Women of letters

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

Leonie Hannan
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Women of Letters writes a new history of English women’s intellectual worlds using their private letters as evidence of hidden networks of creative exchange. This is the first detailed study to situate correspondence as the central social practice in the development of female intellectual thought in the period c.1650-1750. The main argument of the book is that many women of this period engaged with a life of the mind through reading and writing letters. Until now, it has been assumed that women’s intellectual opportunities were curtailed by their confinement in the home. Women of Letters illuminates the household as a vibrant site of intellectual thought and expression. By using an original definition of ‘intellectual’, the book offers a new and inclusive view of intellectual life: one that embraces a broad range of informal writing and critical discourse and abandons the elitism of traditional definitions of scholarly achievement. Amidst the catalogue of day-to-day news in women’s letters, are lines of ink dedicated to the discussion of books, plays and ideas. Through these personal epistles, Women of Letters offers a fresh interpretation of intellectual life in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, one that champions the ephemeral and the fleeting in order to rediscover women’s lives and minds.

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