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Women writing,
and participating in the literary field

This part of the website presents women authors and their writing activities. On the basis of documentation entered by NEWW-participants into the database WomenWriters, we show these women - using quantitative and qualitative approaches - as members of groups and sub-groups, and in some cases as individual outstanding figures. The objective is to present the writers in their context - allowing discussion of the place and role of female celebrities, and also of hitherto completely unknown or unnoticed women.

As clearly the database WomenWriters is not "complete", any interpretation or conclusion based upon it must be considered as provisional, and in need of check and further reflection. This is what this website is meant for.

In this project the word "author" is used in its broadest sense: a woman who wrote and published either fiction or non-fiction, books or contributions to the periodical press, her own texts or translations of writings by others, comments on others’ writings, etc. Therefore, "intermediaries" are being classified here as "authors".

This large definition is not wholly unproblematic. For example: what about oral literature? What about women, like Madame de Sévigné, who did not write for publication, but still exerted considerable influence, when the letters written to her daughter were published some 40 years after her death? These questions have been addressed during the first of the annual “NEWW November meetings”: 22 November 2007, and will be further discussed.


Authors can be classified - for the sake of their easily being found - according to the women's national identities. Here also problems arise, because of possible confusion or contradiction between nationality and language. This is equally under discussion.

Dutch authors are over-represented, for the moment. This has to do with the fact that the first phase of the digitizing project focused on the reception of women's writing in the Netherlands: while looking for traces of foreign authors finding Dutch readers, we found not only the names (or pseudonyms) and works of many non-Dutch authors, but also an astonishing number of Dutch women, who commented, translated, adapted the foreign texts. Instead of the average dozen women that appear in current Dutch literary historiography (concerning the periods before 1900), we found more than 700 Dutch names (19th century: 400; 18th: 175; 17th: 100; earlier: 25). This sounds incredible; analyses of the data and detailed study of the reception documents themselves will have to explain our findings and may account for the discrepancy between the numbers of lost and surviving authors.

For the other countries, the numbers of authors mentioned in the database WomenWriters are much smaller. Entry of data has not taken place in a systematic way: it depended on the writers' being received and read in the Netherlands and on individual interest of NEWW collaborators or occasional information being found by chance. In a next phase of the collaborative research much work is to be done here. For the moment these are the numbers per nationality, and an indication of the period concerned:

These figures will have to be compared to those concerning male literary production, and serve as starting points for further research and analysis.

Other classifications than by nationality/language are possible, and may be no less usefull. For example:

by place of birth:

by genre or type of writing activity:


or by "authors' intentions", for example:


use of irony

  • Benoist, Charriere

(female) education

  • Epinay, Genlis, LPB

conditions for women's authorship
role of parents

  • Stael, Genlis

Suzan van Dijk, 5 February 2009

  • The writing side >

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