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Portraits of Authors: Introduction

By Gillian Dow, University of Southampton and Chawton House Library,
COST action Women Writers In History: Toward a New Understanding of European Literary Culture, Working Group Four Leader

As part of the dissemination activities of working group four, this section of the website contains short biographies of just some of the women writers we are keen to investigate as part of the activities of our COST action. It is designed to provide an accessible point of access to the project. For more information about each of the writers discussed below, and many, many more, please visit the database.

The authors included here represent a diverse and eclectic grouping. On the surface, not much links the Norwegian author Dorothe Engelbretsdatter (1634–1716) with the German Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn (1805-1880); the French Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis (1746-1830) has little in common with the nun Jefimija (1349 –ca.1405). We have, in this list, women who wrote in all genres, in complex historical settings in a variety of European countries, and who came from wildly diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Women writers in Europe across the centuries did not constitute a coherent community of writers, any more than their male counterparts did.

We have tried, in writing these biographies, to emphasise pan-European links, and transnationalism, and to talk specifically about the influence and reception of each writer Europe-wide. Naturally, some writers lend themselves better to this approach than others; some women had more opportunity and taste for the kind of networking activities we are keen to map. But the aim of these biographies is certainly not to set up alternative ‘canons’ of literature, or to claim that the women writers included here are more important than ones we have not (yet) included.

This section of the website should, in fact, be considered as a growing resource, rather than a completed project. In designing it, we have been inspired by the work of second-wave Anglo-American feminists, who felt that bio-bibliographical compilation was a necessary step in the recovery project. In her seminal work A literature of their own: British women novelists from Brontë to Lessing (1977), Elaine Showalter famously ended with a call to arms: ‘it is only by considering them all – Millicent Grogan as well as Virginia Woolf – that we can begin to record new choices in a new literary history, and to understand why, despite prejudice, despite guilt, despite inhibition, women began to write’. This project is our attempt to ‘consider them all’ – from all European countries, and through the centuries until 1900.

We have chosen not to include any British and American women writers in the first stage of this project: these writers have been well-served by online scholarship – the biographies on the Chawton House Library website may provide a useful starting point for those interested in the Anglo-American tradition.

Please click on the links below to find out more about the individual women writers.

Emilia Pardo Bazan (1851-1921) Spanish author by Henriette Partzsch, University of St. Andrews

Camilla Collett (1813–1895) Norwegian author By Torill Steinfeld, Universitetet i Oslo

Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis (1746-1830) French author By Gillian Dow, University of Southampton and Chawton House Library

Dorothe Engelbretsdatter (1634–1716) Norwegian author By Inger Vederhus, Oslo University College

Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn (1805-1880) German author By Elisa Müller-Adams, Universität Trier

Dora d'Istria (1828-1888) Romanian author By Ileana Mih?il?, University of Bucharest

Jefimija (1349- ca.1405) Serbian poet By Biljana Doj?inovi?, University of Belgrade

Varvara-Juliana de Krüdener (1764-1824) Russian author By Elena Gretchanaia

Katharina Lescailje (1649-1711) Dutch author By Nina Geerdink, VU University Amsterdam

Ana Maria Marovic (1815-1887) By Jelena Bakic

D. Leonor de Almeida Portugal (1750-1839) Portuguese author By Vanda Anastácio, University of Lisbon and Foundation Casas de Fronteira and Alorna

Catharine Felicia van Rees (1831-1915) Dutch author and composer By Lotte Jensen, Radboud University Nijmegen

Fredrika Charlotta Runeberg (1807-1879) Finnish-Swedish Author By Heidi Grönstrand, University of Turku

Milica Stojadinovi?-Srpkinja (1828-1878) Serbian poet By Biljana Doj?inovi?, University of Belgrade

Therese Albertine Luise von Jakob-Robinson (Talvj) (1797-1870) German writer, translator and intercultural mediator By Juliana Jovi?i?, University of Novi Sad

AsK, November 2010

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