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[second part]

Ballard’s internationalist influence on The Feminead and Biographium Femineum was also mixed. Duncombe takes an orientalist turn, comparing the “freedom” of “British nymphs” with lands “where eastern tyrants reign,/ Where each fair neck the yoke of slav’ry galls,/ Clos’d in a proud seraglio’s gloomy walls,/ And taught, that level’d with the brutal kind,/ Nor sense, nor souls to women are assign’d” (8). The long title of Biographium Femineum proclaims the special place of British women, as it continues: Containing (exclusive of Foreigners) the Lives of above Fourscore BRITISH LADIES, who have shone with a peculiar Lustre, and given the noblest Proofs of the most exalted Genius, and Superior Worth. Collected from HISTORY, the most approved Biographers, and brought down to the present Time. But the preface does not elaborate on the title, and indeed, of the “fourscore” Englishwomen of the 193 women listed, the compilers simply borrowed nearly all of Ballard’s 63 women, limited somewhat to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century women, with a handful of additions from Duncombe’s mere sampling of 21 mostly contemporary women.

Thus in these three collections we see experiments with genre and overlaps of the older humanist histories (female worthies of all nations) with the younger archeological history (ruins of forgotten Anglo-Saxon culture), mixed with contemporary British women. Duncombe’s poem was anthologized and a commercial success, while Ballard’s scholarly, eccentric work was not popular, though the term “genius” was still widely used in nineteenth-century England. Memoirs of Learned British Ladies was an unacknowledged source of Biographium Femineum and next reappears as an acknowledged source in 1861 for Williams, who prefaces her work with an epigraph that highlights “female genius” (1). By the nineteenth century, compilers had transformed the eighteenth-century opposition of modern and ancient languages into one of native versus non-native European languages.

For the next generation of compilers in England, France, not Italy, would set the standard. In 1780, in Sketches of the Lives and Writings of the Ladies of France, Ann Thicknesse notes some of Ballard’s learned women (without acknowledging Ballard), but claims that England has few, while “in France not less than four hundred women, some of very high birth, have been renowned for their literary talents” (xx). Her unacknowledged source for much of her work is La Porte’s Histoire littéraire des femmes françaises (1769), a companion to Jean François de La Croix’s Dictionnaire historique portatif des femmes célèbres, contenant l’histoire des femmes savants, des actrices, et généralement des dames qui se sont rendues fameuses de tous les siècles par leurs aventures, les talents, l’esprit et le courage (1769, 1788). A century later, in two English compilations of women novelists, French Women of Letters (1862) and English Women of Letters (1863), Julie Kavanagh links “the two great literatures of modern times”(1862, vi): “No French novelists were more eminent or more popular in their day than Mademoiselle de Scudéry or Madame de Staël, though two centuries divided them; and if we dare not say as much of our own Miss Edgeworth, spite her genius, we cannot forget that she helped to raise the European fame which eclipsed her own” (1862, v-vi). A second tension, between England and America appeared, but with no such fears of inferior status. Williams disdains the American compiler John Hart (as well as Sarah Hale): “America has ostentatiously marshalled for the Elysian field of fame the battalions of her ‘Female Prose Writers,’....” (11).

In contrast to the English compilers’ preoccupation with the French on the one hand, and the English and American compilers’ obsession with one another on the other, Russian and German compilers betray anxiety about actually developing a national culture compared with other “European” nations. The Russians worry about Europe as a whole (“ours” vs. “theirs” in Ponomarev’s “Our Women Writers”), while German compilers focus on national unity, which is represented by the steadily increasing number of German women writers. Some German nineteenth-century bibliographies of women are devoted to individual German states, and reflect the issue of German unity. Gross calls his work evidence of women’s “contribution to the great cultural work of the German nation” (iv). Qualitative judgments have a limited role in these heavily quantitative arguments, as Gross concedes that not all the works are “pearls” (iv).

