2009 Awards

Congratulations to the winners of Awards from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women for work published in 2008! The Awards were announced at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women on November 6, 2009. The award-winning works are listed below.

Book |Collaborative Project | Translation | Graduate Student Essay |Essay | Arts and Media

Book Award:
Award: Virginia Cox, Women’s Writing in Italy , 1400-1650 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)

This is an excellent, engaging, and important study that traces “the role of female writers within Italian literary history” (232) from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Additionally, it demonstrates the symbolic role that women played in the literary and cultural developments of these centuries and explains how that symbolic role changed to meet the needs of the male cultural elite at the time. For example, Cox explains the cultural investment in terms like “learned lady,” how and why they arose, and how they fostered female learning in particular historical and geographical contexts. Her account, therefore, is critical to our understanding of Italian literary history in general, in addition to our understanding of the role of women within this history. Cox persuasively challenges critical assumptions that have long dominated the study of this material, and, in turn, offers a much more contextualized and nuanced account of the role of women in critical cultural and literary developments. Her study has both breadth (in the narrative it tells) and depth (in its numerous examples and detailed literary analyses) and is supplemented with useful and thorough appendices, notes, and bibliography. In short, we completely agree with Laura Gianetti’s assessment of this book as it appears on the book jacket: “This is not only an original and substantial contribution to the field of Italian Renaissance Literature, but it will be for years to come the indispensable reference work for anyone working on Italian women writers’ contribution to the literary and cultural history of the period.”

Honorable Mention: Frances E. Dolan, Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)

In this brilliant analysis of the contradictory but persistent model of marriage that continues to haunt modern versions of the institution, Dolan consistently identifies what she calls “the marital economy of scarcity” by which there is room for only one full person within a marriage as it has been traditionally understood, defined, and represented; most often, she argues, it is the female spouse who risks elimination or subordination. Dolan supports her wide-ranging and provocative claims with scholarship that is impressively comprehensive and meticulously detailed. Organizing her chapters around persistent marital metaphors of one flesh, one (legal) person, and one pair of pants in the family, she examines an astonishing array of cultural texts. These include popular Puritan texts on marriage, American evangelical books of marital counsel and inspiration, seventeenth-century writings by women desperate to achieve personhood in an institution that allows for only one person, stories of marital violence and murder in twentieth-century films and seventeenth-century narratives of petty traitors, personal accounts by William Byrd of Virginia and Samuel Pepys of London, twentieth-century accounts of the relationship between domestic labor and marital harmony, and contemporary historical novels of female desire tellingly set in Tudor England. At some points historical study, at some points textual analysis, and at some points political activism, Marriage and Violence confronts the ugly truths that lie behind typically idealized depictions of the marital ideal, truths that the author sees as the “legacy” of early modern England, and truths that are often linked to gender roles and stereotypes. Dolan’s presentist historical theoretical model enables her to produce a book of value not only to historians but also to twenty-first-century individuals interested in rethinking the institution of marriage and the gender dynamics within it.

Collaborative Project
Award: Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz, Brilliant Women: Eighteenth-Century Bluestockings (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008)

Brilliant Women, an outstanding collaboration between an art historian and a literature scholar, is a wide-ranging, richly-varied study of a small but influential circle of eighteenth-century learned and creative women: the female members of a cultural circle of patrons, writers, painters, and intellectuals who called themselves “bluestockings” after the informal dress habits of one of the egalitarian men who participated early in the gatherings to exchange ideas. Written in a lucid, engaging style, and attractively produced with numerous color illustrations, this book was originally published to accompany an exhibit of the same title at London ‘s National Portrait Gallery from 13 March to 15 June 2008, taking its spirit of collaboration into multiple media and for multiple audiences. In a Preface and four chapters, authors Eger and Peltz draw in evidence from the diverse realms of the arts, literature, economics, and politics to show the accomplishments of these outstanding women against the background of codes of conduct and other expectations for females of their era. The book makes the point early on that the history of women’s status is cyclical rather than linear. With this in mind, its narrative moves from the foundation of the egalitarian bluestocking circle of the 1750s through depictions of accomplished women as the nine living muses of Britain . It continues to show the backlash against female intellectuals by the end of the eighteenth century, and proceeds into the nineteenth during which the term “bluestocking” evolved to denote contempt. At this point, a conservative social context forced those who lived the life of the mind to adapt or revolt.

