Class, Authority, and the Querelle des Femmes: A Women's Community of Resistance in Early Modern Europe



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This dissertation examines the poetry of Isabella Whitney, a maidservant in London, Veronica Franco, a Venetian courtesan, Marie de Romieu, a baker's daughter in rural France, and Aemilia Lanyer, the daughter and wife of Italian immigrant musicians in London, all of whom attempted to create communities of learned and literary women within their texts. In their works, all four women boldly reject the misogyny prevalent in early modern culture; however, they do so without being able to withdraw from the culture that contributed to such rhetoric, thereby writing from the periphery. In her essay, "Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness," bell hooks identifies this position on the edge as one of opportunity. She argues that the very presence of the Other "within the culture of domination" is in itself a threat. As such, existing on the margins of that culture is unsafe and requires a "community of resistance" to turn that space into "a site of radical possibility." I argue that these four writers, marginalized by virtue of their sex as well as by their social positions, were united in a community of resistance through their participation in the querelle des femmes, a centuries-long debate about women's place in society. Each recognizes class, gender, and geographical hierarchies as social constructions and presents her own imagined resistant community of women within her work--each authorizing her own voice as they collectively rewrite women's history. As an international community of resistance, the works of these women may be seen as prefiguring contemporary debates about gender, community, and globalization. By examining the early modern querelle des femmes through the lens of postmodern feminism, this dissertation shows that, despite all of the historical models that position early modern European women as physically, politically, historically, and legally subordinate within their respective cultures, there existed a women's community of resisstance that not only refused to accept this inferior status but also recognized education and cooperation as a source of power.