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Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse

Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Elizabeth Ann Mackay, University of Dayton

My project for the Women Writers Project explores an oft-cited, but rarely studied, mother’s advice book: M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse (1631). Compared to other seventeenth-century mother’s advice books, blessings, and legacies, such as Dorothy Leigh’s The Mothers Blessing, Elizabeth Clinton’s The Countesse of Lincolnes Nurserie, and Elizabeth Joceline’s The Mothers Legacie to her unborn Childe, M. R.’s Counsell is either ignored by critics or disparaged for what most critics identify as its derivative, formulaic writing style. M. R. is also criticized for misogynistic attitudes towards women in her written advice to a daughter, which appears to endorse and reinforce a limited and conservative feminine ideal. In studies of women’s writing or mother’s advice, it’s therefore a text usually mentioned only in passing or in a footnote.

But I’ve found that a close reading of M. R.’s Mothers Counsell and, in particular, a closer reading of its intertextual nature, reveals its unique rhetorical status as a woman’s and a mother’s text. The Mothers Counsell has always been read in the context of mother’s advice books and legacies (always, precisely because it is a mother’s advice book), but, to be sure, this text has as much in common with grammar school boys’ notebooks as well as with the male-“authored” commonplace, quotation, and miscellany books that were incredibly popular, “best-selling” texts in early modern book markets. In my study of The Mothers Counsell, I have traced nearly all of M. R.’s maxims, proverbs, and sententious sayings to other published sources, specifically to several published, popular miscellanies in the period. As I’ve found, M. R. participates in what Adam Smyth has called a “commonplace book culture.”

My work for the Women Writers Project is part of a larger book project on “maternal figures,” a study of figurative language strategies (depicted or personified as mothers) and fictional and actual mothers who gave their daughters instructions in the uses of these rhetorical devices. In this book project, I explore representations of a wide variety of these “maternal figures” and I argue that mothers were at the center of thought in early modern England, that mothers were both a shaping force for and participants within early modern rhetorical culture. M. R. is one of many mothers who teach their daughters rhetorical strategies; specifically, M. R. teaches her daughter such “maternal figures” as the notebook method, proverbs, and the gathering and framing of “sayings” (more on sayings below).

In my WWP project, I focus on the intertextual nature of M. R.’s advice book, planning to show that, like many male editors of the period, M. R. acts as a compiler of her own commonplace book, but even beyond compiling quotations, she makes these quotations her own, transforming them, whether she edits sayings to suit her own purposes, repackages the sayings under new titles and categories, reworks and reframes them so that they become unrecognizable as others’ quotes, and ultimately, composes her own original work by “translating” quotations into her own writing. Therefore, I reassess M.R.’s The Mothers Counsell by putting it into new contexts. Doing so, I do not simply consider its links to the genres with which it has always been in conversation (mother’s advice books and maternal legacies). I also analyze it in a more substantial way, reading it as as a text uniquely positioned to show us several important aspects of early modern textuality and intertextuality.

As I plan to show, it is the very intertextual nature of M. R.’s Counsell that sets it apart from other mother’s advice books; its intertextual character also provides us with a unique example of a woman collecting, editing, and then making public her commonplace or miscellany book. My WWP project will discuss a variety of M. R.’s source materials while analyzing the range of rhetorical strategies (those “maternal figures”) that M. R. used to both draw on and work against her sources, including her deliberate choice to obscure her identity, her views on chastity, her uses of section headings, her own understanding of textuality and its relationship to women’s speech and writing, her tongue-in-cheek attitude to her sources and to the construction of women in male-authored texts, and her maternal vocabularies and allusions.

In this blog post, I’d like to share a very few examples of what I’ve discovered in my reading of The Mothers Counsell. First, a few notes about the structure and some conventions of Mothers Counsell. The advice book is divided into four sections (with four corresponding subsections), each of which is a “point” on a moral compass about which M. R. instructs her daughter (thus, the subtitle of the book, “Live Within Compasse”).

Additionally, each of the four points includes its opposite behavior in the four subsections. For example, the book begins with a discussion of “Chastitie,” which is followed by a section on “Wantonness,” what it means to turn “out of compass in chastitie”; thus, M. R. conveys to her daughter the behaviors and actions to be avoided. Each section is primarily written in prose, culminating with verses that comment back on or bring the description of the compass point to its conclusion.

A first example of M. R.’s intertextuality: in “Wantonness,” M. R. ends the section with these verses:

Such is the crueltie of women kind,
when they haue shaken off the shamefac’st hand,
with which wise nature did them strongly bind.
t’obey the hests of mans well ruling hand,
that then all rule & reason they withstand,
to purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand
that they were borne to Humilitie,
vnlesse the Heauens them life to lawfull Soueraigntie.

Importantly, this is passage is one that critics such as Betty Travitsky and Elaine Beilin have recognized as a quotation; Travitsky, for instance, writes in The Paradise of Womenthat this passage is one of a few “(unacknowledged) quotations from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene” (66). (In reading Travitsky’s assessment of M.R., I was struck by a contrast with her praise for Elizabeth Grymeston, who uses the same rhetorical strategies in her mother’s advice book,Miscelanae, Meditations, Memoratives, written to a son. There, Travitsky applauds Grymeston’s style and her “ability to assimilate and even to alter quotations from many sources for her own purposes.”  M. R., on the other hand, doesn’t seem to warrant the same kind of praise (51).) Indeed, here is Spenser’s passage, from Book 5, Canto 5, stanza 25 of The Faerie Queene. Note how Spenser’s passage is mostly identical to the passage of M. R., with some minor changes in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and the like:

Such is the crueltie of womenkynd,
When they haue shaken off the shamefast band,
With which wise Nature did them strongly bynd,
T’obay the heasts of mans well ruling hand,
That then all rule and reason they withstand,
To purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand,
That they were borne to base humilitie,
Vnlesse the heauens them lift to lawfull soueraintie.

Here’s another example, one of the few passages where M. R. includes a discussion of the self:

Corrupt company is more infectious than corrupt aire; therefore let women be houised in their choise; for that text of thy selfe that could neuer bee expounded; thy companion shalt as thy commentarie, lay open to the world: for it is seene by experience, that if those which are neither good nor euill accompany with those that are good, they are transformed into their vertue. If those that are neither good nor euill consort with those that are euill, they are incorporated to their vice. If the good companie with the good, both are made the better; if the euill with the euill, both the worse: for such as the companie is, such is the condition.

