Book Review

Grossman, Michael (ed.). Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1998.

Reviewed by Donna Beth Ellard | March 22, 2003

Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, edited by Michael Grossman, is a collection of twelve critical essays about Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum. These essays address different thematic issues of Lanyer’s poetry, but within the contexts of her feminist politics/poetics and gender relations. Barbara Lewalski’s article, “Seizing Discourses and Reinventing Genres,” evaluates Lanyer’s manipulation of the Early Modern genres – the Book of Good Women, the country house poem, dedicatory poems – to create a unified, female community, which subverts the domestic authority of fathers and husbands. Kari Boyd McBride’s “Sacred Celebration: The Patronage Poems” discusses Lanyer’s patronage poems. She argues that Lanyer’s juxtaposition of poetic praise of her patrons and Christian devotional literature “fundamentally altered the context in which patron-client relationships were supposed to have functioned.” Suzanne Woods engages with this same topic in “Vocation and Authority: Born to Write.” In this article, Woods analyses the way in which Lanyer’s adherence to the conventions of patronage poetry allows her to derive authority of a public voice. By subjugating the authority of patronage and Petrarchan tradition to the service of Christ, Lanyer creates a poetic space that allows for female agency. In “The Feminist Poetics of ‘Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum’,” Janel Mueller compares the works of Christine de Pizan and Giles Fletcher with Lanyer’s poetry and argues that “Salue Deus” is an exemplar of female authority. Through a historicist approach to her analysis, Mueller examines how Lanyer creates a female perspective in her poetry by mixing the genres of verse panegyric and devotional meditation. Marshall Grossman’s article, “Aemilia Lanyer and the Gendering of Genre,” emphasizes the genre of the country house poem in “The Description of Cookham.” Grossman examines this genre as feminine by comparing “Cookham” to “To Penshurst,” by Jonson. “(M)other Tongues: Maternity and Subjectivity” by Naomi J. Miller examines Lanyer’s representations of women as mothers and others, upon which she builds her analysis of the Early Modern relationship between maternity and subjectivity. These titles, Miller argues, are given not only to women who are mothers but also to women whose abilities to speak were limited by male judgments of their procreative capabilities. Miller concludes that Lanyer’s poetry uses a language that “reconfigures the mirroring potential of verse” to create “femininity in female-authored terms.” Michael Morgan Holmes, in “The Love of Other Women: Rich Chains and Sweet Kisses,” discusses poetry that invokes female communities. He contextualizes “Salue Deus” with Donne’s “Sapho to Philaenis” and Marvell’s “Nymph complaining for the death of her Faune” and “Upon Appleton House.” Through these comparisons, Holmes argues that Lanyer’s poetry conflates eroticism and religion to emphasize the homoeroticism of women’s love for Christ. Achsah Guibbory’s article, “The Gospel According to Aemilia: Women and the Sacred,” examines “Salue Deus” from the perspective of women’s religious devotion. Guibbory states that Lanyer uses her poetry to undermine male, worldly authority by asserting a disjunction between Christ’s teachings the issues of sexual equality and the subjection of women. Finally, Boyd Berry’s “’Pardon…though I have digrest’: Digression as Style in ‘Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum’” focuses on the way in which Lanyer uses the rhetorical device of digression to enact “an interrogation of gendered issues of power and control.” Berry argues that Lanyer’s digressions note female powerlessness and, contrastingly, female power.

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