Voices unfettered: recent writings on and by early modern Englishwomen. (Review Essay).
S. P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies, eds. Readings in Renaissance Women's Drama: Criticism, History, and Performance 1594-1998. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. xiv + 322 pp. bibl. index. $100 (cl), $28.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0-415-16442-7 (cl), 0-415-16443-5 (pbk).
Danielle Clarke and Elizabeth Clarke, eds. "This double voice": Gendered Writing in Early Modern England. London and New York: St. Martin's Press Inc., 2000. 224 pp. $59.95 ISBN: 0-333-67745-5.
Constance Aston Fowler. The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler: A Diplomatic Edition. Ed. Deborah Aldrich-Watson. (Medieval and Renaissance Texts Society; 210.) Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2000. lxii + 200 pp. append. illus. bibl. index. $40. ISBN: 0-86698-252-3.
Helen Hackett. Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. viii + 235 pp. bibl. index. $55. ISBN: 0-521-64145-4.
Anne Vaughan Lock. The Collected Works of Anne Vaughan Lock. Ed. Susan M. Felch. (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 185.) Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999. xii + 268 pp. illus. bibl. index. $28. ISBN: 0-86698-227-2.
Jane Sharp. The Midwives Book: Or the Whole Art of Midwifry Discovered. Ed. Elaine Hobby. (Women Writers in English 1350-1850.) New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. xlii + 323 pp. $49.95 (cl), $19.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0-19508653-8 (cl), 0-9508653-8 (pbk).
Anna Trapnel. The Cry of a Stone. Ed. and intro. Hilary Hinds. (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 220.) Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2000. xlvii + 123 pp. bibl, index. $28. ISBN: 0-86698-262-0.
Betty S. Travitsky. Subordination and Authorship in Early Modern England: The Case of Elizabeth Cavendish Egerton and Her "Loose Papers." (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 208.) Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999. xii + 290 pp. illus. $30. ISBN: 0-86698-250-7.
Lady Mary Wroth. The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania by Lady Mary Wroth. Ed. Josephine A. Roberts, Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller. (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 211.) Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Renaissance English Text Society, 1999. xliv + 580 pp. illus. $60. ISBN: 0-866698-253-1.
No specialist in English studies today could fail to be aware of the impressive number of editions, anthologies, monographs, essay collections, articles, and conferences devoted to the writings and activities of early modern Englishwomen. Moreover, it seems the number is ever Increasing. As new texts by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Englishwomen are discovered and edited and new critical theories brought to bear on our understanding of them, and as our knowledge of women and their status in the period is increased by studies in various interdisciplinary fields as well as in more traditional disciplines such as history or Reformation studies, the canon of English Renaissance writings is undergoing change. The four years that this review essay covers, 1998 to 2001, saw a flurry of publications in the field of early modern women writers. They also bore witness to changes in the way feminist critics approached questions of gender and authorship. The ten works reviewed here are representative of such publicat ions and shifts in criticism.
Helen Hackett's study, Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance (2000), explores the relationship between romance and a female readership, analyzes the representations of women in romances, and answers the question as to what happens when women themselves are the authors of romance. In her lucidly written and well-balanced study, she takes some critics to task, firmly yet fairly, and challenges many of our assumptions about Renaissance romance, about its being interpreted as a woman's genre, and even about romance fiction in general. Taking as her point of departure Wright's by now famous dictum that readers of romance in any period are women, she warns us against such facile assumptions, perpetuated by some much later feminist critics. Paratexts must be read with caution; romances are not all trash and hence popular with women readers; and female heroism takes many forms, not simply that of the Amazonian. In one of many such warnings throughout the book, she reminds us of the danger of imposing m odern feminist ideals on Renaissance women. Her chapter on the novellas of the 1560s and 1570s discusses Painter's, Fenton's, and Gascoigne's romance fictions, works not always dealt with in studies of women and romance yet pertinent for their male authors' moralizing stance towards women, which she discusses in a far more nuanced fashion than many. Her discussion of the Spanish and Portuguese romances is not as satisfying. In particular, her commentary on The Mirrour of Knighthood and Amadis of Gaule is thin and in no way takes into account their originals. Like many critics, Hackett overlooks factors such as changes affected in the translations, yet it would surely be revealing, for example, to see how Margaret Tyler manipulates a male-authored text. With Lyly, Rich, and Greene, Hackett is on firmer ground, although her interpretation of Rich's uneasy praise of Elizabeth is not very convincing. However, her analysis of the rhetorical nature of these authors' addresses to women is perceptive.
