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So I'm making my way through Harold Love's The Culture and Commerce of Texts, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England, which goes something like this: BORING BORING BORING DUH KNEW THAT BORING FASCINATING ANALYSIS OF SHAKESPEARE THEN WOMEN'S WRITING BORING BORING. Um, yeah. And I'm only halfway through.
But!! That section on Shakespeare!

So it's from a chapter on reading and Love pulls out a discussion by John Thompson on the number of dialogues from Shakespeare where women are literally read/to be read by men. Eg. Leonato of Hero, "The story that is printed in her blood," Othello on Desdemona, "Was this fair paper / this most goodly book / made to write 'whore' upon?" There's a number of other examples, by Shakespeare and others, including Fuller's "Indeed the Press, at first a Virgin, then a Chast Wife, is since turned Common, as to prostitute her self to all Scurrilous Pamphlets." Basically there's a direct tie of women and sex, eg. women to be "read" (passive), and the sexualization of objects of production.

Even John Donne does this in his Latin Poem to Dr. Andrewes, the translation of which is typically obfuscated: "What presses give birth to with sodden pangs is acceptable, but manuscripts are more venerated. A book dyed with the blood of the press departs to an open shelf where it is exposed to moths and ashes,; but one written by the pen is held in reverence and flies to the privileged shelf reserved for the ancient fathers." This is of course fascinating too because women helped preserve scribal culture--for a number of reasons, including authorial control and "the stigma of print" women from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries circulated their writings among their small circles of friends. (Women who published during this time were open to attack not unlike women today.) So Donne is here feminizing a masculine culture of production, and masculinizing what was becoming feminine culture--which, fascinating.

For reference, couple weeks ago I posted briefly about how women and writing are also sexualized in our terminology--eg, a "hack" was a term for a prostitute that became the code word for a cheap/bad writer, and "streetwalker" which still exists as a term for prostitute now originally referenced women who published and sold pamphlets. In short, the second you leave those private spheres allocated to you, you are open to sexual attack real and metaphorical.

Anyways, back to "reading women." What this really makes me think of is how men like to assign identities and roles to women and women writers. There are actual narratives, eg. in movies/television you have the usual contrast of the predatory woman/femme fatale (maybe best articulated currently by Julian Fellowes in Downton Abbey with what Todd likes to call the "maid fatales"--because we all just *know* those poor men of rank were constantly being seduced by their women emplyees *coff*bullshit*coff*) and the damsel/saintly mother/what have you. (This is also why we always get excited about genuine strong women, because we've had to deal with SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS OF THE SAME ROLES.) And then you have the narratives of our culture, best discussed by Chimamanda Ngozi in "The Danger of the Single Story":

This also reminds me of the problems of when you're critiquing writing in class with friends and you can see so much internalized misogyny on the pages and you have to weigh between giving an honest opinion and saying "Can we take a break for some social justice and consciousness raising?" and just saying "Well this is technically well-written but everyone seems rather rather flat--what's going on here?" (I tended to say the latter because I am often that Awful Nice Person and I really wish I wasn't.)

Anyways, the point of this ramble is really just considering how odd/horrible it is that we've had five hundred years to work on this and not much has changed. Over the weekend, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how she hates when she posts about her daughter or feminism and whatnot and then men have to comment about how she was "wrong"--so of course a bunch of men posted about how she was wrong. *snort* I of course just left this link.

Really I need to reread Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing, because it doesn't matter if you write fanfic, romance novels, poetry, and anything else--we're still going to be sidelined, we're going to create our own communities of our own--and then be denigrated for those same activities.

In short : AUGH.


( 6 comments — Add your .02 )
Feb. 5th, 2014 07:07 pm (UTC)
Well and truly said, bright eyes! \o/
Feb. 5th, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
lol!! *cuddles* I don't think I really say anything so much as flail at a bunch of things altogether.

