In the eighteenth century women throughout Europe, in increasingly unprecedented numbers, threw themselves into the project of creating an expansive world of learning and into the public exchange of ideas. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the French writer and bibliophile Fortunée Briquet could write with scholarly confidence that ‘No other century has begun with such a great number of women of letters’.1 Indeed, in her Dictionnaire historique, littéraire et bibliographique des françaises, which compiled a list of some 580 francophone women writers from the beginnings of the French monarchy, she documented nothing short of an explosion of women into print in the last decades of the eighteenth century. We now know that the number of women writers in France trebled to over 300 in print in the revolutionary decade alone.2 This feminine literary revolution was not limited to France. The number of women publishing in the German-speaking states quadrupled over the course of the eighteenth century, provoking Friedrich Schiller to write to Goethe in 1797 that he was ‘truly astounded how our women today are capable, through mere dilettantism, of creating themselves as artful writers’.3 Similar trends can be documented from England to Sweden, and as two of the contributions to this section show, in corners as far flung as Bologna and Edinburgh.4 The Enlightened ‘Republic of Letters’, in sum, was as much an affair of women as it was of men.


Eighteenth Century Moral Sentimentalism Woman Writer Social Distinction Intellectual Exchange 
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  1. 3.
    See Jeannine Blackwell and Susanne Zantrop, eds. Bitter Healing: German Women Writers, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Lincoln Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), pp. 19–21; Friedrich Schiller, Schillers Briefe (June 30, 1797) (hg. F. Jonas Stuttgart: Berlin), cited in Marie-Claire Hoock-Demarle, La Rage d’écrire: femmes-écrivains en Allemagne de 1790 à 1815 (Paris: Alinea, 1990), p. 65.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    For England, see: Judith Phillip Stanton, ‘Statistical Profile of Women Writing in English from 1660 to 1800’, in Eighteenth-Century Women and the Arts, Fredrich M. Keener and Susan E. Lorsch, eds. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), and more recently, NormaGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    Margaret C. Jacob, Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-century Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Robert Darnton, Gens de lettres, gens du livre (Paris: Jacob, 1991), pp. 107–118.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Erica Harth, Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Order in the Old Regime (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).Google Scholar

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© Carla Hesse 2005

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