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1 Anne Bradstreet Attendance register. Throughout this course, and the American literature courses that you may take with me in the years to come, one of the most important questions is ‘when does American literature start?’ What does this question mean? - When does a literature begin which can be identified as being distinctively American and therefore separate from the main body of English literature. This is the central difficulty for the beginning of American literature; how can it define itself as different from a mother literature with which it shares a language and a tradition? It must make this new definition through a literature with probably at least three of the following four things: - written in America - written by an American - written about American themes - written in an identifiably American style (most important) We’ve looked at one piece of 17th-century American poetry so far; this piece by Thomas Morton of Merry Mount: I do profess, by Cupid’s beauteous mother, Here’s Scogan’s choice for Scylla, and none other; Though Scylla’s sick with grief, because no sign Can there be found of virtue masculine. Asclepius [GOD OF MEDICINE] come; I know right well His labor’s lost when you may ring her knell. The fatal sisters’ doom none can withstand, Nor Cytherea’s power, who points to land With proclamation that the first of May At Ma-re Mount shall be kept holiday.

What can we remember about this poem? - Written to be attached to the may-pole in Merry Mount. We only have Morton’s word for this, so it may not be true. If it is true it is an important early American poem, though more for its historical connections than its quality. It is dense, crabbed and derivative of English poetry of the period. - A studied attempt at provocation of the Puritans. What kind of poetry is this? What is the form? - Heroic couplets – iambic pentameter; AABBCC… A neoclassical, ENGLISH form; the form of public poetry, political poetry – heroic verse &c. - Note the amount of classical references. Also, note the tones of sexual abandon (Scylla’s complain of not enough ‘virtue masculine’) and the sense of continuing their festivities in the face of inevitable defeat (‘Scogan’s choice’ and ‘The fatal sisters’ doom none can withstand’). The eventual collapse of the Merry Mount project seems, then, written into it at the outset by Morton. Look at this baring in mind the four rules we require for American literature:


2 - written in America - written by an American - written about American themes - written in an identifiably American style (most important) Which does it achieve? - written in America (probably; it claims to be though we don’t know that for sure) - written by an American (in a partial sense [before we can say if people are American or not we should really ask the question of what it means to be an American; there is no racial determinant, nor is there a country to be allied to and, at the beginning, little likelihood that any of its members are born in America {the first American-born colonist was born in Roanoake in 1587 and then lost; Virginia Dare}]– Morton was born in England and considered himself an Englishman, yet we was a leading member of an important early attempt at defining the colonial project and therefore arguably as American as any other colonial) - written about American themes (In some senses: the classical imagery is clearly not American, and would never be adopted as wholeheartedly in America as in England – though the reason for applying this poem to the may-pole in the first time is very American; a call to freedom / political liberation) - written in an identifiably American style (most important) (definitely not; written in Heroic couplets, the defining establishment English mode of the 17 th and 18th centuries, a mode suited to theatre and inimical to Puritan / early-American tastes and modes of thought). Puritan verse would be entirely different to this poetry in almost every way. i)

Religious Poetry during the Colonial Period

There is very little of what we would conventionally recognise as literature dating back to this period. Why not? a) No mass publication infrastructure – few presses and no distribution network (bookshops) for mass-produced literature. This would not develop until the late eighteenth-century. b) No market for mass-produced literature. The literate population was still small at this stage. c) No theatre. d) Puritan generally negatively disposed towards most imaginative literature. Most texts of the American seventeenth-century written in English are of a religious nature; the society founded in places such as Plymouth was a very religious one, and founded primarily on religious concerns. Remember that Puritan literature had a long and illustrious tradition in England: Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim’s Progress and others. What kinds of texts do you think we do have from this period? Texts are typically:


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• • • • •

sermons (Like Jonathan Edwards) private religious meditations (Bradstreet and Taylor) diaries (William Bradford) legal / political documents (The Declaration of Independence – Columbus’s letters to Ferdinand and Isabella) propaganda / prospectuses for potential colonists (John Smith)

There is very little American fiction from this period, and effectively no drama. We do have, however, some interesting poetry – working from within the paradigm suggested by the previous list. Significant among the poets of this period: a) Anne Bradstreet – meditative, private poetry. Significant in its combination of genuine emotion with religious piety. b) Edward Taylor – an attractive and imaginative Puritan reinvention of Metaphysical poetry. c) Michael Wigglesworth – America’s first mass-market poetry. Crude, yet effective. We will be reading all three of these poets over the next weeks. Anne Bradstreet Today we will begin by looking at Anne Bradstreet. Biography c. 1612-1672. What does her birthdate tell us? - The pilgrims arrived in 1620; her birth therefore predates the colonisation of American by the British. Virginia Dare, born in 1587 at Roanoke, was the first child born in North America to English parents. Peregrine White, born aboard the Mayflower in 1620, was the first Pilgrim birth. She would arrive in 1630 at around 18 years old, ten years into the rapidly expanding Puritan project. She would be among the wave of settlers that founded Boston (some way north up the coast from Plymouth and the Pilgrims). She was, then, a Puritan, not a Pilgrim. Do you know what the difference is between these two sects? - They are very similar, and in conceptions of the myth of American development are often thought of and referred to as interchangeable. There understanding of Christianity is close; they were both kinds of conservative Protestantism and both felt that the Established, Anglican, Church in England and the Catholic Church were corrupt and played too political a role in the lives of believers. They both felt that the relationship between the believer and God was a direct one and that the hierarchy of the Church had no place interfering in that belief. The central difference, however, was that the Pilgrims broke away from the Anglican Church to found a completely new and separate church, while the Puritans remained (at least nominally) within the Anglican Church in the hope of reforming that edifice from the


