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Women writing,
and participating in the literary field

This part of the website presents women authors: quantities of names now (May 2010) entered into the database. They can be listed and quantified in different ways: according to their nationality, language used, year of birth, genres practiced etc. These are just starting points of course. Final objective is to present and study those writers in their international context - allowing discussion of the place and role of women authors in the literary field: female celebrities as well as 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. The latter 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 (i.e. are often) classified - for the sake of their easily being found - according to their belonging to one country, culture or language. Here also problems arise, because of possible confusion or contradiction between nationality and language. This is equally under discussion.

Thanks to information entered into the database WomenWriters, these authors can also be classified according to

In the lists generated up to now Dutch authors are over-represented. This has to do with the fact that earlier phases of this collaboration 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. The same phenomenon will, no doubt, be found for authors writing in other languages.

For the other countries, the numbers of authors mentioned in the database WomenWriters are - for the moment - 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. In particular there will remain a need of continuous checking: knowing for instance that often women changed names, one can imagine that there are possibly several records presenting one and the same woman. Another complication is in the fact that several women lived and published in different countries: they have been counted 2 or 3 times.

Anyway, for the moment (May 2010) these are the numbers per country, and the year of birth of the "first" of the writers:

These figures will have to be not only completed, but also compared from one country to another, to those concerning male literary production, and then further understood by going into the records presenting these women's dialogues with their publics. They serve as starting points for further research and analysis.

Suzan van Dijk, 8 May 2010

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