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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: July 2010

4 - Women, the material book and early printing

from Part I - Material matters


Despite the discouragements women writers faced in early modern England, female authors and translators were surprisingly visible in the early print market. In most years from 1545 on, a buyer at a London bookseller's stall would have found one or more publications attributed to a woman. If first-edition, singly authored, literary publications proved scarce, as they sometimes did, the bookseller could have pointed the buyer to popular reprints of women's devotional and didactic works or to the many smaller contributions of women: Queen Elizabeth's prayers tucked into any of two dozen editions of Thomas Sorocold's Supplications of Saints, Margaret Ascham's prefatory epistle to her late husband's Scholemaster, or one of several poems in verse miscellanies attributed to anonymous women. The numbers of women authors in print do not come close to those of male authors, but women were conspicuous enough in early print to make female authorship a relatively familiar, even conventional, phenomenon. Works by and including women authors looked much like the other items for sale at the bookseller's stall, if not like the folios of the most ambitious and prolific men, then at least like the publications of the majority of male authors. Women's publications were reprinted only slightly less often than those by minor male authors. Shorter compositions by both men and women were often used by printers to supplement more substantial primary texts. Women were frequently identified with initials or class titles, and this practice was common for male authors, too.

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