Syllabus: Studies in Manuscript, Print and Media Cultures

English 821
Studies in Manuscript, Print and Media Cultures
Women and Print Culture, 1770-1830

Michelle Levy
Simon Fraser University

According to Mary Favret, “the women poets writing at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century are impossible to categorize as a group; their styles, preoccupations, politics, and reasons for writing vary widely.” Anna Barbauld, in rebuffing Maria Edgeworth’s request to found a women’s literary journal in 1804, put it even more bluntly: “There is no bond of union among literary women, any more than among literary men; different sentiments and different connections separate them much more than the joint interest of their sex would unite them.” The diversity and lack of solidarity among women writers of the period poses challenges for pedagogy and research. For scholars of the Romantic period, the one unifying narrative that has achieved some consensus over the last decade is a feminist, historicist one, which imagines women as active and equal participants in a vital public sphere (see Harriet Guest, (2000); Mellor, (2000); and collections edited by Catherine Burroughs, (2000) and Elizabeth Egger ()).

This influential scholarship, important as it is, suffers in one critical respect: it fails to scrutinize print as the media that enabled women’s involvement in public life. Since 2005, Romantic studies have seen a new wave of bibliographical and quantitative scholarship in the history of the book, work which charts the explosive growth and innovation in the printing trade during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (William St. Clair, (2005); Richard Sher, (2006); James Raven, (2007); Andrew Piper, (2009)). Although these studies do not ignore women writers and questions of gender, no comprehensive attempt has been made to describe the role women played in this rapidly expanding press (as well as how some women resisted print). This course will attempt to bring together current research on women’s writing with that done on the history of the book during the period 1770-1830.

This course has four main objectives:

  1. To acquire a thorough grounding in the work of and scholarship on, eight of the major women writers of the period: Lucy Aikin, Jane Austen, Joanna Baillie, Anna Barbauld, Felicia Hemans, 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.
  2. To understand the material conditions in which women’s writing of the period was produced and disseminated, specifically: (a) the publication choices available to women of the period; (b) their efforts to negotiate the publication process; (c) the media used to disseminate women’s writing; and (d) the social and institutional means by which women’s writing was read and reviewed.
  3. To survey the range of scholarly work that has been and is being done on Romantic women writers, including biography, bibliography, critical editions, essays and monographs, disseminated in both traditional print and digital media.
  4. To develop research and writing skills, and specifically to gain experience in writing within a range of scholarly modes.

Together, we will also be building a bibliography of sources relevant to the course. This has already been begun (and will be available on Google docs). I will ask you to add all sources you use during this course to the bibliography.

Required Texts:

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (Broadview)

Anna Barbauld, Selected Poetry and Prose (Broadview)

Lucy Aikin, Epistles on Women (Broadview)

Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and Maria (Broadview)

Readings will be supplemented by PDF files; links to online sources have been provided.


% Description Date

Active and ongoing participation in class discussion, including (informal) assignments:

  • biography assignment;
  • review assignment;
  • anthology assignment.

Sept. 10
Oct. 1
Nov. 5

10 Digital Collection Summary and Questions (you will prepare a short (2 minute) overview of a digital collection and a series of questions for our guest speaker, Dr. Estill, with a summary of the discussion to be posted on the class blog) Sept. 24
15 Monograph Presentation and Review (a 10-12 minute presentation reviewing one scholarly monograph, based on a book review you have written of about 4-5 pages, to be posted to the class blog) Oct. 22
10 Print Critical/Scholarly Edition Review (a 6-8 minute presentation of a scholarly or critical print edition. Your review of about 3-4 pages should be posted to the class blog.) Nov. 19
10 Final Research paper / project proposal and annotated bibliography (to include at least 6 secondary sources) Nov. 26
10 Conference proposal (You will bring an abstract for a CFP for peer review—to be handed in afterwards) Dec. 3

10-minute presentation of final paper / project as part of mini-conference last day of class

Final Presentation / Project (15 pages or equivalent)

Dec. 3

Dec. 10

Tentative Schedule:

September 10:

Women and Literary Production: Private and Social beginnings

Guest Visitor (via Skype): Isobel Grundy, Co-founder of Orlando and Professor, U. of Alberta

[Biography Assignment: Please read biographical entries on our eight authors -- Austen, Baillie, Barbauld, Hemans, Smith, Wollstonecraft and Wordsworth in Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles, Gale Dictionary of Literary Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Biography. Please read the biographies of at least one author in each of the three sources, to ascertain which one you prefer. Be prepared to discuss why you preferred that source.]

