The retirement mode is a central means through which women
writers produce what emerges as a feminine poetics during the late seventeenth
century. In this period, a time in which, as Margaret Doody suggests, ‘no
literary era has been as conscious of what we call “gender”’(58), a self-consciously
feminised poetics arose. Indeed, late seventeenth-century women’s verse
is frequently gender marked: it often addresses a specifically female audience,
adopts subject positions that are explicitly feminised and, for the first
time to any significant degree, locates itself in reference to other female
writers.1 While women poets wrote across a variety of genres, the retirement
mode was central to the production of a feminised poetics and, as Carol
Barash (6) and Sarah Prescott (40-1, 51-66) show, was used extensively by
female writers of this period.
- This essay explores the variety of ways in which women poets reworked the
central features of the retirement genre and used the concept of withdrawal
as a means of creating a feminine poetics. In particular, it will argue that
while on the surface poetry of retreat might appear conservative and restricting
through its associations with privacy, enclosure and exile, it is paradoxically
these very features that enable a fundamental reshaping of feminine subjectivity
together with a reformulation of women’s conventional identification with
the body. In this, I follow Judith Butler’s concept of the body as being ‘itself
a construction’, not just a medium from which ‘a set of cultural meanings
are only externally related’ (8). The reframing of the body and how it is
understood is therefore essentially tied to a fundamental reframing of identity.
Retirement poetry was of course a popular genre used by
men, as well as women, throughout the seventeenth century. It comprises
a range of standard features, whose origins derive from Horace. Its key
stance involves rejecting worldly values in favour of a simpler mode of
existence, usually, though not always, associated with rural life.2 Generally,
the site of retirement is defined in contradistinction to what is outside
it: it appears to operate outside of historical time, often harking back
to a period of lost innocence, removed from the interests of a world that
is boisterous, vain, corrupt, and whose central concerns are motivated by
ambition and the drive for power and fame. The site of retreat, while frequently
pastoral, is usually presented in formulaic, undetailed terms, comprising
shady groves, secret bowers and private glades. In this sense, it provides
a topography which is implicitly feminised in that it is both an apparently
private space fulfilling a maternal function of nurture and protection and
one whose enclosed recesses are symbolically connected to the female body.
It is also a domain of tranquillity and safety, offering room for private
exchange between friends and quiet meditation. Indeed, the retreat is often
an internalised space, reflecting a set of thought processes, rather than
a specific physical location: it provides an opportunity for philosophical
contemplation, as well as reflection on and reassessment of the world outside
its secure boundaries.3 As a result, the speaking subject, while conventionally
modest and retiring, also implicitly speaks from a position of moral authority.
Lending itself to a range of nuances, the retreat mode
was a fluid genre, which could, as we shall see, be inserted into other
types of poem. It is this fluidity which perhaps particularly attracted
women writers in that its central features were in keeping with standard
feminine virtues of humility and privacy, but could be remoulded for different
purposes. If retreat is associated with an enclosed, meditative space that
operates separately from social parameters, it could provide a sphere for
different modes of thought, identification and being, enabling the possibility
for orthodoxies to be re-examined and questioned.
Moreover, as Ann Messenger points out, ‘the whole ethos
of such poetry is founded on the idea of retiring from something’
(Pastoral 59). But what is women’s poetry of retreat retiring from?
Why insist upon eschewing a world to which women had little genuine access?
In this sense, the retirement mode may initially seem a peculiarly inappropriate
genre for women writers to employ. However, Messenger’s ‘something’ allows
for a variety of possibilities. The retreat genre was, for example, especially
connected to royalist poetry of the 1640s and 50s, often signifying withdrawal
from an alien political landscape into a private, secure sphere in which
the codes and rituals associated with regal authority could be maintained.
Though it provided a continuing association with political exile in the
latter part of the century, as Barbara Olive suggests, ‘the passing of time
... allowed for others to appropriate it’ (483). While retreat is sometimes
connected to political exile in women’s writing, it is also frequently identified
with feminine poetic utterance.
Numerous critics have indicated how women writers used
the genre. Barash, for example, traces the ways in which the royalist roots
of this mode were employed as a means of creating a female poetic community
and feminine poetic identity, while Prescott explores it as a means of fashioning
the eighteenth-century woman writer. Claudia N. Thomas interprets its use
more literally, suggesting that it offered ‘an attitude’ that could easily
be ‘applied to many women’s circumstances’ (194). Messenger follows this
approach, arguing that ‘Women poets often bring their experience to bear
on the conventions of pastoral retirement poetry’ (Pastoral 59).
However, my interest lies in examining how this genre is used to recast
feminine identity, especially through its investigation of the relationship
between the speaking subject, the body and worldly matter. In this enterprise
women poets do not so much insert themselves into a predefined form as remould
its signifiers from within. In particular, feminine poetic utterance is
repeatedly presented as being dependent upon physical enclosure and is often
associated with the image of a closed body. This is a trope that connects
women poets from a broad range of backgrounds and varying political persuasions.
A sense of disquiet nonetheless circulates around the body, which suggests
a working through of the seventeenth-century identification of woman with
corporeal deficiency and disruptiveness and, more specifically, the uneasy
association between female voice and bodily unruliness.
The range of cultural images that connected female voice
and female body throughout the seventeenth century have been widely documented.4
Engagement with and refiguring of concepts of corporeal corruption and contamination
associated with female speech indeed form a central motif across a wide
spectrum of women’s poetry.5 For our purposes one might immediately think
of the poet who was so often presented as the model ‘poetess’ figure to
later women writers: Katherine Philips, the ‘Matchless Orinda’, and, in
particular, the corporeal imagery Philips employs to describe her literary
production in her much cited letters to Poliarchus (Hobby 132; Barash 83;
Price 223-5). The conception of her verses is associated with physical confinement
and the innocent pastimes of a retired life. The apparently unsolicited
and adulterated publication of her work, however, is aligned with ‘bodily
disease and mutilation’ (Price 223) and even rape (Barash 55, 81-3).6
Of course publication was frequently invoked in sexualised
terms at this time and, in discussing Jane Barker’s work, Kathryn R. King
reminds us of the stock symbolism of sexual/textual commerce in circulation
throughout the period (‘Jane Barker’ 554). Indeed, critics like King, Margaret
Ezell and, most recently, Prescott, have underlined the importance of recognising
the varieties of forms in which women’s literary production was conceived
and of distinguishing between different types of circulation. King helpfully
demonstrates how the line between public and private is not clear-cut. The
coterie mode, in which Philips initially produced her verse, she argues,
was perfectly acceptable for women writers as well as being a ‘sociable’
activity (‘Jane Barker’ 564). In Philips’s case, for example, poetry itself
is offered as a means of establishing friendship and the shared interests
of a poetic and political community, as well as often being explicitly presented
as a dialogic mode of communication, taking the form of letters and responses
to events. Moreover, Prescott argues that the retirement mode was employed
by women poets from the late seventeenth century as a means ‘to authorize
themselves as writers’ precisely through the suggestion ‘that they were
uninterested in literary fame’ and unconnected to commercial production.
In this sense, she suggests, it ‘should not be read merely as a capitulation
to cultural expectations of proper femininity – a physical and moral retreat
to virtue – but also as a deliberate piece of self-fashioning’ (11 and 41).
