Mothers of the Novel

Dale Spender | Mothers of the Novel

When I began my work on early women novelists – in the attempt to explore the relationship between women and fiction – I had assumed that women novelists had not really ‘come into their own’ until the entry of Jane Austen, and that the starting point for my work would be somewhere about the beginning of the nineteenth century. At that stage, I had no idea that for more than one hundred and fifty years before Jane Austen, women had been writing novels, and that to return to the early days of women’s relationship to fiction meant to go back to the seventeenth, and not the nineteenth century.
But having embarked on my research, I soon ‘discovered’ more and more women writers, and more and more women’s novels, in the eighteenth century, and the seventeenth century, and I began to realise that far from standing at the beginning of women’s entry to fiction writing, Jane Austen was the inheritor of a long and well-established tradition of ‘women’s novels’.

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