Edited by Inger Sigrun Brodey
Sampling Women Writers
British Women Writers, 1700-1850: An Annotated Bibliography
of Their Works and Works About Them
By Barbara J. Horwitz, (The Scarecrow Press, 1997)
xiv +231. Hardback. $37.00
Reviewed by Deborah Kaplan.
Numerous British women published poetry, drama, fiction, and other prose genres in the decades before and after Jane Austen produced her novels. Although their cultural contribution is now widely recognized, Austen had so many kin in composition--"mothers," "sisters," and "daughters"-that a bibliography providing information on about 46 of the women who wrote between 1700 and 1850 is always welcome. In her first two chapters, Barbara J. Horwitz offers overviews and bibliographies of British history, British literature, women- authored literature in general, and women's achievements in the specific forms of the novel, poetry, and drama.
Some of the names will be familiar. Jane Austen heads the entries, followed by such notables as Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Bronte; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Fanny Burney; Maria Edgeworth; Mary Shelley; and Mary Wollstonecraft. But Horwitz's annotated bibliography also includes less well- known writers such as Joanna Baillie, Susan Ferrier, Mary Hays, Elizabeth Inchbald, Frances Sheridan, Charlotte Smith, and Ann Yearsley. Most of Horwitz's book is organized alphabetically by such author's names. Each entry presents biographical information and lists the writer's publications, followed by secondary works a,out the author and her writings.
For those interested in sampling the writings of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century British women, Horwitz's reference work is a good place to start. We can be grateful to Horwitz for bringing many talented women to our attention. Consider Elizabeth Inchbald, for example. Actress, novelist, playwright, and one of the first female drama critics in Britain, she's worth our acquaintance and not just because her adaptation of Kotzebue's Lovers' Vows has an important place in Mansfield Park. Her fascinating writings, especially her brilliant novel A Simple Story, tell us much about women's lives in the late eighteenth century. We could make a rich reading list by consulting Horwitz's book, long enough to amuse, perplex, annoy, and charm for many years to come. Enjoyable to browse, this reference work will be less satisfying for those who wish to do research on British women's writings. Information about the women's lives and publications sometimes lacks precision. The titles of their productions are not all complete or even mentioned, especially if they were prolific; the dates their works appeared are occasionally inaccurate. And while it is a great help to have a bibliography of scholarship with annotated items, original publication dates for reprinted scholarship are not always part of the citations.
Horwitz marshals a highly selective group of biographical and critical studies for each author, but the criteria determining her choices are not clear. Although she states in her introduction that she is providing "recent" criticism, she never indicates what time frame that covers, an issue prompted by encountering several scholarly works with publication dates prior to 1970. Although she identifies "accessibility" as another reason for inclusion, she never explains whether she means "easy to get a copy of' or "not jargon-laden and hard to comprehend," And although she does not explicitly say that she annotates only books or chapters from books, she includes almost no journal articles. Why not? If limited space was the reason, why annotate almost every essay in a volume of collected essays on a single author, as she sometimes does? Are all those essays deserving of consideration? And why put the same single-authored work of literary criticism, because it discusses more than one British woman writer, in several sections of this reference book? Isn't there a more economical way to treat such works? Although Horwitz's book identifies some fine scholarship on women writers, many groundbreaking or highly relevant books and articles are never mentioned.
The section devoted to Jane Austen manifests the strengths and some of the weaknesses of the rest of the book. Readers will meet older and newer biographies and literary criticism about the author, all conscientiously annotated. But they will not find the fine works of, for example, Edward Copeland, Margaret Kirkham, David Monaghan, or John Wiltshire.
In sum, for a taste of British women's writing and the scholarship about it, this is a helpful and interesting resource. But readers who require comprehensive and more accurate bibliographies should consult such sources as the MLA Bibliography and Humanities Abstracts.
Deborah Kaplan teaches at George Mason University and is the author of Jane Austen Among Women.
JASNA News v.14, no. 3, Winter 1998
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