Women Writers, Authorship, and the Late-Eighteenth Century Novel: Representations of the Female Author in the Minerva Press (1785 - 1800).

Davies, Colette (2022) Women Writers, Authorship, and the Late-Eighteenth Century Novel: Representations of the Female Author in the Minerva Press (1785 - 1800). PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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In this thesis, I explore a selection of female-authored novels published by the Minerva Press between 1785 and 1800. I then turn to a selection of letters written by Minerva Press female writers and sent to the Literary Fund: a charity established to support impoverished writers. Literary society scrutinised and often belittled the female author. It was widely disparaging of the popular novel as well. The Minerva texts I investigate shed light on how these women writers, often dependent financially on their pens, strategically represented their own and their characters’ literary interactions and activities during an era of transformation in the literary marketplace and social turbulence. I trace how they defined and redefined the subject position of the female author, arguing that these wide-ranging presentations provide predominantly conservative narratives about the female author and on the popular novel but that they also destabilise Romantic-period criticisms of both.

My analysis comprises five chapters, the first four focus on a specific formal element of a novel and the fifth focuses on letters. Chapter One concentrates on authorial ascriptions on title pages of Minerva Press novels, demonstrating that the Romantic-period authorial identity is protean and constructed from multiple, changeable components. Examining prefaces in Chapter Two, I focus on how these paratexts define the position of the author strategically in relation to the subject positions of other participants in literary society: reviewers, dedicatees, parents, and literary critics. In Chapter Three, I analyse women writer-characters in Minerva novels and in Frances Burney’s Camilla (1796), exploring how specific aspects of authorship are emphasised. Chapter Four turns to presentations of the reader and of the novel in a range of Minerva and non-Minerva books and in the diaries of Anna Larpent. It traces the ways in which these readers responded to novels, balancing narratives highlighting the negative influence of novels with alternate, more positive effects of reading novels. In Chapter 5, I concentrate on the letters to the Literary Fund, examining the various strategies writers use to plead for assistance.

Cumulatively, my readings trace Minerva writers’ contributions to contemporary debates on authorship and the novel. The multiple narratives within Minerva texts provide less-researched, alternate, and diverse representations of authorship. In so doing, they highlight that the Romantic-period female author and the popular novel were defined within fluid and symbiotic networks of expectation and reception. These writings reveal narratives which emphasise the flexibility of identity, the complex position of authors, and how social, reputational, literary, and financial prejudices and expectations shaped presentations of popular authorship in the late-eighteenth century.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Pratt, Lynda
Ní Fhlathúin, Máire
James, Felicity
Keywords: Minerva Press; novels; authorship; Romantic period; literary marketplace; reviews; presentation; perception
Subjects: P Language and literature > PR English literature
Z Bibliography. Library science. Information resources > Z Bibliography. Library science. Information resources
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 69448
Depositing User: Davies, Colette
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2023 14:03
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2023 14:03
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/69448

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