Rees 2003

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with Cavendish, "attempts to separate writer and work are doomed because of the author's dogged textual insistence and presence" (2)

"it is through a careful choice of genre that Cavendish succeeds in formulating controversial arguments. Repeatedly she lulls the reader into believing that he or she is reading a generically familiar text. When that genre's antecedents are examined, however, Cavendish's unique take on it emerges in all its tantalising and subversive force." (5)

"Cavendish used genre in her writings of the 1650s as a means of articulating her powerlessness in the face of what I shall come to define as a "triple exile". That is, it will become apparent that she is exiled not only in a legislative sense (by being married to a man who was politically designated a delinquent and banished) but in two other interrelated senses, too. She is analogously exiled firstly, as a woman trying to write in a hostile culture (thanks not least to Stansby and his peers) when this was seen as promiscuously transgressive, and secondly as a royalist maintaining and promoting the prohibited aesthetic of theatricality in various forms of her writing." (5)

exile: in 1650s, what we now see as temporary "must, at the time, have felt like an awful permanency, with all of the feelings of dejection and fear that accompany such a situation" (6)

her voice, "because of the triple exile, was subversive almost as soon as it was articulated" (7)

"For Cavendish's generic dissimulations to work effectively she needs some of her readers to come to her texts expecting a degree of rigidity, and others to read through that, to see the text as flexible, and to decipher some of what ti conceals. In other words, in Natures Pictures, or more specifically in the short story in it, Assaulted and Pursued Chastity, the reader expects to encounter one genre but actually they may discover that, for very specific political reasons, Cavendish has reinvented or rediscovered the romance genre's plastic potential. If, as Bakhtin argues, 'studying other genres is analogous to studying dead languages', then what Cavendish does in her use of genre is to find an idiolect informed by the peculiar personal and political circumstances of her life in the 1650s." (9)

in royalist literary sensibilities, civil wars marked move from epic to novelistic discourse (crushing of epic pasts) (9-10)

"in her hands genre is less a prescriptive force than a modulation which alters the generic code from which it is a departure, or of which it is a version" (10)

contemporary opinions of Cavendish (12); critical reactions to her work (13)

linking Assaulted to the Dryden-Davenant Tempest of 1667; conerns of "usurpation, involuntary exile, construction of a social utopia which in fact has dystopic elements and, in keeping with the speculations of the new science, the possibility of the existence of non-corporeal entities" (15); "The enchanted imagined isle, be it that of Cavenant's imagination or Cavendish's, is a space wherein the disenfranchised have the power to experiment with different versions of rule and absolutism." (15)

In Assaulted, Cavendish creates "a figure of an heroic woman -- a creation which exceeded the bounds of her text and which she wished to be applied to her self, too." (16); Ulyssean story; creation of a woman orator, reworking the figure of the Homeric Penelope

Travellia's travails: Homeric motifs in Assaulted and Pursued Chastity

"A reading of Cavendish's evocations of Penelope divulges how the author skilfully and pragmatically redefined notions of gender and femininity so that her act of publication should seem acceptable, even socially desirable, rather than monstrous and transgressive." (105)
"the epic genre presents Cavendish with a medium for the expresion of a longing for the empowerment of the dispossessed, recalling in its narrative structure something of the contingent fatum which characterised her own life" (106)
"Through her generic manipulations of the nebulous boundary between epic and romance, Cavendish portrays a character, Travellia, who is chaste without being confined to the loom." (107)

shift from needle to pen (107)

  • "Cavendish identifies and seizes upon an opportunity to execute a literary tansition from the occupation of needlework, or the creation of textiles, to the occupation of writing, that is, the creation of a text" (107)

Cavendish compares herself to Penelope -- as Penelope perserves her chastity in her husband's absence by weaving (then unraveling the work each night) so Cavendish preserves it in her husband's absence by writing (qtd on 108)

"Her Assaulted and Pursued chastity, whilst ultimately showing a woman in a position of considerable civic power, does simultaneously favour a victory of romantic love over aspiration, occupying a generic position between epic and romance." (112)
"Assualted and Pursued Chastity may be read as a text perched o nthe threshold between epic and romance, for in the combination of Travellia's engagement with Classical topoi, and her romance characteristics, a quite deliberate composite of the genres emerges." (113)

three epic topoi in Assaulted:

  • storm and consequence shipwreck
  • story-telling and mendacity
  • homecoming
"A text which is ostensibly about a woman as victim of assault and pursuit, becomes a text about a woman with agency who preserves her chastity through her own initiative." (114) -- like Penelope

in the beginning, Miser "oscillates between being able to be identified with Penelope as the victim of repeated attempts at seduction, and with Ulysses" (117)

similarities between kingdoms Ulysses and Travellia find themselves in (119)

"At the core of her speech is her chastity, a feminine concern, but her public oratory, her apparel and the battlefield location all indicate her continued involvement in a conventionally masculine sphere of activity." (122)

her chastity, "although assaulted and pursued, it has ultimately become the site of her active production, and maintenance, of her own autonomy" (122)

Cavendish is armed masculinely, but to tell stories, weave texts

"Travellia epitomises and transcends the figure of the Homeric Penelope as a symbol replete with significance for the woman writer, whose very chastity could be called into doubt by the audacious and necessarily self-promoting act of publication." (123)