- Early Modern Women and the Apparatus of Authorship
Scholarship on early modern women's writing has for decades centred on the figure of the early modern woman herself. Margaret More Roper and the Cooke sisters as humanist-educated prodigies, Mary Wroth holding an archlute in the Penshurst portrait, Margaret Cavendish propounding her self-generated model of literary fame, and Katherine Philips monumentalized in the folio-sized bust in her posthumous Poems (1667): all are historical entities that supplant the ghostly figure of Virginia Woolf's Judith Shakespeare, an embodied female parallel to the curiously bodiless William, whose texts are more real than he is.1 Because the study of early modern women's writing since the 1980s has to a large extent been driven by a desire to locate foremothers, the woman writer has most frequently been constructed as an essential and biographically determined concept. One of the most significant explorations of women's writing in the past two decades, the Perdita project, itself embodies in its nomenclature the search for the 'lost woman' - and its success, as well as that of other recuperative enterprises, is measured by the number of new women who have been added to the (counter-)canon of early modern women writers.2
At the same time as new women writers have come to light, however, the diversity of the texts associated with women - and the diversity of the discourses, contexts, and moments out of which they have arisen - have generated a substantial reconfiguration of the field of women's writing, in ways that have coincided with cutting-edge scholarship in early modern literary studies more broadly. The discussion of early modern women's writing increasingly focuses on the textuality of authorship, in explorations of women as readers and consumers of texts, of textual compilation and collaboration as modes of authorship, and of the 'complexly mediated nature of authorial [End Page 1] "agency"' in texts that occur in manuscript culture.3 Early modern women's writing is in this way a field that is moving away from simple conceptions of the female author as the originator and agent of textual production towards the more complex consideration of the nexuses of textual, social, and material forces through which articulations of gender - and authorship itself - are produced and reproduced. Scholarship on women's writing increasingly informs that on the textual and social contingency, generic specificity, and materiality of early modern authorship - and vice versa.
Seeking to contribute to, and extend, these developments, this Special Issue of Parergon opens up new conversations between early modern women's writing and the related fields of the history of the book, early modern literary history, and the editing and critical reception of early modern texts. Early Modern Women and the Apparatus of Authorship explores women's writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in terms of the complex interactions between gender and genre, communities, material forms, and the forces of readership and redaction through which authorship is produced. Most of the articles in this issue focus on a single woman writer, and many include scholarship on new and little-known texts: the letters of Susan Montgomery and the religious writings of Elizabeth Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, and Alathea Bethell are treated here for the first time, and scholarship is extended on the writing of Anne Lock, Anne Askew, Anne Halkett, Brilliana Harley, Anne Southwell, Dorothy Stanley, Mary Wroth, and Mary Queen of Scots. But while the articles most frequently work as case studies, our focus in each, and in the issue as a whole, is less on women as literary geniuses than on the paratextual, communal, generic, and material contexts and forces through which their authorship is produced. Each of the articles collected here makes a significant contribution to early modern women's writing at the same time as it seeks to move away from a simple concept of the early modern female [End Page 2] 'author' and to contribute to the broader discussion of the conditions and construction of authorship.
The 'apparatus of authorship' in our title rubric refers to multiple and interconnected textual, communal, generic, and material factors that enabled women to write in early...