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Ulrike Tancke

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.