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The WomenWriters programme

Interest in the texts and biographies of women writers who wrote before our time is on the rise. After having long been ignored in works of literary historiography, some of these women writers have gained new readers today who consider their texts to be surprisingly “modern”.

However, familiarity with the works of women writers varies greatly from one country to another, and the resources that are available to assess their historical significance still remain insufficient. It is difficult to evaluate their importance because we know little about how these works were received in their own day. What kinds of roles did these women play in their time and in forming the literary field? What kind of audience read their works? Finding answers to these questions and attempting to recreate the literary dialogues which these women writers initiated are among the primary interests of the group of researchers collaborating in this programme, and in particular in the current international project entitled NEWW: New approaches to European Women’s Writing (before 1900).

The programme seeks to examine these questions in a context larger than that of strict national boundaries. Given this geographical and historical scope, it is evident that millions of pieces of data must be brought to light. A flexible database entitled WomenWriters, the Reception of their Works has been created to this effect: This “virtual collaboratory” has been conceived to contain all sorts of references to contemporary reception documents and to other material reflecting on women’s work. It allows a completely new approach to the question of women’s place in European literary history. International collaboration is presently being prepared in order to have the full benefit of this tool.

The database WomenWriters:
WomenWriters makes it possible to study the contemporary international reception of women authors, allowing researchers to focus on various issues:

  • the creation of networks,
  • the influence of intermediaries, male and female: literary critics, artistic patrons, editors, colleagues etc.,
  • the role of institutions.

The database enables researchers to approach these questions within a national perspective and, most importantly, at an international level.

This publishing site Women Writers' Networks:
This website has been conceived in order to illustrate the possibilities created by the database, to which it is directly related. The site contains or is to contain short articles resulting from research allowed by the database, and taking as its point of departure the relationship between women authors and their (more or less) contemporary readers.
A short explanation of the navigation (see red quare on the left): *According to the perspective that has been used publication is either in the "writing side", following the traditionally adopted direction - from the author towards the reader -, or in the "reading side", where the opposite perspective is being taken: choices made by readers, readers' intentions, etc. In many of the cases to be discussed readers are also writers: that is how virtual "networks" have been created.

  • Under the heading "sources", listings generated by the database structure are presented for future research and briefly commented, in order to serve also as examples for colleagues.
  • The database WomenWriters can be directly accessed from here.
  • Temporary exhibitions are being prepared.
  • The item "E-conference" will, soon, correspond to a possibility for direct comments and online discussion.

Scholars in women's literary history are invited to contact us in view of possible collaboration in the near future.

SvD, September 2007

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