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Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850

, 252 pages

2 halftones

August 2008
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Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850

Open Access Edition Available at Project MUSE

This groundbreaking study explores the later lives and late-life writings of more than two dozen British women authors active during the long eighteenth century.

Drawing on biographical materials, literary texts, and reception histories, Devoney Looser finds that far from fading into moribund old age, female literary greats such as Anna Letitia Barbauld, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Catharine Macaulay, Hester Lynch Piozzi, and Jane Porter toiled for decades after they achieved acclaim—despite seemingly concerted attempts by literary gatekeepers to marginalize their later contributions.

Though these remarkable women wrote and published well into old age, Looser sees in their late careers the necessity of choosing among several different paths. These included receding into the background as authors of "classics," adapting to grandmotherly standards of behavior, attempting to reshape masculinized conceptions of aged wisdom, or trying to create entirely new categories for older women writers. In assessing how these writers affected and were affected by the culture in which they lived, and in examining their varied reactions to the prospect of aging, Looser constructs careful portraits of each of her subjects and explains why many turned toward retrospection in their later works.

In illuminating the powerful and often poorly recognized legacy of the British women writers who spurred a marketplace revolution in their earlier years only to find unanticipated barriers to acceptance in later life, Looser opens up new scholarly territory in the burgeoning field of feminist age studies.

Devoney Looser is a Professor of English at the University of Missouri and the author of British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670-1820, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"Compelling and interesting... Like a latter-day Isaac D'Israeli, Looser explores many byways of 18th- and early-19th century authorship and publication. Accordingly, specialists in those periods will find here a trove of useful, thought-provoking historical anecdote."

"So meticulously researched and her prose so pleasantly lucid and unassuming... Looser crafts a convincing argument for the reexamination of women writers like Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Jane Porter, and Anna Letitia Barbauld, paying closer attention to their later lives and works."

"Engaging and clearly written, Looser’s book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of what it meant to be an elderly female writer in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries while also identifying important considerations of fact and methodology often overlooked without the perspective of age studies."

"The book's lively introduction offers plenty of promise. Looser conveys considerable enthusiasm about her subject and the impressive archival research she conducted for Women Writers and Old Age. Throughout the six chapters, Looser maintains a lucid and engaging style that many contemporary scholars might well emulate."

"Devoney Looser is one of the best at bringing together biographical evidence, sophisticated theory, and literary sensibility."

"Devoney Looser has written an extremely important book that sensitively explores ageism and the literary marketplace just when the Mothers of the Novel were writing their final chapters."

"Elegant and original study... Looser not only offers a fresh perspective on individual reputations but raises intriguing questions about the procession of 'generations' in literary history."

"One of the strengths of Women Writers and Old Age is Looser's uncompromising willingness to acknowledge how difficult it was for older women writers to triumph over the cultural forces ranged against them."

"This is a thought-provoking... contribution not only to old age and gender studies but also to the literary history of the long 18th century."

"Wide-ranging and scrupulous book explores a neglected and fascinating subject."

"Although Looser's assumptions may not be shared by every reader, the book is so well informed and ends with such a vast bibliography that everyone stands to learn by it."

"Women Writers in Old Age, 1750–1850, provides a valuable contribution to the nascent field of study."

"With Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850... Devoney Looser is one of the best at bringing together biographical evidence, sophisticated theory, and literary sensibility."

"A groundbreaking study of the late careers of women writers."

"A well-written, imaginative, carefully researched, and fascinating study."

"Devoney Looser's new study shows us that there's nothing new about disdain for older women. As she illuminates the personal challenges faced by older women writers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Looser also brings to light a number of fascinating writings produced by her subjects in their late years... This inquiry asks us to rethink literary history in general and women's literary history in particular."

"A pioneering effort in what will undoubtedly prove to be another useful perspective from which to consider literary history."

"Groundbreaking in a variety of ways... This work is well written, thoroughly (and pretty amazingly) researched, and presents a convincing critical argument not only for its subject, but also for the continuation of studies about the subject."

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