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Nancy Isenberg

On Being a Woman: Giustiniana Wynne’s Contribution to the Discussion


In 1805, fourteen years after Giustiniana Wynne’s death, a group of male literati were working on a multivolume collection of her works, including some unpublished materials. The publication was to take place first in Berlin, and then in Northern Italy. We know this from letters written by the men involved in the project. We don't know why but the collection never appeared. Her published works did however continue to circulate separately well into the 19th century in the original French and English and translated into Italian and German. (See my contribution, Chawton 2011)

Very positive references to her and her works turn up frequently in the late 18th-early 19th century in the public and private writings of men of letters across Europe, giving us a sense of the high level of esteem she had earned on the elite, male dominated, transnational cultural circuit (see my contribution, Bucharest 2012).

Although it is to date more difficult to ascertain what women thought of Giustiniana Wynne since the evidence continues to be scarce, her writings tell us a lot about what she thought of them. Her works are rich with observations on women in general, and at times about specific women like Catherine the Great of Russia and Madame du Boccage along with well-known singers and actresses, courtesans and mistresses, noblewomen and diplomats’ wives across Europe. She comments on what it was like to be a women in her times - in Italy, France, England, the Balkans, and Russia - reflecting both her inner, most personal experiences and her first-hand familiarity with life in many parts of Europe, She offers insights on what it meant to be a woman in friendships, courtship predicaments, amorous relations, marriage, politics, society, etc.

I propose to trace the evolution of Wynne’s treatment of women and womanhood from the love letters she wrote as a young woman to her last work, Les Morlaques (see WWIH contributions by Irene Zanini Cordi, Bochum 2009 and Véronique Duplessis-Church, Bochum 2009).

Ask, September 2012

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