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Reviewed by:
  • English Printing, Verse Translation, and the Battle of the Sexes, 1476–1557
  • Travis Robertson
Coldiron, Anne E. B., English Printing, Verse Translation, and the Battle of the Sexes, 1476–1557 (Women and Gender in the Early Modern World), Aldershot, Ashgate, 2009; hardback; pp. xv, 280; 15 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £55.00; ISBN 9780754656081.

This monograph presents its readers with an examination of the relationships between men and women as portrayed in a series of French poems that were translated and published in Early Modern England. The book comprises six chapters and three appendices where the author presents her transcriptions [End Page 199] of several of the major works examined. Indeed the transcriptions, at least according to the preface, represent one of the major purposes of the work: that of increasing the accessibility of Early Modern printed works. Although one might question the utility of replicating sources already accessible to many scholars through online databases the author's argument that these challenging works achieve greater readability through the book's presentation is on solid ground when the combined challenges of Early Modern type settings, language, style and the cost of online access are considered.

In addition to its role in transmitting Early Modern texts the book seeks to offer a new interpretation of early English print culture. By examining some of the earliest works printed in English and by identifying them as translations from late medieval French manuscript poetry this study builds on the work of scholars such as Anne Lake Prescott, Margaret Ferguson, Deanne Williams, Karen Newman and Ruth Morse, who have illuminated the connections between French and English literatures and cultures.

Rather than presenting another study of French-English literary connections the author skilfully steps outside older discourses of influence to examine textual transmission beyond the site of translation by studying the importance of the technologies that facilitated the poems' transmission. In exposing the technical and aesthetic experiments conducted by the translators and printers the work explores not only the mediating art of translation but it also exposes the influence of the printers' experiments in typefaces, border designs, illustration and even binding. The book's sources are thus characterized as works in transition not only between cultures but also between modes of production and audience.

In pursuing this argument, each of the work's six chapters, apart from the initial chapter which outlines the book's argument, offers a case study of different texts. The texts examined have been self-consciously selected to provide an alternative 'noncourtly, antiromance, un-Petrarchan, and nonclerical discourse on women, gender, and marriage' (p. 11). Although many of the works are obscure to modern readers, the book asserts that they were well known in their own era. Nevertheless, the texts studied become more obscure and perhaps less influential as the book progresses. The opening case study, of Christine de Pizan's textual authority, is convincing. However, the final chapter, which examines John Heywood's commercially unsuccessful translation of a French sexual farce, is on less solid ground. Despite the ranging influence of the works discussed, the book gives a voice to an alternative, although possibly [End Page 200] less influential, view of women in Early Modern England. More importantly the work elucidates how the processes of printing and translation facilitated the creation and exchange of this view.

As the book progresses, its case studies, while examining a diverse range of texts, slowly build up some general conclusions. Chapters 2, 3 and 6 demonstrate how the processes of textual transmission could serve to decontextualize works. Although, in the case of Christine de Pizan, whose work is discussed in the second chapter, the extent to which her context is obscured is perhaps open to more questions than the present study allows, given her personal connections in England and her international reputation; nevertheless, her repeated publication in collections of works by Chaucer was an attempt to locate her in an alien literary tradition. The influence of paratextual insertions in the publication of the other works examined may have likewise placed them within English traditions. Despite this, the fluidity of both the cultural and political boundaries between France and England in the early...


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pp. 199-201
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