English 9216

Shaping Early Modern Women’s Authorship: Past and Present

Instructor: Professor Madeline Bassnett.
Full Year Equivalent, Summer 2024.

How did sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women shape themselves as authors; how were they shaped by their male counterparts; and how is authorial shaping continued by editors, critics, and authors today? In the early modern period, women, like men, were busy defining themselves as authors within the new public context of print culture while also retaining a foothold in the world of the manuscript. But unlike men, women had to grapple with lower levels of literacy and greater cultural and religious restrictions on speech and conduct, and gender frequently governed generic choices and literary expression. Yet gender was not the only influence on authorial self-construction. Class, family connections, financial need, and religious and political allegiances likewise contributed to how women (and their readers) understood the relationship between themselves, the act of writing, and the range of identities they could take on as authors. At the same time, women’s writing could be edited and moulded by their male contemporaries for their own religious and political ends. Early modern women’s writing continues to be refashioned today, through our own perspectives on gender, sexuality, class, and race.

In this class, we’ll look at texts such as Anne Askew’s records of her interrogation and imprisonment for religious “heresy,” heavily edited by Protestant polemicist John Bale; Anna Trapnel’s prophecies, transcribed by an anonymous (and likely male) recorder; Rachel Speght’s intervention into the debate about women; Mary Wroth’s prose romance Urania; Hester Pulter’s manuscript poems and their edited editions; and early modern manuscript recipe books, which provide a unique model of collective authorship. We will also examine contemporary novels and critical material that shape and reimagine early modern women, their lives, and their authorial practices.