Printer Friendly

Writing Women in Jacobean England.

No one reading Writing Women in Jacobean England will be disappointed by the heavy guns that Barbara Lewalski has brought to bear on the lives and works of the nine Jacobean women--Anne of Denmark, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Arabella Stuart, Lucy Russell, Anne Clifford, Rachel Speght, Elizabeth Cary, Aemilia Lanyer, and Mary Wroth--who are her subjects. Lewalski's care befits the deliverer of the 1991 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture, "Writing Women and Reading the Renaissance," who stated that "[i]f there is anything that scholars in the Renaissance and scholars of the Renaissance (of whatever ideological persuasion) might be expected to share, it is delight in the recovery of texts worthy of attention as aesthetic objects and/or as significant documents for interpreting the period. Arguably such new texts--and especially texts and artworks by women--will constitute the most enduring element in our ongoing reconstruction of the Renaissance."

As the result, however, of a number of questionable decisions --to concentrate on nine figures rather than on a broader spectrum, to confine the study to the Jacobean period, and to include, despite these limitations, a recovery of the activities of several non-writing Jacobean women--Lewalski has produced a solid but somewhat disappointing study which could more appropriately have been called "Writing Women Into Jacobean England."

It is true that sixteenth-century women "turned much more readily to translation than to original composition." Yet, if "we first hear Englishwomen's own voices in some numbers in the Jacobean period," we do not hear about great numbers of writers in this study, and we lose the light that a scholar of Lewalski's stature might have shed on a number of earlier figures. It would have been valuable, for example, to learn more about the religious sonnets appended to Anne Lok's translation of Calvin's Sermons ... upon the songe that Ezechias made ... (1560), poems that now hover in a critical never-never-land, still undetermined to be the original or translated work of the "mother of English sonneteering." Nor do we learn more about the moving life-writings of Catherine Parr and Anne Askew, who surely confronted patriarchal constraints in the sixteenth century as consciously as did Anne Clifford in the seventeenth. And we are somewhat misled when we are told that Amelia Lanyer was "the first Englishwoman to publish [in 1611!] a substantial volume of original poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" (6), but do not hear about the original love poetry of Isabella Whitney, (Copy of a Letter [1567]). The inclusion of chapters on Anne of Denmark and on Lucy Russell is surely questionable (especially in the lack offocus on Russell's one important poem), and it is particularly disappointing that Lewalski's useful and highly readable chapter on Elizabeth of Bohemia does not analyze as literary works the letters of the Winter Queen, which are important instances of a private form (often employed in a semi-official manner), but instead focuses on Elizabeth's life.

There is much to be praised, nevertheless, in the chapters on Arabella Stuart, Amelia Lanyer, Rachel Speght, Elizabeth Cary, and Mary Wroth. If most of them do not break new ground, agreeing with the foci of Sara Jayne Steen's study of Stuart's letters, of Susanne Woods' study of Lanyer, and of Lewalski's own earlier work, they comprise consistently careful, well-documented, and economical essays on women writers who are increasingly recognized to deserve attention, even by die-hard naysayers to the addition of women writers to the early modern canon. The appendices on the authorship of Cary's hybrid Edward II and on the presentation copies of Lanyer's Salve Deus are concise and useful.

The most original and valuable section of the book, however, is Lewalski's breathtaking chapter on Rachel Speght, "Defending Women's Essential Equality: Rachel Speght's Polemics and Poems." Here Lewalski provides the student of early modern women writers with a model of historical recovery at its most impressive, breaking with the dismissive (and historically insensitive) assessments of most earlier twentieth-century writers, as well as with those of Speght's own immediate followers in the flyting with Joseph Swetnam, by reconstructing the essentially audacious and iconoclastic qualities of this remarkable young woman writer. Here is the quality that one looked for throughout this volume; one hopes that Professor Lewalski will bring such attention in the future to further delightful recoveries.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Travitsky, Betty S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1994
Previous Article:Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models.
Next Article:The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth.

Related Articles
Three Renaissance Travel Plays.
Tudor and Stuart Women Writers.
Gender, Sex and Subordination in England: 1500-1800.
The Diary of Anne Clifford: 1616-1619.
Changing the Subject: Mary Wroth and Figurations of Gender in Early Modern England.
Women Writers in English: 1350-1850.
The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works. Part 1: Printed Writings, 1500-1640.
The Polemics and Poems of Rachel Speght.
Three Marriage Plays.
Conforming to the World: Herbert, Donne, and the English Church Before Laud.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |