Posts Tagged ‘Gaspara Stampa’

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) — self portrait of herself as a painter

Dear friends and readers,

Although I have only a few sessions to describe out of the many that the RSA presented online for a few days, that is, from November 30th, to December 1st, I want to record what I heard and participated in. The primary reason is in two of the sessions I heard ideas and information which will help me the next time I want to write and deliver at a conference a paper on Anne Finch. But I also want to record some sense of how wonderful in tone and content the conference seemed to me — and perhaps therefore will be of interest to others outside the early modern scholars who attended it.


I can no longer take stenography the way I once did, and spare my reader my attempts in other sessions than those on women studies which is the aspect of the Renaissance I’ve been most interested in. Here I do provide longer synopses because both of the panels taken together will provide me with a new perspective for a new paper on Anne Finch. These two panels are on Women Leaders and Their Political Behavior, and Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voice. for the second blog I’ll be reviewing: the depiction of women in the era; dance, gender and sexuality; women on the stage, women during plague time, and creative approaches to telling the lives of women. For the second I will keep the synopses short, giving the gist of the talk and omitting details. I have enough material for two not overlong blog reports.

There were three presentations in the session on Women Leaders and their Political Behavior.

Elizabeth I when a princess (attributed to William Scrots, 1564)

Yafit Shachar talked about Elizabeth I, and how since she was a woman and ceaselessly regarded from the point of view of her literal woman’s body, during the early years of her reign she was under severe pressure to marry. Parliament made every attempt to exclude her from knowing about their talk on other issues! They regarded her refusal to marry as an attempt to ungender herself. Her female body was seen as a conduit for continuing the Tudor regime (and all the people in place staying in their places). At the same time a foreign man could potentially lead the country into wars. She responded in words by insisting they should see her body metaphysically (the queen’s two bodies) and that paradoxically her not marrying was their safety. She would protect the kingdom by bodily staying outside the world of matter. As time went on and she was not able to conceive, and her astute political behavior, especially during the threatened invasion by Spain, the pressure gave way.

An imagined statue for Anne Murray, Lady Halkett at Abbot House, Dunfermline — she was a spy!

Caroline Fish discussed the transterritorial power of Costanza Dora del Carretto, a widow. When her son died, and her grandson was still a young child, she was given the legal authority (power of attorney) to administer the family’s estates. Women were apparently usually disenfranchised, but she was very effective also in provisioning and maintained squadrons of ships (that included enslaved people working in the galleys). She also appointed governors wisely. Andrea Bergaz discussed Anna Colonna, a marquise (first in Madrid?). During her seven years in Vienna she initiated and ran public mostly musical events at court, became an active patron of the arts. The idea was to show how a woman could use the spaces of allowed sociability to contribute to the arts. There was much interesting general talk from inferences the speakers made from their material; among the most interesting to me was the assertion that women did act as spies far more than we realize (lacking documents).

There were three presentations on Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voices, and one respondent (Anne Larsen).

Giulia Andreoni spoke of how women’s association with elements of nature, specifically trees, enabled women to assert their identities. Her main stories were derived from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. We see heroines dress up as shepherds, mark up trees which become a kind of containing vessel for the female characters’ bodies (women turn into trees to escape rape). Trees protect the women, are pleasant places to dwell in, and become the woman’s tomb after she dies. She showed illustrations of pregnant trees, trees with female imagery. Some of the women are sorceresses whom the impassive hero refuses to pity. Julia Varesewski told of the mother daughter team Madeleine (1520-87) and Catherine des Roches (1542-87). They wrote within Renaissance poetic genres, e.g., the blazon. The poetry they produce is lyrical, ecstatic, erotic (women are touching, touchable) and their virtue is never questioned. In one story the women behave reciprocally and restore one another’s health and beauty. They adapted a literary tradition from men and made it serve a community of women. The style fits the kind of writing Helene Cixous describes as l’ecriture-femme and very aggressively through women’s collaboration. The mother and daughter invented a textual space within which women were seen to converse and live.

A modern Echo and Narcissus (David Revoy) — the early modern & beautiful Victorian ones might be taken for or responded to as soft-core porn and Revoy has imagined the relationship between these two: the man loving his image, the woman compelled to hang on his every gesture or sound …

Nancy Frelick discussed male and female writers of the French Renaissance (Louise Labe, Marguerite de Navarre), their motives for writing and the reception of their work. She dwelt especially on the figure of the disembodied echo. Echo stands for the sorry state of a desiring subject or poetic persona where women repeat male forms: Echo was cursed and could repeat only the last sounds she hears; she haunts places and then dissolves away. Her predicament can be read as women’s powerlessness, but also make visible or felt a poignant poetic inner struggle, a divided self. She quoted playful poetry; and a critic talking about male poets as capable of inspiring stones (Orpheus?). She went through poems by men, e.g., Donne, and then went on to the Des Roches women, showing the daughter using this figure to echo her mother’s voice with a sense of deference and respect. They were creating a poetry of mutual support which gained prestige. There were contests as to who was a muse, seeking immortality, but they turned back to Sappho. The daughter stayed single, so she does not become someone’s property and does not support the patriarchy. And they get away with their subversion. In a poem called “Echo” (1586) in response forms the characters show how to find comfort; in a poem of a Sybil reads, writes and is simply herself. Frelick argues the figure of Echo is multifaceted and used to evoke different aspects of subjectivity; Echo is not unidimensional.

