Orlando: Women's Writing

Scholarly Introduction

Literary History—With a Difference

Women's Writing . . .

Orlando focuses on gender, and it emphasizes the intellectual, material, political, and social conditions (including writing by men) that have, over time, helped to shape writing by women. It sees gender as an indispensable tool for historical analysis that helps to shape the questions we ask about the production, reception, and features of written texts and about the ways in which these have been understood throughout the history of women's writing. As Janet Todd has argued, "Feminist literary history is not a study of women as nature or of a natural woman, but of women intervening in culture, making culture, and being naturalized by culture in subtly different ways at different times; it is the study of the codes that intervene between subjectivity and history and help to fashion both." Bibliographic Citation link.
We see gender as one among other constituents of identity. (Our documents attend to class, race, education, sexuality, and other elements in what we call the 'cultural formation' of writers.) We agree with, for instance, Cora Kaplan when she says of the Victorian historical moment that for middle-class women other constituents such as class were at least as important as gender.  Bibliographic Citation link. And we recognise that gender operates differently and unpredictably in different locales and at different times. As Joan Wallach Scott argues, gender is "a field that seems fixed yet whose meaning is contested and in flux"; hence it is "contextually defined, repeatedly constructed." Bibliographic Citation link. Indeed, Orlando is as much a history of the uneven and changing constructions of gender over time in different parts of Britain, for different classes and individuals, as it is a history of writing. It is a history that is organized around the idea of gender, insofar as it places women's writing at its centre: entries on writers form the core of the textbase. Consciousness of gender as a critical element in the Orlando textbase is built into the encoding system (see Markup).