AND CONTRADICTIONS OF LITERARY HISTORY
Christianity provided [nineteenth century women writers] with subject matter, justification and authority for many kinds of writing, but almost always at the price of accepting their inferiority to men and restricting their imaginative and intellectual scope. (Dorothy Mermin, Godiva's Ride, xvii)
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste Brought death into the world, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, Sing Heav'nly Muse… (John Milton, Paradise Lost, I: 1 –6).
The lilies say: Behold how we Preach without words of purity. The violets whisper from the shade Which their own leaves have made: Men scent our fragrance on the air, Yet take no heed Of humble lessons we would read. (Christina Rossetti, “Consider the Lilies of the Field, ” lines 11 –17)
The history of English literary criticism is not without its contradictions. One of the most glaring of these contradictions is the very different critical attention that has been offered to religious poetry written by men and religious poetry written by women. Although the triumphs of the past twenty years of active feminist literary criticism have suggested that women writers deserve as much recognition as the male writers who have been at the center of literary canons for centuries, women's poetry that deals with explicitly religious topics and texts still faces a kind of discriminatory