Rachel Evans


This essay addresses the issues of self-representation in women’s writing of the early nineteenth-century British literary culture. I explore the subordination of women by a construction of femininity which did not allow them to be rational thinking subjects. Through the work of Mary Wollstonecraft I demonstrate how she provided a space for the rights of women to be discussed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the impact this had on a patriarchal society. Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park serves as a fictional articulation of this, which illustrates the way in which women writers were disguising their political intent through fiction. I discuss the gender politics controlled by patriarchy which exclude women because of their lack of education. As pioneers of early proto feminist thought I argue that Wollstonecraft and Austen subvert the boundaries between constructions of masculinity and femininity. ‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine Romanticism’ are the terms coined by Anne Mellor which differentiate between the ideological construction of gender and the biological sex of the author. I engage with the argument Mellor provides for a gendered Romanticism which clearly defines the difference gender makes when looking at women’s writing in the early nineteenth century. I discuss how the call for gender equality by Wollstonecraft and Austen is complicated by the specificities of the society they live in. Furthermore, I look at how women represented themselves through writing at this time in order to be emancipated from constructions of femininity and to position themselves as rational thinking beings.

Author Biography

Rachel Evans wrote this piece for a nineteenth-century literature module during the second year of her English and French BA at Exeter University. She is currently in her fourth and final year of this degree following a year abroad studying in Brussels. She has recently received a conditional offer for postgraduate study at the Gender Institute of LSE and hopes to continue her interest in gender and women’s studies within the field of International Development.