However, qualitative arguments about women’s virtues abound in anthologies of women poets, which became a mid-nineteenth-century transnational commercial boon. The introduction of “poetesses” into national bibliographic competition can be traced to one anthology in 1842 in the United States, then another in 1847 in Germany, followed by a flood of them in 1848 and through the 1850s and 1860s in England and the United States. In marked contrast, Russian and French compilers do not single out women poets. Thomas Read’s Female Poets of America went through over ten editions and fifteen printings in from 1848 to 1978 and he was not alone in his success (or as an irritant to Williams). Thomas Rowton published The Female Poets of Great Britain in London and America from 1848 to 1981. The most successful collection seems to have been by Rufus Wilmot Griswold (1815-1857), with twenty printings from 1847 to 2000. These collections especially essentialized women when they reactivated qualitative criteria based on femininity and virtue. As his introduction, Read combined a colored engraving of country scenes with a poem, “Proem: The Fairer Land” in which he contrasts women’s songs with men’s “chanting from unwieldy volumes,/Iron maxims stern and stark” (1848, ix). Against the background of an engraving of “The Poet’s Home,” a secluded country cottage, Caroline May intones one of many maxims on women’s femininity: “No women of refinement, however worthy of distinction – and the most worthy are always the most modest – like to have the holy privacy of their personal movements invaded” (1848, viii). Yet May herself was a successful public figure. Her The American Female Poets has been reprinted fifteen times from 1848 to 2005, while Hale published extensively and her Woman’s Record has been reprinted fourteen times from 1852 to 2004. Ironically, these volumes were a great commercial success for compilers, both men and women, yet they represented the women poets themselves as immodest and unwomanly if they wanted to publish and make money.

This flood of “poetesses” produced varied responses – qualitative, quantitative, generic, and feminist – from bibliographers. Williams, herself a published poet with the Welsh bardic name Ysgafell, wrote a qualitative compilation, The Literary Women of England, including a biographical epitome of all the most eminent to the year 1700 and sketches of the poetesses to the year 1850 with extracts from their works, and critical remarks (1861), which combines poets with other writers, but treats them separately in order to better expose the real neglect of women poets by such British compilers as Thomas Campbell (British Poets includes only Katherine Philips) and Dr. Johnson (none in English Poets) (139). Gross responded to Abraham Voss’s Deutschlands Dichterinnen (1847) by combining writers and poets in his title, Deutsche Dichterinnen und Schriftstellerinnen in Wort und Bild (1885) to create a fuller picture of women’s cultural “contribution” (iii). Overall in Germany, the opposition between poet and prose writer remained more active for women than for men (six out of thirteen compilations of women are of poets), while just three of the nine compilations that combine men and women are for poets only (Friedrichs). The potential of the genre was evident in several English and American collections of women “prose” writers (also called women “authors”), as some compilers tried to emulate the success of “poetesses” as a market niche. Williams derided Hart’s Female Prose Writers of America as nationalistic boasting, yet he was most open about his commercial intentions: “The unwonted favour extended to ‘Read’s Female Poets of America,’ led to the belief that a work on the Female Prose Writers, constructed on a similar plan, would be not unacceptable to the public” (v). While these anthologies were popular and especially good at marketing clichés about women, they were specific to only some countries (including England) and quite limited in scope when compared with quantitatively inclined compilations (which England lacked).

