Educating women : the preceptress and her pen, 1780-1820
The period 1780-1820 saw changes in ideas about education, literature and the "nature" of women. These ideas were in themselves mutually interdependent. The writings of women in this period have recently been recovered and reanalysed by critics keen to theorise their "literary value." This thesis suggests that these works might be more profitably evaluated by a consideration of the pedagogical ideals underpinning their production. I trace the religious and philosophical ideas informing educational discourse and suggest that in this period, the figure of the preceptress, British, middle-class and rational, infiltrated the popular imagination as writer, reader and character. The majority of female writer/educators in this thesis were working within a rationalist philosophy of experience dependent upon the world of Enlightenment and Dissent. My study considers a range of fictional and non-fictional material by women writers both well-known and obscure, including school textbooks, stories for children, works of advice, works of literary criticism, self-histories and novels of the period. I show the ways in which these works were connected through pedagogical discourse and consider how the development of particular genres in this period was shaped by the notion of educating womanhood. I show how, by reinstating pedagogy as an aspect of literary production and appreciation, women writers may obtain a fairer hearing.