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Women Peasant Poets in Eighteenth-Century England, Scotland, and Germany

Women Peasant Poets in Eighteenth-Century England, Scotland, and Germany: Milkmaids on Parnassus

Susanne Kord
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81sk6
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  • Book Info
    Women Peasant Poets in Eighteenth-Century England, Scotland, and Germany
    Book Description:

    This is the first comparative study of a highly unlikely group of authors: eighteenth-century women peasants in England, Scotland, and Germany, women who, as a rule, received little or no formal education and lived by manual labor, many of them in dire poverty. Among them are the English washerwoman Mary Collier, the English domestic servants Elizabeth Hands and Molly Leapor, the German cowherd Anna Louisa Karsch, the Scottish diarywoman Janet Little, the Scottish domestic servant Christian Milne, and the English milkmaid Ann Cromartie Yearsley. Their literature is here linked with one of the major eighteenth-century aesthetic trends in all three countries, the Natural Genius craze, which culminated in highland primitivism in Scotland and England, and in the 'turm und Drang' in Germany. Kord's analysis of the peasant women's works and the bourgeois response enables us to find new answers to questions that have centrally influenced our thinking about what makes art Art. Kord's book provides a fresh look at some of this fascinating literature, and at the roles and attitudes of the lower classes and of women in the Art world of the day. It also advances a revolutionary thesis: that the eighteenth-century bourgeoisie established itself as the dominant cultural class not primarily, as is commonly held, in opposition to aristocratic culture, but more importantly through its dissociation from and suppression of lower-class art forms. SUSANNE KORD is Professor and Head of the Department of German at University College London. Her book 'Little Detours: The Letters and Plays of Luise Gottsched' was published by Camden House in 2000.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-628-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Aesthetic Evasions and Social Consequences
    (pp. 1-18)

    Literary history, as it has been written for eighteenth-century Britain and Germany, has traditionally assumed three things: first, that most, if not all, “great” writers of the age were male and middle class; second, that this was directly related to the bourgeoisie’s rise to power and cultural preeminence following the emancipation of the middle-class artist from seventeenth-century aristocratic patronage; and finally, that the two aspects that make the new bourgeois art “Art”¹ and that have, in fact, from the eighteenth century on defined all Art as such, are its independence from social, political, and biographical context and its resulting ability...

  6. 1: Back to Nature: Bourgeois Aesthetic Theory and Lower-Class Poetic Practice
    (pp. 19-47)

    The development of bourgeois aesthetic thought in England, Scotland, and Germany was intricately linked with the social ascendancy of the middle classes in these countries. The eighteenth century is commonly acknowledged as the first century marked by the bourgeois author’s emancipation from aristocratic patronage; linked with that notion are two assumptions that are central to modern understanding of eighteenth-century aesthetic thought. First, the theory that bourgeois literature, newly liberated from its seventeenth-century mercenary and submissive context, was now free to aspire to the sublime and the eternal¹ — the hallmarks of all eighteenth-century art forms that were, and are, acknowledged to...

  7. 2: The Wild and the Civilized: Poet Making
    (pp. 48-104)

    Literary patronage is worth reinvestigating with an eye to class issues, which are relevant for both patron and protégée. As discussed in the previous chapter, it is only possible to argue that patronage disappears from the eighteenth-century literary scene if one equates bourgeois literary history with literature in general.¹ Viewed differently, it would be just as easy to argue that the old-style system of patronage — consisting of a patron’s direct protection and supervision of and control over his or her protégée — is retained, albeit with some significant changes, throughout the eighteenth century. One major shift taking place with respect to...

  8. 3: The Life As the Work: Counterfeit Confessions, Bogus Biographies, Literary Lives
    (pp. 105-159)

    The continued existence of patronage throughout the eighteenth century and its near-exclusive application to lower-class poets resulted, as discussed in the previous chapter, in two far-reaching consequences. First, the phenomenon of patronage not only drastically influenced how lower-class literature was produced — through near-total control over publication in terms of access to the literary market and, consequently, significant control over writing in terms of form, content, and authorial perspective — but also how it was read. Second, the way literature was read differed significantly from new conceptualizations of the bourgeois literary enterprise: the phenomenon of patronage essentially results in a fundamental rift...

  9. 4: A Literature of Labor: Poetic Images of Country Life
    (pp. 160-193)

    Labor is a significant aspect in considering the poetic work of peasant women, and in more ways than merely the thematic or biographical. Labor as a feature in the poets’ lives and a theme in their works is of obvious importance, given that this is literature produced by laborers, that many of them viewed their poetic endeavors as antithetical to or a potential escape from (physical) labor, and that either the description or avoidance of labor constitutes a defining characteristic of some of their literature. Although I consider these contexts in this chapter, the chapter’s focus is, as with previous...

  10. 5: Inspired by Nature, Inspired by Love: Two Poets on Poetic Inspiration
    (pp. 194-215)

    Two ideas have predominated both the contemporary reception of peasant women’s poetry and later scholarship: the assumption that the author’s work must have been inspired by Nature (presumably because she was a peasant) and that the work must have been inspired by Love (presumably because she was a woman). The first idea is, as discussed in previous chapters, closely linked with conjectures voiced in aesthetic treatises about the nature poet and his or her predilections, themes, and genres;¹ the second is a notion that is not particular to the work of women peasant poets but has demonstrably influenced the reception...

  11. 6: Of Patrons and Critics: Reading the Bourgeois Reader
    (pp. 216-239)

    Virtually every woman peasant poet’s work contains several pieces in which the poet annotates, preempts, ventriloquizes, satirizes, or otherwise comments on her own projected reception in bourgeois and aristocratic circles. The critic, in particular, is accorded a major role in these poems. In nearly all works in which the professional critic appears, he assumes a spiteful and destructive personality: even in cases where reader response is depicted as positive, as it is in poetry by both Anna Louisa Karsch and Christian Milne, the critical response to their work is portrayed as inevitably devastating.¹ Hardly has the “rustic damsel issue[d] forth...

  12. Conclusion: On the Gender and Class of Art
    (pp. 240-258)

    Reviews of peasant poets, the forewords to their volumes, their autobiographical writings, their life stories as retold by their patrons and later scholars, and finally, their reception as reflected in their own work make one thing clear: that the bourgeoisie has, from its earliest definition of literature as Art in the wake of its own emancipation from aristocratic patronage, defined Art as an exclusively bourgeois enterprise. However, this state of affairs is not an accurate depiction of the literary scene in either England, Scotland, or Germany: both aristocratic and lower-class authors wrote and published in all three countries throughout the...

  13. Appendix: Short Biographies of Women Peasant Poets
    (pp. 259-272)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 273-314)
  15. Index
    (pp. 315-325)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)