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The Prodigious Muse

Women's Writing in Counter-Reformation Italy

Virginia Cox

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Winner, 2012 Book Award, Society for the Study of Early Modern Women

Honorable Mention, Literature, 2012 PROSE Awards, Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers

In her award-winning, critically acclaimed Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650, Virginia Cox chronicles the history of women writers in early modern Italy—who they were, what they wrote, where they fit in society, and how their status changed during this period. In this book, Cox examines more closely one particular moment in this history, in many ways the most remarkable for the richness...

Winner, 2012 Book Award, Society for the Study of Early Modern Women

Honorable Mention, Literature, 2012 PROSE Awards, Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers

In her award-winning, critically acclaimed Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650, Virginia Cox chronicles the history of women writers in early modern Italy—who they were, what they wrote, where they fit in society, and how their status changed during this period. In this book, Cox examines more closely one particular moment in this history, in many ways the most remarkable for the richness and range of women’s literary output.

A widespread critical notion sees Italian women’s writing as a phenomenon specific to the peculiar literary environment of the mid-sixteenth century, and most scholars assume that a reactionary movement such as the Counter-Reformation was unlikely to spur its development. Cox argues otherwise, showing that women’s writing flourished in the period following 1560, reaching beyond the customary "feminine" genres of lyric, poetry, and letters to experiment with pastoral drama, chivalric romance, tragedy, and epic. There were few widely practiced genres in this eclectic phase of Italian literature to which women did not turn their hand.

Organized by genre, and including translations of all excerpts from primary texts, this comprehensive and engaging volume provides students and scholars with an invaluable resource as interest in these exceptional writers grows. In addition to familiar, secular works by authors such as Isabella Andreini, Moderata Fonte, and Lucrezia Marinella, Cox also discusses important writings that have largely escaped critical interest, including Fonte’s and Marinella’s vivid religious narratives, an unfinished Amazonian epic by Maddalena Salvetti, and the startlingly fresh autobiographical lyrics of Francesca Turina Bufalini.

Juxtaposing religious and secular writings by women and tracing their relationship to the male-authored literature of the period, often surprisingly affirmative in its attitudes toward women, Cox reveals a new and provocative vision of the Italian Counter-Reformation as a period far less uniformly repressive of women than is commonly assumed.

Reviews

Reviews

This is a worthy sequel to Cox's last book, full of little-studied literature, some of it completely new.

Highly recommended to all, offering new faces and new facts, even a new tone in female authors suffering in an age of misogyny.

An important contribution to a field about which too little is now written.

To list the many literary discoveries of this book would be an impresa difficult even for the many guerriere of the Counter-Reformation, let alone for a reviewer constricted by space... astonishing research.

As Cox stresses, the religious literature of this period has, like that of women, been comprehensively neglected for far too long.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter One: Contexts
1. The Female Writer in Context: Opportunities, Attitudes, Models
2. Women's Writing and the Counter-Reformation
3. Religious Writing in Post-Tridentine

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter One: Contexts
1. The Female Writer in Context: Opportunities, Attitudes, Models
2. Women's Writing and the Counter-Reformation
3. Religious Writing in Post-Tridentine Italy: A Poetics of Conversion
4. Secular Writing in Post-Tridentine Italy: The New Sensualism and the Misogynist Turn
Chapter Two: Lyric Verse
1. Women's Lyric Output, 1580–1630
2. Pietosi avetti: Spiritual Lyric and the Female Poet
3. The Dwindling Muse: Female-Authored Secular Lyric in Post-Tridentine Italy
Chapter Three: Drama
1. Drama for the Doge: Moderata Fonte's Le feste
2. Arcadian Adventures: Women Writers and Pastoral Drama
3. The Challenge of Tragedy: Valeria Miani's Celinda
Chapter Four: Sacred Narrative
1. Women Writers and the New Sacred Narrative
2. Refashioning the Gospels: New Testament Narrative in Moderata Fonte and Francesca Turina
3. Hagiographic Epic: Lucrezia Marinella's Lives of Saints Columba and Francis
4. Hagiographic Epic Remade: Marinella's Lives of Mary and Saint Catherine of Siena
5. A Medicean Sacred Epic: Maddalena Salvetti's David perseguitato
Chapter Five: Secular Narrative
1. Women Writers and the Literature of Chivalry
2. Ideology and History in Female-Authored Chivalric Epic
3. Gender, Arms, and Love in Female-Authored Chivalric Fiction
4. The Fortunes of Female-Authored Chivalric Fiction
5. Beyond Chivalry: Lucrezia Marinella's Experiments in Mythological Epic and Pastoral Romance
Chapter Six: Discursive Prose
1. Output and Principal Trends
2. Authorizing Women: The Problem of Docere
3. Preachers in Print: Religious Institutio in Maddalena Campiglia and Chiara Matraini
4. Proclaiming Women's Worth: Fonte, Marinella, and the Querelle des femmes
Coda
Appendix: Italian Women Writers Active 1580-1635
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Virginia Cox, Ph.D.

Virginia Cox is a professor of Italian and director of graduate studies at New York University. She is author of The Prodigious Muse: Women's Writing in Counter-Reformation Italy and Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650, both published by Johns Hopkins.