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CHAPTER 15. Mary Sidney

Rivkah Zim

Subject Literature, Religion

Key-Topics Bible

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131605.2009.00015.x


When feminist critics of the 1980s first encountered the literary works of Mary Herbert, countess of Pembroke (1561–1621) they read them in the context of a “societal norm” that had oppressed women and denied them access to higher learning. Although there were exceptions, even “protestant emphasis on the Word of God,” it was argued, “encouraged education for women so that they could read the Bible and the appropriate commentaries, not so that they could speak or write their own ideas … [thus] the enforced rhetorical ignorance of women was maintained.” Upon this premise early modern women were “silent but for the word,” and those few aristocratic women who were allowed space on the “margins of discourse” could only become distinct literary personalities by “subverting” this construct of a “societal norm.” Yet, as a sympathetic reviewer pointed out, “To the extent that women participated in religious translation, we must see them not on the margins but on the broad highway”; these topics predominate in literary and scholarly works by all writers in the period – male and female. A further misconception about the status of translation as a subservient, non-creative activity – and thus one suitable for females – compounded the effect of gender-based theories on approaches to the countess of Pembroke's writing. Yet another distortion involved the so-called “stigma of print”: gentlemen ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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