His and Hers: Essays in Restoration and 18th-Century Literature

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Exploring territory seldom visited by feminist scholars, Ann Messenger in this new book presents eight studies of literary relationships between men and women writers, ranging from the Restoration to the end of the eighteenth century. The essays show men and women working together, praising and criticizing each other's work, borrowing--and changing--each other's plots and characters, recording their different perceptions of their common world. From Dryden's praise of Anne Killigrew, through Gay's and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's collaboration on a town eclogue, Thomas Southerne's dramatizations of novels by Aphra Behn, and Eliza Haywood's version of the Spectator, to Cornelia Knight's sequel to Rasselas, these relationships demonstrate that men and women writers inhabited the same literary world, shared the traditions of the mainstream of English literature. Most of the women have since faded from view. But Messenger suggests the time has come to rediscover them, to reassess their work, and to revise the commonly accepted canon of literature accordingly. Although most of the studies deal with the way women's writing responds to writing by men, the Afterword combats the charge that the women's work is derivative. Free of critical jargon and ideological strait-jacketing, His and Hers makes some little-known writers available and interesting to specialists and nonspecialists, feminists and traditionalists, alike, while it sheds new light on some of the most familiar figures of the period. The Appendix reprints some of the shorter works which have been analyzed in detail, and summaries in the text help to compensate for the unavailability of some of the women's books. The comparative approach suggests a wide and rich field for further research.