Strikingly, the same quote appears in an edition of Lord Burghley’s published Precepts, but, as I’ll highlight in the following passage, we can see that M. R. has made one slight edit:

Corrupt company is more infectious than corrupt aire; therefore let women be houised in their choise; for that text of thy selfe that could neuer bee expounded; thy companion shalt as thy commentarie, lay open to the world: for it is seene by experience, that if those which are neither good nor euill accompany with those that are good, they are transformed into their vertue. If those that are neither good nor euill consort with those that are euill, they are incorporated to their vice. If the good companie with the good, both are made the better; if the euill with the euill, both the worse: for according to the Proverbe, such as the companie, such is the condition.”

And I’ll include one last example from M. R.’s section on “Humilitie,” one that, I think, demonstrates the nuances of M. R.’s advice to her daughter; again, I’ll highlight subtle (or not so subtle) revisions in all three examples:

Shee that gathereth vertues without Humilitie, casteth dust against the winde, and loesth her labour.

Compare M. R.’s presentation of this line to a saying included in Nicholas Ling’s commonplace book, Politeuphuia, under the section heading, “Of Humilitie”:

Hee that gathereth vertues without humilitie, casteth dust against the winde.

The same saying also appears in another commonplace book, A Treatise of Morrall Philosophie, compiled by William Baldwin, under his section heading, “Of Humilitie and Gentlenesse”:

He that doth gather vertues together (for estimation and comelinesse) with out the vertue of humilitie, doth as he that openly beareth fine powder in a rough and boisterous winde.

What is so intriguing about this example, which is concerned with the “gather[ing of] vertues,” is that M. R. deliberately edits the saying so that such gathering is done by women, while also giving her daughter precise instructions on how to collect sayings in her own commonplace book (and while modeling this practice for her daughter). In Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England, Mary Thomas Crane argues that the gathering and framing of sayings into notebooks or commonplace books was a distinctly humanist mode for learning self-expression and virtuous behavior, was a method of self-fashioning, and was a practice crucial to understanding the nuances of early modern authorship. Crane explains that sententia—which included a wide range of rhetorical devices, like proverbs, aphorisms, maxims, apothegms, general sentences and quotations—traditionally were means of “appropriating cultural code[s] as a basis for authentic discourse,” a means of “rhetorical invention” and “self-definition,” and a means “to teach and provide political counsel” (17, 25). More importantly, as I argue in my larger project, because sententia provided persuasive guidance on how one should behave appropriately in a variety of social situations, they performed in texts as precepts (“teachers”), as examples (to be “imitated” in one’s own practice), and thus, as “maternal figures.” Indeed, as these rhetorical devices are depicted in a variety of texts, English sayings were clearly grounded in a “maternal” authority—coming from England’s “mother’s wit” and spoken in her “mother tongue.”

The three examples I’ve presented above are only a few of hundreds of examples of M. R.’s intertextuality in The Mothers Counsell. It appears that all of her “writing” is done by gathering, framing and reframing, and editing quotations—but the question of how we characterize and evaluate these practices depends on historical context. Modern concepts of originality ignore that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many people kept their own manuscript commonplace and miscellany books additionally, commonplaces and miscellanies occupied a special niche in the early modern book market. In my research, I’ve found several commonplace books M. R. appears to turn to for gathering her sayings. Some of these commonplace books include:

  • Robert Allott, Englands Parnassus: OR The choysest Flowers of our Moderne Poets, with their Poeticall comparisons.
  • William Baldwin, A Treatise of Morrall Philosophie: Wherein is Contained the worthy sayings of Philosophers, Emperours, Kings and Orators.
  • John Bodenham, Bel-vedere or The Garden of the Mvses.
  • Nicholas Ling, Wits Commonwealth. Newly Corrected and amended.

M. R. also appears to collect sayings from other texts, not commonplace books but instead instructive, religious, or imaginary genres, including:

  • William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Certaine preceptes or directions, for the well ordering and carriage of a mans life.
  • Nathan Field, Amends for Ladies. A Comedie.
  • Johann Gerhard, Gerards meditations writing originally in the Latine tongue by John Gerard Doctour in Divinitie, and superintendant of Heidelberg.
  • Robert Greene, Greenes Vision: Written at the instant of his death. Conteyning a penitent passion for the folly of his Pen.
  • John Hooper, A declaration of the ten holy commaundementes of allmygthye God.
  • John Lyly, Euphues and his England.
  • Thomas Overbury, His Wife, With New Elegies upon his (now knowne) vntimely death.

But perhaps you’re wondering: “Ok, this is all very interesting, but how did you discover all of this?” I’ll admit that my discoveries began with a rather spotty and shoddy research process, where I wanted to contextualize characterizations of M.R.’s practices as unoriginal or formualic. There was something about that notion that just didn’t sit well with me. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time reading about early modern grammar school and domestic learning processes and knew that commonplace book or notebook methods were encouraged for learning in both the schoolhouse and the private home. And I also knew that it while it was the convention in these books to “collect” quotations or sayings, it was not usually a practice to attribute those sayings to their original authors. Adam Smyth, of course, has made this argument about authorship and verse miscellanies in his monograph, Profit & Delight—particularly the notion that these quotation collections suggest that original authorship a) doesn’t matter all that much and b) would have likely been recognized by the early modern audience.

Frontispiece of The Faerie Queene. Wikimedia Commons.

For me, Smyth’s arguments became crucial to the ways I thought about The Mothers Counsell. I thought: if M. R. is quoting Spenser, Drayton, and Shakespeare in the few moments other critics have recognized, could it be that she’s collecting sayings from other writers? What if all of the “points” in her “compass” (her aphoristic pieces of advice to her daughter) are sayings originating elsewhere? With these questions, I began the process of Googling quotations (which I recognize is not a most reliable or academic method) and started making connections between the quotations in M. R.’s book and in other early modern commonplace and miscellany books published around the same time as The Mothers Counsell. I found titles of early modern commonplace books through Googling quotations, then began to search those titles in Early English Books Online (EEBO), and started reading those commonplace books more carefully. Also, very recently, through the University of Michigan libraries, I’ve discovered the Text Creation Partnership, which “creates standardized, accurate XML/SGML encoded electronic text editions of early print books” and is in the midst of transcribing texts “from the millions of page images in ProQuest’s Early English Books Online, Gale Cengage’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and Readex’s Evans Early American Imprints.” TCP has made it possible for me to use a “find” search with keywords to locate possible texts, quotations, and sayings, expediting the process of locating M. R.’s sources, while also searching in original sources, rather than Googling.

