Introduction: Gender, Genre and Attribution in Early Modern Women’s Sonnet Sequences and Collections

  • Rosalind Smith
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


Virginia Woolf’s influential construction of the Renaissance woman writer as silent, isolated and embattled has undergone significant revision in feminist literary scholarship. The historical sources of such assumptions have been exposed in analyses of canon formation, and a new set of texts, genres and modes of writing has been introduced to accommodate early modern women’s diverse contributions to the literary field.2 However, in the process of redrawing the boundaries of early modern textuality, the ‘perennial puzzle’ that Woolf identifies has remained unexamined: Why did women contribute to some of the vernacular lyric traditions of the English Renaissance in such small numbers? This book reconsiders this question in one of the period’s primary lyric genres, the sonnet sequence. Structured around the detailed local histories of each text’s production and circulation, it seeks to construct a generic history that accommodates rupture and hiatus without recourse to assumed absence, invented tradition or uncritical reinforcement of the male-authored tradition as normative. The scarcity of English women sonneteers at the height of the male-authored genre presents a problem, or puzzle, for examination rather than a straightforward example of feminine limitation in the period.


Generic History Early Modern Period Woman Writer Lyric Agency Textual Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Rosalind Smith 2005

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  • Rosalind Smith

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