In the past three decades, scholars of reading history and print culture have made impressive strides in the study of formerly neglected genres and authors, including aesthetic commentary by Romantic era women writers. Readers now widely recognize that novels, poems, and private letters all furnish passages in which women writers express views on aesthetic ideals, the value of certain literary forms, or the achievement of predecessors, male and female. The letters of Anna Seward (collected and published in 1811), Jane Austen’s defense of the novel in Northanger Abbey (1818), and the sequence of poetic celebrations of female forebears begun by Felicia Hemans (“The Last Song of Sappho”), Letitia Landon (“Felicia Hemans”) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (“L.E.L.’s Last Question”) offer only a few prominent examples.1 These illustrations reveal much about Romantic women writers’ views of literature, yet although they certainly rank as aesthetic commentary, their authors did not write them explicitly for publication as criticism. Thus even many readers who are aware of these and similar examples still retain a mistaken impression that women rarely ventured into the field of professional literary criticism during these years. By bringing together an assortment of women’s texts published explicitly as criticism, this anthology challenges restrictive assumptions about the range of venues in which women’s literary commentary appeared and the breadth of issues addressed.
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Mary A. Waters
- Macmillan Education UK
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