One of the primary problems with my research and my study of this mother’s advice book is that I’m not always sure I’ve tracked down the “correct” source. Many of these texts exist in several editions with multiple printings, some of which are edited themselves throughout the years. For example, Baldwin’s Treatise of Morall Philosophie appears in 22 editions on EEBO and many of the subsequent seventeenth-century printings expanded the original. Similarly, Lord Burghley’s Certain Precepts is listed on EEBO in five printings, but was also published under several different titles, and was expanded beginning in 1617. Ling’s (and/or Bodenham’s) Politeuphuia (a text that is attributed at various times to each of these authors) exists in 24 printings; there is also its companion, Palladis tamia, which doesn’t appear to be as popular with only three reprintings. Thus, when it comes to edition choice, I am trying to use my best educated guess. Given publication dates for Englands Parnassus (1600), Bel-vedere (1600, 1610), Burghley’s Certain Precepts (1611-1637), Greenes Vision (1592), and Amends for Ladies (1618, 1639), and how they correspond with M. R.’s publication date (1630 or 1631), my best guess is that M. R. selected editions for her sources that were published primarily between the years 1615-1620, with only a few exceptions (Greenes Vision, for example).

One last problem is that out of about 250 quotations, I cannot find sources for or locate quotations that seem to inspire the writing of eight sayings. Here they are (in order of appearance). Where I think necessary, I’ve included the surrounding quotations that I have been able to locate, highlighting the one or two lines that I have not:

The eyes are the instruments of lust, therefore make a couenant with them, that they betray not thy heart to vanitie.

From idle wit there springs a brain-sick will,
Which wise men lust, which foolish make a god;
This is the shape of vertue reigneth still,
But ‘tis the onely vice, one worst and odde.
Will puts in practice what the wit deuiseth;
Will euer acts, and wit contemplates still,
And as from wit the power of wisedome riseth,
All other vertues daughters are of will.

Beautie in this world is the delight of an houre, and the sorrow of many dayes; but in the world to come, eternall rest and long ioy.

Shee that is an enemy to beautie is a foe to nature, and shee that doats on beautie is a high traytor to nature.

Beauties that should be concealed, grossly discouered, are faire signes hung out to entice to an unhospitable June.

A sparke of beautie burnes a world of creatures,
When it is of sophisticated features.

Neuer wish impossible wishes, for it expresseth but a wanton passion, or a most greedy couetousnesse, both grounded on folly.

As a woman without humilitie is vnpleasant, so humilitie without seueritie draweth neare to prostitution.

Pride did first spring in men from too much abundance of wealth, in women from too much trust in beautie, and the flattery of men.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Did I hit a wall with my search process? (Entirely possible.) Are these quotations in sources that are no longer extant? (Also possible.) Are these quotations in sources that are in libraries that I haven’t had the opportunity (or financial means to) visit? (Absolutely possible.) And if so, how to find these proverbial quotes in all of those haystacks? Or, on the other hand, could these quotes, usually added as clauses to complete sentences, be M. R.’s own additions, her own original writing? If any of you, the good, smart people reading this blog have any ideas here, I’d be most grateful for your help in locating the sources of quotations, or for any suggestions about improving my slapdash process.

In both my WWP exhibit on M. R.’s intertextuality and in my book project on “maternal figures,” I’m ultimately arguing that, when read beyond its surface, M. R.’s Mothers Counsell is a mother’s advice book or a mother’s legacy that is anything but conventional, expected, or conservative. I think such a re-reading of M. R.’s book can encourage us to reassess the mother’s advice, blessing or legacy, especially where this genre’s notions of inheritance are concerned. Since mother’s advice traditionally is read as mothers attempting to write last wills and testaments or to “bequeath” their advice to daughters, as I argue, M. R.’s advice book alerts us to the idea that mothers are also attempting to pass on a rhetorical tradition, a rhetorical inheritance.

Frontispiece of Englands Parnassus. Wikimedia Commons.

In many texts, including rhetorical treatises and style handbooks, figurative language devices are imagined as material objects—described as rhetorical “flowers,” “jewels” or “ornaments,” as well as in metaphors of treasures, clothing, apparel, accessories, foodstuffs, and cosmetics. M. R.’s intertextual advice book demonstrates the theory that sayings are material objects, goods that can be gathered together, gifted and bequeathed to a daughter, goods that have use value. And M. R. models for her daughter how to use these “riches” to create one’s own “persuasive discourse,” a discourse that also can be given to others. Smyth indicates that this is a particular feature of the early modern commonplace book, that “it was often owned by (and sometimes augmented by) several generations of owners (“Commonplace Book Culture” 93).  He also notes that when “a woman inherit[s] a family commonplace book,” she then can “exert[] ownership over the text, making it her own.”

I’m arguing that mothers take this a step further, creating their own texts that can be read, used and re-used, added to, amended, etc. Mothers like M. R. piece together not just advice, but rhetorical devices, advice and figures they understand daughters as needing.  Engaging with an early modern commonplace book culture, ultimately, M. R. crafts a text that is meant to teach her daughter (and other women) lessons in how to style one’s public written arguments and how women might offer their public (and perhaps political) counsel.


Beilin, Elaine V.  Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Crane, Mary Thomas. Framing Authority:  Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

R., M.  The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse.  London: John Wright, 1631.

Smyth, Adam. “Commonplace Book Culture: A List of Sixteen Traits.”  Women and Writing c. 1340-c. 1650: The Domestication of Print Culture.  Eds. Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Phillipa Hardman. York: York Medieval Press, 2010.

_____.  “Profit & Delight”: Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

Text Creation Partnership.  Text Creation Partnership, 2009. Accessed Jul. 2016.

Travitsky, Betty.  The Paradise of Women: Writings by Englishwomen of the Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Cassie Childs, University of South Florida

My project for Intertextual Networks involves creating a digital exhibit that examines the intertextuality between Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley (1696), food history, archival manuscripts, and Manley’s later writing, both fiction and non-fiction. The project will develop in two stages: the first phase will engage with material history by annotating the primary text with archival images from eighteenth-century recipe books and botanical guides; the second will examine the textual history of Manley’s letters, charting the influence of her letters on her later social and political fictions.

From her trip to Exeter in 1694, Manley composed a series of eight letters to “J.H.,” initially published without her permission as Letters by Mrs Manley, which were, by her request, reissued by Edmund Curll after her death in 1725 as A Stage-Coach Journey to Exeter. Describing the Humours on the Road, with the Characters and Adventures of the Company. This understudied text is ripe for an exploration of layered intertextuality and potentially valuable for exploring new forms of TEI markup. My project will act as a test case for the kinds of text encoding available when intertextual readings cross genres and disciplines.

