- Early Women Writers
I wish books like Teaching Tudor and Stuart Women Writers, edited by Susanne Woods and Margaret Hannay, and A Companion to Early Modern English Women's Writings, edited by Anita Pacheco, had been available when I first began teaching courses in early modern British literature in the early 1990s. In those early years, I eagerly set about creating syllabi for courses on Shakespeare and other Tudor-Stuart literature that incorporated texts by contemporary women as well as men. As I quickly discovered, however, nearly all of the authors I wanted students to read were not yet available in easily acquired and affordable student editions or ready-made anthologies containing a significant number of women writers in lengthy excerpts or even full texts. Instead of simply ordering a half dozen or so items from the bookstore, finding suitable texts became a major endeavor, as I gathered course packs of materials photocopied from the Wing microfilm collection and printouts from the newly developing Brown Women Writers Project, which had yet to go online.
The effort to gather and reproduce the readings apparently was worth it, as endof term evaluations recorded students' pleasure at working with both male and female authors of the period. Nevertheless, students also complained that many of the texts were difficult to read—sometimes literally in the case of some poorly reproduced copies of microfilm—but also because the texts lacked the kind of scholarly apparatus (e.g., contextual introductions, head notes, and footnotes) that enables access to more canonical (though to them still often obscure) authors.1
My students confirmed the conclusion drawn by Wendy Gunther-Canada and others about the "powerful message to students" sent by editors through their choices of what to include in and exclude from anthologies.2 Indeed, as Carol Poster observes, writers drawn from the literary "or even the nouveau literary theory canon [End Page 234] . . . are taught with the presumption that they are worth reading, and a vast secondary literature informs the ways in which these texts are normally read."3 Both Teaching Tudor and Stuart Women Writers and A Companion to Early Modern English Women's Writings work from the presumption that texts written by women in this period are "worth reading."4
By pointing out many recently-developed resources and important critical discussions, Teaching Tudor and Stuart Women Writers provides a plethora of reasons why these texts are "worth reading" and should help generate a variety of interesting critical conversations about early period texts by both men and women. According to the editors, the book aims "to present current scholarship on the writings of Tudor and Stuart women in a form that will be useful for teaching, giving background on women's lives and women's texts, presenting newly canonized authors, providing models for teaching, and listing resources for further study" (2). The volume's introduction concisely surveys some of the gendered (even misogynist) assumptions underlying the neglect of early modern women writers and their texts, outlines some of the genres in which we find women of this period typically writing, and poses some general questions to use in approaching this newly developing area of study. The volume's remaining thirty-six essays are divided into four sections: "Women's Lives and Women's Texts," "Selected Authors," "Models for Teaching," and "Resources for Further Study."
The seven contextual essays in Part I offer excellent starting points for the study of early modern women writers. These contextual topics include women as readers, the textual issues of women's relationships to publication via print and manuscript circulation, as well as women as history writers (including not only national histories but also the biographical and autobiographical forms of life writings), religious and devotional writers, and writers who addressed a vast range of social issues of importance to them. Included in this section is a comparative essay on Continental women writers, who were more successful at making their...