Shuger 2014

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Shuger, Debora. "Laudian Feminism and the Household Republic of Little Gidding." JMEMS 44.1 (Winter 2014): 69-94.

"Although John Ferrar’s life of Nicholas foregrounds his brother’s role in ordering and guiding the Little Gidding community, contemporary observers (particularly the hostile ones) tended to comment on its female government." (70)

Story Books -- "The sheer intelligence of these colloquies, plus their striking protofeminist “quilting- party” format, make them candidates for the single most important corpus of women’s literature in English from 1400 to 1650. Feminist scholarship, however — indeed (with one exception) recent scholarship tout court — has wholly ignored this material." (71) -- because 18/19c commentators attributed it to Nicholas

"The Story Books are not fictions but the products of a multilevel, and largely female, collaborative authorship." (71)

"Viewed from a distance of nearly four centuries, the Little Gidding experi- ment looks traditionalist to the core, raising questions about what words like feminist and republican could possibly mean in this context. However bizarre or even appalling most good English Protestants might have found Little Gidding’s domesticated monasticism, these two descriptors imply an incipient, or at least embryonic, modernity, which is certainly not one’s first impression of Little Gidding." (72)

"If the Little Academy’s asceticism is scarcely cutting-edge, their spiritual empiricism — the insistence upon trusting per- sonal experience rather than received opinion — has a radicalism of its own, evident in Mary’s claim that the kind of inquiry in which they are engaged requires “freedom” — freedom in the sense of parrhesia — so that one is not by “outward respects either overawed or misguided, that he dare not boldly follow his own judgment or declare it” (Conversations, 57)." (73)

"The radicalism lies not in the basic values (radicalism rarely does) but in taking them seriously and pursuing their implications." (73)

Joyce Collet wanting to be a lady-in-waiting -- leads to dialogue on value of aristocratic service, can one serve man's hierarchy and God at the same time?

"What is this path of devotion? How do the values articulated by the Little Academy embody themselves — besides the ban on Christmas dinner? One can answer this and make a case that it’s a radical answer, if radical means frontal opposition to the status quo, which is always pretty much the work of world, flesh, and devil. Yet the asceticism of the Little Gidding community, however oppositional, has little bearing on their feminism and republican-ism: on the sort of commitments, that is to say, which we would consider (potentially) radical." (77-8)

"the most immediately striking thing about the group is the equality of the partici- pants: equality in the sense that the factors that ordinarily determine sta- tus — age, gender, parenthood — matter virtually not at all." (78)

inversion of hierarchies in giving Mary title of Mother -- Mary's refusal

"Since her refusal is driven by a sense of per- sonal inadequacy, or at least that is how her sisters interpret it, the first topic addressed concerns the possibility of rule among equals: how, or by what right, does one member of a group wield authority over others without hav- ing, or claiming, personal superiority?" (80)

"Although her office gives her authority over the individual members of the community — to use the language of the conciliarist republicanism current at the time — the community as a whole remains her superior, and by assuming power she shows her “obedience and submission” to the com- munity, whose members qua individuals remain her equals and, as such, will also, John promises, be her “partners and fellow laborers” (Story Books, 171, 174, 179). 22" (81)

gifts are offered -- "At this point, the political import of what is unfolding becomes unmistakable, since Mary rejects the proposal out of hand as tantamount to corruption. To accept gifts would compromise her position as Mother from the outset by entangling her in a sticky spider web of gratitude, obligation, and reciprocity — relations scarcely problematic within a family, whose members are supposed to be thus bound. ... To sacrifice the liberty of superiors to the familial bonds that gift-giving affirms would be (although she does not use the word) nepotism: the betrayal of public interests by kinship solidarities that was the era’s signature brand of political corruption." (82)

Susanna gives Mary her four children (Mary's siblings) as a gift; John gives his three; Anna gives her adopted child of her married sister's younger son

