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Women's Connections through Reading and Writing in the 19th Century

This presentation invites you to take a stroll through nineteenth-century literary culture, following the connections mediated through women's reading and writing. It is a sample of the work we carry out in the research project "Travelling Texts".

Francesca Scott

on 5 October 2015

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Transcript of Women's Connections through Reading and Writing in the 19th Century

Women's Connections through Reading and Writing

Women have often been written out of literary history, and the few female authors who do make it into today's canon of relevant writers of the past tend to be presented as isolated exceptions. However, a closer look at historical information shows just how many women contributed to and shaped the literary culture of their time, for instance as writers, readers, translators, publishers, editors, critics and journalists, moving in dynamic networks. This is an invitation to follow some of these connections in order to discover a different but fascinating landscape of European literary culture.
Women's Connections through Reading and Writing in the Nineteenth Century: A Stroll through Literary Culture
This presentation of women's connections through reading and writing in the 19th century provides a sample of the work carried out by the HERA-funded collaborative research project "Travelling Texts, 1790-1914: The Transnational Reception of Women's Writing at the Fringes of Europe (Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain)" (2013-2016). To find out more, please visit the project website http://travellingtexts.huygens.knaw.nl/

A Woman and Her Books in the North-West of Spain: Emilia Pardo Bazán

Books for Women in
The Hague: Het Damesleesmuseum
1898: A Visit to Ballroom Street, Laibach/Ljubljana and Hedwig von Radicz-Kaltenbrunner's Lending Library

Targeting Specific Readers:
Children's literature in Finland
The lending library is also a monument to Hedwig von Radicz-Kaltenbrunner's many literary friendships and personal connections, for instance with Marie Edle von Egger-Schmitzhausen ('Paul Lacroma'), Lina Morgenstern, Natalie von Eschstruth, Emma Laddey and Hermine Proschko. The surviving correspondence reveals a close-knit circle whose members did not only comment on personal issues but also exchanged opinions about books they had read, information about literary events and copies of their works. These personal encounters through reading and writing acquired a public dimension in the contents of the lending library as well as her published literary criticism. Without her network, the library would have looked very different indeed or may not have been viable at all.
Libraries often organise their collections in different sections, and Hedwig von Radics’ collection was no exception. One category of books in particular invites us to trace the circulation and the reception of a specific genre: children’s literature, and especially literature for girls, a new genre of women's writing that was born around the mid-nineteenth century.
Any library worthy of its name would subscribe to some magazines and newspapers. Indeed, the importance of periodical publications in the 19th century can hardly be overestimated: in addition to providing reviews and information about recent publications, they serialised entire novels (often in translation), published poems and short stories and functioned as rallying points for different groups of writers and readers, offering new opportunities for women.
Hedwig's collection was dominated by books in German. Most of them were written by German-language authors, among them E. Marlitt, Franziska von Kapps-Essenther, Natalie von Eschtruth, Hedwig Dohm, Laura Marholm, Bertha von Suttner and Milena Mrazovi, but there were also translations of works by authors such as Eliza Orzeszkowa (Polish); Charlotte Bronte and Mrs Braddon (English); Emilie Flygare-Carlén and Marie Sophie Schwartz (Swedish); Matilde Serao and Anna Zuccari/ Neera (Italian).
Topics: Women's Health
The starting point of our “guided tour” is a private apartment in Ballroom Street in Ljubljana (Slovenia), home to Viennese born writer Hedwig von Radicz-Kaltenbrunner (1845-1919), who converted her domicile into a meeting place for intellectuals, literati and musicians in an attempt to combat the dreaded ‘dullness of provincial life. One of her most successful initiatives was the creation of Ljubljana's first private lending library in 1886. An estimated number of 500 to 1000 readers used the establishment, most of them women. In 1898 they could choose from a collection of 3586 items, which included 193 identified women writers with a total number of 445 items to their names.
Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1821) was and still is one of the most renowned Spanish writers of the 19th century. An omnivorous reader, at least part of her legendary library has fortunately survived and can be consulted in her home town of La Corunna in North-western Spain. Out of today's ca 8,000 items, 375 items have been written or published by a total of 207 different (identified) women. The main languages of these publications (both originals and translations) are Spanish and French, a language in which Pardo Bazán was highly proficient. There are also some texts in Catalan, Czech, English, Galician, German, Italian and Portuguese. German-language and Nordic women play only a minor role but we find some names we remember from Hedwig von Radicz, e.g. George Sand, Matilde Serao and E. Marlitt.
The reputation that Pardo Bazán gained during her life as a writer is clearly reflected in her collection: many of her books are inscribed with a personal dedication by the authors themselves. Some are perfunctory (e.g. the ones by French writer Thérèse Bentzon), others hint at more personal relationships, but many simply express admiration for the 'eminent writer’ (Peruvian Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera), 'glory of Spanish literature’ (Puerto Rican Lola Rodríguez de Tió) and 'illustre scrittrice' (Anna Zuccari alias Neera, also present in Hedwig von Radicz's lending library). Especially in later years we find explicit references to Pardo Bazán's feminism. If we look at literary culture as a complex network, Pardo Bazán's contemporaries clearly identified her as one of the important nodes.
Only George Sand's Histoire de ma vie and Mauprat were available in the original language, French. Many of the books and authors were very popular with readers and thus a safe choice.
Hedwig's collection was dominated by books in German. Most of them were written by German-language authors, among them E. Marlitt, Franziska von Kapps-Essenther, Natalie von Eschtruth, Hedwig Dohm, Laura Marholm, Bertha von Suttner and Milena Mrazović but there were also translations of works by authors such as Eliza Orzeszkowa (Polish); Charlotte Bronte and Mrs Braddon (English); Emilie Flygare-Carlén and Marie Sophie Schwartz (Swedish); Matilde Serao and Anna Zuccari/ Neera (Italian). Only George Sand's Histoire de ma vie and Mauprat were available in the original language, French. Many of the books and authors were very popular with readers and thus a safe choice.
At first glance Hedwig von Radicz's lending library seems to be a very local institution but more thorough study reveals its connectedness with European literary culture, thanks to Hedwig's personal network of friendships and the presence of books from many different places. But how does her library compare to other book collections of the time that were (partly) shaped by women? We will look at four examples, from Spain, the Netherlands, Finland and Norway.
Let's turn to another lending library: the Damesleesmuseum in The Hague (Netherlands).
The photo of the reading room in Parkveien 62 was probably taken in 1910, on the presentation of a statue of Camilla Collett by the female sculptor Ambrosia Tonnesen.