From these lesser studied works, Hackett passes to the two Arcadias, the Faerie Queene, and Shakespeare's romance plays. Sidney's and Spenser's works imagine ideal feminine readers and project ideal feminine heroism. Sidney's presentation of effeminized masculinity in his preface to the Old Arcadia is ambiguous, as is Spenser's praise of his idealized imagined female reader, Queen Elizabeth. As Hackett points out, his true idealized reader is of course male: Raleigh. However, he defends the feminine, above all female creativity and fertility, despite manifestations of misogyny and patriarchy in the Faerie Queene. The feminine is foregrounded in a different way in Shakespeare's late plays in which the influence of prose romances is clear although reworked. Family concerns structure the narrative, female chastity is given great importance (but where is it nor in Renaissance discourse?), and the theme of regeneration is explored through the vehicles of marriage and motherhood. Yet Shakespeare's handling of these is nor without ambiguity too: the authority over the narrative is given frequently to men and is rambling and fantastic, like old wives' tales, while birth and motherhood are not without their dangers.
In her final two chapters, Hackett turns her interest to comparing male-authored and female-authored romances. Lady Mary Wroth, like her male counterparts, exposed real-life material but, unlike them, in so doing she was improperly exposing herself. The Urania demonstrates many parallels and similarities with earlier English romances, but Hackett makes a particularly strong case for the Iberian ones. However, several of the features she highlights occur in other types of romance and this weakens her argument. The epilogue speaks briefly of attitudes toward romance in the later seventeenth century, reminding us that Margaret Cavendish held ambivalent views of the genre, although exploring it among others as a fictional mode, and in more than one work. Aphra Behn also adopts some romance conventions in Oroonoko and other fictional works, although she transforms or discards others. One of the strengths of Hackett's book is that it convincingly follows through and explains such transformations as they take place in romance fiction from the mid-sixteenth-century novellas to the late seventeenth century; They are, as she says, closely related to matters of gender, authorship, the representation of female heroism, and the nature of the reading public. Equally important, the book demonstrates that romance played a significant but varied role in the development of English fiction and that the relationship between women and romance in the English Renaissance is far more complex than commentators, then and now, think.
Sheila T. Cavanagh's Cherished Torment: The Emotional Geography of Lady Mary Wroth's Urania (2001), unlike Hackett's monograph, focuses not on a whole genre but on one writer, but in so doing it too charts new waters. Where previous studies of Wroth have been concerned with her biography, not surprisingly given her exciting and unusual life, this book proposes an examination of the intellectual background to her Urania. While Cavanagh ignores neither the personal, political, and social conditions surrounding its composition nor the influence the Greek and continental romances exerted on its author, she believes that previous scholars have not paid sufficient attention to Wroth's exceptional achievement as a thinker. Offering what is most definitely a new and rewarding approach, she identifies alchemy, cosmology, and travel as three areas that inform the Urania and provide both its philosophical foundation and its narrative framework. Cavanagh argues that Wroth, as a member of the Sidney family and a highly ed ucated woman, must have been well versed in the issues of the day, one of which was alchemy. Similarly, she must have been familiar with contemporary investigations into the composition and ordering of the universe. The earlier Prague connection between Dee, Sir Philip Sidney, and Rudolf II, like the existence of works such as Fludd's History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm, make this more than plausible, while it is not insignificant that Jonson dedicated The Alchemist to Wroth. In the chapters on cosmology and travel, Cavanagh demonstrates how Wroth wove together strands taken from the many works printed in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries into what she calls a personal cosmography. The idea of place is crucial to the conceptualization of key characters but geographical affiliations are closely bound up with emotional factors. Similarly, the relationship between the natural universe and meteorology on the one hand and the characters' emotional states and their destinies on the other is convincin gly demonstrated, as is the importance of travel, which Wroth portrays both in the contemporary context of the voyages of exploration and in the time-worn metaphor of the pilgrimage. In a final and aptly titled chapter, "Shipping the Infants," Cavanagh discusses the romance motif of lost children and how Wroth refigures it. Lost children stand, she asserts, at the intersection of geographical and emotional concerns in the Urania but appear differently in the first, printed part and the second, manuscript one, where they are preparing to succeed Urania, Pamphilia, and Amphilanthus. As the Urania ends abruptly, so does Cavanagh's book, with an unsatisfying "Coda." This paragraph in the guise of a conclusion is the only cause of criticism I have of a book that is so rich in ideas that a concluding synthesis of the various strands of thought would have been welcome.
