Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lyn Bennett: "Trapnel’s Report and Plea"

Lyn Bennett

Book Review

Anna Trapnel, Anna Trapnel’s Report and Plea; or, A Narrative of Her Journey from London into Cornwall. Edited by Hilary Hinds. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, Vol. 50, ITER (Toronto, 2016) and Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Tempe AZ, 2016), 155 + xvi pp. ISBN: 9780866985581

1> In her introduction to Anna Trapnel’s Report and Plea, Hilary Hinds reminds us that Trapnel’s writing lay long dormant “until recent scholarship rekindled a sense of the fascination and importance of her life and work.” First published in 1654, Trapnel’s account of her itinerant preaching through Cornwall and subsequent trial and imprisonment at Bridewell was, Hinds notes, only one among “six texts authored by her to be published in six years” that, taken together, suggest something of the extent of “public interest” in the author and her work (28).

2> Perhaps best known for her very public twelve-day trance at Whitehall and the resulting prophecies recorded by an unnamed “relator” and published as The Cry of a Stone in 1654, Trapnel was a Fifth Monarchy Baptist whose voice was enabled by conditions of publication dramatically altered over the course of two Civil Wars as well as the singular religious and political context in which she spoke and wrote. In broad and fine strokes, Hind’s generous introduction sketches a world very much turned upside down, the King displaced by the oft-despised Oliver Cromwell, the New Army General and Lord Protector Trapnel challenged in speech and in print, and a once-united religion split into a dizzying array of factions and sects. Those factions, as Hinds explains, included those that divided Baptists who may have been united in common rejection of infant baptism but were split into Calvinist believers in predestination (those Particular Baptists that included Trapnel) and Arminian heretics who upheld the possibility of personal redemption. In this and other ways, Hinds’ admittedly brief but wide-ranging account of “the turmoil generated by the unprecedented and fast-moving events” (5) gathers a perfect storm of Interregnum conditions that signalled for the Fifth Monarchists an imminent Second Coming and afforded Trapnel a prophetic place near its center.

3> Unlike the mediated The Cry of a Stone, which was in 2000 published in a modern edition also by Hinds, the Report and Plea is a first-person narrative recounted by Trapnel herself; like the earlier work, however, Trapnel’s account of her journey and trial stands out also as the product of a prophet whose role transcended that of “religious polemicist, political commentator, or biblical exegete” (10). In the earlier prophecies, Trapnel speaks not in slavish imitation of the Scripture on which The Cry of a Stone heavily draws, but in highly rhetorical and imaginative re-visioning of its most cryptic Book of Revelations. Hinds likewise notes an equally “striking” use of “linguistic resources” evident not only in the Report and Plea’s abundance of biblical imagery but, fittingly enough for the self-proclaimed daughter of a shipwright hailing from Stepney Parish east of London, also in the frequent invocation of “nautical metaphor to flesh out a spiritual point.” Reading the later narrative as more than an historical artifact of personal biography and “religious life” (12), Hinds does well to underscore its interest as a literary text.

4> It is not only in Scripture’s “sweet unfoldings” (99) or in Christ’s “bowels of compassion” (97) that Trapnel’s authorial voice proves lively and inventive. Including accounts of what she observed as she walked “in a curious garden” (55) and elsewhere outdoors, what she experienced in her arrest and transportation back to London, and what she suffered from the dreadful sickness that befell her during her imprisonment at Bridewell, Trapnel’s narrative does much to convey the richness of lived experience. That she sometimes recounts details as small as what she ate, from the fasting “draught of small beer or cider” and the occasional “little piece of toast” (100) that appear also in The Cry of a Stone, to the “piece of pie” (105) she brought from Plymouth and consumed on the way to Portsmouth, further attests to her attentiveness as a storyteller. Transforming the literal into the figurative in describing, for example, the fragility of “partridge eggs of the largest kind” transported by an accompanying Lieutenant and bound as a gift to Cromwell (105), and later invoking those “eggs that are subject to rot or to break before they come to be large partridges” as antithetical to the grace conferred upon the elect by the “great Jehovah” and “his son Christ” (108), she also reveals more than a modicum of poetic sensibility and argumentative sense. Finding and using the available mean of persuasion in fashioning a script uniquely her own, Trapnel recognizes possibility in the tool she uses; like every cognizant rhetor, however, she is also aware of its “dangerous ambiguity” and the corollary necessity that, as Hinds puts it, language – like those fragile eggs – is “always to be handled with care” (26-27).

5> Suggesting something of the knowledge yet to be gleaned from an already-fascinating text, Hinds’ introduction is complemented by extensive explanatory notes offering scriptural cross-references and detailed explanations of legal proceedings as well as information about the people Trapnel encountered and the places she traveled. Including some relevant contemporary texts, the appended bibliography also provides references to secondary works whose number is necessarily limited by a body of scholarship that, Hinds explains, is of “such quantity now that it is no longer possible to do full justice to all who have contributed to it” (31). Indeed, Hinds’ edition of The Cry of a Stone has surely done much to encourage interest in Trapnel’s long-overlooked corpus, and her work on the Report and Plea will likely prove even more timely and relevant to an audience of diverse interests. The volume would serve well as an assigned text for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students of literature, history, gender, politics, religion, and women’s studies, and will be a welcome addition to the libraries of established scholars. As with the other titles so far included in The Toronto Series, Anna Trapnel’s Report and Plea is a high-quality volume certain to endure intellectually, academically, and materially.

Associate Professor at Dalhousie University, Lyn Bennett teaches classes in rhetoric, writing, and early modern literature. She has recently published in the Journal of Medical Humanities, and her monograph, Rhetoric, Medicine, and the Woman Writer, 1600-1700, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. She is currently working on a grant-funded collaborative project titled Early Modern Maritime Recipes.

Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern
Literature and Culture,,
ISSN: 1946-1992,

Volume Ten (2017): Artefacts

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