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  • 1. Early Voices: The Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
  • 2.
    • “ Anonymous was a woman.” – Virginia Woolf, 1929, A Room of One’s Own
    • Margary Kempe , 1501, published the first autobiography in the English language
    • Margaret Tyler , 1575, published the first secular text translated by a woman
    • Elizabeth Cary , 1613, published first original play known to be written by a woman
    • Sarah Jinner , 1656 was the first woman to earn a living as a writer
  • 3.
    • These women are exceptional, and therefore atypical because of their level of education and intellectual authority compared to most women (and men) of their day.
  • 4.
    • We must consider these achievements against the cultural and historical backdrop of these early centuries, which can be characterized by change , political, social, literary and religious.
  • 5. Cultural Characteristics
    • People in this time period began to move away from the superstitions, centrality and absolute authority of the Catholic Church because of
    • (a) The Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther’s challenge to doctrine, dogma, and the authority of the Pope), which gave people a different way of being Christian
  • 6.
    • (b) The Renaissance idea of Humanism : putting people, and not God at the center of things, valuing enlightened education and secular art and literature. Renaissance Humanists believed in the perfectibility of humanity.
  • 7. Additional Cultural Factors
    • The birth in the middle of the fourteenth century of the middle class, moving away from a feudal society
    • Decimation of crops by drought
    • Decimation of the population by repeated bouts of the “Black Deeth,” the plague
    • Britain’s attempts to expand its borders, annexing Wales, and repeated fighting to bring Scotland and Ireland under British rule
  • 8. Women’s Lives
    • The reality of women’s lives at this time is that women had no status in law – “Femes sole,” although they occasionally did in fact – “femes covert”:
    • Chaucer’s Prioress, and the Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales had a degree of wealth and power, for example.
    • Women only had legal status as daughters, wives and widows of men.
  • 9. Religious Influence
    • Church doctrine, passed down from St. Jerome, St. Paul, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, teaches women to be silent and obedient to their husbands and clergy.
    • Women as the Magdalene, or the “daughters of Eve,” prone to temptation, disproportionate burden of guilt, born sinners who need chastisement or correction.
  • 10.
    • This culture, therefore, sees women as spiritually, as well as physically, inferior.
    • Women thus were taught to strive to be more like Mary, idealized as saintly, chaste, humble, obedient to the patriarchal and divine will.