Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kathryn V. Santos: "Rape & the Rise of the Author"

Kathryn Vomero Santos
New York University

Book Review

Amy Greenstadt, Rape and the Rise of the Author: Gendering Intention in Early Modern England. Ashgate Publishing (Burlington, VT, 2009), 204 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7546-6274-7. $99.95 (USD).

1> Amy Greenstadt’s Rape and the Rise of the Author is a recent addition to the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series published by Ashgate. In this important contribution to the study of rape and literary authorship in the early modern period, Greenstadt’s main argument is that developing notions of authorship were influenced by the frequent comparison and equation of rape and literary writing. Because both authorship and the experience of sexual violation were bound up with questions of intention, Greenstadt notes that rape often served as a figure, or allegory, for many different forms of authorial anxiety. The central project of Greenstadt’s book is to historicize and question what she terms “transcendent intention” in the discourses of rape, authorship, and the many places where the two intersect (5). In order to reevaluate previously held notions of a distinctly masculine authorial figure, Greenstadt insists that we read the development of the author under the rubric of a specifically female set of ideals.

2> An important feature of Greenstadt’s lucid introduction is the careful outline of the Augustinian model of chastity, which greatly influenced Renaissance England’s conceptualization of a transcendent will, or intention. The locus of the will, as it was defined by Augustine and his inheritors, was the inward mental space that was separate from the body. A woman could therefore maintain a chaste will even if her body was violated. A number of related distinctions guide Greenstadt’s study, including that between the public and the private and between external and internal expression. The shifting boundaries between these categories have important implications for Greenstadt’s readings of the different textual attempts to mediate between the chaste will and the violated body.

3> Beginning her study with Sidney, Greenstadt combines a reading of An Apology for Poetry and The Old Arcadia in order to demonstrate the development and deployment of Sidney’s ideal male poet. This first chapter, “Sidney’s Ravishment,” accounts for a multifaceted and often paradoxical discourse of ravishment that was used to describe the sexual effect and treatment of women in the period. As Greenstadt reminds us later in the book, a ravishing woman “is both vulnerable and threatening” in that she can inspire sexual desire and become its victim (131). Much like women and their outward appearance, the ornamental and artificial materiality of poetic language was thought to be seductive and ravishing, but it was also capable of placing its readers in the position of the feminized rape victim by means of a penetrative ravishing force. Authors who feared being interpreted outside their intention also worried that the published poetic text could be violated and therefore identified with a vulnerable feminine position.

4> In this first chapter, Greenstadt explores the role of gender in the domain of poetry through the device of the disguise. Greenstadt highlights debates about femininity and poetry and locates the feminizing effects of dressing and decorating the textual body in the Amazonian disguise as it is assumed by Pyrocles in Sidney’s The Old Arcadia. The act of cross-dressing provides access to an otherwise restricted female sphere and draws attention to the artifice, illusion and deception associated with the feminine. Most importantly, however, Greenstadt argues that Pyrocles-as-Cleophila becomes a figure for the effeminized male poet. The interaction between Philoclea and the male character cross-dressed as a woman reveals the gendered implications of the disguise and the sexual interactions it both allows and disallows. As Greenstadt demonstrates, Pyrocles serves as the embodiment of Sidney’s own concerns about poetry as well as many of those expressed in contemporary debates about poetic writing.

5> In her second chapter on Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, Greenstadt argues that the textual body itself is female, and in the case of Lucrece it is one and the same with the textual poem. Greenstadt claims that the “will” that Will Shakespeare so often employed as a pun or reference to his own authorial persona becomes the site and expression of Lucrece’s female chastity. Authorship in Shakespeare’s poem is linked to issues of publication and a changing print culture. Having suffered as the victim of male publication, Lucrece seeks to publish her own chaste will in the aftermath of her rape in order “to perform the relationship between her signifying body and her inner intentions” (70). As Greenstadt points out, however, Lucrece’s attempts at self-representation are revealing of the troubling paradox that women needed to represent their internal chaste will, while the means of external representation or signification were themselves signs of an unchaste woman. Lucrece represents a form of female authorship that imitates models of chastity in its attempt to revise and blot out coercive and violent male authorship. Greenstadt notes that Lucrece’s form of publication is one that also attempts to control her will, or intention, after her death. Such issues of posterity occupied the minds of early modern authors who, like Lucrece, demonstrated a desire to control the use and interpretation of their expressions upon publication. As Greenstadt reminds us, this desire was often paired with the understanding that such control was incompatible with the realities of textual dissemination.

