Earlier this year Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the British magazine The New Statesman, hosted six conversations for its podcast Hidden Histories. That first series of recordings is titled “The Great Forgetting,” and it focuses on the early history of the British novel.
The standard summary of that topic presents a progression through Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Tobias Smollett, and a few other authors before getting to Jane Austen. And there’s nothing wrong with those novelists. (Well, except Richardson.)
Yet in that eighteenth century most British novels were written by women. Likewise, people expected women to be the main audience for most novels, so many if not most novels were about women. So how does that usual list of British novelists before Austen contain nothing but men?
“The Great Forgetting” aims to unearth the female novelists who worked before Austen, and the female literary society that existed in 1700s Britain. Lewis’s interlocutors are Sophie Coulombeau, Elizabeth Edwards, and Jennie Batchelor, scholars at different British universities. Their six conversations are on these topics:
- Re-writing the Rise of the Novel: whom do conventional accounts of the era overlook?
- Bluestocking Culture: how did women become writers?
- Sociable Spaces: what did it mean to have a magazine by women?
- Unsex’d Females: women writers and radical politics
- Fight Club: who’s the most interesting female writer of the eighteenth century?
- The Great Forgetting: why are the authors we remember mostly men?