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Abstract

This article charts the development of early modern women’s writing as a specialist subject within English Literature research. The article outlines the tensions that shaped the criticism of early modern women in the 1980s and early 1990s, in particular debates about women’s agency, the role of patriarchy, the possibility of ‘feminist’ resistance, and the role of aesthetics and aesthetic value in the study of early modern women’s writing. The article then argues that these tensions, far from limiting scholarship, have in fact encouraged researchers towards innovative models and directions of study that have been at the forefront of developments in early modern studies. The concluding section outlines new tensions within the subject, including continuing debates about literary value and the differing aims of literary criticism and historical inquiry, and ends with the provocative proposal that the goal of early modern women’s writing scholarship may be its own demise.