Based on her popular prose writing for children, liberal Dissenter Anna Letitia Barbauld has been cited as a prominent example of the Enlightenment mother-teacher associated with the influence of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, close reading of her poetry reveals a complex maternal ideal in operation that was in part that of the Enlightenment mother-teacher, in part a modified form of republican motherhood, a strategic composite drawn, on the one hand, from classical republican discourse, which promoted the woman’s role in fostering patriotism and liberty, and, on the other, from contemporary defences of commerce, which highlighted women’s civilizing and humanizing roles. Barbauld’s poetic career is compelling in illuminating not only the complexity of the eighteenth-century maternal ideal but also its simultaneous opportunities and limitations for women. While the eighteenth-century maternal ideal allowed the possibility for exciting innovation and reinterpretation of traditional gender categories, expanding the boundaries of feminine authority and authorship, it could equally be exploited by those bent upon undermining women’s efforts to enlarge their social and cultural sphere of action.
Barbauld; Dissent; Enlightenment mother-teacher; republican motherhood; commerce
Ready, Kathryn J.
"Looking Beyond the Enlightenment Mother-Teacher: Anna Letitia Barbauld and the Eighteenth-Century Maternal Ideal,"
ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol.11: Iss.1, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/abo/vol11/iss1/3