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-Francois 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.
Barbara L. Estrin is Professor of English at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts. She is the author of The Raven and the Lark: Lost Children in Literature of the English Renaissance.
Acknowledgments xi Note on Editions xiv Introduction: Gender Performance and Genre Slippage 1 PETRARCH Inverting the Order: Laura as Eve to Petrarch's Adam 41 "Like a Man Who Thinks and Weeps and Writes": Laura as Mercury to Petrarch's Battus 61 WYATT Taking Bread: Wyatt's Revenge in the Lyrics and Sustenance in the Psalms 93 "Liking This": Telling Wyatt's Feelings 123 DONNE Small Change: Defections from Petrarchan and Spenserian Poetics 149 Sylvia Transformed: Returning Donne's Gifts 180 "A Pregnant Bank": Contracting and Abstracting the "You" in Donne's "A Valediction of My Name in the Window" and "Elegy: Change" 201 MARVELL "Busie Companies of Men": Appropriations of Female Power in "Damon the Mower" and "The Gallery" 227 "Preparing for Longer Flight": Marvell's Nymph and the Revenge of Silence 255 A-Mazing and A-Musing: After the Garden in "Appleton House" 278 Musing Afterward 304 Notes 319 Index 341