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Kim Heuvelmans and Ton van Kalmthout

Women writers from an Educational Perspective:
The Representation of Women Writers in Dutch Textbooks for Literary Education


In this paper, I will discuss the representation of women’s writing in textbooks for literary education published in the Netherlands between 1800 and 1914. This representation shows what the authors of literary schoolbooks wanted the pupils to know about female writers. Of course, their image and the ways they have been evaluated in textbooks may have influenced the ways in which the next generation looked at these writers.

In my research, I have used a method based on the imagology-concept of Joep Leerssen. This has led to a set of characteristics the authors of the literary textbooks often use to describe and evaluate women’s writing. These characteristics, like marital state, class and occupation, have proven to be a good means to analyse the general image given of the female writers. If we would use these characteristics in the WomenWriters database, it could provide a better understanding of the importance and meaning of these characteristics in representations of women writers all over Europe.

My research on the description of women writers in Dutch textbooks yielded a surprising conclusion. In these sources female writers are often described in a very positive light. This does not match with the way women writers are dealt with in contemporary literary criticism. In other words: nineteenth century views on women as literary writers are not always confirmed by the views found in schoolbooks. For instance, the idea that women are not capable of writing literature because they lack some innate qualities is not completely supported by the authors of these books.

In my paper, I will discuss both some differences and similarities between literary education and literary criticism. The question is whether these differences might be a recurring problem. Of course, the views expressed in textbooks for literary education may not be too different from the common views since these books partly control what those views should be. Then, why they do not match? We should look at literary textbooks in other European countries to investigate if they show the same gap between ideology and practice in the nineteenth century.

AsK, September 2012

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