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Writing Gender in Women's Letter Collections of the Italian Renaissance

Writing Gender in Women's Letter Collections of the Italian Renaissance

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    Writing Gender in Women's Letter Collections of the Italian Renaissance
    Book Description:

    Ray's study includes extensive new archival research and highlights a widespread interest in women's letter collections during the Italian Renaissance that suggests a deep curiosity about the female experience and a surprising openness to women's participation in this kind of literary production.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9783-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)

    • Introduction: Reading the Lettera familiare
      (pp. 3-18)

      In a letter published in her 1552epistolario, Lucrezia Gonzaga da Gazuolo offers an apt definition of thelettera familiare, or personal letter, when she explains to Girolamo Parabosco that she enjoys his letters because they seem so natural: ‘… non sono vestite d’arte, né gonfiate di lusinghevole o vano studio, ma puramente favellano …’ (‘they are not clothed in artifice, nor puffed up from excessive revision, but rather speak plainly …’).¹ Gonzaga’sepistolariowas printed at the height of the vernacular letter’s popularity in Italy, and her comments to Parabosco reflect the common notion of what the vernacular, ‘familiar’...

    • 1 Women’s Vernacular Letters in Context
      (pp. 19-42)

      In 1552, the erudite noblewoman Lucrezia Gonzaga followed Aretino’s epistolary example when she published herLettere … a gloria del sesso feminile, a collection of familiar letters composed in the vernacular. The writers Veronica Franco, Isabella Andreini, and Arcangela Tarabotti would soon follow suit. By the time these women were composing and publishing theirepistolariin the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, the letter had undergone significant linguistic, structural, and thematic transformations. The letterbooks of these late Renaissance women differed from their earlier, humanist predecessors in many respects, not only because they were written in Italian rather than Latin and...


    • 2 Female Impersonations: Ortensio Lando’s Lettere di molte valorose donne
      (pp. 45-80)

      If sixteenth-century theorizations of epistolary writing prized the ‘feminine’ qualities of naturalness and spontaneity in letters, in the years immediately following Aretino’s success both male and female writers sought to produce texts that would fulfill these requirements. As noted in the introduction, not only did women writers publish correspondence but male writers also composed and published letters under women’s names, seeking to capitalize on the interests of their audience in a climate of increased scrutiny of the female experience. Perhaps the most unique – and problematic – case of female impersonation among sixteenth-century letterbooks is theLettere di molte valorose...

    • 3 ‘A gloria del sesso feminile’: The Lettere of Lucrezia Gonzaga as Exemplary Narrative
      (pp. 81-120)

      Like Ortensio Lando’sLettere di molte valorose donne, theLettere della … donna Lucrezia Gonzagaseem initially to locate themselves within the defence of women genre. As in theValorose donne, this laudatory intent is made evident on the frontispiece, which declares that the letters have been published for the glory of all women: ‘a gloria del sesso feminile … in luce poste.’¹ In this case, however, it is the collected letters of a single, celebrated woman that are to reflect and promote women’s literary skills. The unsigned dedicatory letter to Pietro Paulo Manfrone, the governor of Verona and Gonzaga’s...


    • 4 The Courtesan’s Voice: Veronica Franco’s Lettere familiari
      (pp. 123-155)

      As the sixteenth century progressed, early modern writers continued to capitalize on the converging trends of epistolary literature and widespread interest in describing the female experience, turning increasingly to manuals and repertories for guidance. On the one hand, popular epistolary narratives such as theLettere amoroseof Madonna Celia and those of Girolamo Parabosco began to codify representations of the woman writer as an epistolary character motivated by passion and lovesickness. Models for such fictionalized and generalized female narrators, who fell from grace as they abandoned the feminine ideals of chastity and silence to follow their hearts, abounded.¹ On the...

    • 5 Between Stage and Page: The Letters of Isabella Andreini
      (pp. 156-183)

      L’Isabella … come pazza se n’andava scorrendo per la Cittade … parlando hora in Spaguolo, hora in Greco, hora in Italiano, & molti altri linguaggi, ma tutti fuor di proposito … Si mise poi ad imitare li linguaggi di tutti li suoi Comici, come del Pantalone, del Gratiano, del Zanni, del Pedrolino, del Francatrippa, del Buratino, del Capitan Cardone, & della Franceschina tanto naturalmente, & con tanti dispropositi, che non è possibile il poter con lingua narrare il valore, & la virtú di questa Donna. Finalmente per fintione d’arte Magica … ritornò nel suo primo essere, & quivi con elegante, & dotto stile esplicando le passioni...

    • 6 The Pen for the Sword: Arcangela Tarabotti’s Lettere familiari e di complimento
      (pp. 184-213)

      If Isabella Andreini’s epistolary compositions are centred on highly stylized discourses on love and humanist set pieces, the letters of Arcangela Tarabotti, the Venetian nun and writer who is the subject of this final chapter, mark a departure from such overtly fictionalized epistolary performance. Tarabotti’sLettere familiari e di complimento(1650) constitute rather a return to the use of the letter to promote and defend the self, as pioneered by Aretino. For Tarabotti, a cloistered nun who passed her days within the segregated space of the convent, letters had a uniquely urgent and practical significance. Through letters, and indeed through...

    • Epilogue: Writing Letters, Performing Gender
      (pp. 214-220)

      As our examination of the letterbooks discussed in the previous pages reveals, the epistolary medium functioned as a unique literary space in which women writers in early modern Italy could position themselves as the protagonists of their narratives. Drawing upon the first-person authority of epistolary discourse, women used letters to record their histories in vivid detail, to engage in social and religious commentary, and to position themselves firmly as literary figures. The widespread interest in women’s letters during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries suggests a deep curiosity among readers about female experience as well as an openness to women’s...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 221-322)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-354)
  9. Index
    (pp. 355-362)