The Awards were announced at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women on October 22, 2005.
From a strong and diverse pool of submissions, the judges selected two co-winners for this year’s EMW Book Prize:
Hills, Helen. Invisible City: The Architecture of Devotion in Seventeenth Century Neapolitan Convents . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
In her compelling study, Helen Hills demonstrates that the architecture of the convents of Naples modeled the body of the virgin nun, and she considers all the complexities that such a metaphor implies. The convent was both a repository and a conduit of civil action, a porous site of class tension, political maneuvering and ecclesiastical gamesmanship. Hills makes a cogent and persuasive argument, drawing on recent scholarship on women’s religious experience and on her own archival research. Naples remains relatively understudied in the early modern era, and thus Hills’ book enlightens up on one aspect of Neapolitan life—the convent.
Strasser, Ulrike. State of Virginity: Gender, Religion, and Politics in an Early Modern Catholic State . Social history, popular culture, and politics in Germany. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.
Strasser’s State of Virginity offers a highly persuasive challenge to the idea that the formation of the modern state necessarily entailed the marginalization of religion. Drawing on impressive interdisciplinary research, Strasser demonstrates instead how the early modern Bavarian state took over aspects of Catholicism in the process of centralizing and consolidating its authority.
Her specific focus on female virginity enables her to trace, in the state’s increasing regulation of convents, brothels, and public marriage ceremonies, and in profligacy laws, the production of the female body as a sexualized body. The breadth of Strasser’s argument, which extends back to the sixteenth century and forward to the eighteenth, invites both a reassessment of important critical categories, such as religion, politics, and modernity, and further examination of gender’s crucial role in state formation
This article brilliantly juxtaposes early modern English debates and confusions about marriage with the controversy over Anglo-Scottish union in 1603 to 1607 when James I, using the metaphor of marriage, vainly tried to convince the English parliament that permanent fusion with Scotland under his patriarchal rule would inaugurate a Protestant empire, preserve the True Church, and “make straight the way for Christ’s second coming” (p. 447). As McLaren shows, English marriage law was both distinctive in the European context and unusually inflexible, especially in relation to divorce and married women’s property and legal agency, and there is good evidence that the position of married women actually worsened in the later sixteenth century. She plausibly contends that this inflexibility, coupled with the history of gendered and marital complexity associated with Tudor rule, helped render uniquely unappealing James’s claim to be the husband and head of an empire while his subjects, were, or should be, like subordinate “wives.” It also contributed to sinking the project of Anglo-Scottish union, which was often figured at time as replacing polygyny –marriage to two kingdoms or wives– with Christian marriage to one. Finally McLaren argues that this “embodied” approach to the history of political discourse offers a fuller explanation for seventeenth-century parliamentary ambivalence about royal prerogative –which, of course, ultimately led to the overthrowing of monarchy– than an approach that emphasizes disembodied theoretical concepts like the identification of political dependency with slavery.
Kolbrener, William. “Gendering the Modern: Mary Astell’s Feminist Historiography.” The Eighteenth Century 44, no. 1 (2003): 1-24.
Mary Astell’s feminism has often seemed odd, even counter-intuitive from our modern, post-enlightenment perspective. This close reading of Mary Astell’s Some Reflections Upon Marriage (1700) and Enquiry into the Causes of the Rebellion and Moderation Truly Stated (1704) shows the links in Astell’s thought between masculine seduction and radical whig dissimulation and populist demagoguery on the one hand (both figured as bad) and feminine authenticity and political loyalty on the other (both figured as good). In this way the article powerfully illuminates the connection between Astell’s feminism and tory political preoccupations in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution. It also discusses Astell’s overturning of the conventions of Enlightenment rhetoric by, in her case, rendering “Truth” as feminine, in contrast to almost every other theorist of the day. Astell is, as the author notes, a writer who “perplexes our categories” but this essay goes a considerable way toward making her more intelligible.
