Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France

Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France

Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France

Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France

Synopsis

Printers were powerful figures in the creation of early modern books: they determined the physical appearance of books, changed content, and even altered or eliminated the name of the author to suit their own commercial and cultural interests. These interventions encouraged the birth of modern notions of authorship, for they compelled writers, editors, and printers to confront questions of textual ownership and authority. In the publication of female authors, however, book producers had to grapple with new concerns about authority and value since female authors were few and far between and their appeal was far from guaranteed. Certainly, the novelty of female authors could represent both an economic and cultural niche for the enterprising printer, but that same novelty in a culture unaccustomed to women's literary production was also a risky investment.

Excerpt

“Estant le tems venu, Madamoiselle, que les severes loix des
hommes n’empeschent plus les femmes de s’apliquer aus sci
ences et disciplines, il me semble que celles qui ont la com
modité, doivent employer cette honneste liberté que notre
sexe ha autre fois tant desiree, à icelles aprendre.”

[“Since the time has now come, Mademoiselle, when men’s
harsh laws no longer prevent women from applying them
selves to study and learning, it seems to me that those who
have the means should take advantage of this well-deserved
freedom—so fervently desired by our sex in the past—to pur
sue them.]

So begins louise LABÉ’S famous dedicatory epistle to the Euvres de Louize Labé Lionnoize (Lyon: Jean de Tournes, 1555). the passage appears to encapsulate an early modern French protofeminism that Labé herself has come to represent to many readers today. These opening lines, however, invite some questions: What happened? Why is now (1555) the time for women to begin studying, reading, and writing? Certainly, historical studies have not shown that the “severes loix des hommes” refer to an actual legal limitation of women’s education that was somehow overturned at midcentury. Rather, they seem to refer to social practice: the text is claiming that women have been conventionally shut out and now it is time to let them in. If the “time has come” in 1555, it is because the Euvres says it has. the existence of the published book, moreover, suggests that at least one person was convinced: the book’s printer, Jean de Tournes. He may not have been motivated by the same protofeminist sentiments that Labé presents in the dedicatory epistle. As a printer, he had to take into account the commercial side of publishing a book, whether or not it tapped his intellectual interests: was the book worth the money it would take to print and publish it?

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