The Norwegian stop on our guided tour is The Reading Society for Women ('Laeseforening for Kvinder') in Kristiania (Oslo), which was clearly one of a web of such institutions in Europe, and one of several in Norway. Established in 1874, it was the result of the efforts of women like Camilla Collett, Hedvig Maribo (originally from Wien), Elise Aubert, and Johanne Vogt (three of them authors that are themselves found in libraries in e.g. Finland and The Netherlands). Besides providing reading room(s) and lending library, it was from 1901 also a forum for debates and lectures, and of great importance for women's fight for the vote, finally achieved in 1913. It did, however meet with resistance: some people considered it ‘an affront to womanliness'.
The library shelves: shows the rather austere, utilitarian appearance a women's library could have
Girls' literature spread rapidly through Europe, including Finland, as we can see when we study the newspapers of the time, another important source of evidence for the circulation of literature. Although they do not give an account of the actual reading experience of girls, booksellers’ advertisements provide us with an idea of the circulation of books for girls, while reviews offer us a glimpse of their potential reception. Thanks to the Finnish Historical Newspaper and Journal Library, which offers free access to 1,960,921 digitised newspapers pages and 1,133,671 pages of journals published between 1771 and 1910, new and exciting possibilities of research in that area have opened up.
The advertisement in Finnish newspapers shows that Finnish bookshops also sold English books in their original version. An example is Susan Warner's first novel The Wide, Wide World from 1850. Published under the pseudonym 'Elisabeth Wetherell', it became a bestseller in the United States and England almost overnight. Only five years later, in 1855, it was advertised for the first time in Finnish newspapers, in the original English.
After concentrating on literary sites – libraries - and the press as a medium of circulation, our guided tour will finally turn to specific authors and specific themes. One very interesting find so far has been the ubiquity of some authors, whose names we find in every corner of Europe, inviting us to compare their reception. A brief look at E. Marlitt's and Laura Marholm's fate in Slovenia will stand for this strand of research.
E. Marlitt was widely read in Slovenia: both male and female authors mentioned her in their works. Some woman writers even created characters who discuss the German author in their fictional world. Slovenian female authors, in particular Pavlina Pajk and Luiza Pesjak, were even frequently accused of plagiarizing the German author. Probably due to Marlitt's devaluation in Germany from the 1880s onwards, her writing was increasingly perceived in the Slovenian territory as worthless and maudlin. Particularly male authors often referred to Marlitt negatively in their works but there are also some positive evaluations.

