Hull 1982

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Hull, Suzanne W. Chaste, Silent & Obedient:English Books for Women 1475-1640. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1982.
"The prayer books, practical guides, and popular romances that were printed for English women in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, like the articles in women's magazines in the first half of the twentieth century, mirror the work, the worries, the dreams, the interests, the education, and ultimately the lives of the women who read them. Individually and collectively they are probably as illuminating a guide to women of an age long past as any other evidence surviving today." (ix)

Henry VIII act, "for the advancement of true religion" (1543) -- "forbade the reading of an English Bible by women, artificers, prentices, journeymen, serving-men of the rank of yeomen or under, husbandmen, and laborers"; repealed in 1547 (xi-xii)

An Emerging Female Literature

"In the period from 1475 through 1640 at least 163 books in some 500 editions were specifically directed to or printed for women readers. Eighty-five percent of them were published after 1570. The publication of this many books for women readers is persuasive evidence that a substantial number of women knew how to read English by the end of the sixteenth century, and that their needs and interests were being recognized by both writers and booksellers." (1)

The Pens Excellencie (1618), pages of calligraphic samples -- comparing the "art of the needle" with the "art of the pen" (4)

simple prayerbooks and books of needlework designs to be used by the "barely literate" (6)

"It seems apparent that as the publication of fiction increased in the 1570s, booksellers and authors recognized that may of their readers were women." (8)

"a female literature before the 1570s is not easily identifiable" (9)

"A dedication to a group of women or a title page directing the work to women is the most reliable evidence that a book was intended for women. But not all books that were eventually dedicated or directed to women started that way. There is interesting evidence that authors and booksellers became increasingly conscious of women readers, particularly in the 1570s and 1580s. During this time some books originally addressed to men or not to any special group were rededicated or retitled in later editions to include women." (10)

directed to a female audience: Castiglione's Courtyer (1561), Sidney's Arcadia (1590), Lyly's Euphues and His England (1580), Spenser's Faerie Queene (1590), Rich's Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581), Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essayes (1603), 1636 translation of Ovid's Epistles (14)

"Most of the early books for women were small in size. Of the 163 titles in the Basic List, 69 were, in their first editions, octavos or smaller -- books that could easily be carried in a pocket. Only five were folios. Over half, 89, were the common quarto. Few women's books were printed and bound as elegant gift volumes. In fact, so few copies of many early books for women have survived that it oculd be concluded that women's books were often worn out with practical use, or considered ephemeral or of little value as succeeding generations developed newer guides and literature for women." (16)
"Men wrote almost all the women's books printed before 1640. According to Carroll Camden only 85 books written by women were published in English before 1640, though newer evidence may increase that figure." (16)
"Altogether some 800 different women were the targets of dedications or had books addressed to them in some manner. Most of the women were members of the aristocracy; 225 were nontitled women; another 25 had religious associations (as nuns, prioresses, abbesses, or saints). This number of female dedicatees would seem to indicate broad acceptance of women as patronesses of literature." (21)
"Twenty percent of the early books for women are translations." (25)
"The three earliest English dictionaries were all addressed, at least in part, to women." (27)

The Practical Guidebooks

"More than half (85) of all the books for women were practical, how-to-do-it guides -- though the advice was frequently general and philosophical. They gave counsel or instructions on how to educate young girls, how to live as a wife, as a widow, or as a nun, how to give birth to babies (although few gave any practical guidance on raising children), how to behave to servants, how to write letters, garden, cook, dress, use English correctly, speak French, create fine needlework, or how to concoct the homemade medications of the day. One even summarized the English laws that related to women. It is this group of books that reveals, or has the potential to reveal, most about the daily life of females and indeed about their entire families." (31)

Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman (1631) -- "more representative of the genteel English middle-class" (32)

"all the practical guides except one appear to be written by men" (34)

only the countess of Lincoln's The Countess of Lincoln's Nursery (encouraging women to nurse their own babies) (1622) is clearly by a woman (35)

"One conclusion of this study is that a mini-explosion of female literature took place in the last quarter of the sixteenth century beginning with a new emphasis on fiction for women in the 1570s. But even in the first hundred years of English printing (1475-1575), those books directed to women were largely practical guides. In fact, with the notable exception of the decade of the 1570s, practical books consistently dominated the field of female literature. In that decade the ration of practical books to the total number of books published for women plunged. This was an interesting decade in literature, perhaps the beginning of the age of fiction." (35)
"Women of the inquiring and expanding middle class, without the benefits of family manuscripts, turned to the relatively new printed books for guidance in their practical duties." (37)
"A few men seemed to dominate the cookbook field in the period from about 1570 to 1640." -- Thomas Dawson, John Partridge, Hugh Platt, Gervase Markham, John Murrell (42)

A Delightfull Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1621) included "an announcement on one of the supplementary pages that the bookseller also sold molds in which the recipes might be made" (44)

Markham tries to explain why he can write for women by saying his book has been approved by a noble woman (45)

A neawe Treatys ... Concernynge ... Nedle Worcke (1530?) -- for "Craftmen but also for Gentlewemen" (46)

knowledge of needlework gives entrance to noble circles -- poem (46)

Vives, guide to all phases of female living; "devoted a whole chapter to the subject under the title, 'What bokes to be redde, and what not'" -- including classical, religious, and inspirational works (romances banned) (57)

"By the early seventeenth century the frivolity of the court and the strong in-roads of puritanical thought (strange bedfellows that they were) combined to dampen the earlier approach, and there was little encouragement for serious female studies." (60)

The Lawes Resolutions of Womens Rights: or, the Lawes Provision for Woemen (1632) -- explaining women's rights in law (62)

