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Quotation and Self-Fashioning in Margaret Paston’s FFousehold Letters Valerie Creelman St. Mary’s University T he private co rrespo n d en ce an d papers of the Pastons, a fif­ teenth-century gentry family of Norfolk, England, have been an invalu­ able primary source for medieval scholars in piecing together the social, cultural, economic, and domestic details of a gentlewoman’s life in the late medieval period.1 O f particular interest have been the letters of Margaret Paston, whose correspondence represents the largest preserved collection of female-authored letters by a gentlewoman in late medieval England. Despite this abundance of material, few scholars have moved beyond the historical and philological interests of these letters to discover what they can teach us about women’s rhetorical skill, compositional practices, and participation in applied rhetorics like medieval letter-writing. Recent scholarly work on the Paston women’s letters demonstrates, however, that important steps are being taken in this direction: Diane Watt, for example, explores what she terms “household rhetoric” in discussing the Paston letters, and Roger Dalrymple examines the reactive, consolatory, and redressive aspects of the Paston women’s letters. Broader in scope, l For sociohistorical discussions of fifteenth-century gentlewomen see Archer, Goldberg, Jewell, Leyser, Power, Shahar, Swabey, and Ward. ESC 30.3 (September 2004): 111-128 Valerie Creelman is an assistant professor at Saint M ary’s University. Interested in medieval women’s writing and literate practices, she explores such topics as gender, social relations, and identity through her study of fifteenthcentury gentlewomen’s letters— particularly correspondence related to household and estate administration. She recently completed her dissertation entitled Household Words: The Rhetoricity ofFifteenthCentury Gentlewomen’s Household Letters and is currently working on several projects related to medieval women’s epistolography. Earlier this year, she was nominated for the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal based on her doctoral work at the University of Waterloo. Albrecht Classen’s and Malcolm Richardson’s respective efforts have worked to provide scholars with a methodology and corpus of medieval women’s epistolary writings for further study. Each author’s scholarly work not only charts new approaches and directions in studying women’s episto­ lary writings, but also emphasizes the need for and importance of studying the rhetoric of women’s household letters to enrich our understanding of women’s literary history. While scholars agree that Margaret Paston’s letters display a woman of considerable influence and consequence in the Paston family, less attention has been directed to the language of Margaret Paston’s letters to determine how her linguistic and rhetorical choices contribute to this impression of her. One distinctive feature of Margaret Paston’s household letters is her frequent reference to and recital of external sources (individuals’ state­ ments or words) in her reports. Despite the prevalence of this practice throughout her correspondence, its purpose and rhetorical effects have not been fully explored. One obvious effect of Margaret’s incorporation of others’ reported speech is that it constructs her authorial position as a reporter, chronicler, and, perhaps, even translator of the household and estate-related events, information, and experience she recounts in her household letters. This reporting role has, however, largely character­ ized Margaret Paston’s subject position in these letters as a passive and peripheral one. This characterization is not entirely surprising given that, in discussions of medieval women’s literary history, the authorial roles of chronicler and translator have been identified as strategies of submission used by women to attach themselves to male authorities and participate in male literary activities (Barratt 12-16). Margaret’s own literary activity falls within this purview, for her routine composition of these household letters is attached to the male authority of her husband, John Paston 1. Margaret’s letter-writing is, after all, primarily motivated by her husband’s request that she provide him with an ongoing written account of household and estate matters. Consequently, the report mode that characterizes her speech function throughout her letters is one that speaks of her subordinate position as a wife obligated to provide her husband with frequent written reports in governing estate business in his absence. Taking this social dynamic into consideration, this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-4835
Print ISSN
0317-0802
Pages
pp. 111-128
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-03
Open Access
No
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