Renaissance and Reformation Women Writing in English
by
Betty Travitsky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0136

Introduction

However much of a Renaissance early modern Englishwomen writers may, or may not, have experienced—a question raised in 1977 by Joan Kelly (“Did Women Have a Renaissance?” in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977], 137–164)—their writing practices seem not to have been immediately affected by the coming of the book. Of over thirty-three thousand entries in A Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640, compiled by A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave (London: Bibliographical Society, 1976–1991), eighty-five have been assigned to women authors, or approximately 0.5 percent, and these titles appeared predominantly between 1545 and 1640. The dramatic increase in printed writings by women from 1641 to 1700, constitutes approximately 1.2 percent of the titles in print from a period in which fewer than seven hundred titles have been assigned to women of the over 120,000 recorded titles in Donald Goddard Wing’s Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641–1700 (New York: Modern Language Association, 1972–1988). These small numbers of works can be explained, in part, by relatively low literacy rates among women compared to men and by the disapproval of women’s expressing their thoughts in public(ation). With the fairly recent growth of research into manuscript writings by women, it seems indisputable that most early modern Englishwomen writers raised their voices in manuscript rather than in print and in what we now term private, noncanonical forms like letters and diaries. It also seems that most of those women who wrote poems or dramas or prose of traditional types circulated their writings in familial and social manuscript networks (a proportion suggested by recovered materials).

General Overviews

Very useful general overviews of English women writers are available in broad, traditional monographs; in essay collections organized around a central topic; and in dissertations exploring large areas of interest, all of which serve as substantive introductions to this newly recognized field of study.

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