The Rhetoric of Distance: Symbolic Capital and Women's Textual Practices in Seventeenth-Century England(2000)
This study expands the account of women's literary production in seventeenth-century England. The story I tell details the complex intersections between class and gender discourse in England during the tumultuous years surrounding the Civil War. Much of the work done on women writers in England during the early modern period has stressed such tropes as "community" and "alliance" to describe relationships between women, both real and imagined. My study suggests that at least some women writers, Aemelia Lanyer, Margaret Cavendish, and Katherine Philips in particular, participated in a more competitive narrative; a narrative which privileged such categories as nobility, status, and rank. The nascent discourse of class division and distinction plays a crucial role in the rhetorical strategies of these three women writers. Utilizing images and tropes from the querelle des femmes, the rhetorical battle of the sexes which had its roots in medieval literature, Lanyer, Cavendish, and Philips carefully created rhetorical distance from images of unclean, lower-class, sexually promiscuous women in an effort to establish their own literary authority and reputation. They acquired some measure of respectability as women writers during a period when it was not considered proper for a woman to write at all, much less for publication. But this respectability came at the expense of "others": women and men of lower classes, people of color, and those with different religious beliefs. The present study scrutinizes this "rhetoric of distance," detailing some crucial moments in the discourse of "primitive accumulation," and accesses an alternative definition of "community" for the history of women writers.
- Women's Studies
Citation InformationAmy Penne. "The Rhetoric of Distance: Symbolic Capital and Women's Textual Practices in Seventeenth-Century England" (2000)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/amy-penne/9/