By Catherine Kerrison
In 1711, the imperious Virginia patriarch William Byrd II spitefully refused his spouse Lucy's plea for a ebook; a century later, woman Jean Skipwith put an order that despatched the Virginia bookseller Joseph Swan scurrying to thrill. those vignettes bracket a century of switch in white southern women's lives. Claiming the Pen deals the 1st highbrow heritage of early southern ladies. It situates their studying and writing in the literary tradition of the broader Anglo-Atlantic international, to date understood to be a masculine province, while they inhabited the restricted, provincial social circles of the plantation South.
Catherine Kerrison uncovers a brand new realm of lady schooling during which conduct-of-life advice―both the dry pedantry of sermons and the risqué plots of novels―formed the middle studying software. ladies, she reveals, discovered to imagine and write via studying prescriptive literature, now not Greek and Latin classics, in impromptu domestic study rooms, instead of faculties and universities, and from family and associates, instead of schoolmates and professors. Kerrison additionally unearths that southern girls, of their willingness to "take up the pen" and so declare new rights, seized upon their racial superiority to offset their gender inferiority. In depriving slaves of schooling, southern ladies claimed literacy as a privilege in their whiteness, and perpetuated and bolstered the repressive associations of slavery.
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Additional info for Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South
Her Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest (1694) laid out a plan for a female seminary to which women could retreat, to learn in an environment of Christian love and community. Freed from the gender conventions of the world, Astell’s school would focus on internal beauty, on the life of the mind and the soul, neither of which was as vulnerable to the ravages of age as external beauty. ”110 In her insistence on women as rational creatures, endowed by God with an intelligence equal to men’s, Astell identiﬁed reason and religion as central to her program.
121 Like Quaker Elizabeth Norris, the ﬁctional Amelia Gray would command herself, body, mind, and soul. There is even evidence of some resistance in the southern colonies, as in the verses of “The Lady’s Complaint,” published in 1736 in the Virginia Gazette and in 1743 in the South Carolina Gazette. ”123 But in the years after the Revolution (an experience that for many women had contradicted conventional truths about male protection and female ineptness), they would struggle with the same questions their English ancestors had about the female intellect, although in an entirely different setting.
128 But probably the most signiﬁcant change in southern reading patterns was the increase in recreational reading prompted by the publication of Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela in 1740. ”129 The account books from the Virginia Gazette’s bookshop certainly reﬂect this interest. 131 The novels’ chief appeal to female readers was that they featured women at the center of the plotlines. Pamela is the story of a servant girl who, resisting the many attempts of her master to seduce her, wins his admiration and love and becomes his wife.
Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South by Catherine Kerrison