Women and women's voices : their literary expression in France c.1500-c.1540
The purpose of this thesis is to examine woman as reader and writer in early sixteenth-century France. As a focal point to the study, I concentrate on the theme of speech. The exclusion of the Renaissance woman from mixed-sex conversations allows us to perceive her writing as a form of vicarious speech. The thesis is divided into two distinct parts. Part 1 (Chapters 1-3) deals with various images and stereotypes of the female sex, which feature in texts by male writers. Chapter 1 discusses the behavioural models set out in etiquette books, while emphasizing the differing ideals for each of the sexes. A comparison of these role models shows that all aspects of the ideal for the female sex, revolving around a central concern with chastity, seek to curb feminine behaviour. Chapter 2 explores the notion of male writing as a public dialogue in which woman frequently becomes the subject of scurrilous debate. In works such as the Blasons Anatomiques and the French emblems, the male poet-cum-artisan moulds and sculpts his ideal image of woman, transforming her into a voiceless artefact. The attitude of these writers towards women tends to be aggressive, or even overtly sadistic. My third chapter is devoted to the examination of literary representations of the sixteenth-century wife. In Chapters 1-3, emphasis is placed on woman's position as the forgotten or ignored listener, her presence needed only for a silent appreciation of male rhetoric. Part 2 (Chapters 4-5) concentrates on texts composed by women, grouping works into the categories of secular, and then devotional writings. The aim of these chapters is to rediscover writers whose works have been obscured by time. Consequently, many of the texts studied have never been previously analysed in such detail, or examined from a literary perspective. By recreating a chain of women writers, we may establish the continuity of a female tradition in the Renaissance period. Certain stylistic and thematic characteristics recur in the works of all women writers. In my analysis of feminine writing, these similarities are attributed to the social constraints shared by all women attempting to assert a voice in a male-dominated discourse.