Syllabus: Women Writers in Manuscript, Print and Digital Media

English 427
Topics in Romantic Literature
Women Writers in Manuscript, Print and Digital Media

Michelle Levy
Simon Fraser University

At no time in the past two hundred years have we had easier access to the writing of women from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with numerous critical and scholarly editions, anthologies, and digital collections making women’s writing immediately available to us today. But although we know far more about these women and their writing than we did even ten years ago, there is still much to investigate. In this course, we will examine the writing of, and scholarship on, eleven major women writers of the period: Lucy Aikin, Jane Austen, Joanna Baillie, Anna Barbauld, Maria Edgeworth, Felicia Hemans, Mary Prince, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Dorothy Wordsworth. These authors have been selected for the diversity that they represent in terms of media, genre, subject matter, and reception history. Our aim will be to both explore the thematic content of women’s writing and to understand the material conditions in which women’s writing was produced and disseminated. Student presentations will introduce the class to an additional selection of women writers. Throughout, we will be attentive to the ways in which women’s writing is mediated by the material form in which it is now, and once was, presented to its readers.


  • Aikin, Epistles on Women (Broadview)
  • Austen, Mansfield Park (Broadview)
  • Barbauld, Poetry and Prose of Anna Laetitia Barbauld (Broadview)
  • Shelley, Frankenstein (Broadview)

* These texts will be packaged together and sold as a set – you are getting one of the books for free by buying them as a set.

  • Diane Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (3rd)
  • M.H. Abrams, Glossary of Literary Terms


  • 15% Participation
  • 0% Presentation
  • 15% First essay (6-7 pages) (Due February 4)
  • 15% Revision of First essay (Due February 18)
  • 15% Proposal/Outline and Annotated Bibliography for Research Paper (1-2 pages) (Due March 11)
  • 30% Final Essay + Second Presentation (10-12 pages) (Due April 8)


In this course, we are seeking a thorough knowledge of women’s writing during the Romantic period. You will be responsible—through your readings, presentations, participation and essays for seriously engaging with the literature and the culture of this period.

Attendance and Participation:

Active and engaged class participation is necessary to make this course a success. We meet only 13 times during the semester – you must attend all classes. You are allowed one absence “no questions asked.” Thereafter (that is for any absences beyond one) you must provide documentation to explain your absence. Without this documentation, your final grade will be reduced one grade for each absence (i.e. from B+ to B for one unexplained absence). This is not done to be punitive but because regular attendance and involvement in the class is necessary for the course to be a success.

You must do all of the required reading. As we will be doing the novels often in quick succession, it is highly desirable that you be finished reading the novel by the beginning of the first class we are to consider it. Ideally, you will have read one or two novels before the start of the class. We are also working at a higher level in this class with more secondary sources, so again, this is a course with a lot of reading—consider yourself warned!

Finally, you will be expected to do several short assignments. Everyone will be a respondent for a critical essay two times during the term. More details will be explained in our first meeting.


You will make two presentations for the course. The first one, to be conducted in pairs, will count for 10% of your final grade (maximum 30 minutes). This presentation will require considerable outside research.

For your second presentation, to be given on the last day of class, you will be presenting a paper that outlines the major questions and implications of your final paper. The presentation will be at most 10 minutes long.

First Presentation:

You will work in pairs and present on another author and text (listed in square brackets in the syllabus, below). Your responsibility is to “teach” this material. I would suggest that you include the following material:

  • Brief biography of the author, including relevant details of her life and writing career
  • Brief summary of the text in question – remember, you are the only students who have read this work and it is up to you to describe the work in such a way that the class can have some understanding of its content and relevance.
  • Offer a reading/interpretation of the work – you might want to relate it to the works we have already read; to contemporary women’s issues; or to political/social/cultural issues.
  • Visual aids (in the form of PowerPoint or Prezi presentations) are strongly encouraged.
  • You are also encouraged to develop other means of inviting class involvement – discussion questions are a possibility, but I am looking for innovative and exciting ways for you to involve the rest of the class. At least 10 minutes of your presentation should be devoted to class involvement.

You will sign up in pairs on the first day of class.

Second Presentation:

On the final day of class, you will present a 5-7 minute précis of your final paper. This presentation need not be highly formal – but it should introduce students to the major issues you address in your paper. The grade for this presentation will be included in the grade for your final paper.


You will write two essays in this course. Detailed guidelines for these papers will be given to you. As this course is writing intensive, we will be spending a lot of time on your writing. You will write two versions of the first paper, receiving feedback on the first version before you revise it. Please note that both grades (on the first and the revised paper) are recorded. The revised essay must be responsive to the criticism and suggestions received on the first version. It is your responsibility to ensure that you understand the suggestions and recommendations I will provide for you. You will submit your first paper by email to me as a word document. I will use track changes to make suggestions for revising your paper.

The structure for the second paper is slightly different. Here you will submit a proposal, including an outline and an annotated bibliography. Feedback on your proposal will help you as you write your final paper. See below for more details on your essay assignments. This is a research paper and will involve considerable outside research.

