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Groupe de recherches du Centre de Recherches Anglophones, EA 370
Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense


Women and curiosity

Annonce et actualité

1Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3 (PEARL-PRISMES, EA 4398, Epistémè)

2Université Paris Ouest Nanterre (CREA 370, Quarto)

3Organizers :

4Line Cottegnies (Sorbonne Nouvelle)

5Sandrine Parageau (Université Paris Ouest)

6The multiplication of cabinets of curiosities and the obsession with novelty are evidence of the development of a “culture of curiosity” in the early modern period. While curiosity had long been considered as an intellectual vice, associated with hybris and the original sin, and described by Augustine as “lust of the eyes”, it became a virtue in the 17th century. One of the main reasons for this transformation was the continued efforts of natural philosophers to demonstrate that curiosity was morally acceptable in order to legitimize their scientific endeavour. Francis Bacon and his followers thus insisted on the code of conduct of natural philosophers, the usefulness of the knowledge they were seeking and the discrepancy between their own research and occult sciences. All of them championed the “good curiosity” of the natural philosophers, as opposed to the “bad curiosity” of men and women interested in magic, and in trivial and superficial matters.

7If there was indeed a “rehabilitation of curiosity” in the early modern period, did it have any impact on women’s desire for knowledge? The emergence of women philosophers at the time (Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Lady Ranelagh, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Catherine of Sweden, Damaris Masham, Mary Astell, Catherine Trotter, etc.) may indicate that their curiosity was now considered as legitimate and morally acceptable – or at least that it was tolerated. Yet it has been suggested that the new status of curiosity in the early modern period led instead to an even stronger distrust for women, who were both prone to curiosity and curiosities themselves. The June 2013 conference on “Women and Curiosity” aims at assessing the impact of the alledged “rehabilitation of curiosity” on women in the early modern period, by analysing discourses on women as enquirers and objects of curiosity. Iconographic and fictional representations of curious women and female curiosity might also give an insight into the relations between women and curiosity in the early modern period (for example, Cesare Ripa’s allegory of curiosity as “a huge, wild-haired, winged woman” in Iconologia (1593), or representations of emblematic curious women such as Eve, Dinah, Pandora, etc.). The origins of these discourses and representations, as well as their premises, might also be investigated: to what extent did the condemnation of women’s curiosity reveal a fear of disorder and transgression? Did it betray male anxiety about female sexuality or about the mystery of birth? Was it justified by medical interpretations of curiosity, such as a specific humoural condition?

8Women’s own conception of curiosity / curiosities in the early modern period might also be of interest, especially as it is rarely studied. The conference on “Women and Curiosity” will thus give us the opportunity to focus on what women themselves wrote about curiosity in their treatises, fictional works, translations, and correspondences. Did women writers consider curiosity as intrinsically female? How did they react to male discourses on women as enquirers and objects of curiosity? What representations of curiosity did they give in their texts?

  1. Friday, June 21st

9Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense

10200 avenue de la République 92001 Nanterre

11(RER A, Nanterre-Université)

12Building V, room V410

139h45: Welcome

    1. 10h00: Opening remarks by Cornelius Crowley, director of CREA, EA370, Paris Ouest

    1. 10h15-11h30: Session 1 – Introducing female curiosity (Chair: N. Kenny)

14Sandrine Parageau (Paris Ouest): “ ‘She will needs see, and be seen’: women as curiosities and curiose in Early Modern England”

15Sue Wiseman (Birkbeck College, London): “Gender, myth and investigation”

16Coffee break

    1. 11h45-13h00: Session 2 – Forms of female curiosity (Chair: S. Wiseman)

17Myriam Marrache-Gouraud (Poitiers): “Women and their cabinets of curiosities in Early Modern France: a visible minority?”

18Laura Levine (Tisch School of the Arts, New York University): “Spectacles of doubt: Witchcraft and curiosity”


    1. 14h30-15h45:  Session 3 – Eve and co: Biblical contexts (Chair: L. Cottegnies)

20Yan Brailowsky (Paris Ouest): “From Genesitic curiosity to murderous gynocracy in the sixteenth century”

21Paul Davis (UCL, London): “Eve and Curiosity in Milton’s Paradise Lost

22Coffee break

    1. 16h00-17h15: Session 4 – Curiosity and fiction (Chair: G. Venet)

23Aurélie Griffin (Angers): “Women in Mary Wroth’s Urania: From Objects of Curiosity to Curious Subjects”

24Edith Girval (Sorbonne Nouvelle): “Pandora’s sisters: The curious women of Aphra Behn’s fiction”

  1. Saturday, June 22nd

25Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

26Centre Censier, 13 rue de Santeuil, 75005 Paris


28Room 410

299h30: Opening by Line Cottegnies, director of Epistémè/PRISMES, EA 4398, Sorbonne Nouvelle

    1. 9h30-10h45:  Session 5 – Female curiosity and Society (Chair: C. Sukic)

30Neil Kenny (All Souls’ College, Oxford): “Curiosity, women, and the social orders”

31Joanna Ludwikowska-Leniec (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan): “Protecting Eve’s daughters: postmedieval approaches to women in Richard Allestree’s The Ladies’ Calling (1673) and Cotton Mather’s Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion (1692)”

32Coffee break

    1. 11h00-12h45: Session 6 – The curious female reader  (Chair: S. Parageau)

33Laetitia Coussement-Boillot (Paris Diderot): “ ‘Too curious a secrecy’: curiousness, curiosity and vanity in Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania

34Sarah Hutton (AberystwythUniversity, Wales): “Questions and curiosity: the interrogative Anne Conway”

35Line Cottegnies (Sorbonne Nouvelle): “Margaret Cavendish or the curious reader”


Pour citer ce document

, «Women and curiosity», Quarto [En ligne], Qui sommes-nous?, Actualités, URL :
mis à jour le : 07/11/2013.