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The University of Southampton

Insights into women’s lives in the eighteenth century

Published: 23 November 2010
Title page from The Governess, 1749

The three hundredth birthday of the novelist Sarah Fielding (sister of the more famous Henry) was marked in style at Chawton House Library with a talk by Professor Isobel Grundy from the University of Alberta in Canada.

Alongside more famous literary names such as Jane Austen and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Sarah was a writer who helped to shape the course of literary history, as an innovator not in one field but in several. But unlike them, she is forgotten outside the circle of those who live by books.

This public lecture looked broadly at her potential interest for today’s readers. What do we lose by not knowing about Sarah Fielding? What made this woman a writer? The dysfunctional family of her birth, the love of learning which most people saw as unfeminine? The lack of a dowry, the need to earn, a desire for fame? Her unique experience fed some extraordinary books and each has its fascination.

The lecture was followed by Penelope Cave, a prize-winning harpsichordist who played music from a range of eighteenth century music including pieces from George Frideric Handel, Elisabetta de Gambarini and Thomas Chilcot. Penelope is studying for a PhD at the School of Humanities.

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