Jennifer Munroe. Gender and the Garden in Early Modern English Literature. Burlington: Ashgate , 2008. vii+137 pp. ISBN: 978 0 7546 5826 9.

 Lindsay E. Sherrier
Tulane University

 Lindsay E. Sherrier. “Review of Jennifer Munroe, Gender and the Garden in Early Modern English Literature." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 13.1-6 <URL:>

  1. By focusing on the garden – both the physical space and the literary representation – Jennifer Munroe’s Gender and the Garden highlights the subordination of women in male literary works on gardening and how women, in turn, attempt to renegotiate the social space through their own contribution to the field.  While several scholars have analyzed the metaphorical quality of gardens in the works of Spenser, Lanyer and Wroth, Munroe’s study adds to the discussion by comparing these literary gardens with the texts about literal gardens (texts by such husbandry authors as John Fitzherbert, Thomas Tusser and Thomas Hill), and in so doing exposes the tension between the literary representation of women as gardeners and their actual, extensive contribution to the art.

  2. Munroe argues that the literary texts about gardening at this time offered a gendered discourse where women (and socially lower men) were subjugated.  The superiority of the male was reinforced in the practice and instruction of gardening: elaborate and extensive gardens were cultivated by men, while women were relegated to lesser, more domestic gardens.  However, by her use of Henri Lefebvre’s three-part model on the production of space, Munroe examines the tension between the garden literature of men and the actual experience of women.  She maintains that referring only to the literary texts reinforces the misconception of the way in which gardening might actually have taken place.  Munroe shows that, while male authors denoted the ways in which women could function in the garden, women of the elite were able to subvert this type of patriarch and could even be superior to their male counterparts in their gardening skills.  The garden, though ideally a domain for the male, became open for feminine creativity, as both a physical place and a literary device. 

  3. Chapter 1 introduces the gardening tradition of the period (shaped by the increase of enclosures), and analyzes the beginnings of gardening literature.  The husbandry tradition introduced through The Gardener’s Company charter is shown as “a masculine enterprise” through its consignment of gender-specific roles and directions (26).  Munroe uses the works of Fitzherbert, Tusser and Hill to show the subordination of women in gardening, through a diminishing of their powers or complete exclusion, and how this was in tension with women’s actual practices. Women participated in the garden experience and eventually became more proactive, which led to a revaluation of their gendered roles because of the creative license that is inherent in gardening.

  4. In Chapter 2 Munroe discusses the work of Spenser, showing how A View of the State of Ireland is an extension of male authority in gardening through the colonization of the Irish.  Ireland served as an extension to the male dominance of cultivated land and again, reinforced the notion of authority over the feminine through control of nature.  Though this sense of male dominance is complicated by the presence of a female monarch, Queen Elizabeth, Munroe argues that Spenser reconciles this tension through the representation of two types of women in his The Faerie Queene.  She refers to “the destructive seductress” whose “gardens must be destroyed” and the “chaste yet powerful woman” who flourishes in the gardens of the masculine poet (11). 

  5. Chapters 3 and 4 offer a counterpoint to the male-dominant literature on gardening, as  Munroe compares the works of Amelia Lanyer and Lady Mary Wroth to exemplify her argument that gardening serves as a revaluation of the feminine role.  Chapter 3 discusses Lanyer’s attempt to counteract the inheritance laws of property by offering gardens as a place of refuge for women.  Chapter 4 discusses Wroth’s demonstration of the ability of women to be creative in the otherwise forbidden realm of literature. Wroth uses images of gardening and needlework to create this feminine space within literature. The double-bind here, however, is recognized: although women are able to use writing as a creative outlet, mobility in this space is limited by the patriarch.

  6. Though the complexity and ambitiousness of her theory could be daunting, Munroe’s consistent and clever textual analysis of a variety of works supports her theoretical framework. Furthermore, Gender and the Garden offers an expansion on the relationship between gender, landscape and literature.  While Roy Strong’s The Renaissance Garden in England and David R. Coffin’s many books focused on real garden aesthetics and scholars like John Dixon Hunt and Harry Berger Jr. have focused on the literary garden, Munroe’s book is significant in the way it brings these two perspectives together and further focuses on gardening practice.  This focus on the actual distribution of the physical garden space in comparison to the written discourse makes Munroe’s book a unique and enlightened contribution to the study of gender in early modern literature.




Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at

© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).