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Jane Anger


Jane Anger, author of JANE ANGER her Protection for Women is believed to have been the first female voice to enter the sphere of pamphlet writing in 16th Century England.  As noted within the work, Anger wrote in 1688 and published the following year in 1689, however, our knowledge of the author ends here. It is unclear whether Jane Anger refers to an actual person or is a shockingly appropriate pseudonym.  Anger is a family name found in records of England at this time and several Jane or Joan Angers have been found, but historians are unable to attribute the work to any of these individuals (Burke). Some argue that Jane Anger may have even been a man writing under a female pseudonym, arguing a defense of women using the “we women” voice for a stronger argument.

The work is explicitly written in response to an earlier pamphlet, one published shortly before Anger began her work; but there is controversy over to whom she was responding.  Frequent references to the “surfeiting lover” suggest that she was writing in response to Boke his Surfeyt in love – Jane mentions the title of Boke twice – however, no copies of the text remain today.  All that is known is that Anger and the author of Boke his Surfeyt in love shared a publisher by the name of Thomas Orwin.  Some even speculate that Orwin himself hired Anger to stir up controversy and increase his own profits (O’Malley et al.).  Helen Kahin, however, suggests that John Lyly’s Eupheus his Censure to Philuatus may have been Jane’s offender.  Lyly’s work also mentions the surfeiting lover, and it is even possible that he drew on Boke his Surfeyt in love when writing his own work (Kahin).  It gives credence to Anger’s voice that even cloaked in so much anonymity and speculation, her work survives as one of the strongest calls for proto-feminist ideals in the 16th century. 


JANE ANGER her Protection for Women


“The desire that every man hath to shewe his true vaine in writing is unspeakable, and their mindes are so caried away with the manner, as no care at all is had of the matter: they run so into Rethorick, as often times they overrun the boundes of their own wits, and goe they knowe not whether. If they have stretched their invention so hard on a last, as it is at a stand, there remaines but one help, which is, to write of us women: If they may once encroch so far into our presence, as they may but see the lyning of our outermost garment, they straight think that Apollo honours them, in yeelding so good a supply to refresh their sore overburdened heads, through studying for matters to indite off. And therfore that the God may see how thankfully they receive his liberality, (their wits whetted, and their braines almost broken with botching his bountie) they fall straight to dispraising and slaundering our silly sex. But judge what the cause should be, of this their so great malice towards simple women. Doubtles the weaknesse of our wits, and our honest bashfulnesse, by reason wherof they suppose that there is not one amongst us who can, or dare reproove their slanders and false reproches: their slaunderous tongues are so short, and the time wherin they have lavished out their wordes freely, hath bene so long, that they know we cannot catch hold of them to pull them out, and they think we wil not write to reproove their lying lips: which conceites have already made them cockes and wolde (should they not be cravened) make themselves among themselves bee thought to be of the game. They have bene so daintely fed with our good natures, that like jades (their stomackes are grown so quesie) they surfeit of our kindnes. If we wil not suffer them to smell on our smockes, they will snatch at our peticotes: but if our honest natures cannot away with that uncivil kinde of jesting then we are coy: yet if we beare with their rudenes, and be somwhat modestly familiar with them, they will straight make matter of nothing, blazing abroad that they have surfeited with love, and then their wits must be showen in telling the maner how.”

“The creation of man and woman at the first, hee being formed In principio of drosse and filthy clay, did so remaine until God saw that in him his workmanship was good, and therfore by the transformation of the dust which was loathsome unto flesh, it became purified. Then lacking a help for him, GOD making woman of mans fleshe, that she might bee purer then he, doth evidently showe, how far we women are more excellent then men. Our bodies are fruitefull, wherby the world encreaseth, and our care wonderful, by which man is preserved. From woman sprang mans salvation. A woman was the first that beleeved, & a woman likewise the first that repented of sin. In women is onely true Fidelity: (except in her) there is constancie, and without her no Huswifery. In the time of their sicknes we cannot be wanted, & when they are in health we for them are most necessary. They are comforted by our means: they nourished by the meats we dresse: their bodies freed from diseases by our cleanlines, which otherwise would surfeit unreasonably through their own noisomnes. Without our care they lie in their beds as dogs in litter, & goe like lowsie Mackarell swimming in the heat of sommer. They love to go hansomly in their apparel, and rejoice in the pride thereof, yet who is the cause of it, but our carefulnes, to see that every thing about them be curious. Our virginitie makes us vertuous, our conditions curteous, & our chastitie maketh our truenesse of love manifest. They confesse we are necessarie, but they would have us likewise evil. That they cannot want us I grant: yet evill I denie: except onely in the respect of man, who (hating all good things, is onely desirous of that which is ill, through whose desire, in estimation of conceit we are made ill. But least some shuld snarle on me, barking out this reason: that none is good but God, and therfore women are ill. I must yeeld that in that respect we are il, & affirm that men are no better, seeing we are so necessarie unto them. It is most certain, that if we be il, they are worse: for Malum malo additum efficit malum peius: & they that use il worse then it shold be, are worse then the il.”


