Companion to Women’s Historical Writing

Written by Ann Curthoys; Barbara Caine; Mary Spongberg (eds.)
Review by jay Dixon

This book explores ‘the many different ways in which women have researched and written history’ in over 150 entries, from Abolition to World History, with essays ranging from 250-7,500 words with each entry being followed by references and a list of related essays. Topics covered include biographical writing, women worthies, diaries and letter-writing, travelogues and chronicles, kinds of history and types of approaches as well as a range of more conventional kinds of history.

The nine-page section on historical fiction argues that, ‘the most searching historical fictions do not simply assert the priority of fiction over history but work to complicate the relations between them and to stress the mutually interrogative relations between the narratives of fiction and those of history.’ It includes discussions of women novelists from Delarivier Manley to Toni Morrison via Mary Edgeworth and Georgette Heyer. There is no mention of Dorothy Dunnett, but Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Trilogy, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time and Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels for children are all referred to in Popularising the Past. There is a General Bibliography and a thirty-three page index.

This is a fascinating book both by and about women. Well-written, clearly laid out, it is a bit pricey for the individual, perhaps, but a valuable addition to any library.