In the awareness of most readers it is probably with Jane Austen at the turn of the nineteenth century that authorship becomes recognised as a practice of women as well as men, and certainly by the middle and later nineteenth century, despite the use of male names by some female authors, the question of female authorship is no longer seriously problematic. Many readers could probably identify at least two considerable female authors of fiction before Jane Austen in Fanny Burney and Mrs Radcliffe, and they might well also be aware of Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist and novelist, at the end of the eighteenth century Students of literary history would be able to identify more female authors, perhaps beginning with Aphra Behn (1640–89), playwright and novelist in the Restoration period. Then perhaps the dramatist Susannah Centlivre (1667?–1723), author of The Busybody (1709) among other successful comedies. The scandalous novelist Mrs Manley might be known through references to her notorious Atalantis narratives of misdoings in high life, as in The Rape of the Lock (3.165), ‘As long as Atalantis shall be read’. The name of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762) would probably be familiar as that of a woman of letters around the time of Pope and as author of some verse. Eliza Haywood (1693?–1756) might be recognised as a working author (she gets unpleasantly libelled in The Dunciad) and for her novel Betsy Thoughtless (1751) and it could be that some susurrus of naughtiness would attach to her name which, if known at all, would be more familiar than her work. From the middle of the century the name Sarah Fielding would stand out, as Henry Fielding’s sister and as author of The Adventures of David Simple (1744), though the suspicion would be that her brother was responsible for what was best in her work. Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821) would be known as a dramatist and as author of A SimpleStory (1791), and there might be various other names throughout the century such as Mary Davys, Frances Sheridan, Charlotte Lennox, Clara Reeve and Mary Hays which would be dimly recognisable as those of female authors. A few names of women associated with famous authors would also be familiar — Swift’s Stella (Esther Johnson), addressee of his Journal to Stella; Pope’s friend Martha Blount, to whom his second Moral Essay, the ‘Epistle to a Lady’ is dedicated; Richardson’s correspondent and adviser, Lady Bradshaigh; Hester Thrale Piozzi, friend and memorialist of Dr Johnson.
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