The experiment is unquestionably a successful one. Orlando‘s most obvious utility, as with the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, involves the ability to turn to its entries on more than 800 individual British women writers for specific biographical or bibliographical information. For example, Orlando‘s entry on Jane Austen or Frances Burney is in many ways more useful than the ODNB’s: it supplies more specific dates and employs a hierarchical structure that enables the reader to jump easily to specific portions of each entry. . . . Orlando, in that sense, offers one-stop biographical and book-historical shopping. Orlando’s unique value is in providing ‘materials [that] are capable of a high degree of interaction.’ To be sure, one can do a full-text search in the ODNB for the word ‘antiquarian’ or ‘bluestocking’ and come up with some surprising and valuable results, but in Orlando, the ability to quickly investigate not only such keywords but also circles of writers—particularly by tracing connections among individual writers (male and female)—is unprecedented. One can learn not only about interpersonal connections and literary influences but also about locations, events, occupations, genres, birth position, and other categories that link British women writers (and a smaller selection of male or non-British women writers) to each other.
Two books under review in this essay: William McCarthy’s Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment and Nicholas D. Smith’s The Literary Manuscripts and Letters of Hannah More.
Devoney Looser, “Enlightenment Women’s Voices”, Huntington Library Quarterly 73:2 (June 2010), 295-302. (Available from JSTOR).