“Nor fear I censure” : early modern women writers and issues of authority, 1578-1680.
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Roberts, Rachel M. De Smith.
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In the early modern period, women were discouraged from writing for the public sphere; moreover, the genres of history and romance were particularly unwelcoming to women. In this project, I study four works by women who wrote in these male-dominated genres: Margaret Tyler’s The Mirror of Princely Deeds and Knighthood (1578); Anne Dowriche’s The French Historie (1589); Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (1621); and Elizabeth Cary’s History of Edward II (composed c. 1627; published 1680). I explore the methods by which each of these writers creates an authoritative relationship with her readers even when those readers are skeptical about women’s writing. Broadly speaking, I examine three facets of each author’s work: prefatory material, narrative style, and allusions to current events. Within my study of each author, however, I draw attention to her unique authorizing strategies, which reflect each writer’s goal for her work. Whether that goal is demonstrating to readers the importance of English nationalism, teaching readers how to interpret Protestant texts, bolstering ongoing authority after a work’s publication, or suggesting a course of political action, each of these writers creates her authority in a way that will best fulfill her purpose. It is my hope that this project will, first, give my readers an additional framework with which to understand the often-radical work of early modern women writers; second, advance my readers’ understanding of Tyler, Dowriche, Wroth, Cary, and their lives and work; and third, encourage readers to notice and attend to non-canonical voices in every field, for it is often such marginalized texts that most clearly illustrate the creation of authority.