Review of Tina Krontiris, Oppositional Voices: Womtlen as Writers and Tanslators of Literature in the English Renaissance, and Isobel Grundy and Susan Wiseman, editors, Women, Writing, History: 1640-1740
Date of this Version
These two books on women writing in early modern England are very different and both make an important contribution to a growing body of critical studies. Krontiris's study centers on six fairly well-known writers: Isabella Whitney, Margaret Tyler, Mary Herbert, Elizabeth Cary, Aemilia Lanyer, and Mary Wroth. The purpose of her study is to explain how the same culture that produced a prohibitive ideology for women about what were their capabilities could also produce at least some women who wrote, published, and sometimes voiced criticism of this system. Krontiris did not intend to be exhaustive; rather, she was interested in those who raised an oppositional voice, and chose the above six writers for close study. Krontiris argues that for women writers of the time the language with which they wrote was the language of men and had within it a misogynist bias. Using such language often made escaping stereotypes and establishing new meanings all the more difficult. Krontiris points out that a woman writer in a patriarchal culture must develop strategies against her own internalization of the oppressive ideologies that surround her. One of the key points to Kronitiris's thesis is that a woman's writing must be read differently. Krontiris makes the important distinction of what was theoretical and what were the lives women actually lived. What was presented as cultural norms were not always practiced, and ideologies were changing and contested, especially with competing social groups who held divergent interests. Krontiris frames her study with a discussion of cultural attitudes toward women in the Middle Ages and how the impact of the Reformation changed these attitudes in the early modern period.
The collection edited by Grundy and Wisemnan is a very different book from that of Krontiris, containing essays that express a variety of methodologies. The editors identify all the contributors as "feminist scholars and critics" (p. 10), but beyond that the contributors do not share a single critical perspective. The title reflects the divisions within the book and the central ideas its contributors hope to explore. The editors' purpose for the collection is to map the interrelationships of writing, gender, and historical circumstances through the contradictions found in the writings of early modern women. The book concentrates on the period 1640-1740, after print had become the dominant mode of literary production. Many of the issues raised by Krontiris are further explored in this collection.
Some readers will find too much jargon and cumbersome writing in Krontiris's work, and even more in some of the essays in the Grundy and Wiseman collection. But if readers persevere, they will find both books iimnensely valuable in understanding the connections between cultural constraints and women seeking voices in early modern England.