Josip Stritar, an author of semtimental novels, clearly sees Marlitt as a positive model when he writes to Pavlina Pajk in order to defend her against the accusation of being Marlitt's epigone: “If I could make a choice: Marlitt or Marhohn [sic], I would always choose the first one and, I guess, it would not be only me!” He probably refers to the transnational German-language author Laura Marholm, who was mentioned several times in the Slovenian press; the women's magazine Slovenka even dedicated three long articles to her. She was definitely read by Zofka Kveder (1878-1926). The influential writer and feminist opened her short story collection Misterij zene ('The Mystery of a Woman', 1900) with a quotation from Marholm's Das Buch der Frauen ('The Book of Women').

Laeseforening for Kvinder
Two women in the lending section of the library.
The Norwegian Reading Society for Women (1874) was inspired by a similar institution in Copenhagen (1872). The Danish Society attracted the attention of a number of interested Dutch readers, leading to the creation of the Amsterdam Reading Society for Women, and the Ladies' Reading Museum (the Dameslessmuseum) in the Hague. Created in 1894, the latter is still in existence with several hundred members today.
In the beginning, the driving force was to be found in a number of women who were also writers, translators, and literary critics, some of them quite prolific, and all of them part of the cultural elite of The Hague. One of the leading figures was Margaretha Meijboom, who became a leading translato
r. S
he, in particular, translated most of Selma Lage
s works into Dutch, demonstrating a strong connection between the Ladies’ Reading Museum and Scandinavian women writers
the early 20th century. Another prominent member
the committee was Cecile Goekoop-de Jong, author of
a fam
ous feminist novel, Hilda van Suylenburg. This was
lated into several languages, and a number of European “foremothers” are present, explicitly used as role models: Sara
h Be
rnard, Florence Nightingale, Mme de Pompadour, Ha
Beecher Stowe, Madame de Stael, Madame Roland,
sabeth Browning, Bettina von Arnim, Octavia Hill, George Eliot, Vittoria Colonna.
A number of women who were also read in Slovenia, Spain, Finland and Norway were present in the DLM: Louisa Alcott, George Eliot, Gyp, Ouida, Olive Schreiner, Matilde Serao, Mary Ward, Charlotte Yonge – but in a less striking way than the Scandinavian women, and indeed the Dutch writers (some of them members of the Leesmuseum themselves).

These Dutch women were themselves often strongly influenced by foreign authors they had read and whose works they commented upon in their periodicals, like Anna de Savornin Lohman in the monthly journal entitled The Dutch Lily. Anna van Gogh-Kaulbach was an extremely prolific translator, as, for instance, the first translator of Bertha von Suttner's Die Waffen nieder!

