Hayes, Kevin J. | A Colonial Woman's BookshelfA Colonial Woman's Bookshelf

A Colonial Woman's Bookshelf

Hayes, Kevin J.

Cloth Edition, $35.00s
Cloth ISBN: 0-87049-937-8
Status: Out of Print
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Despite major advances in women's history, literary history, and the history of the book, the intellectual life of women in colonial America has been a largely neglected area of scholarship. A Colonial Woman's Bookshelf represents a significant step in filling that void. Kevin J. Hayes draws upon an impressive array of primary materials to describe in detail the kinds of books these women read and the reasons why they read them.

As Hayes notes, recent studies on the literary tastes of early American women have concentrated on the post-revolutionary period, when a number of important women novelists emerged. Yet, he observes, women were reading long before they began writing and publishing novels, and, in fact, mounting evidence now suggests that literacy rates among colonial women were much higher than was previously supposed.

To reconstruct what works might have filled a typical colonial woman's bookshelf, Hayes has mined such sources as wills and estate inventories, surviving volumes inscribed by women, public and private library catalogs, sales ledgers, borrowing records from subscription libraries, and contemporary biographical sketches of notable colonial women. Supplementing this research with recent bibliographical scholarship, Hayes identifies several categories of reading material. These range from devotional works and conduct books to midwifery guides and cookery books, from novels and travel books to science books. He pinpoints dozens of individual titles and includes an extended discussion of how two articulate colonial women—Eliza Lucas and Esther Edwards Burr—responded to Samuel Richardson's Pamela, a novel that gained enormous popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. In his concluding chapter, he describes the tensions that were developing near the end of the colonial period between the emerging cult of domesticity and the appetite for learning (especially scientific learning) that many women displayed.

With its meticulous research and rich detail, A Colonial Woman's Bookshelf makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the complexities of life in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America.

The Author: Kevin J. Hayes is assistant professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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