The first phase of this project builds on research questions I have already addressed in my book chapter on Manley’s letters: what is the interplay between food history and women-authored travel writing? what is the relationship between food and place? I propose a digital exhibit that combines archival images and botanical illustrations that will highlight food references made by Manley and that connect to eighteenth-century recipe books. A research moment at the New York Public Library (NYPL) best illustrates the ways manuscripts will help to build the exhibit.

In Letter IV Manley shares a basin of heart cherries with a fellow woman traveler, prompting a moment of commensality. In an initial reading of this moment I wondered about the significance of the cherries themselves: were cherries in season? did they connate a sense of hospitality? were they a popular fruit? Digging in the archives at the NYPL, I hoped to unearth answers to these questions that would inform and change the scope of my project. In the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I perused volumes of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century archival materials primarily from the NYPL’s Whitney Cookery Collection, whose holdings contain fifteen English manuscripts related to cookery and medicinal recipes and remedies. The aim had been to find a recipe that included cherries or a description of their popularity in the eighteenth century, but the discovery was much more illuminating.

From Mary Davies (1684) and Lady Anne Morton’s recipes “to dry Cheries,” “to preserve Cheries,” and “Marmollatt off Cheries,” to Elizabeth Blackwell’s illustrated plates on “Red Winter Cherries” (Plate 161), “Red Cherry” (Plate 449), and “The Black Cherry” (Plate 425) from A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739) to John Parkinson’s section titled “Cerafus, The Cherry tree” (570-575) in Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (reprinted from the 1629 edition. 1904.) an intersection of food history and literary women’s history emerged.

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo taken from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo of Plate 449, “Red Cherry,” from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
What became visible was a material and cultural history that connected cherries to women-authored medicinal handbooks, recipes books, and botanical guides to women-authored texts—a spatial and thematic intertextual network between women, food, and archival materials. I had anticipated finding a single cherry recipe or one historical reference to note and instead I discovered these archival materials represented a banquet themselves—a representation not only of food history, but also a material representation of the way food and writer and text interconnect. The cherry, a single food item, shows up in a wide range of texts used for a variety of purposes by a wide spectrum of women, connecting eighteenth-century women in different places and resulting in a shared cultural history centered on food.

The cherry reference is only one of many food moments that appear in Manley’s letters. Other references are literal food references, such as eating mutton, and others are figurative, like a “feast for the mind.” For the digital exhibit I will author for Women Writers in Context, the reader will encounter images from manuscripts, like the above, that show images of cookery and medicinal recipes alongside the primary text. References to food will be highlighted and will be accompanied by eighteenth-century receipts and a brief food history. Eventually, I would also like to discover whether or not there are any food references that appear across genres and authors. I am inclined to think that with the many cherry recipes I unearthed that Manley may be one of many women authors that include cherries in their texts.

I hope to visually represent the ways food functions simultaneously as concrete, (intended for consumption), as a symbol (used as a literary topic and device), and as historical and cultural markers of identity. Such an exhibit may offer opportunities to better understand and criticize the nation and Manley’s own identity within the nation, but also lends itself to questions of auto-intertextuality. For instance, Manley’s Adventures of Rivella contains several scenes of herself and others at meals and references to conversations after meals. I anticipate annotating the food moments in the epistolary genre while also finding interconnections across various texts written by Manley.

The second phase of this project will allow me to explore research questions related to Manley’s own self-intertextuality. Not only are there possible intertextual patterns to other fiction and non-fiction travel narratives from the eighteenth century, but I also argue that Manley may have used her early letters as fodder for her later scandal fictions. Most of Manley’s letters include short tales told by fellow travelers; these stories interrupt her own narrative and contain possible allusions and references to her later, more popular writing. Pursuing this research may lead to interesting TEI markup questions about auto-intertextuality among multiple genres by a single author, and could offer an encoding of quotations and citations within Manley’s own oeuvre and that of secret histories and letters in general.

I have several autobiographical questions I would like to pursue. At what point in Manley’s life were her works written as Tory propaganda? How might I be able to determine something that seems like Tory propaganda in her writing? Manley’s own childhood was steeped in political discourse and I wonder how this influence might appear across texts.

I imagine I will seek connections and write annotations for names, places, food, and repeated words and phrases. For example, a name key could offer us the chance to search for the names of fictional figures (and in Manley’s case there are also historical figures and individuals) that (re)appear. In Letter II, for instance, Manley tells the story of a fop that she meets, and I am curious if this fop archetype appears (either by name or through similar characteristics) in her later work. Is the fop figure likely to appear in multiple Manley texts? I have also thought that plot lines might carry over into multiple Manley texts. I wonder if she uses similar phrases or terms to describe, say, the moment a lover is jilted. These initial curiosities, I believe, have potential and will eventually lead me to discover whether or not my hypothesis regarding Manley’s own auto-intertextuality is correct.

With the first phase of this digital exhibit, I aim to demonstrate that women’s connections to food are much more complex than simply thinking of women’s bodies as fat or thin, young or old, and beautiful or ugly, and that women’s relationship to food is not singularly about feeding others or cooking in the kitchen. Rather, food and consumption shape identities, both personal and national, signify tastes, individually and culturally, and provide insights into lived experiences. Food language, food practices, and food tastes give us a way of knowing women’s own language and their voices, and it allows scholars of the eighteenth century to reconsider the landscape of women’s writing as culturally and historically relevant. The second phase, with potential for auto-intertextuality, positions Manley, already a rich part of eighteenth-century scholarship, as fuller and more interconnected than previously discussed. These interconnections I hope will reflect a shared experience of food, place, and language written on the page for our consumption, a literary and historical feast for our pleasure.

Cavendish X Molière: Braiding The Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue

Cavendish X Molière: Braiding The Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Arnaud Zimmern, Ph.D. Candidate in English, University of Notre Dame

Were it but for matters of language—that Margaret Cavendish’s French was, like Molière’s English, non-existent—the titular resonance between her 1662 The Female Academy and his 1662 L’Ecole des femmes would defy coincidence. Similarly, the ambitions for all-female education and for celibate female autonomy at stake in her 1668 The Convent of Pleasure would find their satirical counterpoint in his 1672 Les Femmes Savantes. And thus the influence of Restoration England’s most under-appreciated female playwright on early modern France’s most admired male comedian would be unmistakably sealed.

