Breaking Up of the Blue Stocking Club
In the age of revolutions, the eighteenth century pioneered a movement of female intellectuals. The movement was respected for its learned women and female authorship, and was led by figures Elizabeth Montagu and Elizabeth Verna. The Bluestockings salon as a literary institution, was an environment that enabled enlightened conversation amongst women. In the words of Hannah More in ‘Bas Blue- or conversation’ the exchange of tastes and education was meaningless without conversation.' The literary salon became a quasi social project and a mean of entering the public sphere. However, by the start of the nineteenth century literary women faced increasing mockery and criticism. Depicting them as parading under the guise of learning, they were seen as encroaching on male spaces, and their hosting of salons and readings clubs became a major cause for concern and as far too revolutionary by the 1800s.
Thomas Rowlandson’s 1815 caricature ‘The breaking up of the bluestockings club’ encapsulates the fear of female spaces, with the lack of male guardianship resulting in a descent into chaos. Its publication coincided with the announcement of the publication of Hannah More’s Essay on the Character and Practical Writings of St Paul (1815), and this may have instigated Rowlandson onto create the piece as a reactionary critique of female intellectuals. The male figure in the print epitomises the trope of a moralistic guide to the immoral women who reject their female duties. The representation signifies the fear that gender boundaries will be transgressed and women will invade the physical, intellectual, but above all moral and political space of male intellectuals.