This is the first of several classes on the Bluestockings, and we begin with two core members, Elizabeth Carter and Elizabeth Montagu.
Susan Staves devotes a good section of chapter six to the significance and background of this literary circle (introduction and 303-316), as
well as naming her chapter after them, "Bluestockings and sentimental writers, 1756-1776." Staves provides important historical information for
you to understand the readings for class this week. Please note any questions that arise from this reading.
Note the importance of History as a genre. How do we understand history in this era, and what is woman's relationship to it?
Staves connects the core members of the Bluestockings (Carter, Montagu, Talbot) to previous women writers of the "party of virtue," especially
Elizabeth Singer Rowe and Catherine Trotter Cockburn. What evidence to see for that assessment today?
Elizabeth Montagu, Queen of the Blues
Staves treats at length Montagu's Essay on the Writing and Genius of Shakespear, Compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets (1769). Comment
on the significance of both Shakespeare criticism in mid-eighteenth century and French vs. English national literatures.
To what extent does this Essay establish female aesthetic authority, as Staves claims?
Through dialogue with other critics in the introduction, Montagu establishes the reigning critical norms for drama. Based on this, what can you
infer is important in eighteenth-century dramatic criticism?
“Shakespeare’s plays were to be acted in a paltry tavern, to an unlettered audience, just emerging from barbarity” (14).
What does Montagu's essay tell us about the development of Shakesepare's reputation? What, if anything, about this surprises you?
There is a dialogue with Pope and Johnson and other Shakespeare critics, but none so much as Voltaire, whom she sets out to debunk. Upon what
grounds does she counter Voltaire’s criticism of Shakespeare?
Why, according to Montagu, is drama to be preferred over all other literary genres?
“The first endeavour of the Poet should be to touch the heart, and then to mend it.” (41) How does this precept undergird her criticism of Corneille and
Racine? What specific criticism does she have for French drama?
Compare Montagu's literary essay with Astell’s philosophical essay, "A Serious Proposal to the Ladies." How are they similar? Who is Montagu’s audience (think carefully)?
To what extent can the differences between Astell’s and Montagu’s essays be attributed to purpose? Era? Audience? Subject? How can you account for any similarities?
How does Staves describe the relationship between Carter and Montagu? What role does this play in the importance of the Bluestocking network?
Staves tells us that "it is hard to overestimate the importance to women's writing of the appearance in 1758 of All the Works of Epictetus[...] By Elizabeth Carter." What
does this achievement mean in women's literary history? What does it mean for Carter?
Staves cites a request from Catherine Talbot as the reason why Carter undertakes the translation of the stoic philosophy written in Greek. Why is translation important to Talbot
and other women? Compare Carter's poem "To[Miss Wilbraham]" on the muses (page 760).
Please review again Carter's poem "On the Death of Mrs. Rowe," which was published in The Gentleman's Magazine." Begin your search
with The Poetry of the Gentleman’s Magazine and cross reference this with the online
archives of The Gentleman's Magazine from its earliest run. What other poems by Carter can you locate in this way? What do you learn by reading Carter in this context?
If you are interested, review the introductory material on The Gentleman's Magazine to assess the meaning of Carter's appearance in this periodical. How does she compare
to other writers published in the GM?
Many of Carter's poems are addressed to women friends. What do these poems achieve? How are they different? (E.g. examine the elegy to Rowe versus the retirement poem to Miss Talbot (page 344).
The most famous of her poems are probably the Verses on the Death of Mrs. Rowe and the Ode to Wisdom. Why is the Ode to Wisdom famous? In what sense is this an Ode? How does the
philosophy represented in the poem reflect on the lived experience of an eighteenth-century woman? A poet?
Staves claims that Carter is probably the most learned woman of the eighteenth century. To what extent does the poetry of Carter suggest that this learning comes at a cost?
For the famous translator of stoic philosophy, Carter's poems of love to other women ring with passion. How do you understand "To [Miss Lynch]" and lines addressed to an unknown
person (373, 375)? What do their respective forms convey about the sentiment expressed?
Trees figure throughout Carter's poems with weighty symbolic value (as do other natural scenes). What do the trees signify for Carter? To what extent might you classify her as
an ecological poet? (See in particular "To [Dr. Walwyn].")
*** As a bonus we will have our own salon by "candlelight." Please bring appropriate materials for virtuous occupation.
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