IN ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND:
THE PUBLIC VOICES
OF DORCAS AND RICHARD MARTIN
AND ANNE AND HUGH DOWRICHE
In the past decade, an unprecedented number of critical, facsimile, and on-line editions of printed and manuscript works by Elizabethan and Jacobean women have become available to scholars and students, a fact that has significantly and abruptly transformed our sense of the English literary landscape. The task of interpreting these newly recovered texts and making sense of the various concepts of the “woman writer” remains enormously challenging. As Margaret Ferguson notes, not only were Renaissance notions of writing complex, unstable, and changing, but women have “had an ‘eccentric’ relation to dominant social concepts of the writer and the author.”1 At one end of the ideological spectrum, she observes, the “woman writer” was treated by men as an oxymoron, and as many studies have illustrated, literacy practices, educational treatises, and attitudes towards printing discouraged most women from reading, writing, or circulating their work. The other end of the spectrum, however, has been more difficult to reconstruct, although clearly a significant number of women did manage to write with erudition and bold, authorial confidence. In seeking to understand how these women managed to forge public voices, critics have often sought to situate women within their immediate families or within a network of kinship relations. Perhaps not surprisingly, the relationships between a woman writer and other learned women in her family or household have seemed those most likely to have
1 Margaret W. Ferguson, “Renaissance Concepts of the ‘Woman Writer’,” in Women and Literature in Britain, 1500–1700, ed. Helen Wilcox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 143–68, here 145.