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  • The ‘Androgyne’ in Early Modern France: Contextualizing the Power of Gender by Marian Rothstein
  • Jeff Kendrick
The ‘Androgyne’ in Early Modern France: Contextualizing the Power of Gender. By Marian Rothstein. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. viii + 256 pp., ill.

In this volume, Marian Rothstein builds on her earlier article-length investigations of the androgyne myth’s use in literary and political environments in early modern France. Her delicate handling of the image’s evolution throughout the sixteenth century especially, and its practical applications, brings much-needed attention to the polyvalent usefulness of the androgyne in works ranging from novels, poetry, and personal correspondence to official political documents. To fulfil the stated purpose of demonstrating the androgyne to be a ‘powerful and polysemous literary metaphor as well as instrument of action in the world’ (p. 4), Chapter 1 begins by chronicling two sources of the myth: Moses’s creation account and Plato’s Symposium (via Ficino and sixteenth-century French translations). The second chapter serves as something of a parenthesis in which the author defines ‘functional gender’ and other key terms in her analyses. Through a series of examples, Rothstein shows that functional gender refers to actions that are gendered masculine but may be performed by people of either sex. Chapter 3 returns to sixteenth-century representations of the androgyne. Looking at emblems, statues, and paintings, this chapter points out the contemporary acceptance of the notion of the androgyne. The broad absorption of the myth in literary contexts provides the subject of the next chapter, which features some of the book’s most useful contributions to literary criticism, including a history of the rise, mutation(s), and decline of the image. By carefully unfolding the different layers of the androgyne—spiritual, marital, erotic—this chapter showcases the wide-ranging ways authors exploited the public’s waxing and waning familiarity with the image. [End Page 593] Connecting the literary representation of the androgyne and its political outworkings, Chapter 5 portrays women who either functioned or were ‘branded’ men, based on their actions. The histories and examples examined here show how androgynous conceptions of gender could inform the lives of people in the past. This opens the way for the discussion of contemporary political application of the concept in the lives of four particular women. The final chapter is (in this reader’s opinion) the most helpful and significant part of an already worthwhile read, since it connects the literary with the historical. Rothstein offers intriguing variations on the real-life utility of the androgyne as documented in the experiences of Anne de Bretagne, Marguerite de Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, and Jeanne d’Albret. This final analysis challenges readers to see the androgyne in various forms and functions and shows how the image resists equivocal meaning and interpretation today just as it did in the past, thus allowing this tenuous paradox to exist. Rothstein’s limited focus and succinct presentation only add to the text’s readability. Well written and documented, this work will become a standard for anyone interested in questions of gender in early modern France.

Jeff Kendrick
Virginia Military Institute


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pp. 593-594
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