In the story called Women on the Margins, the recognized author Davis explores the three lives of seventeenth century women. The first – Glikl bas Judah Leib – was Jewish woman that took an active role of a wife, mother, and businesswoman. Her story reflects many joys and hardships she experienced. Apart from these accounts, she also expressed her viewpoints.
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The second woman – Marie Guyart was a Catholic and left her autobiography about her life in the New World upon her son’s request. Finally, Maria Sibylla Merian, a radical Protestant sect supporter and a German artist provided images of insect metamorphoses. At a glance, these women do not have much in common.
However, the author focuses on the very idea of their marginality which makes these females significant in political and social history. Specifically, Davis reveals the way their lives are influenced by religious expectations of the seventeenth century’s society. Emergent forms of Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant spirituality hampers their extraordinary desire to fulfill themselves and spell out their actual needs.
Constant searching within the constraints of traditional female cycle in Modern Europe can be studied on the example of these three women. Within the social stereotypes and expectations in the seventeenth century, all the women followed their cycles. Hence, Glikl, a German Jewish woman was an active wife and mother. Her early marriage does not prevent her from quickly becoming independent and wealthy (Davis 18).
She had eight children which, according to her opinion and overall expectations, should marry successfully. She also carried business with her husband because she wanted to stay afloat. So, her unions with her first and second husbands were a kind of mercenary marriages. Marie de l’Incarnation was a Christian woman who also married a Christian man (Davis 115). Therefore, she never abandoned religious boundaries because of adherence to strict principle of religious morale.
Finally, Maria Sybilla Marian was among the woman who managed to put all stereotypical judgments aside and leave her husband for the sake of what she indeed love – art (141). All these women, therefore, chose either to follow the established beliefs in society or stick to personal interests.
With regard to the above-presented storylines, the marital status was decisive in assigning women with specific roles in society. In particular, female life cycle is considered as “overly physical and marriage-oriented, lending too little credence to women’s intellects or decisions” (Wiesner 52).
Therefore, the fact that Maria was heavily criticized by the religiously predetermined society is justified. In this respect, Davis writers that Maria “is a harder person pin down than [other women], since she left behind no autobiography, confessional letters or artist’s self-portrait” (141). Her entomological texts included first person sentences that depict the world around her.
Overall, all the women to a less or more extent were under the influence of vocational and religious spirituality of that time. Their conscious decisions to follow the established rules were predetermined by extensive affiliation to strict morale of Christianity. Despite the settled norms, the heroines still managed to build the relationships they fashioned from themselves.
Thus, Glikl was more focused on free relationships and independence, Marie was obsessed with established morale concerning the marital status whereas Maria was more concerned with personal development and, therefore, she left her first husband. The seventeenth century’s society, therefore, was the measure of their actions, as well as the major judge who assigned specific qualities to such kind of women.
Davis, Natalie Zemon. Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives. US: Harvard University Press, 1995. Print.
Wiesner, Merry E. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.