"Between October 18 and November 1 of 1632, we thus have Mary’s elevation to governance of the Little Gidding community with the title of Mother, followed by the seven-fold gift of motherhood that invests her with responsibility for the education of the Little Gidding children, and between these two motherings, the imbroglio over accepting gifts. Some of all this must have been planned in advance, but since Mary’s initial refusal of both governance and gifts could not have been foreknown, a fair amount must have been spontaneous. Yet, although partly improvised and perhaps not fully worked out, some sort of political allegory (or parable, or pageant) seems to be unfolding here. The exchanges dealing with the relation of equality to authority and with the threat to the latter posed by gifts clearly address political issues, but why is Mary’s authority configured as mother- hood; and why does motherhood, understood as governance of a commu- nity, then expand to include the education of its children?" (83)

Alan Bray and "voluntary kinship"

best person for the job is chosen -- by merits -- not by blood

"Mary’s “motherhood” is altogether more interesting in that her replacement of Mrs. Ferrar, the founder and matriarch of the community, presents an embodied parable, as it were, recapitulating the birth of political society: the emergence of polity from its matrix in the extended family at the moment when authority over the group ceases to be isomorphic with a determinate biological position (usually that of father or elder) within the family. This was not the origin-narrative that appealed to King James and similarly high-flying monarchists, for whom royal authority was, quite literally, paternal power over a very large family; it is, however, the standard republican version given in Aristotle’s Politics, according to which, polity, rather than household writ large, represents a fundamentally different form of collective life than the biological order of the family. 27" (84)

Mary becomming mother "intended to mark the reconfiguration of an extended family into a political community" )84-5) -- immediately thereafter Academy starts acting like corporate body; votes and contracts

"Given that the Ferrar uncles had been senior members of the Virginia Company and close friends with protorepublicans like Edwin Sandys, they must have noticed the political import of the forms in which they cast these acts of religious self-dedication. Voting and covenanting, a group formulating its own rules and the members freely binding themselves to obey them — these are acts of political communities, not families, and, moreover, of political communities committed to the “love and study of equality.”" (85)

"From the point Mary replaces Mrs. Ferrar as “Mother,” thereby cre- ating a structure of authority distinct from that of biological kinship, the family is consciously fashioning itself into a self-governing community. Lit- tle Gidding had, of course, always been a liturgical community; but starting in late 1632 its members also grapple, and experiment, with new forms of political order: with allocating authority, decision-making procedures, and something like social contracts. Moreover, although they truly are unwaver- ing royalists, their political experiments defy the basic royalist principle of hereditary succession, which would have given the reins to John Ferrar, but instead draw on republican and contractual models, and, by choosing Mary as “Mother,” transform Mrs. Ferrar’s matriarchy into an elective office. 29" (86)

"That this was, in any sense, a feminist project does not yet appear. The question as to whether there was a high calling open to women, one befitting rational and spiritual beings, gets raised on October 18, but John deflects the conversation from female vocation to parental duties, and the matter is dropped. Gift-giving takes up the November 1 session. However, at the next meeting — a month or so later — for one moment the feminist import of the whole project is articulated, when Mary observes that as women they may not preach with words, and then goes on to affirm, “yet we may preach by our actions, as [God] still doth by His. . . . Our example may perhaps hearten on some others.”" (88)

feminist proclamation that the women have no examples but will make their own

"Since a religious community of high-church loyalists conspicuous for its quasi-monastic ritualism might seem, by definition, conservative, the ques- tion remains as to whether the radicalism of Little Gidding stands at unac- knowledged cross-purposes to its Laudianism. ... [Laudianism has a liberal streak] ... The Story Books record dis- cussions whose format was clearly not catechetical — not, that is, structured to arrive at fore-known conclusions — but rather the open-ended, analytic, improvised zig-zag of genuine debate. It was precisely in such Laudian (or avant-garde conformist) circles that intellectual labor could become integral to the devout life. 39" (90)