In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women Writing in French

  • Introduction
  • Collections
  • Monographs
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Women’s Literary Patronage
  • Women and the Print Industry

Renaissance and Reformation Women Writing in French
Colette H. Winn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0188


In some domains, women may not have had a Renaissance, as Joan Kelly suggests in a 1977 article that transformed forever the way that critics study the history of women (Kelly 1977, cited under Monographs). Nevertheless, important historical and sociocultural phenomena such as the advent of print, humanism, religiously inspired educational campaigns (Lutheran, Calvinist, and Catholic), and the impact of the Italian Renaissance on France’s cultural and intellectual life provided French women from the aristocracy and the upper-bourgeois milieu with unprecedented opportunities to acquire literacy, to argue and promote causes dear to them in literary salons that they themselves ran, to circulate their manuscripts among friends, and even to enter into the public world of print. Granted, French women of letters had to be inventive in order to maneuver within male-authored literary conventions, circumvent gender strictures, and establish a public, intellectual life in a society often hostile to their aspirations. But their early steps in the area of cultural expression were great, and their contributions as writers of nearly every literary form, as generous patrons of literature and the arts, and as producers of books are noteworthy. This article deals with these different aspects of 16th-century French women’s involvement in writing. Since the early 1990s, scholarship on French women and writing has been dominated by edited collections of essays organized around a particular theme or a particular line of inquiry. Most of these works compile the proceedings of international, interdisciplinary, and, more recently, transhistorical and cross-cultural conferences. Monographs that have appeared so far are traditionally more general in scope. Quite remarkable is the recovery of a number of female-authored texts since the early 1990s, and the greater availability, thanks to several publishing firms and collective scholarly efforts on both sides of the Atlantic, of well-known women writers as well as less familiar ones in the form of critical editions (scholarly or student oriented), bilingual editions and English translations to address the needs of the ever-growing field of interdisciplinary studies, anthologies containing textual extracts from a wide variety of women’s writings and genre-based anthologies, and digitized libraries and websites of all sorts. Remarkable as well is the growing number of dictionaries and encyclopedias that pay tribute to early modern women and their creativity.


Featured here are important collections that focus on women’s writing activities but differ in scope. Beaulieu and Fournier 1993 and Ford and Jondorf 1999 tend to the miscellaneous, as many of these collected works do, but reading them in tandem enables one to trace important developments in the field of early modern women writers. The transhistorical perspective of Poirier, et al. 2008, Stephens 2000, and Winn and Kuizenga 1997 encourages all kinds of fruitful and often unprecedented parallels between writers and texts from different periods. Poska, et al. 2013, on the other hand, adopts a transnational perspective, which is much in line with the increasingly popular global approaches. Amussen and Seeff 1998, Winn 2007, and Winn 2011 provide not only new avenues of inquiry, but also guidance on incorporating current resources into the classroom.

  • Amussen, Susan Dwyer, and Adele F. Seeff, eds. Attending to Early Modern Women. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998.

    One of several volumes that emerged from a series of interdisciplinary conferences on the lives, roles, and writings of women in early modern societies. Highly valuable for both teaching and research, these proceedings include important essays by Natalie Zemon Davis, Mary Elizabeth Perry, and Josephine Roberts, as well as summaries of the activities of the workshops, and a select bibliography. Of special interest also are the volumes on gender-oriented approaches and conflict and concord.

  • Beaulieu, Jean-Philippe, and Hannah Fournier, eds. Special Issue: Femmes et textes sous l’Ancien Régime. Atlantis 19.1 (Fall–Winter 1993): 2–6.

    Combines a diachronic or transhistorical approach with a synchronic approach to highlight the specificity of women’s writings and place them in dialogue with contemporary works by men.

  • Ford, Philip, and Gillian Jondorf, eds. Women’s Writing in the French Renaissance: Proceedings of the Fifth Cambridge French Renaissance Colloquium. 7–9 July 1997. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge French Colloquia, 1999.

    Explores the cultural and material context within which early modern women wrote, and the contribution they made to Renaissance literature, especially love and devotional poetry and prose writing, both fictional and nonfictional. Contains several important studies on Louise Labé.

  • Poirier, Guy, Christine McWebb, François Paré, and Delbert Wayne Russell. Dix ans de recherche sur les femmes écrivains de l’Ancien Régime: Influences et confluences; Mélanges offerts à Hannah Fournier. Papers from a 2005 conference organized by University of Waterloo. Québec: Les Presses de l’Université de Laval, 2008.

    Collection in honor of Hannah Fournier, one of the founders of MARGOT and an organizer, with Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, of the first colloquium on early modern women writers. The type of studies included in this volume (study of manuscripts written by women, reception of women’s works, etc.) is a testimony to what has been accomplished between 1993 and 2005, dates of the first and second colloquia held at the University of Waterloo.

  • Poska, Allyson M., Jane Couchman, and Katherine A. McIver, eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013.

    Contains several important chapters dealing with women’s writing in all European languages or discussing French women writers in the context of their contemporaries. See in particular “Literature by Women Religious in Early Modern Catholic Europe and the New World” by Alison Weber (pp. 33–51); “Protestant Women’s Voices” by Jane Couchman (pp. 149–170); “The Querelle des femmes” by Julie D. Campbell (pp. 361–379); and “Intellectual Women in Early Modern Europe” by Diana Robin (pp. 381–404).

  • Stephens, Sonya, ed. A History of Women’s Writing in France. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511554025

    Historical survey of women’s writing in France from the 6th century to the present day. A single article on the Renaissance by Cathleen M. Bauschatz, “To Choose Ink and Pen: French Renaissance Women’s Writing” (pp. 41–63), discusses the impact of different historical and cultural factors in the early 16th century on women’s access to literacy.

  • Winn, Colette H., ed. Approaches to Teaching Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron. Approaches to Teaching World Literature. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2007.

    Unravels the complexities of Marguerite’s Heptameron, with all sorts of tips, techniques, and ideas gleaned from leading specialists. A welcome addition to the impressive canon of French authors represented in the MLA series Approaches to Teaching World Literature.

  • Winn, Colette H., ed. Teaching French Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Options for Teaching 31. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2011.

    Offers a critical reappraisal of important questions pertaining to early modern women writers, as well as tips on how to use current resources and instruction guidance.

  • Winn, Colette H., and Donna Kuizenga, eds. Women Writers in Pre-Revolutionary France: Strategies of Emancipation. New York: Garland, 1997.

    Discusses various strategies adopted by early modern women in their lives and their writings in order to resist male dominance or circumvent gender constraints. Covers numerous topics and genres.

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