Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America

Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America
    Book Description:

    Should women concern themselves with reading other than the Bible? Should women attempt to write at all? Did these activities violate the hierarchy of the universe and men's and women's places in it? Colonial American women relied on the same authorities and traditions as did colonial men, but they encountered special difficulties validating themselves in writing. William Scheick explores logonomic conflict in the works of northeastern colonial women, whose writings often register anxiety not typical of their male contemporaries. This study features the poetry of Mary English and Anne Bradstreet, the letter-journals of Esther Edwards Burr and Sarah Prince, the autobiographical prose of Elizabeth Hanson and Elizabeth Ashbridge, and the political verse of Phyllis Wheatley. These works, along with the writings of other colonial women, provide especially noteworthy instances of bifurcations emanating from American colonial women's conflicted confiscation of male authority. Scheick reveals subtle authorial uneasiness and subtextual tensions caused by the attempt to draw legitimacy from male authorities and traditions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5859-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    Among the many revisions that have occurred in studies of colonial America, three in particular influence my investigation in this book. There was, we now recognize, much more trouble with the establishment of authority in the New World settlements than we had once thought. Relatedly, we understand better today that Puritan culture, early and late, was far more diverse and heterodoxic—far less formed—than we had previously believed. And we now appreciate better that within both of these dynamic contexts, women’s voices were more evident and distinctive than we had once noticed. These voices, wittingly or unwittingly, dialogued over...

  5. ONE Authority and Witchery
    (pp. 27-50)

    To begin this investigation with Cotton Mather (1663-1728) and Mary English (1652?-94) is to begin with one of the most public and one of the most obscure figures of colonial America. It is to begin, in other words, with a metonymy of the theocratic textualization of gender identity in the colonies. Mather and English are representative figures. Their lives intersected during the Salem witch trials, but of primary interest here is how both his book and her poem were deformed by the logonomic conflicts endemic to their mutually unstable attempt to negotiate an authorized identity for women.

    Cotton Mather’sOrnaments...

  6. TWO Love and Anger
    (pp. 51-81)

    Love was not exempt from the purview of colonial theocratic authority. This oversight was especially true in the Puritan settlements, where admonitions concerning excessive attachment to another person were common. It is in this environment that Jane Colman Turell typically worried about her feelings for Samuel, her only surviving offspring: “It may be I have made this Child too much an Idol” (Turell 1735, 107). But, if the letter-book of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c. 1722-93) is representative, such concerns evidently occurred as well in southern Anglican communities. Pinckney writes, “We are not to fix our happiness on any thing beneath...

  7. THREE Captivity and Liberation
    (pp. 82-106)

    The instances of logonomic conflict we have reviewed to this point occur in works written by Congregationalist and Presbyterian authors. As my discussion peripherally indicates, these women are by no means perfectly aligned in every aspect of their Reformed beliefs. Mary English and Anne Bradstreet do not share precisely the same cultural heritage or, perhaps, Congregationalist ideas, which were far from monolithic even at the start of the Puritan enterprise in England (Foster 1991). And compared with Bradstreet and English, Esther Edwards Burr reflects a more liberating exposure to both Presbyterian dogma and eighteenth-century thought, while at the same time...

  8. FOUR Subjection and Prophecy
    (pp. 107-127)

    The critical response to the poetry of Phillis Wheatley (c. 1754-84) often registers disappointment or surprise. Some critics have complained that the verse of this African American slave is insecure (Collins 1975, 78), imitative (Richmond 1974, 54-66), and incapacitated (Burke 1991, 33, 38)—at worst, the “product of a White mind” (Jamison 1974, 414-15) and the “barter of [the poet’s] soul” (Richmond 1982, 127). Others, in contrast, have applauded Wheatley’s critique of Anglo-American discourse (Kendrick 1993, 222-23), her revision of literary models and acknowledgment of African heritage (Watson 1996), and her verification of selfhood (Baker 1991, 39-41). Readers have observed...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 128-132)

    There is an episode, designed to be humorous, in the first missive of J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’sLetters from an American Farmer(1782) that bears a parenthetical relationship to the foregoing discussion of my book. The fictional narrator of this and the following eleven letters reports his wife’s vehement opposition to his epistolary undertaking, which leads to a consultation with a minister concerning the propriety of such activity. At first, his wife tries to dissuade her husband by emphasizing the shame and embarrassment he should properly feel, given his primitive colonial condition, in writing in a culturally impoverished...

  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 133-145)
  11. Index
    (pp. 146-152)