Anne Bradstreet’s Application of Modern Feminist Theory

  • Unveristy of Social Sciences, łodź poland
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In The Continuity of American Poetry, Roy Harvey Pearce reminds us that Puritan verse presents “little or no problem of a specifically artistic purpose” and that “the doctrine, the event, the occasion guarantee purpose, so that the poet becomes merely a reporter, such eloquence as he can command being put to a higher than poetic use” (22). Developing his argument, Pearce states that Anne Bradstreet “is like her [Puritan] fellows in being essentially the poet of the event, and a not very imaginative one at that,” that she is “worth reading principally in poems like [”Contemplations“] and in those ‘personal’ poems published after her death” (23). Like many critics before and after him, Pearce seems to adhere to Adrienne Rich’s 1967 famous “Foreword” to The Works of Anne Bradstreet, which drew an unjust dividing line between Bradstreet’s early public poems and the more personal, posthumously published works. However, Pearce appears also more cautious in his judgment of Bradstreet than some of the early feminist critics were, he does not fail to include a propitiatory statement that Anne Bradstreet, while being “the poet of the event,” is primarily The only poet of this order whom we have good cause to remember for what she did, not what she meant to do … Perhaps we remember her too well, because the publication of her poetry in England in 1650 … caused such a stir and because she seems so relaxed when compared to other Puritan poets. In all ways, she is the “easiest” of Puritan poets, the ease marking her civilized triumph over pioneering conditions which made life terribly hard for a gentlewoman born. (22–23)

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Henigman focuses in her first chapter on documents related to the conviction and execution of various infanticides beginning with Esther Rogers in 1701 and ending with Patience Boston in 1735, in her second on exchanges and influence among Jane Colman Turell, her father Benjamin Colman, and her husband Ebenezer Turell, and in her third on Jonathan Edwards’s incorporation of Sarah Edwards’s personal spiritual narrative into Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival of Religion. These “pastoral dialogues” include a sometimes bewildering variety of genres and relationships. At the center of each chapter is a primary pastor/parishioner exchange, but Henigman also adds important information about differences among ministers complicating the pastor side of the binary and about communal concerns reflected for instance in the Bastard Neonaticide Act, psalm-singing debates, and conflicts over the Lord’s Supper complicating the parishioner side. Thus, dialogues proliferate into communal polylogue. This constellation of contributing factors, all relevant and well researched, is a strength of this book, substantiating Henigman’s commitment to representing diverse voices and tracing multiple lines of power. However, as an organizing principle “pastoral dialogues” as defined here is a frustrating category, one which Henigman strains to defend from section to section both because “dialogue” is frequently only implied in the extent texts and because the exchanges she treats in each chapter differ so markedly from one another.
Vita. Photocopy of typescript. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University Microfilms, 1975.--22 cm. Editor's thesis (Ph. D.) - Boston University, 1964. Bibliography: leaves 539-541.
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