Sunday, May 30, 2010

Elizabeth Hageman: "Women Editing/Editing Women"

Elizabeth H. Hageman
University of New Hampshire

Book Review

Ann Hollinshead Hurley and Chanita Goodblatt, eds., Women Editing/Editing Women: Early Modern Women Writers and the New Textualism. Cambridge Scholars Publishing (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2009), 295 pp. + xviii. ISBN (10): 1-4438-0178-X. ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-0178-2. $69.77 (USD).

1> Almost twenty years ago, in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts (1993), a collection of papers read in MLA sessions sponsored by the Renaissance English Text Society, W. Speed Hill noted what he saw as a potential problem for feminist editors. Wanting to know (as indeed we do) what women wrote in 16th- and 17th-century England, he feared, scholars of early modern women would waste time “scaling the very intentionalist mountain the other side of which their male confreres are [now] descending.” If editors of women’s writing were to focus on issues of intentionality, they would find themselves outdated and irrelevant at a time when scholars such as Jerome McGann and Arthur Marotti had introduced an age in which “textual fixity as embodied in a unitary, authorially-controlled text is no longer a widely-shared goal.”

2> But by 1993, when Professor Hill’s essay was printed, women’s studies scholars were well aware of pitfalls inherent in early 20th-century editorial methods that sought to create definitive editions of “important” authors. Many of their ideas are articulated in Creating a Literary Series, a special issue of the South Central Review edited by Margaret Ezell (1994) and in Editing Women, essays from the 1995 Toronto Conference on Editorial Problems edited by Ann M. Hutchinson (1998), where scholars discuss the implications of multiple witnesses to women’s writing, of early modern women’s own editing and re-editing of texts, and of the fact that so much of what we know about 16th- and 17th- century women is due to their words having been reported, transcribed, edited, and published by others—these others often (though not always) male relatives, friends, polemicists, critics.

3> Late 20th- and early 21st-century editions—such as Elaine Beilin’s of Anne Askew and Patrick Cullens’s of Anna Weayms (both in the OUP Women Writers in English series), Jean Klene’s of Lady Anne Southwell’s manuscript book (printed by the Renaissance English Text Society as The Southwell-Sibthorpe Commonplace Book), and Patricia Phillippy’s forthcoming volume of the works of Elizabeth Cooke Hoby Russell (in the Other Voice series, now published in paperbacks and e-books by the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies)—demonstrate that recent ideas about presenting women’s writing are more capacious than editing methods based on finding ‘true texts’ would allow. That editing women’s writing throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s has turned out to be a productive enterprise is clear as well in the excellent new book under review here: Ann Hollinshead Hurley and Chanita Goodblatt’s Women Editing/Editing Women: Early Modern Women Writers and the New Textualism.

4> After a seven-page preface by Hurley and Goodblatt, their book is introduced by a fascinating dialogue-essay by Betty S. Travitsky and Anne Lake Prescott, editors of Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: A Renaissance Anthology (2000) and also of two series of texts by and/or about women currently being published by Ashgate Press. Dr. Travistky describes her initial interest in the late 1960s in literature by and about early modern Englishwomen and her work from that time on as one of the key creators of the field. As Travitsky notes, the task of recovering early Englishwomen writers is anything but complete. But it is well underway, thanks to her careful and generous work, together with that of a host of others, including of course her colleague, the self-described “late convert” to women’s studies, Anne Prescott.

5> The first seven chapters of the volume proper are previously-printed essays. The first is by the late Josephine Roberts, editor of both the printed (Part 1) and the manuscript (Part 2) texts of Mary Wroth’s prose romance, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, and also of Wroth’s poetry. As Professor Roberts notes, in the 1970s and ‘80s, scholars of women’s writing found that for any number of reasons—some, but not all, related to early modern ideas that properly-chaste women should shy away from print publication—a great many writings by 16th- and 17th-century English women are extant today in manuscript sources, where they circulated sometimes instead of, sometimes in addition to, print publication. As she argues, our new knowledge of women’s manuscripts has offered early modernists the side benefit of pointing to the significance of 16th- and 17th-century manuscript culture as a whole—and also of complicated relationships among early modern oral, print, and manuscript cultures and between writing (and reading) by men and women of the period. Essays by Gary Waller (focusing on Mary Sidney) and Susanne Gossett (on Middleton and Shakespeare) then explore what it means for 20th- (and now 21st-) century male and female scholars to analyze and edit texts. What aspects, Waller and Gossett acutely ask, of our historically-situated selves contribute to, even determine, our readings of texts that are themselves written within and against 16th- and 17th-century gendered positions?

