Coles 2008

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Coles, Kimberly Anne. Religion, Reform, and Women's Writing in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008.

"The critical charting of women's texts within sixteenth-century English culture itself has still operated on the (however tacit) assumption that their literary products were devalued in that particu- lar context. This book posits a different view of English literary history: that rather than the standard narrative of women writers as marginal within the operations of sixteenth-century English culture, some women writers were instead central to the development of a Protestant literary tradition." (1)

"The terms of religion both empowered and controlled the conditions of female authorship." (2)

"My objective has been to understand how the construction of the religious female, as an abstract idea, is formed in literature – and in the process engage the question of how these pressures begin to affect the formation of the category of literature itself." (2)

"The place of women was determined in theory – and to a great extent in practice – by a universal belief in their inferior capacity and by reference to the specific commands for their subjection found in Genesis and the Epistles of St Paul. But moments of religious dissent frequently forced a revaluation of this position." (3)

"The figure of the religious woman is used by Bale to imagine a history of opposition to religious orthodoxy. 23 What makes the figure particularly productive for Bale is not, or not simply, its utility in conflating different historical periods (the figures of men participate in this as well), but the crisis that is signalled by the participation of women in the struggle." (4)

"Bale's extensive explication of her text rewrites Askew's narrative as an exposition of early Protestant doc- trine. It is precisely because Askew does not use the learned terms of the current theological debates – formulated by university men – that Bale tries to argue her case for her. In other words, he tries to make her behave like a man in print – and a magisterial Protestant at that. But his appro- priation of her meaning speaks volumes. In one sense, Bale is borrowing his authority from Askew's voice. In a larger sense, his editorial activities demonstrate that he understood the importance of female advocacy on the part of the Protestant cause." (5)

"the circumstance in which women became ideal figures of political and reli- gious disruption opened space for the empowerment of women within the written culture of the Reformation." (6)

"One of the most productive features of feminist criticism of the past two decades has been the sustained attention on the cultural value of women's religious beliefs. 32 This recognition – that if women did not have a Re- naissance, they at least had a Reformation – not only asserts the proper historical chronology for England (acknowledging that the Reformation affected England before and arguably more deeply than the Renaissance did) but also identifies religion itself as the most pervasive idiom of early modern England. The writing of both men and women at the time was principally concerned with the subject of religion – about 45 per cent of printed material from this period treats the topic in some form. 33 The rather common assertion, then, that women were 'proscribed from com- position or publication in the genres considered to be serious', is simply wrong. 34 Rather, they were participants – insofar as woman wrote – in the most important cultural dialogue that was taking place." (6)

"Critical convention has it that women (with the notable exception of Queen Elizabeth) occupied a marginal position in key developments con- cerning early modern religious, political, and poetic reform. It has become clear to us that women appropriated the terms of religion for their own use; in fact, in the struggle against oppression, the terms of religion, properly negotiated, were among the most effective tools that women could employ. We also now acknowledge that in the course of the dis- ruption in religious doctrine and practice, the participation of women in the project of reform threw the instabilities of the socially constructed category of 'woman' into sharp relief. 37 This recognition, however, has not led to a full appreciation of the extent to which women articulated the terms of emergent Protestantism for the larger English culture. The cir- culation of works by women examined here, as well as the manifest influ- ence of these works upon the literary production of male thinkers and poets in the period, indicates that at a time of religious crisis, the voices of authority that emerge are not necessarily the ones that we would expect. This book argues that certain early modern women writers were far more fundamental to the development of Protestant consciousness, and later artistic identity, than has been previously acknowledged." (7)

"It is my contention that the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century produced a period of heightened cultural agency for women." (7)

"For those few women whose education allowed them to engage literary systems of representation, the status of the figure of the religious female in early Reformation discourse enabled them to interrupt and redirect existing patterns." (8)

"the figure of the religious woman in early Reformation discourse accrues its power through the meanings that the category of 'woman' invokes. The figure relies upon the circumstance of religious transition – and the extent to which the pre-existing category of 'woman' can be used to articulate both the instabilities and ideals of the radical change that is taking place. This is precisely why the figure can trouble the existing terms of religion and politics but hardly disturb the system governing gender. Further, the figure tends to mediate the public reception of women's religious texts more than their authorial expression (this too explains why gynocritical strategies are not very productive in reading these texts)." (10-11)

"Assigning a different place to women's writing – at the centre rather than the margins of intel- lectual and literary exchange – revises the map by which we have been reading the culture of the early modern period. It does not merely include women in the diagram; it reveals that their absence has left gaps in our knowledge concerning crucial cultural developments." (12)

Ann Askew, Mary Sidney Herbert, Ann Lok, Amelia Lanyer