Unfortunately, as Laura Carraro and Antonella Rigamonti intimated in 2000, scanty evidence that the two playwrights ever referenced each other makes it that Cavendish’s plays and persona as a learned lady can only be considered a loose “subtext” of Molière’s, nothing more (138). Whether these contemporaries read each other’s works or drew on common sources of inspiration are points of intertextuality clamoring for further elucidation. But let me propose that we take intertextuality from a less verbal and more structural vantage point. In the absence of a common language and common sources, did Molière and Cavendish share a common dramaturgical approach? More specifically, did they stage dialogue in similar ways, especially dialogue between witty, learned women and the men who would oppose and/or espouse them? If both playwrights staged the figure of the learned lady, whether satirically or heroically, did they give her distinct idiosyncratic modes of conversation or analogous ones? That, at least, is the question I’m setting out to answer for my project for Intertextual Networks. In this first post I want to present in some detail the historical background I’m addressing and I want to introduce the particularities, strengths, and weakness of the visualization method I am currently developing in order to track and compare dialogue, a method we can provisionally call “braiding.” My hope is that in bringing a visualization method to bear on the work of a woman writer who disparaged the Royal Society for its microscopes and who rightly elevated baking and cosmetics to the status of “chymistry,” I’ve at least paid her the homage of drawing my guiding metaphor from the realm of brioches and hair fashion.

That Cavendish knew of Molière by the time she self-published her second volume of plays, Playes Never Before Printed (1668), is rather safely attested. In 1667, her husband, William Duke of Newcastle, translated the Frenchman’s early play L’Etourdi (to be later revised and staged by Dryden). In September of the following year, William was also the dedicatee of Thomas Shadwell’s The Sullen Lovers, an overt adaptation of Molière’s Les Facheux. William’s contributions in verse to Margaret’s The Convent of Pleasure—which she carefully identified with individually pasted markers in the folio editions of the Plays (think early-modern Post-Its)—suggest the couple collaborated and would have discussed the latest trends in the comédie de moeurs (comedy of manners), as several scholars have noted.1

It would be difficult also to underestimate the press surrounding Molière’s L’Ecole des femmes, in equal parts a box-office smash and a tabloids scandal. The controversy cut on both sides of Molière’s professional and private lives. Hardly four years into his Paris career, Molière single-handedly relaunched the querelle des femmes, or debate on women’s education, as he satirized the efforts of the middle-aged Arnolphe who tries to keep his ward and bride-to-be, Agnès, untainted from all forms of knowledge, be they scientific or carnal. Molière opened himself to identical satire as he set about marrying his young ward, the actress Armande Béjart, whom many alleged to be his own illegitimate daughter. In February of 1662, under a chorus of wedding bells and a storm of gossip, Molière effectively succeeded where Arnolphe comically fails. 2 Unabashed, Molière rode the waves of popular attention to financial gain, producing in the following year a response play, La Critique de l’Ecole des femmes, which netted record profits.

Charles Robinet’s Panégyrique de l’Ecole des Femmes, the last of several published critiques of the original play, reports on the stir that Molière’s Ecole caused especially in England, where debonaire British husbands allegedly found the play’s male protagonist too tyrannical in his efforts to preserve Agnès’ innocence and ignorance.3 Whether Robinet’s report can be taken at face-value remains to be corroborated. For instance, his claim that the British have little appetite for Molière’s variety of “languishing comedies” but feed rather on a regular diet of the purest Tragedy, is historically specious.4 The most recent study of Molière’s impact on England suggests rather that his brand of comédie de moeurs—combining social documentary and lampoon—“parallels… the great manners tradition in Restoration comedy.”5 But Robinet’s characterization of laxer, more complaisant British husbands does seem to match Margaret Cavendish’s portrait of an obliging William Cavendish in her defensive biography, the Life of the Duke (1667). So with that point of sympathy in mind, we can conclude that if Margaret did not hear about L’Ecole des femmes from the public sphere, she knew of its author from the private sphere of her husband’s theatrical work and his collaboration, and of its themes from the kind of gossip that dogged her own marriage, as snide critics labelled her as pseudo-intellectual and her husband as lackadaisical.

Whether Molière, in turn, knew of the Duchess of Newcastle or of her works is a question altogether harder to answer and perhaps less promising. If he knew of her or of other learned women’s intellectual ambitions, he seems to have made both much and little of them, as the whim suited him. Ian MacLean reminds us: “Why should an opportunistic playwright in search of controversial material limit himself to a single view or consistent line? Education for women is implicitly defended in L’École des femmes; its excesses are attacked in Les Femmes Savantes. Women’s literary creativity in the form of romances is satirized in Les Précieuses Ridicules; the restrictions of women to such domestic activities as needle-work and sewing and their exclusion from education are impugned in L’Ecole des femmes.”6 Scholars often point to Mademoiselle de Scudéry, the 17th century female novelist, as a particular target of ridicule in Molière’s misogynistic plays. But there is no reason Cavendish should be exempt from her company, for Molière’s satires are capacious. Specific evidence, however, remains hard to come by in the plays themselves.

At stake then in finding intertextualities beyond the usual inter-citational or referential patterns, are two portraits. The first is that of Cavendish as a playwright more acutely aware of, adaptable to, and critical of continental trends in dramaturgy than the recent scholarly focus on her Shakespearean, Jonsonian, and purely anglo-English inheritance has suggested.7 If she responded vividly to the scientific discourses of René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi, whom she hosted at her table, there is little reason to doubt she responded with the same energy to developments in French theater. The second portrait is that of Molière, whose dramaturgical debts might extend across the channel in ways historians tracking his relationship to (and largely unilateral influence on) Restoration drama thus far could not account for.8 Their oversight, if it indeed it is one, would stem in large part from the fact that Cavendish’s plays have remained in the bibliographic shadows—a dilemma presently being resolved. But it would stem also from a lack of methods with which to track various kinds of non-verbal intertextuality—a dilemma I want to try to address with braiding.


Braiding sounds tricky but isn’t—in fact, it’s almost naïvely simple. In this second, more DH-heavy half of the post, I want to introduce it as a method for visualizing, tracking, and comparing structures of dramatic dialogue.

