Review by Choice Review

With this fascinating book, Pearson (Univ. of Manchester, UK) joins the many recent authors who have contributed studies of literate women of the 18th and early 19th centuries, an outpouring inaugurated by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar with their The Madwoman in the Attic (CH, Jan'80). Female literacy during this period was charged with political, economic, and sexual significance; the literate woman was figured as anything from a champion of domestic virtue to a degenerate. Pearson draws on a vast knowledge of contemporary texts to demonstrate the complex situation of the woman reader. She examines what a variety of women read (including Frances Burney and Jane Austen), and she reveals through an examination of both historical and fictional accounts of woman readers what various segments of English society thought women ought to be reading, and under what circumstances. Readers accustomed to linear argument may find Pearson's deliberately spiral organization uneven, and even the most patient will discover that the style of citation makes tracking the sources unnecessarily challenging. Nonetheless, Pearson genuinely contributes to readers' knowledge of an important chapter in the history of women's literacy. Recommended for all undergraduate and graduate collections. A. E. McKim; St. Thomas University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

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