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Self Representation In 18th Century Womens Poetry

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Discuss women's self-representation in 18th Century Poetry

In this essay I will be looking at how women represented themselves in 18th Century British poetry. I will be focusing on the poetry of three 18th Century women writers Lady Mary Chudleigh (1656-1710), Anne Finch (1661-1720) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762).

Poetry accounts for a large proportion of women's writing during the 18th Century and offered a rare outlet for self-expression and an opportunity to examine 'complex and troubling matters' (Turner 18). The themes that run through women's poetry in this period concern marriage, in which women consider their role as a wife and question the fulfilment it brings; women's unequal rights to an education; depression - a source of much frustration at a time when Reason ruled and anything unfathomable or illogical was swept aside; and the notion of beauty as an important tool of power for a woman.

Social pressures affected women's writing since 'wit belonged to the masculine province' (Turner 18) as Anne Finch observed in The Introduction (1689):
'Alas! A woman that attempts the pen,
Such an intruder on the rights of men' (Lines 9-10).
As a result of this, women suffered from a fear of 'violating feminine modesty' (Ezell, Patriarch 63). If a woman signed her work with her own name, she opened herself up to ridicule and censure. None of the three women poets that I have looked at signed their poems with their real names. They are also notable for each avoiding literary limelight and not participating in the London literary circle. The public sphere was incompatible to women in an era where virtue was defined by modesty.

Looking firstly at the theme of marriage, both Lady Mary Chudleigh and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu have used poetry to express anger at the institution of marriage. Writing at a time when a man had absolute unquestioned authority over the most important features in life - education, career,...

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