Women and Enlightenment: A Historiographical Conclusion

  • John Robertson


The present volume is not the first to address the themes of women and gender in the Enlightenment. Interest in the subject was already growing fast during the last two decades of the twentieth century. By 2000 major monographs had been devoted to the salons and salonnières of seventeenth and eighteenth-century France, and to the Cartesian conception of the female mind. Other prominent fields of study were the opportunities offered women by the emergence of a ‘public sphere’ in England and other western European societies, and, not least, the lives and thought of the radicals who seem closest to a recognisably modern ‘feminism’, Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges. But if the importance of the subject was established, there can be little doubt that the collaborative venture which has yielded Women, Gender, and Enlightenment represents a more sustained and wide-ranging exploration of the role of women in the Enlightenment than any undertaken before now. Never have so many facets of women and gender in Enlightenment thinking and practice been studied together. In the face of such riches, it would be unwise for any one scholar to predict what impact this volume may have on our understanding of the Enlightenment’s significance for women. But provisional conclusions may perhaps be drawn by exploring some of the ways in which the essays published here relate to other findings of modern Enlightenment scholarship. What has this book, and the scholarship which preceded it, achieved for women in the Enlightenment?


Public Sphere Woman Writer Early Eighteenth Century Historical Writing European Philosophy 
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  1. 1.
    Phyllis Mack, ‘The history of women in early modern Britain. A Review Article’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 28 (1986), p. 722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    Dena Goodman, ‘Public sphere and private life: towards a synthesis of current historiographical approaches to the Old Regime’, History and Theory, 31 (1992), 1–20; Margaret C. Jacob, ‘The mental landscape of the public sphere: a European perspective’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 28 (1994), ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+); Daniel Gordon, Citizens without Sovereignty. Equality and sociability in French thought ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Princeton, 1994); more recently, the valuable synthesis by James Van Horn Melton, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© John Robertson 2005

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  • John Robertson

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