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Reviewed by:
  • Men and Women Making Friends in Early Modern France ed. by Lewis C. Seifert and Rebecca M. Wilkin
  • Laura J. Burch
Men and Women Making Friends in Early Modern France. Edited by Lewis C. Seifert and Rebecca M. Wilkin. (Women and Gender in the Early Modern World.) Farnham: Ashgate, 2015. 316 pp., ill.

As the title suggests, this collection of essays explores early modern friendship as a creative process. The pairing of friendship as imaginative activity with an approach informed by queer and gender studies makes this volume an innovative and compelling contribution to the current field of early modern French studies. In their expertly crafted Introduction, Lewis C. Seifert and Rebecca M. Wilkin acknowledge their debt to important works by Alan Bray and Brian McGuire, but eschew what they see as these scholars’ narratives of loss and decline for friendship by the seventeenth century. Instead, Seifert and Wilkin paint a more dynamic and ultimately more optimistic portrait of early modern friendship. Adopting and extending Ullrich Langer’s idea of friendship as fertile ground for ‘imaginative experimentation’ (Perfect Friendship: Studies in Literature and Moral Philosophy from Boccaccio to Corneille (Geneva: Droz, 1994), p. 28; quoted p. 5), the editors highlight ‘friendship’s capacity to conceive new forms of relationality’ (p. 6). Scholars from a variety of fields are assembled here to reveal that the motivations for this renewal of ancient friendship tropes and of contemporary codes regulating men’s and women’s lives were as diverse as the writers they study. They examine the ways in which these tropes and codes were adopted, adapted, questioned, or refused through a range of early modern textual practices and across multiple geographical, political, social, and religious spaces. Furthermore, each of the essays attends to the inventive and often surprising ways early modern writers contended with contemporary anxieties surrounding gender, sexuality, and relations of power. Todd Reeser and Marc Schachter, for example, describe efforts to reconcile the classical tradition’s male-centred texts with early modern endeavours to recast what was perceived as ancient texts’ problematic homoeroticism, as well as with attempts to include women in heretofore exclusively male friendship paradigms. Additionally, Seifert shows how the marquise de Sablé fuses worldly and ‘spiritual friendship’ practices into a unique expression of mixed-gender friendship that succeeds in evacuating galanterie’s troubling potential erotic ambiguities. Essays by Wilkin and Michelle [End Page 594] Miller are particularly adept at examining the interplay between gender and power. Miller’s analysis of Marot’s writings illuminates the knotty relationship between friendship, masculinity, civility, and violence. Wilkin insightfully details the strategies employed by Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Descartes to establish and maintain equality within their written correspondence. Descartes, Wilkin argues, privileges sameness of mind and virtue, while Elisabeth insists upon her social and sexual difference from Descartes as both a means to continue their epistolary friendship and as a ‘rhetoric’ (p. 179) through which to practice philosophy. Simultaneously erudite and accessible, each essay in this volume casts texts and tropes familiar to early modern scholars of friendship in a new light, offering original and astute interpretations of early modern writing, reading, and friend-making practices. Throughout the volume, friendship acts like a prism, refracting textual and critical commonplaces, rendering visible a broader spectrum of early modern approaches to self- and community-fashioning. As it urges modern scholars to reevaluate the importance of friendship in the early modern past, the volume also poses intriguing questions that invite us to contemplate the creative possibilities friendship may hold for future forms of relationality.

Laura J. Burch
College of Wooster


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pp. 594-595
Launched on MUSE
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