Representing Women in 18th Century Britain: Ideas, Images and Texts

Tutor: Catriona Kennedy

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00018M

Credits: 20

In a century that witnessed the rise of a so-called ‘public sphere’ of ‘rational men’ in its opening decades and the publication of ‘feminist’ tracts at its close, how were women perceived and portrayed? Looking to contemporary representations from the ‘long’ eighteenth century (c.1688-1832), this course explores the main characteristics attributed to eighteenth-century women and considers the extent to which women of different ages and backgrounds identified with, or denied, the responsibilities ascribed to them by contemporary ideology. It pays particular attention to the (often conflicting) ways in which women were represented and the ways they represented themselves.

Through this investigation, the course will also consider the extent to which a history of women has been circumscribed by academic traditions. Why, for example, has it been claimed that there were no ‘great’ women artists or no ‘great’ women philosophers? Have their contributions have been lost, or were they never able to participate in certain aspects of the cultural and political past? Although women’s history has flourished, debates continue about the appropriate theoretical and intellectual approaches that should be taken. Are women fully integrated into historical narratives or is work still to be done? Should the traditions of women’s history be revised as gender history? Does the development of a history of masculinity challenge or support a study of the history of women?

Seminar topics may include:

    • Historiography: Categories and analysis
    • Public women: Actresses and prostitutes
    • Women artists and women in art
    • Comments: letters, diaries and spoken words
    • Printed words: by, for and about women
    • The political lady: representations of gender and politics
    • Fops and rakes: representing men
    • Philosophy, politics and public spheres: ‘enlightened’ men and ‘feminist’ women

Preliminary reading

    • Nochlin, Linda. "Why have there been no great women artists?" in Women, Art and Power and Other Essays. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Also available online
    • Tague, Ingrid. Women of Quality: Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England 1690-1760. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2002
    • Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. London: Folio Society, 2006


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.