Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

French

Advisor

Francesca Canadé Sautman

Committee Members

Paolo Fasoli

Sara McDougall

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | European Languages and Societies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | French and Francophone Language and Literature | Intellectual History | Poetry | Renaissance Studies | Rhetoric and Composition | Social History | Women's History | Women's Studies

Keywords

print publication, response poems, dialogue, reputation, modesty, the self

Abstract

Non-fictional, published poetic exchanges between men and women in sixteenth-century France provide new perspectives into how women writers operated in a literary culture whose main producers and dominant voice were male. Contrary to the notion repeated by many critics that women of that period were supposed to stay out of the public sphere, my study finds that publishing a woman’s poems did not destroy her reputation, and there appears to have been no major backlash when a man decided to include poems by a female contemporary in his book. My study takes as its point of departure the notion that giving initiates a shift in social power which depends on reciprocity, as proposed by Marcel Mauss in his essay “Essai sur le don” (1923). Rather than reinforcing the socio-political power of men, women who wrote response poems not infrequently seemed to have claimed social and/or political power for themselves. Print publication, a relatively new medium in sixteenth-century France, provided an opportunity for some women to create a new public space for themselves by creating a “je” contradicting the notion that society prefers women to stay silent. In some cases, the man needs his female addressee’s presence in the public printed space so that his own voice might become better known. In poetic exchanges discussing romantic love, some women not only rejected the male suitor but encouraged him to adopt a more reasonable perspective on life after rejection, thus dispelling the idea of the “belle dame sans merci” and introducing the notion of individualized life in love texts. Thus, the woman asks or even tells the man not to play the codified role of the relentless suitor, predicated on the woman’s eventual surrender, often found in harmful courtly love texts. Another major topic in poetic exchanges was the development of French as a literary language without the need to idolize great writers from Greco-Roman antiquity as a crutch. Poetic exchanges in sixteenth-century France question how writers might view the self differently after having written back and forth to their contemporaries. The poetic exchanges in my study valorize women’s abilities to shape Renaissance culture. If recognized earlier, these exchanges and their implications could have greatly modified the early modern literary canon and the understanding of women’s intellectual role in society.

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