THE WORTH OF WOMEN by Moderata Fonte


Wherein Is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men
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 Literary proof that when it comes to male-female relationships, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Newly translated by Cox (Italian/Cambridge), The Worth of Women was written in late-16th-century Venice by Fonte, a poet who died in childbirth in 1592, at the age of 37. This edition includes a long introduction about various literary conventions and historical facts that, while interesting to scholars and vital to giving a reader the context for the prose that is to come, will scare off the less dedicated reader. That's a shame, for Fonte's is witty writing. She is exceptionally adept at the classic Renaissance convention of the literary dialogue. Using the conceit of seven Venetian noblewomen of varying ages and marital status, gathering in a garden to debate, among other points, men's inferiority to women, Fonte paints a vivid picture of yesteryear, an era whose themes ring true today (``Men are just like unlit lamps,'' claims one of the seven, ``in themselves, they are no good for anything, but, when lit, they can be handy to have around the house''). Infidelity, gambling, and other vices and flaws are just a few of the topics Fonte's women discuss. Beyond the clever bantering and debate, there is also a lovely reminder of the power of language. At one point, one of the women describes the fickleness of young men's love by noting, ``Their love is no more than a flash in the pan; their loyalty a laugh in a tavern; their devotion, a day out hunting the hare; their fine appearance, a peacock's tail.'' Certainly not a book destined for the mainstream. But for scholars, history buffs, and readers who like to mix their contemporary selections with the unusual, The Worth of Women is a satisfying sidetrip.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-226-25681-2
Page count: 290pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997