The last decennia of the twentieth century were characterized by a revival of interest in female literature and genderstudies. This may be interpreted as a reaction to the ignorance of which this type of research had been looked up before. Meanwhile the tide has turned and writing women are studied at all levels.
Female writers in the literary critics (1997) by Lia van Gemert and Ans Veltman-van den Bos, is an article that shows the discrepancy between the book reviews of male writers and female writers. In 1772 the male reviewer of the Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen wrote that he lived in a century of poetesses. In every review is explicitly mentioned that it is a female writer! Restricted to ‘The circle of art of her sex’ women were allowed to climb the Parnassus. The combination of ‘utile and dulce’ was considered as the wit of female writing. The subservient Anna van Meerten-Schilperoort and the blind Petronella Moens were subordinated to arts, exercise and all their activities were geared to the public, rather than their own expression and originality.
The subjects of the female works of art were limited. The reviewer intends to convince his public readers that a writer does not identify with his story. There are two conditions: standard conventions must not be risked and thrilling ideas should be reserved for a restricted public of readers. Reviewers managed the described situations in the books and made them unreal, to prevent consequences in real society.
De Lannoy and Van Merken understood that entertaining is the real view of writing. Their poetry was often called ‘male’ and not female, on the other hand the reviewer asked why there are no more women to write in that high, more expressive standard.
In the following enumeration several modern female studies are reviewed.
Introduction In the late eighteenth century several societies studied literature and humaniora. A female member of these influential societies was Petronella Moens, the subject of this cultural-historical study, that is meant to display the opinions of the bourgeoisie in politics, religion and education during the last half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. The vast body of work of Petronella Moens contains a reflection of her ideas and those of her friends and acquaintances in the literary and religious world during a turbulent period of Dutch history.
The first chapter contains a brief outline of her life and literary contacts. The second shows the contemporaneous reception of her books and a review of the state of affairs in modern investigation. Chapter three includes the reflection on the political works of Petronella Moens, bedded in the stream of historical events of the revolutionary times at the end of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth century. Chapter four is devoted to her religious statements and chapter five should be seen as a summary of her pedagogical ideas concerning the education of children, the lower classes and women.
From her early childhood she was totally blind, caused by smallpox. Her mother, a member of the Lyklama à Nijholt family, died when Petronella was four years old. Her father and two sisters were very helpful in the beginning of her career, later on she relied on a female secretary.
Moens’ Liber Amicorum (book of friends) – subject of investigation at this moment - shows in the meantime that she knew how to handle people. She had a lot of friends and acquaintances, clergyman, scholars and men and women of letters. They were impressed by the never ending stream of her novels, poems and articles. Being a member of several literary societies, she was able to publish her poems and to move among the best of literary Holland and Flanders.
She got mixed reviews on her work from the periodicals in her time. They admired her as a valuable member of the community. Some criticized her exaggerated metaphorical language. The subjects of her works mattered. Her enlightened ideas were exposed to a large audience of citizens of the middle-class. The claims of ‘usefulness for the Nation’, or ‘pure stylistics’ and ‘probability of the representations’ are founded in the classic-pragmatic poetical rules, that puts social service in the first place.
Depending on her family and friends, Moens’ popularity was highly based on love and compassion. Her charming personality caused a lifelong admiration, but after her death, her works were soon forgotten.
The last decades of the twentieth century, this fascinating woman and the study of the conceptual world of her period, marked a new era in the ‘Moens’-investigations. Several students learnt from her articles and books about her view and those of contemporary citizens in Holland on friendship, religious problems, education of children and women, the pursuit of abolition of slavery and the political mind of the Dutch people in the early nineteenth century.
In that way Moens is back in the attention at the university in studies of culture, history, education, sociology and gender.
Politics In her political work during the French Revolution and the founding of the Batavian Republic, she wrote with her radical patriot friend Bernardus Bosch several articles and poems. They criticised the government, pleaded for total freedom of speech and writing, supported equality and brotherhood, but they accepted the difference between individual persons and their rank in society.
In 1798 Moens founded her own periodical, called The Friend of the Nation (1798/1799). She belonged to the Dutch Patriots and welcomed enthusiastically the French Revolution in 1795, propagating anti-Orange sentiments and radical ideas. Resentment however dominated her articles in the Napoleonic years of the Republic.
Moens welcomed the Prince of Orange at his repatriation in 1813 with honouring words just as she had done to his father in 1785 in Aardenburg! The enlightened poetess believed in a democracy according to the Trias Politica of Montesquieu, shown in her exotic novel Aardenburg or the unknown settlement in Southern America. (1817)1