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.