Women and literary production

Authored by: Stephen Guy-Bray

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:


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This will not be an encyclopaedic account of the topic, even within the confines of Renaissance England. Instead, I want to look at a few accounts of the intersection of gender and textual production. I have chosen accounts that seem to me particularly revealing, rather than particularly representative. I begin with Wyatt’s “My mother’s maids,” from the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the scene with the female weavers form Deloney’s Jack of Newbury at the end of the century. These texts offer us scenes of communal female labour in which the women are doing the sort of textile work deemed appropriate for women and that was often at least metaphorically associated with textual work. Both writers explicitly or implicitly associate the sphere of women’s textual labours with popular literature, rather than the higher forms of literature seen as the province of male writers. I argue that these texts also rely on a largely implicit contrast between the female collective and the solitary masculine writer as a way of policing gender lines both in terms of labour and in terms of literary production. In the second section of the essay, I turn to texts by female writers from the seventeenth century: Amelia Lanier and Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. For both these writers, female community is important, but while Lanier situates herself in a network of learned and cultured women, Newcastle sees her connections to women as merely social: she is careful to present her textual production as a solitary labour.

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