David L. Orvis and Ryan Singh Paul, Eds.: The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips: A Poetics of Culture, Politics, and Friendship

By Lewton-Brain, Anna | Seventeenth-Century News, Fall-Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

David L. Orvis and Ryan Singh Paul, Eds.: The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips: A Poetics of Culture, Politics, and Friendship


Lewton-Brain, Anna, Seventeenth-Century News


David L. Orvis and Ryan Singh Paul, eds. The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips: A Poetics of Culture, Politics, and Friendship. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2015. ix + 454 pp. $60. Review by Anna Lewton-Brain, McGill University.

In her short life (1632-1664), Katherine Philips (nee Fowler) composed some 125 poems, translated two plays by Pierre Corneille, became England's first female playwright to have her work performed on a public stage, adapted lyrics out of French and Italian songs, and exchanged letters with the intellectual and political elite of her day (her letters to Sir Charles Cotterell, e.g., were published in 1705). Despite her obviously significant contribution to seventeenth-century English literary culture, surprisingly, The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips: A Poetics of Culture, Politics, and Friendship is "the first scholarly collection devoted to [her] poetry" (7). This collection of essays, edited by David L. Orvis and Ryan Singh Paul, seeks to remedy this oversight and "to demonstrate the 'state of the art' in [Philips] scholarship at the present moment" (7).

In their extensive (40-page) introduction, which begins with a brief and informative biography of Philips's life, Orvis and Paul provide a detailed literature review of the history of Philips scholarship. They remind us that, although Philips was "rediscovered" in the early twentieth century by George Saintsbury who "included her in the first volume of his Minor Poets of the Caroline Period' (published in 1905), it was not until "the feminist, lesbian, gay and queer critics ... in the 1980s and 1990s marshaled her works into debates at the intersections of gender, sexuality, politics, and religion" that Philips's reputation as a major poet of the seventeenth century was restored (6). Recent Philips scholarship has thus been concerned with "recognition of Philips as an innovator" and with "questions of [female] desire and sexual identity" (9).

This collection combines five reprinted essays on Philips (by Catherine Gray, Paula Loscocco, Elizabeth Hodgson, Valerie Traub, and Lorna Hutson) that helped shape the current field of study with five new essays (by Christopher Orchard, David L. Orvis, Amy Scott-Douglass, Linda Phyllis Austern, and Harriette Andreadis) that take that foundational work further and in new directions. The editors identify three areas of inquiry in the essays: "(1) cultural poetics and/ or the courtly coterie; (2) innovation and influence in poetic and political form; and (3) articulations of female friendship, homoeroticism, and retreat" (35). There are, however, no partitions indicated between groups of essays. Instead, each of the reprinted essays is prefaced by a contextualizing note by either the author herself or the editors, providing the critical background of the original publication, or indicating how Philips scholarship has developed since the original publication. These forewords will be useful for a reader who intends to read only selections from this collection, though a reader of the complete collection may notice in them some repetition of material already covered in the book's introduction.

The first four essays take up the question of Katherine Philips's Royalist sympathies and her coterie readership. In her reprinted essay, "Katherine Philips and the Post-Courtly Coterie" (41-63), Catherine Gray argues that Philips's Royalism is colored by her proto-feminism. She makes the case that Philips both supports Royal hierarchy and simultaneously undercuts hierarchical gender norms in her Platonist ideas of female friendship, noting how, for example, for Philips, women of different classes can be friends (61). In his new essay, "The Failure of Royalist Heroic Virtue" (65-86), Christopher Orchard complicates the issue of Philip's Royalism by attending to Philips's "volatility of feeling and shifts in political affiliations" (67). He argues that for Philips, the value of virtuous friendship supersedes her political leanings (84). …

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