Viragos, Coquettes and Prudes

English, School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies

College of Arts and Law


Code 19620

Level of study Third/Final year

Credit value 20

Semester 2

Module description

Women began to be both readers and writers in greater and greater numbers during the eighteenth century. They began to write in all literary genres including poetry, prose fiction and drama, but also in lesser known genres such as journals, letters and political propaganda, and female characters began to appear more prominently in literature. During the course of the century more and more conduct books and educational texts aimed at women appeared in an attempt to get women to police their own behaviour according to certain moral and cultural norms. The course will therefore explore not only the work of some well-known literary writers of the period (such as Mary Wortley Montagu, Delariviere Manley, Eliza Haywood and Frances Burney) but also the ways in which women were represented in literature and the consequent development of a female aesthetic. The course will examine some of the issues raised by the reading of these texts, such as: what are the characteristics of early writing by women? How are the politics of gender relations and identities represented? How have these writers and their texts been treated by literary critics? How did women relate to contemporary ideas of author/authority? Are these texts necessarily subersive of cultural/political traditions? How were women's voices shaped by the expectations of the conduct book tradition? How were expectations of women governed by the representation in literature of types of women such as the virago, the coquette, the prude, the termagent? Other topics will include the education of women, women and the classical tradition, publication and patronage, the role of mentors, and the intersection of gender issues with those of social class and race.