Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference

A collaborative project created by students enrolled in ENGL3013, "Women's Writing," at the University of Newcastle, Australia.









Part I: Women Writers

Mary Bonaventure Browne (c. 1610–c. 1670)
Lucy Cary (1619–1650)
Frances Cook (d. 1659)
Eleanor, countess of Desmond (c.1545–1638)
Mary Fage (fl. 1637)
Ann, Lady Fanshawe (1625–1680)
Anne Finch (1661–1720)
Brighid Fitzgerald (Nic Gearailt, c.1589–1682)
Constance Aston Fowler (d. 1664)
Elizabeth Hanson (1684–c. 1737)
Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681)
Katherine Jones, Viscountess Ranelagh (1615–1691)
Mary Knatchbull (1610–1696)
Sarah Kemble Knight (1666–1727)
Delarivier Manley (1663–1724)
Marie Maitland (d. 1596)
Fionnghuala Ní Bhriain (c.1557–c.1617)
Gráinne Ní Mháille (c.1530–c.1603; al. Grace O'Malley)
Anne Vaughan Locke Prowse (c. 1533–after 1590)
Laetitia Pilkington (c. 1709–1750)
Anne Southwell (1573–1636)
Gertrude Aston Thimelby (1617–1668)
Elizabeth Tyrwhit (d. 1578)
Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784)

Part II: Scholars, Theorists, and Projects


Scholars of Women's Writing: Early Modern to Contemporary


Thomas Bentley (2)

Peter Davidson

Alexander Dyce (2)

Margaret Hannay

Barbara Kiefer Lewalski – Theorist/Academic/Researcher


On February 22, 1931 in Topeka, Kansas, Barbara Kiefer (later Lewalski) was born to John, a farmer, and Vivo Kiefer, a school teacher and speech therapist. Lewalski went on to study at the Emporia State University, Kansas, where she attained a Bachelor of Science, then succeeding in her Ph.D. in 1956 from the prestigious University of Chicago. Lewalski’s Ph.D. supervisor was Ernest Sirluck, who had been an important literary commentator on Milton’s work. After completing her doctorate, Lewalski went on to teach and work at Brown University, in three different roles, in the years between 1956 to 1982. After this period, she would become Professor of English Literature, as well as History and Literature, at Harvard University. Lewalski retired from this position, having taught there from 1983 to 2010.

In 1966, Lewalski became a Guggenheim fellow, a great honour for academics of the arts in the United States. In the year 1980 she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1986 became a member of the American Philosophical Society (Dubrow 181).

Barbara married Ken Lewalski, a fellow professor at Brown University, and the pair had one son, David Lewalski. Kenneth passed away during 2006, and Barbara passed away in 2018, due to a heart attack, brought on by congenital heart disease. Barbara is remembered for her contributions to Renaissance literature, and to her barrier-breaking work on Milton.


Stretching for more than sixty years, Lewalski’s works and contributions to the field of literature, history, and renaissance understandings are vast. Lewalski’s main focus rested on Milton’s work, following her Ph.D. supervisor, Ernest Sirluck. Her first article published in 1953 was titled ‘The Authorship of Ancient Bounds’, which discusses an unsigned tract, thought to be written by Joshua Sprigge in 1645, speaking of religious toleration (Kiefer). In this work it is evident a holistic and liberal approach, which is so distinctive of Lewalski’s later publications.

Lewalski contributed much to the literary history of Milton’s era, and beside her own authored books, is credited as editor in numerous other works. We also find a strong presence as a research expert, and of course as educator, both at Brown and Harvard.

The first full book published by Lewalski in 1966 was ‘

Typology and Poetry: A Consideration of Herbert, Vaughan, and Marvell’, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric’, ‘"Paradise Lost" and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms’, ‘Writing Women in Jacobean England’, ‘Form and Reform in Renaissance England’, and ‘The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography’.

In her work ‘Writing Women in Jacobean England’, Lewalski discusses the active roles of nine featured women writers, and contends that they were not passive, but rather formed their own identity and power. This is an important point to make on early women literature, as it diverges from the commonly accepted notion of women in the Renaissance as sidelined.

While scholars generally see her work as important in gaining useful insights into the roles of women in early modern literature, some scholars argue that some of her work lacked critical and evidential analysis.

Lewalski’s re-evaluation of women writers in Jacobean England, served to change the detrimental archaic paradigm of women as less valuable or influential, than men writers (Loewenstein 175).


Throughout her long academic career, Lewalski displayed her concern with engrained ideas which had been present in early modern literature. These concerns manifested themselves as ideas surrounding religious ethics, and ideas of patriarchy, and authors who challenged these views.

Lewalski leaves a legacy of spearheading a field which had been ignored by many previous academics, and paved the way for important discussions of gender roles, and on the significance of women writers of the past. Lewalski stands as a major figure in the field of English literary studies, which is evident not only in the numerous works which have been authored and edited by her, but by the awards which have been given to her for her contributions.

