This section explores important facets of the character, chronology and diversity of the European Enlightenment. All three authors demonstrate that the topic of gender was integral to the Enlightenment from the outset, and can also be traced before the late seventeenth century, when its origin is usually discerned. From the Renaissance, and throughout the seventeenth century, a variety of discourses offered materials from which could be fashioned, in a kind of bricolage, an evaluation of women’s intellectual potential, and, in particular, the idea of rational equality. The Cartesian moment was especially significant, though not the only source of intellectual support for the idea of equality. Since intellectual discourses do not exist in an abstract vacuum, the essays also discuss the ‘cultural infrastructure’ of the Enlightenment. Enlightened discourses could be fostered by court cultures, aristocratic coteries, or urban, merchant oligarchies. This section thus explores the Republic of Letters, discussed in section five, at an earlier stage of its development.
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Woman Writer Early Eighteenth Century Religious Toleration Female Authorship
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