Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Women, Fiction and Female Community, 1660-1792
Academic Year
Semester 2
Reading List
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Coursework Assignment  1 x 5000 comparative essay, or; 3000-word creative piece with accompanying 2000-word commentary  100%
Supplementary Assessment Coursework Assignment  1 x 5000 comparative essay, or; 3000-word creative piece with accompanying 2000-word commentary  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

articulate their knowledge of complex philosophical and populist debates relating to women’s place and role in society during the period 1660-1792;

demonstrate an alertness to the limitations of normative/conventional constructions of women’s social role in terms of domesticity;

engage with scholarly debates concerning issues of community

formulate responses to complex literary texts that engage with issues of female community in diverse ways;

construct a nuanced and persuasive argument responding to the topics and texts studied

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’s 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?


This module focuses on the period 1660-1792 and explores 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.


This module is delivered via a series of 2-hour seminars. Indicative topics for each session are:

Introduction to the module
Women and satire: Jane Collier, An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (1753)
Women and poetry: Selections from, Roger Lonsdale (ed.) Eighteenth-Century Women Poets
Women and conduct: Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694)
Women and rights: Selections from, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
The Brothel: John Cleland, Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure (1749)
The Courtesan: Aphra Behn, The Rover: Or; The Banished Cavaliers (1677)
The Convent: Denis Diderot, The Nun (posth. 1792)
The Coquette: Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess (1719)
Conclusion and assessment advice

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Communication Written communication in an academic context. Oral communication skills in informal presentations. Oral communication in group work in seminars.
Improving own Learning and Performance Independent reading and research skills. Time management and organisational skills.
Information Technology Use of electronic resources. Use of e-learning technologies. Production of written work.
Personal Development and Career planning Critical self-reflection and the development of transferable communication and research skills.
Problem solving Identifying problems and suggesting reasoned solutions in seminars. Formulating and developing an extended argument in the assessment task.
Research skills Independent and directed research conducted as part of seminar preparation. Independent research to complete the summative assessment tasks. Relating literary texts to historical and interpretative contexts.
Subject Specific Skills Advanced research skills in a specific area of specialist literary study. Detailed critical /theoretical analysis of literary texts and evaluation of broad theoretical concepts.
Team work Group work in seminars. Preparing, presenting, and offering peer feedback on in-seminar presentations.


This module is at CQFW Level 7