Recent research, then, makes it clear that the material
experience of women writers was not simply one of exclusion and isolation,
but that writing was often a sociable act for women, was acceptable and
marketable in certain contexts, and also received support from some male
writers and friends. Anne Finch was admired by Pope and Swift and there
is much evidence to suggest that her work in general was well-received by
the contemporary literary establishment; in the early part of her literary
career, Jane Barker was supported by her brother, Edward, and a circle of
male friends from Cambridge University; while Dryden was one of Mary Chudleigh’s
supporters, bringing her work to the attention of his printer, Jacob Tonson
(Ezell, Social Authorship 89).
Nonetheless, the sexualised rhetoric of textual activity
remains: Philips, for example, insists upon the chaste innocence of her
text throughout her verses, and yet eroticises female speech in, for instance,
‘To my Lucasia, in defence of declared friendship’.7 The body continues
to be a site of unrest that is connected to the female voice and textual
production, even as it is apparently contained or excluded. While, in Philips’s
verse, the retirement motif often seems to figure an insistently closed
body that is cut off from the world, the body frequently re-emerges to be
recast and redefined.8
So what happens to this relationship in the women’s poetry
that succeeds and bears the influence of Philips? In what ways is the retirement
genre used as a means of articulating a feminine poetic identity and how
is the relationship between verse, voice and body played out? Anne Finch
is one of the best-known exponents of the retirement mode. As Barash and
others have shown, the concept of the pastoral retreat contains implications
of political exile and ‘shared political alliances’ carried over from the
Civil war and Interregnum periods (6 and 279). These connotations undoubtedly
resonate with Finch’s poetry. Finch indeed lived in rural retirement after
her husband’s refusal to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary
(McGovern, 56-7).9 But this resonance also runs alongside those concerning
Finch’s position as a woman writer, something that is very much at the foreground
of her verse.10
‘Fragment’ (Finch 16-17), one of the poems that introduces
Finch’s volume of manuscript verse, exemplifies this. While this is a poem
about political exile, its starting point concerns Ardelia’s confinement
to ‘female Clay’ (l.1) and the superficial enticements of the world, not
simply to ‘Retirement’ (l. 22):
So here confined, and but to female Clay,
Ardelia’s Soul mistook the rightful Way:
Whilst the soft Breeze of Pleasure’s tempting Air
Made her believe, Felicity was there;
And, basking in the warmth of early Time,
To vain Amusements dedicate her Prime. (ll. 1-6)
Ardelia’s decision to retreat is specifically connected to the condition
of being trapped in a female body and it is this in part which leads her
to renounce worldly values, having implicitly, like Eve, been tempted by
their allure.11 Though she ‘owns no less Desires’ than before, she thus
subjects herself to a life of ‘Abandon’d Pleasures in Monastick Walls’ –
a fragmentary life, even if a virtuous one - as ‘The lowly Means to an exalted
End’ (ll. 19, 23, 25).
The Preface that accompanies Finch’s privately circulated
manuscript, in which this poem first appeared, initially seems to define
writing as one of these ‘Abandon’d Pleasures’, an activity from which the
speaker attempts to be ‘wean’d’, as she puts it (Finch 9). Writing, in other
words, is a form of fundamental nourishment which should be denied, but
is also connected to infantile, sensual comfort, offering an alternative
to the commonplace image of the poet-figure as spiritual parent to his offspring
– writing.12 Elsewhere in the Preface it is defined as ‘an irresistable
impulse’ (11), an activity that is both bodily and beyond the body. Its
execution by women is ‘presumptuous’, and thus connected to the fallen condition
of Eve, something aligned with the very fabric of the verses Finch produces
– they are ‘imperfect’, ‘uncorrect’, ‘defective’, their exposure being treated
as a ‘weakness’ on her part (11).13 However, her removal ‘into the solitude,
and security of the Country’ ironically means that ‘I cou’d no longer keep
within the limits I had prescrib’d myself, nor be wisely reserv’d’, engaging
herself instead ‘in the service of the Muses’ (9-10). Retirement and enclosure
unlock entry into the poetic domain.
- In the ‘Introduction’ (Finch 5-7), the speaker’s limitations as a woman
are once again affirmed through reference to the Paradise myth. ‘How are we
fal’n’ (l. 51), she states, alluding to the general condition of women. However,
the irony here is that the fall does not concern the physical temptation of
Eve, but society’s ‘mistaken rules’ (l. 51), which keep women ignorant, debarring
them ‘from all improve-ments of the mind’ (l. 53). These present circumstances
are set against the liberty of Biblical women, whose writing of poetry is
directly connected to physical freedom and active participation in social
life. Nonetheless, the speaker decides to subject herself to her contemporary
historical circumstances by singing only to ‘some few freinds’ in ‘dark’ ‘shades’
- However, it is precisely these limitations which seem to prove enabling
and liberating elsewhere in Finch’s poetry, allowing for a redefinition of
the concept of physical enclosure. Such restrictions appear to offer the possibility
of a womb-like protection in ‘The Petition for an Absolute Retreat’ (Finch
59-68). Encoded within a web of Biblical references, the contained pastoral
domain the speaker requests creates a protective haven whose intricate maze
of meandering paths ‘so lost’ will provide her with ‘unshaken Liberty’ (ll.
4-8). Recasting Abraham Cowley’s ‘Solitude’ (555-57), whose pastoral enclosure
allows the speaker the freedom of carefree inactivity when he asks to ‘let
me, careless and unthoughtful lying,/ Hear the soft winds above me flying’
(ll.16-17), Finch’s retreat enables her speaker actively to forge a new pattern
of existence. Encased within ‘Trees so high,/ That the World may ne’er invade’
(ll. 4-5), the speaker has no predetermined direction laid before her and
can reformulate her relationship to her environment:
Let me find some close Retreat,
Significantly, in ‘The Spleen’ (Finch 145-9), though not a retirement poem
in itself, the rewards provided by the act of writing are symbolised similarly:
Where they have no Passage made,
Thro’ those Windings, and that Shade. (ll. 101-3)
Whilst in the Muses Paths I stray,
Imitating the Horatian tag employed by Ben Jonson in Cynthia’s Revels,
in which the Prologue’s muse ‘shunnes the print of any beaten path;/ And proves
new wayes to come to learned eares’ (43, Prologue 10, ll.10-11), the enclosed
landscape of this poem offers a hidden, productive domain, unrestrained by
the terms that would otherwise govern the speaker’s life.14 Moreover, writing
is not only conceived of as an intellectually fruitful pursuit, but also as
a sensory pleasure, so as to unsettle the binaries between body and mind,
movement and confinement, licence and boundaries.
Whilst in their Groves, and by their secret Springs
My Hand delights to trace unusual Things
And deviates from the known, and common way. (ll. 80-3)
- Yet in each of these poems the contained, fertile world offered is provisional
and vulnerable. In ‘The Petition’ it is envisaged as a place of desire in
which to escape the material, implicitly Whiggish, forces that threaten the
British state (l. 161) and to provide a fit location in which to articulate
friendship with Arminda and contemplate heaven.15 It represents an, as yet,
unattained, idealised, religious sanctuary that highlights ‘the sad Ardelia’’s
current condition, as she ‘lay;/ Blasted by a Storm of Fate’ (ll. 159-60).
Indeed, in her present state, darkness and shade signal rejection and exile
rather than protection and safety, for she is ‘Fall’n, neglected, lost, forgot,/
Dark Oblivion all her Lot’ (ll. 162-3), her identity itself remaining hidden
until line 159. Not until the appearance of Arminda, who ‘(Guided by the Pow’rs
above)’ (l. 165), seems to symbolise Christian redemption, does warmth, love
and renewal seem possible.