In France, the revolution led to Fortunée Briquet’s (1782-1815) extensive bibliography of 565 writers, which in 1804 signaled the real beginning of listing every woman who wrote in any form whatsoever. Briquet acknowledges her many sources, including the four major compilations of women that directly preceded hers: Histoire littéraire des femmes françaises (La Porte, 1769), Dictionnaire portatif des femmes célèbres (La Croix, 1769), Le Parnasse des Dames (Sauvigny, 1773), which includes Greek, English, Italian, Danish, German, as well as French women, and Collection des meilleurs ouvrages françois, composés par des femmes (Keralio 1786-89). Notwithstanding Briquet’s reliance on past compilations, her Dictionnaire historique littéraire et bibliographique des Françaises et des étrangères naturalisées en France was and has remained a unique document in France and elsewhere. Nicole Pellegrin notes that it is original for including contemporary women, but this is not, I think, its most original feature. Pellegrin explains the interesting genesis of this project, which began with a revolutionary calendar published by her husband, L’Almanach des Muses de l’Ecole Centrale du département des Deux-Sèvres, that Briquet wrote, about plants in 1799, and in 1800 (year VIII), about “’French women famous for their writings’” (103) and the following year about women artists and patrons of the arts (see in www.siefar.org). These 365 women replaced the men and women saints of the traditional calendar, and of the many compilations that had followed in the models of Boccaccio and Christine de Pizan. It remains original today because Briquet combined her interests in literature and sciences by bringing together women who wrote in these areas, a testament to the broad understanding of “literature” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Briquet dedicated her “national work” (vii) to Napoleon Bonaparte, and the texts of both the dedication and the foreword make clear that it is a political document with an agenda and an author. In fact, she was already a published author of four odes and assorted poems, and a member of the Society of Belles-Lettres of Paris (Pellegrin). The last line of the foreword – ”the centuries in which women have had the most influence are almost always those that were the most brilliant” (xxxiv) – shows Briquet’s feminist goal in making women who wrote (though they did not necessarily publish) in politics, history, philosophy, pedagogy, and the sciences, as well as literature, numerically visible. The foreword consists mainly of two letters from the 22-year-old Briquet to an eighteen-year-old Élise; the letters participate in the centuries of spirited debate about the merits of learning for women and outline the history of women’s influence on French literature, politics, and culture. Aside from reminding us of France’s great tradition of women of letters, this, the most literary foreword in my survey, reflects other traditions too: of the epistolary novel of ideas, literary history, and political pamphlets, into which Briquet inserts herself as a defender of women. She quotes Racine, La Fontaine, Horace, Cornificie, Voltaire, Molière, and Anacreon. The epigraph is from Rousseau, and she twice quotes the eminent French literary historian La Harpe to promote her idea that learning is good for women, although neither man supported her cause. Briquet’s quantitative work handily rebuts La Harpe’s canonical literary history written for the French education system for boys that excluded women on a qualitative basis (DeJean, “Classical Reeducation”). Her Dictionnaire was a part of the continuous back and forth of the political battles of feminisms that Offen documents, in which no one, including Rousseau, had the last word.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the journalist Sophie Pataky (1860-?) made an extensive bibliography, Lexikon deutscher Frauen der Feder. Eine Zusammenstellung der seit dem Jahre 1840 erschienenen Werke weiblicher Authoren, nebst Biographieen der lebenden und einem Verzeichnis der Pseudonyme (1898), of over 600 women that, like Briquet, she positions with respect to historical events that were significant for women. Inspired by the 1896 International Women’s Congress in Berlin, Pataky compiled a bibliography of women’s writing since the 1840s to document the tremendous changes in German women’s lives. Like compilers today, she defined “German women” linguistically to include women in Austria and Switzerland. In contrast to previous bibliographers, but like feminist compilers today, she is explicitly conscious of writing as a form of labor and production. For this reason, she treats all areas of women’s writing, not only the writing of books, as work and includes editing and translating, often done anonymously. Pataky’s emphasis on the economic function of pseudonyms, rather than pseudonyms as an expression of modesty, is echoed in Hesse’s work on French women writers a century later (The Other Enlightenment, 74-76). In addition to the usual fiction and poetry, Pataky included children’s literature and such non-fictional genres as feminist pamphlets, religious writings, medical texts, cookbooks, craft books, and translations as work, thus reflecting the extensive nature of quantitative compilations. But a century later, her successor Friedrichs decided to focus on belles-lettres to limit the size of her Lexikon. Joeres criticizes Friedrichs’ bibliography as not feminist because she excludes such genres as travel writing, letters, and spiritual writings, and identifies women briefly by their fathers and husbands. Unbelievably, we know little more about Sophie Pataky than would fit the barest entry in Friedrichs’ Lexikon, not even when she died. From a web posting on her papers in the archives of the women’s movement in Kassel concerning letters she received in response to requests to writers for information for her Lexikon, it is clear that she also envisioned creating a lending library, Bibliothek deutscher Frauenwerke, for which she assembled 1,030 books.