Let me begin by saying that, just like my first-year students (albeit for different reasons), I often get so lost in the language of the 17th century that I forget to read plays with an eye for who is talking to whom when. It takes considerable familiarity with a particular play, its characters, its plot, &c. to back up from the content of the speech-acts and look instead at their patterning, their sequencing, the rationales for the turn-taking within a given conversation, and identify the politics (whether gendered, racial, class-based, &c.) that are determining those turns, sequences, and patterns. It is a matter of the scale at which we read, whether close or distant, but also of the scale at which our methods make us comfortable reading. For instance, in Shakespeare studies, Anthony J. Gilbert tried early on to introduce literary scholars to the terminologies and questions of conversation analysis defined by anthropologists like Harvey Sacks—elements like indexicality, sequence, pre-sequence, announcements, pre-announcements, turn-taking, etc. But 1997 was perhaps still too early in the digital era to envisage how Sacks and Gilbert’s terms could help scholars understand intertextuality. Rather than stimulate scholars to look for analogous structures and strategies of dramatic-speech across plays and playwrights, Sacks’ abstruse terminology likely came across as another alien import from the social sciences that we would be better off not learning. So rather than propose a distant-reading tool predicated on Sacks’ anthropology and its set of assumptions, one that would markedly distinguish itself from the more comfortable realm of close reading, I want to propose braiding as a method that enables what Martin Mueller calls “scalable reading,” or the transition from close, formal analysis to the more structural, big-picture concerns of conversation analysis, and back again to the text.9 I’ll start by presenting the specificity of braiding in contrast to the better-known techniques of network analysis, and conclude with a few remarks on how attention to author-specific strategies of staging dramatic conversation might help us see Molière and Cavendish’s plays informing each other.

If we wanted a snapshot of the dialogue between characters in a given play, we might opt for a character network analysis, like Franco Moretti’s social network of Hamlet below, where an edge or link between two character-nodes represents a spoken transaction between those characters.

The Hamlet Network.

But networks are notoriously poor at representing the passage of time. With a network, a play or a short-story’s diegetic time gets compressed down to a single plane: you see the whole plot summarized in one instant. If we want to see changes in the network within time, if we wish to see the plot unfold, we may resort to a kind of flipbook of consecutive networks, flipping through various instances of the plot (this is often called a dynamic network). But the same problem ultimately persists: at each instant, we can consider only how the present network compares to the network from the previous instant or the upcoming one; we cannot visualize the overall change. What’s more, networks are poor at enabling multiple-graph comparisons. While we can handle comparing two simple network side by side, the intuitive benefits of that visualization break down once we’re looking at six or seven networks: the visual patterns simply cease to stand out because the cognitive load is too great. Networks therefore don’t encourage studies of multiple similar texts or of a single text’s transformation across several editions in historical time.

That’s where braiding intervenes as a supplement to social character network graphs. For clarity’s sake, let me use a text many of us will know well: Little Red Riding Hood (hereafter LRRH). In the scene excerpted below from Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of the tale, Wolf knocks at Grandmother’s door and pretends to be Riding Hood. Imagine Wolf’s voice as a strand in a braid, rather than an edge in a network, and let it cross over Grandmother’s strand to represent that Wolf speaks to Grandmother.

Braiding Demo – Little Red Riding Hood

That’s our first “crossing” within the braid, and we’ll encode it as a “braid-letter.” Assuming Wolf is character 1, and Grandmother is character 2, that braid-letter looks something like (102) where the 0 is a placeholder dividing addresser and addressee. When Grandmother responds and for each distinct ensuing speech-act, repeat the process — and so on and so forth for the rest of the story.

The visualization and the string of braid-letters (or “braid-word”) that emerges by the end is dependent on how you, as reader and encoder, have interpreted what constitutes “conversation.” Does a non-verbal knock at Grandmother’s door count as a speech-act? Is Grandmother responding at once to Riding Hood (in her mind) and to Wolf (in reality) when she responds, in which case the braid-letter might not just be (102) but (1023), entwining Wolf and Riding Hood’s strands together before having them cross under Grandmother’s strand? Similar questions of confused identity famously arise in early modern drama, especially in Shakespeare and Cavendish with their cross-dressing characters. It is precisely to avoid losing this important part of subjective interpretation that I propose braiding as a method and not a tool. I hope thereby to leave braiding available to multiple research interests, including those that need to pay attention to character confusion, focalization through a specific character’s experience of the plot, direct vs. indirect discourse, etc. I hope to encourage the kind of scalable-reading mentioned earlier, where the assumptions driving a visualization-technique are legible first and foremost to the reader/user.

A method though it might be, an important tool-like aspect of braiding, however, does emerge once we’ve encoded several conversations or several versions of a story into braid-words. In the following sample of 12 LRRH stories written between 1697 and 1899, we can certainly proceed visually and intuitively with the braid diagrams with relatively little cognitive difficulty, looking for patterns our eyes are rather good at picking up on.

Twelve Versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Braided and with Braidwords. Note how the dialogue structure of the 1697 Perrault version gets reproduced almost exactly in 1729, 1879, and 1891, while the introduction of the hunter figure at the tail end of the 1812 Brothers Grimm version leads to subsequent adaptations both minor (1889, 1894) as well as major, for instance in 1888 and 1898 when grandmother loudly assumes the hunter’s role.

But we can also quantitatively sequence the “braid-words” to retrieve patterns or near-patterns using rudimentary sequence-parsing algorithms borrowed from genetic sequencing. Braiding becomes an instrument for pattern-recognition and pattern-discovery across relatively large and complex corpuses, in ways networks do not readily allow for. For a brief (and somewhat naïve) gloss of a few interesting patterns in this sample of LRRH stories, you’re welcome to check out an embarrassing TEDx talk I gave my senior year of undergraduate studies at Southern Methodist University. The more important result I want to focus on, the one more relevant to the interests of our group at WWO—which emerges quite palpably from the picture above—is that braids offer the opportunity to consider at a glance the complex ebb and flow of conversations, and to some extent even of plot-line, within one story (synchronically) as well as across stories (diachronically). Moreover, they invite our visual intuition to collaborate with sequence-parsing algorithms, and they allow our comfort with close-reading specific passages to merge with more distant considerations of patterning across a text or multiple texts. Lastly they invite us, upon discovering a pattern, to return to the details of the relevant passage or set of passages to consider what, at the level of power-play and politics, is conditioning that particular pattern. They enable and enact scalable reading in ways I find few DH tools currently encourage.

All is not rosy-eyed, of course: I have yet to automate the transition from braid-words to braid-diagrams. The picture above is made entirely by hand. But my first step for the WWO project will be to automate the transition from braid-word to braid-diagram using either the python-based Numpy library or the MathML braid-visualization library.10 Charming and vintage as Microsoft Paint and manual labor might be, no one has that kind of time to spend. I welcome any suggestions or questions on how best to go about that part of the project and look forward to any thoughts or concerns it might elicit.

