Early Women Writers as Innovators
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Research demonstrating the innovative contributions of early women
writers to the cultural, socio-political,
and economic life of their period has enhanced and broadened understanding
and European literary traditions. It has contributed intellectually and
economically to the heritage
industry through Chawton House Library (CHL), a registered charity
promoting early women's
writing, and a range of other public organisations. Key findings of the
research have been used to
reinvigorate secondary school teaching and inspire those who occupy
leadership roles in
education, inform television documentary makers, and enthuse old and new
Jane Austen is one of Britain's most popular literary exports but to
think of her in isolation, or
simply as a writer of romantic fiction, is to neglect how her writings and
that of other female authors
of the period 1680-1820 contributed to political, cultural, and economic
thought. Research at the
University of Southampton by Emma Clery, Professor of 18th-Century
and Gillian Dow, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (2005) now Senior Lecturer
combines research on Austen with the study of less well-known women
Since her appointment, Clery has researched the ways in which 18th-century
responded to contemporary debates on economics and moral philosophy (e.g.
the work of Kames,
North, and Shaftesbury). In `Austen and Masculinity' [3.1], she
demonstrates the changing nature
of masculine identity under pressure in a period of war and rapid
commercial development. She
shows how each of Austen's novels contains a story of male vocation (the
sailor, cleric, or land-owner),
which works in conjunction with the romantic plot, even while male points
of view are
elided. This offers a new way of understanding the historical nature of
Austen's fiction. In `Luxury'
[3.3], she surveys the complete works of two early 18th-century
female authors: Mary Astell and
Eliza Haywood. The key insight is that these women writers, in part
through their distinctive
perspectives as women, changed the terms of mainstream controversy over
the effects of modern
consumerism in ways that anticipate present-day critiques of capitalism.
The work has led to the
award of a major Leverhulme Research Fellowship `Romantic Women Writers
and the Question of
Economic Progress' (Sept. 2013-Aug. 2016, £120,000).
Dow's research (2005-12) concentrates on the cross-channel migration of
women's writing in the
period 1780-1830. Her study of French women's life writing, and
particularly the works of
Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis [3.6, 3.4] uses a wide range of period
sources in French and English.
She rejects dominant scholarly opinion that these works were nothing more
conservative potboilers, and demonstrates that Genlis's work engaged
directly with Romantic
gender politics, influencing female readers and writers across Europe. She
demonstrates a hitherto
unrecognised but extensive cross-channel exchange between British and
French women's fiction.
Dow also compares translations of Austen's Pride and Prejudice
and Sense and Sensibility. She
charts the changes in characterisation, plot, and tone that are evident in
translations from 1815 to 2008 to demonstrate the continued cultural
significance of Austen in later
writing, and in languages other than English. Placing this alongside the
rise of global English and
the 20th-century dominance of the Anglo-American novel as
`world classic', she shows how
Austen's revisions of the standard courtship plot, and her sharp
observation of socio-economic
change—particularly with regard to gender—speak to modern audiences
References to the research
1. Clery, Emma. `Austen and Masculinity', A Companion to Jane Austen,
ed. Claudia L Johnson
and Clara Tuite (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 332-42.
2. Clery, Emma. `Women's Writing and the Luxury Debate', A History of
British Women's Writing,
vol., 1690-1750, ed. Ros Ballaster (Palgrave Macmillian, 2010), 40-60.
3. Clery, Emma. `"To dazzle let the Vain design": Alexander Pope's
Portrait Gallery and the
Impossibility of Brilliant Women', in Bluestockings Displayed:
Portraiture, Performance and
Patronage, 1730-1830, ed. Elizabeth Eger, (Cambridge University
Press, 2013), 39-59.
4. Dow, Gillian. `Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis and the French Historical
Novel in Romantic Britain',
Women's Writing, 19:3 (2012), 273-92.
5. Dow, Gillian (co-ed.). Uses of Jane: Austen's Afterlives
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 256pp.
Includes Dow's essay `Uses of Translation: The Global Jane Austen',154-74,
6. Dow, Gillian. `"A Model for the British Fair?" French Women's
Life-Writing in Britain, 1680-1830',
in Daniel Cook and Amy Culley (eds.), Women's Life Writing in Britain,
Macmillan, 2012), 86-102.
CI: Gillian Dow, with the Huygens Instituut, the Hague, `Women Writers in
History: Toward a New
Understanding of European Literary Culture', COST (European Co-operation
in Science and
Technology) Network Grant, 2009-13, 48 months, 600,000 E. (This funding
did not go through
Details of the impact
Working with Chawton House Library (CHL), Clery and Dow have actively
engaged with intense
public interest in the works of Austen. They have brought the importance
of a wide group of 18th-century
women writers to the attention of teachers, students, TV and filmmakers,
and to the
officers and members of international historical and literary societies.
As a result, work at the
University of Southampton has made a distinct contribution to public
education and understanding
of 18th-century women's writing, providing publishers and
institutions with significant economic
In February 2012 Dow was appointed Director of Research at CHL. As
Director, she plays the key
role in designing CHL's public programme of evening lectures, exhibitions,
conferences, drawing on the research strengths of colleagues in the
Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, based in the Faculty of Humanities.
