Abstract: In the late Renaissance in England and France women appropriated classical rhetorical theory for their own purposes, creating a revised version that presented discourse as modeled on conversation rather than public speaking. In Les Femmes Illustres (1642), Conversations Sur Divers Sujets (1680), and Conversations Nouvelles sur Divers Sujets, Dediées Au Roy (1684), Madeleine de Scudéry adapted classical rhetorical theory from Cicero, Quintilian, Aristotle, and the sophists to a theory of salon conversation and letter writing. In The Worlds Olio (1655), Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, feminizes rhetoric by analogies from women's experience and inserts women into empiricist rhetoric by assuming discourse based on conversation rather than public speaking. In Women's Speaking Justified (1667), Margaret Fell revises sermon rhetorics, claiming preaching for women, but preaching in private spaces, in the Quaker prophetic fashion. In A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1701), Mary Astell adapts Augustine, proposing a women's college to promote a “Holy Conversation”, and a rhetoric of written discourse treating writer and reader as conversational partners. These women use categories of the ideal woman to contest the gendering of discourse in their culture, questioning “private” and “public” as defining terms for communication.
- Copyright 1998, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric