- The Ideas of Man and Woman in Renaissance France: Print, Rhetoric, and Law by Lyndan Warner
Lyndan Warner's analysis of how 'man' and 'woman' were conceptualized, constructed, and debated in the print culture of Renaissance France represents a significant contribution to early modern literary and gender scholarship. The value of this study is twofold: firstly, it places Renaissance ideas of women alongside those concerned with men, rather than considering the 'woman question' in isolation. Warner shows that, even though the virtues and vices of women and men were seen to manifest differently, both were considered through the lens of established theological, literary, and philosophical traditions that highlighted the dignity-misery and praise- blame attributes of both men and women. It is for this reason that they need to be analysed together, so that the blame accorded to women, and often observed by scholars, can be understood in this broader context. Secondly, it considers the well-ploughed field of the Querelle des femmes within a much wider chronological frame than usual, one that includes intellectual, literary, cultural, and - most of all - gendered contexts (Warner introduces the 'man question' alongside that of the woman). In so doing, the study underscores the various traditions that gave rise to the genre, and its evolution over time. Its legacy and usages, from its role as a key genre in the busy book trade (where the socially anxious French tried to understand the complicated business of how to find and keep a good woman, since the uncertainties of the French social hierarchy meant that a wife could lead to stability and honour, just as easily as to loss and ruin), to the law courts, where Warner provides a fascinating description of the genre's use by lawyers (reported and embellished in legal publications) to persuade judges, sometimes arguing on the side of the woman and sometimes on the side of the man.
Another illuminating feature of this study is that, against the familiar backdrop of a Renaissance literary world steeped in paradox, contradiction, and shifting truths that underpinned the period's favoured literary styles of the dialogue, debate, and the essay, a woman, just as much as a man, was open to interpretation; she was not alone in being singled out as prone to sin (for so was man), and indeed she often warranted praise and defence (as did man). Of course none of this prevented women from having a markedly inferior status compared with men in most areas of life, particularly in the public and legal spheres. Indeed, while literature about women and men might have been drawn from ideas broadly concerning the human condition, as Warner [End Page 338] argues, rather than with a view specifically to vilify or hollowly praise women as is commonly thought, it is significant that women remained relatively silent on the subject (including in Warner's study, with a few fascinating exceptions that might have benefitted from further analysis, such as Louise Labé).
To this end, feminist and gender historians would appear to remain correct in pointing out that, regardless of the surprisingly even-handed approach to women and men in the literary sphere outlined by Warner, it was the shortcomings of women that most often caught the eye and fell under the spotlight of the early modern men who, for the most part, retained the privilege of deciding what to write.
The University of Newcastle, NSW