Lost Property: The Woman Writer and English Literary History, 1380-1589

The English literary canon is haunted by the figure of the lost woman writer. She has, of course, been a powerful stimulus for the 20th-century rediscovery of works written by women. But as Jennifer Summit argues, the lost woman writer also served as an evocative symbol during the very formation of an English literary tradition from the 14th through the 16th centuries. Examining the history of the representations of women writers from Margery Kempe and Christine de Pizan to Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Summit shows how the woman writer came to embody alienation from tradition. Chaucer, for instance, used the figure of the woman writer to dramatize the problems of writing outside the dominant literary culture, while the reformation writer John Bale cast women writers as proto-Protestant icons of opposition to the Catholic church. Bringing together original archival research with new readings of key literary texts, Summit provides a revisionary account of the woman writers' role in English literary history.