In the talk afterwards the women talked of landscape poetry of the era where we see gender and concerns over environment mingle. One woman was much interested in Gaspara Stampa; another what women do with epic genres. I brought up how Anne Finch read Tasso (and Ovid too), translated Tasso, wrote poems on trees, and one on Echo, aligned herself for immortality with Sappho. It seemed to me their way of talking could give new perspectives to Anne’s so-called romantic lyrics by moving backwards to the early modern women poets. They spoke of a Tasso poem where trees were cut down, reminding me again of Finch. The tree is creative, alive, beauty in itself. They seemed to appreciate what I had to say.

So I bring forward from a blog I wrote in 2020, Finch’s poem to a “Fair Tree,” in an early form not in print (so it’s a text you will not read in the new standard edition), from one of the minor manuscripts:

Fair Tree! for thy delightfull shade
‘Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return, is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds doest shelter give,
Thou musick doest from them receive;
If Travellers beneath thee stay
‘Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee, they spend
And thy protecting pow’r, commend.
The Shepheard here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to thy daancing leaves, his reed;
Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks bestows
Here flow’ry Chaplets on thy boughs.
Shall I then, only silent be,
And no return be made by me?
No, lett this wish upon thee waite,
And still to florish, be thy fate.
To future ages may’st thou stand
Untoutch’d by the rash workmans hand,
Till that large stock of sap is spent,
Which gives thy somers ornament;
Till the feirce winds, that vainly strive
To shock thy greatnesse, whilst alive,
Shall on thy lifelesse hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end,
Their scatter’d strength together call,
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall,
Who then their evening dews, may spare
When thou no longer art their care,
But shalt, like Ancient Hero’s, burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy Urn.

Here it is, read aloud accompanied by “Epping Forest” from John Playford’s “The English Dancing Master 1670, 11th Edition,” the painting which emerges, “The Oak Tree”, is by Joseph Farrington, 1747-1821.


My header includes the phrase “the first I’ve attended in many years.” In the later 1980s my husband wanting me to return to my Renaissance world, partly because I had embarked on a many year project to learn Italian and translate the poetry of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, and continued during that decade to keep up reading about the early modern period, its poetry, drama, and doing research at the Folger Shakespeare Library an Library of Congress on my own. I was what’s called an Independent Scholar. He meant very well. He took care of our two children while I went. I had been writing reviews that were published in the Renaissance Quarterly by that time; I had gone to Renaissance sessions at the MLA and published a paper on Katherine Philips in Philological Quarterly. Well for me to go to that conference by myself was a disaster for me. I knew no one any more, and when I talked to a few people, I was greeted with silent stares. I will not tell the social faux pas I made; suffice to say I refused to go to another early modern conference for many years. The trauma of what had happened remained with me.

Then one year after I had returned to scholarship and conferences through my work on the 18th century and Austen after 1999 (2000 I published my first book, Trollope on the ‘Net), gone to and delivered a talk on Trollope in London at the Reform Club. Also gone to a Virginia Woolf session and then party at one MLA. Jim said we should go to Florence one April (during spring break). There was another early modern conference there. He thought we could have good time in that city during the times I was not at the conference. I now feel very bad that I refused to go to an early modern conference in Florence in 1998 or so. He never went to Florence and is now dead and will never go. I now realize what I should have done is ask him to come with me to the conference proper (we could have paid) and I would have recovered. Rien à faire. Irretrievable.

Antonio Canaletto (1867-1786), Northumberland House

I just got off a zoom where I told friends how getting on the Internet in 1995 had transformed my life beyond what I’ve written above: it had enabled me to make friends without having to cross official thresholds: I began by writing on listservs, and that eventually brought me friends, respect, an invitation to write my book, and to write reviews regularly, to attend small regional conferences. The pandemic caused events to occur online which I could never have gone to even with Jim. Online you are welcomed as the image of someone in a tile and if you behave conventionally, no one questions you.  For example, I’ve now attended two virtual Virginia Woolf conferences in isolated obscure places in the mid- and Northwest USA — and joined in during the talks after the papers — I read and study Woolf a lot, have written a number of blogs on her here.

Come to our topic at hand: it was the second year of the pandemic and the RSA had its first virtual conference. I was brave enough to register, and tried to join in. I don’t know now why I didn’t manage but I found the site user-unfriendly, and managed at most to attend two sessions and gave up. Not this time. They have learned how to present the sessions and it’s now easy to get in and find things. I heard in the sessions that this year’s virtual conference had been set for Dublin, Ireland but now had added a virtual conference in November. People were lamenting they had decided to go virtual. I regret for them, they could not have the more fulfilling time they imagined (plus travel), but for me it was the first time since 1998 I was at an early modern conference, and for the first time successfully joined in.

So there we are. I broke the barrier at last. I finally also spoke during the talk afterwards in two of the sessions.


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