E.g. In Feb. 2013, 80
enthusiastic Austen readers enjoyed a varied evening of research-led talks
by contributors to
Dow's collection Uses of Austen [3.5] celebrating the 200th
anniversary of the publication of Pride
and Prejudice [5.1]. Public exhibitions curated by Dow and drawing
directly from her research into
Austen's letters and novels include the touring show Jane Austen's
Reading (Chawton 2009;
Godmersham Park 2010; Denver, Colorado 2013). This attracted in excess of
600 visitors across
the 3 venues [5.2]. Dow has also played a key part in organising CHL's
visits for over 800 primary and secondary students and their teachers
Further Public Engagement includes contributions to The British Library's
Jane Austen and
Performance conference for 140 A-level students and teachers (21
June 2010). Dow's lecture
`Jane Austen and Plays for Young People' drew on her research to tell how
Austen's reading of
Genlis's work contributed to her own novels, notably Mansfield Park.
Feedback from participants
included `the whole day was informative, interesting, and inspiring'
Clery has had repeat invitations to lecture to A-level teachers at
development events organised by Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations
(OCR; July 2011;
Nov. 2012). Clery's lecture on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein used her
insights about the
economics of publishing—particularly the success of eighteenth-century
teenage female authors in
the Gothic genre—to offer teachers a new way of engaging students.
feedback, OCR wrote `...your talk was often felt to be the best part of
the day' [5.4].
As part of our strategy to combine research insights with creative
writing, novelist Rebecca Smith
(Fellow in Creative Writing at Southampton since 2008) published Miss
Jane Austen's Guide to
Modern Life's Dilemmas (2012). This popular self-help book drew on
Dow's and Clery's research
into Austen's novels, letters, and unpublished writings to supply advice
to young 21st-century
women. The book includes advice on: managing a budget; how to become
balancing the competing demands of family and career. In the year
following publication, it has
sold over 18,000 copies in the UK (RRP £12.99), and internationally,
bringing economic benefit to
Ivy Press and Tarcher Penguin [5.5]. As Arts Council- and National
Lottery-funded Writer in
Residence at Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton, Smith has delivered more
workshops to young people and the general public on themes including the
business of writing,
and the economics of life below and above stairs in Austen's England.
Since 2008, more than 4,000 members of the public have attended Clery's
and Dow's research-based
public lectures. For instance, Clery delivered a talk to an audience of
attendees at a conference linked to The National Portrait Gallery
blockbuster exhibition, Brilliant
Women (April, 2008). Clery showed how the portraits in the
exhibition are part of a contested
process by which women writers can be seen as icons of British
modernisation and social and
economic improvement. She also lectured at the National Maritime Museum on
'Jane Austen and
London' (April 2013) to 100 members of the public [5.6]. Her other
ticketed public lectures include
international Jane Austen Society (JAS) meetings in Aberdeen (2011) and
London (2007, 2011,
2013). Dow has also delivered lectures to international fee-paying JAS
audiences in Chicago
(2008, 2011), London (2008), Sydney and Tokyo (2009) and New York (2012).
JAS audiences are
drawn mostly from outside academia. There was an average attendance at the
above JAS events
of 250, but the New York 2012 meeting attracted over 800 fee-paying
delegates. The standard fee
is $10 for JAS members and $15 for others [5.7].
Dow's research insights have been made available to the public through:
articles for Public
Broadcasting Service's website to accompany the US premiere of a new TV
version of Emma
(January 2010); Mslexia (Jan-March 2008); Sensibilities,
the journal of JAS Australia (readership
600; 2009-13); her co-editorship of Persuasions (2010), the online
journal of JAS North America
(3,000 hits in 3 months after publication). Since 2008, Dow has edited The
Female Spectator, a
non-academic publication distributed internationally to 800 Friends and
Members of CHL.
Dow's expertise has been in particular demand in 2013 due to the 200th
anniversary of the
publication of Pride and Prejudice; she has been interviewed by,
among others, the BBC, Meridian
TV, Al Jazeera and The Washington Post. Clery has contributed
research-based production advice
and interviews to: BBC4's 'How Reading Made Us Modern' (February 2009),
'The Birth of the
British Novel' (February 2011), and, 'How To Be A Lady"' (March 2013)
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1 Evidence of this event can be found at:
5.2 Evidence of this exhibition can be found at:
It resulted in an illustrated online article:
5.3 For participation in the British Library conference for young people
21 June 2010, and a brief
podcast which includes Dow lecturing:
5.4 Folder of emails from OCR available from the UoA.
5.5 Miss Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas by Rebecca
Smith. Published by Ivy
Press (UK) Tarcher Penguin (US and Canada), October 2012 ISBN-10/13
Evidence of sales figures is available from the UoA.
5.6 For evidence of Clery's public lectures see:
5.7 Evidence of Dow and Clery's contribution to and impact on JAS in the
US and in the UK,
contact the past President of the Jane Austen Society of North America,
and Secretary of the
Kent branch of the JAS UK, see separate list of names.
5.8 File of evidence of Clery and Dow's media appearances and interviews
available from the UoA.
5.9 File of questionnaires from public lectures including LLL available
from the UoA.
5.10 File of CHL related material available from the University of
Southampton, including the MOU
between CHL and University of Southampton.
The following people may be consulted:
- Chief Executive Officer of the Chawton House Library.
- Curator of Jane Austen House Museum.
- OCR English Qualifications Manager.
- Officials of the Jane Austen Society in the USA and UK.