King 1995

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Katheryn King, "Of Needles and Pens and Women's Work"

"The spinners, weavers, sewers, knitters, and fabricators that pervade contemporary feminist criticism belong, along with the famously phallic pens, to a needle-and-pen trope that has figured in discussions of female authorship since at least the Renaissance." (77)

"In the anxious comments provoked by the 'female pen' it is easy enough to detect fear of the writing woman as a kind of castrating female whose grasp upon that instrument seems an arrogation of its generative power. But we should be wary of a pen/penis equation that may be largely the prdocut of our own post-Freudian habits of mind. ... After all, if the pen is a metaphorical penis, it is a conveniently detachable one that can be taken in hand and discharged with equal facility by either gender." (78)

"I want to show that, prior to the nineteenth century at least, the pen, far from being simply or inevitably a sign of female anxieties of authorship, figures in women's texts a range of pleasures and possibility of specifically female authorship." (79)

"Although early modern women writers did in fact use scornful references to needlework to distance themselves from trivializing conceptions of women, they also found in textile work legitimating models for their textual work." (80)

Catherine Des Roches, "To My Distaff" -- commented on by Anne Rosalind Jones

"The emphasis of early modern women on the physical circumstances of textual production, on the composing hand in contrast to later metaphors of breath and spirit, should alert us to conceptions of authorship quite different from those implicit in Romantic notions of litelrary art as lyric utterance and of the author as transcendent, timeless, virtually disembodied voice. As we try today to catch the echoes of these early female 'voices,' we would do well to keep in mind their own sense of authorship as a task, occupation, or activity -- as work." (81)

"needlework metaphors recurrent in their writings can be seen as part of a strategy for promoting identification with the text on the part of woen of the middle classes more familiar perhaps with the domestic world from which such metaphors are drawn than with the world of print" (82)

images of women sewing with a needle attached to "constraints, frustrations, and sheer tedium of the domestic role" (84)

"we should guard against assuming in pre-Victorian texts the anxious relationship between needle and pen that much feminist criticism might lead us to expect" (87)

needles serve to "reduce the distance between texts and textiles, audience and author, authorial and feminine identiy. Literary creation -- a woman's textual work -- is troped as a handiwork, a craft, a form of fabrication analogous to the textile work long considered proper for her: authorship becomes the work of women, women's work." (87)