- Barbara McGovern aptly suggests that this poem reworks Andrew Marvell’s
verse of philosophical retreat, ‘The Garden’ (Marvell 100-2), showing how,
unlike Marvell’s ‘happy garden-state’ in which man ‘walked without a mate’
in ‘delicious solitude’ (ll. 57-8, 16), Finch’s retreat is a social domain
founded on companionship (84). McGovern argues, further, that Finch’s poem
‘describes a real retreat ... rather than an abstract, meditative state’,
in which the natural world ‘provides the means for renewing her spiritual
- Finch’s site of withdrawal certainly evokes ideas of resurrection and salvation,
symbolised through the figure of Arminda, who ‘Warm’d anew’ the speaker’s
‘drooping Heart,/ And Life diffus’d thro’ every Part’ (ll. 166-7). Ultimately
enclosure leads to a state which paradoxically enables ‘all Heaven’ to ‘be
survey’d/ From those Windings and that Shade’ (ll. 292-3). For Marvell, by
contrast, retirement becomes increasingly internalised: it is a realm where
‘the mind, from pleasures less,/ Withdraws into its happiness’ (ll. 41-2).
Although Marvell presents his retreat as a means of preparing for heaven (ll.
53-55), the migrating soul seems to melt into the interiorised poetic landscape
as it ‘into the boughs does glide’ (l. 52). We discover that such a pleasurable
condition is connected with the lost past of Eden before the arrival of Eve
(ll. 57-8), while for Finch withdrawal is presented in terms of a conditional
future, dependent on Christ’s resurrection. In this regard, Finch’s retreat
is also surely ‘abstract’ and ‘meditative’ as it stays within the realms of
aspiration, resting on the insecure claims of ‘indulgent Fate’ and the projection
of a life hereafter (ll. 280-4, 290-3). Moreover, in such a state, the speaker
requests ‘For all Pleasures left behind,/ Contemplations of the Mind’ (ll.
282-3). Like Marvell’s retreat, this suggests a movement inwards. However,
Finch’s site of withdrawal lacks the sense of autonomy achieved in ‘The Garden’
in which spatial and temporal boundaries are traversed in order for the poetic
activities of the mind and the location of retreat to become distilled into
the purified essence of ‘a green thought in a green shade’ (l. 48). By contrast,
in ‘The Petition’ the place of retirement remains tentative and is in danger
of collapse before even being established, for it is defined in reference
to external threats that suggest the uncertainty of a retreat that could ever
be ‘absolute’ in this world.
- In this particular, ‘The Petition’ may be compared to Sarah Fyge Egerton’s
poem ‘The Retreat’ (Fyge Egerton 31-3). As in Finch’s verse, there are echoes
here of Marvell’s ‘The Garden’: retirement presents ‘the Copy of lost Paradice,/
The pure and spotles Quintessence of Bliss’, ‘secure Abodes’ in which ‘the
renowned Poets had their Birth’ (ll. 23-4, 27, 32). However, the poem also
defines such a domain as a ‘kind Masquerade’ (l. 16). On the surface, this
description indicates the speaker’s attempt to hide from Misfortune’s searches,
but it acknowledges at the same time the artifice of the haven the poem constructs,
which remains vulnerable to external forces and again places a troubled perspective
on the self-contained poetic realm Marvell creates in ‘The Garden’.
- In Finch’s ‘The Spleen’ the poetic retreat is threatened not by outside
forces but the internal, protean, impulses of melancholy, which are at once
irresistible and ‘perplexing’ (l. 5), and whose corporeal effects on the act
of writing signal the disintegration of the speaker’s identity:16
I feel my Verse decay, and my crampt Numbers fail.
Here, the physical dissolution of her verse is so fundamentally bound to the
speaker’s own interior state, that her writing appears to form part of her
condition. ‘The secret, the mysterious ways’ of spleen, which ‘dost surprise,
and prey upon the Mind’ obliterate ‘the Muses’ paths’ in which the speaker
strays, transforming the pleasure of writing into a source of doubt and uncertainty,
‘An useless Folly, or presumptuous Fault’ (ll. 144-5, 80). As in ‘The Petition’,
darkness, shade and enclosure are given an underside: recast from being the
means of delight, liberty and fertility (ll. 81-3), they come to symbolise
the unfathomable, uncontrollable passage of spleen, striking its path through
the very core of human identity. It is indeed ‘too deep for Humane Thought’
(l. 146), for even ‘Men of Thoughts refin’d’ ‘Retiring from the Croud, are
to thy Shades inclin’d’ (ll. 70, 73), and even those who would seek to trace
the cause and cure of spleen are:
Thro’ thy black Jaundice I all Objects see,
As Dark, and Terrible as Thee. (ll. 75-7)
Retain’d thy Pris’ner, thy acknowledg’d Slave,
And sunk beneath thy Chain to a lamented Grave. (ll. 149-50)
- In Finch’s poetry, then, the concept of retreat is directly associated
with the forging of a specifically feminised poetic identity, one that allows
the speaker to digress ‘from the known, and common way’ and recast the terms
of her existence. Reformulating the stock paradox in which physical enclosure
enables spiritual release,17 Finch’s retreats incorporate both intellectual
and sensory gratification, and place movement within constraint, sociability
within privacy inside a frame of Christian redemption. And yet, in contrast
to her male counterparts, the protective haven retirement seems to yield in
Finch’s work is often presented as being precarious, susceptible to dark forces
that threaten to contaminate its productive poetic domain from both without
Enclosure, often presented as vulnerable, provisional
or mythical, provides an important motif in Anne Killigrew’s and Mary Chudleigh’s
verse, too, though this concept takes a range of forms. The Epitaph engraved
on Killigrew’s tomb (Killigrew, no page numbers) states that she was ‘Contented
always to retire’ (l. 20), and yet retirement is often presented as a double-edged
form of escape in her poetry.18 In ‘The Miseries of Man’ (Killigrew 32-43)
the ‘fertile Pasturage’ of ‘Arcadia’ yields an uninviting poetic landscape,
in which the hill of Parnassus ‘Casts o’er the neighbouring Plains, a seeming
Frown’, while the enclosed woods of its foothills comprise ‘oblique windings
through’ ‘gloomy Shade’ that ‘hardly will admit the Eye of Day’ (ll. 1-4,
8-9). ‘This sad Recess’ seems to serve as ‘a fit Place’ for ‘The melancholy
Cloris’ ‘to take the sad Relief/ Of Sighs and Tears’ as she ‘murmur[s] forth
her Woes’ on mankind’s wretched plight (ll. 12, 14-16, 12).
However, far from providing release from her ‘discontented’
state, ‘this Retreat’ seems only to mirror her imprisonment within ‘oppressing
Grief’ (ll. 11, 13, 16). Indeed, the itemising of the range of mankind’s
miseries results instead at stanza 11 in ‘her further Speech’ breaking off,
for ‘Her swelling Grief too great was to be spoke’ (ll. 142-3). The articulation
of her cares within the shelter of the shades makes her pregnant with sorrow,
enveloping her body so as to render her voiceless. Moreover, the poem circles
back to where it begins its examination of human suffering, with the speaker’s
desire for death:
Where the free Soul does all her burden leave,
And Joys commensurate to her self receive. (ll. 226-7)
Only through casting aside the flesh and releasing the feminised soul is
escape from misery possible.