6> In her reading of Milton’s entertainment Comus (A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1637), Greenstadt examines Milton’s understanding and promotion of a concept of male chastity as it related to the public persona of the poet and the poet’s public voice. Though Greenstadt very aptly and usefully “dip[s] into” other texts written by Milton, such as Paradise Lost, Areopagitica, and An Apology for Smectymnuus, in order to provide a fuller sense of Milton’s engagement in debates about authorship, intention, and reading practices, this chapter identifies itself as an intervention that connects and revises dominant trends of scholarship on Comus. Greenstadt acknowledges that Milton, in many ways, aligns his authorial persona with the masque’s vulnerable figure of the Lady. Rather than reading the male authorial condition through the lens of a female victim, however, Greenstadt brings a new reading to the Lady’s situation by examining relationships and exchanges between men and possible scenarios of sodomitical male rape. In doing so, Greenstadt demonstrates that male authority was constructed through many forms of subjection. In the final pages of the chapter, Greenstadt echoes the main argument of the book: the fact that we can read Comus both as a story about male chastity and one about the sexually threatened female Lady “may bespeak the continuing efficacy of female chastity for a developing notion of authorship—even for Milton” (129).

7> Rape and the Rise of the Author is bookended by the genre of the romance. Though all of Greenstadt’s chapters address various forms of female authorship and expression, she turns to a female writer, Margaret Cavendish, in her final chapter. Greenstadt revisits the “ravishing” woman by examining parallel episodes in Cavendish’s 1656 romance Assaulted and Pursued Chastity in which the heroine is both the victim and the perpetrator of coercive violence. Reading the romance alongside Cavendish’s autobiographical writings, Greenstadt notes that the function of such writings is “to draw a ‘true relation’ between the self and the text it has produced” (137). In these representations of the self, Cavendish marks herself as an outsider to the “mainstream literary culture” through her gender and lack of education (140). If, as Greenstadt demonstrated in her previous chapter, male authority is constructed through subjugation, the female outsider learns that she can gain access to the male monopoly on authority by engaging in her own subjugation of an other. In Cavendish’s romance, this other is the native population of a New World, which the female heroine “conquers” under the guise of a male character. Because the romance is so often marked by disguise plots, it is no surprise that the change of clothing featured in Assaulted and Pursued Chastity is another a rich area of analysis for Greenstadt. Through disguise, Cavendish’s female heroine not only protects herself from future threat, but also assumes the role of the dominant masculine figure who imposes his will upon a vulnerable ‘other’. But just as Pyrocles’ change of dress blurs gender distinctions, disguise in Cavendish’s narrative confuses the positions of outsider and insider. Greenstadt concludes that Cavendish’s romance opens up a space for female authorship wherein the female writer can make use of the model of masculine autonomy yet ultimately capitalize on her position as an outsider.

8> Amy Greenstadt’s book raises important questions for the early modern period's relatively understudied ideas of intention. Through her examination of various representations of rape, Greenstadt successfully illuminates the deep connection between representation and rape itself.
In the spaces between her thoughtful analyses of textual and verbal expressions, each of Greenstadt’s chapters attends to various forms of silence. Rape and the Rise of the Author represents a decisive move away from critical silence on this intersecting set of discourses.

Kathryn Vomero Santos is a PhD candidate at New York University, where she is writing her dissertation on translation and the early modern English stage. Her research interests include intersections of translation and material culture, Anglo-Spanish relations, and representations of the foreign in early modern England.

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

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