Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Kristie Hamilton, Mark Netzloff, John Shanahan
This dissertation views the eighteenth-century Bluestockings community through the Habermasian theory of the public sphere. According to Habermas, the public sphere is the arena in which public opinion is formed through discussion and debate of matters of public concern, primarily through print. Because the Bluestockings were a group of educated women marginalized by gender, I propose it is more accurate to view them as what Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner term a counterpublic: a “parallel arena” of discourse that resists the prevailing discourse and shapes the interests, needs, and identities of the group. Further, because the Bluestockings navigated their marginalized status by maintaining conservative beliefs in their public writings, I define them as a conservative female counterpublic. This definition is unique in contemporary studies of this group of writers.
To make this argument, I examine writings by Elizabeth Montagu, Sarah Scott, Hannah More, and other Bluestockings from 1750 to 1799. Even though some of these women enjoyed powerful social status as educated, wealthy women, their literary interactions in private writings and in salons reveal their consciousness of their subordinate status to men and their efforts to navigate and resist that gendered marginalization. The Bluestockings valued women’s education and sought to empower women and grant them a voice, yet confined that empowerment to the
domestic sphere. This dissertation also shows that the Bluestockings understood their subordinate status, a fact made evident by the disparity between their public and private writings. While their published writings abide by conservative conventions, the Bluestockings’ private writings, such as diaries and correspondence, reject that marginalization. A close reading of Sarah Scott’s novel, The Test of Filial Duty, illuminates another form of literary resistance to the dominant, masculine discourse: the elevation of private concerns to the public level. The Bluestockings' contested relation to the patriarchal order became less intense amid the threats of the French Revolution. I illustrate this shift in Hannah More’s writing to explore the limitations imposed on the Bluestockings as a female conservative counterpublic in the masculine world of letters as they ceased seeking to empower women or questioning the existing social order.
Alsuhaibani, Norah S., "The Bluestockings, a Conservative Counterpublic, 1750-1799" (2022). Theses and Dissertations. 2977.
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