Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Elaine Hobby



Elaine Hobby has an esteemed career in women’s writing, who has a keen interest in focusing particularly on previously forgotten or unknown women writers of the early sixteenth century. Elaine grew up in England but was brought up with a very secure sense of being Welsh. She proceeded to study at the University of Birmingham, receiving her BA in 1978 and PhD in 1984, later achieving her master’s degree from Essex University in 1980.[1] Hobby then went on to be a “lecturer in at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (which has since morphed into Anglia Polytechnic University), and before that was based in the USA from 1981-83 as a Harkness Fellow.”[1] Hobby is currently a Professor Emerita at Loughborough University, where she started a career in 1988. Elaine is not known to have any famous relatives, especially not in academic research or women’s writing, interesting she was actually “comes from a family whose members have not usually stayed in education beyond the minimum leaving age”[1] which makes her success in this academic field I believe, even more impressive.



Elaine has a large array of works in which she is responsible for writing and editing, some of her most notable publications include Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing, 1649-1688 (1988), co-editor of Her Own Life: Autobiographical Writings by Seventeenth-Century Women (1989), What Lesbians Do in Books (1991), and The Midwives Book (1999).[2] This selection of publication has contributed largely to the rediscoveries of a plethora of early women writers to which were previously believed to have been lost to history. As a result, Elaine’s works have also contributed largely to the intellectual debates surfacing around what was considered to be ‘literary’ works, her research adding invaluable insight. This research into these early women writers contributed greatly to the progression of women’s writings through dissecting “genres not generally regarded as literary – those women wrote political pamphlets, religious meditations, cookery books and midwifery manuals rather more than they composed poetry, plays, or fiction.”[1] Through her extensive research of such material, Elaine research has “usually been inter-disciplinary”[1] which has allowed her to have a thorough knowledge of domains such as medicine, midwifery, and theology, adding to the value her works have, in capturing the breadth of seventeenth century women’s writing. Through this research she has also captured a greater understanding of key historical moments and figures such as Aphra Behn, which have created a clearer and more accurate depiction of early history, finally recognising the achievements and contributions of the women of that time.



Elaine’s contributions leave her with a reputation and legacy that go almost unmatched in her advancements of early women’s writings. Elaine’s work is important because she has used her research to allow contemporary audiences with the ability to understand the undoubtable value that women writers contributed both during their time and now. The previous ideology that there were no female writers of notoriety before the 18th century is consistently being debunked through Elaine’s work which aims to highlight and give accurate depictions of these women. Currently she is working on a large project titled Aphra Behn in the Digital Age in which she heads a large team internationally responsible for editing Aphra Behn''s Complete Works.[1] Behn holds a large amount of significance to both Hobby and woman generally, as Behn was known “not only Britain’s first professional woman playwright, but also a poet, fiction-writer, and translator from French.”[1] Regardless of her age, Elain continues from her strong feminist position from the outset of her first publication in 1988, Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing, onto her most recent and ongoing projects, highlighting her unwavering commitment to research and her status as a life-long learner and advocate for women.

Elaine has made an unparalleled impact on the thousands of students she has taught over her decades as a teacher, in an area which was considered a rather obscure and niche area of research and interest. Moreover, as it was wildly agreed amongst the Loughborough University that Elaine “as Head of the Department of English and Drama from 2006 to 2013, she also took especial delight in encouraging her colleagues to pursue their own intellectual passions, contributing to the rich environment now offered in our English and drama programmes.”[1] I believe people’s opinions of Elaine only deeper in respect as time goes on as she continues to work with and inspire the people around her to pursue their own passions and research, making her reputation and legacy one of immense respect and passion for her dedication to women’s writing.



“HOBBY, Elaine (Ann).” Encyclopedia.com, 2005, www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/hobby-elaine-ann.

“Professor Elaine Hobby.” Loughborough University, 2021, www.lboro.ac.uk/subjects/english/staff/elaine-hobby/.  

  1. a b c d e f g h “HOBBY, Elaine (Ann).” Encyclopedia.com, 2005, www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/hobby-elaine-ann
  2. “Professor Elaine Hobby.” Loughborough University, 2021, www.lboro.ac.uk/subjects/english/staff/elaine-hobby/.

Further reading


To fully understand the quality of the research and work undertaken by Elaine it is advisable to look more into her own publications and co-publications into these early women writers. These publications as stated above include Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing, 1649-1688, 1988, co-editor of Her Own Life: Autobiographical Writings by Seventeenth-Century Women, 1989; What Lesbians Do in Books, 1991; and The Midwives Book, 1999. 2