Mary Wollstonecraft, women had no particular voice in European
literary society. However, in the Age of Reason, many women
hosted literary salons. The most famous salon during the
Enlightenment was hosted by Louise Florence d'Épinay,
who later went on to publish several writings of personal
and morally-instructive nature. Germaine de Staël hosted
an international salon in Switzerland after fleeing the
French Revolution. She produced De la littérature
(1800) and Germany (1810), both of which spread the theories
of Romanticism. In one particular chapter of De la littérature,
Madame de Staël strongly advocated women's literature;
however, it was not this that delivered her literary attention.
In 1802 before being exiled from Paris, Madame de Staël
published her first novel, Delphine, which was condemned
by Napoleon. After writing Corinne, ou l'Italie (1807),
she was exiled from France a second time. This was her most
popular novel, which influenced women's literary pursuits
in Europe and America. In 1812, Napoleon confiscated Madame
de Staël's De L'Allemagne in an attempt to silence
her. This proved that the world of men would not willingly
acknowledge women's freedom in literature.
Gothic fiction got a push in the 1790's, when Ann Radcliffe
contributed to the development of the Gothic novel with
The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries
of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). At
one point in time, she was the most famous novelist in England
(Microsoft Encarta). Two other women Gothic novelists are
Clara Reeve and Charlotte Smith, who were both key figures
in the Gothic Novel genre. However, Radcliffe's thick, impossible
plots were something to be made fun of, as was demonstrated
in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818).
Austen was the next key player in Women's Romantic literature
with her publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811. She
was well-known for her witty reflections of British middle
and upper-class society. She blended satire, romance, and
psychological insight in her writing. Because of her ability
to write cleverly and her motif of characters changing for
the better, she is now regarded as one of the best novelists
of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1813, she published Pride
and Prejudice, and in the following year, Mansfield
Park. Both works guaranteed her immediate success in
the literary world. Before Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth
carried out the tradition of pointing out society's failings.
Her novel, The Absentee (1812), describes the horrible
effects of absentee landlords. Another woman who wrote of
social disparities was Scottish writer Susan Ferrier, who
helped develop the prose tradition in Scottish literature.
proof that women could write better than, if not as well
as men, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818
after being challenged to a ghost-story writing contest
by Lord Byron and her husband, Percy Shelley. The novel
was the first to convey the plot of "creation destroying,
or succeeding the creator." Victor Frankenstein, once
overjoyed with the thought of giving life, suddenly experiences
fear and dread in his creation: "Mingled with this
horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams
that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space
were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid;
the overthrow so complete" (Shelley 57)! Consequently,
unable to meet the creature's demands, Victor Frankenstein
is murdered by the very thing that he gave life. The novel
was widely acclaimed both critically and popularly, and
gained long-lasting success. More than a century later,
it inspired a major motion picture. The novel was followed
by Valperga in 1823. In 1826, Shelley wrote The
Last Man to describe her grief of her husband's death.
The novel was followed by Lodore (1835) and Faulkner
(1837). Afterwards, she shut herself away from the literary
world and spent her time raising her son and securing his
right to the Shelley title before she died in 1851.
Romantic poetry also received high praise. Major characters
of the Romantic movement in poetry include Elizabeth Barret
Browning. Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) is considered
by critics to be her best work. Joanna Baillie published
Poetic Miscellanies in 1823; however she was more
well-known as a playwright. Another major figure in Women's
Romantic poetry is Emily Dickinson, who is now known as
the greatest American female poet. She wrote her poems very
carefully and often mentioned the importance of emotion.
However, her poems were not known to the world until 1896.
In 1846, the "Bells," otherwise known as the Brontë sisters, published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. In the year of 1847, the Brontë sisters saw eminent fame and high praise with Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. However, by the 1850s, women's Romantic literature was succeeded by the Realism and the deaths of many Romantic writers rendered it impossible to revive the movement. With Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford (1853), Realism sounded the knell of Women's Romanticism.
Mussell, Kay. Women's Gothic and Romantic Fiction. London: Greenwood Press, 1981.
"Staël, Germaine de," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
"Épinay, Louise Florence d'," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.