“ How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her Sonnets from the Portuguese. Desiring Voices: Women Sonneteers and Petrarchism proposes that we attend to the ways that women poets from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries have both echoed and transformed the literary and erotic conventions that strongly influenced their fates as women, wives, and lovers.
Mary B. Moore analyzes and provides context for love sonnet sequences by Italian, French, English, and American women poets in the light of current knowledge concerning attitudes towards women at the time they wrote. Through close readings of the poems combined with theory and criticism about constructs of women, historical events, and biographical contexts, Moore reveals patterns of revision among women poets that shed further light on the poets themselves, on Petrarchism as a convention, and on ideas about women. She focuses on Petrarchan sonnet sequences by women because the poems serve both as works of art and as documents that illuminate the range and limitations of female roles as erotic subjects (agents of speech, action, knowledge, and desire) as well as their more usual roles as erotic objects.
Combining theory with close reading, Moore enhances the value of many generally neglected poems by women. After a thorough discussion of the Petrarchan sonnet tradition, she analyzes the work of Gaspara Stampa, Louise Labé , Lady Mary Wroth, Charlotte Smith, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.