Campiglia, Maddalena. Flori, a Pastoral Drama . Translated and edited by Virginia Cox and Lisa Sampson. The other voice in early modern Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Virginia Cox and Lisa Sampson’s bilingual edition of Maddalena’s Campiglia’s Flori presents both the first modern transcription of a pastoral drama published in Italy in 1588 and a carefully-annotated English translation of the play. This beautifully-crafted edition demonstrates that Flori is a play worthy of careful attention and an important document in women’s literary and cultural history. As Cox and Sampson’s eloquent introduction makes clear, in Flori Maddalena Campiglia worked within and beyond the traditions of Italian pastoral drama to create a work that is strikingly original in its presentation of female desire–even while its author’s skill and interests resonate within the rich literary and cultural landscape unearthed in recent decades by scholars of early modern women.
O’Malley, Susan Gushee. Custome is an Idiot: Jacobean Pamphlet Literature on Women . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
Susan Gushee O’Malley’s Custom is in Idiot: Jacobean Pamphlet Literature on Women is a remarkable edition of six early seventeenth-century popular English pamphlets that both challenged customary ideas about the true nature of women and, as Professor O’Malley says in her eloquent introduction to them, “ultimately reinscribed women’s nature as chaste, silent, and obedient.” Careful attention to issues such as women’s literacy and reading practices, printing practices of the time, and differences between multiple editions of the pamphlets make this an invaluable text. In addition to honoring Professor O’Malley for her first-rate edition and Ann Rosalind Jones for her helpful Afterword to it, we wish to commend the University of Illinois Press for its foresight in publishing the first edition of this volume in both hardcover and paperback.
Helen Ostovich’s and Elizabeth Sauer’s Reading Early Modern Women: An Anthology of Texts in Manuscript and Print, 1550-1700 is an exemplary collaborative project. More than 80 scholars, aided by dozens of librarians and archivists (especially Victoria Burke, who served as manuscript consultant), have gathered into a single volume a collection of some 157 manuscript and printed pages of women’s writing from early modern Britain. Organized into chapters with titles such as Legal Documents/Women’s Testimony; The Status of Women; Mother’s Legacies and Medical Manuals; Religion, Prophesy, and Persecution; and Letters, each hand-written or printed page appears in photo reproduction with a transcription and a one-page comment on its cultural/literary context and significance. Each chapter, moreover, is accompanied by an Introduction and a Bibliography of relevant studies. Both an introduction to early modern Englishwomen’s writing and a careful analysis of the texts it treats in its 520 pages, Reading Early Modern Women demonstrates once and for all that far more than a handful of women wrote in the years between 1550 and 1700–and that their writing is well worth reading.
Scudéry, Madeleine de. Selected Letters, Orations, and Rhetorical Dialogues. Translated by Jane Donawerth and Julie Strongson. Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Jane Donawerth and Julie Strongson’s translation of selected letters, orations, and rhetorical dialogues by Madeleine de Scudéry is exemplary not only for its choice of texts, but for its rigorous and engaging analysis of those pieces. Madeleine de Scudéry was among the most popular European novelists of the 17 th century and one of the rare women of that time to make her living as a writer. She was an exceptional early “feminist” voice, countering misogynist writings with portraits of strong, verbal and curious women, and the editors’ choices particularly enlighten this quality of Scudéry’s work. Scudéry also helped construct a socially acceptable discourse for female-female eroticism in her Amorous Letters. Unlike other women writers of that time she eschewed classical and Biblical authorities, giving instead her own reasoned opinions in a first person narrative elegantly translated by the editors. Donawerth and Strongson’s commentary, alongside these remarkable texts, helps us to see a woman who re-constructed women’s history for her time in tangible, strong-minded ways, re-shaping it away from the hysterical and irrational, and towards the passionate, struggling but courageous savante.
Graduate Student Conference Presentation Award:
There were only two submissions for the graduate student conference paper competition, and the sub-committee did not think either of them worthy of any prize. We strongly recommend that no prize be offered in this area this year and that in future this part of the prize be advertised more widely and/or that nominations from advisers, or some other similar device, be encouraged in an effort to improve the quality of the submissions.
Submitted by Amy Leonard, Chair, Awards Committee, February 26, 2006.