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Author of the Month: Susan Carlile

Published: August 16, 2010

Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s

Susan Carlile, associate professor, English

Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s, published by Lehigh University Press in 2010, addresses the importance of the mid-18th century in literary history and considers the active role women writers played in the development of the novel. It highlights how writers such as Eliza Haywood, Sarah Scott, Sarah Fielding and Charlotte Lennox exerted control over their literary circumstances. Masters explores how these authors mined their prospects, employing their intellectual agility to respond to the changing literary marketplace, merging domestic ideals, reader responses, shifting notions of the genre, and the changing nature of knowledge. The dozen essays from literary experts worldwide reveal that women writers had a more significant role in the development of the novel than previously was believed and that their texts spoke in more pointed ways about the social inequality that often relegated women to the status of male property. The book also speaks to the overlap between romantic and sentimental fiction. Reading these essays side by side is meant to illuminate how the period’s women authors helped to renovate the novel as a genre and worked to claim it for feminism as they challenged and educated their readers. Carlile explains that the book is divided into four sections which detail how women novelists challenged the status quo, engaged in epistemological shifts, created a community, and performed in the literary marketplace. “It is not difficult to argue that during the 1750s women published as much as their male counterparts,” she said. “When you add up the numbers of titles, you get a nearly equal output by female and male novelists. Yet the traditional narrative claims that men published more than women did. It is often argued that the 18th-century novel is framed by Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) and Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy,(1759), but you could also bookend this decade with fascinating women’s novels like Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, (1749) and Sarah Scott’s Histories of the Some of the Penitents of the Magdalen House (1759). Reframing literary history suggests a different story.” In her previous work, Carlile published a revival of a long-lost 18th-century novel titled Henrietta by Charlotte Lennox (1729/1730-1804) as part of a series from the University Press of Kentucky. She received her B.A. from Taylor University and both her M.A. and Ph.D. from Arizona State University. Carlile joined the university in 2001.

Author of the Month