Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century
The following entry provides historical and critical commentary on English-language women's writing and feminist thought during the seventeenth century.
Seventeenth-century England witnessed a surge in literary activity by women, despite the restrictive gender roles of the time. Unlike women's literature of the middle ages and renaissance, which is predominantly devotional, seventeenth-century writings by women treat a variety of secular subjects through such forms as drama, fiction, and autobiography. Modern feminist thought also finds its roots in seventeenth-century polemical writings and activities by women, many of which have only recently received significant scholarly attention.
The English Civil Wars contributed to the expansion of women's roles in many areas, including an increase of publishing activity; and many women began to perceive themselves for the first time as part of a larger social group, inherently equal to men, but subjected to discrimination that restricted their opportunities. Modern feminism stems from this philosophy, which was a significant departure from the traditional conception of women as isolated individuals whose fates were predetermined solely by their biological status as the "weaker sex." Critics view the seventeenth century as a time of increasing, although highly ambiguous, female social awareness. The exclusion of women from universities and academic societies, for example, was regarded by early feminists as an instrument of social repression, but protests most often hinged on the argument that equal education for women would enhance their abilities as wives and mothers, rather than as scholars or professionals. Restricted access to education undoubtedly thwarted the potential achievements of women writers, since the seventeenth-century education of girls focused largely on domestic skills in the service of religion, wifehood, and motherhood, rather than development of intellectual and artistic abilities. It was quite common, for example, for women to be taught to read the Bible, but not to write. In rare instances, girls received a more extensive private education from friends or relatives, but this was the exception.
In addition to barriers to education, women writers encountered the obstacle of public condemnation of their efforts. Only certain nonthreatening literary forms were considered socially appropriate for women, such as polite and pious verse, or translations, which were generally viewed as far removed from the "serious" literature dominated by men. Women who addressed original themes with an original voice risked being labelled as immoral, or even insane. Seventeenth-century women nevertheless played a significant role in the evolution of each of the literary genres. They contributed in particular to the development of the novel, partly because the relative newness of prose fiction meant that there were few rigid rules concerning form, allowing many literate women to attempt works with little or no artistic training. Domestic subjects, however, were not yet considered valid material for fiction, which posed a difficulty for women who were excluded from the types of experiences necessary to handle such popular forms as the picaresque novel or guild tale. The pastoral romance, therefore, became the chosen form of many early women writers of fiction, such as Mary Wroth. Biography was another viable and socially legitimate genre for women, with the most common biographies by women being records of their husband's lives or chronicles of family histories. Critics have observed that many of these biographical and autobiographical writings are characterized by a lack of realism associated with the restricted treatment of domestic subjects—in some cases, events that dominated the lives of authors, such as childbirth and motherhood, are given only brief, superficial references. Seventeenth-century women also made notable contributions to drama. Aphra Behn, for example, shocked some audiences with her candid treatment of arranged marriages and adulterous relationships in several successful plays. Generally viewed with more tolerance than fiction writers or dramatists, women poets expanded popular poetic forms and techniques to accommodate a feminine perspective. Mary Wroth, for example, transformed the traditional Petrarchan conceit of woman as love object into an expression of a woman's love for a man in her sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, while Aemilia Lanyer created a feminine recasting of Christ's Passion in Salve deus rex judaeorum.
17th century english writers Essay
2808 Words12 Pages
The Pen Is Mightier Than The King
The 17th century saw a king’s head roll and an English Caesar sit the throne, in the midst of all of this a new class was rising. England in the 17th century was rife with change, there was much work to be done before the industrial revolution could fully grip the nation. For hundreds of years the monarch had dominated the political landscape, now that was changing radically. Although their remained a Monarch in power for most of this period they had seen their powers limited to the point of reducing them to the status of figurehead. As farming techniques and technology had improved, the population in England had increased steadily and the use of this new technology created a new class in society.(1)…show more content…
The wealth of the new merchant class allowed many of them to better educate their children, and so the middle class author came into prominence.(1) The ruling class would use these authors to curry the peoples favor for their often conflicting agendas. Writers in 17th century England soon found that their abilities and viewpoints were a powerful political tool. They used the support of the government in power to expose themselves to their audience and to expand their trade for future generations.
Early 17th century authors where faced with a more than difficult task to succeed in their career and indeed even to survive. At that time writing, even if you where a masterful author was not much of a career, finding funds to survive on was quite difficult and often not possible using your writing talents alone.(1) In order to really earn any money from your scribbling you had to reach the readers that your work was intended for. This was not so easy in a time before mass communication, and without some form of significant exposure you were condemned to forever wallow in obscurity. In addition the law of the time was not friendly to authors as there was still no allowance for freedom of the press. A government branch was still designated for the censoring of writers material, and if your particular beliefs did not agree with the person or persons currently in power they would simply not see the light of