Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level





Dorothy Stephens

Committee Member

William Quinn

Second Committee Member

Joseph Candido


Early Modern Literature, Gender Studies, History of Literature, Pregnancy, Women's Literature


This dissertation employs a feminist theoretical lens in exploring the gendered uses of pregnancy and pregnancy metaphors in the production and dissemination of literary works in early modern England. By also examining the history of the printing press and the role it played in gendered textual production, early modern constructs of family and the role of mothers, as well as obstetric medicine and childbirth, I aim to demonstrate that mothering and authorship were congruent activities for female writers. Conversely, I argue that male writers of the period who employed metaphors of gestation did so not to try to claim biological maternal spaces and capacities as their own, but rather, they appropriated maternal imagery to argue for a clear delineation between the acts of maternal biological reproduction and creative reproduction. For the male writers in this dissertation, maternal spaces are failed spaces demonstrating the lack of any relationship between biological progeny and textual progeny.

In exploring these gendered assumptions of maternity, I look to the non-fiction works of women that gained notable popularity during the period, including the mothers’ legacies of Elizabeth Joscelin, Dorothy Leigh, and Elizabeth Richardson and the pamphlets of Rachel Speght, Ester Sowernam, and Constantia Munda. In investigating the ways that male authors explore mental gestation and the failures of maternity, I examine the works of Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, manuals of sorts that help inform male writers and readers on how to craft themselves as writers and honorable men. I argue that for male writers, writing and parenting are incongruent activities. Ultimately female authors prevail on some level, finding a space within print culture. To them, the maternal space and maternal privilege are empowering, allowing them to serve as champions for their sex.