Picturing women in Urania by Mary Wroth and Clelie by Madeleine de Scudery


My parallel reading of two seventeenth-century romances by two women, one English, one French, aims to illumine the early modern mapping of womanhood from a female perspective. Part one examines the discourse of virtuous women in the patriarchal societies of Urania and Clélie. Adopting an approach based on close stylistic analysis, I explore, on the one hand, the extent to which the marriage topos endows or does not endow these women with speech and power, and on the other the extent to which the marriage topos enables the utterance of a protofeminist discourse. While the marriage topos initially allows us to visualise these women as daughters, sisters, mothers and wives, it gradually unveils women not only as the apologists of true love, but also as androgynous heroines in the male-authored domain of politics. Having discussed the discourse (mostly oral) of Uranian and Scuderian heroines in the context of a society functioning on the basis of political alliances, I move on to analyse ‘The loci of the feminine’, i.e. the configuration of female spaces in two texts. This analysis is developed in parts two and three of this thesis. The first part begins by examining the cultural milieux of Mary Wroth and Madeleine de Scudéry, and explores some of the evidence regarding the possible existence of an early modern English equivalent of French ‘salons’. This chapter measures the extent to which Urania and Clélie might be constructed as illustrations of the highly intense activities of Wroth’s and Scudéry’s literary circles. The next chapter focusses on the Uranian and Scuderian fictionalisation of a predominantly female community. Part three assesses the ways in which these texts seem to inscribe themselves within a protofeminist project of re-evaluating female legacy and authorship in the realm of letters, and proceeds to explore more specifically the representation of literary creativity in Urania’s and Clélie’s female retreats. My final part examines the subject of the thesis in its literal sense, by analysing Wroth’s and Scudéry’s representations of the female body, and relates- where appropriate- images of women in Urania and Clélie to those found in the visual arts of the early modern period, such as emblems, engravings, paintings and masques

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