Intertextuality in Early Women's Writing

Intertextual Networks is a three-year research project funded by a generous $290,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, focusing on intertextuality in early women’s writing. Starting in October 2016, the WWP began work on this collaborative research initiative, which will examine the citation and quotation practices of the authors represented in Women Writers Online (WWO) to explore and theorize the representation of intertextuality. For this project, the WWP has assembled a collaborative research team that includes faculty, graduate students, and members of the WWP staff, representing a diverse set of perspectives and expertise. Each member of the collaborative group will pursue a research project engaging with materials from WWO, to be published in Women Writers in Context, the WWP’s open-access publication series. Below is a list of our collaborators with descriptions of their projects. We will continue to post updates on these projects, as well as links to related blog posts and exhibits in Women Writers in Context.

Kristen Abbott Bennett, Framingham State University

Reading Elizabeth I in Women Writers Online

Calling attention to the intertextual resonances of a writer whose influence is difficult to overstate, this project examines the invocations of Elizabeth I’s historical and fictional personae throughout the WWO corpus. The project will network transcontinental representations of Elizabeth by several WWO authors, including Margaret Cavendish, Mary Deverell, Elizabeth Haywood, Bathsua Makin, Judith Murray, and Ester Sowernam. Beyond inviting examination of how Elizabeth’s ideas and conduct were received by early modern women, these intra-WWO connections provide an opportunity to interpret this historical moment from multiple perspectives. The project will include an exhibit in Women Writers in Context comprising seven linked web pages, including an overview of Elizabeth’s place in history and six pages organized around the themes of her dual gender, virtues, “cult of love,” renowned learning, relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots, and refusal to marry. Each theme will be analyzed in the contexts of current scholarship and intra-WWO textual networks. This intertextual project will not only engage a broad audience with Elizabeth I’s contributions to history and literature, but also underscore the relationships among the texts in the WWO corpus and invite users to learn about transcontinental exchanges among early modern women writers.

Rocco Coronato, University of Padova, Italy

Excellent Women and Where to Find them in Early Modern Italy and England

The Renaissance saw the wide insurgence of the paradoxical topos of the excellent (or exceptional) woman, which argued that women could outsmart men in virtue, piety and learning. The topos appeared in Christine de Pizan and, albeit under many restrictions, male writers like Mario Equicola (De mulieribus, 1501) and Alessandro Piccolomini, until the 1529 manifesto by Cornelius Agrippa (Declamation of the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex), also echoed in Elyot’s Defence of Good Women (1540). Alongside the excellent woman theme, however, in a varying, at times puzzling cause/effect relationship, a bout of misogyny became particularly rambunctious in an age of renewed social and legal interest in redefining the hierarchical roles in marriage and the liberal instruction of aristocratic women. Italy, especially the Veneto area, was a hotbed for this debate thanks to misogynistic tracts like Giuseppe Passi’s De donneschi difetti (1599) and bestselling rebuttals such as Lucrezia Marinelli’s La nobiltà et l'eccellenza delle donne, co' difetti et mancamenti de gli huomini (1599) and Moderata Fonte’s Il merito delle donne (1600). One is tempted to see a connection between these forerunners and Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to ever receive an academic degree (University of Padua, 1678).

The project will try to assess the excellent woman as a tool reshaped by women writers to create a rhetorical persona who can engage with a male-dominated field. We expect to query the corpus in search for answers to questions such as: is the Italian tradition an external, indirect influence on the revamping of this polemical topic, a mere catalyst or an unrelated analogue that however enlightens by comparison the writings of early modern English writers? How is the passage from selected traditional cases of female excellence to (nearly) all women rhetorically effected in time? Which conventional roles (saints, queens, etc.) and matching genres (hagiography, homiletics, history, etc.) are being used, and how, to enable the gradually universal application of the excellent woman argument?

