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Gender, Sexuality, and Literature: The Bluestocking Circle

ENGL 290.401
instructor(s):
TR 12-1:30 pm

This seminar explores the writings and ideologies of the  “Bluestocking Circle” of the mid- to late-eighteenth century.  A  group of writers and intellectuals who originally gathered for  conversation and exchange in the 1750s and 60s in the salons of  educated women like Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Boscawen, and  Elizabeth Vesey, the Bluestockings believed in intellectual rather  than social merit, polite sociability, and equality between the  sexes.  The term “bluestocking” itself originally referred to the  blue worsted stockings worn by seventeenth and eighteenth-century men  for informal occasions, and it became both symbol and metaphor for  the group’s informality and sense of equality among its members.   Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, the  Bluestockings wrote and published poems, novels, plays, essays,  translations, and reams of letters – especially among and by the  prominent women in the group.  Later in the century, however, the  term “bluestocking” gradually took on the meaning it retains today:   a derogatory epithet for an intellectual, socially privileged, and  conservative woman. 

In this class, we’ll read the writings of many of the best-known  women writers of the Bluestocking circle, including Anna Laetitia  Barbauld, Elizabeth Carter, Hester Chapone, Sarah Fielding, Catherine  Macaulay, and Hannah More, exploring their relationships with each  other and with the public, print culture that they participated in.   We’ll also dip into the writings that constituted the “Bluestocking  backlash” of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,  including satires on intellectual women by Frances Burney, Richard  Polwhele, Thomas Moore, and Lord Byron.  What did it mean to be a  public female intellectual during the second half of the eighteenth  century?  What kinds of issues were at stake?  What risks, and what  gains, did it involve?  And in what relationship do these early women  writers stand to the development of feminism and feminist thought? 

Course requirements will include regular attendance and class  participation; weekly response papers; one group presentation; one  longer research paper.