Gillian Wright. Producing Women's Poetry, 1600-1730: Text and Paratext, Manuscript and Print. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. x + 274 pp. + 5 illus. $99.00. Review by JULIE D. CAMPBELL, EASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY.
In this useful study, Wright focuses on five English poets, Anne Southwell, Anne Bradstreet, Katherine Philips, Anne Finch, and Mary Monck, thus covering figures from the seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries. Dedicating a chapter to each of these women, Wright contextualizes their lives, discusses pertinent manuscript and print practices, and provides detailed close readings of their poetry.
Although she incorporates biographical and paratextual information into her analyses, Wright argues that the scholarship of the 1990s with its focus on canon expansion and modes of writing, as well as more recent scholarship emphasizing the material and paratextual aspects of women's writing, should be less intently pursued; she instead pushes for more focus on "the traditional stuff of literary criticism" (10). She asserts that "after several decades of intensive primary research" scholars should now "take as much account of form, ideas, imagery and genre" as they do of materiality (10), hence her attention to close readings. Regarding her choice of poets, Wright notes that the one factor setting them apart from other women writers of this period is that "in each case, they, or others close to them, were responsible for compiling collections of their poetry" (10). She argues that this distinction is important because "it is testament to the seriousness with which their writing was regarded, either by themselves or by their family and friends" (10). Additionally, she points out that in these cases one may track the "processes of negotiation, exchange and appropriation between manuscript and print through which, in different ways, these women's poetry was constructed, shaped and disseminated" (15).
After warning that biography can be a risky tool when applied to women's writing, Wright notes that biographical factors can indeed "help both to reconstruct the literary and social contexts for Southwell's writing and also to decode the complex textuality of her manuscripts" (18). She examines Southwell's two surviving manuscripts, Folger 198 and Lansdowne 740, asserting that the former, a miscellany, "presents a complex picture of Southwell's literary connections" (45), which she explores. Regarding the latter, the Decalogue poems, she delves into the debate over whether they were meant for presentation to James I or Charles I, pointing out that "there is little definitive evidence either way" (47).
Assessing the responses of "Americanists and feminists" to Bradstreet's poems, Wright considers how both groups seem to find them "embarrassing" (57). She argues that "reading the textuality of The Tenth Muse--its paratexts, its internal organisation, its generic selectivity--is essential to appreciating what Bradstreet's earlier readers, in both Old and New England, valued in her poetry ..." (59-60). She especially discusses at length "The Foure Monarchies," providing interesting considerations of Bradstreet's print sources and generic contemporaries, helping the modern reader better understand the verse history in its historical moment. …