The Nineties Generation: A Feminist Prosaics

  • Josephine Donovan


While the realist tradition in english women’s prose fiction really began in the mid-seventeenth century with Margaret Cavendish, it was not until later in the century that a continuing tradition of realist prose fiction by women could be said to have developed. In the last two decades of the century and into the early eighteenth century such a tradition emerged. Pioneered by Delarivier Manley, Catherine Trotter, and to a lesser extent, Aphra Behn, it was most fully developed by the unfortunately neglected Irish woman, Mary Davys, and culminated in the works of lane Barker. These women invented women’s realism in English literature, a realism that did much to establish the character of the English novel. In their works the woman of sense (as opposed to sensibility) takes charge, and she expresses the viewpoint of feminist critical irony, by then firmly established by the women writers of the framed-novelle tradition. What these British writers add is a kind of commonsensical, comical perspective wherein the woman of sense serves as eiron to the alazon of romantic sensibility. More often than not her (and the author’s) critical perspective undermines generic stereotypes of women, offering instead a feminist prosaics wherein the specific realities of women’s lives are treated with serious attention.


English Woman Woman Writer Early Eighteenth Century Female Protagonist Realist Tradition 
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© Josephine Donovan 1999

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  • Josephine Donovan

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