The late Renaissance Humanism of Marie de Gournay

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: History


Over the course of doctoral study, I hope to consider the writings of the philosopher, translator, literary critic, and editor of
Montaigne's 'Essais,' Marie de Gournay. During her prolific career Gournay created a literary salon, published a
translation of Tacitus, a volume of poetry, and two works on female equality. Unlike earlier scholars, who have focused
exclusively upon Gournay's friendship with her intellectual 'father' Montaigne, I hope to use Gournay's later writings to
consider the evolution of her thought in the half-century after the publication of the 'Essais.' Despite the heterogeneity
and impressive scope of Gournay's oeuvre, her later writings seem to present two particularly interesting themes for the
historian of early modern ideas. The first is Gournay's near-dogmatic belief in the authority of ancient texts. Indeed, she
regularly employs classical examples to support her arguments for female equality, as perhaps best illustrated by her
1622 treatise 'Egalité des hommes et des femmes.' This final point alludes to the second major theme that emerges from
the study of Gournay's writings, namely her increasingly powerful arguments for female rationality and her engagement
with the querelle des femmes. During this PhD, I hope to consider the ways in which Gournay was able to use classical
examples to support her feminist arguments at a time when the authority of the ancients was under siege from both
Pyrrhonian sceptics and Cartesian rationalists.


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