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Georgette de Montenay: A Different Voice in Sixteenth-Century Emblematics*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018


The feminists of the querelle [des fewines] were reacting to changes they seemed to have no control over, or to a Puritan revolution that served mainly to confirm their subjection to men. Lacking a vision of social movement to change events, their concern lay with consciousness. By their pens, they could at least counteract the psychological consequences of what they felt was a recent, steady decline in the position of women.

Joan Kelley, “Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Fannies,” in Women, History and Theory

Georgette de Montenay has been the object of enduring scholarly interest, not only as the first woman author of an emblem book, but also as the creator of a new literary and artistic genre: the religious emblem. Most probably converted to Protestantism under the influence of Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre (to whose court she was attached after her marriage to Guyon de Gout, c. 1562), de Montenay composed a series of one hundred militant Christian octets in the mid-i56os and closely supervised their illustration by a gifted Lyonnais etcher, Pierre Woeiriot, who was also of the reformed persuasion.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1994

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As Carol Gilligan pointed out in her landmark study, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, male and female voices in literary texts demonstrate different modes of thinking about relationships, human development, and spiritual growth: “Clearly, these differences arise in a social context where factors of social status and power combine with reproductive biology to shape the experience of males and females and the relations between the sexes” (2). In fifteenth- and sixteenth-century France, a number of women authors had developed a “different voice” which expressed dissent with respect to the dominant patriarchal view of the female identity and gender relations current at their time. This article attempts to analyze Georgette de Montenay's particular “voice” within an exclusively masculine literary tradition — the illustrated livre d'emblèmes. On the history of this feminine dissent in France, see Albistur and Armogathe chaps. 2-5; Berriot-Salvadore, 1983; Richardson; Rigolot and Read. I am grateful to the following international conferences for permitting me to develop earlier versions of this article: “Inferiority and Superiority: The Querelle des femmes in Renaissance Europe,” European Culture Research Center, European University Institute, Florence (21-23 September 1989) and “Conferencia Juan Luis Vives y la concepcion de la mujer en el Renaciamento,” Departament de Filosofia, Universitat de Valencia (11-12 March 1992). Special thanks are also due to Gisela Bock, Virginia Brown, Neus Campillo, Natalie Davis, Paul Gehl, Michael Good, Allen Grieco, Constance Jordan, Ian Maclean, and Gabriella Zarri for their helpful criticisms, suggestions and support.


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