Feminist Book History

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Feminist Literary Criticism: Groundwork

Gilbert and Gubar 1979 -- Madwoman in the Attic -- released the same year as the first two-volume edition of Eisenstein 1983, which cites McLuhan as inspiration; founding moment of women's and book history together
Auerbach 1980 -- review of Madwoman in the Attic
Showalter 1981 -- "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness" -- founding gynocriticism
Gubar 1981 -- "The Blank Page"
Miller 1985 -- "Rereading as a Woman: The Body in Practice"
King 1995 -- "Of Needles and Pens and Women's Work" -- instrumental in redirecting conversation away from pens and towards needles
Federico 2009 -- Madwoman in the Attic after 30 Years

Feminist Editing / Textual Studies

Ross and Salzman 2016 -- edited collection; helpfully lays out tradition of feminist recuperation and how that early activist work is being resituated in current scholarly contexts
Ezell, Margaret J. M. "Editing Early Modern Women's Manuscripts: Theory, Electronic Editions, and the Accidental Copy-Text." Literature Compass 7.2 (2010): 102-109.

"Clearly there has been the practice of feminist editing, recovering texts from obscurity and making them widely available for classroom use to challenge and change the nature of the traditional canon. Do the now post-feminist literary editors of early modern women writers clamor for a new cladistics redefining the family of texts from a feminist perspective to create scholarly editions of early modern women’s texts or will the existing models created for us by Greg, Bowers, Tanselle, McGann, and their heirs do just fine? In particular, are there issues raised by early modern women’s manuscript materials which are not usefully addressed by current principles and practices of editing early modern manuscripts for print? Finally, if one turns to e-editions – surely a ‘gender free’ zone, some might think – are there issues arising from the recent history of the recovery of early women’s manuscripts about which we should think further?" (103)

Work on th eMLA Committee on Scholarly Editions -- "the guidelines for vetting a scholarly edition seemed to suggest that producing a truly 'scholarly' edition of such types of material as I was working on would be quite impossible." -- only 1 extant copy of some women's works, no need for Greg's method, etc.

"These are manuscripts that resist or repel the traditional models for determining how a manuscript should be edited." (103) -- no variants or authorial intention

"Are there some early modern texts that simply cannot, or perhaps even should not, be edited for a print format and with these texts will an electronic edition solve our problems?" (103)

"I have argued elsewhere that in the new narrative of the history of the book, early modern manuscript volumes are being cast in very similar terms as early modern women writers were in the 1980s –either the handwritten volume is ignored as if it does not exist, or it is some oddity which was as Tanselle suggests ungoverned by the social decorum demanded of ‘real’ literature, that is printed works (‘Invisible Books’)." (104)

"I have repeatedly argued that in the attempt to make early modern manuscripts more accessible to modern users, archivists and librarians in their attempts to classify and to preserve have in fact obscured texts with their labels such as ‘commonplace book’, ‘recipe book’ and ‘meditations’, what is actually being performed in the text itself (‘Redefining Early Women Writers’). These are genres which are particularly associated with the surviving manuscripts by early modern women and volumes which typically have multiple authors contained in them. Related to this attempt to document and classify materials, it seems to me, is the way in which existing theories of the copy-text and editing early modern materials are willing to ‘sacrifice’ aspects of the original in pursuit of usability for the modern reader." (106)

Editor's task is usually taken to be distinguishing between varants, errors, slips of the pen -- but these are crucial part of the meaning of manuscrips

Do e-editions solve this problem? Not really.

