Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Women, Fiction and Female Community: from Cavendish to Wollestonecraft
Academic Year
Semester 2

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Semester Assessment  A 20-minute individual orally presented research paper, to be delivered in week 7. Accompanying documentation to include an annotated bibliography, any presentation materials used and an electronic copy of the PowerPoint presentation.  Oral Presentation  40%
Semester Assessment Semester Assessment  6000 word essay  60%
Supplementary Assessment Supplementary Assessment  Resubmit failed or make good any missing elements. In the event of failure in the oral presentation element, a 20-minute written script on a new topic to be submitted, written as if for delivery, to include an annotated bibliography, any presentation materials used and an electronic copy of the PowerPoint presentation  100%

Brief description

Literary scholars and historians have defined women's normative roles during the Restoration and Eighteenth Century in terms of their relationships with men. However, a survey of texts from this period suggests a fascination with groups or categories of women who are devolved of direct patriarchal control. This module will consider a selection of texts written by both men and women that represent a range of female communities; nuns, prostitutes, coquettes, readers and writers. Such communities were open to a dualistic interpretation as simultaneously threatening to social stability and a staple of erotic fantasy. Both of these interpretations are driven by ideas of otherness, images of unnaturalness and perceived transgressions of moral, social and religious codes of conduct. These women's communities stood not only in opposition to women's accepted domestic roles but were also directly opposed to parallel masculine institutions such as parliament and the Royal Society and students will be encouraged to consider the vilification of women's collectives alongside these authorised men's cabals. The image of the female community has been utilised as powerful rhetoric by feminist critics who have struggled to ascribe to these communities a progressive radical agenda. Women's writing in particular has been a focus for scholars who have identified in poetry, drama and prose fiction of the period recurrent images of collective support between women writers and by extension the women readers of such texts. Although this notion is compelling the module will question such interpretations by requiring students to engage with a range of texts which complicate this overly simplified model. Has the search for historical echoes of modern feminist ideology in early modern women'r writing inadvertently re-inscribed women's texts in a domestic and feminised sphere? Are texts from this period as much about women's disconnection as they are about women's friendship and unity?


Focusing on the period 1650-1796 the module will explore a range of texts which represent groups or communities of women. Students will be asked to consider women as the writers, readers and subjects of drama, poetry and prose fiction and the extent to which female communities are celebrated and/or vilified in these texts. During the course of the module students will engage with recent scholarship and theoretical debate regarding women's writing, political and cultural contexts, and the literary representation of community during the period


Week 1: Introduction to the module
Selected criticism and theory including extracts from, Clery, E. J., The feminization debate in Eighteenth-Century
England: literature, commerce and luxury (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Margaret Ezell

Week 2: Imagined Communities I: Women Readers
Jane Collier, An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (1753)
Extracts from; Thompson & Roberts (eds.) Women reading Shakespeare, 1600-1900: An Anthology

Week 3: Imagined Communities II: Women Writers
Extracts from; Eliza Haywood, The Female Tatler (1709-1710)
Selections from, Roger Lonsdale (ed.) Eighteenth-Century Women Poets

Week 4: Political Women I: Utopias
Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World (1666)
Delarivier Manley, The New Atlantis (1709) Queen Zarah (1705)

Week 5: Political Women II: Conduct and Education
Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694)
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Week 6: Fantasy Women I: Whores and Coquettes
John Cleland, Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure (1749)
Mary Davys, The Reform'd Coquet (1724)

Week 7: Fantasy Women II: Fictional Cloisters
Aphra Behn, The Fair Jilt (1688) The History of the Nun (1689)
Denis Diderot, The Nun (1760)

Week 8: Friendship I: Sexual/Textual politics
Elizabeth Singer Rowe, Friendship in Death (1728)
Susanna Centlivre, The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret (1714)

Week 9: Friendship II: Radical politics
Sarah Scott, Millennium Hall (1762)
Mary Hays, Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796)

Week 10: Beyond Fiction: women, fantasy and community
Lady Mary Wortley Montague, 'Selected Letters' 1709-1762
Preparation for forthcoming oral assessment element and closing remarks


This module is at CQFW Level 7