Two collections of essays on Renaissance Englishwomen appeared in 1998 and 2000. The first, Readings in Renaissance Women's Drama: Criticism, History, and Performance 1594-1998, was originally conceived of as a companion volume of critical readings to the editors' 1996 Renaissance Drama by Women: Texts and Documents. However, they realized they had to widen the scope afforded by the plays and contemporary documents in the earlier work. The result is a volume of twenty-one essays exploring all the ways in which women participated in theater culture, not only as authors and translators, but also as patrons, performers, and even part-owners of one theater. Divided into three sections, "Early Commentaries," "Contexts and Issues," and "Early Modern Women Dramatists," the book is of rather uneven quality. The first section contains very brief contemporary notices of women like Mary Sidney, Elizabeth Cary, and Lady Mary Wroth, later notices by Ballard, and comments made by twentieth-century editors of Joanna Lumley , Mary Sidney, and Cary and by critics like Virginia Woolf (a brief notice on Margaret Cavendish and the inevitable "Judith Shakespeare" piece) and T.S. Eliot (on Senecan drama).
Of the twenty-one essays, only eight are new. The reprinted articles and selections include the most important studies of early modern English women dramatists that we have to date, and since the volume aims primarily at an audience of readers approaching the subject for the first time, this makes sense. For the same reason, the bibliography is more extensive than one would normally find in a book of this genre. The eight new essays address a variety of topics. Leeds Barroll challenges the view that Anna of Denmark had no influence on the arts in her husband's court. He discusses the strong dramatic interest of several of the ladies surrounding Anna in particular, which is new, and the fact that Anna introduced opulent masques to the court, which is not. The "arts" of the title remains just that: poetry, music, masques. There is relatively little on plays. Marion Wynne-Davies, on the contrary, focuses on two: Wroth's Love's Victory and the Cavendish sisters' The Concealed Fancies. Both are pastoral dramas and were first performed at country houses (Penshurst and Welbeck Abbey). The seclusion and security of the venues, Wynne-Davies argues, were important for producing female-authored literary texts, including dramatic ones, and for nurturing family-based writing. Well argued, convincing, and original, this essay opens up the question of whether these plays were written for performance and, if so, how successful they were.
The subject of performance is treated in depth by three other contributors. Gweno Williams argues that plays written by the eight women dramatists whose work is extant (Lumley, Mary Sidney, Cary, Wroth, Elizabeth Brackley and her sister Jane Cavendish, Margaret Cavendish, Katherine Phillips) should not be considered "closet drama," used as a gendered term that has no raison d'etre in today's critical jargon. Her main thesis," as she calls it, is a rather obvious one: it is not the quality of the writing but the socio-historical circumstances that banned women from the stage or taking part in productions. She suggests the female rhetorical use of the modesty topos might have influenced the critics, but this overlooks the fact that such topoi were used just as frequently and copiously by men. Interestingly, her source for the modesty topos information, Wiesner's Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (to which the page reference is wrong, incidentally) also makes this point, as of course do several later work s, notably Wendy Wall's The Imprint of Gender. Williams' case study, Margaret Cavendish's The Convent of Pleasure, however, offers strong support for her main argument that we need to overhaul our views of early modern women dramatists. Stephanie Hodgson-Wrighr defends performance of these plays from a different standpoint, that of the modern producer. In examining Jane Lumley's Iphigenia at Aulis, she revisits the play via a university student production she directed. But her present study does more with the play than this would suggest. She offers a very perceptive analysis of and many insights on, for example, Lumley's omission of the chorus' spoken parts and the shift of focus to emphasize the mother-daughter relationship, while agreeing with previous commentators that the translated play can be seen against the backdrop of the Jane Grey episode, in which Lumley's father, the duke of Arundel, was implicated. The only suggestion I do not find very convincing--for lack of any proof internal or external--is that Lumley intended him to hear the play, rather than read it. Contrary to Hodgson-Wright's essay based on the empirical evidence afforded by an actual performance, Alison Findlay's faith in the playability of the Cavendish sisters' The Concealed Fancies is based on an "envisaged" production. She rightly points out that the authors and members of the household were actors while the roles were seen as performative. The fancies of the play were indeed the fancies of the authors as they wrote about the household of which they were a part.
