Congratulations to all our 2012 award winners
Award: Virginia Cox, The Prodigious Muse: Women’s Writing in Counter-Reformation Italy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).
Virginia Cox’s groundbreaking survey of women’s writing in Counter-Reformation Italy (1580–1630) challenges the assumption that the Counter-Reformation brought an end to the flourishing female literary activity of the Renaissance. With chapters focusing on lyric verse, drama, sacred narrative, secular narrative, and discursive prose, Cox documents how Italian women writers expanded the traditionally masculine genres of chivalric romance, epic, and tragedy. She also emphasizes the crucial role of female-authored religious literature, with Counter-Reformation spirituality offering rich opportunities for writing in a range of genres. Like its material, The Prodigious Muse is indeed prodigious in its sweep. It should prove indispensable to scholars of early modern women’s writing in Italy and beyond, as well as scholars of Counter-Reformation Europe who have neglected the important contributions of these women writers.
Honorable Mention: Eric R. Dursteler, Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).
Eric Dursteler’s collection of female-focused microhistories, which he situates in the broader macroscopic context of the early modern Mediterranean, is important for its investigation of the impact of gender on the bilateral movements between Islam and Christianity across this “liquid landscape.” Tracing his subjects through multiple archives and languages, Dursteler compiles three “life sketches” to explore the ways in which early modern women from Muslim and Christian backgrounds used conversion to pursue their own ends, often in hopes of obtaining independence from their families or their husbands. The fascinating stories Dursteler relates through his “thick narratives” reveal unexpected connections between Mediterranean women’s experiences as they crossed boundaries, thus laying the groundwork for further work in this field.
Award: Anne J. Cruz and Rosilie Hernández, eds., Women’s Literacy in Early Modern Spain and the New World (Ashgate, 2011).
Cruz and Hernández’s volume of essays on women’s literacy in early modern Spain and the New World is an exemplary piece of collaborative scholarship. Well-conceived and substantial, it moves from discussions of women’s education and the role of convents to examples of cultural literacy in literature and the arts. The focus on both the New World and Spain is exemplary, as is the engagement with Portuguese/Brazilian traditions. Addressing both major figures such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and María de Zayas and lesser known writers such as Ana de Mendoza, the contributors engage also with the canon and “mainstream” educational traditions, revealing that far from representing a community “apart,” the women studied in this volume were largely and surprisingly familiar with the texts and traditions of their male counterparts. This is a serious and valuable volume, realising the full potential of collaborative work as it brings together the work of top experts to extend considerably scholarship to date on women’s participation in the written cultures of early modern Spain and the New World.
Josephine A. Roberts Scholarly Edition:
Award: Janel Mueller, ed., Complete Works and Correspondence of Katherine Parr (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
Janel Mueller’s Complete Works and Correspondence of Katherine Parr was the most impressive in a generally impressive set of editions. Mueller’s introduction offers an excellent history of the challenges to–and accomplishments of–feminist scholarship. She makes the gaps in the record as suggestive as the documents, without being unduly speculative or tendentious. Muller weaves together biography, social history, diplomatic history, history of the book and very compelling descriptions of early Tudor print culture in ways that challenge any separate consideration of manuscript and print, the private and public, domestic and political spheres.
The intelligent arrangement of the primary documents into different periods and Mueller’s choice to include works not in Parr’s hand gives a rich context to the textual exchanges in which she participated and helps to make a coherent whole of the oeuvre. The introduction is beautifully written and the notes and editorial apparatus are comprehensive and learned. Mueller features Parr’s contribution as the “first woman to publish in print a work of her own under her own name in England” (1) and gives a compelling portrait of her as an astute observer of and participant in the turmoil that was English courtly politics, literature, and religion during the first half of the sixteenth century. Mueller gives an excellent portrait of Parr’s life at court and the circumstances that made her historically exceptional as a wife of Henry VIII, but she also offers her as a more general example for early modern womanhood and the liberties and constraints of an aristocratic woman who survived three marriages only to die in childbirth during her fourth marriage at the age of 36. Mueller elegantly balances minute attention to the individual and particular with larger accounts of social and cultural realities throughout the edition.
Essay or Article Award:
Award: Michelle Moseley-Christian, “From Page to Print: The Transformation of the ‘Wild Woman’ in Early Modern Northern Engravings,” Word & Image 27 (2011), no. 4: 429-442.
Michelle Moseley-Christian’s essay, “From Page to Print: The Transformation of the ‘Wild Woman’ in Early Modern Northern Engravings” reveals the potential of interdisciplinary work. Moseley-Christian demonstrates how early modern northern engravings tapped and transformed a specific visual and textual vocabulary surrounding the figure of the “wild woman” to appeal to new values ascribed to domesticity and women’s proper conduct within the bourgeois class. Moseley-Christian successfully weaves together a discussion of medieval and early modern folklore, literature, early modern engravings, and iconic imagery surrounding the biblical figures of Eve and Mary Magdalene to show the multiple traditions and media in which the purified figure of the wild woman intervened. Drawing on a number of theoretical approaches, while paying careful attention to the cultural and historical ramifications of her argument, Moseley-Christian opens disciplinary doors and makes new methodological forays into the study of women and visual media during the Renaissance.
Graduate Student Conference Presentation Award:
Award: Brian Pietras, “‘The fairest, and fiercest hand’: Androgyny and Authorship in Wroth’s Urania”
This is an elegant, clever paper that draws ably on a wide body of scholarship to read afresh the figure of the hermaphrodite, both in the cultural discourse surrounding Mary Wroth (primarily through the slangs of Edward Denny) and in Wroth’s own Urania. Pietras’s close reading of Leonia / Leonius in the Urania is astute, and constitutes an important re-examination of women’s figuration of their own authorship in the early modern period; the compelling exploration of Wroth’s exploration of the figure of the hermaphrodite enables a fresh consideration of the transgressive nature of women’s authorship in the period, and of how Wroth negotiated this transgression. The paper demonstrates an ability to weave a complex argument and to manage transitions with dexterous ease; this is a sophisticated and polished piece of work that makes an immediate contribution to the discipline.
Honorable mention: Jennifer Mi-Young Park, “Discandying Cleopatra: Food Preservation Practices and the Domesticity of Discandying, Dissolving, and Decaying in Antony and Cleopatra”
From its pithy, gripping, opening sentence, this paper moves through a unique and revelatory argument, in which the gustatory images associated with Shakespeare’s Cleopatra are read alongside early modern preservation practices, to provide literal and figurative resonances in Shakespeare’s play. While this paper intersects with early modern women primarily through the male-authored figure of Cleopatra, Park demonstrates a deep, thoughtful engagement with a wide compass of early modern scholarship, and an ability to create an argument through close, precise, and compelling reading. The paper clearly demonstrates the author’s immersion in the scholarly literature, and develops its argument with polish, wit, and careful script analysis. This is highly commendable work, demonstrating a genuine originality and a careful attention to detail.