Feminism and Renaissance Studies

By Lorna Hutson | Go to book overview

10 Literary Fat Ladies and the Generation
of the Text

Patricia Parker

To play with mimesis is thus, for a woman, to try to recover the
place of her exploitation by discourse, without allowing herself to
be simply reduced to it. It means to resubmit herself—inasmuch
as she is on the side of the “perceptible,” of “matter”—to “ideas,”
in particular to ideas about herself that are elaborated in/by a
masculine logic, but so as to make “visible,” by an effect of playful
repetition, what was supposed to remain invisible: the cover-up
of a possible operation of the feminine in language….One must
assume the feminine role deliberately, which means already to
convert a form of subordination into an affirmation, and thus to
begin to thwart it.

(Luce Irigaray)

Much of this essay will have to do with walls or partitions; so we begin with a rhetorical partition, a division of the subject into parts. The first, which might be called “The Body in Question,” comes in several sections and is perhaps appropriately by far the largest. The concluding will be a kind of appendage under the rubric of “The Genitive, or Jinny's Case” and “The Vocative, or the Story of O.” The Postscript— which goes beyond the Renaissance instances primarily foregrounded here—takes this story into the subsequent history of linkages between female copia, of body and of word, and the copiousness of texts.

First, the question of “fat ladies.” We will begin with a woman called Rahab, the redeemed harlot of Jericho from the biblical Old Testament. No record of the conquest of Jericho by Joshua (whom, in Milton's words, the Gentiles Jesus call) indicates that she was physically fat. She was simply the harlot associated with the walls at the entrance to the Promised Land. Her name in Hebrew, however, means “wide” or “broad.”1 Her conversion from the heathen to the Israelite cause

From Patricia Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (Methuen, 1987), 8-35.
© Patricia Parker. Reprinted with permission.

-249-

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Feminism and Renaissance Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Notes on Contributors vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Humanism After Feminism 19
  • 1: Did Women Have a Renaissance? 21
  • 2: Women Humanists 48
  • 3: The Housewife and the Humanists 82
  • 4: The Tenth Muse 106
  • Part II - Historicizing Femininity 125
  • 5: The Notion of Woman in Medicine, Anatomy, and Physiology 127
  • 6: Women on Top 156
  • 7: The 'Cruel Mother' 186
  • 8: Witchcraft and Fantasy in Early Modern Germany 203
  • Part III 231
  • 9: Diana Described 233
  • 10: Literary Fat Ladies and the Generation of the Text 249
  • 11: Margaret Cavendish and the Romance of Contract 286
  • 12: Surprising Fame 317
  • Part IV - Women's Agency 337
  • 13: Women on Top in the Pamphlet Literature of the English Revolution 339
  • 14: La Donnesca Mano 373
  • 15: Guilds, Male Bonding and Women's Work in Early Modern Germany 412
  • 16: Language, Power, and the Law 428
  • 17: Finding a Voice 450
  • Bibliography 468
  • Index 475
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