Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Early Women Writers 1600-1720

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Early Women Writers 1600-1720

Article excerpt

Anita Pacheco (ed.), Early Women Writers 1600-1720, Longman, London, 1997, pp. xi + 282, hb. £40, 0582304628, pb. £14.99, ISBN: 0582304636; Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (ed.), Representing Women in Renaissance England, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1997, pp. ix + 250, hb. £35.95, ISBN: 0826211046.

Anita Pacheco's collection of twelve reprinted articles contains a section on further reading which, while it is replete with material on feminist theory and criticism and on the texts discussed in the volume, also mentions Virginia Woolf's 1929 work which looked at the ideological pressures which inhibited women from writing and publishing in the seventeenth century. How strange it is that so many years passed, and then the flood of feminist work we now have began. It was presaged, in the early 1980s, by work by two American writers, Katherine Rogers and Hilda Smith, which has stood the test of time. At that point historians were still by and large speaking the same language. But they have long since now ceased to do so. This is what makes Pacheco's glossary so necessary for a historian using this book. We take the point about the canon and the suppression of women's literary achievement, we have got used to agency and discourse, even perhaps as historians benefited from what the concepts do for our analysis but do we really need fetishisation, gynocritics, phallocentrism and symbolic order in the cause of extending our grasp of what these female writers meant? Or is the jargon getting in the way of sense? This collection certainly provides a good chance to consider the issues. These pieces come from a variety of sources and first appeared between 1970 and the mid-1990s, mostly at the latter end of this period. The Introduction covers the usual ground, patriarchy and its subversion, women's oppression and so on in a fairly unoriginal way. The cast is familiar: Mary Wroth, Katherine Phillips, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, Anne Finch. …

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