Feminist Perspective on Eighteenth Century Literature Essay

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Feminist Perspective on Eighteenth Century Literature

Feminism during the eighteenth century has come to be defined by the literature of the time. Women, who did not have as many outlets as they do today, expressed their political opinions through literature itself. Although feminist texts existed before the end of the century, women writers in the final decade were seen as more threatening to the dominant patriarchal system. Following the overthrow of the government in France, women in Britain believed that "a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions was possible in their own country" (5). Writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft reacted to the conservative patriarchal society by "[drawing] parallels between the domestic
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Unlike men, women who sought political reformer were labeled as "unsexed," meaning that it was "unnatural for women as the frail or gentle sex to harbor brutal thoughts, to want to be the equals of men, or to meddle in politics, all of which make them perverse or unacceptable examples of their kind" (4). During the reactionary decade of the 1790's, "concerns normally thought to be private and domestic - women's education, their choice of husbands, female conduct, sexuality, and manners-became politicized as general topics of interest" (14). The outspoken behavior regarding their position was seen as inappropriate for women. However, not all women addressed these topics with a radical perspective. Some women, who today would be considered a setback to the feminist movement, took a rather conservative approach. Women's literary history, in terms of feminism, can be broken down into three stages of development:

the feminine phase, in which women internalize the male culture's assumptions about female nature; the feminist phase, in which women are able to dramatize the ordeals of wronged womanhood; and the female phase, when women turn... to female experience as the source of an autonomous art (14).

Authors such as Jane West and Hannah More were considered part of the feminine stage, Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe were associated with the feminist
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