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Lady Mary Wroth (c. 1587-1653) wrote the first sonnet sequence in English by a woman, one of the first plays by a woman, and the first published work of fiction by an Englishwoman. Yet, despite her status as a member of the distinguished Sidney family, Wroth met with disgrace at court for her authorship of a prose romance, which was adjudged an inappropriate endeavor for a woman and was forcibly withdrawn from publication. Only recently has recognition of Wroth’s historical and literary importance been signaled by the publication of the first modern edition of her pathbreaking romance of signal importance, The Countess of Mountgomeries Urania.
Naomi Miller offers an illuminating study of this significant early modern woman writer. Using multiple critical/theoretical perspectives, including French feminism, new historicism, and cultural materialism, she examines gender in Wroth’s time. Moving beyond the emphasis on victimization that shaped many previous studies, she considers the range of strategies devised by women writers of the period to establish voices for themselves.
Where previous critics have viewed Wroth primarily in relation to her male literary predecessors in the Sidney family, Miller explores Wroth’s engagement with a variety of discourses, reading her in relation to a broad range of English and continental authors, both male and female, from Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare to Aemilia Lanier, Elizabeth Cary, and Marguerite de Navarre. She also contextualizes Wroth’s writing in relation to a variety of nonliterary texts of the period, both political and domestic. Thanks to Miller’s sensitive readings, Wroth’s writings provide a lens through which to view gender relations in the early modern period.
Naomi Miller, professor of English and the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College, is the author of numerous books, including Gender and Constructions of Childhood in the Early Modern World.
"A subtle and absorbing study of the whole range of Wroth's literary career."—Reviews in English Studies
"A step in the positive direction of providing a nuanced perspective by which to evaluate a woman's literary output, without losing sight of gender as a basis from critical analysis and without giving in to the seductiveness of essentialist criticism."—Seventeenth-Century News
"(Miller's) analyses are thoughtful, even illuminating, and her book will interest scholars who care about gender and early modern subjectivity, whether in Philip Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Clifford, Lanyer, Cary, or Wroth."—Shakespeare Quarterly
"Miller's extensive research proves useful for those interested specifically in Wroth, or in the Sidney family more generally, be making use of family letters and related historical artifacts. . . . Miller's reading of texts is very often clever and both historically and psychologically insightful."—Sixteenth-Century Journal
"Significant not only for its superb analysis of Wroth’s texts but also because it offers a model of feminist reading practice that will undoubtedly prove highly influential."—Year’s Work in English Studies
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Mary Wroth, Women and literature, Women writers, English Renaissance, Renaissance England, Gender theory, Authorship
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Miller, Naomi, "Changing The Subject: Mary Wroth and Figurations of Gender in Early Modern England" (1996). Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. 5.