Early
Lady Mary Wroth. The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania. Ed. Josephine A. Roberts; completed by Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999. ISBN 0 86698 253 1.
Bernadette Andrea
University of Texas at San Antonio
bandrea@utsa.edu

Andrea, Bernadette. "Review of Lady Mary Wroth, The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.2 (September, 2001): 12.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/07-2/andrearev.htm>.

  1. Since the belated revival of Mary Wroth's early seventeenth century oeuvre during the late twentieth century--marked especially by Roberts's pioneering effort in producing The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania (1995)--students of Wroth have eagerly awaited the publication of the manuscript continuation of the Urania, which is housed as a unique holograph edition in the Newberry Library, Chicago. Roberts, whose brilliant career as a committed Wroth scholar was cut short by her untimely death in 1996, stood at the forefront of recovering a text obscured by Jacobean opposition to women's publication and subsequent scholarly inattention to publishing women in seventeenth-century England. Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller continued the work begun by Roberts to issue The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania as an impressive scholarly edition sponsored by the Renaissance English Text Society in conjunction with the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. With this publication, Wroth's complete oeuvre of published and unpublished works may be accessed in modern print editions.

  2. Gossett and Mueller frame The Second Part of the . . . Urania with a Textual Introduction that addresses the challenges of editing Wroth's manuscript in particular, and seventeenth-century women's writing more generally. In addition to the detailed Textual Introduction, this edition is generously supplied with illustrations from the holograph manuscript and select maps to help situate the textual and political geography of the Urania; the edition concludes with a series of addenda that enable the reader to make sense of the complex relationships connecting the Urania's far-flung cast of characters. Gossett's contribution to the Textual Introduction (sections 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7) stresses the paleographic aspects of the editorial task, including the description, history, and nature of the manuscript. Questions she addresses include the dating of the manuscript Urania, significant because the published Urania was so vociferously suppressed by vested interests within the Jacobean aristocratic patriarchy. What remains fascinatingly unresolved for contemporary students of Wroth, however, is to what extent the Urania (both the withdrawn published version and the manuscript continuation) circulated amongst seventeenth-century readers. We know that Edward Phillips, Milton's nephew, reviewed the Urania in his Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum as late as 1675, and that Margaret Cavendish alludes to the negative response to the Urania in her Sociable Letters (1664). Gossett provides further evidence for the persisting influence of the Urania in seventeenth-century literary circles, suggesting that it remained available for George Manners, earl of Rutland's perusal in the 1640s and that it "may have served as a source for James Shirley's Politician, 1641" (xxv). Gossett also addresses lacunas in the manuscript, suggesting that they may have involved some form of censorship (perhaps self-censorship). Mueller's sections (4 and 5) add a synopsis of Wroth's narrative and an evaluation of her style. Mueller's signaling of Wroth's shift to the second generation of her cast of characters and their displacement towards Eastern settings should provide fertile ground for the ongoing assessment of Wroth's relationship to discourses of gender, class, race, religion, and empire. Finally, Mueller's evaluation of Wroth's characteristic "trailing sentence form" (xxxiv) as representative of a favoured early seventeenth-century aristocratic prose style leads her to affirm "Roberts's decision to present the Urania as an old-spelling text with modernized punctuation" (xxxvii). Mueller, together with Gossett, nevertheless reverses Roberts's decision to eliminate Wroth's conspicuous use of capitalization, arguing that such capitalization is significantly rhetorical.

  3. The text of The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania provides both pleasures and frustrations, not all of which can be dismissed by acknowledging that Wroth "would not have considered the Urania manuscript that has come down to us as a finished work" (xxviii). One of the distinct pleasures of The First Part of the . . . Urania is its interspersed songs and sonnets, which highlight the possibilities and costs of female poetic agency. The Second Part is disappointingly lacking in this compelling oscillation between prose and poetry, perhaps due to Wroth's practice of inserting such poems during the latter stages of composition. It remains significant, however, that the poems that do appear in the Second Part are predominantly by male characters (one penned by her cousin and lover, William Herbert), when The First Part of the . . . Urania provided such a rich array of female poetic voices. Concomitantly, the narratorial voice of the Second Part rings a new note related to form and content. Whereas The First Part of the . . .Urania allows the characters' stories to extend beyond narratorial control in a manner characteristic of Renaissance romance, the Second Part presents a dominant narratorial voice that presages the novel form at its most monological. This voice, moreover, presents a stridently ideological thrust towards proselytizing Christianity that The First Part of the . . . Urania more ambivalently puts under erasure. What remains interesting in the Second Part, furthermore, is how non-Western realms, particularly Tartaria and Persia, are enlisted for an imperialist mode of Christianity that becomes less certainly based in Western Europe. This complicated presentation of cultural identity around the problematic of conversion resonates productively with the mixed reception of race-gender in The Second Part of the . . . Urania, which Kim Hall so deftly analyzes in Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England. Further studies of Wroth's Urania that place both its parts in dialogue must continue to engage the multiple discourses of empire informing Wroth's worldview, as well as the impact her self-consciously gendered perspective has on its rendition. A detailed consideration of The Second Part of the . . . Urania will also complicate the emphasis on "constancy" as the locus of women's virtue (and virtý), as Wroth steadily moves towards a discourse of "civility" to define her characters, male and female. Again, this shift indicates that gender and empire are increasingly imbricated in The Second Part of the . . . Urania, as "civility" becomes the hallmark of English colonizing efforts in the later seventeenth century.

  4. Despite these reservations, which reveal my decided preference for The First Part of the . . . Urania, the recently published Second Part should become an indispensable resource for students of early modern women's writing and its relationship to gender and genre, race and empire, conversion and cartography, and a host of other concerns. Roberts's outline for her unrealized introductory essay to The Second Part of the . . . Urania, which she so meticulously edited, provides a judicious agenda for future studies of Wroth's prose works: "'The Relationship of Parts One and Two of the Urania,' 'The Empires of the East and West,' 'Baynard's Castle,' 'Music,' 'Reception of the Work'" (xiii). Gossett and Mueller are to be commended for their scholarly acumen and personal sensitivity in ensuring that Roberts's profound legacy to early modern women's studies remains productively open.

Works Cited


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.


© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)