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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2010

Introduction: Making sects: women as reformers, writers, and subjects in Reformation England


I have no difficulty in stating the central premise of my argument. It is that over a relatively short time – certainly no more than a generation or so – women have moved from being the objects of … poems to being the authors of them. It is a momentous transit. It is also a disruptive one. It raises questions of identity, issues of poetic motive and ethical direction which can seem impossibly complex. What is more, such a transit – like the slow course of a star or the shifts in a constellation – is almost invisible to the naked eye. Critics may well miss it or map it inaccurately.

Eavan Boland, Object lessons

Our very reformation of Religion, seems to be begun and carried on by Women.

Bathsua Makin, An essay to revive the ancient education of gentlewomen

The sixteenth century saw the emergence of women in England as not just readers and writers, but as published authors. Due to the important contributions of feminist scholars in the field of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literary studies, we no longer ponder the ‘perennial puzzle’ described by Virginia Woolf. We now know that women were writing in the early modern period, and in numbers. What has been less clear is how the literary products of these women should be mapped within their own historical context. The critical charting of women's texts within sixteenth-century English culture itself has still operated on the (however tacit) assumption that their literary products were devalued in that particular context.

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