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  • From Paratext to Epitext:Mapping the Authorial Apparatus in Early Modern Women's Writing
  • Patricia Pender (bio) and Rosalind Smith (bio)

Our focus on Early Modern Women's Writing and the Apparatus of Authorship in this special issue of Parergon responds to emerging trends in early modern women's studies that emphasize the importance of the material text to the literary, historical, and political analysis of women's works in the long early modern period. Attention to the material contexts of women's works is not new; it has, for instance, been a staple of the invaluable critical introductions to early modern women's texts that have been produced in the past thirty years.1 However, it is also the case that, until relatively recently, such scholarship has remained something of a specialist concern, standing in paratexual relationship to the text proper, as an introduction to the work that follows. This relationship has been reinforced in criticism that considers the literary interpretation of early modern women's writing before, or outside of, its material and textual specificity.2 If there has been something of a time lag in the material turn in early modern women's studies, this might be attributed, as Sarah C. E. Ross suggests in her introduction, to the field's initial focus [End Page 193] on the recovery of the historical woman writer and the assumption that gender provides the most pertinent interpretive crux to her text.3 While the past thirty years of scholarship has complicated this focus by incorporating analyses of rank, race, learning, sexuality, geographical location, and political and religious affiliation into the picture, the historical conditions that make a critical focus on gender valid and generative have by no means disappeared. The essays collected here share a continued focus on gender as a crucial feature of early modern women's writing, but they explore this focus in ways that attempt to unhinge it from immutable or essential associations with the body of the woman writer and insist instead on gender's shifting, contingent, productive, and performative relationships to the corpus of women's writing as we inherit it.

As such, the collection aims provisionally to dissociate our understanding of gender from its more recent critical legacies, at least as these relate to readings of early modern women's works, in order to explore what different understandings of its role emerge if the term is unshackled from its conventional associations. This is a strategic dissociation, designed to enrich and complicate our understanding of early modern gender regimes, rather than a post-political move designed to ignore or efface them. Such a move might seem to risk charges of anachronism or ahistoricism, by resisting accumulated assumptions about the operations of gender in the period. However, it does so deliberately, strategically, and provisionally, in the interests of producing more historically situated and locally embedded insights about gender's fluctuating permutations from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The comparison of women's paratexts from the remote ends of the early modern period, for instance, reveals major shifts in textual production and promotion, highlighting the need for further historicization of this authorial apparatus and its associations with gender before period-wide pronouncements can be properly attempted. Similarly, by eschewing fixed ideas about women's relationships with genre and community, this collection resists viewing women's engagement with forms and networks as necessarily innovative and successful; the seemingly derivative generic engagements and partially successful projections of community explored [End Page 194] here provide salutary counterpoints to the field's critical predilection for narratives of gendered rhetorical triumph. In exploring the reception of early modern women's writing through its textual redactions, this volume also addresses the mechanisms through which women's writing has been excluded or marginalized from canonical literary history. Again, however, the particularization of this process is key: as the essays in this volume reveal, gender operates in surprising and often conflicting ways across four centuries of scholarship on early modern women's writing, and these shifts problematize sweeping ideas about the gender biases of our inherited literary histories. If the essays in this volume ask us to consider discrete material features of early modern...


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pp. 193-201
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