I've discovered an interesting book entitled Attending to Women In Early Modern England which is edited by Betty Travitsky and Adele Seeff. This book contains a section written by Susan Dwyer Amussen that gives insight into how modern historians and all other interested parties are able to determine the truth about the lives of women in the early modern period. The title is "Elizabeth I and Alice Balstone: Gender, Class, and the Exceptional Woman in Early Modern England." Within this discourse Amussen makes the point that all that we know about women from this period is either what they have written or what was written about them. This of course leaves us with only the stories of the literate aristocratic women, and the court documents regarding the lower class, poor women. We have little evidence of the daily life of the average woman in Early Modern England. Amussen also states that while Elizabeth I could clearly not represent the average woman, neither can the poor, vagrant Alice Balstone. Both of these women were exceptions to the average. She states that in order to determine the life of average women we must focus on "implicit and explicit norms" within the narratives of the period (227). She states that "All our evidence about the past reflects someone's attempt to tell a story, so we must pay attention to narrative strategies" (230). This is of course what we are doing in class. We are focusing on 'the monstrous' in the literature of the period so that we are better able to recognize the normal. We are able to tell from the language used within these narratives what aspects of certain crimes made them appear monstrous to the people within Early Modern England.
Amussen, Susan Dwyer. “Elizabeth I and Alice Balstone: Gender, Class, and the Exceptional
Woman in Early Modern England.” Attending to Women in Early Modern England.
Ed. Betty S. Travitsky and Adele F. Seef. Newark, NJ: U of Delaware P., 1994.