Jack’s excellent history begins from a position of anxiety, which she argues is caused by women’s access to the written word.
What do women read, and what happens to them, and the world, when they do? Yet, as artworks show, the image of the woman reading has also had huge appeal, especially for men. Jack looks at readers who became writers, such as Princess Enheduanna, “the earliest poetess in human history”, or Hrotsvit, who rewrote Terence’s plays for her daughters. But by the 16th century, we’re familiar with the history of women reading as one of battle, where women readers “champion” books, become a “motley lot”. It’s good to see though, that Fielding and Swift regarded women as their most important readers who “exerted considerable and direct influence over what men wrote”.