Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet and Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England: Unbridled Speech.
London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. xiv + 198 pp. $39.95. ISBN: 0-19-512484-7.
Jocelyn Catty, Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England: Unbridled Speech
Basinstoke and London: Macmillan Press and New York: St. Martin's Press. 1999. ix + 276 pp. $65. ISBN: 0-333-74028-9; 0-312-22181-9.
Readers interested in restoring women writers to literary history will welcome both of these studies. Susanne Woods places Aemilia Lanyer among major male authors -- especially Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, and Donne -- surrounding the composition and publication of her Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in 1611. Jocelyn Catty focuses on the representation of rape in many Elizabethan and Jacobean male authors and genres, concluding her study with four chapters devoted to the topic in the works of Jane Lumley, Mary Sidney, Elizabeth Cary, and Mary Wroth. While both Woods and Catty state that they write as twentieth-century women, Woods has the more concentrated focus, calling her reading "diachronic," and considering the expectations both of 1611 and 1999. Catty, on the other hand, ranges widely, addressing an interdisciplinary as well as a literary audience. She explains the different definitions and connotations of rape in several eras, with some attention to historical and social contexts. However, many quite stimula ting arguments depend on her reader's consciousness of forced, symbolic, and consensual rape articulated in more recent decades of this century. Woods challenges traditional upholders of the "canon" to measure Lanyer's part within it. At the same time her clear explanation of such basic concepts as Humanism and Protestantism make her work accessible to students and new scholars. Catty, insightful and creative as she is, covers so many genres, authors, and concepts that her reader may wish to focus on separate sections or to give the whole study a second reading.
Woods establishes Lanyer as "the first woman writing in English who clearly sought professional standing as a poet" (vii). The men she chooses to discuss not only share Lanyer's access to a circle of patrons but also share "roughly" the same social class. The initial chapter on Lanyer's life and historical context gives a lively glimpse into the lives of major figures as well as those of Marian exiles, court musicians, Humanist educators, and court figures who peopled the context in which Lanyer lived.
Woods's placement of Lanyer with Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, and Donne adds valuable insight into the literary ties of the period. In her consideration of patronage, Woods draws clear comparisons not only of Spenser's relationship with his dedicatees but especially with the contrasting tones adopted by Jonson and Lanyer toward the figures they address. The most interesting practice Woods suggests that Lanyer may have learned from Spenser is "centering the margins," using a marginal figure to advance the progress of a major one. Here Una's power to keep Red Crosse focused on his quest suggests the power of another marginal woman, Pilate's wife in the Salve Deus. For Woods, too, Una, as an active "reader" of the world around her, resembles the Countess herself, who "reads the book of holiness correctly" (71).
Discussing Shakespeare, Woods focuses less on the plays than on Venus and Adonis. Her examination of red and white as physical representations of male beauty and of suffering in Shakespeare's epyllion forms an interesting parallel with Lanyer's portrayal of the beauty of a dying male figure, transforming the physical detail of Adonis's blood into the metaphysical depiction of Christ's suffering body and blood on the cross.
Another stimulating section of Woods's study concerns Lanyer and Jonson. In addition to their contrasting stances toward their patrons, Woods finds "gendered portraits" (115) in poetry of praise, comparing Jonson's idealized stoic women with Lanyer's explicit compliments to her figures' Christian virtue. Rather than reviewing the much-discussed comparison of the two authors' country house poems, Woods stirs her reader to consider what Jonson may have learned from Wroth and to ponder the "Cooke-ham" section of the Salve Deus, a work written earlier than To Penshurst, as "the first in a line of seventeenth-century poems, the portrait of a place and time that was both an affirmation of social values or...a memento and celebration of a beloved place" (118).
Woods's final section, "Lanyer and English Religious Verse" examines Protestant and Catholic psalm translations and lyrics in Lanyer's time. It also makes the important point that many scholars of the period sometimes omit, the important role played by religion in daily life. As a whole Lanyer's book is a model for scholars -- clear in structure, meticulous in detail, and stimulating in her consideration of the ways Lanyer suits her time and also contributes to our present interest in the Renaissance.
