Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: An Anthology of Renaissance Writing

By Betty S. Travitsky; Anne Lake Prescott | Go to book overview

Introduction

Studying Gender in the Early Modern Period: Complicating the Picture

This volume was born of the realization that it is still difficult for scholars to teach gender-aware courses on the early modern period, since many traditional anthologies—even fairly recent ones—have almost no selections by women, offering only slight evidence to show that, so to speak, Judith Shakespeare did exist in early modern England. There are, of course, inherent difficulties that in part explain this situation. Responsible surveys of early modern English documents must reflect the fact that more early modern English men than women could write (as well as read), and anthologies of early modern English literature, after all, must inevitably be dominated by male authors such as More, Sidney, Spenser, Donne, Bacon, Wyatt, and Herbert. Even admirably edited anthologies of early modern English texts that take pains to include women writers, therefore, cannot escape a certain tokenism: women writers are far outnumbered. How then, we asked ourselves, could one achieve a doubled vision of this record? One solution is to assign a selection of women's writings alone, but such collections unavoidably risk ghettoizing women's voices.

At present, in our opinion, there is probably no wholly satisfactory way of dealing with the unhappy fact that although women made up half the population in early modern England and although all writers perceived the world through categories that include gender, the early modern written record is dominated by men. However, we theorized, if women's texts could be foregrounded without being ghettoized, readers would be more likely to take gender into account when reading the literature of the past. As it is, too many people, we suspect, still think of literature by men as literature and literature by women as women's literature. An anthology that accomplished such a feat, we reasoned, would encourage readers to take gender into account when reading texts by both women and men. How they would take it into account—what they would make of similarities and differences, whether they would read difference as inherent or as socially constructed—would be up to them to decide (and an interesting focus for class discussion enabled by such a collection). An anthology that brought women's texts together with texts by men in terms of gender, sex, and eroticism, would, we

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