Strong Voices, Weak History

Early Women Writers and Canons in England, France, and Italy
Pamela J Benson and Victoria Kirkham, Editors
Reveals how medieval and Renaissance women won acclaim in their contemporary canons, and offers reasons for the decline of their reputation in later ages


Strong Voices, Weak History presents the first comparative history of major medieval and Renaissance European women writers in their relationship to national canons of literature. Challenging the notion of an oppressive patriarchy that discouraged women from writing and publishing, the fifteen essays collected here examine women's participation in fashionable male literary modes, trace their creation of female canons, and explore the history of their reception, from the fifteenth century to the present.

Wide in geographical and temporal scope, the book will be an important resource for students of English, French, and Italian literary studies, gender studies, canon formation, and the history of the book.

Pamela Joseph Benson is Professor of English at Rhode Island College.

Victoria Kirkham is Professor of Romance Languages at The University of Pennsylvania.

Praise / Awards

  • "A new and wide-ranging study of canon formation, Strong Voices, Weak History is a valuable collection of essays on the unstable position of early modern women writers in the literary history of England, France, and Italy. Excellent contributions that cover much ground, some sure to become required reading in the field."
    —Elissa Weaver, University of Chicago

  • "This exceptional collection makes a timely statement about the status in the literary canon of texts by women writers. It offers a wonderful range of fresh new perspectives, and it positions the work of its contributors in a splendidly interlocking series of essays that range across several centuries in Italy, France, and England."
    —William J. Kennedy, Cornell University

  • "...This thought-provoking volume should be required reading for all scholars of early modern literature as well as for all those who study canon formation in any genre or period."
    Sixteenth Century Journal

  • "...The collection as a whole, closes with the hope that Askew's "strong voice will always be represented by a culturally complex, strong history", and this anthology will make a solid contribution to the realization of that goal for early modern women writers. All told, this is an intelligently edited and sensibly organized anthology. The comparative structure indicated in the introduction becomes clearer as the collection progresses: by the middle, its organization along thematic lines that flow into one another has given the book a coherence that is sometimes missing from collections of essays. It is a timely and valuable contribution to the current scholarship on early modern European women writers."
    —Heather Campbell, York University, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • "Developing and exploiting the connection between early modern efforts at canon formation and the contemporary undertaking, the volume advances 'a multicanon model of European medieval and Renaissance writing' and offers a noteworthy example of the benefits of a comparative or transnational approach which 'displays the nuances of local difference and the commonalities of European culture as single nation studies cannot'...Moreover, the critical subtlety and sophistication with which the contributors treat early modern women writers' engagements with canonical authorities as a defining feature of their writing practices underscore the importance of revisiting these women's works and the valuable contributions to be made by the growing canons of early modern women's writing and the criticism of their works."
    —Patricia Phillippy, Texas A&M University, Renaissance Quarterly

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Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted January and April 2005.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 392pp.
  • 9 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2005
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06881-4

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  • $39.95 U.S.