Royalist Women Writers, 1650-1689

Royalist Women Writers, 1650-1689

Royalist Women Writers, 1650-1689

Royalist Women Writers, 1650-1689

Synopsis

Royalist Women Writers aims to put women back on the map of seventeenth-century royalist literature from which they have habitually been marginalised. Looking in detail at the work of Margaret Cavendish, Katherine Philips, and Aphra Behn, it argues that their writings inaugurate a moreassertive model of the Englishwoman as literary author, which is crucially enabled by their royalist affiliations. Chalmers reveals new political sub-texts in the three writers' work and shows how these inflect their representations of gender. In this way both their texts and manner of presentingthemselves as authors emerges as freshly pertinent to their male and female royalist contemporaries for whom supporting them could be an act of political self-definition.

Excerpt

1653 constitutes a landmark in the history of Englishwomen’s writing. For, in that year, Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle, published her first printed work, Poems and Fancies, and began an authorial career which was to break new ground on numerous fronts. First, she voiced an unprecedentedly bold promotion of herself as a female author. Secondly, she was the first Englishwoman to publish a large collection of secular texts, eagerly embracing the medium of print. Thirdly, her work spanned a wider variety of genres than any of her countrywomen to date, including a range of recognizably literary forms from verse to prose fiction, epistolary writing and plays.

This study has its roots in the desire to investigate the historical and literary conditions which enabled such an occurrence and, specifically, in the realization of the vital role played by royalism in fostering Cavendish’s startling emergence. There was certainly a marked upturn in women’s printed publication during the 1640s and 1650s but the majority of texts emanate from the participation of dissenting women in sectarian religious activities such as preaching, prophesying, or producing spiritual autobiographies. Margaret Cavendish’s works clearly inaugurate the possibility of a very different model: the woman with a public reputation as an avowedly literary author moving beyond the

I have used the title by which Cavendish is most commonly known although her husband, the marquis of Newcastle, did not receive his dukedom until 1665, see Sara Mendelson, The Mental Worlds of Stuart Women: Three Studies (Brighton: Harvester, 1987), 50.

See Patricia Crawford, ‘Women’s Published Writings, 1600-1700’, in Mary Prior (ed.), Women in English Society, 1500-1800 (London: Methuen, 1985), 211-82 (fig. 7.1, 212, 213, 221-3, appendix 2, table 7.3, 269); Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing 1649-1688 (London: Virago, 1988), 26-45, 66-74; Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1992); Keith Thomas, ‘Women and the Civil War Sects’, Past and Present, 13 (1958), 42-62.

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