How do men imagine women? In the poetry of Petrarch and his English successors—Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell—the male poet persistently imagines pursuing a woman, Laura, whom he pursues even as she continues to deny his affections. Critics have long held that, in objectifying Laura, these male-authored texts deny the imaginative, intellectual, and physical life of the woman they idealize. In Laura, Barbara L. Estrin counters this traditional view by focusing not on the generative powers of the male poet, but on the ...
How do men imagine women? In the poetry of Petrarch and his English successors—Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell—the male poet persistently imagines pursuing a woman, Laura, whom he pursues even as she continues to deny his affections. Critics have long held that, in objectifying Laura, these male-authored texts deny the imaginative, intellectual, and physical life of the woman they idealize. In Laura, Barbara L. Estrin counters this traditional view by focusing not on the generative powers of the male poet, but on the subjectivity of the imagined woman and the imaginative space of the poems she occupies.
Through close readings of the Rime sparse and the works of Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell, Estrin uncovers three Lauras: Laura-Daphne, who denies sexuality; Laura-Eve, who returns the poet’s love; and Laura-Mercury, who reinvents her own life. Estrin claims that in these three guises Laura subverts both genre and gender, thereby introducing multiple desires into the many layers of the poems. Drawing upon genre and gender theories advanced by Jean-François Lyotard and Judith Butler to situate female desire in the poem’s framework, Estrin shows how genre and gender in the Petrarchan tradition work together to undermine the stability of these very concepts.
Estrin’s Laura constitutes a fundamental reconceptualization of the Petrarchan tradition and contributes greatly to the postmodern reassessment of the Renaissance period. In its descriptions of how early modern poets formulate questions about sexuality, society and poetry, Laura will appeal to scholars of the English and Italian Renaissance, of gender studies, and of literary criticism and theory generally.
In emphasizing the resignifying moments within the reigning discourse of love, this study acknowledges the tyranny to women that most Petrarchan poems impose. But it also searches out of cultural intelligibility in some Petrarchan poems to ask why Petrarch, Wyatt, Donne, and Marvell locate their questions about sexuality, society, and poetry in the woman they imagine for the construct. Paper edition (unseen), $18.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
This bold and provocative study presents a systematic and wholesale revaluation of Petrarch's love poetry and of the movement called Petrarchism, especially with reference to selected lyric poems in 16th- and 17th-century England. . . . Rarely has the alignment between postmodern theory and textual analysis been so well enacted. . . Very highly recommended.
Estrin often demonstrates beautifully how lyric subjectivity grapples with questions of gender. . . . Laura contributes vividly to the current project of examining our assumptions about the representations of women in lyric poetry; for this reason, and for its generous, intelligent readings of poems, the book will prove valuable to scholars of gender studies, genre studies, and English and continental early modern poetry.
Early Modern Literary Studies
[T]he intellectual joy and energy with which Estrin leaps into her subject opens this text to its reader. It is a complex book, deeply infused with a sense of purpose: nothing less than the re-visioning . . . of the Petrarchan tradition. As such, it is an important, perhaps essential, piece of scholarship in the current reassessment of Renaissance Petrarchism.
Studies in English Literature
In its most original achievement . . . Estrin's book preempts feminist narratives about the construction of the woman by the male poet, suggesting instead how the male poet is constructed by the woman who is 'always already' part of his identity. . . . This is an argument whose import lies deeply in the realm of the imaginary and really concerns the poet's "muse."
Comparative Literature Studies
[A] fascinating tour of complex and compelling texts from an 'anamorphic' perspective where the male protagonists' gender and the Petrarchan poem's genre come to seem something other.