Sunday, August 16, 2015

Amy Stackhouse: “Anne Killigrew’s Poems”

Amy D. Stackhouse

Book Review

Margaret J. M. Ezell, ed., “My Rare Wit Killing Sin”: Poems of a Restoration Courtier, by Anne Killigrew. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, 27, ITER (Toronto, 2013), 184 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7727-2152-5

Orinda, (Albion’s and her Sex’s Grace)
Ow’d not her Glory to a Beauteous Face,
It was her Radiant Soul that shone Within,
Which struck a Luster through her Outward Skin;
That did her Lips and Cheeks with Roses dye,
Advanc’t her Height, and Sparkled in her Eye.
Nor did her Sex at all obstruct her Fame,
But higher ‘mong the Stars it fixt her Name;
What she did write, not only all allow’d,
But ev’ry Laurel, to her Laurel, bow’d!

—Anne Killigrew,
Upon the saying that my Verses were made by another

1> The widely-read and beloved Katherine Philips -- the "Matchless Orinda" Anne Killigrew describes above -- in her own poems praises Platonic friendship and adopts the language of the Petrarchan poet to admire the mistress's spiritual value through a blazon of her physical characteristics. Notable among Philips's Society of Friendship was the eccentric writer Margaret Cavendish, whom Philips praises for her virtue and beauty, while remaining oddly quiet about her writing.

2> Philips was not the first seventeenth-century woman to use the language of male poets to praise the virtue of women. In 1611, Aemilia Lanyer dedicated Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum to women courtiers, the princess, and the queen, as she sought patronage through Petrarchan address. Unlike Philips who showed little interest in the Querelles de femmes, Lanyer's circle of friendship was exclusively female and Lanyer argued both in her dedications and in her poems themselves for what we would now call a proto-feminist agenda. However, like Philips, Lanyer did not seem particularly interested in these women as writers; their virtues were more abstract, as Lanyer portrays them as the victims of a misogynistic culture.

3> At first blush, Anne Killigrew seems to join Lanyer and Philips in traditional, masculine praise of women. However, her emphasis in her description of Philips is not on Orinda's beauty -- although she does include a conventional blazon even as she denies it is the cause of Orinda's glory -- but on Orinda's writing. Orinda's sex does not prevent her from writing -- any more than Killigrew's does -- but it raises her name higher in glory and fame. Since the subject of Killigrew's poem is a defense of her own writing, which she feels has been brought into question because it is understood among her male contemporaries that women are not good poets, Killigrew attempts to show that Philips is not famous simply for being a female poet; she is famous for her poetry itself, poetry so accomplished that all other laurels bow to Philips's. Despite the hyperbole, by implicitly comparing herself to Philips,  Killigrew hopes that not only can she shake the whispers that someone else must have written her poetry, but that she can rise above her male contemporaries.

4> Killigrew had quite a bit to work against, given the Restoration court's attitudes towards women. As Margaret J. M. Ezell describes in her scholarly and thoroughly readable introduction to this beautifully edited volume of Killigrew's poetry, Anne was a unique voice among the poets of the “hedonistic, libertine life-style followed by many of both the male courtiers and the women associated with them” in the courts of King Charles II and James, Duke of York (1). Dr. Ezell gives the reader a taste of those hedonists in Appendix D where she includes typical poetry of these male courtiers, including the Earl of Rochester.

5> After tracing Anne Killigrew's family connections to the court in the Introduction, Dr. Ezell next dives into Restoration history, politics, and religion, followed by Restoration court culture (art and literature) and the courtiers, and then Anne Killigrew's life, writings, and paintings. Dr. Ezell concludes with Killigrew's literary afterlife. Dr. Ezell's Introduction is informative and useful for the undergraduate reader, as well as for the graduate student who is beginning her studies of Restoration literature. The appendices which conclude the volume -- poems about Anne Killigrew, poems appended to her volume that were not written by her, poems written about the death of Killigrew's Aunt, and poems by Killigrew's male contemporaries -- provide a clear literary context for Killigrew's work, and gently nudge burgeoning scholars into the types of questions they might be asking as they begin their own research.

6> These appendices also give the reader clear insight into what Anne Killigrew was working with and against. The title of Ezell's volume, My Rare Wit Killing Sin, is Edmund Wodehouse's "Anagram on Mistress Anne Killigrew," and the appendices along with the Introduction frame Anne Killigrew in this light. The volume is one in the series The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, and Ezell shows how Killigrew is an Other voice: she was in Restoration court culture, but not of Restoration court culture.

7> While John Milton notoriously complained about the quality of his portrait in the 1645 volume of his Poems, mocking the engraver by having him engrave in Greek an insult about his engraving, Killigrew is allowed control of her own image in this volume, as much as can be expected for a poet dead for 330 years. The cover art of the volume is Isaac Beckett's engraving of Anne Killigrew's self-portrait. Before the reader even gets to Dr. Ezell's Introduction, the reader is greeted by the color plate of Killigrew's Venus Attired by Graces. In other words, before any other voice can co-opt her, Killigrew is allowed to present herself to the reader, who has no choice but to accept the talent of this Restoration courtier. The placement of Killigrew's art is a brilliant statement on the part of the editor.

8> The only criticism I had of the volume was the glosses on the poems themselves. While the Introduction and the supporting materials seem appropriate for an advanced undergraduate or a graduate student, the audience for the glosses was less clear. For example, on page 46, Dr. Ezell helpfully annotates the queen referred to in the title of Killigrew's "To the Queen" as Catherine of Braganza, but right before that she glosses the word "strook" as "struck." Granted, "strook" is an archaism, but the context clues and the closeness of the word in sound and spelling to the modern "struck" shouldn't be too difficult for an advanced undergraduate or a graduate student to understand without the gloss. Again, on page 53, in "The Third Epigram On an Atheist," Dr. Ezell glosses the word "boot" in the lines "His Impious Courage had no other Root, / But that the Villain, Atheist was to boot." Dr. Ezell points out the phrase means "in addition to." Certainly, that is what it means, but I'm not sure who would be reading the volume without being able to figure that out on their own if they weren't already familiar with the term in the modern day: it is still used in some parts of the United States.

9> Despite the occasional unevenness of the glosses, the brilliance of the title and choices of art, the clear and useful Introduction, the helpful Appendices all make the volume well worth a place on the bookshelf of any reader of Restoration verse.

Dr. Amy D. Stackhouse is the Associate Dean of Arts and Science at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, as well as the editor of The Shakespeare Newsletter. Dr. Stackhouse’s research focus is on John Milton and seventeenth-century British literature. She also writes fiction and has recently completed a Young Adult novel.

Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture,
Volume Eight (2015): Dialogues & Exchanges

No comments: