Author Biography

David Mazella (PI) is an Associate Professor of British Literature at the University of Houston. He is the author of The Making of Modern Cynicism (University of Virginia Press, 2007) and articles on Sterne, Lillo, Hobbes, Swift, and 18c Dialogues of the Dead. This is a spinoff from the research for his current book project, a cultural and literary history of the year 1771 in 4 cities.


This essay argues that literary histories organized around a single genre, narratives of national formation, or canonical male authors cannot do justice to the complexities of women’s participation in eighteenth-century British genres. Instead, this essay offers an alternative approach based on the reduction of the geotemporal scope to the literary productions of a single year in three cities. Working with the ESTC records for the 2000+ items produced in these cities helped produce a dataset that allowed us to recreate each city's literary and non-literary genre system, print environment, and "historical present" for the target year. This inventory became the basis for a microhistory of women's literary and nonliterary textual production for this year, organized by city, category, and genre. From this project we learned of London's overwhelming commercial dominance for genres both literary (sentimental fiction, semifictional memoirs, religious elegy) and non-literary and "improving" (both Montagus, Macaulay, Talbot). Women in the other two cities contributed largely through salon and coterie activities or didactic/devotional writings. Finally, the temporalized notion of “perplexity” identifies a characteristic pause in action when female characters are forced to place their trust in men of unknown character: this is a scenario that plays out through a variety of genres during this year, from sentimental fiction to pro- and anti-war polemics. Our microhistorical, scaled-down approach to feminist literary history offers a version of "recovery and counter-representation" that can accommodate multiple recovery projects, fresh perspectives, and deeper inquiries into once-neglected or newly available sources.


1771, feminist literary history, genre, digital humanities, annuallized literary criticism