CENTURIES OF FEMALE DAYS: Englishwomen's Private Diaries by Harriet Blodgett

CENTURIES OF FEMALE DAYS: Englishwomen's Private Diaries

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A questionable survey of English women's experience as recorded in diaries ranging from the 17th century to the early 20th--a survey in which Blodgett proposes that women's lives during this 300-year period are more similar than different, especially concerning experiences of marriage, childbirth, patriarchal culture, and ""female psychology."" The author's daring claim--that gender above all else defines women's experience--is undercut by her confining her research to already published British diaries and, astoundingly, only those available in American libraries. Even more inhibiting and nonrepresentative of the general population is that, of the 88 diarists she surveys, all but two are aristocratic women, and many more eminent writers. (Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are but a few of the stellar diarists included here.) Blodgett accords no special status to these women's diaries, arguing only that, along with letters, diaries were women's primary form of writing during this period--a form of ""literature subjectively interpreting life."" Chapters are arranged thematically (""On Women's Rights,"" ""On Female Psychology and Daughterhood"") to emphasize the continuity of women's lives. Yet, instead of allowing diarists themselves to elucidate aspects of their experience left out of conventional histories, Blodgett all too often uses their voices to illustrate already-known components of European life. Most successful is the chapter ""On Marriage and Motherhood,"" which does provide insight into women's acceptance of marriage customs and experiences of childbirth that might not otherwise have been gleaned from historical accounts. Much remains to be learned about the history of women's lives, but this hastily researched volume doesn't add much to our knowledge.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1988
Publisher: Rutgers Univ. Press