Cover image for The work of self-representation : lyric poetry in colonial New England
The work of self-representation : lyric poetry in colonial New England
Schweitzer, Ivy.
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Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1991]

Physical Description:
xi, 306 pages ; 24 cm.
Gendering the universal : the Puritan paradigm of redeemed subjectivity -- The paradox of "practical conformity" : John Fiske's "Elegy" on John Cotton -- The Puritan cult of the spouse : Edward Taylor's dialectic of difference -- Anne Bradstreet : "In the place God had set her" -- Roger Williams's Key : a gynesis of race.

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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS312 .S38 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In The Work of Self-Representation Ivy Schweitzer examines early American poetry through the critical lens of gender. Her concern is not the inclusion of female writers into the canon; rather, she analyzes how the metaphors of "woman" and "feminine" function in Puritan religious and literary discourse to represent both the "otherness" of spiritual experience and the ways in which race and class function to keep the "other" in marginalized positions.

Schwetizer argues that gender was for seventeenth-century new England -- and still is today -- a basic and most politically charged metaphor for the differences that shape identity and determine cultural position. To glimpse the struggle between gender ideology and experience, Schweitzer provides close readings of the poetry of four New Englanders writing between the Great Migration and the first wave of the Great Awakening: John Fiske, Edward Taylor, Anne Bradstreet, and Roger Williams.

Schweitzer focuses exclusively on lyric poetry, she says, because a first-person speaker wrestling with the intricacies of individual consciousness provides fruitful ground for exploring the politics of voice and identity and especially problems of authority, intertextuality, and positionality. Fiske and Taylor define the orthodox tradition, and Bradstreet and Williams in different ways challenge it. Her treatment of the familiar poetry of Bradstreet and Taylor is solidly grounded in historical and literary scholarship yet suggestive of the new insights gained from a gender analysis, while discussions of Fiske and Williams bring their little-known lyric work to light.

Taken together, these poets' texts illustrate the cultural construction of a troubled masculinity and an idealized, effaced femininity implicit in the Puritan notion of redeemed subjectivity, and constitute a profoundly disturbing and resilient part of our Puritan legacy.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This feminist reading of Puritan culture uses lyric poetry, "with the subjectivity it implies and displays," as the "cultural site" of "the contested activity of self-representation, the discursive work of the Protestant ethic." Schweitzer reads the "Protestant paradigm of conversion," which casts the convert as a woman passive, receptive, bride of Christ as a "narrative of gendered subjectivity," which paradoxically "inscribes only the male gender as redeemed subjects." A wonderfully clear and distinct introduction conducts the reader briskly through important work by Tzvetan Todorov, Anne Kibbey, Lawrence Stone, and Alice Jardin in preparation for four chapters on the Puritan poets John Fiske, Edward Taylor, Anne Bradstreet, and Roger Williams. Each is skillfully argued; each has special rewards. The Bradstreet chapter, e.g., includes a fine 13-page discussion of John Berryman's 1953 poem Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956); the chapter on Williams is a brilliant discussion of A Key into the Language of America (1643), a text that deserves far more attention than it has drawn. Readers of every degree of sophistication will find Schweitzer's book helpful and generous. Her excellent study joins Robert Daly's God's Altar (CH, Jan'79) and David S. Shields's Oracles of Empire (CH, Apr'91) on the very short list of indispensable works on Puritan poetry and culture.-J. D. Wallace, Boston College