4 inside and bringing the main body of Anglican worshippers towards Puritanism. This was the course of action espoused by many in England as well as in America; Oliver Cromwell &c.; reformers rather than separatists. What do you think the effects of this would be? - They would retain somewhat closer ties with the mother country and their colonial experiment. While their beliefs are not significantly different – the non-separatist tendency lead to better relations with England, Westminster and the King – the heart of the empire. This was particularly true during the Commonwealth and after 1688 when Protestantism was definitively secured in England, but also applied under the Stuarts. Boston generally presented a somewhat more cosmopolitan and, perhaps, English environment than Plymouth – though it was still a conservative and harsh place to live. She was from an established and important family in the colony; her father was Thomas Dudley, her husband Simon Bradstreet; they were both governors of Massachusetts at various points. No pictures survive of Bradstreet. Why might this be? - She was a woman. - She also suffered from small pox when in youth, so may have been disfigured – though few portraits of Puritan women survive in general from the period. What do you think life was life for the Puritans? - Hard. - In ‘The May-Pole of Merry Mount’ Hawthorne gives us the a classic charicature of what Pilgrim life had been like; Puritan would not have been vastly dissimilar: [M]ost dismal wretches, who said their prayers before daylight, and then wrought in the forest or the cornfield, till evening made it prayer time again. Their weapons were always at hand, to shoot down the straggling savage. When they met in conclave, it was never to keep up the old English mirth, but to hear sermons three hours long, or to proclaim bounties on the heads of wolves and the scalps of Indians. Their festivals were fast-days, and their chief pastime was the singing of psalms. Woe to the youth or maiden, who did but dream of a dance! The selectman nodded to the constable; and there sat the light-heeled reprobate in the stocks; or if he danced, it was around the whipping-post, which might be termed the Puritan may-pole. (pp. 1307-08)

Note that even Hawthorne uses the terms Puritan and Pilgrim interchangeably, and this description can be taken to refer to the lifestyles of both sects. How would it have differed for women? - No involvement in public life. - Little access to education, though this was mitigated in Bradstreet’s case by her socially prominent background and consequent access to various educational materials in the home. - Very particular kinds of behaviour were expected: she must be deferential / humble / passive. Women must remain in the background and not put themselves forward nor overly involve themselves in the life of the colony. If we turn now to Bradstreet’s work we will learn something more of the position of women in Puritan colonial America. [show slide of title page of The Tenth Muse]


5 This is the title page of Anne Bradstreet’s first book, The Tenth Muse, published in 1650. It is the only book she would see published in her lifetime. It would also be the first book published by an American poet. What can we learn from it? - Title: the nine muses are Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania, Melpomene. Calliope

Epic poetry

Clio

History

Erato

Love poetry

Euterpe

Song and Elegiac poetry

Melpomene Tragedy Polyhymnia Hymns Terpsichore Dance Thalia

Comedy

Urania

Astronomy

Classical embodiments of the artistic process and the process of inspiration. Essentially a passive role in the process of artistic inspiration; a woman inspiring men to produce art. The title of the book compares Bradstreet to one of these women – though she is in fact an artist in her own right. We can see a diminution of her role in this move – and it should be noted that the book was ostensibly printed and edited by men without Bradstreet’s knowledge – a move necessary for the title to make sense and one that further diminishes her role in the work. - Also, note the subtitle ‘lately sprung up in America’: the book insists on its American provenance; an important moment and a very early example of a work doing this. At the same time, this subtitle also suggests something about the possible audience for the book: they will be English. - Also note at the bottom of the page that it is published in London. It is, then, an originary American woman’s book – but edited and published by men and England, for an English audience. We will turn now to the introduction to The Tenth Muse; the first item in your readers’ pack. What do you notice about this introduction/epistle? - Written by a man; John Woodbridge. A local priest who had had this book published in London, apparently without Bradstreet’s knowledge. This action is central to this text and our understanding of Bradstreet’s position as an early woman writer in America.


6 - It tells us a) that a man’s wishes overrode Bradstreet’s – she was not consulted nor permitted an opinion on whether they should be published or not and b) it would have been unwomanly to have put herself forward to have the book published. It may be that Woodbridge’s assumption of these responsibilities was encouraged by Bradstreet, who maintained a silent role in the background of publication in order to accord with the expected position of women of the day. The inclusion of Woodbridge’s introduction is, then, both a potentially dominating action, as well as a potentially protective strategy. He goes on to discuss Bradstreet’s poetry in ways that are typical of the period: P. 1., extract 1. The author announces that he is worried people might think women better than men; an implication of the position that most men found women to be their inferiors at this time – a very double-edged kind of praise. P. 1., extract 2. Woodbridge continues in the same way, apparently incredulous that a woman could really write as well as the current volume displays. Note that the reader is unashamedly identified as ‘he’. P. 2., extract 3. Lengthy insistence on the qualities of a woman, and that Bradstreet accords to all of them. What kind of qualities are these? - Typical Puritan ones; the qualities needed to be a successful housewife, not to be a writer or a member of public life in any sense. Note that Bradstreet writes at quick moments outside of all of this non-writing activity, which takes precedence. She must sacrifice her sleep and what little personal time the heavily regulated Puritan lifestyle leaves her to produce this important and ground-breaking verse. P. 2., extract 4. An insistence that Bradstreet did not want the book published. What is the function of this disclaimer? - So that we know that she is not breaking those habits of lifestyle set forth above. This introduction is followed by a series of poems written by men, commending Bradstreet’s poetry in similarly sexist terms.

Anne bradstreet introduction  
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