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IN THE SHADOW OF NARCISSUS: LYRIC POETRY AND THE ORIGINS OF FEMINIST SUBJECTIVITY IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE

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Abstract

My dissertation explores how two early modern women poets from France—Louise Labé and Catherine des Roches—position themselves as speaking subjects in a field historically dominated by men. I analyze how they adopt, adapt, and ultimately reject the traditional power dynamics that silence and exclude them. By constructing a relational subject position, these poets defy their own marginalization and write in service of a community of women. They inscribe the female body and voice into their texts, imbuing them with difference and creating a style of writing that resembles l’écriture féminine. My first chapter examines how Labé uses mimicry to assert her authorial voice and establish her own subjectivity, which differs from the narcissistic model of her male interlocutors because it is less focused on the poetic self. The absence of the je/moi (I/me) in Labé’s poetry is a choice that highlights the precarious position she occupies as a woman poet and creates a new model of female subjectivity. I dedicate two chapters of my dissertation to Catherine des Roches’ narrative poem “Agnodice,” one which deals with the figure of Envy and the other with Agnodice. I argue that Envy plays a crucial role in the poem. She both opens and closes the poem, and significant time is given to developing her character. While Envy functions as the main antagonist, her presence adds a level of ambiguity to the text. She complicates not only how we read the men in the story as villains, but also how we read Agnodice as a hero. Envy acts as a foil to Agnodice, purportedly the first female gynecologist in ancient Greece. While Envy destroys community, Agnodice rebuilds it. She works in service of the collective good and establishes a mode of engagement between women that leads to their health and happiness. Agnodice becomes a mouthpiece for Catherine, who creates a new model of literary production in which women take on a more active and inclusive role. Her goal, in my view, is to replace a poetic tradition predicated on singularity with a more collaborative enterprise.

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214 pages

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2021-05

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Keywords

Agnodice; Authority; Catherine des Roches; Community; Envy; Louise Labé

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Union Local

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Committee Chair

Long, Kathleen Perry

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Kennedy, William John
Migiel, Marilyn

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Romance Studies

Degree Name

Ph. D., Romance Studies

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document

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dissertation or thesis

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