Feminism and Renaissance Studies

By Lorna Hutson | Go to book overview

12 Surprising Fame: Renaissance Gender
Ideologies and Women's Lyric

Ann Rosalind Jones

In Renaissance iconography, fame is a woman: a winged figure heralding present and future reknown. Ronsard, in his 1555 Hymne to Henri II, writes of “La Fame qui vole et parle librement,/ et qui sujette n'est à nul commandement” (ll. 341–42). But in Renaissance gender ideology, fame was not for women. Ronsard's figure of free-speaking liberty is diametrically opposed to the social ideal of woman as it was constructed by early modern writers on feminine conduct. In the discourses of humanism and bourgeois family theory, the proper woman is an absence: legally, she vanishes under the name and authority of her father and her husband; as daughter and wife, she is enclosed in the private household. She is silent and invisible: she does not speak, and she is not spoken about.

I am going to analyze this ideological climate in some detail, in order to suggest how problematic the notion of literary fame was for women writing in the Renaissance. I might call what I am doing the study of pre-poetics: of the conditions necessary for writing at all, and of the ways those conditions shape the lyrics of sixteenth-century women writers. In this period, when public eloquence was becoming the central requirement for masculine careers, when training in oration and written argument was essential for men managing cities, for ambassadors and advisors to princes, for courtiers and poets, prohibitions against women's speech seem to have intensified. Ruth Kelso, a historian of Renaissance gender doctrines, conjectures that women may have been on the receiving end of a cultural guilt complex: as men turned more and more to secular, civic ambitions, the residual Christian virtues of humility and retirement from the world were displaced onto women (25, 26).1 Two writers on education provide an illustrative contrast. Juan Luis Vives, writing for the teachers of men in De

From Nancy K. Miller (ed.), The Poetics of Gender (Columbia University Press, 1986), 74–95.

© Columbia University Press. Reprinted with permission.

-317-

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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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