Date of Award

Summer 2022

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Dennis A Britton

Second Advisor

Samantha Seal

Third Advisor

Douglas Lanier


As England’s boundaries became increasingly permeable due to expanding intercultural interactions in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, defining what it meant to be “English” became increasingly vital. The English housewife was integral to shaping a national English identity. The creation of a distinctly English housewife, I argue, manifested itself most clearly in what I term “manual culture,” a phenomenon in which manuals were imbued with authority to dictate acceptable behaviors, beliefs, and knowledge for women to have and follow. These domestic and conduct manuals provided instruction on not only how to behave, but also how to maintain healthy minds, bodies, and spirits in and beyond women’s households. My dissertation, “Manual Culture, Women’s Medical Practice, and English Health in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Wroth” argues that early modern English women’s identity was prescribed by manual culture; women’s identity was shaped to help produce a healthy English nation. I also argue that English literature was an essential medium for transmitting precepts of manual culture to wider publics—seen in depictions of women’s care of others’ bodies in the works of Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and Lady Mary Wroth. I focus on women’s medical practices as authorized by manual culture and represented in literature, examining how such practices were interwoven into narratives of national definition. Alongside uncovering relationships between medical knowledge, women’s domestic education, and popular literature, this dissertation provides a history of the confluence between gender and self-help and self-diagnosis culture, of anxieties about the dissemination of truthful medical information, and of debates concerning women’s knowledge and authority over bodies—topics that continue to influence social and political practice.