Anita Pacheco, ed. Early Women Writers: 1600-1720. Longman Critical Readers Series. London: Longman, 1998. x+282pp. ISBN 0 582 30462 8 Cloth: 0 582 30463 6 Paper.
Robert C. Evans
Auburn University at Montgomery
Evans, Robert C. "Review of Anita Pacheco, ed., Early Women Writers: 1600-1720 ." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.1 (May, 2000): 16.1-5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/06-1/evansrev.htm>.
This book is well designed in every sense: it not only conforms to Longman's very high standards of physical production (especially in the paperback version, which is commendably sewn), but it also displays careful thought in the ways the essays are introduced, interrelated, indexed, and supplemented. Five writers are featured: Mary Wroth, Katherine Philips, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, and Anne Finch. Two essays are devoted to each, except for Behn (who is the subject of four). Their original dates of publication range from 1979 to 1992, so that the critical and theoretical preoccupations of the 1980s are much in evidence. The authors include Jeff Masten, Helen Hackett, Elaine Hobby, Celia A. Easton, Sidonie Smith, Catherine Gallagher, Nancy Copeland, Elin Diamond, Jane Spencer, Laura Brown, Katharine Rogers, and Ruth Salvaggio. Some of these names will seem very familiar; a few will seem less so; but clearly Pachecho has done a fine job of assembling a highly representative body of authors.
Pacheco's own introductory essay does what it should do: it helps explain the theoretical assumptions undergirding the contributors' varying positions, showing how and where those assumptions connect and/or conflict and situating them within recent theoretical developments. Thus, Pacheco sketches the differences between French and Anglo-American feminisms; does the same for materialist feminism and the new historicism; raises issues of self-representation, proto-feminism, and subjectivity; explores the links between gender, genre, and representation; and ends by discussing matters of gender and race. She objectively summarizes the positions of her contributors while also noting potential shortcomings in their arguments, especially when those arguments are seen from the perspectives of other contributors themselves. She does much the same thing, too, in her brief but lucid headnotes to the varied selections. One has a sense, in reading this book, not only of listening to an extended conversation but also of following the development of that dialogue through time. The individual essays often provide useful overviews of the ideas of critical predecessors and opponents, and the fact that Pacheco is able to include the authors' original notes (which are cut, for instance, from the Chelsea House volumes edited by Harold Bloom) only strengthens the usefulness of her book as a kind of bibliographic guide.
Several features of this volume make it particularly valuable. The "Glossary of Terms" is superb, while the fairly lengthy annotated list of secondary texts is also very helpful (and brings the works covered into the mid-90s). An exceptionally useful aspect of the book is its index, which includes not only proper names but also topics. This tool makes it possible to trace the discussion of various issues and ideas throughout the volume and across the various essays. The book will thus prove useful even in libraries that already shelve the original sources in which the essays first appeared. At least one essayist appears to have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the reprinting to update slightly her original argument, but in general the essays seem to adhere to their original forms.
Some of the essays are excerpted rather than complete, although all are of substantial length. The cuts have been carefully made and produce little sense of disruption, although it might be good for Longman (in the interests of truth in advertising) to make the inclusion of abridgments more apparent in future volumes of this series. The typefaces range from small to smaller, but the occasional eye strain is well worth the opportunity to read so many substantive pieces. Better small type and more words than larger type and fewer ideas.
- Occasionally the primary texts get lost a bit in some of the theorizing, so it was refreshing when reading the piece by Katharine Rogers to see occasional references to the term "beauty" (a topic not mentioned frequently enough to be included in the index). This is very much a book of its time in its tendency to treat literary texts as jumping-off points for discussions of ideas, society, history, and ideology. Perhaps the day will come when someone will edit an anthology of criticism dealing with early women writers that treats them primarily as writers -- as highly skilled artists of language. Pacheco's collection, however, does very well what it sets out to do, and both the editor and the publisher deserve our hearty thanks.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).