- 'The Discontent’ (Killigrew 51-6) is similar in theme and tone to ‘The
Miseries of Man’. Here images of ‘inextricable Mazes’ (l. 12) and meandering
paths are connected not with the pastoral grove, as in Finch’s verse, but
‘boundless Heaps’ of ‘admired Clay’ (l. 27). Such matter is implicitly gendered
masculine through the claims of fame and ambition, power and possession, as
it is so frequently in Philips’s verses. In representing these worldly aspirations,
the speaker directs her muse to stumble through the formal frames of poetry
as an appropriate means of critiquing her subject matter. In the process,
as Messenger suggests, this ‘poem begins with a good example of’ Killigrew’s
‘power to control prosody in the service of meaning’ (His and Hers
26). The awkward, ill-measured movement of her verse is ironically artfully
crafted as it is required to be corporeally bound to the journey of mankind
But let thy Lines rude and unpolisht go,
This voyage of endless obstruction (l. 13) is one in which the ‘Head’ is constantly
led astray by the ‘Senses’: it is their ‘dazle’ which continually entices
the head to ‘turn round’, both suggesting that it looks behind and turns upside
down, leading its owners ‘headlong down the horrid Precipice’ (ll. 18-20).
Nor Equal be their Feet, nor Num’rous let them flow.
The ruggeder my Measures run when read,
They’l livelier paint th’unequal Paths fond Mortals tread. (ll. 3-6)
- Having surveyed a variety of material temptations, the speaker requests
that she herself may transcend worldly constraints. Paradoxically, having
imprinted the matter she rejects in poetry by allowing ‘My Muse’ to ‘pronounce
aloud’ on the world (l. 24), she asks that it may be subjected to complete
oblivion from her own memory to the extent where temporal boundaries are also
Oh, thither let me fly!
The corrupting effects of such material interests are presented as physically
disfiguring the speaker, ‘What e’er may wound my Eyes or Ears’ (l. 108),
a condition from which she desires escape, but where flight is envisaged through
binding the senses:
Where from the World at such a distance set,
All that’s past, present, and to come I may forget. (ll. 104-6)
But Stupor, like to Death, my Senses bind,
Indeed, the expulsion of invasive visual and aural matter involves a bodily
incarceration and compulsive movement inwards so extreme that it procures
a death-like, literally sense-less, state, in which the numbness of body and
mind prefigure the silence and obliteration of the speaker.
That so I may anticipate that Rest,
Which only in my Grave I hope to find. (ll. 117-19)
- As in Finch’s verse, in Killigrew’s poetry, then, retreat is the location
for feminised poetic utterance, only here the conventional tropes of the retirement
mode are pushed to their limits. Withdrawal signals not so much a liberation
from as an insistent affirmation of the corruption of the world upon which
the speaker pronounces. Her meditations on worldly matter elicit a desire
to transcend the very body in which she is encased and to efface her position
as a speaking subject in the very process of inscribing it. Indeed, in Killigrew’s
verse retirement from the world seems to demand a repetitive, circling pattern
of withdrawal, in which death becomes the ultimate destination for and condition
The exclusion of the bodily through an insistent movement
within is also a significant feature of Chudleigh’s work and central to
her definition of the writing subject. In much of her verse the speaker
strives to achieve a state of complete self-sufficiency where the denial,
discipline and confinement of the body releases, as in Finch’s poetry, an
active, inner life through which she may ‘Read and Think, and Think and
Read again’ (Chudleigh The Ladies Defence, 39, l. 799).19 Chudleigh’s
writing presents the body as an intrusive burden that we must strive to
overcome: it comprises ‘the gross Allays of Sense’, ‘cumbrous Flesh’, ‘heavy
Lumps of Matter, which depress the Mind’ (Chudleigh, 40, l. 842; 200, ll.
745 and 343-4).
Clearly the desire to transcend the bodily contains religious
significance that complements the neo-Platonism informing Chudleigh’s work.
Moreover, her Preface to the 1703 volume of her Poems on Several Occasions
claims that her poetry was the result of ‘the Employment of my leisure
Hours, the innocent Amusement of a solitary Life’ (Chudleigh 44) in a way
that echoes Philips’s letter to Poliarchus. But, given Chudleigh’s self-conscious
status as a woman writer whose poems are dedicated to Queen Anne and are
‘chiefly design’d’ for ‘the Ladies’, ‘to whose Service they are intirely
devoted’ (44), the philosophy contained in her verse also carries specific
gender implications that has wider import than the alleged private meditations
imply. Reworking Dryden’s muscular account of self-mastery derived through
the autonomy retirement provides in his Pindaric imitation of Horace’s Ode
3.29 (Dryden 436), Chudleigh offers an alternative form of feminine identity
to her female readers. Her advice to ‘to retire into our selves’ and ‘to
live upon our own Stock’ (Chudleigh 45) reformulates Dryden’s affirmation
of self-ownership and control when his speaker asserts:
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He, who can call to day his own:
He, who secure within, can say
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have liv’d today.
Be fair, or foul, or rain, or shine,
The joys I have possest, in spight of fate are mine (ll. 65-70)
Through presenting ‘a Picture of my Mind’ within the isolation and confinement
of ‘some obscure Recess’ (44 and 75), she invites her readers to be self-sufficient
and internally nourished. For her the body is not the defining principle
of feminine identity (nor is woman’s relationship to a lover, husband or
children), but, rather in Cartesian terms, a distilled, thinking, rational,
self-contained mind. However, where Descartes implicitly masculinises the
rational faculty, in Chudleigh’s verse reason is often feminised.20 Indeed,
contrary to Barash’s view that in Chudleigh’s verse ‘Reason is coded male’
(244 n. 102), there are plenty of examples that suggest otherwise. For instance,
in ‘The Resolve’ (Chudleigh 144) ‘Reason’ is envisaged as a queen, who should
‘rule[s] within, and keep[s] the Throne’,
While the inferior Faculties obey,
And all her Laws without Reluctance own,
Accounting none more fit, more just than they. (ll. 5-8)
Similarly, in ‘Solitude’ (Chudleigh 126-9) ‘Reason’ should claim ‘her native
Right’ over internal Anarchy ‘And strive to re-ascend the Throne’ (ll. 99-100).21
Here, as elsewhere in Chudleigh’s verse, retreat into religious meditation
becomes a means through which her female readers may be allowed ‘with silent
Joy’ to ‘think all their Hours away’,
And still think on, till the confining Clay
Fall off, and nothing’s left behind
Of drossy Earth, nothing to clog the Mind. (ll. 5-8)
As in Killigrew’s verse, to be relieved of fleshly matter is not a deprivation,
but a release from the superficial trappings, the ‘glitt’ring Clay’ (l.