To bring things back finally to Molière and Cavendish and to conclude this long post, my project will begin with identifying a set of scenes within the plays aforementioned and others from their corpuses wherein male and female characters, learned ladies and their male antagonists, exchange contested words. As the Women Writers Lab pointed out early on with its helpful visualizations (reproduced below), Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure is not especially marked by male-female interactions, and we might add that Cavendish’s 1662 The Female Academy is even less so.

Margaret Cavendish, The Convent of Pleasure, 1668. This visualization illustrates the percentage of female & male speakers in each scene of Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure (1668). In ten out of a total of twenty scenes, female characters are sole speakers. Image reproduced from WWLab.

But the WWO Lab’s visualization depends on whether we encode the play’s central cross-dressing figure, the Prince who eventually marries the learned-lady figure, as male or female. By allowing for multiple possible encodings of the gender dynamics in these scenes, I hope to show that we can think about the cross-dressing Prince as someone who simultaneously parodies, venerably imitates, and obligingly enables the conversational patterns of the play’s learned lady. My literary-historical hunch (and I welcome any critiques or responses to it) is that in the gap between Cavendish’s first collection of plays (1662) and the second (1668), she has had time to consider and digest how Molière and his various critics/imitators represent the learned lady’s conversational patterns in L’Ecole and the Critique de l’Ecole. She is more attune to the learned lady’s strategies for intervening in natural-philosophical or proto-scientific discussions, where the politics of turn-taking are dominated both by intellectual hierarchies and age-hierarchies, and most importantly by gender norms. She is therefore better able to respond to Molière’s Ecole des Femmes in the Convent of Pleasure than she was as she composed The Female Academy. By allying a new scalable reading method with elements of conversation analysis, I hope to capture a glimpse of that otherwise illegible intertextuality.


Intertextual connections in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions: poetry versus prose

Intertextual connections in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions: poetry versus prose

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Jenna Townend, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Drama, and Publishing, Loughborough University

My collaborative work with the Intertextual Networks project takes the form of an investigation into how quantitative network analysis can help us map intertextual practices and influences in the poetry of the seventeenth-century writer, An Collins. Her collection of devotional poems, Divine Songs and Meditacions (1653), is the only source of information we have on Collins and her life. Though it is apparent from the poems that Collins suffered from a chronic illness which had affected her since childhood, discerning other influences on Collins’s writing – such as her particular religious beliefs, her reading habits, and how she made use of what she read – is not an easy task. Nevertheless, previous work by Helen Wilcox and Mary Morrissey has established that there are intertextual connections to be found, and it is from these studies that this project takes its departure.

The poems of Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions communicate her desire for union with God through her journey from melancholy to grace, and her experiences of spiritual and physical affliction. Divine Songs and Meditacions show that her creative and devotional thinking were influenced by the poetical devices and structural elements of poets such as George Herbert, as well as the prose texts of popular puritan theologians like William Perkins. My project examines and maps in close detail what Collins took from her textual sources, and considers how she used these sources in the context of her desire to achieve union with God. This blog post will consider how I have identified a good number of intertextual connections using a piece of text comparison software called WCopyfind, and will discuss the issue that is now of greatest significance as, in the second stage of the project, I begin to translate these data concerning intertextual connections into a format to which network analysis can be applied.

Inevitably, before the methods of network analysis structure can be used, much recovery work is required to uncover and categorize the intertextual elements of Collins’s text, and this requires the examination of each of the works that Collins may have been influenced by. Taking cues from the work of Wilcox and Morrissey, I began by examining George Herbert’s The Temple (1633), Henry Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans (1650), and William Perkins’s The Foundations of the Christian Religion (1590). This corpus has now been expanded to include other popular poetic works and theological texts, of which Faithful Teate’s Ter Tria (1650) and Richard Baxter’s The Saints Everlasting Rest (1650) are just two examples. Making close comparisons between multiple texts which span the genres of prose and poetry is an exceptionally time-consuming task, but it has been made significantly easier by a piece of software called WCopyfind. WCopyfind is an open-source program that compares documents and highlights similarities between their words and phrases. The software was originally developed to detect plagiarism in student essays, but it is also an invaluable resource for anyone working on similarities or differences between texts.

The interface of WCopyfind is extremely user-friendly, and enables the user to choose to ignore features such as punctuation or letter case: something that is invaluable when it comes to analysing early-modern texts with non-standardized spelling and syntax. Using the EEBO full-text files of each of the texts in the project’s corpus (remembering to remove extraneous metadata and hyperlinks such as ‘View Document Image 9’), it is possible to run comparisons between the phrasing of texts. Users can select various parameters such as the shortest phrase to include (for example, telling WCopyfind that you want it to find shared phrases of no fewer than four words), whether or not to include punctuation, and, perhaps most significantly, a minimum percentage of matching words (setting this value to 80%, for instance, allows WCopyfind to find matches despite minor discrepancies in spelling). Once the comparison has been run, the two texts and their similarities can be viewed in parallel windows, with correspondences shown in red:

Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison in WCopyfind between Collins’s Divine Songs and Perkins’s The Foundation.
Figure 2. Side-by-side comparison in WCopyfind of Collins’s Divine Songs and Perkins’s The Foundation, showing similarities between their comments on faith.

It is worth noting, however, that if such tools are used only for the purposes of noting down statistics relating to the degree of similarity between Collins’s work and that of a probable source, then they become something of a blunt object. As another collaborator on the Intertextual Networks project, Amanda Henrichs, has noted in her own work, doing so often leads to ‘gaining old insights more quickly, rather than coming to new conclusions’. What I would like to do, therefore, is to examine some of the results I have obtained by using WCopyfind, and suggest the direction that this project will take as it begins to experiment with using network analysis to map intertextual influence.

Running comparisons in WCopyfind between Collins’s Divine Songs and Herbert’s The Temple, and then between Collins’s work and Perkins’s The Foundation of the Christian Religion produced some surprising results which have altered the trajectory of this project. When it comes to similarities in phrasing, there are roughly twice as many correspondences between Collins’s poems and Perkins’s work than with Herbert’s verses, despite the fact that The Temple is more than twice as long as The Foundation. Repeating this comparison with other poetic texts that Collins may have been influenced by, such as Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans or Teate’s Ter Tria, produces a similar result. This unexpected outcome has caused me to widen the net of my project. After all, it calls into question any assumption that poets are always most influenced by other poets when it comes to the content of their verse. The fundamental question raised by these results thus concerns the difference between a poet drawing on, or being influenced by, a prose text and a poetic work. What was it about Perkins’s text that Collins found so well-aligned with her own devotional and creative thinking, and what, in turn, did she take from her poetic sources like Herbert? Whatever it was that Collins found appealing in her poetic sources, it does not appear to have been their doctrinal content or phrasing, and we must therefore pay close attention to Collins’s borrowing of verse forms, metaphors, and images from contemporary poets.

