Miscarriage, elegy, and an alternative reading of Lady Mary Wroth's sonnets as public documents

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jae Kim Haley (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Amy Vines

Abstract: The "myth of Judith Shakespeare," or the belief that women in the early modern period did not write, persists even in today's scholarship and in anthologies that, if they do include early modern female authors, regard these women as anomalies. Lady Mary Wroth, author of an entire sonnet sequence, a play, and a complete prose romance, is one example of a woman writer who, despite her considerable literary output, has nevertheless been labeled by some scholars as a silent female author of the private realm, creatively stifled by her culture, and afraid of publication. I argue instead that Wroth should be considered a public author who actively participated within her literary community and circulated her texts among others. To make this claim, I evaluate her sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus through the lens of her miscarriage trope, a highly unusual poetic figuration in the early modern period when miscarriages were scarcely mentioned in literature. By analyzing Wroth's miscarriage trope, we may observe a number of rhetorical and thematic similarities between Wroth's poetry and other works from the Sidney literary circle, of which Wroth was a member. As both a product of and a departure from the literature of her contemporaries, Wroth's miscarriage trope demonstrates her public dialogue with others. Secondly, the miscarriage trope reveals that Wroth is indebted to the seventeenth-century elegy genre and especially maternal child loss poetry. Wroth's borrowing from the elegiac genre also attests to her interaction with her community and most importantly allows her to prepare her manuscript for circulation using many of the same rhetorical strategies as mothers writing about the deaths of their children. If Wroth can be read in such a way that at least partially erodes the perception of her as a private author, then it seems likely that other female writers of the early modern period might have desired publication as well. This thesis encourages a more nuanced approach to other seventeenth-century female authors and their texts that is not constrained by an antiquated view of literary history in the early modern period.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Elegy, Mary Wroth, Miscarriage, Private, Public
Wroth, Mary, $c Lady, $d approximately 1586-approximately 1640 $x Criticism and interpretation
Women and literature $z England $x History $y 17th century
English literature $x Women authors $x History and criticism
Women in literature $y 17th century

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