68), through which women in particular are conventionally identified within
‘th’unshap’d Embryo of the World’ (l. 27). This liberation from the body
will enable them to be defined instead as ‘rational Beings’ who may partake
in ‘sublime Employments’ (45), and, in a manner similar to Philips’s neo-Platonism,
allow them to ascend the ‘blest Society’ of ‘those bright Forms above’ ‘And
grow as pure, and as unrefin’d as they’ (ll. 16, 9, 21).22
Elizabeth Singer Rowe, who was known to Chudleigh, also
often presents the site of retreat as leading heavenwards. But, unlike Chudleigh’s
verse, as Prescott has highlighted, Rowe’s has a distinctly nonconformist
bent (141-66). Like the poetic practices of her immediate Athenian circle,
Rowe draws on the Bible, especially the Old Testament, as her ‘greatest
source of poetic inspiration’ as opposed to classical sources (157). For
example, ‘Paraphrase on Canticles, 7. 11’ (Rowe 40), which appeared in Rowe’s
Poems on Several Occasions (1696), uses the Song of Solomon rather
than Horace to establish an alternative to ‘this dull Society’ (l. 2). Here
‘the peaceful Shades and Springs’ to which the speaker wishes to ‘remove’
are ‘those blest Seats’ of heaven in which she may ‘in sweet transports
give up all my love’ (ll. 3, 10, 12). Unlike Chudleigh’s verse, the focus
of retreat is not on reason, but passion, in which heaven is the site ‘where
we’ll our flames improve’ and the speaker can demonstrate ‘With how much
heat’ she shall ‘carress’ God (ll. 10-11). But, as Prescott indicates in
her discussion about the poetics of Rowe’s Athenian contemporaries, the
poem clearly separates between ‘the “Enthusiastic Passions”’ of its Protestant
sources and ‘”Vulgar Passions”’, something which is ‘directly linked to
the overall Whig poetic agenda of constructing an alternative poetic tradition
to replace the Tory-inflected neo-classical canon’ (157). While Olive attempts
to make a case for the nonconformist implications of Chudleigh’s verse (see
footnote 24 below), it is clear that it does not follow the poetic agenda
of Rowe and her circle.
- Nevertheless, in spite of Chudleigh’s foregrounding of reason and attempt
to sublimate the body in her retirement poems, her first verse in Poems
on Several Occasions both encapsulates and complicates these ideas. ‘On
the Death of his Highness the Duke of Glocester’ (Chudleigh 47-59)
opens with an extensive preamble on the speaker’s decision to reject material
concerns, ‘the gaudy Pomps of Life’ and ‘shining Heaps of Clay’ (ll.15 and
17), in a way reminiscent of Killigrew’s ‘The Discontent’ and in line with
the conventions of the retirement mode. Instead, she chooses to:
my time to nobler Uses give,
It is the speaker’s muse who leads her into the Arcadian ‘shades’ representing
this self-sustaining, enclosed, inner domain. Locked within its own autonomous
zone of time and place, it is so still and quiet that:
And to my Books, and Thoughts entirely live;
Those dear Delights, in which I still shall find
Ten thousand Joys to feast my Mind,
Joys, great as Sense can bear, from all its Dross refin’d. (ll. 24-8)
The Sun cou’d there no Entrance find:
Yet the pleasures offered by this ‘little safe Retreat’ (l. 11) are eroticised
in ways that reintroduce the idea of the body. The speaker’s relation to poetry,
the defining feature of this domain, is described in stock terms of a pastoral
romance. She is:
No ruffling Winds the Boughs did move. (ll. 45-6)
Inslav’d alone by flatt’ring Poesie:
whose ‘secret Sweets’ enable her to spend ‘my Hours in Extasies employ’d’
(ll. 69-74). The paradoxical restraints through which poetic creativity is
conceived are transposed onto the image of physical enclosure so as to produce
a transportation that crosses the boundaries of mind and body.
But Oh! How pleasing did her Fetters prove!
How much did I, th’endearing Charmer Love!
- Strangely, though, the most striking effects of such delights are anticipated
by the voice of ‘sad Philomela’ (l. 51), who wanders through this poetic
realm. In her detailed account of this poem, Messenger suggests that Chudleigh
follows the standard descriptions of the ‘pastoral beauties’ of the retirement
mode, ‘including the song of the nightingale’, and subsequently glosses over
this part of the text (Pastoral 93). Spencer’s analysis of the significance
of Philomela to women’s verse in general, though, signals how Chudleigh’s
poem may lend itself to a more specifically gendered reading, drawing attention
to the way in which the nightingale was an important image for ‘imagining
a specifically feminine woman poet ... because of its associations with artlessness,
sweetness and the expression of feeling; and the bird’s reputed reclusiveness’
which ‘enabled the woman poet to avoid charges of boldness and self-display.
Moreover, the nightingale was understood as female because of its identification
with Philomela’ (‘Imagining’ 109-10). This association, as both Spencer (110)
and Prescott (142) show, was made by Elizabeth Singer Rowe, her pseudonym
being Philomela. Olive even suggests that Chudleigh’s allusion to Philomela
may be a direct reference to Singer Rowe (470 and 484).
- However, Philomela, as Ezell reminds us, ‘was raped by Tereus, king of
Thrace, who then cut out her tongue to silence her’. It was after this act
of brutality that the gods changed her into a nightingale (‘Introduction’
48). Philomela’s transformation from defiled woman into nightingale thus signals
the mutation from female silence to song. Indeed, it is the sound of the song
of this no-longer-woman that makes the speaker choose to ‘to my self, and
to my Muse be true’ (l. 61) and reject the ‘phantastick Forms’ and ‘glorious
Nothings’ of worldly matter (ll. 62-3). But this process of transformation
is oddly conceived. While Spencer suggests that by the Restoration the figure
of Philomela ‘was removed from the violence of the classical myth’ (‘Imagining’
110), Chudleigh’s poem at the very least hints at the causes of Philomela’s
song by expressing both her ‘Pains’ and ‘Wrongs’ (ll. 51, 52). Further, it
is Philomela’s song of ‘Despair’ (l. 52) caused by her rape that ironically
produces ‘Raptures’ in the speaker (ll. 50-51, 57), raptures which are, in
turn, decorporealised and elicit silence:23
Her [Philomela’s] Voice with tender’st Passions fill’d my Breast,
Moreover, the ‘glorious nothings’, which are rejected in Chudleigh’s poem
in favour of a spiritual, poetic domain, peculiarly echo the ‘lovely glorious
nothing’ to which the speaker of John Donne’s ‘Air and Angels’ is attracted
(Donne 41, l. 6). The latter poem employs a typical Donne paradox by punning
on the term ‘nothing’, which signifies both something without physical form
and the vagina. It does this in order to justify the speaker’s use of the
impure sphere of a woman’s body as the vehicle in which to express his unadulterated
love, while at the same time arguing that men’s love is purer than women’s:
his love is directed towards nothing, but simply needs a location in which
to express itself. While it is obvious that Chudleigh’s ‘glorious nothings’
do not contain the specifically crude connotations of Donne’s poem, the reference,
whether conscious or not, signals the difficulty of transcending worldly terms
in which women and body are so closely associated. It is through these tenuous
shifts between speech and silence, the corporeal and non-corporeal, that Chudleigh’s
speaker enters the protected sanctuary of poetry.
And I felt Raptures not to be express’d;
Raptures, till that soft Hour unknown,
My Soul seem’d from my Body flown. (ll. 56-9)
- However, this domain, which initially seemed to offer escape from orthodox
modes of identification, is suddenly shattered by the death of the Duke, a
figure who in many ways represents all the trappings of power and possession
that the speaker apparently rejected at the outset.24 His entry into heaven
indeed highlights his regal inheritance and authority, marking his placement
within a line of Stuart martyrs:
The Caledonian Chiefs were there,
Meanwhile, the speaker’s muse flees and the speaker herself lies prostrate
and ‘pensive’ ‘Upon the Ground’ (l. 233). The poem now embarks upon the explicitly
public genre of occasional verse, in which:
Who thro’ the World have spread their Fame,
And justly might immortal Trophies claim:
A long Descent of glorious Kings,
Who did, and suffer’d mighty things. (ll. 274-8)
My Country’s Loss became my own,
Barash suggests that at this point ‘Britannia’s voice collapses for a time
onto the speaker herself’ (242). Indeed, the location of the speaker’s voice
becomes increasingly difficult to identify from the announcement of the Duke’s
death. She begins by positioning herself in the shadows of a long male tradition
of elegiac verse, from ‘Maro’, Virgil (l. 119), to the ‘British Genius’, Dryden
(l. 108). The voice of her muse introduced through the retirement mode in
the opening is apparently drowned out by the ‘Lamentations loud’ of the former
poet laureate (l. 113). In a neat reversal of ‘The doleful lay of Clorinda’,
now generally treated as an elegy by Mary Sidney wrapped within Spenser’s
Astrophel (Spenser, Astrophel 549-50), the next nine stanzas
of this poem present the speaker’s eulogy as enshrouded in Dryden’s.