"Little attention has been given to the fact that these earliest English dictionaries, preceding Johnson's by about a century and a half, were actually published with women's needs in mind." (64)

The Virgin's A. B. C. (1630) -- stanzas based on alphabet letters, an "alphabet wong" for femals (65)

Gerard's Herball, used for needlework designs (65)

The Recreational Literature

"the emergence of women as a reading public, recognized by authors and booksellers, coincides with the fiction explosion in the last quarter of the sixteenth century and raises interesting questions on the possible influence of women on the development of literature in the late Elizabethan period." (75)
"By the last quarter of the 16th century a few works of fiction were printed with a female character as the only name in the title, for example: Mamillia (1583), The Adventures of Ladie Egerie (1584), Penelopes Web (1587), Penelopes Complaint (1596), and Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legend (1590)." (78) -- not all are addressed to women or could be classified as "women's literature" though (78)

Barnabe Rich often directed his books to women through special dedications and introductions (80)

authors like Brathwaite could appear on two sides of an argument about women's conduct (83)

Heywood, Gunaikeion: Or Nine Bookes of Various History Conerninge Women (1624), The Exemplary Lives and Memorable Acts of Nine the Most Worthy Women of the World (1640) (84)

"One book, clearly directed to a female audience, is puzzling. Why women would be particularly interested in Nicholas Flamel, a fifteenth-century alchemist, is hard to figure, but a translation of His Exposition of the HIeroglyphicall Figures ... Which He Caused to Bee Painted Upon an Arch in St. Innocents Church-yard, in Paris (1624) was indeed published for an individual layd 'and such as you are.'" (86)

"Literary criticism is hardly a sex-linked problem, but it is interesting to note that one of the early critical literary debates was, at least in part, directed to women." (88) -- Sidney v. Gosson

Devotional Books

"Women women learned to read in English, male (and even female) mentors frequently took the position that they should read only the good works of godly leaders. In spirte of these admonitions, surprisingly few editions of 'good works' were specifically addressed to women as a group." (91)
"The Monument of Matrones came close to being an entire female library between two covers." (92)
"Among the prayer books known to have been read by some women but not directed to them as a group, was Queen Catherine Parr's Prayers or Medytacions (1545), a popular general prayer book commonly known as The Queenes Praiers. It was combined in several editions with the Kinges Psalmes or Psalmes or Prayers taken out of Holye Scripture as a "Mr. And Mrs." devotional manual." (99)

The Mothers Blessing (1616), by Dorothy Leigh, The Mothers Legacie to Her Unborne Child (1624), by Elizabeth Joceline, and Miscelanea, Meditations, Memoratives (1604) by Elizabeth Grymeston -- women authors concerned with the religious upbringing of their children (101) -- went into multiple editions (102)

Books on the Controversy

the controversy peaked in France around 1400 (107)


"little has been done to explain or even to note the parallel and rapid development in that one decade of a women's literature and the sudden growth of drama and fiction" (128)
"It might be reasoned that the immediate needs of the church were met by about 1570, and printers looked to other kinds of books to stay in business. ... Another answer may lie in the fact that two women in succession reigned in their own rights." (130)
"By 1640 reading by women was seldom attacked." -- even seem as necessary, as in DuBoscq's The Compleat Woman (1639) (131)
"By the early part of the seventeenth century words such as women, ladies, and maids were appearing more prominently in titles, particularly of plays" (136)
"One male author even revised the Bible to suit his purpose and message. Thomas Bentley in the introduction to Monument of Matrones (1582) quoted from Corinthians I, chapter II, verses four through sixteen, to set the scene for his large book of prayers and comment. To make certain that his readers understood the Biblical message, Bentley refined the passage with his own interpretations, placed in parentheses. This section of Paul's letters to the Corinthians suggests that women must cover their heads as a sign that they are under or subservient to man and God. But Bentley takes further liberties with the message by leaving out two verses, numbers eleven and twelve, and skipping without comment to thirteen. The two missing verses are the one part of the passage that stresses the interdependence and even equality of men and women, not the subservient role of women." (141)

Basic List of Books for Women, 1475-1640

Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, A rule of good life ... especiallie for virgins, and other religious woemen (1633)

Richard Broughton, A manual of praiers used by the fathers of the primative church (1618) -- ladies' prayer book

Giovanni Battista Ciotti, A book of curious and strange inventions, called the first part of needleworkes containing many singular and fine sortes of cut-workes ... (1596)

Daniel Featley, Ancilla pietatis: or, the hand-maid to private devotion (1626)

A jewel for gentlewomen. Containing divers godly prayers, fit to comfort the wounded consciences of all penitent sinners. (1624)

[Maidens crosse-rewe]. Here is a necessarye treatyse for all maner persons to reade, and hath to name, the maydens crosse rewe. (1540?)

Mary, the Blessed Virgin, Monastery at Brussels. Statutes compyled for the better observation of th eholy rule of the most glorious father and patriarch S. Benedict. (1632)

Richard Rowlands, Odes in imitation of the seaven penitential psalmes, with sundry other poemes and ditties tending to devotion and pietie. (1601)

John Ryckes, The ymage of love. -- prayers and devotionals (1525); against the use of images

A schole-house for the needle. (1624)

[A tablet for gentlewomen] -- 1574; prayers for women

John Tayler, The needles excellency (1631)

Edmund Tilney, A brief and pleasant discourse of duties in mariage, called the flower of friendshippe (1568)

A neawe treatys: as concernynge the excellency of the nedle worcke (1530?)

Anne Wheathill, A handfull of holesome (though homelie) hearbes, gathered out of the goodlie garden of Gods most holie word (1584) -- general prayer book