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How is it that female figures—though whether they are properly female is debatable—come to voice in Christian texts of late antiquity? How, in particular, do their voices enter into debates about desire, traditionally the province of masculine speech? And what do these virginal voices sound like? Are they distinct and recognizable to our reading ears? There is a story to be told, and it starts with Thecla. We might say that every Christian virgin who arrogates voice in some sense follows Thecla, speaking her desire in speech that both is and is not her own. Thecla, in other words, both inaugurates and serves as a figure for virginal voice in its startling, in-breaking forcefulness. But Thecla, however definitively novel, follows others as well. This chapter first backtracks to consider Thecla’s precursors, Diotima (Plato, Symposium) and Leucippe (Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon). It then follows the reworking of those figures in the Acts of Thecla and Methodius’ Symposium respectively. Finally, it explores the legacy of Thecla in two little-known late ancient Latin dialogues that feature notably voluble virgins—the Lives of Saints Helia and Constantina, respectively.
Building on the turn to religious and political networks in the field of early modern women’s writing, the Introduction draws on the theory of intersectionality and the historiography of Puritan culture to argue that uses of the female voice in early Stuart England cut across lines of gender to build coalitions and undermine the essentialism on which the field is based. Challenging critics who suggest that early modern male ventriloquism leads to repression of the female voice, the Introduction offers the counter-example of Thomas Scott, who uses Esther’s words to articulate his own radical politics. Situating the present study as a necessary intervention in a field that is increasingly marginalized even as its archive has ballooned and its dispersal celebrated, this book answers the call for a larger narrative that puts the female subject and her voice at the heart of the early Stuart political imaginary.
The female voice was deployed by male and female authors alike to signal emerging discourses of religious and political liberty in early Stuart England. Christina Luckyj's important new study focuses critical attention on writing in multiple genres to show how, in the coded rhetoric of seventeenth-century religious politics, the wife's conscience in resisting tyranny represents the rights of the subject, and the bride's militant voice in the Song of Songs champions Christ's independent jurisdiction. Revealing this gendered system of representation through close analysis of writings by Elizabeth Cary, Aemilia Lanyer, Rachel Speght, Mary Wroth and Anne Southwell, Luckyj illuminates the dangers of essentializing female voices and restricting them to domestic space. Through their connections with parliament, with factional courtiers, or with dissident religious figures, major women writers occupied a powerful oppositional stance in relation to early Stuart monarchs and crafted a radical new politics of the female voice.
In the Epilogue, I discuss whether or not the policies of each regime impacted the various authors’ interpretations of sigheh. I posit that the female body and sexuality, in the context of sigheh, has been politicized under both the Pahlavi and Islamic regimes. I also discuss, in response to the fact that men have produced almost all literary and cinematic works about sigheh women in this book, whether male-dominated writing or directing promotes a more realistic characterization of the female protagonists, suggesting instead the importance of women writing themselves and their bodies and discuss the ways that the “body politics” is related to women’s writings. Through their writings, women challenge male-dominated society and culture, literature, and language. Using a new language for the expression of their lived bodily experiences that rejects the phallocentrism of the dominant discourse, women disrupt the dominant male-centered language reclaiming and asserting their sexuality. I examine the flourishing women’s writing in the 1980s (and onward) when women began writing their lived experiences, their bodies, their thoughts, and their lives.
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