Toward the mid-nineteenth century, magazines targeting female readers became more and more established in Spain. Women did not only contribute to them, they increasingly took on leading roles, although if they wanted to act as directors they had to be backed by a man because of legal requirements that discriminated against women, especially if they were married. Many of these publications centred on entertainment, fashion and family but there were also more radical publications, such as the spiritist magazine La Luz del porvenir ('The Light of the Future', 1879-1899). The spiritist belief system had spread widely during the fin-de-siècle, creating alternative communities that also provided new, albeit dangerous spaces of agency for women.
La Luz del porvenir was run in Barcelona by Amalia Domingo Soler (1835-1909), a social activist from the working classes. In order to make her magazine a true platform for a sorority of women she declared it to be 'women only', specifying that texts by men would only be included if judged to be of singular merit. Nevertheless, men read the publication, too – evidence are for instance the letters from male prisoners reproduced in the magazine. La Luz del porvenir survived despite being suspended for a time by the authorities and excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
From today's point of view the pages of La Luz del porvenir give a fascinating insight into the sheer number of women who participated in literary culture in many different ways, ranging from Domingo Soler's immediate neighbourhood in Barcelona to women activists in Latin America, without excluding more mainstream writers such as Emilia Pardo Bazán, who may not have been aware that her texts were being reprinted; she certainly did not appreciate the sentimental tone we often find in spiritist publications.
Much can be gleaned from examining the varied subjects and themes of the texts (what we might call the "specificity" of women's writing) in Hedwig von Radicz-Kaltenbrunner's Lending Library. Of these, the representation of women's reproductive health appears to be a particularly common theme, one which appears to have been employed by women writers for a variety of different purposes.

Of the titles by British women writers in Hedwig von Radicz's library, several incorporate the subject of women's reproductive health.
A short video demonstrating the link between three of the women featured in the Dameslessmuseum
A strong female presence: Gustav Cygnaeus
and his book collection in Turku
A very important private library was donated to Turku City Library (Finland) by Gustav Cygnus (1851–1907), an important figure in the city's cultural life at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century. When inspecting the fiction section of the Cygnaeus Collection, it becomes evident rather quickly that there is a notable female presence, both in terms of women writers and reading material targeting women. It would be a matter of a separate research to discover the reasons for this–we might suspect the influence of Gustav Cygnaeus' wife, the well-known actress Mina Backlund-Cygnus.
The fiction section of the Cygnaeus Collection comprises 1690 volumes, mostly dating from the last decades of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. It is divided into Finland's fiction (Inhemsk skonlitteratur, 400 items), Scandinavian fiction (Skandinavisk skonlitteratur, 800 items), as well as a section without a proper title, which contains "the rest of the world". On the one hand, this refers to literature written originally in French, German and English (370 items), and works written in other languages like Italian, Slavonic and other European and non-European languages, on the other (120 items). Though a small collection of books, the Cygnaeus fiction section offers an important sample of belles lettres available to fin-de-siècle readers in Finland.
The bulk of the Scandinavian section consists of texts in Swedish, both originals and translations from other Nordic languages, for instance of works by the Norwegian authors Alvilde Prydz (1846–1922, two translations) and Antoniette Meyn (1827–1915, four translations). Meyn's works were rendered into Swedish by the prolific Emilie Kullman (1856–1935), who translated about 150 works of fiction from English, Danish, German and French, by both women and men. The author she turned to most frequently was the British writer Marie Corelli (1855–1924), who specialised in the so-called “New Woman” fiction, i. e. fiction introducing heroines who explored non-traditional ways of being woman. The Cygnaeus collection contains seven of Kullman's roughly 25 translations of works by Corelli – a clear sign not only of the popularity of this specific author but also of the importance of translations and translators.
Based on the findings in the newspaper archive, Louisa May Alcott was the best known writer of girl's fiction in late 19th-century Finland. Her book An Old Fashioned Girl (1869) was the first Finnish translation of a classic story for girls. It was translated twice in two successive years, with two different titles: Nuorta vakea ('Young People’, 1889) and Tytoista parhain ('The best of all girls', 1890). However, Alcott's book reached bilingual Finland even earlier. The Swedish translation came out in 1870, only a year after its publication in the United States, and it was available in Finnish bookshops already in the same year.
There are 20 titles by British women authors in the catalogue, both well-known and less well-known authors, some translated into other languages and others in the original English. They include texts by, for instance, Mary Braddon, Charlotte Bronte, Georgiana Fullerton, Ouida, and Florence Marryat. Of these, two provide interesting examples of this specificity, in terms of their preoccupation with childbirth, pregnancy and maternity: Ouida and Florence Marryat.
In its third year (1877), the society had 1800 volumes and 226 members. By 1914 it had 9500 volumes and 500 paying members. On its closure a century later, the collection held 16,000 volumes. The section for Norwegian/Danish books included many translations. Excepting the Nordic authors, the most represented of the foreign women are Alcott, Beecher-Stowe and von Suttner with 5-6 translations each. Authors like Serao, Pardo Bazan, Sand and Carmen Sylva, very popular in central and southern Europe, also reached Norwegian shores, but here with only 1-2 translations each. One of the figures who seem very popular in opposite corners of the continent is Marlitt (5). Other translated authors include Bronte, Burnett, Croker, Egerton, Eliot, Gaskell, Harraden, Hungerford, Kennedy, Lyall, Marryat, Mulock, Oliphant, Peard, Pool, von Rhoden, Salomé, Thackeray, Trollope, Ward, Wildermuth.

