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Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
Subjects: HQ, D204
This thesis seeks to show that there were alchemical writings associated with women from Italy, France, the Swiss Cantons and England which originated in the period 1560 to 1616, and that these writings were read, translated, circulated, and referred to, at least up to 1660. The main evidence is provided by case studies: a printed book of secrets by Isabella Cortese (Venice, 1561); a sequence of late sixteenth and early seventeenth century manuscripts associated with Madame de la Martinville and Quercitan’s daughter (Jeanne du Port); and material, including an alchemical receipt book, associated with Lady Margaret Clifford (1560-1616). Supporting evidence suggests these women represent a wider participation of women in philosophical and practical alchemy, and adds to the evidence for evaluating women's participation in early modern philosophy and science. Women apparently read and wrote about alchemy, and assisted its diffusion through their work as editors, compilers, translators and patrons.\ud \ud The thesis compares writings from different genres and languages, and addresses issues such as the problem of defining alchemy, complexities of textual interpretation, and the difficulty of ascertaining women’s authorship or symbolic representation. Through a comparative process, the thesis discusses possible reasons for representations of women's alchemical practice based in key cultural themes: Paracelsian ideas, ambiguous readings of texts, women’s education, spiritual practice and household work, and their liaison with male experts and European networks. The underlying association of the alchemical metaphor of knowledge, that the material world could be returned to a perfected heavenly state, is interpreted with varying sophistication.\ud \ud The thesis considers how these women accommodated gender to alchemical philosophy. It suggests that there was scope for ambiguous interpretation, both of alchemical\ud texts and of shared injunctions for early modern women and medieval alchemist monks to be silent, chaste, and obedient. Women may have used alchemy as an area in which to resist passivity and demonstrate their agency.
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    • Patai, Raphael, 'Maria the Jewess, Founding Mother of Alchemy', Ambix, 29 (1982), 177- 197.
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