‘Bethinke Thy Selfe’ in Early Modern England

Writing Women’s Identities


Early modern women writers are typically studied as voices from the margin, who engage in a counter-discourse to patriarchy and whose identities prefigure postmodern notions of fragmented selfhood. Studying a variety of literary forms – autobiographical writings, diaries, mothers’ advice books, poetry and drama – this innovative book approaches early modern women’s strategies of identity formation from an alternative angle: their self-writings should be understood as attempts to establish a coherent, stable and convincing subjectivity in spite of the constraints they encountered. While the authors acknowledge contradiction and ambiguity, they consistently strive to compromise and achieve balance. Drawing on social and cultural history, feminist theory, psychoanalysis and the study of discourses, the close reading of the women’s texts and other, literary and non-literary sources reveals that the female writers seek to reconcile the affective, corporeal, social, economic and ideological dimensions of their identities and thereby question both the modern idea of the unified self and its postmodern, fragmented variant. The women’s identities as writers, mothers, spouses, household members and economic agents testify to their acceptance of contradictions, their adherence to patriarchal norms and simultaneous self-assertion. Their pragmatic stances suggest that their simultaneous confidence and anxiety should be taken seriously, as tentative, precarious, yet ultimately workable and convincing expressions of identity.

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"… her very recommendable study adds a new dimension to our understanding of early-modern women’s representations of selfhood." – Lena Steveker, Saarland University, in: English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature, April 2013
"In her groundbreaking study about the construction of the self in early modern women’s writing, Ulrike Tancke inscribes herself within the current scholarly interest in such literature, and questions the widely accepted notion of these texts as subversive discourses going against patriarchy." – in: GRAAT On-Line, May 2010
Writing the Self: Identity through Authorship
Self and Other: Identity and Relationality
The Self under Threat: Self-annihilation, Self-abnegation, Self-loss and Death
The Struggle for Stability: Contradiction and Ambiguity
Private/Public Spaces: Boundaries, Polarities and Transgression
The Search for the “Golden Meane”: Rethinking Marginality and Power