Review: Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era

This book was sent to me by Pen and Sword Books in exchange for an honest review.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. I really enjoy Pen and Sword’s “broad overview” style books—they’re quick reads that cover a lot of material in a fairly short book. Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era: The Eighteenth Century Struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World by Mike Rendell fits into this category.

In his well-written biography, Rendell uses four categories for the 17 women covered in the book: Arts and Literature, The Scientific World, Business and Commerce, and Reformers and Educationalists. He covered three women in each category except for Business where seven biographies are featured. I felt like of the four categories, the Business one was the weakest, even with seven women featured. Most of these women inherited their businesses from their husbands. Which… does that make a woman a trailblazer? I’m not sure.

With that being said, the other sections were wonderful. I especially enjoyed the biographies on Fanny Burney, Sarah Siddons, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (definitely going to be reading more about her), Hannah Moore, Elizabeth Fry, and, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft. Chapters are a good length and many of the featured biographies were fascinating.

With all of that being said, I was genuinely alarmed by the sex-shamey bit about Restoration playwright Aphra Behn: “She wrote not so much about love as about sex, whether heterosexual, lesbian, or gay. In doing so it can be argued that she helped set back the cause of other female writers by a hundred years.”

If the content of her writing was the real issue, then the sexuality-themed words of male writers of the day should also have been held to the same standard, which, of course, they were not. Perhaps the author shouldn’t have suggested so lightly that a “trailblazing woman” should censor herself and keep her craft more in line. That suggestion kind of goes against the whole thread of this book. These women broke the rules and slowly helped make lives better and freer for women. Although not of the Georgian era, Behn should be treated with the same respect.

jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover, and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. Her debut non-fiction book, The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII is now available. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast and is working on her debut historical fiction novel.
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  • Mike Rendell

    Thanks so much for troubling to write a review – it is much appreciated. But I think that you may have misunderstood my comments about Aphra Benn: I am not being judgmental – simply pointing out that in the 17th Century hypocrisy was so rampant that it was considered O.K. for a man to write about sex – but an absolute no-no for a woman to do so. Men honestly believed that women could not control their emotions – that the idea of women writing romances – and literature of a sexual nature – would cause serious problems within Society.
    The 17th and 18th centuries were not ready for Aphra Benn. In just the same way as Mary Wollstonecraft can be said to have held back the cause of equality by promoting such a “shameful” lifestyle – so Aphra Benn can be argued to have gone too far and too fast for her contemporaries. It is only now that we can look back at people such as Aphra B and Mary W and appreciate that they really were ‘ahead of their time’.

    • Jillianne

      Perhaps I did misunderstand. I noticed a few other reviews on Goodreads that made the same comment so perhaps your meaning was not as clear as it could have been. I really did enjoy the book.


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