during the neoclassical period, from 1660 to the end of the eighteenth century, is Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720). She wrote poetry and tried to express all that she saw and experienced. Her works include the poems "The Introduction", " A Letter to Dafnis", "The Appology", "On the Death of the Queen" and many more.

Two other women are recognized for their contribution to neoclassical British literature: Mary Astell (1666-1731) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). Mary Astell was a philosopher and a feminist writer. She is best known now for her theories on the education of women and her critiques of Norris and John Locke. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was part of Astell's intellectual circle. She is described as a writer, early feminist and a socialite. Jane Austen (1775-1817) is one of the most famous women writers that worked during the Romantic period (1798-1832). Her works include several novels, most of which focus on marriage as a way for young women to secure social standing and economic security. Her most famous novels are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. Another famous woman writer from the English Romanticism is Mary Shelley (1797-1851). She is the author of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, History of Six Weeks Tour and The Last Man. The Victorian period, between the 1830s and 1900, was the time when the Bronte sisters, George Eliot (1819-1880) and Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) lived and wrote. Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855), Emily Bronte (1818-1848) and Anne Bronte (1820-1849) produced many British literary classics, most of them build as bildungsroman. Charlotte's novels include Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette and The Professor. Emily is most famous for her novel Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, while Anne's works include the novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

George Eliot is the pseudonym of Mary Anne Evans. Her most famous novel is The Mill on the Floss published in 1860. Mary Anne Evans adopted the male pen name George as she wanted to set herself apart from the feminine genre of cookbooks and domestic moral tales. She also wrote Adam Bede, Middlemarch, Scenes of Clerical Life and more. Elizabeth Gaskell is famous for her biography of her friend Charlotte Bronte The Life of Charlotte Bronte published in 1857. Born Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson, Gaskell wrote a number of Victorian novels including Mary Barton, Cranford and Sylvia's LoversThe Times Literary Supplement and was a central figure of Bloomsbury group. She wrote many novels, short stories and essays, among which are To The Lighthouse, The Voyage Out, The Death Of The Moth, Reflections at Sheffield Place and The Man who Loved his Kind. The list of British women writers from the 1500s to the early twenty-first century is long. There are many more famous writers that have contributed to the literature of Great Britain including: Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645); Eliza Haywood (1693-1756); Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861); Fanny Burney (1752-1840); Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849); Dora Greenwell (1821-1882); Isabella Bird (1831-1904); Margaret Alice Murray (1863-1963); Beatrix Potter (1866-1943); Angela Brazil (1868-1947); Barbara Pym (1913-1980); Penelope Mortimer (1918-1999); Susan Price (1955-) and many more.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

British Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, vol.1, 1999
Modern British Women Writers: An A-to-Z Guide
Vicki K. Janik; Del Ivan Janik.
Greenwood Press, 2002
Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals: British Women Writers, 1889-1939
Angela Ingram; Daphine Patai.
University of North Carolina Press, 1993
Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers
Kathy Mezei.
University of North Carolina Press, 1996
Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776-1837
Carol Shiner Wilson; Joel Haefner.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994
Virtue's Faults: Correspondences in Eighteenth-Century British and French Women's Fiction
April Alliston.
Stanford University, 1996
Nineteenth-Century Women Writers of the English-Speaking World
Rhoda B. Nathan.
Greenwood Press, 1986
Faith of a (Woman) Writer
Alice Kessler-Harris; William McBrien.
Greenwood Press, 1988
The Mental World of Stuart Women: Three Studies
Sara Heller Mendelson.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1987
Women Writers and the English Nation in the 1790s: Romantic Belongings
Angela Keane.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
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