Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature - Shelley DeWees

The purpose of this book seems to be to make more British women writers of the mid-1700s to early 1900s more well-known. It’s true that if you are holder in a literature degree, you would have heard of a few of these writers (I heard of all seven, but that is in part because of John Sutherland’s Lives of the Novelists), but the average person less so. The most famous of the group is Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

The book is less history or literary analysis than more these women are kind of cool – outside of writing, many of them lead somewhat un-norm or scandalous lives. It should also be noted that influence or success and literary achievement are sometimes too different things. Think 50 Shades of Grey for instance. They might be a reason why these women are largely forgotten in terms of literature. While at times, DeWees does show how the women might have influenced or changed literature, that aspect of the book, almost central to the thesis, does take a back seat. She also neglects some parallels for instance, Sara Coleridge seems to have fulfill the role for her father’s literary legacy as Mary Shelley did for that of her husband.

Still these qualms aside, the book is an enjoyable and at times, thought provoking book. The read is enjoyable, and DeWees has done her legwork.

Just one other qualm though.

In the chapter about Mary Robinson, De Wees notes that the author formed a relationship with “a British war hero from the American Revolution, Colonel Banastre Tarleton” (129). Without a doubt, the British saw Tarleton as a war hero; the thing is American history is not as nice to the Bloody Butcher who was involved in some ways with massacre of American patriots. Considering how well informed and documented other sections of the book are, the fact that this is not mentioned seems just a little off, almost as if DeWees doesn’t want us to think less of Robinson. I don’t think less of Robinson, she was British after all, but it does affect how I view DeWees writing.