spaces of freedom in early modern feminist thought
'Intimate Liberties: Spaces of Freedom in Early Modern Feminist Thought' unearths the ways in which proto-feminist thinkers in the seventeenth century defined the principles and practices of liberty through an examination of four sites of debate: the convent, the home, the school, and the courts. It focuses on the relationship between liberty and resistance and how, for most of the figures whose lives I analyze (most, but not exclusively, women), to claim their liberty was necessarily an act of refusal - a refusal of social expectations, of norms, and often enough, of the law. Building on my previous work on Rousseau, I look to the civic rituals and political spectacles that women transgressed and rewrote in their public pursuits of physical, intellectual, legal, and spiritual liberty. Of particular interest is the appearance of female defendants and petitioners in the courts and the ways in which testifying can be understood as a kind of performance that demands recognition of one’s status as a political subject.
Though the central figures of this project lived before the advent of modern liberalism, they were engaged with contemporaries, such as Hobbes and Locke, whom we now consider to be its progenitors and, I would contend, could themselves also be considered as such. In examining the records and writings of a range of thinkers across England, France, and the Netherlands, I have three goals. First, I aim to expand the scope of liberty as it is conventionally understood in early modern thought. Second, I will explore the ways in which freedom has functioned not only an abstract principle but as a lived experience pursued by those ostensibly excluded from its enjoyment. Third, I intend to bring the historical materials to bear on contemporary concerns and to reconsider feminist philosophies of freedom in light of a more fully developed history of the concept and its practices.
The first paper from this project is titled "Freedom, Bondage, and Gender in Milton’s Divorce Tracts." Though historians of political thought have taken interest in Milton as a republican thinker, few have considered the relationship of his republicanism to his writings on divorce, or the implications of his writings on divorce for his understanding of liberty. I argue that the divorce tracts ought to be read as a reflection of Milton’s increasing commitment to republican values, particularly liberty. I begin by distinguishing between Milton’s use of a rhetoric of bondage on the one hand and a rhetoric of slavery of the other, and their shared inverse, freedom, as Milton employs them to depict the unhappy marital union.
I then analyze the ways in which Milton describes bondage and liberty as possessing particular spatial associations. Focusing on the second edition of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, I demonstrate that Milton associates bondage with the home and the ‘mariage-bed,’ and depicts the public sphere as a potential site of liberty. I argue that this combination of rhetoric and imagery casts Milton’s argument in a specifically republican, rather than liberal, light. To that end, I conclude by reading the Doctrine’s interpellation of the domestic and the public against the tendency in the republican tradition to reify the realms as distinct and self-sufficient, and suggest that Milton refuses what I call the Roman model of public and private while still maintaining a republican attitude toward freedom.