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Reading Women

Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800

Edited by Heidi Brayman Hackel and Catherine E. Kelly

Publication Year: 2011

In 1500, as many as 99 out of 100 English women may have been illiterate, and girls of all social backgrounds were the objects of purposeful efforts to restrict their access to full literacy. Three centuries later, more than half of all English and Anglo-American women could read, and the female reader was emerging as a cultural ideal and a market force. While scholars have written extensively about women's reading in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and about women's writing in the early modern period, they have not attended sufficiently to the critical transformation that took place as female readers and their reading assumed significant cultural and economic power.

Reading Women brings into conversation the latest scholarship by early modernists and early Americanists on the role of gender in the production and consumption of texts during this expansion of female readership. Drawing together historians and literary scholars, the essays share a concern with local specificity and material culture. Removing women from the historically inaccurate frame of exclusively solitary, silent reading, the authors collectively return their subjects to the activities that so often coincided with reading: shopping, sewing, talking, writing, performing, and collecting. With chapters on samplers, storytelling, testimony, and translation, the volume expands notions of reading and literacy, and it insists upon a rich and varied narrative that crosses disciplinary boundaries and national borders.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts

Reading Women

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-10

"The Virgin Mary pores over a book of devotion, oblivious to the angel standing before her. A merchant’s wife titters and flushes as she reads a French romance, slipping toward sexual ecstasy as she fingers the pages. A matron in a gauzy Empire dress reads a history of ancient Rome and..."

Part I. Pleasures and Prohibitions

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pp. 11-14

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Chapter 1. Inventing the Early Modern Woman Reader through the World of Goods: Lyly’s Gentlewoman Reader and Katherine Stubbes

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pp. 15-35

"This essay uses two contrasting stereotypes of the woman reader-consumer to explore the intermingling of appetites for romances, for sexual gratification, and for the consumption of luxury goods as described in the late sixteenth century. At opposite extremes as consumers, John..."

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Chapter 2. Engendering the Female Reader: Women’s Recreational Reading of Shakespeare in Early Modern England

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pp. 36-54

"In the context of early modern women’s reading, gender is a surprisingly problematic category of critical analysis—both definitive and reductive, enabling and restricting. The example of women reading Shakespeare in Caroline England (1625–49) is a pertinent example: if..."

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Chapter 3. Crafting Subjectivities: Women, Reading, and Self-Imagining

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pp. 55-72

‘‘I read constantly and find it teaching,’' Hannah Heaton confided in a diary that spanned the last forty years of the eighteenth century. Heaton most assuredly did as she claimed, keeping a daily schedule that took this resident of rural Connecticut from the Bible to the meditations of..."

Part II. Practices and Accomplishment

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pp. 73-78

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Chapter 4. "you sow, Ile read": Letters and Literacies in Early Modern Samplers�����������������������������������������&#

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pp. 79-104

"Midway through Thomas Heywood’s 1608 play, The Rape of Lucrece: A True Roman Tragedie, the drama’s antagonist, Sextus Tarquin, describes the challenges to wives’ chastity while their husbands are at war:..."

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Chapter 5. The Female World of Classical Reading in Eighteenth-Century America

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pp. 105-123

"Death by classics? For twenty-year-old Eliza Lucas (c. 1722–93), who presided over a prosperous indigo plantation in colonial South Carolina, the idea seemed ludicrous. An avid reader of..."

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Chapter 6. Reading and the Problem of Accomplishment

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pp. 124-144

"In 1789 students at the Bethlehem Female Seminary, arguably America’s most prestigious school for girls, concluded their first public examination with a ‘'dialogue in verse'’ that summed up their educations. Standing before trustees and town dignitaries, ten speakers enumerated the..."

Part III. Translation and Authorship

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pp. 145-150

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Chapter 7. "Who Painted the Lion?" Women and Novelle

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pp. 151-168

"Popular Western stereotypes of female storytellers change remarkably when studied over the three centuries from 1500 to 1800. One of the most prevalent images of the female narrator before 1500, in the late medieval period, is memorably typified by Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. The..."

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Chapter 8. The Word Made Flesh: Reading Women and the Bible

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pp. 169-198

"Throughout the trauma of captivity, Mary Rowlandson built her comfort on her Bible: it was at once sacred text and solacing icon, her 'Guid by day,' her ‘Pillow by night.’ In this reliance on Scripture, Rowlandson practiced the fundamental devotional act of her community. Protestantism..."

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Chapter 9. "With All Due Reverence and Respect to the Word of God": Aphra Behn as Skeptical Reader of the Bible and Critical Translator of Fontenelle

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pp. 199-216

‘‘Translation,' Eve Sanders has written, 'carved out an intermediary zone between reading and writing in which it was possible for [some early modern women] to claim position as [authors].'1 I want to explore the intermediary zone that Sanders identifies in order to consider translation..."

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Chapter 10. Female Curiosities: The Transatlantic Female Commonplace Book���������������������������������������������&#

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pp. 217-244

"Indian arrowheads and hatchets from Philadelphia’s outlying pastures; an ancient iron coat of mail unearthed along the Susquehanna River banks; a sliver of William Penn’s door frame at Pennsbury; a relic box comprised of wood fragments from Columbus’s house in Haiti and from..."

Part IV. Afterword

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Chapter 11. Reading Outside the Frame

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pp. 247-254

"This brief afterword by a male reader comes at the close of a volume of learned essays composed almost entirely by females and focusing on women’s historical encounters with texts. It thereby depends on what has come before, taking its agenda from the contributors and developing its terms and themes from their central concerns. There is surely..."

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 255-258


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pp. 259-264


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pp. 265

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205985
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220803

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Material Texts