ENGL390 Study Guide - Final Guide: Emilia Lanier, Isabella Whitney, Aristocracy

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Published on 11 Nov 2011
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The first modern writer who questioned the lack of female authors in the pre-modern era (19th century)
although throughout the course we will continuously challenger her belief as we read numerous pre
modern women's work -- Woolf's view is very understandable as at the time there were no online
resources or E libraries that could collect a number of works written by women.. This notion of course
changed over time, as the remains of numerous works were found (and many were not)... Women
would typically hide their writing, for fear of punishment or retribution and embarrassment.
In a "Room of Ones Own", Woolf calls our attention to the fact that women were predetermined to live
irrelevant lives. Women were not permitted to go to school, even if the family could afford it, girls were
not welcome in public, state run schools.. The family, if so inclined, could hire a private tutor.. Women
were only worth as much as their fathers and then their husbands. Judith becomes a symbol of all
talented and intellectual women. She is so starved for attention and authority over her own life that she
risks all that she has; her own life. She is bound by social norms and restrictions and is driven mad by her
desire to write and be heard. She would rather end her life than continue to live ignoring her heart of a
This possibly becomes a narrative of Woolf's life as she too possessed talent but was naturally shamed
to be such an unnatural woman.. As she was the first modern writer, it is very possible that she herself
immensely scrutinized and doubted as a credible author.
Judith - all intellectual women. Not only a symbol of intellectual women, but of all women. She is
restricted by her father and her family. She is instructed not to bother herself with reading or books at
all (they are likely too beyond her grasp), she is told to instead focus on the house work and domestic
duties. She is silenced, like all women, by the male figure(s) in her life as well as society in general. She
would rather end her life than continue living a lie
Virginia Woolf
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Whitney's identity is a mystery. It is thought that she may be a sister of a very well known male author by the name of
Geoffrey Whitney (plausible but not concrete in anyway). Nothing else is known about her other than her writings. She
printed/ wrote two volumes of poetry. She immigrated from the country side, was born into a gentry family. She was in
a maid in waiting or a lady in service to a gentle woman (and she apparently enjoyed the time spent serving). For some
reason, unknown to us, she was forced to leave her lady and ultimately forced to leave London. Whitney said that her
own writing was "half true and half false", making it very difficult to determine her sincerity. She was however the first
named, published female author.
Whitney's writing:
Social status
Unfaithful men
Tackles social injustice
Models writing after Ovid's Heroidines
Conforms to social and literary conventions
Clearly written for monetary gain
Not pious at all, she removes Christianity from her writing
Does not conform to the typical "womens writing" which was normally very pious, for what else
do women know about (they are sooo uneducated) other than their own faith
Very secular
Isabella Whitney
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Writing about religion was nothing unique to Lanyer, in fact, most women who did write wrote very piously!
This, in my opinion is a manipulative tool exercised by Lanyer in attempt to secure an audience. She is
appealing to our "Good Christian" souls through her numerous allusions and recollections of divine beings.
She is so audacious as to claim that her writing was the word of God, that she was divinely visited and
touched by God.. She dedicated a large portion of her poetry to women, of nobility and power. At the time,
writers would send a copy of their work, which included the dedication, to the dedicatee. And in return for
being graced and honoured in such a way, the dedicatee would normally send the writer a small "tip" in
thanks. This seems very fishy to me. I think she wrote countless dedication in a way to secure as much money
as possible. It is clear that she is intelligent and very learned, her writing states this explicitly. She writes
perfectly: her timing, metre, and flow are entrancing and lure the audience in. She is manipulating her
audience into buying into her product.
The 9 Muses:
Possibly a tactic used to secure a larger sum after being published. (see above for thank you tips).. However,
these nine women may not have been insulted that they are not the sole dedicatee of Lanyer's writing for she
continuously refers to the muses, she does not explicitly refer to herself as a muse but rather alludes that each
woman that she is writing too is as good as a Greek Goddess, and therefore it is not hard to deduce that these
women could also be the 9 Muses.
Feminist issues
Pious writing
Playing the field (numerous dedications)
Greek allusions
Conforming to popular and profitable writing conventions
Lanyer writes to these noble women, as well as to all women, as well as to all Good Christians (and
"Good Jews" - those who converted). In doing so, she creates a semi-exclusive community where only
the deserving, the virtuous belonged. Her writing spoke on behalf of women, on behalf of those who
were restricted, on behalf of those who were oppressed.. She gives the silenced a voice and in a sense
gives all women hope.
A very important aspect of ALL writing in the 19th century, the only way to secure an income was to develop a
regular audience. Lanyer does this in a number of ways.
The Passion of the Christ
This is Lanyer's retelling of the passion of the Christ. It begins with the story of Adam and Eve. Lanyer portrays
Eve as Adam's natural inferior. She was told to do what ever she could do make Adam happy, and so she did
what he instructed her. She is painting the women as victims in the creation of Sin, she is turning the blame
back on the men. This may have gained her patrons, women may feel that she is giving them spiritual support.
She is one of the first outspoken feminist writers (that we have discussed in class at the very least). The entire
retelling of the Passion paints women as the idle stand by's who are tainted by Adam's sin. She is obviously
biased and may some what have been damaging her own credibility. Her writing ostracizes MOST men. She
blames sin on men, she tells men that it was them who crucified Jesus (the daughters of Jerusalem cried and
spoke out to save Jesus but the men would not listen). Although near the end of her poetry she acknowledges
that there are virtuous men in the world who share or have sympathy for womens struggles and so are invited
into this prestigious community that Lanyer has created
A central theme in Lanyer's writing is VIRTUE. She constantly refers to herself as being devout, as being gifted
by God. She refers to her writing as the word of God, which for a lot of people could be blasphemous in it's own
right. She frequently refers to each of her dedicatee's as being Godly, as beautiful, as beautiful. These women
are all considered virtuous by Lanyer. They have all shed their early sins and become true women of God.
These women become models for all women, these women are women who should be emulated. Only virtue
Aemilia Lanyer
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