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The Prodigious Muse

Women's Writing in Counter-Reformation Italy

Virginia Cox

Publication Year: 2011

In her award-winning, critically acclaimed Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650, Virginia Cox chronicles the history of women writers in early modern Italy—who they were, what they wrote, where they fit in society, and how their status changed during this period. In this book, Cox examines more closely one particular moment in this history, in many ways the most remarkable for the richness and range of women’s literary output. A widespread critical notion sees Italian women’s writing as a phenomenon specific to the peculiar literary environment of the mid-sixteenth century, and most scholars assume that a reactionary movement such as the Counter-Reformation was unlikely to spur its development. Cox argues otherwise, showing that women’s writing flourished in the period following 1560, reaching beyond the customary "feminine" genres of lyric, poetry, and letters to experiment with pastoral drama, chivalric romance, tragedy, and epic. There were few widely practiced genres in this eclectic phase of Italian literature to which women did not turn their hand. Organized by genre, and including translations of all excerpts from primary texts, this comprehensive and engaging volume provides students and scholars with an invaluable resource as interest in these exceptional writers grows. In addition to familiar, secular works by authors such as Isabella Andreini, Moderata Fonte, and Lucrezia Marinella, Cox also discusses important writings that have largely escaped critical interest, including Fonte’s and Marinella’s vivid religious narratives, an unfinished Amazonian epic by Maddalena Salvetti, and the startlingly fresh autobiographical lyrics of Francesca Turina Bufalini. Juxtaposing religious and secular writings by women and tracing their relationship to the male-authored literature of the period, often surprisingly affirmative in its attitudes toward women, Cox reveals a new and provocative vision of the Italian Counter-Reformation as a period far less uniformly repressive of women than is commonly assumed. Praise for Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650 "Exhaustive and insightful . . . This is an amazing book, a major achievement in the field of women's studies."—Renaissance Quarterly "This is a definitive study and will surely remain so for many years to come."—Choice "Virginia Cox has written a magisterial study of the major trends in women's writing in Renaissance and Counter-Reformation Italy . . . This is indeed an impressive volume and one which deserves to be read and studied. It will change the way we think about women's writing in early modern Italy."—Modern Language Review

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Front Matter

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book draws on the twenty years or so of research that resulted in my 2008 book Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650 (Johns Hopkins). In that sense, the acknowledgments for help and inspiration offered in that book are equally relevant here. In addition, however, this second book profited from a very..

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pp. xi

The material surveyed in this volume, the literary production of Italian women in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, chimes uncannily well with every sense of the adjective prodigious that the Oxford English Dictionary has contrived to define. This was a remarkable period in the history...

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pp. 1-50

Before proceeding to a consideration of what Italian women wrote in this period, we need first to take account of the context of their writing. What kind of women wrote in this period, and in what circumstances? To what extent were they integrated within the literary culture of the age? What kind of..

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pp. 51-86

One area in which women writers in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries cannot be said to have equaled their early sixteenth-century predecessors was the production of lyric poetry. The decades from 1530 to 1560 saw female poets’ first entry into the world of print in Italy, and their impact was...

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pp. 87-128

The body of secular and sacred lyric discussed in the previous chapter has many claims to novelty at the level of detail, but in other respects it continues the tradition of female-authored writing of the earlier sixteenth century. Far more novel as a development of the later Cinquecento is the emergence of...

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pp. 129-163

The works discussed in this chapter form part of a vast and critically underinvestigated body of religious narrative produced in Italy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, mainly in the dominant narrative meter of ottava rima. This corpus of writings encompassed numerous, often...

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pp. 164-212

The period covered by this book, 1580–1635, saw the publication of five works of secular narrative by women in Italy. Three are by Lucrezia Marinella: the pastoral romance Arcadia felice (1605), the mythological-allegorical poem Amore innamorato, et impazzato (1618), and the epic L’Enrico, overo Bisanzio...

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pp. 213-249

The concluding chapter of this book surveys what may be broadly termed discursive prose writings by women, including treatises, dialogues, ‘‘meditations,’’ volumes of letters, and polemical tracts. This was a field of literary activity in which female writers emerged strongly in the last decades of the...

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pp. 250-252

In their very different ways, Lucrezia Marinella’s La nobiltà et l’eccellenza delle donne and Chiara Matraini’s Dialoghi spirituali, published within two years of each other in Venice, represent something of a high point within the history of Italian women’s experimentation with authoritative voices and...


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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-370


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pp. 371-426


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pp. 427-439

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401607
E-ISBN-10: 1421401606
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400327
Print-ISBN-10: 1421400324

Page Count: 472
Publication Year: 2011