I just finished a chapter that talked about sites of reading and there was a section on coffeehouses. Which, you know, one of my fav tropes in fic is the coffeeshop AU, and I think it's interesting how there's that transformation there from a male-dominated space of business and news to what we could consider a more feminized space of community and writing, esp. as is fetishized (how many women have crushes real or theoretical baristas, which is back to sexualizing production?). Dammit, there's a paper in there, isn't there?
Feb. 5th, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC)
What an illuminating post! As a writer and scholar most interested in women and writing, everything you've written just hits me where I live. Do you have any recommendations for books on the history of women writers? Also, Adiche's speech is especially resonant with me as a black female reader and writer who took an embarrassingly long time to realize that I had been duped into reading and writing the single story for far too long. Again, thanks so much for this wonderful post!
Feb. 6th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
<3 <3 <3
*squishes* Are you looking more for history/criticism or anthologies of texts by women?

I do really have to rec Margaret Ezell's Writing Women's Literary History because she talks about how what we "know" about the history women's writing largely comes from Virginia Woolf's "Judith Shakespeare"--the problem being that though Woolf's is a great book, it's fiction, and it skews things because then the "common knowledge" becomes based on something that's not only modern, but untrue! McDowell's Women of Grub Street talks about seventeenth and eighteenth century women writers and women in the book trades.

I have an Early Modern Women Poets Anthology but I haven't gotten to it yet. Renaissance Women and Drama: Texts and Documents is really interesting.

Those are all what pop into mind. :)
Feb. 9th, 2014 06:59 am (UTC)
Re: <3 <3 <3
Thanks for the instarecs, I'll have to get them once I get more of a handle on my reading list this semester. I'd love some more recs of a historical/critical bent when you get some time. Thanks so much! How's school going for you?
Feb. 9th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
Re: <3 <3 <3
I'm doing pretty good, thanks. I'm falling a little behind but I can make it up when I'm reading some of the less dense stuff. You might be interested in this section of my prelims reading too:

Early Modern Women Writers


Behn, Aphra. Oronoko.

Cary, . The Tragedy of Mariam.

Cavendish, Jane and Elizabeth Brackley, Concealed Fancies.

Cavendish, Margaret. in Campo.

------------------------ The Blazing World.

Clifford, Lady Anne. The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford.

Elizabeth I. [Stump, Donald, and Felch, Eds. Elizabeth I and Her Age. W.W.Norton, 2008.]

Fell, Margaret. Womens Speaking Justified.

Hoby, Margaret. Diary of an Elizabethan Lady.

Hutchinson, Lucy. Order and Disorder.

Lanier, Emilia. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.

Sidney, Mary. The Tragedy of Antonie.

[Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson, Eds.] Selections from Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology.

Trapnell, Anna. Report and Plea.

Wroth, Mary. The First Part of Urania.


Anderson, Jennifer, and Elizabeth Sauer, Eds. Books and Readers in Early Modern England. Press, 2002.

Brant, C. and D. Purkiss. Women, Texts, and Histories 1575-1760. London, 1992.

Daybell, J., Ed. Early Modern Women’s Letter writing, 1450-1700. Basingstoke, 2001.

Dowd, M.M. and J.A. Eckerle, Eds. Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England. Aldershot, 2007.

Ezell, Margaret. Writing Women’s Literary History. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Gallagher, Catherine, Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace,1670-1820. 1994.

Goldberg, Jonathan. Desiring Women Writing: English Renaissance Examples. Stanford University Press, 1997.

Graham, E. et al. Her Own Life: Autobiographical Writings by Seventeenth-Century Englishwomen. London, 1989.

Hackel, Heidi Brayman. Reading Material in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Justice, G.L. and N. Tinker. Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800. Cambridge, 2002.

Knoppers, Laura L., Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

McDowell, Paula. The Women of Grub Street: Press, Politics and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace, 1678-1730. 1998.

Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender and the Politics of History. Columbia University Press, 1999.

Smith, Helen. ‘Grossly Material Things’: Women and Book Culture in Early Modern England. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Summit, J. Lost Property: The Woman Writer and English Literary History, 1380-1589. Chicago, 2000.
( 6 comments — Add your .02 )

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