A brief example of the complexity of this issue can be found in the opening verse of Collins’s work, ‘The Discourse’. The one-hundred-and-three stanzas of Collins’s lyric are written in a similar style to the seventy-seven stanzas of Herbert’s own introductory poem, ‘The Church-porch’, and sets out many of the devotional ideas and topics that are also explored later in the volume. Collins uses an adapted version of the verse form of Herbert’s ‘The Church-porch’, rhyming her lyric ABABBCC, rather than ABABCC. We also learn personal details, such as the fact that Collins ‘spent my infantcy, | And part of freshest yeares, as hath been sayd | Partaking then of nothing cheerfully’ (ll. 85-87), and of her desire that ‘Next unto God, my selfe I sought to know’ (l. 246). However, in terms of the number of shared phrases, ‘The Discourse’ possesses a greater debt to Perkins’s The Foundation than any other poem in Collins’s text when it comes to doctrinal content. Perkins’s text, which takes the form of a catechism, was an extremely popular text among English puritans, and it was organized around six devotional topics of God: man’s sinfulness, imputation, saving faith, obtaining faith, and death (Morrissey, p. 469). As an illustrative example of the parity between Collins’s lyric and Perkins’s catechism, it is worth comparing Collins’s comments on faith in stanza seventy-nine of ‘The Discourse’ with a passage from Perkins’s catechism (see also Figure 2 for a side-by-side comparison of these sections in WCopyfind):

That such a man hath Faith it doth appeare
For these desires doe plainly testifie,
He hath the Spirit of his Saviour dear,
For tis his speciall work or property,
To stir up longings after purity:
Now where his Spirit is there Christ resides,
And where Christ dwels is true Faith though weak abides. (ll. 550-56)

Q. How doo you know that such a man hath faith?

A. These desires and prayers are testimonie of the spirit, whose propertie it is to stirre up a longing and a lusting after heavenly things, with sighes and groanes for Gods favour and mercie in Christ. Nowe where the spirit of Christ is, there is Christ dwelling: and where Christ dwelleth, there is true fayth how weake soever it be. (sigs. B5r-B6v)

The parallels in phrasing here are obvious. Following Perkins’s indication that a man’s ‘desires and prayers are testimonie of the spirit’ and that they ‘stirre up a longing and a lusting after heavenly things’, Collins similarly states her belief that faith’s ‘desires doe plainly testifie, | He hath the Spirit of his Saviour’ (ll. 551-52) and in turn ‘stir up longings after purity’ (l. 554). However, given that Collins transposes much of the content of Perkins’s prose catechism into a verse form adapted from Herbert, considering the confluence of both prose and poetic influences is evidently vital to understanding Collins’s lyrics and how she made use of her devotional reading. My current hypothesis is that Collins takes elements of the content and theology of her poems from writers like Perkins, while adapting features of the form, style, and theme from her poetic texts in order to give shape and order to these doctrinal elements. This hypothesis will be tested as the project now moves, in its second stage, to modelling data concerning these intertextual correspondences using network analysis.

Inevitably, using a methodology that is traditionally used to focus on tracing social relationships or connections between members of a network will require some sensitive reworking if it is going to productively examine questions of literary influence. After all, the project is dealing with intertextual correspondences that range from a direct borrowing of phrasing, shared doctrinal or theological topic, poetic form, and particular metaphors or images. Moving forward, then, my next challenge will be to experiment with network software programs such as UCINET and Gephi to conceptualize the most effective way of visually representing these various types of intertextual connection in the work of An Collins and, more broadly, to interrogate how early-modern women’s poetry was influenced by a full range of contemporary writers and their texts.


Collins, An, Divine Songs and Meditacions (London: R. Bishop, 1653)

Morrissey, Mary, ‘What An Collins was Reading’, Women’s Writing, 19 (2012), 467-86

Perkins, William, The Foundation of Christian Religion, gathered into Sixe Principles ([London]: Thomas Orwin for John Porter, 1591)

Wilcox, Helen, ‘The “finenesse of Devotional Poetry: An Collins and the School of Herbert’, in An Collins and the Historical Imagination, ed. by W. Scott Howard (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 71-86

The WWP Receives Funding for Intertextual Networks Project

The WWP Receives Funding for Intertextual Networks Project

The WWP is delighted to report that we have received funding for a three-year, $290,000, project from the National Endowment for the Humanities, focusing on intertextuality in early women’s writing. Starting in October 2016, the WWP will begin work on Intertextual Networks, a collaborative research initiative that will examine the citation and quotation practices of the authors represented in Women Writers Online (WWO) to explore and theorize the representation of intertextuality.

For this project, the WWP will assemble a collaborative research team that includes faculty, graduate students, and members of the WWP staff, representing a diverse set of perspectives and expertise. Each member of the collaborative group will pursue a research project engaging with materials from WWO, to be published in Women Writers in Context, the WWP’s open-access publication series. We will also be developing interface tools for exploring intertextual connections and patterns. As part of this work, we will be undertaking a broad encoding of quotations and citations across the entire WWO collection, linking textual references to a comprehensive bibliography of sources, which we will make openly available at the WWO Lab. We will also make a deeper exploration of subtler kinds of intertextual reference (such as allusion and parody) in a subset of the collection, to reveal the many ways in which the textual space reverberates with echoes and referential gestures. This deeper exploration will be strongly informed by the research of our scholarly collaborators and the particular projects they undertake.

Our initial research has already found several promising ways that text encoding can support research into citation and quotation practices. For example, we can trace the increased secularization of writing over time by tracking biblical references in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Biblical quotations make up a dramatically higher percentage of citations in seventeenth-century texts (about 1,600 out of 2,100) when compared with eighteenth-century ones (about 200 out of 1,700). We have found this same pattern in the titles that are named by WWO authors—in the seventeenth century, books of the Bible are most frequently named, while in the eighteenth there is a broader spread of writers and genres. The expanded markup we will be performing as part of this project will enable us to make much more precise and detailed analyses of reference patterns and practices in early women’s texts.

We have recruited an initial set of collaborators and we are currently soliciting proposals for additional scholars interested in joining the project. For more details and to submit a proposal, see here. We will be posting updates on our progress and discoveries, as well as guest posts from our collaborators, here at the WWP’s blog so follow this space for more news.  

Intertextual Networks has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.