Nicole Keller Day, Northeastern University

Mathematical Mash-Ups: Poetry and Intertextuality in The Ladies’ Diary

Some cases of early women’s intertextuality are highly complex and reliant on readers’ recognition of specialized literary forms and genres. For example, editor John Tipper’s 1706 Ladies’ Diary featured forms of poetry familiar to the almanac’s growing audience. Early issues contained mathematical questions and answers, which appeared in verse, as well as “Enigmas,” a type of poetic riddle. The 1706 issue is unique, poetically speaking, in the way quatrains are incorporated into the text’s calendar pages. Beneath each month’s detailed listing of eclipses, daily sunrise and sunset times, holidays, term dates, and biblical readings, Tipper included single stanzas, which were neither entirely original compositions nor consistently drawn from a single author’s work. This project’s preliminary assessment of the 1706 issue shows that Tipper drew heavily from John Dryden, incorporating lines from the Georgics, “The Flower and the Leaf,” “Palamon and Arcite,” and the “Twenty-Ninth Ode of the First Book of Horace,” into these quatrains. He also pulled from Poor Robin’s Almanack, as well as the works of Josuah Sylvester, William Browne, Joshua Poole, and Thomas Gray. This project will investigate the following questions: What can a study of intertextuality and The Ladies’ Diary reveal about generic connections between The Ladies’ Diary and other almanacs? Can the mathematical almanac be read as contributing to the rise of the nineteenth-century literary annual? What can this genealogy of the genre and intertextual practices reveal about bibliographic practices of editors? Did these editors expect their audience to be familiar with these intertextual gestures? What difference does it make, in interpreting the content of the almanac, if editors’ intertextual references were meant to be accidental or obligatory?

Samuel Diener, Harvard University

“To the Most Distant Parts”: Writing the World in the WWO Corpus

This project will use Women Writers Online to explore the extent to which early modern and long eighteenth-century women writers in the Anglophone world employed the discursive production of the imperial margins to confirm or critique discourses of empire and participate in their formation, incorporating tales or news from the contact zone into texts in every genre. The chronological arc of the WWO corpus lends itself to such an inquiry. It is coextensive with the rise of British imperialism and includes texts written both when the empire was rapidly expanding and when its success was much in doubt. The project employs a multi-method, two-stage approach, beginning with an analysis of the geographical distribution of place names in the corpus over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in order to map women’s references to places in Asia, Africa and the Americas. This data will help track both sustained topical engagement with and incidental references to the non-European world. The next stage of the project will begin with a core group of texts that are voyage narratives themselves or explicitly treat the topic, like Lydia Sigourney’s Traits of the Aborigines of America and the anonymous The Fortunate Transport, as well as texts that include more incidental references or embedded narratives of travel like Susanna Rowson’s A Present for Young Ladies and Eliza Haywood’s The Female Spectator. The project will employ close reading and archival work to trace intertextual links between these texts and news and narratives of travel and exploration: not just references to specific sources, but also allusions to, or formal and stylistic echoes of, such texts. These methods should begin to tease out the layered interactions and exchanges between women’s writing in the early modern period and the travelers’ texts that, like the commodities and curiosities collected, were themselves among the products of the imperial margins.

Amanda Henrichs, Amherst College

Allusions in the Age of the Digital: Four Ways of Looking at a Corpus

The Sidney family is fertile ground for scholars: whether in Early Modern literature, politics, colonization, or cultural formation, some member of the Sidney family is usually found, playing a key role. Their contributions to British history are extraordinarily well documented; in, for example, the magisterial two-volume Ashgate research companion (2015). Yet by employing digital tools such as text-mining and data visualization, I argue that our thoroughness is based in very specific kinds of knowledge—and knowledge-seeking—that obscure the gaps that remain to be filled in. Visualizing these absences delineates what we think we already know and contours areas for future study.

The particular absence in question is an absence of literary allusion in Mary Wroth’s literary corpus to the works of her aunt and supposed literary mentor (Hannay 2010) Mary Sidney Herbert. The lack of identifiable literary connection suggests that when scholars assert a relationship between the two women, they base their claims on biographical and historical connections. Scholars have not identified stylistic connections between Sidney Herbert and Wroth. This lack is an important one; allusion abounds in Wroth's work, as evidenced by thorough documentation of Wroth's connection to her uncle Philip Sidney, to Petrarch, or her father Robert Sidney (Roberts 1992). Arguments which claim a close connection between Wroth and her aunt Sidney Herbert, then, prioritize historical and familial data over the stylistic data that is consistently used to trace other literary relationships.

In addition to contributing to knowledge about an important literary community, this project will manifest an intertextual gap, at a site where such a gap—according to our assumptions about this group of authors—should not exist. The article accompanying the digital work will narrate the process of constructing the data visualization, as well as expand on the larger hermeneutic stakes of stylistic vs historical knowledge. Even as New Formalism has reincorporated literary style as an object of valuable study, the prioritization of historical data in the works of Early Modern women suggests that by favoring biography over literary style, scholars are in fact reinscribing the style vs. substance (and therefore the feminine vs. masculine) binary that Renaissance rhetorical manuals worried over.

