Mary Leapor, Mary Scott, Joanna Southcott, Lucy Aikin, and their peers collectively articulate what I call women's “superior secondariness.” To counter an eighteenth-century culture that represented man as “primary” (universal and originary) and woman as “secondary” (derivative and dependent), these poets posited the secondary not as inferior or less, but as a necessary, often highly desirable, condition of women's belatedness. Advocating revision and renaming, these writers developed a distinctive feminist poetics of improvement in order to express women's ascendency as the sex that comes second in time, whether as a refined Eve in relation to a rudimentary Adam, or as the revisionary woman poet in relation to the originary masculine classic author. Taken together, their rewritings of Original Sin, human origins, English poetry, and Britain's progress transformed the discourse of secondariness, often used to deride women's verse as inferior in the period, into a feminist position of power. In tracing the ordering function of superior secondariness from 1751 to 1810, the present essay returns to Enlightenment literary form to understand poetry's vital role in inaugurating the feminist projects of historicizing the associations between women writers and theorizing the gender of aesthetic production.

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