G. H. Lewes and "The Lady Novelists"

Barbara Caine


Writing about issues outside the work supposedly under discussion was a common feature of nineteenth-century reviewing, so it is not surprising that this practice was applied to the advent of women writers. Little real thought was given to questions about the nature of women writers or of women's literature, and most comments simply reflect prevailing views on the nature of women buttressed by a certain amount of mysogyny. A rather splendid example of the nonsense that passed for critical comment in regard to women is evident in Blackwood's review of Mrs Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte, which began with this passage:

Women ought to be good biographers. They have a talent for personal discourse and familiar narrative, although too frequently it degenerates into social nuisance.

Unfortunately this has happened in the book in question-and Mrs Gaskell appears as "a gossip and gad-about" to the affronted male reviewer, G. H. Lewes.

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