Virtual Exhibits

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Eighteenth-Century Women Writers: Novels - Early Beginnings

In the eighteenth-century, women became highly involved in novel-writing. While women did not particularly write more novels over the course of the century, they were at least matching men or out-writing them in "certain subgenres, such as the epistolary novel" by the end of the period, and therefore, as Jane Spencer states, their work "deserves investigation" (212). Aphra Behn (1640-1689), is where we begin our exhibit, as she was a "major pioneer" of the novel (Spencer 212). She wrote multiple books including Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister (1682-1687) and Oroonoko (1688), along with plays such as The Rover (1677), poems, and novellas (Link, 48-52, 130-135, 139-142).

This third edition of a three-part book, Love-Letters (1709) is a novel preoccupied with real events of the time, as it is based on the scandalous love-affair between Forde, Lord Grey of Werke, or the "nobleman" and his wife's sister, his sister-in-law through marriage, Lady Henrietta Berkeley and other politically-charged events of the time (Duffy vi). This book could be considered an epistolary novel, in which the narrative is told through the structure of letters exchanged between the characters, considering that part one is written solely in epistolary form, while the other two parts do include first-person narrative along with the epistles (Link 130-133). Such epistolary structure eventually makes its way into later works of the period as it does in Frances Burney's Evelina (1778).

Image: Title page of Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister by Aphra Behn, 1708. Toppan Rare Books Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Want to Learn More?

University of Wyoming's Coe Library holds a print book and e-book of The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn edited by Derek Hughes and Janet Todd.

Full copies of Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister can also be found in print and e-book formats.

For more information on these books, please visit the University of Wyoming Libraries website

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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