An innovative essay by Julie Sanders also questions the term and very concept of "closet drama," complaining that it has shaped our view of the theater. She argues for a new attitude, one which would banish the binary opposition that makes the patriarchal literary inheritance available to men but denies it to women. There were, she contends, far more parallels and strategies of integration between male and female writers than we have recognized, and offers as proof the mutually beneficial lines of influence between Jonson and Margaret Cavendish and the relationship between Shirley and the "feminocentric" circle at court. The two remaining new essays represent the two extremes, as it were, of theater criticism. Drama in its loosest sense is discussed by Carole Levin, who explores the idea of dramatic self-fashioning through some key episodes and set speeches in the life of Elizabeth I. Theater in its most literal sense is represented by S. P. Cerasano's essay on women as theatrical investors. Here the text of the indenture between Marie Bryan and Alleyn for her share in his second Fortune Playhouse that appeared in Renaissance Drama by Women serves as a point of departure for an interesting article about Bryan and the other two women shareholders.
The marriage of new essays and reprints of carefully chosen older ones produces a useful book for the reader coming freshly to the subject of English women dramatists in the early modern period. For specialists in the field it offers less interest, although the essays by Wynne-Davies, Stephanie Hodgson-Wright, and Julie Sanders break new ground.
The second collection of essays, "This Double Voice ": Gendered Writing in Early Modern England (2000), can lay claim to greater originality and also to greater uniformity in terms of focus and quality. It is an impressive work of collective scholarship and provocatively opens up new avenues of discussion in early modern women's studies. In her searching introduction, Danielle Clarke questions the methodology of earlier feminist critics, saying we need to rethink our basic categories of analysis, the product of gynocritical thought. Important though it has been, the "rescuing" of women's texts replicates the model it aimed to displace by making women's constructedness visible, while often assuming men's construction was stable. Secondly, the strategy of interpreting women as ready-formed subjects leads to imposing anachronistic views upon early modern women. The matter, she rightly says, is far more complex, a fact these various studies of gendered texts makes patently clear. The "double voice" of the title, taken from Shakespeare's A Lover's Complaint, suggests that male and female discourse needs to be examined in a new light, for we can no longer assume that the sex of the author is a reliable or authentic indication of the speaker's gender. We cannot, nor should not, define texts solely in terms of author, as both Barthes and Foucault pointed out. Nor should we define male voices as coming from the power of invention and imagination whereas female ones emanate from the interior spaces of experience, maternity, and privacy. Rather than separating women's writings from men's, we should be seeking interlocking and intersecting lines that connect the two. These criticisms run like a leitmotif through the twelve essays, which challenge these and many other assumptions made by previous writers, perhaps a little harshly. One has the distinct impression of a younger generation of scholars rather impatiently--and, one might add, rather ungratefully--brushing aside the older generation's "archeological" activities, to gether with their methodology and interpretations. But no doubt it is time to take stock of where early modern women's studies are and to reassess our attitudes towards female-authored texts in the light of more recent developments in critical discourse. This the present collection of essays does in admirable fashion.
