Degree Granting Department
Pat Rogers, Ph.D
Eighteenth century, Manley, Barber, Pilkington
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is not traditionally known for valuing the company of women. While contemporary critics tend to be more forgiving and defer to the prevailing values of the eighteenth century, they generally do not dwell on the positive influence that Swift had on female writers of his day. This thesis will work towards remedying that omission by analyzing the writing of three prominent female contemporaries of Swift: Delariviere Manley, Mary Barber and Laetitia Pilkington. While varying in writing ability, each of the three women in this thesis had a personal relationship with Swift, was invited to join his "inner circle" for a time and received his advice on a variety of issues. Despite substantial analysis to the contrary, this thesis will emphasize the positive impact that Swift had on women writers of his day.
While surely influenced by the mores of his time that relegated female writing to the "lower rungs" of literature, Swift nevertheless sought women out, reviewed their work and offered his suggestions and insights. Ever the keen social observer, Swift often expressed his doubts about the capabilities of the female mind through the veil of satire or by employing alternate literary voices. However, the Dean's ridicule does not mean that he was merely an insensitive misogynist. Despite the opinion of some critics, Swift was concerned with the development of the female mind, and dedicated human behavior troubled him deeply, he was nevertheless able and willing to support and befriend individual acquaintances (particularly females), lending them both personal and literary advice. Therefore, rather than bow to the prevailing societal pressures that kept women writers at arm's length, Swift welcomed female companionship, and helped them to become effective literary voices.
The template that he advocated, however, was from the "male" perspective, as he encouraged his female protges to emulate "traditional" masculine behaviors in both their personal and literary endeavors. Therefore, this thesis focuses on three prominent female writers who benefited from the Dean's friendship and advice: Delariviere Manley (best known for her influential New Atalantis), Mary Barber (focusing primarily on her Poems on Several Occasions), and Laetitia Pilkington (notably through her groundbreaking The Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington). While each writer wrote in a distinctive manner and possessed different public personas, Manley was perhaps the most talented of the three; in fact, many critics regard her as Swift's peer rather than simply a follower. Indeed, they were both concerned with many of the same issues, including dissatisfaction with those in power, a desire to satirically comment on the issues of the day and general disdain for the deficiencies of mankind.
A primary influence for this thesis is the seminal work of Margaret Anne Doody. Her scholarship sheds light on Swift's positive influence on his female companions, as evidenced in numerous essays, including her essential "Swift among the Women" (1998). In this work, Doody offers evidence to support the Dean's concern for his female followers). This analysis will support her work and clarify the vital role that Swift played in the development of eighteenth century female writers.
Scholar Commons Citation
Gamache, Robert N., "Swift: Peculiar supporter of female writers" (2009). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.