Pretext and subversion: Lucrezia Marinella's Essortationi alle donne (1645)
AuthorSinclair, Amy Ellen
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2020-08-10. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2018 Dr. Amy Ellen Sinclair
Seventeenth-century Venetian writer Lucrezia Marinella (c. 1579-1653) is a pivotal figure in the history of women’s writing in Italy, and in the history of women’s use of the pen to defend their sex. Her provocative and erudite treatise, La nobiltà et l’eccellenza delle donne co’ diffetti et mancamenti de gli uomini (1601) broke new ground in its cogent and forthright critique of misogynistic literary authorities and traditions. Almost half a century later, as an accomplished writer, Marinella published her second explicit contribution to the querelle des femmes, a book of apparently traditionalist exhortations entitled: Essortationi alle donne et a gli altri se a loro saranno a grado (1645). Relative to La nobiltà, the Essortationi has received significantly less critical attention. This complex, erudite, and elusive work, which has perplexed and divided modern scholars, is the subject of this thesis. The Essortationi appears at first glance to advocate highly traditionalist prescriptions for women’s conduct: an apparent volte face on the feminist principles of La nobiltà. Yet Marinella’s exhortations defy straightforward interpretation. As this thesis shows, close textual analysis reveals a persistent undertow of critique and subversion which problematises a reading of the text as a conservative recantation. The aim of this thesis is to argue through both close textual analysis of the Essortationi and evaluation of the contemporary cultural and literary context that Marinella’s posture of traditionalism in the text is best understood as an authorial alibi. Through a show of conformity to traditionalist prescriptions for women’s conduct, Marinella makes a claim of being ‘elsewhere’ to mitigate her accountability for the challenges posed in her writing to dominant discourses, authorities, and ideologies on womanhood. The alibi of traditionalism functions in this way as an exercise in strategic authorial self-representation; a way of negotiating authority and decorum to increase the likelihood of publication without backlash in a literary and cultural landscape that was increasingly antagonistic to the woman writer and particularly to feminist rhetoric. As well as offering a new interpretation of Marinella’s Essortationi, this study aims to show through comparative analysis the way in which the author intervenes in and disrupts a patriarchal tradition of defining and circumscribing women’s identity in Renaissance conduct and querelle des femmes literature. More broadly, and with insights from modern theories on discourse, identity, and gender, this study offers a theoretical and analytical framework to understand better how early modern women writers negotiated, in and through written discourse, historically contested subject positions of female authorship, authority, and defiance.
KeywordsLucrezia Marinella; Essortationi alle donne; early modern women's writing
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