Pathways to agency: women writers and radical thought in the Low Countries, 1500–1800

Marrigje Paijmans*, Feike Dietz, Nina Geerdink, Inger Leemans, Cécile de Morrée, Martine Veldhuizen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous studies of radical thinkers have brought us few examples of female radicals from the Low Countries, even if the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic was a hub for radical thought which offered a relatively female-friendly climate. In this article, we explore how new perspectives and modes of analysis, better adjusted to the restrictions and opportunities women experienced, make women’s radical thought visible. By doing so, we aim to present a more balanced perspective on what might count as female radical thought in the early modern Low Countries (1500–1800). Starting from the notion of “agency,” we analyze the life, work and relations of three Dutch authors, as well as representations of female radicalism in two literary works, in order to rebalance the notion of radicalism in a woman’s world. Anna Bijns, Meynarda Verboom and Margaretha van Dijk were not radically disruptive in the sense of operating completely outside of male-dominated domains. Instead, they gained agency by negotiating their position in patriarchal knowledge systems and by bending conventions within male-dominated networks so that their voices could be heard. To understand these voices, it is necessary to disconnect “being radical” from “the amount of disruption caused” by female agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-71
Number of pages21
JournalIntellectual History Review
Issue number1
Early online date4 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • agency
  • Dutch literature
  • radical thought
  • the Low Countries
  • Women’s writing


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