By far the largest, most comprehensive nineteenth-century compilation of women writers was a Russian work, by the conservative civil servant Prince Nikolai (1836-93), which included 1,286 writers, with pseudonyms, biographies, and lists of all publications in all languages and disciplines, in addition to references for translations, reviews, and essays about the writers (1889). With degrees in philology and law (1858), under the humorous pseudonym Knizhnik (The Bookish One), he published versions in 1857 (314 writers through 1855), 1865 (440 writers through 1859), and in 1880 (1,043 writers through 1875). In 1891, Stepan Ponomarev added 419 writers to Golitsyn’s 1,286 women, including women book sellers, publishers, and bibliographers, for a total of 1,705 women. The Bibliograficheskii slovar’ russkikh pisatel’nits began, in 1865, as a response to political debates about women’s place in Russian society. By 1889, with so many writers, Golitsyn simply concluded that his bibliography was “for the study of the history of Russian literature” (vi). In 1891, Ponomarev challenged Russian women writers to write their own compilation “and they will find strength in numbers” (22). Only one bibliography, Friedrichs’ Lexikon, rivals the comprehensiveness of this one. Ponomarev’s essay catalogs such genres as spiritual writings and activities as editing, publishing and bookselling, and such topics as class origins, provincial towns, and salaries that prefigure some of the concerns of the recent Biographical Dictionary of English Women Writers 1580-1720. He also catalogs family dynasties of writers (as does Friedrichs a century later). Thus the type of compilation can be more relevant than the compiler’s sex or politics, for qualitative compilations easily lend themselves to stereotypes of femininity in attempts to distinguish women for their virtue, talent, and so on, while quantitative compilations raise many other kinds of issues.

However, women bibliographers can represent their authorship differently from that of men. Women underscore their own professional qualifications as compilers, beginning with Christine de Pizan, who emphasizes virtue for ladies, but learning in her narrator. Likewise, Briquet’s literary introduction underscores that she writes in the tradition of learned women. Pataky wryly establishes her expertise at her male predecessor’s expense when she notes that Schindel found 550 women for the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when more recent bibliographers concurred that it was closer to 48: “Schindel listed any woman who had written any kind of unpublished occasional verse” (ix). In contrast, in his introduction, Schindel poses as an amateur who began collecting information “without any particular idea” (xiii). True to the bibliographic spirit of the continuous production of differences, these bibliographers disagreed with each other and their works offer a lively counterpoint that resist generalizations and argue for solutions to problems that remain with feminist literary history and bibliography when viewed in a larger historical and comparative context.



This comparative overview of bibliographic compilations of women writers in their interaction with women’s literary history yields a dynamic model of interconnected moving parts. Such classification categories as author, woman writer, nationality, literature, and publication turn out to have been matters of debate among compilers for several hundred years. Those debates have taken place both in the selections and the paratexts of compilations, as compilers turned to colleagues for sources and created a national, transnational, and European, genre. As authors and literary historians, compilers in the past recognized similar issues that concern feminist bio-bibliographers and literary historians today and provided some provocative solutions that prefigure current projects. Yet while bio-bibliographic compilations and literary historical essays participate in national conversations, few engage in the newly rediscovered transnational dialogues that in fact have been with such texts since their debut in fourteenth-century Italy. These transnational networks offer potential extensive narratives to temper qualitative national narratives and allow many more nations to participate not as ancillary, but as essential participants in a long historiography of women’s writings.

The surprise in this survey, I argue, is the historical importance and persistence of quantitative compilations as strategic interventions (most recently, Hesse) in the qualitative canon-making of literary, national historical narratives. Bio-bibliographic compilations have long been historical, political, even literary writings, but with the advent of national literary historical narratives in the eighteenth century, quantitative bibliographies acquired newly important diversifying functions. Historicizing the long history of the transnational compilations of women offers fresh approaches to feminist literary history. Quantitative compilations and databases provide the wealth of details that can get in the way of a qualitative story that may be overly simplified.

A complete version of this article will be available in paper form in The Hague:
Hilde Hoogenboom, "From Bibliography to Canon: Classifying Women in France, England, Germany, and Russia from the Eighteenth Century to the Present". The article is presently under review.

SvD, November 2009

  • Conferences > NEWW November meetings > 2009 > Hoogenboom

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