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Title: Women letter-writing and the life of the mind in England c. 1650-1750
Author: Hannan, Leonie K. J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2708 2122
Awarding Body: Royal Holloway, University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 2009
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In England c. 1650-1750, before widespread formal schooling for girls or access to higher education for women, the life of the mind (broadly defined) is an important, yet unexplored, field of female experience. It is studied here via the mechanism of letterwriting. Corresponding provided motivated women with not only a forum but also the impetus to engage with intellectual life. By picking up the pen idle musings could be transformed into considered sentences; passively absorbed meanings into actively discussed ideas. From a source base of approximately 4,000 private letters, around 500 were chosen for closer analysis. Intellectual and everyday lives have traditionally been studied separately. Here it is shown that, for women, these two worlds were not only interconnected but that they impacted upon one another in significant ways. After the historiographical introduction (Chapter One), the first two research chapters (Chapters Two and Three) examine letterwriting as an interactive social process, showing that prescriptive literature was not an accurate guide to actual epistolary norms. Chapters Four and Five explore the material and intellectual qualities of a seventeenth-century letter-writer's correspondence networks, taking Mary Evelyn as a case-study. Chapter Six then analyses the ways in which the domestic spaces, inhabited by women, affected their abilities to pursue contemplative activities. Chapter Seven draws together the spatial and temporal concerns expressed by a wider cross-section of women in their letters about the `life of the mind' and the final chapter assesses what intellectual life meant for women at this time. Overall, the case is made for a broader conceptualisation of female intellectualism. The societal codes unfavourable to educating women did not, in fact, eradicate motivations to learn, think and discuss. This research does not propose a model of linear progression, but makes the important point that female aspiration grew upon unstable foundations, born out of a complex patchwork of opportunity and obstacle. As a result, it produced uncertain progress. But, where some achieved, others might follow
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available