Megan Herrold, University of Southern California

Appropriating Misogyny in Early Modern Women’s Writing

This project tracks the use to which early modern women writers put conventional misogyny in their writing. Tracking archetypal female figures in the Jane Anger’s 1589 Protection for Women, Rachel Speght’s 1617 A Muzzle for Melastomus and 1621 Mortalities Memorandum, and Emilia Lanyer’s 1611 Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, I explore the ways women writers and their women characters appropriate and otherwise use misogyny to their own ends. I pay particular attention to their allusions to and parodies of conventional misogynistic discourse and commonplaces of Biblical exegesis in the querelle des femmes, or “woman question” genre. As such, I trace not only their allusions, parodies, and homages to other women writers, but also their readings of women characters often understood in ambivalent terms or alongside allegorical doubles. These ambivalences include: instances wherein women are treated as foils for one another, like the Biblical Eve and Mary or Morgan le Fey and Guinevere; moments of women’s active participation in folk conventions that reduce the complexity of their personhoods, like the bed trick or the loathly lady transformation; and the allusion to female religious figures and saints, who must negotiate the conflation of their bodies and souls through their sexuality. As women themselves, the authors I track contend with societal and literary ambivalence towards women on a meta-level and are as poised to take advantage of rigid misogynistic thinking as they are subject to its control. This project contends that attempts to control women through strict categories of appropriate behavior often draw attention to their ingenuity and innovations.

Tabitha Kenlon, American University in Dubai

Women in Charge and Men in Skirts: William Shakespeare, Hannah Cowley, and Performances of Gender

Hannah Cowley seems to have been particularly inspired by William Shakespeare when she wrote A Bold Stroke for a Husband, which premiered in 1783. In the play, Cowley re-imagines two tropes popular at the time. One of her heroines is a highly self-aware version of Katherine the shrew, and the other is a cross-dressed woman trying to win back the man she loves. With these characters, Cowley questions eighteenth-century and Shakespearean representations of women and sexuality. Both characters justify their transgressions by using their disguises to obtain a goal they share with society: marriage. But by breaking rules in the pursuit of an acceptable end, they attempt to renegotiate the terms that govern the lives of women. Cowley’s cross-dressed woman has a greater amount of agency than many of Shakespeare’s; Victoria begins the masquerade not out of fear, as do many Shakespearean cross-dressers, but from a desire to take action and win back her husband. Meanwhile, her cousin Olivia purposefully acts like a shrew to scare away suitors, telling the audience that she will only drop the pretense when her father brings in the man she has already decided she wants to marry.

The focus currently centers on A Bold Stroke for a Husband, but it will likely expand to consider other plays, such as parallels between male cross-dressing in Cowley’s farce Who’s the Dupe? and Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. This project unites two of eighteenth-century England’s most celebrated playwrights and investigates their relationship by examining how Cowley drew authority from the revered figure of Shakespeare even as she reinterpreted his characters.

Ioanna Kyvernitou, National University of Ireland, Galway

Mary Astell’s Intertextual Practices

This project undertakes a study of Astell’s intertextual practices in A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694) and in Reflections Upon Marriage (1706); works found in WWO. Specifically, the study aims to identify Astell’s direct citations and references to other authors, as well as her indirect references to ideas found in other works (such as e.g., connecting the use of ‘clear idea’ in A Serious Proposal to Descartes’ ‘clear and distinct ideas’). Secondly, it investigates the genre of the intertextual sources that Astell uses (i.e. religious, political, philosophical works etc.) and their function in the rhetorical texture of Astell’s works. This project by focusing on Astell and her writings, it aligns with Intertextual Networks’ aim to address questions in relation to ‘how women writers established a place for their own work within—or in opposition to—established canons and systems of authority’. Lastly, the gathered intertextual references and practices in A Serious Proposal and in Reflections Upon Marriage will be compared with Astell’s intertextual references in her correspondence with John Norris, Letters Concerning the Love of God, aiming to reconstruct and make accessible a more inclusive picture of Astell’s readings and argumentations within her intellectual thought and practice.

