Contending for Laurels: Catharine Macaulay. History and feminism in eighteen-century, England
Title: Contending for Laurels: Catharine Macaulay. History and feminism in eighteen-century, England
Author: ROBINS, Wendy
Series/Report no.: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
Catharine Macaulay (1731-91) was a significant female writer of the mid to late eighteenth century who is now becoming a figure of scholarly interest. Two recent monographs by Bridget Hill, (1992) and Kate Davies, (2005), have looked at Macaulay as primarily a biographical subject, with the latter incorporating a nuanced interpretation of the cultural contexts of the late eighteenth century ‘Atlantic World’. This thesis aim to complement these two books by providing a close reading of Macaulay’s own work with particular emphasis on her eight volume History of England, (1763-83). The first part of the thesis contrasts Macaulay’s magnum opus, the eight volume History of England (1763-83) with the major works of history that preceded her publication: including Clarendon, Rapin, and Hume. It argues that Macaulay was not hindered by her gender, or lack of education, producing a work of studied empiricism that rivalled these major male historians, and that Macaulay was engaged in a competitive literary venture to overwrite these works and establish a whig history of grand proportions detailing the battle between the two forces of Tyranny and Liberty. The second part of the thesis takes a detailed examination of specific aspects of her History and Macaulay’s political philosophy. It examines Macaulay’s rhetoric and her republicanism, looking specifically at her use of oratory, her planned constitutional reforms, and her promotion of Liberty. It argues that Macaulay was welded to gendered representations of political and national virtue, but that she measured virtue only in accordance to her republican ideals. These ideals were gained from a variety of sources and demonstrate not only her extensive reading and referencing but also how the commonwealth tradition in which she wrote were dependent on both the neo-classical works of the seventeenth century and Lockean liberal thought. It argues that unlike the commonwealth tradition as a whole, Macaulay saw monarchy as inherently given to tyrannical inclinations and that a pure republican democracy was a potential option for England. The third part of the thesis looks at Macaulay’s feminist sentiments contrasting these with educational works and early feminist writing. It argues that although there is little evidence to suggest any direct influence of other early feminists Macaulay’s own feminism was ironically more a reaction to a subjective emerged from a long standing debate over women’s intellectual abilities, their reading skills, and the place that history as a genre played in their moral development. This demonstrates a move in her thinking and writing from the public active representation of a neo-classical republican to something more resembling a reflective liberal feminist. Macaulay produced a substantial body of work and this thesis demonstrates the conflicts and contrasts that marked her development as a political thinker. Nonetheless the unshakeable permanence of her beliefs that the world was divided into binary opposites of good and bad, Liberty and Tyranny was a constant and consistent element that she refused to limit by sexual distinctions.
Defence date: 29 September 2011; Examining Board: Prof. Martin Van Gelderen (EUI) - Supervisor Prof. Guilia Calvi (EUI) Prof. Iain Hampsher-Monk (Exeter University) Prof. Karen O’Brien (University of Warwick)
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