Collected Letters of a Renaissance Feminist

Collected Letters of a Renaissance Feminist

Collected Letters of a Renaissance Feminist

Collected Letters of a Renaissance Feminist


Renaissance writer Laura Cereta (1469–1499) presents feminist issues in a predominantly male venue—the humanist autobiography in the form of personal letters. Cereta's works circulated widely in Italy during the early modern era, but her complete letters have never before been published in English. In her public lectures and essays, Cereta explores the history of women's contributions to the intellectual and political life of Europe. She argues against the slavery of women in marriage and for the rights of women to higher education, the same issues that have occupied feminist thinkers of later centuries. Yet these letters also furnish a detailed portrait of an early modern woman’s private experience, for Cereta addressed many letters to a close circle of family and friends, discussing highly personal concerns such as her difficult relationships with her mother and her husband. Taken together, these letters are a testament both to an individual woman and to enduring feminist concerns.


In western Europe and the United States women are nearing equality in the professions, in business, and in politics. Most enjoy access to education, reproductive rights, and autonomy in financial affairs. Issues vital to women are on the public agenda: equal pay, child care, domestic abuse, breast cancer research, and curricular revision with an eye to the inclusion of women.

These recent achievements have their origins in things women (and some male supporters) said for the first time about six hundred years ago. Theirs is the "other voice," in contradistinction to the "first voice," the voice of the educated men who created western culture. Coincident with a general reshaping of European culture in the period 1300 to 1700 (called the Renaissance or early modern period), questions of female equality and opportunity were raised that still resound and are still unresolved.

The "other voice" emerged against the backdrop of a three-thousand- year history of misogyny--the hatred of women--rooted in the civilizations related to western culture: Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Christian. Misogyny inherited from these traditions pervaded the intellectual, medical, legal, religious, and social systems that developed during the European Middle Ages.

The following pages describe the misogynistic tradition inherited by early modern Europeans, and the new tradition which the "other voice" called into being to challenge reigning assumptions. This review should serve as a framework for the understanding of the texts published in the series "The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe." Introductions specific to each text and author follow this essay in all the volumes of the series.

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