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Women's Writing and the Early Modern Genre Wars


  • Karen Green


This paper explores two phases of the early modern genre wars. The first was fought by Marie de Gournay, in her “Preface” to Montaigne's Essays, on behalf of her adoptive father and in defense of his naked and masculine prose. The second was fought half a century later by Nicholas Boileau in opposition to Gournay's feminizing successor, Madeleine de Scudéry. In this debate Gournay's position is egalitarian, whereas Scudéry's approximates to a feminism of difference. It is claimed that both female protagonists in this early debate occlude the female body. The far more sexually explicit prose of Mary Delarivier Manley is then used to raise the question: is it genre, or is it, rather, the very nature of erotic sexuality, that makes it so difficult for women to masterfully expose themselves as authoritative subjects?