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Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry

, 544 pages
June 2010



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Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry

Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre

Co-Winner, James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association

This major study offers a broad view of the writing and careers of eighteenth-century women poets, casting new light on the ways in which poetry was read and enjoyed, on changing poetic tastes in British culture, and on the development of many major poetic genres and traditions.

Rather than presenting a chronological survey, Paula R. Backscheider explores the forms in which women wrote and the uses to which they put those forms. Considering more than forty women in relation to canonical male writers of the same era, she concludes that women wrote in all of the genres that men did but often adapted, revised, and even created new poetic kinds from traditional forms.

Backscheider demonstrates that knowledge of these women's poetry is necessary for an accurate and nuanced literary history. Within chapters on important canonical and popular verse forms, she gives particular attention to such topics as women's use of religious poetry to express candid ideas about patriarchy and rape; the continuing evolution and important role of the supposedly antiquarian genre of the friendship poetry; same-sex desire in elegy by women as well as by men; and the status of Charlotte Smith as a key figure of the long eighteenth century, not only as a Romantic-era poet.

Paula R. Backscheider is the Philpott-Stevens Eminent Scholar in the Department of English at Auburn University. She is the author of several books, including Daniel Defoe: His Life, Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England, and Reflections on Biography, and editor of Revising Women: Eighteenth-Century "Women's Fiction" and Social Engagement.

"Backscheider... writes with an ease and clarity that make this book fully accessible."

"Passionate and wide-ranging study."

"Wise and preeminently useful... A courageous book. "

"Our sense of eighteenth-century poetic territory is immeasurably expanded by the new work of Backscheider... Besides an excellent historical and cultural introduction on the landscape of poetry production in the eighteenth century,... each chapter offers fine-grained close readings of often fully quoted poems (many of which are still not readily available in print) along with biographical and formal contexts."

"For specialists of eighteenth-century literature in English, this is a must-read book."

"This book paves the way for further work and is itself a valuable contribution to exciting nascent debates."

"An ambitious and pioneering work of archeological excavation, one that will establish a foundation for the future study of eighteenth-century women poets and their poetry. A major contribution."

"Brilliantly introduces issues, opportunities, and new directions, that open up vistas into a vital world of complex personalities, engaging social practices, and inspiring artistic achievements."

"One of the best and most significant books on eighteenth-century poetry to appear in recent years."

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