Sept 17:

Getting into Print: Negotiating Publicity

September 24:

Digital Surrogates / Editions / Collections

Digital Collection Discussion: For this class, you will select one of the following digital collections to survey and review (contact me if you want to review a resource that is not listed).


October 1:

[Review Assignment: Please find at least one contemporary review of a publication we have examined in this course – be prepared to discuss (1) how you found the review; and (2) what it reveals about the status of women’s writing at the time; and (3) its significance for our current understanding of the work in question.]

Addressing the Public I (Poetry)

October 8: Thanksgiving – no class

October 15:

Addressing the Public II (the Novel)

  • Austen, “Advertisement” and “Chapter 5,” Northanger Abbey
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Fiction and Maria; Or the Wrongs of Women
    • Cheryl Turner, “Professional Women Novelists: Earning an Income.” Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century. Taylor and Francis eLibrary, 2002. 102-126.
    • Jennie Batchelor, “The ‘business’ of a women's life and the making of the female philosopher: the works of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Women's work: labour, gender, authorship, 1750-1830. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2010.

Oct 22:

[Monograph Reviews: For today’s class, we will all select one monograph to read, review and present to the class. Your presentation should be about 10-12 minutes in length. The monograph can be chosen from the course bibliography, or you can select another text. Please advise me of your choice by October 15 at the latest. I will review Jennie Batchelor’s Women's work: labour, gender, authorship, 1750-1830. You will post a copy of your review on the class blog.]

Addressing the Public III (the Drama)

  • Baillie, “Introductory Discourse” to Plays on the Passions, 1-71; and Basil: A Tragedy, 72-192
    • Catherine Burroughs, “Joanna Baillie’s Theater of the Closet: Female Romantic Playwrights and Preface Writing.” Closet stages: Joanna Baillie and the theater theory of British romantic women writers. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997.
    • Jeffrey Cox, “Staging Baillie” in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist. Ed. Thomas Crochunis. Taylor & Francis, 2003.

October 29:

Staying in Manuscript

November 5:

Anthologies/The Canon

[Anthology Assignment: For today’s class, we will look at how contemporary anthologies present women writers. There are (at least) two possible methodologies: one is to pick a given anthology with a history, such as the Norton, and find as many earlier versions as possible to trace the representation of a few female writers over time. Alternatively, you can pick a single author and see how she is represented in the following anthologies.

  • Norton Anthology of English Literature
  • Longman Anthology of English Literature
  • Broadview Anthology of English Literature
  • Mellor and Matlak, British Literature 1770-1830.
  • Perkins, English Romantic Writers
  • Backscheider, Paula R. and Caroline Ingrassia, eds. British Women Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century: an anthology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. [PR 1177 B756 2009]
  • Devine, Harriet, ed. Women's writing of the romantic period, 1789-1836: an anthology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. [PR 1110 W6 W69 1997]
  • Feldman, Paula, ed. British women poets of the Romantic era: an anthology. Manchester; New York: Manchester UP, 1994.


November 12: Remembrance Day Holiday

November 19:

The Critical / Scholarly Edition

[Critical/Scholarly Edition Review: You are also to select a critical or scholarly edition, preferably on one of our authors but if not on a woman writer of the period — see bibliography for choices available – to review for the class. Please advise me of your choice by October 29 at the latest.]


Please read (or reread) the critical introductions, chronologies, and appendices from our four Broadview editions and be prepared to discuss thescholarly apparatus that they include from a critical perspective.

November 26:

The (Early) Reception of Women’s Writing

Final Paper/ Project Proposal and Annotated Bibliography Due

December 3:

Conference Proposals / Mini-Conference Presentations

[For today’s class, everyone will prepare an abstract based on a CFP (call for papers) (preferably related to the course theme and using work done in the class). You will bring the actual CFP and your abstract to class and we will have a peer review session in which we read each other’s proposals. You will then submit the abstract to me for feedback.]

[You will also be presenting your work on your final paper or project – exact framework/details to be determined based on how your research develops, however, I expect that I will group your papers into panels, and that you will present a 10-12 min talk on your final projects, to be followed by questions.]

Overview of Important Dates:

September 10: Biography Assignment & Professor Isobel Grundy via Skype

September 24: Visit from Dr. Laura Estill, UVic & Discussion of Digital Collections

October 1: Review Assignment

October 8: Thanksgiving – No Class

October 22: Monograph Review

November 5: Anthology Assignment

November 12: Remembrance Day Holiday – No Class

November 19: Print Scholarly/Critical Edition Review

November 26: Final Paper/ Project Proposal and Annotated Bibliography Due

December 3: CFP Abstract & Presentation on Final Paper / Project

December 10: Final Paper / Project due