Textual Construction of Space in the Writing of Renaissance Women

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Explores the complex constructions of social space in the texts of four Renaissance women. In the rapidly transforming social space of 16th and early 17th century England, Isabella Whitney, Aemilia Lanyer, Elizabeth Hoby Russell and Margaret Hoby created alternative spatial narratives that participated in, as well as challenged, the influential forces of their changing environment. This work places the texts examined within a theoretically informed discussion of the social spaces of Renaissance England, both physical and imagined. It challenges many ideas concerning a “woman’s place” offering instead a more complete and complex account of the spaces and places lived and imagined by Renaissance women.


“Dr. Jessica Malay’s study of textual constructions of space in the writings of Renaissance women takes the conceptual bull by the horns. It concentrates on one of the most fertile areas within Cultural Studies in recent years, the cultural meanings attached to space. It uses the representation of this space and the analogies or differences between these representations and factual spaces to explore how women literally and metaphorically carve their own niche at a time when the dominant ideology of Humanism seemed to develop a radically modern concept of human subjectivity as exclusively male ... Dr. Malay’s theoretically acute study not only sheds interesting new light on some better and some lesser known Renaissance women writers. It also shows us how the historical realities of country houses, city chaos, and even funeral monuments of the Early Modern period interact with symbolic fictional representations of space to form one interlinked discourse ...” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Professor Rainer Emig, University of Regensburg, Germany

“Dr. Jessica Malay’s study of the ways in which women of the Renaissance occupy and write about their occupation of space places itself at a point of where cultural theory, literary scholarship and social history converge. It provides us with a fresh, invigorating set of terms of reference within which to understand the writings of the women whose spatial and textual acts she investigates. In so doing, it also opens up a hitherto unexplored perspective not just on the life that these women led in the spaces and places that they occupied, but also on how the lives of those places were defined by their female occupants ... Her study brilliantly provides a new chapter in the history of Renaissance women’s writing, illuminating the intertwined roles that spatiality and textuality play in exploring and defining female identity.” – Dr. David Blair, University of Kent

“For those interested in the ways women writers in Elizabethan England sought to explore ideas about self, family and class, this book offers valuable insights. Through her selection of a range of texts produced by members of the aristocracy, Dr. Malay shows her readers the types of composition open to women of this period and how these might be employed by the authors to position themselves at court and elsewhere. Space is seen as the key concept, and an understanding of how women, as writers, envisaged the spaces they and their families inhabited underpins the analysis of the various texts ... Though concerned primarily with the writings of women, the book also considers how these differ from those by male authors, thereby providing important ideas about the role of texts produced for public consumption or for private reading (or for a favored few). Thus, this book is a significant addition to the field of early modern literary analysis.” – Dr. Sheila Sweetinburgh, University of Kent

Table of Contents

Preface by Rainer Emig
Editorial Note
1. Social Spaces in Early Modern Culture
2. Alternatives and Appropriations: Counter-spaces in Aemilia Lanyer’s “The Description of Cooke-ham”
3. Isabella Whitney’s “re” view of Early Modern London
4. The Formation of Identity through Relations in Space: The Diary of Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605
5. Elizabeth Russell’s Inscriptions of Identity in Monumental Space
6. Women “In” habiting Place: A Conclusion

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