McGrath 2002

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McGrath, Lynette. Subjectivity and Women's Poetry in Early Modern England. Burlington: Ashgate, 2002.

Isabella Whitney. The Printed Subject: Print, Power and Abjection in The Copy of a Letter and A Sweet Nosgay (Chapter 4)

notes that both her printer and Berrie in his commendatory poem didn't regard her "as silenced by gendered literary or social ideology" (124)

notes that Jones was not just a ballad printer, but seems "interested in producing books appropriate for women readers"; he printed Anger's Protection for Women (1589), as well as a list of suitable names for baby girls and several manuals on marriage "thus covering the range from 'feminist' protest to the ideologically normative point of view about women" (125)

IW is negotiating fashionable genres of print

"The doubleness of early print culture -- both imitative and innovative, backward-looking and forward-facing, and the ambiguities of the fashionable -- committed to the experimental, the ephemeral and the new, and also to the instantiation of competitive status structures, inform the self-representation and language of Whitney's poetry." (135)

in Copy, IW is both male and female; "Whitney is able to stage her poetry, speaking a woman's experience of male betrayal, disguising her female authorship with (possibly) a male's initials, in order, paradoxically, to give authority to the pronouncements of her female persona." (136)

"While her poems seem to endorse the binary divisions of false men and true women, these distinctions, on examination, fall apart." (139)

Whitney's puzzling use of mermaid imagery (142-3) -- mermaids could be men or women, as evident in GW's emblems

two poems are "not so much the traditional female complaint against male betrayal they seem to represent, as a submerged female challenge to undermine the power of male language over women, and a demonstration of the untrustworthy vicissitudes of binary social and linguistic structures" (143)

  • "these two early poems force dichotomous patriarchal language to double back to a place where both its inflexible binary deficiencies and its multivalent potential can be revealed." (143-4)


puns on re-sight, re-site, re-cite; "The repeating allusions to and puns on sight, as a capacity that resonates correlatively with the persona's writing, itself able to re-sight, resite and recite, acquire for that writing the controlling and constructive power implicit in the dominating gaze." (147)

"though one may be materially poor, poetic language contains a kind of abundance in which one may nevertheless be rich, and which may even be invested as a means of assuaging material impoverishment." (147)

abundant language of poetry can be given as a gift (148)

translation; "Whitney's role in relation to Plat is as a kind of translator of his morally serious work, but the highly unusual switch from male prose to female poetry suggests that Whitney is challenging and out-writing Plat in 'anything you can do I can do better' move." (150)

Whitney thinks Plat is a "maze" (with all of its bad implications); turns it into a healthful nosegay

"Plat may be the gardener, but she is the apothecary. The many may grow the garden, but the woman's use of the products of the garden is what is ultimately potent. The selecting and arranging of the correct flowers or herbs to promote health surely requires more skill than -- or at least as much as -- their growing. In a facetious way, Whitney tells the reader that she is appropriating the products of Plat's (male) garden and prose to make her own (female) medicine and poetry." (151)

Mary Stuart's moto, Virescit vulnere virtus, Virtue flourishes by wounding; paired with hand holding a pruning knife on embroidered pillow (157)

  • "If the literary virtue of Plat's numerous prose aphorisms has been given new life by Whitney's skillful reducing, revising and poeticizing, so the poetic and moral speech and virtue of the persona herself may be seen as increased by the wounding or suffering she insistently describes herself as experiencing." (157)

Robert Burton, melancholy makes men instrospective, makes women raving and inarticulate; Whitney jumps over this gendered binary