Her analyses and study of devotional lyric is an area which Lewalski revolutionised, by taking this often-overlooked genre and creating a new paradigm for understanding (Martz). What Lewalski gave to the field of English literary studies, is a wealth of critical thinking, which would go on to inspire the next generations of academics. Richard Strier notes that before Lewalski’s work, there was but a single text which dominated the reading of this genre – Lous L. Martz’ ‘Poetry of Meditation’. Strier notes that this is important because a singular authority can create a narrow view of history, and leaves little room for those without evidence of another analyses (Strier 185).

Juliet Fleming, however, views Lewalski’s work with more critical eyes, and discusses that her conservative views on feminism may not be as relevant or revolutionary at the turn of the millennium, as they were during the time when the majority of her work was written and published. Fleming also states that while the work makes for a good introduction, it is perhaps too near-sighted, she states ‘Lewalski’s own approach may help to popularize writing by early modern women but comprises only the beginning of an adequate account of it.’ (Fleming 201).


Clare, Janet. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, "Writing Women in Jacobean England" (Book Review). vol. 46, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995.

Dubrow, Heather. "Genre in Barbara Lewalski's Career/The Genre of Barbara Lewalski's Career." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp. 180-183.

Ferguson, Margaret W. Moderation and its Discontents: Recent Work on Renaissance Women. vol. 20, Feminist Studies, Inc, College Park, Md, 1994.

Fleming, Juliet. "Writing Women in Jacobean England Barbara K. Lewalski." The Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 2, 1994, pp. 199-204.

Kiefer, Barbara. "The Authorship of Ancient Bounds." Church History, vol. 22, no. 3, 1953, pp. 192-196.

Lewalski, Barbara K. Donne's Anniversaries and the Poetry of Praise: The Creation of a Symbolic Mode. vol. 1508., Princeton University Press, Princeton; Jackson, 2016.

Lewalski, Barbara K. Milton’s Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning and Art of Paradise Regained. Providence, Brown University Press, 1966. Internet Archive

Lewalski, Barbara K. Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms. Princeton University Press, Princeton;Ewing;, 2016.

Lewalski, Barbara K. "Writing Women and Reading the Renaissance." Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 4, 1991, pp. 792-821.

Loewenstein, David. "Five Perspectives on Barbara Lewalski's Path‐breaking Scholarship and Career: Preface." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp. 175-175.

Madsen, William G. "Milton's Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning, and Art of "Paradise Regained" . Barbara Kiefer Lewalski , Milton." Modern Philology, vol. 65, no. 3, 1968, pp. 251-253.

Martz, Louis L. The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn, 1974.

Strier, Richard. "Barbara Lewalski and a Critical Revolution." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp. 184-186.

Cristina Malcolmson

Josephine A. Roberts

Mihoko Suzuki (2)

Janet M. Todd

Collaborations and Projects

WINK: Women’s Invisible Ink

Early Modern Women's Complain Poetry Index


The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing (RECIRC) is a research project that focuses on the impact and influence female writers and their productions had between 1550-1700. The project is led by Marie-Louise Coolahan and is based at the National University of Ireland Galway. Research was conducted on writers who were read, born in or resided in Anglophone countries, which meant that the works were not all written in English. RECIRC’s aim is to produce a quantitative data base of these works from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The research questions that guided RECIRC’s analysis of these works were:

1. How did texts by women circulate?

2. Which female authors were read and by whom?

3. How were they read?

4. How did women build reputations as writers?

5. How did gender shape ideas about authorship?


RECIRC is a project that involves a team of 11 researchers based at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

RECIRC is led by Marie-Louise Coolahan, the Principal Investigator with a background as a Professor of English at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her own professional experiences include being the author of Women, Writing, and Language in Early Modern Ireland (Oxford UP, 2010) as well as a strong repertoire of articles and essays on early textual transmissions.

Bronagh McShane is part of the 11-person research team and is a social historian that specialises in the history of women, religion and confessionalisation in early modern Ireland and Europe. She has been published broadly and is currently conducting her own study of early modern Irish nuns.

Emilie K.M. Murphy is another member of the team and is a cultural historian whose research within RECIRC is in the transmission and translation of female-authored texts across sixteenth and seventeenth century convents and seminaries.

Felicity Maxwell’s role within the research team is focused on women’s and servants’ letters, combined with English literature, social and cultural history, and the study of manuscripts. Felicity is widely published and is currently writing a monograph extending her research for RECIRC titled, Serving the Protestant Public: Gender, Vocation and Collaboration.

The fifth member of the research team is Evan Bourke, a literary historian with a specialisation in women’s writing, epistolary culture, network analysis and data visualization. His PhD thesis analysed the formation and subsequent reputation of three women connected to Samuel Hartlib’s correspondence.