Jocelyn Catty's pioneering and wide-ranging discussion of rape in early modern England deserves attention for its fresh reading of material in early romances, poetic genres, and dramas by many sixteenth and seventeenth-century men and women. After introducing rape definitions in earlier contexts, she specifies her own concept, "sexual intercourse without the woman's consent" (4). Catty turns to each genre in Part I to consider verbal and physical force in the works of both obscure and well-known men. Part II, "Writing Women," includes chapters on the translations of Jane Lumley and Mary Sidney, and the original works of Elizabeth Gary and Mary Wroth. The reader who is willing to accept some literal readings of such allegorical rapes as the foundation myths of Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and who is also interested in modern correlations of rape with violence, with its role in seduction, and also with female feelings of complicity, will appreciate Catty's insights.
Catty unifies her work by examining such classical figures as Philomela and Arachne as subjects of rape stories and as communicators of their experiences. Other prominent figures who have incited discussions of a woman's complicity in the violence she has undergone include Lucrece and Susanna. In her survey of genres, especially of poetry and drama, she examines the argument that a women's beauty makes her an aggressor, that "no" means "yes," and that women enjoy forcible sexual encounters. Catty's sensitive reading of original materials encourages a reader to rethink much early modern prose and poetry concerning courtship and marriage.
A major strength of the study is Catty's examination of the relationship of rape to female silence as well as to female discourse. Philomela and Arachne, for instance, communicate their encounters through writing and visual artistry. Catty also draws attention to occasions and genres which validate a woman's account of her violation, particularly lyric complaints by such figures as Rosamond and Jane Shore, and the "swan songs" uttered and believed because the speaker is voicing her final words. Especially in the discussion of Mary Wroth, she convincingly argues the connections linking forced sexual experiences with narrative empowerment. Although some of the examples hold distinctly phallic overtones, the association of sexuality and female creativity provokes thought and adds coherence.
Some refreshing insights appear in the chapters devoted to women authors. Her examination of Jane Lumley's revision both of Euripides' and Erasmus' versions of Iphigeneia's sacrifice pays attention to details which other writers on the topic have not noticed. Another very interesting chapter calls attention to betrothal and marriage in the works of Elizabeth Gary. Discussing The Tragedie of Miriam, for instance, Catty calls the reader's attention to the meek and often dismissed handmaid, Graphina, as an eloquent speaker who retains her chastity by manipulating her lover with language. Her discussion of Cary's Edward II supports Gary's sympathetic portrayal of Isabel, whose eloquent appeals draw pity, in spite of her adultery and rebellion, until her cruelty turns the reading audience against her. Partly because of the immensity of her subject, however, Catty loses some opportunities to clarify the history and influences surrounding Lumley and Cary. For instance, Lumley's father, the twelfth Earl of Arundel, s upported the plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne as a formality, sending immediate news and a warning to Mary Tudor. Discussing Elizabeth Gary's Edward II, Catty needs to include Gary's indebtedness to Michael Drayton, a friend of the family and a prolific writer on the historical reign of Edward II.
A strong final section focused on Lady Mary Wroth's Urania emphasizes Wroth's playful revision of situations from her uncle Philip Sidney's Old Arcadia and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. Further, Wroth's fictional queens are especially vulnerable to suitors who seek power rather than love. Catty also helps her reader to evaluate Wroth's open expression of female desire in the creative process, especially in contrast to the silence imposed on living, "virtuous" women who have remained reticent on the topic in earlier works.
Catty's breadth of vision and the depth of her close textual and mythological readings are extraordinary in this first book, a revision of her doctoral dissertation. At times, though, the material is so vast that the reader raises questions. For instance, is Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter a symbolic rape? Also, Petrarch (and Mary Sidney) can give Laura an eloquent voice because she is a virtuous dead woman, but Catty herself admits that no violence took place in Laura's life. In general, Catty has surveyed her secondary sources with unusual thoroughness, yet I missed any allusion to the work of Margaret Hannay on Mary Sidney or to Naomi Miller and Gary Waller, whose scholarship on the Sidney women would complement many of the issues Catty addresses. Even though the book has a clear introductory chapter, with summations occurring after each major section, a reader would benefit from more detailed reminders for most points. I also learned much from the lengthy endnotes but would have appreciated encount ering more of their support within the text itself. However, a reader leaves the study stimulated to reread some of the works and to put the insights about rape and its relationship to expression to test.
Both authors make inestimable contributions to the study both of gender and of early modern literature. Woods would be helpful even with beginners while experienced scholars will find much wisdom in both.
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|Author:||ARNOLD, MARGARET J.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2001|
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