Josephine A. Roberts Scholarly Edition
Award: Elizabeth Tyrwhit, Morning and Evening Prayers, edited by Susan M. Felch (Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008)

Susan M. Felch’s scholarly edition presents two different versions, deriving from two early modern editions, of spiritual works by the fascinating figure of Elizabeth Tyrwhit, who served as lady-in-waiting to Katherine Parr and later had connections to the court of Elizabeth I. Felch provides an informative biography of Tyrwhit and a useful introduction to the different subgenres of the early modern prayer book, as well as a discussion of the sources for Tyrwhit’s book. She argues for the greater authenticity of the later of the two editions of this work (1582), on grounds that the first (1574) shows evident influence from Elizabethan prayer books of the 1560s and 1570s, while the later edition is much closer to writings and book formats of the 1530s and 1540s, from which Tyrwhit borrowed for her own prayer book. She also notes that the 1574 editors shortened Tyrwhit’s book and added material to it for their edition. Felch’s is a critical edition and thus establishes a foundational text for continued work on Tyrwhit by other scholars. The two texts are cross-referenced in notes, and the volume is completed by three appendices: a comprehensive table of contents that tracks and grids elements across the two texts; an explanation of Tyrwhit family connections by marriage; and a comparison of Tyrwhit’s version of the Hours of the Cross with three others (Latin text, Manuscript Primer, and Rastell Primer).

Translation or Teaching Edition
Award: Ana de San Bartolomé, Autobiography and Other Writings, translated and edited by Darcy Donahue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Darcy Donahue’s volume presents translations of writings by a principal disciple of Teresa of Avila, Ana de San Bartolomé, an activist in the spread of the Discalced monastic movement across Europe. Important as examples of early modern monastic autobiography, prayer, and public lectures, these texts also chart a fascinating character study and a political chronicle. A peasant girl who had childhood visions of the Virgin and who shunned marriage, Ana de San Bartolomé rose to authority in the monastic world, leaving Spain and moving first to France and then to Flanders as a promoter of the Discalced movement. Hers is a gripping story, eloquently translated and furnished with informative notes and a biographical chronology. Darcy Donahue’s introduction compellingly places monastic life for early modern women in its context as an attractive and viable choice for many women who saw the convent as far preferable to married life in early modern Europe , but who also recognized the monastery as an arena for self-realization and for their own contributions to society.

Graduate Student Conference Paper:
Award: Horacio Sierra, “The Role of Women’s Discourse, Men’s Honor, and Domestic Abuse in María de Zaya’s The Disenchantments of Love , presented at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in St. Louis , MO , October 23-26, 2008 .

Sierra’s paper examines María de Zaya y Sotaomayor’s The Disenchantments of Love [ Desengaños Amorosos ] (1747) and analyzes the strategies that women in the text use to respond to patriarchal violence. According to Sierra, Zayas’s female characters refuse to be silent about their abuse, and by telling their stories, they not only question the “honor” of their abusers, but also recuperate women’s gossip as a potent social weapon. Sierra expertly juxtaposes Zayas’s tales of domestic violence with those of Cervantes, arguing that Zayas offers a “subversive imitation ” of her predecessor’s work.

Essay or Article:
Award: Regula Hohl Trillini, “The Gaze of the Listener: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 128 and Early Modern Discourses of Music and Gender,” Music & Letters 89 (2008), pp. 1-17.

In this article, Hohl Trillini reads the much-maligned sonnet “When Thou, My Music” not for its literary merit but as an “embodiment of the discursive complications that surround women’s music-making in the early modern period.” She examines the context of keyboard performance and skills, the gendered erotic associations of the virginals and the long wooden “jacks” inside them which pluck the strings, the relationship between audience and performer, and the essential restriction on this particular instrument to performance by young unmarried women, in an accomplished and thorough re-interpretation of the meaning of this sonnet.

Arts and Media:
(no award this year)

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