And I was void of Comfort grown.
He’s dead! he’s dead! with them I cry’d,
And to each Sigh, each Groan reply’d. (ll. 235-8)
- Ushered into heaven by the stately pomp of St George (ll. 260-1), the embrace
of his noble ancestors and his coronation amid ‘th’AEthereal Court’ (ll. 325-7),
the Duke’s joyful entry into ‘a Life Divine’ (l. 267) seems to pave the way
towards poetic and national resolution. Dryden’s proclamations on the event
come to an end (l. 328), ‘Britannia now no longer mourn’d’ (l. 329),
the muse returns to wipe away the speaker’s tears and the pastoral scene reappears,
though now within the context of national regeneration and Britannia’s
rejoicing (l. 342), rather than poetic solitude.
- However, as Messenger argues, the poem ultimately refuses to comply with
the neat patterns of the conventional pastoral elegy, for the speaker remains
unconsoled at the end of the poem so that ‘the whole tradition’ Chudleigh
‘has been working with comes apart’ (Pastoral 94). But where Messenger
suggests that this shift from convention does not appear until the final two
stanzas, I consider the poem to be in many ways unorthodox from its outset.
Framed by the retirement mode, the poem undergoes a series of transformations
and reversals both in form and speaking positions, which are signalled by
the appearance of the mutating figure of Philomela. The ecstatic retreat from
the ‘Vain World’ (l. 60) into the harmonious poetic realm of the opening is
exchanged for a retreat into grief: now the speaker is out of kilter with
the poetic and social values of the world she inhabits and is unable to restore
her former state when she was ‘as if in Lethe’s Stream’ (l. 77). Her
promises of fidelity to her muse turn into non-compliance in the last stanza.
The strange, rapturous state produced by hearing the mythological Philomela’s
song of woe, which yields the speaker’s poetic voice, is replaced by her identification
with the Queen’s maternal grief and loss, for it is ‘Her Tears’ that ‘forbid
me to rejoice’ (l. 367), and for which poetry provides no relief. The transportation
of the soul from her body mutates into the tangible suffering caused by the
loss of a child, the fruits of the female body, which, while indicating anxieties
about a royal heir, also creates a bond between the speaker and Queen as women.25
Her own ‘Sighs’ match the Queen’s ‘Sighs’ and it is these which ‘arrest my
Voice’ (ll. 359, 370): sorrow converts into song and song into sorrow and
- And yet what follows is not silence, but an entire volume of poetry dedicated
‘To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty’, ‘laid at your Royal Feet’, and we
learn in the Preface that poetry ‘restor’d my Mind to its former Tranquillity’
(44). In this poem, then, the relationship between verse, voice and body is
peculiarly complex. The retirement motif recasts orthodox modes of identification,
elicits a variety of feminine personae and, far from signalling a retreat
into privacy, provides the starting point for public address and exchange
between women. Retreat is once more employed as a means of formulating a feminine
poetic identity in which the body is displaced by a sensualised lyric voice.
But it is also a means of reframing the speaker’s relationship to the world
outside. By reworking the standard tropes of the retirement mode, Chudleigh
creates an explicitly feminised poetics in which, unlike the professed aim
of much of the poetry written by men in the same genre, the apparently enclosed
space of retreat elicits entry into rather than withdrawal from the public
The process of bodily renunciation, recuperation and redefinition
implicit in Chudleigh’s verse finds expression in a different form in Jane
Barker’s verse. Here again retreat is directly linked with the emergence
of a specifically feminine poetic voice through the figure of Galesia.27
In her fictional work, Loves Intrigues (1713), it is within the context
of rural retirement on one of Galesia’s ‘solitary walks’ (Barker 13) that
‘these Shades strange Thoughts suggest’, for here the muses first advise
her to stray from the conventional path of love, to ‘cast off thy Chain,/
Which links thee to thy faithless Swain’, and instead, ‘to take Wing’ ‘Till
thou reach fair Orinda’s Height’ ‘And vow a Virgin to remain’ (14, ll. 1,
13-14, 6, 8, 15).28 Not until the sequel to Galesia’s story, A Patch-Work
Screen for the Ladies (1723), does she commit herself to such pursuits
by passing ‘my Time in my shady Walks, Fields, and Rural Affairs. The Pleasure
of which was greatly improv’d by reading Mrs Phillips’, whose poetry she
emulates, especially that ‘in Praise of a Country-Life, and Contempt of
human Greatness’ (Barker 76).29 However, when circumstances force her to
live in London, in which ‘Quiet and Retreat’ are ‘scarce anywhere’, Galesia
constructs an alternative site of withdrawal, consisting of ‘a Closet in
my Landlady’s Back Garret which I crept into, as if it had been a Cave on
the Top of Parnassus ... Here I thought I found my own poor despicable Muse
given to Orinda as her Waiting-Maid ... this Hole was to me a kind of Paradise’
(Barker 122). It is here ‘My impertinent Muse ... found me; and here we
renew’d our old Acquaintance’ (123). Retirement is thus adapted to an urban
setting. But in each instance, retreat comprises the same values for Barker
of poetic endeavour, medical study and the merits of single life.
Spencer beautifully argues how in Barker’s work writing
poetry is indeed directly connected to the closed body of the virgin and
the rejection of married life (‘Creating’ 165-81), while King suggests that
‘[t]he retirement poem takes on startling implications’ in Barker’s verse
‘when it is recognized that the withdrawal from distraction and empty business
it valorizes is at base a refusal ... of the whole business of heterosexual
obligation’ (‘Magdalen’ 22). In ‘The Necessity of Fate’ (Barker 141-3),
for example, such ‘Fruits of worldly Treasure’ (l. 37) are abandoned in
favour of entry into a different kind of union, signalled through ‘Initiation/
Into the Muses Congregation’ (ll. 32-3).
In Barker’s most anthologised poem, ‘A Virgin Life’ (Barker
139-40), this ‘happy State’ enables the speaker to produce ‘chaste Verse’
conceived from ‘my chaster Thoughts’ (ll. 5-6) and, in the process, as King
suggests, ‘transforms the meaning and value of unmarried life’ (‘Jane Barker’
561). The speaker challenges ‘What mad Conceptions some have had of Thee’
(l. 20), thereby implying that ‘virgin’ is not an innocent term, but one
to which meanings are attached that can be unfixed and rethought.30 For
the speaker, ‘A Virgin bears the Impress of all Good/ Under that Name, all
Vertue’s understood’ (ll. 27-8). In a witty pun that brings together the
connotations of sexual penetration and publication, she argues that far
from being a condition of ‘Wretchedness,/ Or foul Deformity’ (ll. 21-2),
virtue is imprinted on the virgin. Moreover, this statement makes
her both object and subject of the verb ‘bears’ so as to rework the trope
of poetry as offspring, mentioned earlier: her progeny also bears the features
of goodness that mark her body and define the essence of her state.
However, textual production is defined by the same level
of ambivalence in Barker’s poetry as in Finch’s, Chudleigh’s and Killigrew’s.
