Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Lucy Hutchinson, Lucretius and Soteriological Materialism

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Lucy Hutchinson, Lucretius and Soteriological Materialism

Article excerpt

In her biblical creation epic Order and Disorder, Or, The World Made and Undone, the puritanical writer Lucy Hutchinson describes the impact of the Fall upon Adam and Eve:

Storms in all quarters drove away their peace;

Like raging billows on each other roll;

Death's harbingers waste in each province make,

While thundering terrors man's whole island shake.1

Her account focuses on the abstract contents of their "benighted" souls but her images evoke corporeal and environmental violence. Hutchinson's allusions to "storms in all quarters", "raging billows" and "man's whole island", though metaphors for the destabilised human condition, insinuate the closing in of the surrounding natural world - sky, sea and earth - upon its disobedient inhabitants. The transgression that triggered the "Dread, guilt" and "remorse" was the physical act of eating the fruit; subsequently, Adam and Eve experience the resulting emotions and disturbances through corporeal complaint. Hutchinson ties the grievances of the sin so closely to the accompanying corporeal disintegration that it becomes difficult to distinguish between what is cause and what is effect. In the following lines she observes the malfunctioning machine of the human body yet closer, its breakdown both the cause and metaphorical representation of the spiritual loss:

Within, without, disordered in the storm,

The colour fades and tremblings change the form,

Heat melts their substance, cold their joints benumbs (4:237-9)

Physical form has become inconstant. The visible features of the human being become unrecognisable, with all means of identification falling into disorder. This moment parallels the "Disorder" of Hutchinson's title, a material and spiritual unravelling synonymous with the world coming "Undone". The events of Order and Disorder reveal a soteriological reliance upon ordered, stable corporeal being - a steadfast vessel for the uninterrupted flow of divine power - and, consequentially, a fear of mutability and its threat to the status quo.

It is the dread of matter in mutability that dominates Hutchinson's account of the first moments of postlapsarian life. In the following lines, she merges her description of the physical deterioration triggered by sin with language that evokes atomic penetration and dissolution. As Adam and Eve dissolve in sin their bodies no longer retain independent shape amongst the natural objects of their surroundings. They begin to disintegrate while other substances pierce through their skin, as in the description of the futility of their clothes devised from foliage:

But ah! these coverings were too slight and thin

To ward their shame off, or to keep out sin,

Or the keen air's quick-piercing shafts, which through

Both leaves and pores into the bowels flew (4:251-4)2

Some years previously, Hutchinson composed what was likely to have been the first full translation of Titus Lucretius Carus's infamous Epicurean poem, De Rerum Natura. The "quick-piercing shafts" of the air she describes in Order and Disorder recall the motion of Lucretian atoms, moving through the material world and restructuring corporeal forms "by impulsiue force", "perplext agitations" and "secret tumults" (to use the words of Hutchinson's translation).3 Lucretius regularly uses combative metaphors to describe atomic motion, as the above-quoted examples from the second book reveal. In her corporeal narration of the Fall, Hutchinson parallels the Lucretian recognition of transient physical form. According to De Rerum Natura and in Hutchinson's own words, a body disintegrates

When tis assaulted with a stronger blow

Then nature can resist, whence there arrives

A generall tumult in the sence, which driues

The principles away, destroys their site,

And doth all vitall motions impedite,

Chacing all matter through the arteries,

Whose strong concussions, lifes fraile knotts vnties,

And through the pores eiecting the weake soule,

Quick dissolution falls vpon the whole (2:959-67)

She precedes the abrupt statement "lifes fraile knotts vnties" with a disruptive caesura; the effect is similar to the disturbance of poetical order during the Fall in her biblical poem, where the manipulation of "thundering terrors" increases the syllable count and destroys the regular iambic pentameter ("While thundering terrors man's whole island shake"). …

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