Online Presentation: Early Modern Women and Discourses of Civility

Tuesday 19 September 2023
5pm (AEST) online only

Emma Rayner – PhD Exit Presentation
(PhD candidate, ANU Centre for Early Modern Studies)

Emma Rayner presents her PhD thesis to discuss women’s engagement with the rich and unstable discourses of civility throughout the 1600s.

From Michel de Montaigne to Edmund Burke, Georg Simmel to Pierre Bourdieu, an interest in courtesy and civility has distinguished the careers of some of civilization’s most celebrated thinkers. In the past century, the pioneering work of Swiss sociologist Norbert Elias prompted generations of modern scholars to trace the way in which the seemingly superficial preoccupation with manners and civil behaviour seen in the early modern European court was symptomatic of a much more seismic affective and cultural shift. This shift is frequently framed as a movement from courtesy (or courtoisie) to civility (civilité), and from civility to civilization.

Scholars have only in recent decades begun to remark on the concerted effacement of gender in civility research, but those remarks have yet to be channeled into sustained investigations. This thesis therefore aims to offer the first extended (although not exhaustive) study of early modern Englishwomen’s encounters with discourses of courtesy and civility during the seventeenth century. In this presentation, I will introduce the historical and scholarly landscape against which my different chapter studies repose, with the aim of showcasing the “sparkling multiplicity”—rather than the “female uniformity”[1]—of women’s engagement with these rich and unstable discourses throughout the 1600s.

[1] Patricia Phillippy (ed), “Introduction: Sparkling Multiplicity,” A History of Early Modern Women’s Writing (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 27-45, 1.

Emma Rayner is a final-year PhD candidate in English at the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics, ANU, researching early modern women’s engagements with discourses of courtesy and civility. She has published on female melancholy in Hester Pulter and John Webster in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1700, and more recently on women’s life-writing and matriarchal exemplarity in Sillages Critiques. She holds a BA and MA in English Literature from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.