Like the speaker in Chudleigh’s ‘On the Death’, Barker’s Galesia presents
her muse as a lover, but one with whom she conducts a fickle relationship
and one who, following the conventions of male poetry, is specifically feminised,
for ‘Sometimes I wou’d repel her Insinuations; and sometimes again accept
her Caresses’ (Barker 123). ‘To my Muse’ (Barker 123-4) attempts to explain
Galesia’s inconsistency in terms that recreate the standard sexualised tropes
with which they play.31 The opening of the poem expresses anxieties about
the quality of the produce such a union will yield when Galesia suggests
that her muse’s entry into ‘The barren Region of my Breast’ is an infestation
that can only conceive ‘Weeds of Noise’ (ll. 1-4). The reason why ‘I thy
Sweets and Charms oppose’ is that Galesia possesses ‘a Mind so wholly rude,/
As can’t afford to entertain/ Thee, with the Welcome of one Strain’ (ll.
Later in the same poem, the speaker highlights her muse’s
generosity in offering insistent companionship in spite of her mistress’s
‘Coldness and Disdain’: she offers patience against rejection, solace against
disquiet, kindness against displeasure, she ‘driv’st Griefs away’ and ‘fill’st
their empty Places’ by providing moral guidance and support (ll. 20-7).
In this, the persistent advances of Galesia’s muse seem more like the devotions
of a selfless, Christian friend, celebrated in ‘A Virgin Life’, than those
of a desirous lover. Moreover, her muse supplies her with fundamental life
resources: she ‘fortify’st’ Galesia when she is ‘in Distress’ and provides
‘Consolation, Physick, Food’ (ll. 28-9). The speaker thus concludes by requesting
her muse to ‘Take full Possession of my Breast’ whose fruit will be ‘harmless
Rhimes’ (ll. 34, 31). Once again, Barker uses the retirement mode to reframe
the relationship between textual and sexual production in which writing
is the source of sensual pleasure, feminine creativity and internal nourishment.
- In examining the verse of Finch, Killigrew, Chudleigh and Barker we have
seen how the retirement mode is fundamental to the production of a feminine
poetics during this period. The concept of retreat seems to contain particular
resonance for women poets, enabling them to reformulate feminine subjectivity.
While retirement appears to signal a closed or contained body, what frequently
emerges is a site that enables the exploration of new possibilities, especially
for forging a specifically feminine poetic identity. Within the site of withdrawal
the terms constructed by the world outside are regarded from a different perspective
where they may be challenged and reshaped. In certain contexts retreat provides
a womb-like space of poetic fruition; one which, in Finch’s, Chudleigh’s and
Barker’s work, elicits an active, inner life of writing, thought and creativity
and one in which identities and their relation to their environment are rethought.
Often the place of retirement is connected to the idea of bodily transcendence,
where a feminine religious subject is freed from social constraints which
define women primarily through the body, and where corporeal matter is associated
with the corrupt world outside of its confines. On other occasions, the retreat
is a location where the body is redefined. In Finch’s, Chudleigh’s and Barker’s
verse, for example, writing is associated with sensory pleasure and the poetic
domain is eroticised. Indeed, frequently sharp boundaries are loosened within
the apparently enclosed domain of retirement, so that confinement incorporates
movement; stillness, transformation; containment, digression from fixed parameters.
Moreover, though frequently marked as a self-enclosed space, retirement may
embrace social exchange. Unlike male poets’ use of the genre, in which retreat
is usually employed as a chosen means of withdrawal from public life, in women’s
poetry it often provides the starting point for public address from a position
of apparent privacy and isolation.
- However, the protective haven that retirement often seems to offer is partially
a theoretical site at the very least, haunted by the idea of ‘retreating from
something’. A sense of precariousness and tentativeness hovers over the shady
grove, often through the implicit sense of exile contained there, which leaves
it vulnerable to the forces of the world it rejects. The lengthy poem that
introduces Chudleigh’s volume of retirement verse pinpoints this very tenuousness,
showing how the site of retreat may easily be shattered and transformed by
external factors. But the retreat may also be troubled from within, through
the mutation of the subject’s own identity, as in Finch’s poetry, or in Killigrew’s,
through the idea that a retreat can never truly be a retreat, but simply demands
further withdrawal until the subject’s identity is extinguished.
- Women writers’ deployment of the retirement mode is therefore varied, rich
and ambivalent, often placing a different light on the genre from their male
counterparts. While certain pivotal features begin to emerge in women’s poetry
of this period, they do not fall into a neat set of patterns and are often
more complicated than they initially appear. In this, the standard conventions
of the retreat genre – physical confinement and enclosure; withdrawal from
the world and critique of orthodox social values – provide a means for women
poets to construct new types of speaking positions through which the feminine
may be rethought and the relationship between verse, voice and body reshaped.
1. The writers most commonly alluded to in women’s poetry of the period are
of course Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn. Finch, Killigrew and Barker all
refer directly to the influence of Philips.
2. See, for example, Abraham Cowley’s ‘The Wish’ (Cowley Poems 87-8),
in which the retreat is associated with the classical virtues of moderation,
tranquillity, friendship and study, together with the unwanton companionship
of ‘A Mistress’ (ll. 14-16).
3. Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Garden’ exemplifies this type of poem (Marvell 100-2).
See also Katherine Philips’s ‘An ode upon retirement, made upon occasion of
Mr Cowley’s on that subject’ (Philips 193-5), in which the ‘quiet’, ‘coole
retreate’ sought by the speaker reflects self-discipline and self-sustenance
(ll. 22, 27-8, 45-6).
4. Most recently this has been discussed by Lynette McGrath, who points out
‘a worried awareness of the potentially threatening association of women’s
bodies with language’ throughout the Renaissance, which ‘is made manifest
in the patriarchal linking of women’s two mouths – of literary publication
or eloquence with sexual promiscuity’ (49). See also Wendy Wall, The Imprint
of Gender and Peter Stallybrass, ‘Patriarchal territories’.
5. Jane Spencer discusses a range of bodily images associated with female
poets during this period (‘Imagining’ 99-119).
6. Spencer identifies Philips as a ‘model for emulation’ precisely because
she was ‘understood in terms of chastity and apparent reluctance to publish’.
Moreover, this image ‘of the modest, retiring, virtuous poetess became so
successful that it became a means to market women’s poetry to subscribers
and other buyers, in a discreet form of professionalization’ (‘Imagining’
7. See Easton 6-9 and Price 231-3.
8. Implicitly modifying Ezell’s and King’s perspectives, McGrath convincingly
argues that ‘[f]or early modern women to write at all is in itself to refuse
the imposed patriarchal definition of the female body and begin to speak from
another bodily space and an alternative sense of the self as subject’ (69,
see also 35-69). These negotiations are certainly apparent in my chosen poets.
9. Valerie Rumbold, for example, notes how Finch ‘often projected muted themes
of political dissent onto motifs of pastoral retreat, idealizing a circle
of sympathetic acquaintance, and in particular the support and friendship
of other women’ (129), features that echo Philips’s verse. Prescott points
out how ‘in many cases a provincial existence could actively enable a woman’s
literary career’ (2), though notes that Finch in fact ‘maintained connections’
with London (33).
10. Importantly, however, Barash argues that by the time Finch’s Miscellany
Poems appeared in 1713, ‘we find Finch remaking political tropes as emotional
ones’ (282), suggesting that in ‘taking patterns that are often implicit in
other women writers and generating a web of metaphors – solitude, inwardness,
darkness’ – she invented the poetic psyche of the eighteenth century (261).
