Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein (eds), Women’s Literary Networks and Romanticism: ‘A Tribe of Authoresses’, Romantic Reconfigurations: Studies in Literature and Culture 1780–1850 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2017), xii + 314pp. ISBN 978-1-7869-4060-5; £90 (hb).
Women’s Literary Networks and Romanticism: ‘A Tribe of Authoresses’ is the first book to appear in a new series, ‘Romantic Reconfigurations: Studies in Literature and Culture 1780–1850’, edited by Tim Fulford and Alan Vardy. This collection, edited by Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein, illuminates the environments of production, circulation and consumption of women’s writing across Britain. It broadens Lindsay O’Neill’s (2014) work, which focuses on local, international, familial and professional epistolary networks by conceptualising networks in more abstracts ways. As such, it joins scholarship by Clara Tuite and Jenny Russell (2002) and Ileana Baird (2014), whose works portray networks as social constructions, fostered in coffee-houses or literary salons. In their collection, Winckles and Rehbein usefully complicate and nuance the term ‘network’; their volume separates networks, and the articles, into two groups. Part One is ‘networks of association and interest’, denoting groups of actual women who corresponded or worked in a community with each other: they embody ‘physical and relational networks’ (p. 10). Within this subgroup, Chapters 2–4 adopt traditional archival and literary methods while Chapters 5 and 6 use a wider approach incorporating digital humanities. The second section focuses on ‘Networks of Meaning’, referring to authors and texts that have not commonly been seen to connect with one another, but which interacted in esoteric ways: through narrative styles or citations, for example. Chapters 7–10 trace in-text networks and references between writers, analysing evidence of influence and knowledge transfer. The latter group of chapters usefully recognises that networks extend beyond epistolary exchanges and thus the collection refines and progresses current understanding of the term ‘network’.
The collection starts with Winckles’s analysis of Sally Wesley’s religious and literary networks, before moving on to Felicity James and Rebecca Shuttleworth’s research on abolitionist women writing and operating in the Midlands. Chapter 4, by Amy Culley, argues the importance of researching Romantic writers’ lives and networks which surpassed the traditional boundaries of the Romantic era. These chapters all testify the control these women writers had over their works. In particular, Winckles, James and Shuttleworth note that Wesley, Watts and Heyrick used private means of publication and circulation, such as scribal or pamphleteering, to disseminate their writings. Winckles argues in Chapter 2 that Wesley’s method of scribal publication and manuscript circulation increased her control of the spread of her works and fostered greater communality between women. His conclusion—that Wesley demonstrates how religion can be both lived experience and social interaction—marries well with the dissident and abolitionist networks analysed in Chapter 3. James and Shuttleworth’s ‘Collaborative Campaigning in the Midlands, 1820–34’, discusses Midlands society, religion, literature and reform, illustrating the reformative abolitionist agenda of Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick against politicians such as William Wilberforce. This chapter provides valuable new insight into how the Midlands network of dissident women contended for the immediate abolition of slavery, employing their literary skills and societal positions to incite change, without compromising their strict morality or their conventional roles as women. Chapter 4 also focuses on letters: Culley’s ‘Ageing, Authorship, and Female Networks in the Life Writing of Mary Berry (1763–1852) and Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)’ casts Berry and Baillie’s correspondence as amicable and mutually beneficial material, which nurtured each writer’s reputation and legacy. Culley’s extensive use of correspondence highlights the great value of considering a writer’s age in relation to their networks and entire career.