Heather Ladd, University of Lethbridge

Female Platonics in Pix’s The Innocent Mistress (1697) and Centlivre’s The Platonic Lady (1707)

Investigating women’s reframing—and subversive reinterpretation—of a dramatic figure from the theatrical canon, this project centers on two plays in the WWO collection: Mary Pix’s The Innocent Mistress (1697) and Susanna Centlivre’s The Platonic Lady (1707), both of which refer to the same type character, the “platonic lady.” Understudied and undertheorized by scholars of Restoration and eighteenth-century theatre, the platonic lady is distinguished by her fervent adherence to an idealized form of love popularized and subsequently satirized in English culture. This project traces an intertextual thread of influence and interpretation, positing that The Innocent Mistress is the predecessor and intertext of Susanna Centlivre’s The Platonic Lady. Pix’s play itself likely drew on William Davenant’s generically mixed tragicomedy The Platonick Couple (1636), which features the first reference in the English language to “platonic love.” Davenant’s play, like his masque The Temple of Love (1635), satirically treats Platonic love as a fashionable affectation. Both Pix and Centlivre transvalue this concept, offering a much more sympathetic representation of their female philosopher-lovers. The abstract discourse of these characters is not empty and ornamental posturing; rather, platonic love is positioned by Pix and Centlivre as a potentially subversive, protofeminist stance.

Elizabeth Ann Mackay, University of Dayton

Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsel, or Live Within Compass, 1630

Compared to other seventeenth-century mothers’ advice books, blessings, and legacies, M.R’s The Mothers Counsel, or Live Within Compass (1630) is usually ignored by critics or downgraded for her derivative, formulaic, even sometimes “plagiarized” writing style, as well as for her misogynistic attitudes towards women, in her advice to a daughter that appears to endorse and reinforce a limited and conservative feminine ideal. Yet a closer reading of M. R.’s Mothers Counsell points to its unique rhetorical status as a woman’s and a mother’s text, demonstrating that nearly all of M. R.’s maxims, proverbs, and other sententious sayings can be traced to other published sources, specifically to several published, popular miscellanies in the period. Thus, M. R. participates in what Adam Smyth has called a “commonplace book culture.” This essay for the Women Writers Project will show that, like many male editors of the period, M. R. acts as a compiler of her own commonplace book, but even beyond compiling quotations, she makes these quotations her own, transforming them as she reframes and edits sayings to suit her own purposes. This essay, then, puts The Mothers Counsell into conversation with never-before-considered genres with which it associates itself (rhetorical style guides, commonplace books, and miscellanies). It is the very intertextual nature of M. R.’s Counsell that sets it apart from other mothers’ advice books; its intertextual character also provides us with a unique example of a woman collecting, editing, and publishing her commonplace or miscellany book. Thus, the essay draws on a variety of M. R.’s source materials, while analyzing the wide range of rhetorical strategies M. R. uses to draw on and work against her sources. Engaging in an early modern commonplace book culture, ultimately, M. R. crafts a text meant to teach her daughter (and other women) lessons in how to style one’s public written arguments and how women might offer their public (and perhaps political) counsel.

Kate Ozment, Texas A&M University

Women’s Writing and Print Networks in Eighteenth-Century England

This project reconstructs a network of women writers created through the nexus of commercial publishers in eighteenth-century England. This project will use the materials in Women Writers Online as primary sources to drawing connections between women and their publishers. My use of intertextual material will be through paratext that links together women’s writing and writers in ways that visualizes markets and networks within mechanical processes. I focus on women who deliberately courted print publication for financial, social, and/or political gain: Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood. As such, their relationships and interactions with publishers are essential factors in reconstructing a historically accurate social authorship.

Paratextual analysis of WWO’s sources will offer two primary angles for reconstructing print networks. First, it will identify publishers, printers, and collectives that produced women’s writing in order to uncover new connections and potential relationships between women writers. Over the last few years, I have been completing a survey of publisher’s marketing and advertising materials in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century using records from Early English Books Online and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Slowly, I have begun to reconstruct a picture of how publishers conceptualized female authorship as an essential partner to how these women articulated their commercial personas. This project with the WWP allows me to connect this survey to women writers and uncover the extent to which they created and relied on print networks to get their goods to commercial audiences.

Second, this project will track the advertising methods of these booksellers, printers, and publishers that collectively marketed women’s writing in order to theorize how both audiences and publishers categorized and conceptualized women’s authorship. I reference scholarship on authorial paratext such as addresses and dedications and put it into conversation with publishers’ paratext that characterized and categorized women’s writing in conversation with other genres and formats. Considering print networks as comprised of communal publishers, printers, and booksellers offers an important and essential additional layer to our narrative of women’s writing and authorship.

