Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2010

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Romance Languages and Literature: French Language and Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation examines the literary dialogue written by female writers in Sixteenth-Century France and Cinquecento Italy, namely Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549), Catherine des Roches (1542-1587), Louise Labe (1520-1566), Marie le Gendre (dates unknown), Olympia Morata (1525-1555), Chiara Matraini (1515-1604), Tullia d'Aragona (1510-1556) and Moderata Fonte (1555-1592). It addresses a threefold &ldquogender and genre&rdquo problem that has preoccupied to some extent scholarship in France, Italy, Canada, and the United States, and it takes the problem further by examining the literary dialogue as a scene of self-representation, the strategies used in the constitution of the feminine subject within the specificity of the genre, and, among these strategies, the use of the image in the &ldquo self-fashioning &rdquo (Greenblatt) of the feminine subject. This dissertation is cross-disciplinary, as it takes into account literature, history and, within certain limitations, the visual arts, and cross-cultural since France and Italy are being discussed together as participating cultures of the same movement.

Although the &ldquo poetics of culture &rdquo (Greenblatt) shapes this dissertation's basic approach, an emphasis is put on the close reading of the texts, on the available theories of the genre in the Renaissance (Speroni, Tasso, Castelvetro, Le Caron, Sigonio), and on contemporary theories of Michel Foucault (language and image) and Louis Marin (image and representation of women). Contemporary feminist criticism from the USA, France, Canada and Italy adds more accurate analysis of the gender problem.

The socio-cultural events that made possible the emergence of subjectivity are addressed as they show how literary and social identities are formed, how the &ldquo I &rdquo is constructed and how it embodies a specific form of feminine agency diffused within the formal conventions of the dialogue. This project addresses questions related to faith (the spiritual dialogue), love (dialogues on love), feminine education (the pedagogical dialogue) and wisdom (the allegorical dialogue). I argue that women astutely used the potential of the dialogue, rhetoric, and positive image-patterns such as the teacher (l&rsquoenseignante), the erudite woman (la donna colta or la femme sçavante), and the wise woman (mulier clara or Sapientia) to legitimate their voices and acquire agency. I also argue that these women dialogists wanted to &ldquo presentify &rdquo (présentifier, Marin) themselves capable as philosophers and teachers, virtuous as Christians and lovers, and wise as mothers or old women, in private and semi-private settings. Within this genre, women can be seen as adopting another way of thinking, which corresponds to their status in the world: the otherness. I argue that the genre allows a total mise en scène: the speaking subject is seen in the process of speaking, in the place chosen for the discussion (locus amoenus), and the topic is gradually unveiled to the reader as participant to the conversation in a second degree. For that reason, rhetoric is used by these women to demonstrate a high level of education and knowledge of sciences, mythology, philosophy and arts. I also argue that these women use the rhetoric and the power of the image because it renders present what is absent. The dialogue allows representations of real or fictional relationships, between women interlocutors, between the self-represented, &ldquo self fashioned &rdquo feminine and the readers, and between the interlocutors and their literary and visual models. These dialogues help us to better understand cultural history and the complexity of the feminine. They are of aesthetic value because they legitimated women's voices and their self constructed personae. The bonds of gender and compassion were able to cut across differences of language, politics and religion, thus helping to envision a world of alliances: &ldquo female communities &rdquo and &ldquo spaces of female readership &rdquo (A. Pearson). By writing about education, amicitia, love, God, wisdom, beauty, nature, reason and folly, these dialogists emphasized women's unlimited creative potential. In their discourse, they presented themselves as fully knowledgeable and balanced.

Finally, there is indeed a dialogue au féminin, in which women challenged the boundaries of the genre and re-wrote the classic dialogue models for themselves. Through a variety of strategies, such as the use of the image (literary and visual), women dialogists found in the dialogue a way to become &ldquo visible &rdquo in a world that denies them.


French (fr)

Chair and Committee

Lutz Koepnick

Committee Members

Lisa Connor, Matthew Erlin


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