6> With chapters four through seven, Hurley and Goodblatt turn our attention to a series of groundbreaking writings by Jerome McGann, Leah Marcus, Zachary Lesser, and Wendy Wall for explications of the term “new textualism” in the book’s subtitle. As Lesser notes in his footnote #28, the phrase first appears in Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass’s 1993 Shakespeare Quarterly article, “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text.” What new textualists argue is that the ‘meanings’ of texts are created not only by authors but also by the material contexts in which texts circulate. Studying early modern plays, Lesser thus notes, should include attention to “the politics of publication” when (and by whom) those plays were printed. So, too, of course, one must consider material attributes of funeral monuments on which women’s elegies were engraved, of paper and ink and individual writing ‘quirks’ with which their writings were transcribed and passed along to others, of paratextual materials added when their work was set in type, and of musical phrases to which women’s songs were sung as street ballads, as verses in dramas (performed in both public and private theaters), and as lyrics set to music by court musicians, such as Henry Lawes, and by early female musicians, such as Mary Dering.

7> With chapter eight, the book turns to newly-written essays. Jonathan Gibson and Gillian Wright address issues they and four colleagues considered as they edited the anthology Early Modern Women’s Manuscript Poetry (2005) in conjunction with the Perdita Project’s electronic catalogue of manuscripts “compiled and/or written by women” ( As Gibson and Wright wisely note at the conclusion of their essay, recent advances in digitizing texts are making possible even more new kinds of anthologies—anthologies created by readers who can juxtapose early manuscript and/or printed texts with earlier and later transcripts of them, the latter often accompanied by textual notes and historical commentary. In her essay, Erin Henriksen examines five novels printed as “by a Lady” or “by a woman of quality” to argue that even without specific knowledge of those works’ authors (even knowledge of whether they were actually women writers), one can nonetheless see the novels’ creation of “a space in which a quiet but sustained counterargument to the notion of women’s duplicity could be articulated.” These two thoughtful essays demonstrate the truth of a prediction feminists such as Travitsky and Robert made years ago: women’s texts are not simply interesting ‘add-ons’ to literary history; the more we know about them, the more our understanding of the early modern period as a whole is expanded.

8> In two different ways, the final four essays of Hurley and Goodblatt’s book participate in the task of rewriting literary history as we once knew it. Ann Hurley treats two plays written by a late 17th-century woman now called Elizabeth Polwhele, noting how she uses theatrical discovery spaces to reveal her female characters, and also how Polwhele uses female actors, new to the British stage, to embody her female characters. Michal Michelson and William Kolbrener rehearse their own work explicating intellectual conversations in which Mary Astell (also from the late 17th century) participated—thus introducing those conversations to the history of Restoration political and scientific thought. Chapters eleven and twelve come closer to the present time: Judith Jennings treating the 18th-century poet Mary Morris Knowles (1733-1807); Chanita Goodblatt, the 20th-century editor of Ben Jonson and John Donne, Evelyn Simpson (1885-1963). Downplaying the significance of neither Knowles’s adversary, James Boswell, nor Simpson’s co-editors, Percy Simpson and George Potter, Jennings and Goodblatt place Knowles’s and Simpson’s names firmly beside their male contemporaries.

9> As I trust my comments make clear, each essay in this book is a solid contribution to early modern literary history. Taken together, they provide a powerful argument for the virtues of methods of recent textual scholarship and its fit with what we might still call the new scholarship on women. Hurley and Goodblatt have done a magnificent job of envisioning and creating this important volume: my only wish is that they had written a more extensive preface outlining their own analysis of the current state of such scholarship and their sense of future developments in the field.

Elizabeth H. Hageman is Professor of English-Emerita at the University of New Hampshire. After first working on poets such as Spenser and Herrick, she has focused on writing by and about early modern women, most especially on the textual histories of Richard Hyrde’s 1529 translation of Juan Luis Vives’s Instruction of a Christen Woman and of Katherine Philips’s poetry. Currently, she is English-language editor of the Other Voice series published by the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto and a member of the Board of Editors of Appositions.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Three (2010): Digital Archives

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