The fifth and sixth chapters adopt a digital humanities approach to studying networks. Michelle Levy and Reese Irwin’s ‘The Female Authors of Cadell and Davies’, analyses qualitative and quantitative data supplied by digitally processing a corpus of letters exchanged between Cadell & Davies and their female authors. Chapter 6, ‘Modelling Mary Russell Mitford’s Networks’, by Elisha Beshero-Bondar and Kellie Donovan-Condron, identifies and traces patterns in the correspondence of Mary Russell Mitford, noting the significant shift from primarily male correspondence to a much greater male–female mix, along with her developing tendency to correspond with individuals involved in writing and publishing as her career progressed. These two chapters include many tables and figures of data; regrettably, the graphics in Beshero-Bondar’s and Donovan-Condron’s chapter are hard to decipher, perhaps reflecting the complexity of Mitford’s epistolary patterns. Levy and Irwin’s tables and graphs allow the reader to track with them the most prolific communicants with Cadell & Davies, identify the popularity of different genres and reveal the number of editions female writers published with this house. The graphs in the fifth chapter add clarity to the factual interpretations and complement the close readings undertaken of the letters, allowing Levy and Irwin to theorise on the purposes and motives of pre- and post-publication correspondence between the women writers and Cadell & Davies, and in turn connect this to the power held by the publishers and writers.
Part Two commences with Harriet Kramer Linkin’s analysis of the citational network between Mary Tighe and various other female writers, before moving onto Robin Runia’s examination of Maria Edgeworth’s letters to Thomas Day and Mary Wollstonecraft, in which Runia highlights Edgeworth’s writing style as versatile. Chapter 9 summarises the problematic and male-dominated posthumous network of Sade, before identifying similarities between Mary Shelley’s Mathilda and Sade’s Eugénie and suggests Shelley was a potential reader of Sade. Chapter 10, the volume’s closing chapter by Eric Hood, could be called extraneous, as it focuses on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, typically understood as a Victorian rather than a Romantic writer. The Introduction to Women’s Literary Networks and Romanticism justifies the inclusion of this chapter in order to provoke consideration of the time frame considered as Romantic. However, as this chapter takes its primary material from a text published in 1856, one could say the editors have overextended the period. Hood’s chapter focuses on the significance of invoking Charles Fourier in Aurora Leigh, analysing Fourier’s sexual and economic liberalism in relation to Barrett Browning.
The first three chapters of Part Two stay safely within the conventional confines of the Romantic period. Linkin’s chapter, ‘The Citational Network of Tighe, Porter, Barbauld, Lefanu, Morgan and Hemans’, analyses an impressive number of women writers who invoked Tighe by name, quotation or epigraph, arguing that these invocations and citations position Tighe as a pivotally influence on these women and their receptions. She reveals a symbiotic relationship established through citation, aggrandising Tighe’s and the other writers’ cultural capital. Linkin’s analysis is fair, as she includes more equivocal invocations of Tighe in her analyses of Lady Morgan’s and Felicia Hemans’ references to Tighe. This chapter prompts reconsideration of the great significance women found in each other’s works and starts to reconfigure definitions of the term ‘network’. Equally, Chapter 8, ‘Edgeworth’s Letters for Literary Ladies: Publication Peers and Analytical Antagonists’, also highlights connections between writers, as evidenced in their texts. Runia argues that Edgeworth changed her structure and register for different audiences, demonstrating this well through her quotation of Edgeworth’s different writing styles for addressing Day’s conservative and Wollstonecraft’s radical political opinions regarding marriage. Similarly, Rebecca Nesvet in Chapter 9, ‘Mary Shelley and Sade’s Global Network’, argues that Mary Shelley had significant knowledge of Sade’s short story ‘Eugénie de Franval’ and this is evident in Shelley’s Matilda (1819–20), which Nesvet characterises as an English adaptation of the French writer’s work. These chapters, while more hypothetical in identifying and analysing potential connections, influences and intertextualities, testify to the new approaches and understandings of how networks manifested during the Romantic period.
The topic of literary networks extends beyond this book’s remit, as Winckles and Rehbein acknowledge. Notwithstanding their refusal to make any ‘claim to comprehensiveness’ (pp. 10–11), however, their collection represents a valuable contribution to work in this field, both complicating our understanding of the different manifestations of networks and the individuals within them, and encouraging future scholars to think of networks as other than solely epistolary exchanges.