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Colette H. Winn, ed. Protestations et revendications feminines. Textes oublies et inedits sur l'education feminine (XVIe-XVIIe siecle).

Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2002. 276 pp. + 8 b/w pls. index, illus, gloss, bibl. 38 [euro]. ISBN: 2-7453-0649-9.

Professor Winn has collected and edited for experts on the Renaissance as well as for readers with modern literary, cultural, feminist, and interdisciplinary interests an exquisite collection of eight theoretical writings on the nature of women, on their intellectual and moral virtues, and on the status of women in society, all by women authors and all published between 1595 and 1625. Well known for her work in this area, Professor Winn is director of Champion's publications on women's education as well as editor of this one.

These writings focus on mainly defensive and a few quasi-offensive arguments in the querelle des femmes (1405 to the eighteenth century). By spanning the seventeenth century these texts "provide a representative sample of the positions taken by women in this literary debate" (fournissent un echantillon representatif de la part prise par les femmes darts ce debat litteraire, 7). Their range in argument and style is wide. The earliest work is Marie Le Gendre's on the Exercise of the Virtuous Soul (1597) (L'exercice de l'ame vertueuse), of which is published her Discourse 7 "Of Ignorance" on the moral necessity for women and for men to banish ignorance with knowledge. The penultimate text is Gabrielle Suchon's Treatise on Morals and Politics (1693) (Le Traite de la Morale et de la Politique) which forges a chain of logic from biblical, ancient Greek, and early ecclesiastical authorities to claim women's right to autonomy and defend their intellectual capacity against unjust criticism, similar to Marie de Gournay's concise Complaint of the Ladies (Grief des Dames) of 1626. The focal point of these excerpted discourses, treatises, and defenses, some as short as four dense pages and others almost ten times longer, is on the power of women's intellect and their natural capacity for education and enlightenment. The strategies employed in the debate are also diverse, from defenses of the equality or superiority of women as compared to men (Jacqueline de Miremont, the one in verse, 1602) to justifications of women's worthiness, right, and duty to receive a liberal and encyclopedic education (Jacquette Guillaume, 1665).

Several features make this annotated critical edition unique. As Professor Winn's introduction states, this volume is first, a collection of texts written by women rather than the overwhelming amount of more familiar writings by men on moral philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics, generally attacking women. Writing on their own behalf affords not only the feminine perspective added to the dominant patriarchal position but also connects these texts to the political and social roles of their authors in history and in culture.

Second, these treatises on women's virtue and intellect span the entire seventeenth century and more, in an almost unbroken link to one another, including the lateral connection established in dedications and prefaces between noblewomen and their liegewomen and the link made from the homage paid by some noble and bourgeois women to their female authorial antecedents. Taken together they form a conceptual network of women writing to other women.

Third, writings on the modern woman question from this period had remained obscure and undiscovered for centuries and potentially could unearth not only the continuities but also the distinctive permutations of their philosophy, logic, and ideology. For example, they could reveal differences in argument according to women's class and social status, or whether there is a clear evolution in notions about the feminine at this time.

Four, these treatises appear now during what has become a thirty-year boom in academic and popular interest in and debate about women and their writing. Professor Winn returns these selections to their place with an introduction serving as historical overview, detailed notes to the philosophy, rhetoric, history, and literature, a sixteen-page bibliography, and an eight-page chronology of the principal writings by both men and women on the woman question published from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Since this is one of a number of publications by women authors to appear since 1995 in Champion's Renaissance text series, perhaps interest in women authors of this era is approaching its own relative "boom." May the current trend in academic publishing of this high quality continue.


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Author:Clark-Evans, Christine
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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