Laura Shannon Prize Winner

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Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press

Publication Year: 2019

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Heroines and Local Girls: The Transnational Emergence of Women’s Writing in the Long Eighteenth Century

by Pamela L. Cheek

2022 Award in Humanities

Jury Statement

Pamela L. Cheek’s meticulously researched book on the evolution of European women’s writing into a distinct body of literature represents a ground-breaking contribution to the history of women’s writing and reading. In this geographically and intellectually ambitious work, Cheek deftly traces the development of transnational “ideational” and actual communities of writing—and, importantly, reading—women, examining the networks and reciprocal influences of women authors and readers located in France, Germany, Holland and England.

Cheek moves effortlessly from compelling close readings of important individual female-authored works—whether by Françoise de Graffigny or Frances Burney—to adopting a more collective, comparative overview of women’s writing. She analyzes the interplay between aesthetic and commercial concerns that helped facilitate the burgeoning international circulation of female-authored texts in the European literary marketplace and women’s self-positioning within it. What was it about a literary text and its female protagonist(s) that made the individual (local) reader feel a principally gendered affiliation with its content, rather than one based on nationality or social class? During the long 18th century, women often had to look beyond their own national borders to find other female kindred spirits; the translation of works, many by women, allowed them to do this, transcending local cultural and linguistic specificities and forging a sense of transnational and transformative identity, and thus of gendered community. This “horizontal,” egalitarian European sisterhood, Cheek argues, contrasts with a more “vertical” masculine lineage of exceptional men influencing successive generations.

A remarkably wide-ranging and scholarly account of the consolidation of women’s writing as a transnational category of literature, Heroines and Local Girls is an indispensable reference point for writers and readers interested in reception politics, literary history and women’s writing.

Final Jury

Edyta Bojanowska 
Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and chair of the European Studies Council at the MacMillan Center
Yale University

Stephen M. Fallon 
The Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., Professor of the Humanities
University of Notre Dame 

Robin Jensen
The Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology
University of Notre Dame 

Siobhán McIlvanney 
Professor of French and Francophone Women’s Writing
King’s College London 

Lenart Škof 
Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Head of the Institute for Philosophical Studies
Science and Research Center Koper (ZRS Koper), Slovenia