Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South (Hardback)Catherine Kerrison (author)
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In 1711, the imperious Virginia patriarch William Byrd II spitefully refused his wife Lucy's plea for a book; a century later, Lady Jean Skipwith placed an order that sent the Virginia bookseller Joseph Swan scurrying to please. These vignettes bracket a century of change in white southern women's lives. Claiming the Pen offers the first intellectual history of early southern women. It situates their reading and writing within the literary culture of the wider Anglo-Atlantic world, thus far understood to be a masculine province, even as they inhabited the limited, provincial social circles of the plantation South.Catherine Kerrison uncovers a new realm of female education in which conduct-of-life advice-both the dry pedantry of sermons and the risque plots of novels-formed the core reading program. Women, she finds, learned to think and write by reading prescriptive literature, not Greek and Latin classics, in impromptu home classrooms, rather than colleges and universities, and from kin and friends, rather than schoolmates and professors. Kerrison also reveals that southern women, in their willingness to "take up the pen" and so claim new rights, seized upon their racial superiority to offset their gender inferiority. In depriving slaves of education, southern women claimed literacy as a privilege of their whiteness, and perpetuated and strengthened the repressive institutions of slavery.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 288
Weight: 567 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 23 mm
"Catherine Kerrison's wonderful new book challenges scholars on a host of points. She asks us to think about how the history of the book, print culture, and reading can inform a broader intellectual history. She prods us to broaden our understanding of intellectual history to include the prescriptive literature, letters, journals, and commonplace books that formed the minds of eighteenth-century women. And she poses these questions on a ground unfamiliar and even alien to American historians: the intellectual history of women in the early South."-- Beth Barton Schweiger * The Book: Newsletter of the American Antiquarian Society *
"Kerrison skillfully weaves the stories of women-some famous, some obscure-into a compelling and sophisticated study. In so doing, she connects the intellectual and cultural history of the southern colonies to the better-known historiography of the Old House and raises new questions about gender, race, and the origins of a distinctive southern regional identity."* William and Mary Quarterly *
"Kerrison succeeds in uncovering the rich texture of women's evolving intellectual interests, concerns, and challenges throughout the eighteenth century and into the first decades of the nineteenth century.... Kerrison reconstructs southern women's intellectual lives by using a wide variety of sources more often associated with social history-wills, probate records, account books, newspapers, letters, and journals. Drawing upon these sources, Kerrison argues that although southern women faced more constraints in their intellectual development than their northern contemporaries, they nonetheless were able to construct their own intellectual identities and assert certain kinds of intellectual authority."-- Rosemarie Zagarri * North Carolina Historical Review *
"Claiming the Pen is a revelation. Catherine Kerrison's extensive research into published and unpublished sources provides unparalleled insights into the hitherto hidden intellectual lives of early southern women. Her judicious analysis of such topics as novel reading and the impact of the slave system on elite white women's thinking will interest scholars in many fields."-- Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University
"In Catherine Kerrison's pathbreaking account of eighteenth-century Southern women, we are introduced to an intellectual history constituted in reading and writing. Highlighting women's engagement with novels and devotional literature, which schooled them in moral practice and cultural refinement, Kerrison demonstrates the importance of an informal education that taught women to see themselves as thinking subjects. We glimpse women of privilege who in writing as in reading fashioned a sense of self valorized by republican virtue and Protestant piety and laced with racial superiority. In bringing these women's voices to the fore, Kerrison has recovered the female architects of a southern society grounded in hierarchies of class and race."-- Mary Kelley, Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan
"This is an important book on many levels. Its focus on women in the early South challenges notions that still linger about the dearth of intellectual activity in a region that was essentially rural and boasted few of the literary venues that characterized the northern and middle colonies. Just as the 'new political history' expands our understanding of the meaning of politics, so Kerrison's book expands the scope of intellectual history. It argues that southern women, like their northern counterparts, were able to participate in the process of shaping their own identity. They faced limits to their power, of course, but they were not passive victims of a male-dominated culture. Finally, the book reminds scholars that women in the South, although they were part of a distinctive regional culture, had ties to a broad-based transatlantic culture as well."-- Sheila Skemp, University of Mississippi
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