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Books for Women

The Renaissance marks an important development in notions of women's education, continuing the debate and enlarging women's education both in terms of scope and availability, most notably in the querelle des femmes. The late medieval/early Renaissance pioneer of advocating education for women, both lay and religious, was - not surprisingly - a woman: Christine de Pizan, a fourteenth-century French writer of Italian descent and the first woman in the West to make a living by her pen. During the Renaissance, as was the case throughout the Middle Ages, "the most forceful and comprehensive arguments for equal education for men and women, as well as the advocacy of learning for learning's sake (rather than as the means to a moral end), come from the pen of women, women euphorically enthusiastic about the new freedom and autonomy that the available education provided. Significantly, these arguments most often took the form of a polemic; invariably they were penned by literate women of the new secular culture. Louise Labé, Laura Cereta, and the Dames des Roches, all advocate learning for women in attacks on women who scorn this opportunity. "Since a time has come," Louise Labé says, "when the strict laws of men no longer prevent women from applying themselves to the sciences and other disciplines, it seems to me that those of us who can should use this long-craved freedom to study and to let men see how greatly they wronged us when depriving us of its honor and advantages. And is any woman becomes so proficient as to be able to write down her thoughts let her do so and not despise the honor but rather flaunt it instead of fine clothes, necklaces, and rings." To Labé, as Anne Larson observes, "learning for women is not restricted to the bookish erudition, ornamental and passive in character, which was advertised for the courtly lady. Nor does she recommend learning solely to improve one's morals as did the majority of Renaissance humanists who favored education. Her conception encompasses the Renaissance ideals of fame and freedom derived from liberal studies" ( Wilson , xiii-xix).

As Katharine Wilson aptly summarizes, “Education was of central interest to the Renaissance humanists, and their great contribution of making learning available to women cannot be overestimated. Theoretically, equal education was advocated for both sexes and for all social classes, but practically, formal education was restricted to the daughters, wives, and sisters of learned men, and to women of the nobility and the upper bourgeoisie. Moreover, the emphasis on learning not for its own sake but as a means of moral improvement (of even for Castiglione's "pleasing affability") is almost omnipresent in the educational treaties written by men for women, underscoring, thus, a continuity of purpose with the medieval tradition” (x).

The books included in this section [Gordon 1572.X45 (rules of marriage), Gordon 1546.P58 (early works of women), and Gordon 1585.E78 (clothing/dress/conduct of women in early France )] will hopefully provide a snapshot of the different perspectives on women's education that abound during the Renaissance.

Works cited:

Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation

Katharina M. Wilson (ed.)

Athens and London : University of Georgia Press , 1987



Gordon 1546 .P58

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Opuscule de Plutarque, Des vertueux et illustrees faitz des anciennes femmes: / traduit de vulgaire Tuscan en nostre langue Françoyse.

A Paris : En l'imprimerie de Ieanne de Marnef, demourant en la rue Neuue nostre Dame à l'enseigne saint Iean Baptiste, 1546.


Gordon 1572 .X45

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La mesnagerie de Xenophon ; Les regles de mariage, de Plutarque ; Lettre de consolation, de Plutarque à sa femme. / Le tout traduict de Grec en François par feu m. Estienne De La Boetie ... ; Ensemble quelques vers Latins & François, de son inuention. ; Item, vn Discours sur la mort dudit Seigneur De la Boëtie, par M. de Montaigne.

A Paris : De l'Imprimerie de Federic Morel, rue S. Ian de Beauuais, au Franc Meurier, 1572.


Gordon 1585 .E78

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Remonstrance charitable aux dames et damoyselles de France, sur leurs ornemens dissolos, : pour les induire à laisser l'habit du Paganisme, & prendre celuy de la femme pudique & Chrestienne. : Auec vne elegie de la France se complaignant de la dissolution desdictes damoyselles. / Par F.A.E.M.

A Paris : Chez Sebastien Niuelle ..., 1585.

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