Course Instructor Days Times Room


Women in the Eighteenth Century

This course will focus on four women writers of the long eighteenth century: Aphra Behn, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Frances Burney, and Anna Letitia Barbauld. Through a close study of their works and times, we will trace the evolution of the professional woman writer as well as the changing cultural status of women during the era. The women come from four distinct class backgrounds: Behn had associations with trade; she traveled to South America, became a spy for Charles II, wrote for the stage, and participated in the early evolution of the novel.  Lady Mary was (obviously) an aristocrat. By virtue of her marriage to Edward Montagu, ambassador to Turkey, she traveled to that country. Lady Mary was a friend, then enemy, of Alexander Pope. She had a wide and varied correspondence and is one of the major sources of our information about certain aspects of life in early eighteenth-century Britain. Frances Burney was the daughter of musicologist Charles Burney and had associations with the gentry. By virtue of her fame as a writer, she was appointed Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte (consort of King George III). She also underwent a mastectomy without the benefit of anesthesia, an experience, she writes about in harrowing detail. Anna  Letitia Barbauld was the daughter and became the wife of schoolmasters who were “dissenters” (i.e. Presbyterians in an Anglican England). She herself helped run a school for boys, and her fame as a poet and critic was such that she was often employed to edit large literary projects such as the correspondence of Samuel Richardson and a fifty-volume edition of The British Novelists.

In addition to the works and lives of these fascinating authors, we will also study Amanda Vickery’s award-winning The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (1998; new edition 2003).  

Course materials:

Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works, ed. Janet Todd, Penguin 

·         ISBN-10: 0140433384

·         ISBN-13: 978-0140433388


Mary Wortley Montagu, Selected Letters, ed. Isobel Grundy Penguin

·         ISBN-10: 0140434909

·         ISBN-13: 978-0140434903


Amanda Vickery, The Gentleman's Daughter Yale

·         ISBN-10: 0300102224

·         ISBN-13: 978-0300102222


Frances Burney, Journals and Letters, ed. Peter Sabor, et al. Penguin

·         ISBN-10: 0140436243

·         ISBN-13: 978-0140436242


Frances Burney, The Witlings and The Woman-Hater, ed. Peter Sabor, Broadview

·         ISBN-10: 1551113783

·         ISBN-13: 978-1551113784


Frances Burney, Cecilia, ed.  Doody and Sabor, Oxford

ISBN: 0192817426


Anna Letitia Barbauld, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. McCarthy and Kraft, Broadview

·         ISBN-10: 1551112418

·         ISBN-13: 978-1551112411



Weeks 1-3 Aphra Behn

Weeks 4-6 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Week 7-8 Gentleman’s Daughter

Weeks 8-12 Frances Burney

Weeks 13-16 Anna Letitia Barbauld


This course is historically focused, and it deals with the responses of four writers from varying classes to the highly patriarchal society of eighteenth-century England. The writers are fully engaged with their worlds and Behn, Montagu, and Barbauld, in particular, have major statements on race, slavery, colonialism, and comparative religion. All the authors treat gender and class—with Burney being particularly valuable for her fictional and autobiographical meditations on the female body.