Embodied female authorship in early modern English literature

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lauren Shook (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Michelle Dowd

Abstract: Although early modern scholars often believe the female body to hinder women's authorship, my dissertation, Embodied Female Authorship in Early Modern English Literature, argues that the female body enables authorship. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, authorship and its related terms, "author" and "authority," were never static. Such malleability resonated with early modern perceptions of the female body as inherently shifty, a troubling notion to patriarchal ideologies that desired authority over women. Constituting male authorship through the female body was a way to stabilize masculine authority. Men became authors while women remained passive texts. My project, however, disrupts this patriarchal narrative of authorship. Drawing upon scholarship by Jeffrey Masten, Wendy Wall, and Margaret Ezell that rethinks early modern authorship as gendered, collaborative, and social, I shift focus away from the physical production of texts to consider authorship in terms of the generation of narratives--textual, historical, political, and theological. I examine common tropes of the female body (maternal body, female martyr, wife's corpse, and female ghost) to restore "author" as a verb rather than a noun. Doing so historicizes female authorship as integral to gender, political, and religious hierarchies. Covering a wide generic breadth of texts ranging from the early Reformation to the Restoration (1546-1664), my project provides nuanced close-readings of women's and men's writing to illuminate the ubiquitous nature of embodied female authorship throughout early modern culture. My first chapter uses the metaphor of the pregnant male wit who labors to birth literary creations to re-read representations of the maternal body as producers of theological narratives in midwife manuals, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Dorothy Leigh's The Mother's Blessing. Subsequent chapters reveal how the female martyr grounds religio-political narratives of Protestant Reformation in England; how the wife's corpse offers narratives of chastity to correct those of sexual infidelity; and how the female ghost in Lucy Hutchinson's Memoirs of Colonel John Hutchinson yields a restorative, spiritual narrative in the face of the Restoration. By locating authors in unsuspecting places, I imagine a more inclusive early modern authorship that bestows agency upon those subjects who most seem to lack such authority. My project proves that we must look to the female body to understand the full history of authorship.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Early modern authorship, Early modern body, Early modern women writers, English Renaissance
English literature $y Early modern, 1500-1700 $x History and criticism
English literature $x Women authors $x History and criticism
Women and literature $z England $x History $y 16th century
Women and literature $z England $x History $y 17th century
Authorship $x Sex differences $z England $x History $y 16th century
Authorship $x Sex differences $z England $x History $y 17th century

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