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Response to Review of Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

I would like to thank Professor Nenadic for her thoughtful engagement with Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I am somewhat gratified that I raise as many questions as I answer. This was partly my point; the absence of women has for too long been taken for granted by scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment and the gendered character of a largely all-male intellectual sphere has been ignored. I did not intend to underplay female sociable cultures, and these are included in my study of urbanity, for instance in regard to women’s theatre going. I agree too that more work is needed on women and religious culture in Scotland during this period. My point is that these female cultures did not have a public intellectual dimension because of the particular homosocial milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment. Prof Nenadic is right to point out that Scotswomen in London embraced sociable, public intellectual culture. I examine this in my brief discussion of Joanna Baillie, and it supports my argument that intellectual culture in Enlightenment Scotland was distinctively homosocial.

Regarding Prof Nenadic’s salient point that the Enlightenment did not wholly define 18th-century Scotland, or even 18th-century urbane Scotland, I did not intend to suggest that it did. The extent to which we centre the Enlightenment in our understanding of Scottish culture and society has been the subject of a long-running and largely productive debate in Scottish History, and Prof Nenadic and I may have to agree to disagree on this point. I contend that we cannot understand the changes that occurred in 18th-century Scotland without foregrounding the Enlightenment. The literati and their conversationalists and readers were a driving force behind new cultural manifestations such as the theatre (as is apparent in Alexander Carlyle’s memoirs), and this culture helped forge Enlightenment ideas, as well as supporting the emergence of a North British national identity. This was also the case with economic change; the work of Adam Smith in particular, alongside the Select Society’s promotion of arts and manufactures, make it impossible to separate Enlightenment thought from commercial development. The literati not only responded to commercial change but helped to drive it. Yet of course, as Tawny Paul’s recent work demonstrates, the commercial world was a space for the expression of middling masculinities founded on notions of reputation and honour that differed to those of the professional elite who mostly comprised Enlightenment culture.(1a) I had hoped that my rejection of the hegemonic model in understanding masculinity allowed space for an acceptance of other expressions of 18th-century Scottish manhood, but I accept that more attention could have been paid to these alternative masculinities. Also, I absolutely agree that more studies are needed of masculinity (and gender, more generally) outwith the urban context, something that has begun with Lynn Abrams’ recent article on Highland masculinity and violence (2a) and Katie Barclay’s study of elite marriage across the long 18th century.(3a)

As to the cover image, I can only apologise for some sloppy scholarship on my part, whereby I relied on what I now realise was a dodgy 19th-century source which listed the figures as unnamed – though, that the men are known and the women are not, I believe, further reinforces my point regarding women’s relative silence in 18th-century Scottish culture. I agree that far more work is needed on Scottish visual culture, including both John Kay and Allan Ramsay’s images of women. I am also intrigued by Prof Nenadic’s question regarding the female psyche. Barclay’s work provides evidence that some women, at least, internalised discourses of passivity, and I anticipate that gender history’s recent (re)turn towards the psyche and emotions (including by Joan W. Scott (4a)) will provide further avenues of enquiry regarding people’s response to Enlightenment ideas. I hope that my work has enhanced our understanding of gender in 18th-century Scotland, and provided a base from which other analyses may develop.      


  1. K. T. Paul, ‘Credit, reputation and masculinity in British urban commerce: Edinburgh c.1710-70’, Economic History Review, 66 (2013), 226–48.Back to (1a)
  2. L. Abrams, ‘The taming of Highland masculinity: inter-personal violence and shifting codes of manhood, c.1760–1840’, Scottish Historical Review, 92 (2013), pp. 100–22.Back to (2a)
  3. K. Barclay, Love, Intimacy and Power: marriage and patriarchy in Scotland, 1650–1850 (Manchester, 2011).Back to (3a)
  4. J. W. Scott, The Fantasy of Feminist History (Durham, NC, 2011).Back to (4a)