Cited as the first female voice to enter the sphere of pamphlets in 16th Century England, Jane Anger faced a void in conversation that was formerly filled only with male voices.  Even those pamphlets arguing for the protection of women came from the male sector of the population.  While it is historically unclear what Anger’s actual sex was, the author regardless writes using a female voice and employs a tactic of solidarity with the feminine in her writing (Shepherd). The intended audience of Jane Anger’s proto-feminist pamphlet is fairly clear – in fact, she states it within her argument, addressing “The Gentlewomen of England” in the first title and “all Women in general” in a later title following the introduction.  In light of certain aspects of the pamphlet, however, one must ask who Anger’s true audience was.  Speaking to a collectively feminine “we” Anger seeks to “conjure you all to aid and assist me in defence of my willingness.”  Undoubtedly, throughout the work, the general wit with which she makes her argument speaks perfectly to her theses that women are both necessary to men’s survival and at the mercy of man’s self-inflated opinions. Conversely, the rhetorical style with which she makes her argument seems to speak more to a learned male faction of the population than to the typical Gentlewoman of England.   

Anger makes her own intelligence and vast education clear to the audience using frequent references to mythology and criticisms of masculine rhetoric, claiming of men, “often times they overrun the boundaries of their own wit and goe they know no whether…there remains one help, which is, to write of us women.”  Throughout the pamphlet, stories of such Greek figures as Sardanapalus and Hercules serve to give a historical foundation to the oppression of women, characterize men as brash and selfish, and give support to the author’s academic status.  This section of the pamphlet works as a more direct attack on the masculine, using the feminist idea of the male gaze long before the term was ever coined.  Anger expounds on an argument still very much alive in today’s feminist literature – “if our honest natures cannot away with that uncivil kinde of jesting then we are coy: yet if we beare with their rudeness, and be somewhat modestly familiar with them, they wull straight make matter out of nothing.”

Later references to religious histories, specifically the story of Genesis, further work to undercut male power.  Anger points out that while Adam was created from impure dirt, God made Eve from the purified body of Adam to comfort and save him.  Here, Anger speaks more directly to the female population in a context which they are familiar, but pushes against social boundaries of her sex by questioning the accepted male religious authorities.  In suggesting that “GOD making woman of man’s fleshe, that she might be purer than he, doth evidently showe, how far we women are more excellent than men,” Anger the stigma attached to the fall of Eve.  Eve was created by a man from a man, and later tricked by a man into sinning.  She was the first to repent and now serves to comfort and protect man, yet man takes the glory and blames the fall on woman.

To enter the sphere of pamphlet writing, specifically concerning affairs of the sexes is a bold step forward for a woman of 16th century England.  Though we do not know of her origins, Anger’s work has made a large impact due to clever rhetoric, learned examples, and a wide scope of audience paving the way for future pamphlet conversation (Lawrence-Mathers and Hardman).  Her writing to women actually serves as a writing to England in which she champions an under represented population and gives a genuinely female voice to issues of the sexes. 


Burke, Mary. Women, Writing, and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain. Syracuse University Press, 2000. Print.

Kahin, Helen Andrews. “Jane Anger and John Lyly.” Modern Language Quarterly 8 (1947): 31–35. Print.

Lawrence-Mathers, Anne, and Phillipa Hardman. Women and Writing, C.1340-c.1650: the Domestication of Print Culture. Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 2010. Print. Manuscript Culture in the British Isles;

O’Malley, Susan Gushee et al. Defences of Women: Jane Anger, Rachel Speght, Ester Sowernam, and Constantia Munda. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996. Print. Early Modern Englishwoman: a Facsimile Library of Essential Works. Printed Writings, 1500-1640;

Shepherd, Simon. The Women’s Sharp Revenge: Five Womens Pamphlets from the Renaissance. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Print.