In praise of older women

Women's Writing
October 20, 1995

The editorial to the first issue of this welcome new journal begins surprisingly defensively: "To launch a new international women's studies journal in the present political climate could be regarded as swimming against the current of reaction." I am not suggesting that the climate, particularly the economic climate, is at this moment necessarily encouraging, but this is the fifth new women's studies journal in Britain in not so much longer than as many years. (The previous four were Gender and History; Women: a Cultural Review; Journal of Gender Studies; and Women's History Review.) Feminist theory and scholarship have made a powerful impact in many areas of research, most notably in literature and history, but there is patently much still to be done, and many eager to do it.

Women's Writing: the Elizabethan to Victorian Period intends, the editors tell us, to concentrate on lesser-known writers and earlier periods, presumably because they feel the well-known names will be covered elsewhere. By "writing" they mean every kind of writing by women, whether on science, medicine, education, or conduct. So far the bulk of the articles are on conventional literature, but the viewpoints are fresh and challenging, and far from the unproblematic celebration of women's work that an earlier era might have associated with feminism.

The articles in the first issue, for example, include one by Ruth Perry on 18th-century women novelists' rewriting of Clarissa into disturbingly masochistic delineations of the private feminine sphere; one by Isobel Grundy on a novel on slavery by a woman slave-owner; and one by Jane Aaron on depictions of Wales by women novelists in the romantic period and their ambiguous response to the Anglicisation of the gentry in process at the time.

The only one not on fiction is by Roy Porter, on the political prophesies of the 17th-century Lady Eleanor Davies, prophesies which brought her renown, condemnation and time in Bedlam: her story, Porter suggests, illustrates the way both mystic passion and women's deviance would soon be redefined as psychopathology.

The editors ask for contributions which examine race and class as well as gender. Class so far seems to be given more attention than race, although there is a fascinating article on a late 18th-century woman's account of Sierra Leone. The first volume included a special number on female Gothic writing, with an excellent selection of articles, though rather dominated by Ann Radcliffe. The next special is to be on women and science, which should help extend the range beyond fiction.

This scholarly but approachable journal should become a fine addition to the range of women's studies journals: indeed that the time has come for a journal of this specificity perhaps marks a new stage in the development of the field. Women's Writing will complement those already in existence, and I look forward keenly to reading its future issues.

Helen Carr is co-editor of Women: a Cultural Review.

Women's Writing: The Elizabethan to Victorian Period

Editor - Marie Mulvey Roberts And Janet Todd
ISBN - ISSN 0969-9082
Publisher - Triangle
Price - £72.00 (inst.), £35.00 (indiv.)
Pages - Three issues a year

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