Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820

Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820

Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820

Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820

Synopsis

This study explores the careers of five influential women writers of the Restoration and 18th and early 19th centuries. Through detailed discussion of the lives and work of Aphra Behn (1640-1689), Delarivier Manley (1663-1724), Charlotte Lennox (1729-1804), Frances Burney (1752-1840), and Maria Edgeworth (1768?-1849), Catherine Gallagher reveals the underlying connections between the increasing prestige of female authorship, the economy and debt, and the rise of the novel.

Excerpt

I was strongly advised against calling this book "Nobody's Story" because the title, it was feared, would suggest exactly the sort of study this is not: one lamenting the unjust absence of women from the eighteenth-century literary canon. Let it be known at the outset, therefore, that the "nobodies" of my title are not ignored, silenced, erased, or anonymous women. Instead, they are literal nobodies: authorial personae, printed books, scandalous allegories, intellectual property rights, literary reputations, incomes, debts, and fictional characters. They are the exchangeable tokens of modern authorship that allowed increasing numbers of women writers to thrive as the eighteenth century wore on.

Nobody was not on my mind when I began this study. Noticing that the appearance of what was called "female authorship" in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries coincided with the appearance of a literary marketplace, I set out to show that many women writers emphasized their femininity to gain financial advantage and that, in the process, they invented and popularized numerous ingenious similarities between their gender and their occupation. Far from disavowing remunerative authorship as unfeminine, they relentlessly embraced and feminized it. And, far from creating only minor and forgettable variations on an essentially masculine figure, they delineated crucial features of "the author" for the period in general by emphasizing their trials and triumphs in the marketplace. This book, in short, began by describing the reciprocal shaping of the terms "woman," "author," and "marketplace."

At the outset, my objective was to show the extreme plasticity of these terms as well as their interrelations. I was inspired by studies in the history of sexuality, which point to the mid-eighteenth century as a watershed of European discourse on the topics of sexuality and gender, a time when the very meaning of "woman . . ."

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