All papers are due on the dates listed in the class schedule. Late papers will lose one plus or minus grade for every day they remainoutstanding. There are no exceptions.

All papers must be presented in proper form: they must be typed, double spaced, one inch margins, 12 point font size, with page numbers, and an interesting title. Your name, date and class information must appear clearly on the first page of your paper. Please DO NOT use a separate title page; double-sided papers are strongly encouraged.


The MLA Style Manual defines plagiarism as “the use of another person’s ideas or expressions in your own writing without acknowledging the source.” Plagiarism is a serious academic offence that will be reported to the Dean of Students, and can result in expulsion. If you plagiarize, you will be given a zero on that paper and may also fail the course. Please ask me if you have any questions about how to document your sources.


Week Date Reading due for class Assignments
1 Mon. Jan 7 Women and Lyric Poetry
Smith, Dedication, Prefaces, Subscription List and Sonnets I-VI, IX, XII, XXXVI, XLII-XLV from Elegiac Sonnets (1789)
Barbauld, “Summer Evening’s Meditation”
Sarah Zimmerman, “Varieties of Privacy in Charlotte Smith’s Poetry”
2 Mon Jan 14 Women and Political Poetry
Barbauld, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven; “Dialogue in the Shades”; Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation; “The Caterpillar”
Smith, The Emigrants
Anne Mellor, “Theatre and the School of Virtue” and “Women’s Political Poetry” from Mothers of the Nation: Women’s Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 (39-84).
[Helen Maria Williams, Letters written in France]
3 Mon Jan 21 Women’s Rights
Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women (everyone will read up to p. 169; and everyone will read one additional chapter which I will assign the week before)
Barbauld, “To A Lady, With Painted Flowers”; “On a Lady’s Writing”: “The Rights of Women”
Alan Richardson, “Mary Wollstonecraft on Education”
Vivien Jones, “Wollstonecraft and the Literature of Advice and Instruction”
[Mary Robinson, A Letter to the Women of England]
4 Mon Jan 28 Female Education
Wollstonecraft, “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters”
Barbauld, “To Dr. Aikin on his Complaining that she Neglected Him”; “Fashion: A Vision”; “On Female Studies”; “Letter from Grimalkin to Selima”; “What is Education?”;
Edgeworth, “The Purple Jar”
Mitzi Myers, “Socializing Rosamund: Educational Ideology and Fictional Form”
[Jane and Ann Taylor, Original Poems for Infant Minds]
5 Mon Feb 4 Women and Slavery
Mary Prince, History of Mary Prince
Maria Edgeworth, “The Grateful Negro”
Barbauld, “Epistle to William Wilberforce”
Sue Thomas, “New Information on Mary Prince in London”
[Anna Yearsley, “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade”]
[Anon., The Woman of Colour]
First Essay Due
Mon Feb 11 Reading week – no classes
6 Mon Feb 18 Women, Class, Poverty
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Barbauld, “Thoughts on the Inequality of Conditions,” “To the Poor”; “On Different Stations in Life”
Aikin, “On the Spirit of Aristocracy”
John Halperin, “The Trouble with Mansfield Park
[3-4 female poets from Nineteenth-Century Labouring Class Poets, 1800-1900]
Revision of First Essay Due
7 Mon Feb 25 Women and Domesticity
Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journals, 129-159 and DCMS 20, 25, 19, 31
Baillie, “A Winter’s Day”; “A Summer’s Day”
Barbauld, “Washing Day”
Hemans, “Homes of England”; “Graves of a Household”
Lucy Newlyn, “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Experimental Style”
[Anne Wagner’s album]
8 Mon Mar 4 Women, Science, Exploration
Barbauld, “The Mouse’s Petition”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Frankenstein’s Science 1780-1830: Experimentation and Discovery in Romantic Culture
[Jane Marcet, Conversations on Chemistry]
9 Mon Mar 11 Women and History
Aikin, Epistles on Women; fromMemoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth
Hemans, “Arabella Stuart”; “Properzia Rossi”: “Indian Women’s Death Song”; “Image in Lava”; from Records of Women
Aikin, “Contexts for Aikin’s Feminist Historiography” (in Broadview)
[Mary Hays, Female Biography(1803)]
Annotated Bibliography Due
10 Mon Mar 18 Women and Literary History
Joanna Baillie, “Introductory Discourse to the Play of the Passions”
Barbauld, “Essay on the Origins and Progress of Novel Writing,” British Novelists, 8-62
Claudia Johnson, “’Let Me Make the Novels of the Country’: Barbauld’s British Novelists(1810/1820)”
[Clara Reeve, The Progress of Romance]
11 Mon Mar 25 Women and the Theatre
Joanna Baillie, De Montfort [students who have already read will read Elizabeth Inchbald’s Such Things Are]
Jeffrey Cox, “Staging Baillie” in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist. Ed. Thomas Crochunis. Taylor & Francis, 2003.
12 Mon Apr 1 Women and Natural History
Smith, Beachy Head; “Conversation the First,” from Conversations introducing poetry: chiefly on subjects introducing natural history
13 Mon Apr 1 Final Class Presentation Final Papers Due