It is worth noting, however, that these metaphors are central to Lady Mary
Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, which appeared nearly a century
11. Barash notes that in the earlier version of this poem ‘the court of Mary
and James remains an ideal’ (278), whereas in this later one, the court is
presented as being a transient domain, set against the ‘certain station’ of
heaven (l. 18).
12. See Spencer for Cowley’s treatment of this metaphor in his celebration
of Philips and the standard image of female poetry as the conception of a
monstrous birth (‘Imagining’ 102-4). Helen Wilcox also discusses how women
writers rework metaphors of poetry as offspring and writer as mother (210-14).
13. This kind of self-critique is of course a convention of a diverse range
women’s writing throughout the seventeenth century. See, for example, poems
as varied as Aemelia Lanyer’s ‘To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty’ (1611),
stanzas 11-12 and An Collins’s ‘The Discourse’ (1653), stanzas 1-4.
14. The Horatian tag comes from Horace’s Epistles 1.19, ll. 21-22
(Horace 40). Ruth Salvaggio suggests that ‘[t]he very process of “wand’ring”
and “wav’ring” is one that Finch directly associated with both her retreats
into nature and the very notion of woman’ (110), ones which, she argues, indicate
her displacement within the dualistic system of meanings informing enlightenment
culture (105-26). The notion of wandering is also specifically linked to the
writing subject in ‘The Appology’ (Finch 15), where the speaker follows ‘through
the Groves a wand’ring Muse’ (l. 3). Given the representation of the writing
subject, it is perhaps ironic that ‘The Spleen’ was among Finch’s most popular
poems (see Rogers 17).
15. Claudia Thomas Kairoff identifies this poem’s intricate political coding,
where ‘pro-Stuart sentiment is associated with freedom from “enslavement”
to imported goods and the pursuit of wealth, associated popularly with the
anti-Stuart Whig party’ (186).
16. See Rogers for a detailed discussion about Finch’s analysis of this condition
17. See, for example, Richard Lovelace’s royalist poem ‘To Althea, from Prison’
18. Killigrew’s Poems were printed posthumously in 1686, but circulated
19. Prescott also observes how Chudleigh uses the concept of retreat as a
means ‘to explore her own position as a woman poet’ and as a metaphor ‘for
intellectual and literary freedom’ (53-4).
20. Citing Marjorie Nicolson’s discussion about Descartes and Henry More,
Hilda Smith suggests how Descartes’s concept of reason, especially his commitment
to withdrawal, appealed to seventeenth-century women writers in that his mode
of analysis ‘in isolation from the general intellectual debates of the day
allowed him a sense of freedom and control he could obtain in no other way’
(203). Furthermore, Catherine Gallagher argues that Cartesian dualism influenced
‘[m]any seventeenth-century women writers’ through its implication that the
mind was ungendered (34). However, Susan Bordo shows how the processes of
‘separation and individuation’ by which Cartesian rationalism is obtained
are implicitly masculinised (249 and 247-64). It is also worth noting that
numerous women philosophers of the period opposed Descartes’s dualism, most
notably Margaret Cavendish and Anne Conway.
21. Wisdom is also feminised in the same poem, though so, too, is Folly (Chudleigh
129, ll. 108 and 102).
22. See, for example, ‘Friendship’s Mysterys, to my dearest Lucasia’ (Philips
90-1) and ‘Friendship’ (Philips 150-1). However, friendship usually enables
this state in Philips’s poetry and the focus is less on the procurement of
rational thought than the union of souls.
23. Compare with Killigrew’s ‘Upon the Saying that my Verses were made by
another’ (Killigrew 44-7) in which the speaker’s ‘Undivided Sacrifice’ of
‘Soul and Body’ to her muse elicits ‘pleasing Raptures’ that ‘fill’d my Ravisht
Sense’ (ll. 9-10, 17). However, where in Chudleigh’s verse poetic production
is presented as a private act, in Killigrew’s poem the speaker, having claimed
to relinquish all worldly values in exchange for ‘thy Poetique Fire’ (l. 4),
is seduced by the ‘False Hope’ of ‘Fame’, so that ‘By thee deceiv’d, methought,
each Verdant Tree,/ Apollos transform’d Daphne seem’d to be;/
And ev’ry fresher Branch, and ev’ry Bow/ Appear’d as Garlands to empale my
Brow’ (ll. 19, 18, 21-4). This image of corporeal imprinting leads her to
allow her verse to be ‘Rifl’d’ ‘By some few hands’ (ll. 37, 32) and results
in the ultimate humiliation of having her poems admired, but thought to be
plagiarised. Unlike Philomela’s elusive, modest nightingale, Killigrew’s speaker
is transformed by public repute into ‘’Esops Painted Jay’ (l. 35), a noisy,
ostentatious, predatory bird which imitates others.
24. As Ezell points out, the Duke of Gloucester, William Henry, was ‘Queen
Anne’s only child to survive infancy’ (‘Introduction’ 47), dying in 1700,
aged 11. While many critics, including Barash, associate Chudleigh with Tory
tendencies, Olive focuses on her Puritan background, reading this poem as
a thinly disguised argument for political toleration. The retirement motif
of the opening, she suggests, refers to ‘the memory of past wrongs’ and looks
towards ‘reconciliation beyond political division and party’, while the poem
as a whole ‘uses the princess’s immediate loss as a trope for political sympathy
with Anne as hope for England’s Protestant future’ (484 and 487).
25. Chudleigh lost four of her own six children (Ezell ‘Introduction’ xxi).
26. Prescott identifies Chudleigh’s ‘complex’ and gendered ‘use of the Horatian
mode and conventions of amateurism’ as ‘enabling subsequent women poets’ self-representation
in print’ (56).
27. The poems to which I refer are revised versions of verses from Poetical
Recreations (1688) which were subsequently incorporated into Barker’s
prose works. King indicates that this collection of poems was on sale by 1687,
even though ‘the title-page bears the date 1688’ (Jane Barker 31).
28. Shiner Wilson points out that the very name ‘Galesia’ ‘recalls the female
form of the Latin name “Galaesus”, a son of Apollo, god of poetry’ (‘Introduction’
xxxvii). This unnamed poem is a revised version of ‘The Contract with the
Muses’, which is part of ‘The Lovers Elesium’, and continues with a warning
against such a fate by ‘my uncouth guardian’ (l. 20). In Love Intrigues
the second part of the poem appears separately (Barker 25-6). This fictional
work establishes the idea of retreat from its outset: it is narrated in St
Germaine’s Garden, the domain of the exiled James II and Mary of Modena, with
whose interests Galesia firmly identifies herself before embarking on her
tale of unhappy love. Barker herself was a committed royalist and catholic
convert, following the Stuarts to St Germain-en-Laye, along with many other
Jacobites, in the 1690s (Shiner Wilson, ‘Introduction’ xxv).
29. King convincingly shows how Philips’s influence on Barker extends beyond
‘the idea of Orinda’ to the intricacies of formal features and themes
(Jane Barker 45-7).
30. King indicates that Barker revised the lines preceding this statement,
in which the speaker outlines some of these ‘mad conceptions’, at least twice
to suit the particular prejudices of the moment (Jane Barker 220-2).
Barker also cut eight lines from the 1723 version of the poem. Originally,
she expands upon what is summarised in the final couplet to identify the tasks
that demonstrate the virgin’s commitments to Christian duty, community and
31. This poem is a slightly revised version of ‘To the Importunate Address
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