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Romantic Women Writers and Their Commonplace Books
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Women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries changed the genre of commonplace books. During the Romantic period, women shifted emphasis away from classical texts and conduct literature toward colloquial, individualized compilations. This generic shift, fostered by the advent of print culture, suited women’s practical needs and creativity. Scholarship has often excluded the commonplace books of women— especially Scottish, Welsh, and Irish women--from discussions of genre or textual studies. Building upon the scholarship of David Allan and Earle Havens, I redress this oversight. I analyze literary, financial, and political compilations, as an emerging trivium in commonplace books, comprising significant subject areas in women’s commonplacing. Case studies of women writers in this dissertation demonstrate the significance of commonplace books as workspaces for composing and revising self-authored and other-authored literary works—especially poetry. Angela Reyner, Elizabeth Rose of Kilravock Castle, and Dorothy Wordsworth included various modes of poetic expression and emendation in their commonplace books. Wordsworth’s commonplace books, correspondence, and journals suggest how and why she edited and versioned her poetry, which circulated through social networks and coteries. Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby (the Ladies of Llangollen), Rose, and Wordsworth exemplify in their commonplacing how and why women compiled shopping memoranda, registers, and asset inventories. Ponsonby’s commonplace book especially demonstrates how property was recorded using cartographic accountancy, which conflates sketching, surveying, and mapping with accounting. Women’s commonplacing suggests that they kept valuatory records of ownership or stewardship that indicate what women valued, revealing their long-term investment perspectives. Women valued sociability and included the public sphere of shared ideas in their commonplace books. In crafting commonplace books with resources from periodicals and the domestic sphere or commonplacing the domestic domain itself, women expressed cultural, economic, and socio-political opinions and voiced controversies in relation to identity and community. Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson), Ponsonby, and Butler resisted English hegemony by incorporating into their commonplacing Celtic inter-linkages, Gothic artifacts, or cultural-political awareness of new nationalism. Commonplace books continue to evolve. On digital Internet sites, such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, commonplacing maintains the relevant need to share and retain ideas—informing social networks of communication.
Pfuntner, Deborah Lynn (2016). Romantic Women Writers and Their Commonplace Books. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from