Type of Document Thesis Author Dustin, Sara URN etd-06272003-143222 Title "Yes, Injured Woman! Rise, Assert Thy Right!": Anna Letitia Barbauld and the Feminine Ideal Degree Master of Arts Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Eric Walker Committee Chair Helen Burke Committee Member James ORourke Committee Member Keywords
- Anna Letitia Barbauld
Date of Defense 2003-01-01 Availability unrestricted AbstractIn this thesis, I will examine the poetry and prose of a late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century writer, Anna Letitia Barbauld. Through the early 1970s, literary scholarship on the Romantic period focused almost exclusively on male canonical writers such as Wordsworth and Keats. By focusing on the work of a popular and prolific female writer such as Barbauld, I hope to contribute to the debate on what is considered Romantic. My overall thesis is that despite the evidence of Barbauld’s conventionally “feminine” poems as well as her own
personal history, Barbauld was not a simple antifeminist or mere schoolmistress, but rather an
important contributor to the debates in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century concerning feminine identity, and moreover, the feminine ideal.
The first chapter discusses the Romantic era's timeline, explores Barbauld’s interaction with her contemporaries, exposes the many obstacles to women writers of Barbauld's era, and reviews Barbauld's reception history. In the introduction, I will first discuss Barbauld's place in the Romantic century. If we think of Barbauld as an early Romantic (she began publishing in 1773 and most of her major literary contributions were made before 1800), a different account of Romanticism emerges. I will then give a brief biography of Barbauld, which will include her interaction with other Romantic writers such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, and conclude the introduction by discussing the past neglect of Barbauld and other Romantic women writers. In the second chapter, I move on to compare Barbauld with one of her more radical
female contemporaries, Mary Wollstonecraft. Given that critics such as Marlon B. Ross and Mary Wollstonecraft labeled Barbauld as an antifeminist based upon poems such as “To a Ladywith some painted Flowers” and “The Rights of Woman,” I think it is important to examine the considerable number of similarities between Wollstonecraft and Barbauld. In Barbauld’s works “Fashion: A Vision” and “Epistle to William Wilberforce,” her language and ideas sound remarkably similar to that of Wollstonecraft’s. Both criticize their society’s construction of marriage as well as the upper class women of their day, and both writers believe that women should be more concerned with improving their minds than with obsessing over fashion. Finally, in the third chapter I explore how Barbauld subtly undermined the belief system of her day by identifying women’s exclusion from the masculine sphere, asserting the validity of desire, and affirming the power of the feminine consciousness. Barbauld’s poems “Inscription for an Ice-House” and “The Mouse’s Petition” also offer feminist critiques regarding the social order that persists in controlling women in eighteenth-century England. Moreover, in poems such as “A Summer Evening’s Meditation,” “Corsica,” and “Washing-Day,” Barbauld uses female consciousness as a distinct counterbalance to male consciousness. These three poems refute cultural stereotypes of women in their assigned domestic roles by showing the power of female subjectivity.
I will conclude my paper by discussing the problem of the British Romantic literary canon. Mary Favret calls Barbauld and Felicia Hemans “newly canonized writers,” but I doubt whether other literary critics would agree with her assessment. The problem of canonization and women writers is not easily resolved, given that women writers such as Barbauld are usually regarded as mere complements to the work of the six (male) established canonical writers. An examination of important female authors is important, therefore, in order to open up the debate on canonization and Romanticism.
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