If Aphra Benn is widely regarded as the first important woman writer in English, who was the second? In literary history, the eighteenth century belongs to men: Pope and Swift, Richardson and Fielding. Asked to name a woman, even the specialist stumbles. Jane Austen? She didn't publish until 1811. Aphra Benn herself? She died in 1869.
The Rise and Fall of the Woman of Letters tells the remarkable but little-known story of women writers in the eighteenth century - of poets, critics, dramatists and scholars celebrated in their own time but all but forgotten by the beginning of the new century.
Eliza Haywood, Catherine Cockburn, Elizabeth Elstob, Delarivier Manley, Elizabeth Rowe, Jane Barker, Elizabeth Thomas, Anna Seward... In a book which ranges from country house to Grub Street, Norma Clarke recovers these and other writers, establishes the reasons for their eclipse and discovers that a room of one's own in the eighteenth century was as likely to be a prison cell as a boudoir.