CEMS HDR candidate Emma Rayner approved for award of PhD

CEMS HDR candidate Emma Rayner approved for award of PhD

by Centre for Early Modern Studies

Congratulations to CEMS HDR candidate Emma Rayner, who has been approved for the award of PhD for her thesis “Fashioning Worth, Fashioning Worlds: Early Modern Women and Civil Discourses.”

Fashioning Worth, Fashioning Worlds: Early Modern Women and Civil Discourses

From Michel de Montaigne to Pierre Bourdieu, Edmund Burke to Georg Simmel, an interest in courtesy, conduct, and civility has marked the careers of some of Europe’s most celebrated thinkers. This common interest crystallized into a scholarly field with the publication of Norbert Elias’s The Civilizing Process (1939; English trans. 1978-82), which posited a shift from a medieval regime of courtesy to one of early modern civility. The multidisciplinary field that grew out of Elias’s contribution has, however, been dominated by the study of male humanists, not least owing to an overly narrow definition of the “social” or “public” sphere which has led to the omission of women from mainstream studies of civility and conduct.

This thesis moves to redress the current gap in scholarship by offering the first extended account of early modern Englishwomen’s textual engagements with courtesy, conduct, and civility (“civil discourses” for short) in the seventeenth century. It argues that female agents fashioned their worth and claimed a presence within established civil discourses by creating alternative textual worlds in which women enjoyed greater influence and liberty, and in more varied spaces. These alter-worlds tend to be built on a reimagining, if not an outright critique or rejection, of prevailing ideals of courtesy, virtuous conduct, and civility and their associated social dynamics, rather than their servile reproduction or reinforcement.

The first two chapters address discourses of courtesy: first the treatment of courtly love in Mary Wroth’s sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621), and then the queenly disruption of kingly grace in the Stuart court masque. The third chapter, addressing conduct discourse, presents a comparative study of maternal advice in seventeenth-century mothers’ legacies and Elizabeth Isham’s manuscript autobiography. The last two chapters take up discourses of civility: first the interoperations of civility and imperial geography in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688), and then the excavation of a philosophical tonality of civility in Mary Astell’s writings on female education. All five chapters at once demonstrate the “sparkling multiplicity” of early modern women’s engagements with civil discourses, and show how these women authors drew on a similar pool of rhetorical and generic strategies when fashioning their worth and worlds.

Emma’s thesis is available now on the ANU Research repository: https://hdl.handle.net/1885/733713301.