A History of Women’s Writing
Since the 1970s, feminist scholarship has produced a wealth of new knowledge about women’s writing in every period, in every kind, in many countries. In spite of the richness of contemporary scholarship, however, there has been no comprehensive literary history of writing by British women (or indeed by women writing in many other national traditions). That is partly because literary history was, during the last third of the twentieth century, under a disapproving cloud. Charges against “traditional” literary history were paralysing in their impact: no single history could be an accurate account of the whole; traditional, single-voiced narrative obliterated the multiple narratives of ‘minority’ groups (including women); traditional narrative history served the ideology of the nation-state.
Arriving powerfully on the intellectual scene just when women’s writing needed a history, those serious, valid, and undermining criticisms ensured that for too long the traditions of women’s writing would remain without a history. But students of women’s writing have for years expressed a need for a broad literary history centred in women’s production and capable of building on the wealth of new knowledge modern scholarship has produced. That need motivates the Orlando history.
While mindful of the charges against traditional literary history, Orlando aims to avoid these pitfalls, partly through its use of a new structure which guards it against the monolithic or hegemonic. It will bring together a macro-history (three volumes of narrative literary history, overall historical guides to extended periods of history) and an extensive micro-history (the very large textbase of accounts of individuals in their time). The volumes are single-authored, except in the case of the volume on twentieth-century writing which is jointly authored. The textbase, by contrast, is the product of many different writing voices conjoined in a uniquely structured system of electronic text. The two will be digitally linked, so that the compression of narrative history opens up, through reference to the textbase, into exploration of the complexities of detail.
The Orlando history focuses on gender and other aspects of cultural formation, and it emphasises the intellectual, material, political, and social conditions, including writing by men, that have, over time, helped to shape writing by women. These, and many other considerations, have determined the Orlando Project’s tagsets (or DTDs). These are the encoding systems that are the fundamental link between the textbase content and its digital delivery.
Orlando, the electronic textbase on women’s writing in the British Isles, published in June 2006 (www.cambridge.org/orlandoonline), will be accompanied by, and linked to, the three-volume Orlando History of Women’s Writing in the British Isles, which are scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2007.
Isobel Grundy, Vindicating Their Sex: Pre-Victorian Women’s Writing in the British Isles
Susan Brown, Contradictions and Continuities: Women’s Writing in the British Isles, 1820-1890
Patricia Clements, Jo-Ann Wallace, Rebecca Cameron, FreeWoman: Modern Women’s Writing in the British Isles