Fashioning the Other Sex in Seventeenth-Century Venice: Ideologies of Gender and the Elevation of Women in the Writing of Moderata Fonte and Lucrezia Marinella
McKenna, Katherine Rose
This paper investigates the Venetian radicalization of the European querelle des femmes or debate on women in the tracts Il merito delle donne and La nobiltà e eccellenza delle donne by cittadini authors Moderata Fonte and Lucrezia Marinella respectively. Although Venice was the printing hub of early modern Europe, the strictures of conservative patrician society long withheld respectable local women from engaging in speech and the public sphere via print. Customarily a Venetian woman’s purchase of intellectual license entailed a heavy price tag: living internment behind the protective walls of a convent or the soiled reputation of a courtesan. Fonte and Marinella incurred neither of these costs, yet their writing transgressed conventional Venetian insistence on female silence and transcended the rhetorical showmanship of the early querelle to criticize the institutionalization of misogyny and male supremacy. This paper uses gender as an analytical lens by which to elucidate the feminist critique of patriarchal norms and inversion of Aristotelian ideology that Fonte and Marinella introduced to the debate. In doing so I show that the authors successfully undermined masculine authority by questioning what it meant to be a woman culturally and scientifically, promoting female claims to moral and intellectual parity, and, in Fonte’s case, advocating female social solidarity. This paper also delineates the fact that women, who are so often described as culturally and intellectually dormant prior to the modern period, were actively engaging with their intellectual and cultural setting in earlier times.