Why did women suddenly find an array of intellectual opportunities (salon conversation, literary criticism, travel, scientific lectures) in the Enlightenment? Why, in other words, did the Enlightenment provide a new domain, different from anything available in the 15th, 16th or 17th centuries in England? (Think about Shakespeare’s world, for example). What has changed?
It seems to me that the primary reasons why women suddenly found an array of intellectual opportunities in the Enlightenment are education and relatively cheap books and other publication materials. Salon conversations, literary criticism, scientific lectures, and even travel are impossible intellectual opportunities to engage in without literacy. Enlightenment opened up opportunities for education for people outside of wealthy men and these opportunities slowly but surely became available to women. Since intellectual opportunities are very different from warfare or other physical tasks, women who were taught to read and write quickly embraced these activities. Furthermore, women continued to lack opportunities in other aspects of society (such as merchant work, business ownership, etc.). As a result, somewhat well off and educated women embraced intellectual activities such as writing (novels) and treatises as a substitute for a working life.