Sajed Chowdhury, prior to joining RECIRC was Modern Humanities Research Association Fellow for the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700. His experiences led his research within RECIRC to focus on early women’s writings, manuscript cultures and the history of science.

Erin A. McCarthy is another broadly published member of the research team whose particular interest in poetry and poetics, textual theory, and the history of material texts and reading, allow her to add to RECIRCs database with a keen engagement of the transmission and reception of women’s writing in manuscript miscellanies.

Mark Empey, another member of the research team and a cultural historian, has published articles and essays on the history of books, scholarly networks, and journaled religious conflicts, and has a particular interest in book history.

The eighth member of the research team is Wes Hamrick. He specialises in British and Irish literature of the eighteenth century, and its poetry, manuscripts and printing, His research project is on the influence of British print culture on Irish, Scots Gaelic, Scot’s vernacular, and Welsh.

Ioanna Kyvernitou is a PhD student, and her research within RECIRC investigates the way women’s studies, the history of philosophy and ontological engineering combine with and are related to philosophical issues.

David Kelly is responsible for the design and development of RECIRCs quantitative and analytical database.


There are four outlined work packages within RECIRC.

1. Transnational Religious Networks is researched by Dr Bronagh McShane and Dr Emilie K.M. Murphy and focuses on the translation and transmission of female authored texts across Europe within the Catholic religious order. This research consulted religious orders such as: Augustinians, Benedictines, Brussels, and Dunkirk, Poor Clares, as well as the Bodleian Library, British Library, and the Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

2. The International Republic of Letters is researched by Dr Felicity Maxwell and Dr Evan Bourke and it focuses on the international circulation of letters across Europe as the key mode of communication of ideas and texts by women, thus creating intellectual networks. This work package is based on the Hartlib Papers.

3. The Manuscript Miscellany as Instrument of Circulation and Site of Reception is researched by Dr Sajed Chowdhury and Dr Erin A. McCarthy. It focuses on the reception towards women’s writing, specifically within manuscript miscellany, investigating varying methods of reception through compilation, adaptation, and excerptions. The research for this work package was conducted through an audit of the manuscript collections held at the Bodleian Library, The British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Huntington Library, through this audit 750 miscellanies were found, 128 of which contained women’s writing.

4. Transmission Trails and Book Ownership is researched by Dr Mark Empey. This work package creates a map of the transmission of women’s texts through evidence in early modern libraries, patterns of book ownership and the attribution of an author. This was researched through catalogues of auctions, book lists, inventories, wills, and private libraries, using Early English Books Online and Private Libraries of Renaissance England.

The IRC work package focuses on The Reception and Circulation of Irish Women’s Writing, 1550-1800. It is researched by Dr Wes Hamrick and details the transmission and translation of Irish women’s writing up to 1800, a hundred years past RECIRCs initial focus of 1550-1700. This work package contributes to critical study about multi-lingual anthologies and comparative studies.

Reputation/ Legacy:

The RECIRC research project’s professional reputation is solidified by its supporters, The European Research Council, The National University of Ireland Galway, The Irish Research Council, and the Moore Institute. Their attention to detail and historical accuracy is demonstrated through RECIRCs efforts to ensure that at least two researchers have checked every piece of evidence, yet they still encourage others to consult additional primary evidence to consolidate their knowledge.

RECIRC is also strengthening the legacy of many women writers through their data demonstrating the most commonly seen and circulated authors like, Queen Elizabeth I, Katherine Jones, Viscountess Ranelagh, Mary Percy, Abbess of Brussels Benedictine convent and more.

The RECIRC database contains: • 1,878 female authors from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, North America, the Low Countries, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, from classical to early modern times. • 7,319 works authored by women. • 4,845 receptions of female authors and their works by 678 identified people in 1,431 different sources. • 15% of received authors were received twice or more. • 13% of receptions in the dataset are anonymous, meaning the identity of the author, audience or owner cannot be identified.

The RECIRC research team admits that there is far more material that is continuously being uncovered and recorded that they could not locate and analyse within their five-year time frame for their research project, so they leave an open-ended legacy that can be added to by further research in the future.


@RECIRC_. "EM Women's Writing". Twitter, 2014. Bourke, Evan. "Female Involvement, Membership, And Centrality: A Social Network Analysis of The Hartlib Circle". Special Issue: Collaboration, Translation, Publication: Literary and Linguistic Exchanges Between Early Modern England And Europe, vol 14, no. 4, 2017. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/lic3.12388. Coolahan, Marie-Louise. "The Cultural Dynamics of Reception". Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol 50, no. 1, 2020. Duke University Press. McShane, Bronagh Ann. "An Introduction To RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700". Paisajes Espirituales, 2017. RECIRC. "RECIRC | The Reception & Circulation of Early Modern Women's Writing, 1550 - 1700 | NUI Galway | ERC". Recirc.Nuigalway.Ie, 2020.