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Reviewed by:
  • Men and Women Making Friends in Early Modern France ed. by Lewis C. Seifert, and Rebecca M. Wilkin
  • Bronwyn Reddan
Seifert, Lewis C., and Rebecca M. Wilkin,, eds, Men and Women Making Friends in Early Modern France (Women and Gender in the Early Modern World), Farnham, Ashgate, 2015; hardback; pp. 316; 3 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £70.00; ISBN 9781472454096.

Men and Women Making Friends in Early Modern France explores the dynamic nature of early modern friendship as an activity of connection and creation. Edited by Lewis C. Seifert and Rebecca M. Wilkin, this collection of ten chapters—in addition to the editors' introduction—provides insight into the role of friend-making in the making of the self in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France. Inspired by Ullrich Langer's identification of friendship as a tool of 'imaginative experimentation' in Perfect Friendship: Studies in Literature and Moral Philosophy from Boccaccio to Corneille (Droz, 1994, p. 28), the creative power of friendship is the common theme connecting essays that draw on queer and gender studies in their examination of friend-making in literary, spiritual, and social contexts in early modern France. This focus on creativity distinguishes the collection from narratives of loss and decline in works by Brian McGuire and Alan Bray by offering a more optimistic view of friendship as an activity that allows individuals to engage with and reshape norms of social interaction.

The findings of the volume are loosely organized into three overlapping categories: creative engagement with early modern ideals of gender and sexuality; creation of the gendered self; and friend-making as collaborative production. The first category of findings includes chapters by George Hoffmann, Todd W. Reeser, Marc D. Schachter, and Katherine Crawford that engage with a specific text or [End Page 262] group of texts such as Michel de Montaigne's 'Of Friendship' (Hoffmann) and the sixteenth-century reception of Marsilio Ficino's Neoplatonism (Reeser, Schachter, and Crawford). Michelle Miller's analysis of the role of physical aggression in the construction of male friendships contributes to the second category, as does Daniella Kostroun's reading of the rhetoric of monastic friendships among the Port-Royal nuns, although the latter is not included in the editors' discussion of this theme. Chapters by Rebecca M. Wilkin and Peter Shoemaker, two of the strongest contributions to the volume, speak to both the second and third categories. Both chapters examine cross-gender friendships, namely the philosophical friendship between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes (Wilkin) and the gendered discourse of confidentiality (confidence or confiance) (Shoemaker). Friendships between men and women also feature in Lewis C. Seifert's study of the Marquise de Sablé's mediation between spiritual and galant models of friendship, and Robert A. Schneider's empirical analysis of the spatial dimensions of literary friend groups in 1620s' and 1630s' Paris.

The success of this volume lies in its attention to the variety of meanings attached to early modern friendship as a process of creative engagement with codes of sexuality and gender. In doing so, it illustrates the role of friendship as an experience through which the self negotiates its identity in collaboration with others by creating connections within and across different social networks.

Bronwyn Reddan
Melbourne, Victoria


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pp. 262-263
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