Uncovering Gender and Genre in Wyatt, Donne and Marvell


Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: December 1994

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies

How do men imagine women? In the poetry of Petrarch and his English successors—Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell—the male poet persistently imagines pursuing a woman, Laura, whom he pursues even as she continues to deny his affections. Critics have long held that, in objectifying Laura, these male-authored texts deny the imaginative, intellectual, and physical life of the woman they idealize. In Laura, Barbara L. Estrin counters this traditional view by focusing not on the generative powers of the male poet, but on the subjectivity of the imagined woman and the imaginative space of the poems she occupies.
Through close readings of the Rime sparse and the works of Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell, Estrin uncovers three Lauras: Laura-Daphne, who denies sexuality; Laura-Eve, who returns the poet’s love; and Laura-Mercury, who reinvents her own life. Estrin claims that in these three guises Laura subverts both genre and gender, thereby introducing multiple desires into the many layers of the poems. Drawing upon genre and gender theories advanced by Jean-François Lyotard and Judith Butler to situate female desire in the poem’s framework, Estrin shows how genre and gender in the Petrarchan tradition work together to undermine the stability of these very concepts.
Estrin’s Laura constitutes a fundamental reconceptualization of the Petrarchan tradition and contributes greatly to the postmodern reassessment of the Renaissance period. In its descriptions of how early modern poets formulate questions about sexuality, society and poetry, Laura will appeal to scholars of the English and Italian Renaissance, of gender studies, and of literary criticism and theory generally.


“[A] fascinating tour of complex and compelling texts from an ‘anamorphic’ perspective where the male protagonists’ gender and the Petrarchan poem’s genre come to seem something other.” — Comparative Literature Studies

“[T]he intellectual joy and energy with which Estrin leaps into her subject opens this text to its reader. It is a complex book, deeply infused with a sense of purpose: nothing less than the re-visioning . . . of the Petrarchan tradition. As such, it is an important, perhaps essential, piece of scholarship in the current reassessment of Renaissance Petrarchism.” — Early Modern Literary Studies

“Estrin often demonstrates beautifully how lyric subjectivity grapples with questions of gender. . . . Laura contributes vividly to the current project of examining our assumptions about the representations of women in lyric poetry; for this reason, and for its generous, intelligent readings of poems, the book will prove valuable to scholars of gender studies, genre studies, and English and continental early modern poetry.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“In its most original achievement . . . Estrin’s book preempts feminist narratives about the construction of the woman by the male poet, suggesting instead how the male poet is constructed by the woman who is ‘always already’ part of his identity. . . . This is an argument whose import lies deeply in the realm of the imaginary and really concerns the poet’s ‘muse.’ ” — Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

“This bold and provocative study presents a systematic and wholesale revaluation of Petrarch’s love poetry and of the movement called Petrarchism, especially with reference to selected lyric poems in 16th- and 17th-century England. . . . Rarely has the alignment between postmodern theory and textual analysis been so well enacted. . . Very highly recommended.”
— , Choice

"Barbara Estrin’s Laura challenges the feminist contention that in early modern English love poetry by male authors the beloved female is constructed as simply a silent, passive object-figure. She postulates that even in the conventional love-situation, although the male makes the sexual advance, it is the female’s response which decides the course and genre of the story: either rejecting it (Laura as Daphne); or willingly accepting it (Laura as Eve); or else reinventing the whole situation, and the power-gender status of both participants (Laura as Mercury). Estrin revisits some of Petrarch’s Rime sparse to demonstrate that the Petrarchan tradition was always more open to this variety of possibilities than it has usually been taken to be, and then provides a series of close readings of works by Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell." — , Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association

"Laura is an extraordinarily sustained, compelling, and critically resourceful reading of the lyric Petrarch and three of his major English successors. This book counts as a major revision of the critical discourse of ‘Petrarchanism.’ Estrin not only produces this critique, however; she clinches it with readings so concentrated, well-founded, and fully argued that her successors will have to meet a new standard of proof." — Jonathan Crewe, Dartmouth College

"Estrin’s readings are intricate and persuasive, and revealing. Her writing, at once deeply poetic and nuanced, is extremely clear. She argues for a kind of fluidity of the poetic subject that allows for gender crossings and transgressions; the resulting exploration of male subjectivity and feminine representations is immensely suggestive and potentially provocative." — Elizabeth D. Harvey, University of Western Ontario


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Barbara L. Estrin is Professor of English at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts. She is the author of The Raven and the Lark: Lost Children in Literature of the English Renaissance.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Note on Editions xiv

Introduction: Gender Performance and Genre Slippage 1


Inverting the Order: Laura as Eve to Petrarch's Adam 41

"Like a Man Who Thinks and Weeps and Writes": Laura as Mercury to Petrarch's Battus 61


Taking Bread: Wyatt's Revenge in the Lyrics and Sustenance in the Psalms 93

"Liking This": Telling Wyatt's Feelings 123


Small Change: Defections from Petrarchan and Spenserian Poetics 149

Sylvia Transformed: Returning Donne's Gifts 180

"A Pregnant Bank": Contracting and Abstracting the "You" in Donne's "A Valediction of My Name in the Window" and "Elegy: Change" 201


"Busie Companies of Men": Appropriations of Female Power in "Damon the Mower" and "The Gallery" 227

"Preparing for Longer Flight": Marvell's Nymph and the Revenge of Silence 255

A-Mazing and A-Musing: After the Garden in "Appleton House" 278

Musing Afterward 304

Notes 319

Index 341
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1499-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1500-1
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