"What concerns me is that I hear in the narratives told by the current history of the book and in the rhetorics of editorial principles and practices for early modern texts the same types of language which obscured, misrepresented, and ‘lost’ for generations the writings of early modern women. Because of this easy transference of older critical terms and textual conceptualizations into a new editorial media, I would argue that editors of electronic projects, too, still need to be more aware of the significance of the materiality of texts, of the social conventions of handwritten culture as they may differ from print cultures, and the multiple ways in which these unique, single copy-texts are of interest and value to scholars. Otherwise, we will run the risk of continuing to classify, describe, and edit them in ways that ‘edit’ out the richness and complexity of their ways of communicating. Perhaps there is still room for a little positive feminist interrogation of editorial principles after all, in the mutual pursuit of the recovery of textual communities." (109)


Estill, Laura, and Michelle Levy. "Evaluating Digital Remediations of Women's Manuscripts." Digital Studies / Le champ numerique (2015): https://www.digitalstudies.org/ojs/index.php/digital_studies/article/view/360/438


Barratt, Alexandra. "Feminist Editing: Cooking the Books." AUMLA 79 (1993): 45-57.

Feminist editing -- making visible the assumptions in editing and making them feminist; "One characteristic of such feminist editing should be that it privileges women's texts."


Danielle Clarke, "Nostalgia, Anachronism, and the Editing of Early Modern Women's Texts." Text 15 (2013): 187-209.

"Editing has been central to gendering the Renaissance." (187)

"A key issue for scholars of early modern women's writing has been authority and, as a consequence, canonicity, and the production of editions, in addition to performing the vital work of making texts accessible, has been one means by which these issues have been addressed." (187)

"editors have frequently subordinated textual questions to ideological and political imperatives without acting upon the insight that editing decisions are simultaneously cultural and theoretical -- decisions which have wide-reaching implications in terms of how a text is understood, circulated, and received. I suggest that the editing of early modern women's texts is often marked by unacknowledged impulses: a nostalgic desire for stable texts which will unite what Julia Boffey has called 'the scattered textual remains left by female authors' into something less ephemeral and more coherent, and the related anachronistic desire for a body of texts from the Renaissance with which modern readers can identify and from which they might trace their own cultural genealogy." (188)

"I shall suggest that from the point of view of textual editing the aspiration to enter the canon has been something of a canard for these texts. The implication seems to have been that in order to enter the canon early modern women's texts need to resemble those of their male counterpartsas closely as possible, 'a fixed text, a verbal icon clearly associable with authorial genius,' as Ralph Hanna has put it." (188-9)

"I argue that much of what has been produced over the last twenty-five years or so (and there are honourable exceptions) uses categories and methodologies that arenot only often anachronistic or generally discredited, but inappropriate to the texts that they represent. I suggest that the terms of female authorship in the Renaissance period require us to develop different editorial strategies which attent as much to textuality as they do to authorship, a female tradition, or subjectivity." (189)

"I suggest that rather than relying on notions of copy-text, intentionality, and the author, which have their origins in the New Bibliography, editors of early modern women have much to learn from the textuist, those advocating a new 'sociology of the text,' and medievalists, who have long grappled with many relevant questions." (190)

Certain ways of editing are entrenched; "in a competitive market, the tendency is for publishers to follow tried and texted routes, rather than breaking new ground -- it is simply less risky -- leading to a largely undebated and unarticulated consensus as to what these texts should look like and how they are to be communicated to the reader. Processes of canon-formation, to which editing is inextricably linked, appear to have passed from the professors to the professionals." (191)

Access: people want to be able to read these texts; but "the demand for access under the aegis of recovery produces some textually worrying results." (192) -- there is the "interim" text, making a text available without rigorous editing

Demands of publishing market produce a "sampler" anthology that cut women's writing from its context; "Selections based on an unexamined category of the woman writer almost inevitably favour sections of texts which can be seen to conform to modern ideas of what is and is not a gendered issue. As a consequence, anthologies encourage ahistoricity, producing a misleading impression of the texts' meanings and aspirations alongside a deep fissure between the materials and the conditions which gave rise to them." (192-3)

Useof modern spelling and punctuation -- "Such practices reinstate the form/content disjunction of an earlier phase of criticism, paradoxically flying in the face of much feminist thinking." (193)

"One of the many problems is that anthologies are often the only texts which mediate early modern women's writings to the current generation of students. They are, effectively, palimpsests of their early modern originals." (194)