Jane Stevenson is the first to challenge previously held beliefs concerning women writers. She demonstrates that the res publica litteraria was not, as has always been stated, closed to early modern women. The sheer number of female-authored writings in Latin that have been discovered in either manuscript or printed form gives this the lie, as we are finding out from both Stevenson's writing (here and elsewhere) and other sources like the newly-issued volume 3 of Women Writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe (New York and London: Routledge, 2002). The essay ends with a paradox: there is a feminine voice in Latin, although regularly used by ventriloquizing men, but it uses male models, male rhetorical strategies, and male discourse. The only place in which this "maleness" is replaced by feminine discourse is in poems written by women Latinists about being women Latinists. There, unlike the unique paragons that men make them out to be, they see themselves as members of a coterie of learned wo men. Remaining in the field of Latin studies, two essays deal with Ovid's Heroides, a text central to constructing literary gender in the Renaissance. Danielle Clarke explores appropriated versions of the text--translations, imitations invoking Ovidian heroines, and complaints or female-voiced epistles--to see whether it is possible to "identify textual differences which can be mapped onto gendered positions" (85). The two translators are male, as is the only imitator, Thomas Heywood; the complaints and epistles are Isabella Whitney's "The Copy of a Letter" and Wroth's poem in the Urania penned by Dorolina. In a rather sweeping statement, Clarke calls this a reversal of the usual paradigm because Renaissance women translate more than they engage in "original" writing. This however is applicable to neither French nor Italian women, for example, and for that matter Micheline White has even questioned its accuracy for Englishwomen ("Renaissance Englishwomen and Religious Translations: The Case of Anne Locke's Of the markes of the children of God," English Literary Renaissance, 29 ). Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of Renaissance translating was the work of men. Clarke asserts that the translators rework the Latin text to suit the gender ideologies of their time, as does the only imitator. In Whitney's and Wroth's poems, however, the female voice no longer functions purely as a rhetorical device, so that it is marked by both similarity and difference. She ends on a note of warning, familiar by now in the book, that identification of female voices with biological sex and cultural prescriptions is a misreading and requires a fresh way of reading gendered voices in the Renaissance. Lorna Hutson comes to the Heroides from a different angle. She ponders the appropriate way to approach first-person speech in Renaissance texts. Should we believe that it is primarily concerned with revealing character? Hutson suggests that this is an anachronistic way of thinking. Rather, in the case of the Heroides, Ren aissance readers would have been aware of the legal developments within the field of equity that emphasized the legal conception of intention. This would have affected their reading of many of the epistles, which deplore the addressee's breach of promise. Thus the fallen woman's voice is doubled by that of the "other" who has caused her abandonment.
The problem of the female voice is particularly vexed in religious texts, as three of the essays demonstrate in their examination of religious verse written by both sexes. Helen Wilcox asks whether gender is important in spiritual writing. After comparing Donne, Herbert, Sidney, and Lanyer she concludes that we must not underestimate their interdependence; their "double voice must inform our understanding of the role of gender in religious poetry. Rosalind Smith argues for a similar recognition of engagement between female- and male-authored texts in her study of Anne Lock's Miserere mei Deus, where she discusses problems of attribution (not solved by Lock's disclaimer) and its possible influence on our reading of the text as gendered. She also underlines Lock's achievement in using the sonnet form for meditations. Only Louise Labe (and not "Lab" as the text says, 46) had done so before her. Finally, she calls for a more historical approach to women's texts. She sees Lock's sonnets, for example, as part of a network that included men, and thereby shifts the focus of women's studies from the private and domestic to the public and political. Elizabeth Clarke concurs with Smith, although she points out the difficulties of avoiding such dichotomies by discussing the different metaphors used by male and female writers of the Interregnum for their method of composing religious lyrics: "ejaculations" widely used by men but sparingly by women versus "babes" and "offspring," used exclusively by women. None of this gendered discourse, however, can be understood without raking into account questions of religion and politics in the period.
Perhaps the clue to understanding gendered texts lies in their paratexts, which often contribute to constructing authorial images. James Loxley, in a densely argued essay on Katherine Phillips and Cavalier poetry, accuses Phillips' gender-influenced male editors of switching attention from the page to the author, thereby inviting a gender-oriented reading of the text. Alan Stewart makes similar claims in his intelligent study of Anne Cooke Bacon. His title is suggestive: "The Voices of Anne Cooke, Lady Anne, and Lady Bacon." Indeed, we read Anne Cooke's epistle to her translation of Ochino through the male mediation of "G.B."; we see "Ladie A. B.," translator of Jewel's Apologia, through the eyes and pen of Archbishop Matthew Parker; later, we learn of the widow Lady Bacon from Theodore de Beze, who dedicates his Meditations to her. Here the "double voice" represents that of the "real" woman and that of the imagined maiden, wife, widow, and mother of the male-authored paratexts.