Many of the readers must have been able to read one or several foreign languages. Of the 53 newspapers and journals in 1877, only 18 were in Norwegian, and 19 were in other languages than the Nordic ones. The book collection had separate sections on literature in Swedish, German, English, French and Italian (the latter contains another book by Serao). Suttner and Marlitt have at least as many original works as translations on the shelves. The foreign language sections are, however, dominated by George Sand (22), Mrs Alexander, Miss Braddon and Mrs Hungerford (19-20 each), Florence Marryat (14), Mrs Oliphant and Ouida (12), George Eliot (11), Mrs Ward (10), Rhoda Broughton and Marie Correlli (8), Miss Mulock and Mrs Henry Wood (6)
Florence Marryat:
'The Heart of Jane Werner' (1884)

"You are looking far from well, Miss Warner" ... Jane reddened painfully, and frightened as a hare. She knew she was not well ... Her disease was far from simple cures ... "My health troubles me. I know I am not well, and ought to have a change ... I want to leave London, and go away to the country for a few months."

Ouida: "Moths"

"In early Autumn she had given birth to a son, who had lived a few hours, and then died. She had not sorrowed for its loss: it was the child of Sergius Zouroff. She thought it better dead. She had felt a strange emotion as she looked on its little body, lying lifeless; but it was neither maternal love nor maternal regret; it was rather remorse".
Theme: Concealed pregnancy

In this novel, Jane Werner's marriage is proved to be illegal, and her husband takes the opportunity to marry another woman. Soon after his departure she discovers she is pregnant, although this is never explicitly confirmed, only implied through references to her "ill health". Eventually, she leaves to go to the country to "recover" for five months (apparently to have the baby). When she returns, a baby is "found" by a neighbour in the flower bushes, and Jane "adopts" it. An older friend appears to realise that the child is Jane's: "In a moment the truth was revealed to her, she thought she must have been blind not to have guessed before."
Theme: Infant Mortality

In Ouida's novel "Moths", the heroine, Vere Herbert, is forced into marriage with the cruel Russian Prince Zouroff. They have a son, but he dies very soon after birth, and Vere feels nothing for the death because of who the child's father is. She eventually divorces Zouroff when she discovers she has been tricked into marriage.
This presentation of women's connections through reading and writing in the 19th century provides a sample of the work carried out by the HERA-funded collaborative research project "Travelling Texts, 1790-1914: The Transnational Reception of Women's Writing at the Fringes of Europe (Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain)" (2013-2016). To find out more, please visit the project website http://travellingtexts.huygens.knaw.nl/
Basic Bibliography

"Journal: Laeseforening for kvinder". Kristiania/Oslo: Nasjonalbiblioteket (1874-80).

"Katalog over det Laeseforening for Kvinder tilhorende Bibliothek". Kristiania: Norges Sjøfartstidendes Bogtrykkeri (1904).

Mathisen, Marie, "Laeseforening for Kvinder", in Norske Kvinder: en oversigt over deres stilling og livsvilkaar i hundredeaaret 1814-1914, Marie Hogh and Fredrikke Morck, eds, Kristiania (Oslo): Berg & Hogh Forlag (1914) 2, 1-3.

Bieder, Maryellen. ‘Emilia Pardo Bazán and Literary Women: Women Reading Women's Writing in Late 19th-Century Spain,’ Revista Hispánica Moderna, Ano 46, No. 1 (Jun., 1993)

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