Feminist Formalism and Early Modern Women's Writing


Feminist Formalism and Early Modern Women's Writing

Readings, Conversations, Pedagogies

Edited and with an introduction by Lara Dodds and Michelle M. Dowd

Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series

304 pages
6 illustrations, index


May 2022


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May 2022


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About the Book

Feminist Formalism and Early Modern Women’s Writing reexamines the relationship between gender and form in early modern women’s writing in essays that elaborate the specific literary strategies of women writers, that examine women’s debts to and appropriations of different literary genres, and that offer practical suggestions for the teaching of women’s texts in several different contexts. Contributors explore the possibility of feminist formalism, a methodology that both attends to the structural, rhetorical, and other formal techniques of a given text and takes gender as a central category of analysis. This collection contends that feminist formalism is a useful tool for scholars of the early modern period and for literary studies more broadly because it marries the traditional questions of formalism—including questions of style, genre, and literary history—with the political and cultural concerns of feminist inquiry.

Contributors reposition works by important women writers—such as Margaret Cavendish, Hester Pulter, Mary Wroth, and Katherine Philips—as central to the development of English literary tradition. By examining a variety of texts written by women, including recipes, emblems, exchanges, and poetry, Feminist Formalism and Early Modern Women’s Writing contributes to existing scholarship on early modern women’s writing while extending it in new and important directions.


Author Bio

Lara Dodds is a professor of English at Mississippi State University. She is the author of The Literary Invention of Margaret Cavendish. Michelle M. Dowd is Hudson Strode Professor of English at the University of Alabama. She is the author of The Dynamics of Inheritance on the Shakespearean Stage and Women’s Work in Early Modern English Literature and Culture.


"Feminist Formalisms and Early Modern Women's Writing marks a coming into its prime for the field of early modern women's literary studies. Indeed, the bibliographies associated with each of the essays across the volume provide an excellent overview of current and central scholarship for a wide range of writers and genres within and outside the standard "early modern women writers" canon and should serve as a welcome reference to anyone embarking upon a new investigation of their own. The essays themselves illuminate the strength and versatility of the methods for which Dodds, Dowd, and the contributors so adeptly advocate."—Karen L. Nelson, Journal of British Studies

“A feminist formalist is exactly what is needed at this moment to integrate the study of early modern women writers into the literary canon. All of the contributions are clearly written and highly readable, and the entire collection is a pleasure to read, without exception. . . . The pedagogy section of this collection offers useful, practical advice. This groundbreaking collection is both brilliant and necessary. It will find a wide audience among researchers, teachers, and students.”—Paula McQuade, author of Catechisms and Women’s Writing in Seventeenth-Century England

“A significant and particularly timely contribution to the field of early modern women’s writing. . . . What is striking here is that most of the contributors to this collection have established reputations in a wide variety of areas in the field, yet their astute and thorough-going investigations of the subject in relation to bodies of women’s writings with which they are intimately familiar are eye-opening. This flexibility and facility speaks both to the deep expertise possessed by the contributors and to the profit to be gained through formalist critique.”—Patricia Phillippy, editor of A History of Early Modern Women’s Writing

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Defining Feminist Formalism
Lara Dodds and Michelle M. Dowd 
Part 1. Readings 
1. Taking the Thread of Mary Wroth’s “A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love” 
Jennifer Higginbotham
2. Margaret Cavendish’s Forms: Literary Formalism and the Figures of Cavendish’s Atom Poems
Liza Blake
3. Margaret Cavendish and the Recipe Form in Poems and Fancies
Edith Snook
4. Building/s with Form: Dorothy Calthorpe’s Castle and Chapel
Julie A. Eckerle
5. Gendering the Emblem: Hester Pulter’s Formal Experimentation
Victoria E. Burke
Part 2. Conversations 
6. Surface Desires: Reading Female Friendship in the Epistolary Archive
Dianne Mitchell
7. Mary Wroth’s Urania Manuscript: Poems in Their Proper Places
Paul Salzman  
8. Katherine Philips’s Monument: The Genre of “Wiston Vault” 
Stephen Guy-Bray
9. Formalism Dispossessed: Pulter, Donne, and the Obliviated Urn
Marshelle Woodward
Part 3. Pedagogies
10. Collaborative Close Readings: Anne Vaughan Lock’s Sonnets in the Undergraduate Survey Course
Lauren Shook
11. Teaching Early Modern Women’s Writing through Literary and Material Form
Elizabeth Zeman Kolkovich
12. Teaching the Modesty Trope: Early Modern Women’s Texts in a Twenty-First-Century Classroom
Margaret J. M. Ezell
13. The Idea of a Woman: Teaching Gender and Poetic Form in Early Modern Elegy
Sarah C. E. Ross
14. Quixotic Pedagogy and Attention in the Early Modern Literature Classroom
Andrew Black

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