In the remaining essays, gender is examined in social settings, nonliterary texts, and artifacts of material culture. Wynne-Davies, like Wilcox, Smith, and Elizabeth Clarke, focuses on the need to study the interplay of male and female connections, choosing as her subject the exchanges between members of the Sidney circle, which affect their literary output. As in her article in Readings in Renaissance Women's Drama, she portrays Penshurst as a secure space for the Sidney women, one that finds a counterpart in the Mount in Urania, but here she compares that vision with Jonson's and William Herbert's completely different versions. Diane Purkiss contends that gender politics affect the portrayal of fairies, and this in various forms of discourse. She compares the complex portrayal of Elizabeth as queen of the fairies in the Faerie Queene with the appearance of fairies in two non-literary texts, a witchcraft testimony and an account of a suspected conspiracy. Frances Teague moves even further away from literary discourse in her thought-provoking essay on seventeenth-century educational tracts. Here, too, our attention is drawn to the interactive nature of the chosen documents, despite their different voices with regard to gender. Milton's "Of Education," Makin's An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen, and Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies are compared in order to demonstrate how context affects gendered readings of educational theory and practice in the period. Finally, Amy Boesky in a fascinating and highly original essay, examines the gendered meanings inherent in giving and owning timepieces: their exchange, form, and the ways in which they were worn were very different for men and women in early modern England. The language of time, then, also contributed to creating a gendered discourse, a "double voice."
Although no doubt the early excavators of Renaissance women's writings were responsible for some erroneous interpretations concerning authorial sex and textual gender, as many of the contributors to "This Double Voice" contend, they nevertheless set in motion a movement to identify texts written by women and to have them made available. Critics are nothing without reliably-edited texts, as the Renaissance knew. Three projects in particular are responsible for propagating scholarly editions of early modern Englishwomen's writings: Ashgate's The Early Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works; Oxford University Press' series Women Writers in English 1350-1850, which grew out of the Brown University project Women Writers Online and its subset Renaissance Women Online; and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance series Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (sometimes in conjunction with the Renaissance English Text Society), which although not confined to publishing exclusively women's wri tings has brought out many texts in the past few years. Tellingly, five of the six critical editions reviewed here come from its press.
Betty Travitsky's Subordination and Authorship in Early Modern England: The Case of Elizabeth Cavendish and Her "Loose Papers" (1999) is in truth more than a critical edition. Travitsky offers us in a 170-page "introductory monograph" a most thorough discussion of Cavendish's evolution from young girl under her father's authority to young wife and then prudent and pious mother under her husband's, an evolution mirrored in her writings. Travitsky presents her work in a modest fashion that quite belies the quality and originality of her scholarship and her meticulous editing of Cavendish's various compositions, brought here together for the first time. Like the contributors to "This Double Voice," she eschews previous generalizations about early modern women and emphasizes the importance of context and circumstance in trying to recover the "lost" voices of early modern women writers. Her edition of the "Loose Papers," a collection of prayers and meditations comprising only thirty-five printed pages, is a docume ntary one with an accompanying list of variants. It also includes in an appendix a long country-house poem written by a dependent of the Bridgewater family, Marie Burghope, discovered by Travitsky and published here for the first time. Although fairly short, it adds to our knowledge of the country-house poem, inviting comparison with Lanyer's "To Cook-ham," and women's autobiographical poetry.