Carme Font Paz, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Cloud Intertextuality and Invisible Poetics: The Intersections of Manuscript and Print in Women’s Poetry from the 1730s-1760s

Exploring intertextual influences beyond the realm of print, this project concerns the ways in which women poets from the 1730s–1760s borrowed subject matter and tropes from other contemporary poets whose intellectual production circulated in manuscript or not at all. It will concentrate on Elizabeth Rowe, Mary Chandler and Ann Yerbury. This latter case is an extreme example of a poetic corpus which was invisible and existed “in a cloud,” but which nevertheless informed other poets while being informed by them. This cloud intertextuality is an (invisible) seal of female poetics. Themes such as death, ethical concerns, family separations, and the flight of the soul were recurrent themes, evident even in unpublished poetry. This project will ask how female published poets created intertextualities off print. These intertextualities happened primarily in writers’ choice of topic, in their melancholic undertones, in the choice of pen names and specific phrases on death and mourning. Intertextuality was for many of these poems, whether printed or circulated, a form of establishing an assertive authorial self. This project will compare and collate fragments of manuscript poetry with published sources, and will tag similarities directly on the digitization of the manuscripts.

Jenna Townend, Loughborough University

Mapping influence in early-modern women’s devotional poetry: the case of An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditations (1653)

This project examines how quantitative network analysis can map intertextual practices and influences in early-modern women’s devotional poetry. Specifically, it calls attention to the literary borrowings that are present in the devotional poetry of the important but understudied writer, An Collins, and her Divine Songs and Meditations (1653).

The poems of Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditations communicate her desire for union with God through her journey from melancholy to grace, and her experiences of spiritual and physical affliction. She expresses these concerns using witty language, intricate verse forms, and complex imagery, which in turn reveal her emotional and spiritual state. This project maps Collins’s relationship to her textual sources, showing how her lyrics are influenced by the poetical devices and structural elements used by poets including, but not limited to, George Herbert and Henry Vaughan. Using this information as the catalyst for close textual analysis of the poems enables us to see what Collins took from her textual sources, and to consider how she used these sources in the context of her desire to achieve union with God. In so doing, the project interrogates the following questions: In what ways were Collins’s lyrics inspired by contemporary writers? Was Collins addressing her poems to readers who are expected to have read the same sources and can therefore be relied upon to recognize allusions and echoes? What effect do these un-cited intertextual practices have on Collins’s cultural and spiritual authority?

Arnaud Zimmern, University of Notre Dame

Staging the Dialogue of the Learned Lady: Margaret Cavendish and Jean Baptiste Molière

The wealth of commonalities between Margaret Cavendish’s dramatic oeuvre and Molière’s continues to go largely unacknowledged and unexploited. Disputatious themes of women’s education, medicine, marriage-markets, cuckoldry, and equality of the sexes animate both playwrights’ characteristically epigrammatic lines.[1] Were it but for matters of language (Cavendish’s French was famously poor, and Molière’s English non-existent), the titular resonance between her 1662 The Female Academy and his 1662 L’Ecole des Femmes, or the continuities between her 1668 The Convent of Pleasure and his 1672 Les Femmes Savantes would defy coincidence. That Cavendish knew of Molière is safely attested—her husband, William Duke of Newcastle, wrote a 1667 translation of the frenchman’s early play L’Etourdi—but whether they influenced each other or drew on common sources are all points begging for further elucidation. Precisely because of the French-English impasse, this project offers to look beyond allusions, citations, and other directly verbal forms of intertextuality. It will focus instead on structural intertextuality within the plots of Cavendish and Molière’s plays. Using network and braid analysis, I want to visualize and compare how both playwrights stage the gendered politics of dialogue within scenes: who talks to whom when and in what characteristic patterns? Braids, in particular, offer a new, promising way to study and contrast dramatic dialogue. They operate both qualitatively and quantitatively, and synchronically (within the diegesis of one play) and diachronically (across a span of several plays). Using the same data as a dynamic network, a braid tracks who is talking to whom when, but unlike a dynamic network it displays the unfolding in a single picture that is human- and machine-readable. The project will serve as a test-case in the interoperability of braid and network visualizations, and will draw together the digital corpuses of Women Writers Online and Sorbonne’s Observatoire de la Vie Littéraire (OBVIL).

1. A rare exception is Laura Carraro’s “Women’s Discourse on Science and Learning and the Image of the Learned Lady.” In-between IX, 1-2, 2000: 137-146.

Intertextual Networks has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.