We find the names of celebrated women poets in Germanic speaking region frequently after the European renaissance. This period brought more scope for individual growth giving a big jolt to the traditional base of feudal-cleric centrist power-structure. At the same time, a big change showed in the process of evaluating women’s intellectual and moral stance. Old clerical concept often raised a question (e.g Council of Macon in 585) if women should also be considered as “human being” – whether daughters of Eve, the habitual sinner, would be at all able to develop any ethical and moral virtue. On contrary, number of literature came up defending women’s position during renaissance period. And this is not only a phenomenon for German literature, but also in other European regional literary arenas like France and Italy.
Anyway, from the good number of literary works supporting women’s intellectual ability, we must not reach a conclusion that the wave of anti-women ideology in literary world completely receded. Even in 16th century France, we find anonymous pamphlets preaching against women’s engagements in creating literary works. Even in later period, starting from Nietzsche, Schopenhauer to many twentieth century scholars, anti-women propaganda was very strong in European intellectual circle. Women intellectuals and authors always had to prove their creative skill standing strongly against this current of doubt and hatred against women.
The birthplace of European Renaissance is Italy. Women there made an effort to earn scholarship and wisdom to be at the same level with men. Obviously women from nobility and privileged aristocrats could meet the requirements needed for this, while education was not accessible to all in the society. Interesting is, women who had the scope to be economically independent, was in the lower strata of the society. Anyway the expectation about desirable women started changing among young men of the educated class, “A young lady should have knowledge of Latin.” As a result, some women from the higher strata proceeded to take important roles in public offices and socio-political discourse in 16th century Italy. They started contributing in fields like philosophy, theology, history, medicine as well as literary circle. Vittoria Colona, Veronica Gambara and Gaspara Stampa are memorable names as poetess and lyricists of those days. Louise Labé, an aristocrat lady from Lyon, not only earned fame as lyricist, but her home also became a meeting place for literary and cultural elites those days. By the end of Italian renaissance, Queen Elizabeth’s era in 16th century England, which was actually highly influenced by Italian cultural developments, took not only an exemplary role in building scholarship, but also encouraging in creating new literary direction. Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke was an eminent poetess of his era. During the Italian renaissance period, we don’t find great literary works of women in German, but translated works from other languages; e. g. those from 15th century French literary works attract special mention.
But starting from 16th century, daughters of the noble families and aristocrats in Germanic-speaking regions started getting wider scope for advanced education. Personal letters and literary works by ladies of nobility during this era prove this well. Anna (1522-47) the eldest daughter of Phillip Melanchthon was one of these scholarly ladies. Anna Palantin (2nd half of 16th century) could be considered a child prodigy who used to write Latin poems at the age of twelve. But the phenomenal change in the world German women poets is noted first in 17th century with the works of Anna Maria von Schurmann. She was born in Köln and brought up in Netherlands. Naturally she developed skill in many languages. Significance of women intellectual’s becoming famous in those days was that they played the role model before other women in those days. Besides being a painter, engraver and scholar, she used to write erudite poems in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. We can conclude that social reformation and development of new ideology against blind faith during renaissance in neighbouring European regions influenced German women’s cultural and literary progress. Anna Maria’s association to Labadism, a new short lived branch of protestant Christianity is not exceptional, but this proves the importance of religious reforms in Europe in ensuring women’s intellectual freedom there.
“Whatever fills the human mind with uncommon and honest delight is fitting for a human woman.”: Anna Maria von Schurmann On the capacity of the female mind for learning (1640).