The editors of The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania by Lady Mary Wroth (1999), Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller, offer no critical or textual introduction because Josephine Roberts, whose work they are carrying on, died before composing them. However, they give us a very derailed general description of the manuscript, its history and nature, Wroth's altered narrative directions in part 2, her language and style, and her handwriting. They also explain that they have followed Roberts' editorial principles, providing an old-spelling text with modernized punctuation, paragraphs to set off dialogues and speeches, and substantive editorial changes indicated in square brackets. The comments, which include some references to Roberts' "jottings," are explanatory and informative while the indices (places, characters, and first lines of poems) prepared by Micheline White are helpful. The text is Roberts' careful and accurate transcription as verified by the editors. In short, Gossett and Mueller have shown themselves worthy heirs to one of the finest editors and critics of early modern compositions.
Susan M. Felch presents us with the first edition of Anne Vaughan Lock's collected writings, based on collated copies in the case of her translations of Calvin's Sermons and Taffin's Of the Markes of the Children of God. Like other editions in this series, The Collected Works of Anne Vaughan Lock (1999) wisely keeps editorial intervention to a minimum but is generous in providing useful textual notes, explanatory notes, and indices, together with a good introduction giving details of the author's life and contribution to Protestantism and the world of letters. The analysis of Lock's Epistles to the Duchesses of Suffolk and Warwick is particularly perceptive and the comments in general are studded with small nuggets of new and interesting information. On the other hand, the few remarks on the nature and quality of the translations are laconic and far too general (it is also a little bumptious to call Lock's statement that she has rendered the original "so nere as I possibly might" and "in so plaine Englishe as I could expresse" her "philosophy of translation") and this is not compensated for by the nevertheless useful textual notes showing deviations from the French original. However, Felch has provided future critics and translation specialists with an excellent edition, for which she must be congratulated.
Constance Fowler, Anna Trapnel, and Jane Sharp are not as well known as Wroth and Lock, or even Elizabeth Cavendish, so we should thank their editors for making them and their work more familiar and available. Perhaps Deborah Aldrich-Watson's The Verse Miscellany of Constance Aston Fowler: A Diplomatic Edition (2000) is the least interesting of the three works under consideration. The Miscellany consists of other people's poems that Fowler, her sister, and her husband copied. Aldrich-Watson tries to attribute some of the poems to her on account of her personality, which seems rather like building a house upon the sands. The introduction is informative about the socio-historical background to the Miscellany but rather repetitious, while her claim that the anthology is of "considerable literary and historical interest" (xxi) is perhaps a little overblown. Anna Trapnel's Cry of a Stone, written in 1654, has waited three-and-a-half centuries to see print but is now well presented by its editor, Hilary Hands. Trap nel's prophecy is recounted by a male "relater," which of course raises questions of textual authenticity. Hands proposes an eminently sensible solution to the Scylla and Charybdis of autobiographical fallacy and Barthes' death of the author: she sees Trapnel's activities not as extra-textual elements informing the text but as being part of the text. This does much to allay the fear of reading early modern women s writings anachronistically. The text is based on a collation of the only two extant editions and differences are endnoted, rather than footnoted as the editor says. Accompanying comments are in the main useful although some are rather obvious for readers of a text of this nature (for example, explanations of words like "seer," "scribe," "pretend," "linen draper"). Our final text is also non-literary. Jane Sharp's The Midwives Book: Or the Whole Art of Midwifry Discovered, edited in 1999 by Elaine Hobby with the usual standard of scholarship and care one expects of her work, is a manual on the ante- and post-natal care of women and children. Hobby argues for Sharp's uniquely female approach and style, supporting her view with a discussion of the differences between Sharp's treatise and those of her exclusively male predecessors which she reshapes and reformulates. The edition is a conservative one based on two copies of the 1672 first edition, with variants from the 1724 and 1725 editions given in the "Note of the Text." A very helpful medical glossary and good footnotes provide guidance for the uninitiated. The tantalizing question of Sharp's identity unfortunately remains just that.
The works reviewed here represent only a small part of the current output of monographs, editions, and articles that raise and attempt to answer questions of gender, authorship, textual meaning, and significance in the writings of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women. However, the literary production uncovered and interpreted in these ten works by editors and critics alike is well served. There is every reason to think that they, and others following in their footsteps, will continue to "unfetter" the multiple voices of the women poets, prose writers, and translators who in varying ways enriched the social and cultural life of early modern England and who, increasingly, still speak to us today.
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|Title Annotation:||ten books|
|Author:||Hosington, Brenda M.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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