Renée-Claude Breitenstein

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline Literature
Associate Professor of French, Brock University

Research project

Conflict in the Age of Print: Publics and Publications in Collections in Praise of Women in the French Renaissance (1493-1622)


Moving from manuscript to print created new audiences, beyond patronage. Books became increasingly available to a greater number of readers from a wider social background, beyond the restricted circles of aristocracy and learned readers. Amongst these new readers are women, who gained visibility and became an important component in the public arena shaped in the Renaissance. But far from forming a unified readership, these audiences are diverse, sometimes superposed, sometimes juxtaposed, always plural, often contradictory. The advent of printing seen as a conflicted process is particularly noticeable in texts dedicated to, about, or written by women. From the first printed translation into French of Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris (1493) to the Égalité des hommes et des femmes (1622) by Marie de Gournay, collections in praise of women celebrate exceptional feminine figures for their virtues, or defend womankind through praise. Produced in the age of print, they are invaluable signs of the growing presence of women in the public sphere. The goal of the proposed research is to investigate the influence of print culture on the construction of the public in collections in praise of women.


My program of research involves analyzing the many complex ways in which "publications" and "publics" interconnect in the French Renaissance from 1493 to 1622. I will explore the notion of "publications," understood as a book preparation process, in order to investigate various questions concerning the "makers" of the book (the author, the printer, the engraver, the publisher, the commissioner); the material, whether textual or iconographic, or both, that guaranteed access to the public sphere; and the stakes of the process: what and who was made public through the book. In terms of "publics," whereas authors of collections in praise of women printed in the first half of the sixteenth century were all men, female authors start writing in defence of their sex in the second half, thus becoming readers and creators of the encomiastic tradition. The presence of women in the public sphere reshapes the relationship between the author, the printer and the public; new forms of sociability are echoed in the textual and material aspects of books.


At the intersection of rhetoric, history and moral philosophy, collections in praise of women are precious testimonies: in their times, they offered a form of publicity to women; to modern readers, they provide complex representations of early modern female figures engaged in activities reaching beyond the domestic sphere. My program entertains a double goal: 1) to make this corpus better known as a literary genre by editing twelve texts, some unavailable in modern editions; and 2) to explore this corpus through an interdisciplinary approach using book history, sociology, and women studies, under the specific angle of publics and publications, in a book length study.




Renée-Claude Breitenstein is Associate Professor of French at Brock University, Ontario, where she teaches Medieval and 16th century literature in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures. She holds a Ph.D in early modern French Literature from McGill University, Montréal. Her research interests include rhetoric, argumentation theory, book history, and reception and gender studies. She currently focuses on collections in praise of women as part of a SSHRC funded project on the influence of print culture on texts dedicated to, about, or written by women in the French Renaissance.


Her mains research interests include French literature of the Renaissance; rhetoric (praise and blame in particular) and argumentation; construction of publics; book history, print culture, iconography; & representation of women.


Selected publications


'Les secrétaires et la publication : l’exemple des éloges collectifs de femmes au XVIe siècle', in G. Holtz (ed.), Repenser la culture de l’imprimé, Droz, Genève, 2014, pp. 61-81.


'Le savoir comme vertu: la redéfinition des valeurs dans les éloges collectifs de femmes au XVe et au XVIe siècles', in A. Dubois-Nayt, N. Dufournaud & A. Paupert (eds.), Revisiter la Querelle des femmes, de 1400 à 1600, Presses universitaires de Saint-Étienne, Saint-Étienne, 2013, pp. 155-167.


'Speaking of Women and Giving Voice to Women: the Example of Madeleine and Georges de Scudéry’s Femmes illustres ou les Harangues héroïques', in M. Scarci (ed.), Creating Women. Representation, Self-Representation, and Agency in the Renaissance, Essays and Studies, vol. 31, Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, Toronto, 2013, pp. 45-56. 


'Célébrer les femmes et parler de soi: le travail de la disposition dans trois éloges collectifs de la première moitié du XVIe siècle', in C. La Charité (ed.), Femmes, rhétorique et éloquence sous l’Ancien Régime, Presses universitaires de Saint-Étienne, Saint-Étienne, 2012, pp. 75-86.


'Traduction, transferts culturels et construction des publics dans deux éloges collectifs de femmes de la première moitié du XVIe siècle', Études françaises, vol. 47, no. 3, 2011, pp. 91-107. 


'Entre allégorie et auteur(e)s : le façonnement de voix féminines dans les apologies du sexe féminin au XVIe siècle', in J-P. Beaulieu & A. Oberhuber, Jeu de masques. Les femmes et le travestissement textuel (1500-1940), Presses universitaires de Saint-Étienne, Saint-Étienne, 2011, pp. 37-50.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Environmental Science
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Collegium de Lyon
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Collegium de Lyon
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Environmental Studies