chapter  11
14 Pages

“That All the World May Know”: Women’s “Defense-Narratives” and the Early Novel

WithJosephine Donovan

The practice of women defending themselves in writing, which the author calling the women's defense-narrative is a tradition that emerged in the late medieval period and continued as a dominant vein in women's writing through the early modern period. While the assertion has been made by a few critics that Daniel Defoe, usually considered the first English novelist, relied heavily on latter-day authors of the women's defense-narrative, such as Mary Carleton, in constructing his early novels, none of the major histories of the novel has recognized the role played by the women's defense-narrative in its formation. Indeed, the women's defense-narrative has not heretofore identified as such, nor studied as a discrete subgenre of early modern women's literature. Nearly every piece of nonfictional prose writing by English women in the seventeenth century belongs wholly or in part to the defense-narrative tradition. As early as the women troubadours of the thirteenth century, women writers had repudiated aspects of the courtly love tradition.