Example of Mary Sidney, Clarendon edition, choosing A rather than B as copy-text -- following a New Bibliographical model of editing that is at odds with Mary's own authorial habits and goals

"A focus on the author as the sole locus of literary agency is difficult to sustain with a text like the Sidney Psalter: not only is the text collaborative, it is also a tissue of other texts and sources, simultaneously a translation, a paraphrase, and an act of extended imitation." (197)

"Traditional editorial theory concentrates heavily on differences and the recording of variants to the express end of the elimination of error; equally interesting and important in this case is the degree to which the two versions cohere and overlap." (198)

Imposing gender as a category for selecting passages or texts -- distorting the past in the process (200-201)

Isabella Whitney, only poems about gender are selected, fucsing on female "voice" and personal experience -- distorting the past (201)

"In recent years, the commitment to a transcendent, eclectic text representing the author's final intentions has been challenged on a number of fronts, and although the challenges posed by female-authored texts have not exactly been foregrounded in these discussions, editors of women's texts have much to learn from them. Various textuists have argued for a return to old spelling on the grounds that despite being deviations from the standard without authorial sanction, such orthographical variations represent the printed (or scribal) text as it was received by its readership. This orientation of textual studies towards reception and away from the author and authorial intention as the loci for textual authority has important ramifications for the editing of early modern women because it opens up means by which such writers might be better served, textually speaking, than they have been by the feminist impulse to usher such materials into the marketplace to satisfy an ideological demand for them." (202)

No easy dividing line between accidentals and substantives; pretending that there is obscures certain aspects of women's discourse in the period

"If materiality is understood to be integral to textual meaning, then to alter it is to intervene in powerful ways. Paradoxically, mode scholarship's desire to bring women writers into the canon under the political aegis of feminism has often suppressed the very difference that it was seeking in the first place, subordinating it to a laudable but very New Critical principle of ease of access. Where these writers have been co-opted, they have been co-opted on the terms of male scholarship, frequently using scholarly and textual models that have long been called into question in mainstream scholarship." (204)

"One difficulty with debating the place of gender within textual theory is the dependence of historicist feminism upon an identiy politics based upon the author figure. Textual theory has traditionally deployed a post-Romantic notion of the author, not least due to the historical origins of modern editing, but also because a singular author figure is a highly effective means of circumscribing the functions of texts. It is true that for some women the author-function is a useful concept, but it is also true that, as it is for a range of other Renaissance writers, agency is by no means a singular entity, as current criticism is beginning to recognize." (204)


Roberts, Josephine. "Editing the Women Writers of Early Modern England." Shakespeare Studies (1996).

"the project of recovering women's writing involves more than simply the process of editing individual authors; it is ultimately an attempt to reconstruct a lost manuscript culture." (70)


Kate Ozment, "Book History, Women, and the Canon: Theorizing Feminist Bibliography," ASECS conference paper (2017)

"book history’s resistance to diversity is inherited from the identification of its origins in Anglo-American textual scholarship. The discussions of agency and textual authority from G. Thomas Tanselle, D.F. McKenzie, and Jerome McGann pull from a legacy of bibliography as empirical and scientific3 and consequently insulated from critiques of gender, race, postcolonialism, and sexuality."

"I make the case for a revision of this historiography I call feminist bibliography that expands our narrow citations in textual scholarship to the diverse work in bibliography and its related fields that has and continues to be done on minority authors."

"we have built the vast majority of our bibliographic theories on the work of a single demographic—white, male authors. As this is the narrative we have absorbed into book history, I argue that book history’s issues with diversity are born out of the limited selection of our foundational texts. In order to imagine a diverse book history, we must revise our foundation."

"A feminist rereading could include critiques of mainstream methods as well as an embracing of the odd to avoid bringing order to authors and genres to which order is not native. Rather than excluding what does not fit or is not easily categorized, book history readers and companions can champion the individual and the unique just as they appreciate such characteristics in physical objects."