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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.