Leonie Hannan
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Becoming an ‘intellectual’
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Becoming a woman intellectual in early modern England was no straightforward task. Financial dependence, lack of personal autonomy, marriage and motherhood could all bring pressures to bear on practices of self-development. However, it was from within these circumstances that women found ways to engage with the life of the mind. Moreover, the forms intellectual engagement took were informed by their domestic contexts and the patterns of exchange framed by letter-writing. This chapter explores the cultures of knowledge in which women made their mark. Female intellectual networks, opportunities for cross-gender exchange and amateur circles of scholarship all existed outside of traditional centres for intellectual production. These opportunities are considered in the context of other factors that affected female learning: the development of an intellectual identity, the changing demands of the lifecycle and the ramifications of public scrutiny of female achievement. These opportunities and obstacles for female intellectual engagement in this period will be explored through the qualitative detail offered by a series of examples of learned women.

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Women of letters

Gender, writing and the life of the mind in early modern England


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