In the British literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the presence of women suddenly becomes noticeable and crucial to the sociological studies of these time periods. Women begin to appear with increasing significance in two aspects of the literature: as more recognized authors, in a time when literature is dominated by men, and as key, main characters, portraying a flawed society.
During the seventeenth century, a time in which women are thought to be incomplete human beings, soulless, and mere possessions of men, various women dare to challenge the idea of their inferiority in society’s views. One of the most noticeable is Rachel Speght, referred to as a “tolerably well-educated young woman of the London middle class [. . .] with some classical education--very rare for seventeenth century women of any class” (Abrams, 1B: 1556). In her three-hundred-line, substantially autobiographical poem, “A Dream,” Speght presents a personification of society’s views as Dissuassion who attempts to convince her of not pursuing her quest for knowledge in the Garden of Erudition because of the “dulness, and [her] memory’s defect, / the difficulty of attaining lore / [her] time, [her] sex” (103-8). Not only is she the author of the work, but Speght also goes as far as to make herself the main character, a woman in the search of knowledge that society’s establishments attempt to deny her. The account criticizes sexist beliefs regarding a woman’s right to be learned, as evidenced in the character Truth:
Both man and woman of three parts consist,
Which Paul doth body, soul, and spirit call:
And from the soul three faculties arise,
The mind, the will, the power; then wherefore
A woman have her intellect in vain,
Or not endeavor Knowledge to attain? (127-32)
Thus, Speght begins to undertake a transformation of the stereotypes regarding women which existed duri...