Skip to main content Skip to navigation

EN921 Women and the Literary Establishment: 1600-1700

This module explores the extraordinary entrance of women into the literary marketplace during the course of the seventeenth century. In 1600 only a handful of women authors had been published in print: by 1700, a few women were able to earn a living by their writing. This change has often been considered, but it is doubtful whether it is as yet fully understood. In particular, the relationship of women's writing to men's of the same period is a very contested subject. This course aims to take women writers out of the ghetto and consider them in relationship to other writing of the same period or genre, enabling a more careful assessment of difference.

One of the most important media for women’s writing and reading in this period is manuscript, which will be one of the main aspects of this course. Drawing on the resources of the Perdita Project, we will be examining manuscripts compiled by women in the early modern period for evidence of their reading and writing practices. The option of editing previously unknown manuscript material will be available.

A proportion of women’s writing was read through the medium of scribal publication. This includes genres that have often been considered as private, such as autobiographies and meditations. However, this course problematises categories of ‘public’ and ‘private’ in this period, and draws on historical evidence as well as text to make statements about the contexts in which women were writing, and their purposes in doing so.

As the period progresses, issues of marketing the woman writer, and the role of male publishers and editors in her production, become important. So do issues of the gendering of the women’s voice in early modern printed work, which this course will explore with reference to feminist theory as well as textual study.

Much of this work has not been edited in modern versions and the University’s access to Early English Books Online and the Women Writer’s Project will be crucial to this course.


Primary Texts. Suggest you buy only Early Modern Women's Manuscript Poetry eds. Jill Millman and Gillian Wright (MUP. 2005)

Anne Southwell, The Southwell-Sibthorpe Commonplace-Book, ed. Jean Klene (MRETS, 1997)
Ed. Sylvia Brown, Women’s Writing in Stuart England (Sutton, 1999)]
Ludy Hutchinson, Order and Disorder, ed. David Norbrook (Blackwell’s, 2000)
Aphra Behn, The Rover and other plays, ed. Jane Spencer (Oxford Worlds Classics, 1995)
Elizabeth Singer Rowe, Poems and Fancies on Several Occasions (1696) [EEBO]

Secondary Texts

Amussen, Susan, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1988)
Clarke, Danielle and Clarke, Elizabeth, eds, ‘This Double Voice’: Gendered Writing in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2000)
Capp, Bernard, When Gossips Meet: Women, Family and Neighbourhood in Early Modern England (OUP, 2003)

Clarke, Danielle, The Politics of Early Modern Women’s Writing (Edward Arnold, 2001)
Crawford, Patricia, Women and Religion in England 1500-1720 (London, 1993)
Cressy, David, Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1990)
Ezell, Margaret and Beal, Peter, Writing by Early Modern Women: English Manuscript Studies 1100-1800 vol 8 (British Library, 2001)
Ezell, Margaret, The Patriarch’s Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (Chapel Hill, NC, 1987)
Fraser, Antonia, The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1984)
Greer, et al. Eds, Kissing the Rod: an anthology of seventeenth-century women’s verse (London, 1988)
Hinds, Hilary, Gods Englishwomen: seventeenth-century radical sectarian writing and feminism (MUP, 1999)
Hobby, Elaine, Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing 1649-88 (London, 1988)
Hughes, Derek, The Theatre of Aphra Behn (Basingstoke, 2001)
Justice, George and Tinker, Nathan, eds, Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in English,, 1550-1800, George Justice and Nathan Tinker, (CUP, 2001)
Mack, Phyllis, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley, 1992)
Wilcox, Helen, ed., Women and Literature in Britain, 1500-1700 (CUP, 1996)