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Throughout history, the position of women in society changed and shifted. From being oppressed to fighting for their rights, women have experienced a  wide spectrum of social norms and double standards. The same goes for literature, where for a long time women weren’t recognized as prominent writers. 

However, in the 18th century, there was a boost in the number of female writers who were slowly becoming prominent and recognized for their work. The list below singles out 8 significant female writers of the 18th century whose names and work we should all be familiar with.

Let’s take a closer look together.

1. Aphra Behn (1640-1689)


Aphra Behn is known as one of the first women who supported herself with writing.

She was an English playwright, novelist, poet, and translator. She was also working as a spy for the British Crown.

Her life had many ups and downs and she spent most of it in poverty. She was even in prison for her debts.

Still, her writing achievements are amazing. She wrote 19 plays as well as numerous novels and poems. She’s best known for her novel Oroonoko (1688). Here’s what Virginia Woolf said about her in her feminist essay A Room of One's Own:

  • "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."

2. Delarivier Manley (1663-1724)


English author, playwright, and political pamphleteer who, along with Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood, is referred to as one of "the fair triumvirate of wit".

She was known both for her dynamic personal life and her satirical works. She offended many with her viewpoints, personality, and marriage. She wrote about female empowerment and politics.

She’s best known for her work the New Atalantis, a roman à clef published in 1713.

3. Frances Fanny Burney (1752-1840)
 

Frances Burney, also known as Fanny Burney, was an English satirical novelist, playwright, and diarist. Her work was hugely recognized and popular during her age, even though she had no support from her family and her closest surroundings.

Timothy Pearson, an education and writing expert, and editor at Best Writing Advisor says: "She’s best known for her novel Evelina (1778) whose plotline is said to be the inspiration for Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, due to the similar plotline. One might argue that Burney was an inspiration for Austen.

Her other popular works include novels Camilla, Cecilia, and The Wanderer. Her novels deal with women’s status and their relationship to marriage, power, and female identity.

4. Eliza Haywood (1693-1756)


Eliza Haywood was an English writer who remains remembered for her extensive writing and publishing, as well as the popularity she gained during her life.

She wrote and published more than 70 works which mostly deal with:

  • female sexuality
  • female rights and freedom
  • women’s right issues
  • romance

Some of her most famous works include Love in Excess: Or, The Fatal Enquiry, Fantomina; or Love in a Maze, as well as The Anti-Pamela; or, Feign'd Innocence Detected.

5. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)


Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer of the 18th century but she was so much more than just that. She was also a philosopher and a female rights advocate.

Today, she’s known as one of the founders of feminist philosophy and remains an inspiration for feminists across the globe.

Her main literary works include the novels Mary: A Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman. Both novels deal with and criticize the position of women in a marriage including financial marriage, affairs, and numerous other taboo topics.

Mary Wollstonecraft gave her gift for writing to her daughter Mary Shelley whose gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is considered by some the first true science fiction story.

6. Jane Austen (1775-1817)


Jane Austin is one of the most widely-known female writers of the 18th century. He works are studied in schools and colleges all across the globe.

She was an achieved and successful writer during her age, and is best known for her following novels:

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Mansfield Park
  • Emma

Her two other novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were both published posthumously in 1818.

Her novels inspired many movies and remain the inspiration for many upcoming female writers.

7. Charlotte Lennox (1730-1804)


The Scottish novelist, playwright, and poet, Charlotte Lenox is another important female writer that marked the literature of the 18th century.

After failing at a career as an actress, she turned to write. She published her first novel Lennox’s first novel was The Life of Harriot Stuart in 1751.

Still, she remains mostly recognized for her novel The Female Quixote which imitates and paradises the ideas of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

She’s also known for exploring the sources for William Shakespeare's plays, later published by Andrew Millar in a work called Shakespeare Illustrated: or the Novels and Histories.

8. Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)


The last female writer on our list, Maria Edgeworth, was an Anglo-Irish writer who dealt with both adult and children’s literature.

She was considered to be progressive and in front of her time since she wrote about topics that include:

  • race
  • gender issues
  • class issues

She was also an advocate for equal rights between men and women and strived to inspire women to get politically involved.

Some of her best-known works are the novels Belinda, Castle Rackrent, and Practical Education.

Final Thoughts


Female writers of the 18th century struggled to make a living, succeed as writers, and get the recognition they deserved. Today, we celebrate their names as the women who helped reshape history.

Hopefully, the list above will inspire you to study more about the female writers of the 18th century and make a list of your favorite writers from that time.

 

About the author: Melanie Sovann is a writer and a literature expert with years of experience covering versatile literature-related topics. She's also an editor at a writing service giving dissertation discussion help. Her main goal is to bring literature closer to the ordinary person and help people fall in love with it.

 

Citation:

  • Woolf, Virginia (1929). A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt Brace. p. 69.