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Novel Histories

British Women Writing History, 1760-1830

Lisa Kasmer

Novel Histories: British Women Writing History, 1760–1830 argues that British women’s history and historical fiction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries changed not only the shape but also the political significance of women’s writing. At a time when women’s participation in the republic of letters was both celebrated and reviled, these authors took cues from developments that revolutionized British history writing to push the limits of narrated history to respond to contemporary national politics. Through an examination of the conventions of historical and literary genres; historiography during the period; and the gendering of civic and literary roles, this study shows not only a social, political, and literary lineage among women’s history writing and fiction but also among women’s writing and the writing of history. « less more »
University Press Copublishing Division / Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Pages: 198
978-1-61147-625-5 • Paperback • June 2013 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
978-1-61147-496-1 • eBook • January 2012 • $37.99 • (£24.95)
Lisa Kasmer is an associate professor of English at Clark University.
3 Helen Maria Williams and the “Regendering” of History
5 Mary Shelley's Foreclosed History in Valperga
6 “The worthy associates of the best efforts of the best men”: Lucy Aikin’s
Epistles on Women and Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth
Conclusion: Histories that are Novel
This book contributes immensely to our understanding of various forms of historical writing during the long eighteenth century. Kasmer’s impressive and extensive skills as a researcher are evident here, as she works with both canonical and less well-known texts, bringing them together in fresh and interesting ways. Kasmer argues that in women’s historical writing during this period we see a strong influence of ideas of sympathy, often with the connection between sympathy and the formation of political communities, between domestic ideals and political action. The analysis of Williams’ Letters from France, Shelley’s Valperga, and Aikin’s Epistles on Women reveals all of these writers as sophisticated thinkers, aware of the way that sympathy and sensibility might be manipulated for rhetorical effect and to achieve certain political aims.
Judith W. Page, Professor of English, University of Florida

In a series of astute theoretical moves and close textual readings, Lisa Kasmer's Novel Histories powerfully analyzes the intersection of gender, genre and politics in the emergence of female-authored historical narratives in this period. As she shows, history writing became a discursive arena whose generic fluidity, encompassing fiction, biography, poetry, and drama, challenged both the existing codes of gender and of political discourse. Supported by persuasive discussions of works by Catherine Macaulay, Helen Maria Williams, William Godwin, Ann Yearsley, Mary Shelley and Lucy Aikin, Kasmer's argument for the all-important impact of gender on history writing by both women and men takes us well beyond earlier work in this field. All scholars of literature, history and women's studies in this period will need to know this book.

Anne K. Mellor, distinguished professor of English, University of California, Los Angeles

Lisa Kasmer's Novel Histories is an important book that will enrich our conversations about the relationships among literature, history, and politics in British women's writings. Looking with fresh eyes at texts from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Kasmer shows, in perceptive readings of works by Catharine Macaulay, Sophia Lee, Ann Yearsley, Helen Maria Williams, Jane Porter, Mary Shelley, and Lucy Aikin, how women writers innovated at a time when generic classifications were becoming just as restrictive as gender roles. Novel Histories provides a compelling argument for the necessity of returning to complicated past relationships between gender and genre, in order to create more politically nuanced literary histories today.
Devoney Looser, Professor of English, University of Missouri

Kasmer (Clark Univ.) incorporates revisionary studies of both Enlightenment historiography and women's writing in her argument. These revisionary narratives complicate the intersection of genre and gender during the period and help to explain how women explored a variety of issues in fluid, complex literary forms. Genres such as the novel, the gothic tale, drama, and history helped women move from the domestic to the public sphere in ways that point to women's fuller participation in the republic of letters than has previously been understood. By contextualizing similarities in historiographical approach between British women writers and Enlightenment luminaries such as Hume and Kant, Kasmer calls attention to the unacknowledged complexity of these women as writers and thinkers. Such affinities are especially convincing proof of her claim that these women demand further critical attention, leading to perhaps the most interesting of her claims—that women writing history challenge the traditional period boundaries between 'eighteenth century' and 'Romantic' studies. The grandeur of this suggested reconceptualization points to the need for further large-scale consideration of these questions and their ramifications. Summing Up: Highly recommended.


Lisa Kasmer’s [book] looks specifically at the contributions of British Romantic-era female historians, in the broadest sense of the term...[The] essays are vitally important in helping us to continue to expand our notions of what counts as history and in recovering women’s voices that were edged out of historical debates as history writing became professionalized. By helping to recover these voices, Kasmer broadens our understanding of British historiography during a crucial period of its development.
Women's Writing

Lisa Kasmer's Novel Histories: British Women Writing History, 1790-1830 continues [the] trend [of] excavating women writers' roles in developing changing practices of historical scholarship. . . .both literary critics and historians of historiography should find this a suggestive study.
Journal of British Studies

Lisa Kasmer's. . . book raise distinct questions as they add to recent work on how Romantic women prose writers engage with history. . . . Kasmer examines women writers of history, whether historical fiction or nonfiction biography and history, who wrote in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. ... Kasmer's Novel Histories brings narrative theory and historiography together to contribute to both fields. [This book] break[s] new ground in both text and genre, enlarging our understanding of Romantic women writers' pioneering contributions to the dynamic world of letters.
European Romantic Review