Catharine Macaulay's Civil War: Gender, History, and Republicanism in Georgian Britain

TitleCatharine Macaulay's Civil War: Gender, History, and Republicanism in Georgian Britain
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsHicks, Philip
JournalJournal of British Studies
Start Page170
Date Published04/2002

The eighteenth century marked a watershed in the relationship between women and historical writing in Britain. Previous to this period, D. R. Woolf has demonstrated, women had certainly purchased, read, and discussed works of history, contributing to “the ‘social circulation’ of historical knowledge.” A few, perhaps most notably Lucy Hutchinson, had composed Civil War memoirs. Some women had written genealogical, antiquarian, and biographical works, as well as local and family history, a “feminine past,” according to Woolf, that men often judged unworthy of real history. Only in the eighteenth century, however, did women and men significantly modify a neoclassical paradigm that conceived of history as a strictly male enterprise, the record of political and military deeds written by men and for men. In this century prescriptive literature increasingly urged history upon women as reading matter intellectually and morally superior to novels and romances. The great triumvirate of British historians, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, and William Robertson, wrote expressly for female readers. Their “philosophical” history, with its shift of emphasis from political to social and cultural subjects, appealed to women, as did their experiments with the narrative techniques of sentimental fiction. The century also witnessed the appearance of the first female historian in Britain to write in the grand manner, Catharine Macaulay (1731–91). Mrs. Macaulay's success in the traditional genre of history won her the respect of male peers as well as the applause of a wide readership.

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