Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Pamela S. Hammons

Second Committee Member

Tassie Gwilliam

Third Committee Member

Susanne Woods

Fourth Committee Member

Elaine Hobby


Wives Writing Privacy, 1640-1670 investigates how seventeenth-century women writers imagine novel, yet appropriate, forms of publicly constitutive privacy for married women, including retirement, exchanging gifts with female friends, and occupying roles as collaborative producers of culture. Anne Bradstreet, Katherine Philips, and Margaret Cavendish depict women who experiment with forms of privacy different than those considered proper for femes covert or assumed potential wives to adopt. Instead, they use the rhetoric of household labor, chastity, modesty, discipline, and friendship to insist that these innovative forms of wifely privacy legitimize wives’ public authority. Wives’ publicly generative wifely privacy is presented as parallel to the authorizing forms of privacy understood to be the purview of men, like governing the household, owning property, pursuing a private vocation, or claiming an independent legal identity. Framing authorship as a private vocation allows these married female writers to redefine laureate status for wives, relocating it in relation to public and private spheres. The literary arena reinforced men’s public stature by emphasizing women’s non-participation in other public arenas like formal education, politics, and religion. Each author’s unique perspective of exile thus ultimately informs their drive to imagine novel forms of privacy and allows them to disengage from key public arenas and authorities rather than submit to exclusion. They ultimately contribute to a female literary tradition — unified by the context of intense religious and political upheavals between 1640 and 1670 — invested in overcoming imperatives to political non-participation and probing the limits of access to private sovereignty. Chapter One examines Anne Bradstreet’s poetry in Several Poems to show how her descriptions of isolation and solitude affirm her intellectual discipline and poetic modesty in ways that signify publicly. These portraits express her relative independence from public literary, religious, and political arenas that formally exclude her because of her dependent status as a wife. By emphasizing her voluntary disengagement rather than her unwilling exclusion, Bradstreet illustrates her individual authority even within coverture. Redefining conventional feminine modesty tropes, Bradstreet distinguishes her authorial identity from the male-dominated literary system, asserting the authenticity of her poetic identity despite its failure to conform to the conventions of publicly generative male-authored poetry. Chapter Two conceptualizes the shared ownership and exchange of gifts, secrets, names, and texts that lend autonomy to exclusive pairs or small groups of female friends in Katherine Philips’ poetry, including “Friendship in Embleme,” “In Defense of Declared Friendship,” and “To the Excellent Mrs. Anne Owen,” among others. Such unconventional forms of cooperative custodianship help Philips — “The Matchless Orinda” — to publicize the private virtues necessary for proper ownership, like self-government, moderation, and temperance. Moreover, these practices highlight the intimacy of female friendships in the poetic society amongst whom Philips circulated her poems, allowing her to innovate male friendship discourse to give poetic authority to the female friend rather than the male poet. This project documents how Philips revises concepts of wifely and royalist retirement to construct cooperative forms of private ownership engendered by withdrawal, presenting them as parallel to the independent legal ownership that endowed men with public autonomy. Chapter Three examines how The Convent of Pleasure depicts Lady Happy at the center of an all-female community in which novel forms of privacy can remain free from intrusive husbandly interference, but in which potential wives prepare to assert individual, public authority within marriage, and to cultivate intellectually and spiritually collaborative bonds with potential husbands. This chapter also explores The Blazing World, in which Cavendish’s avatar, the Empress, forges an intensely intimate friendship with the Duchess, her “other self,” which depends upon cooperative authorship and shared symbolic ownership paradoxically emphasized by the fantastical wealth and authority of the Empress as an individual. Margaret Cavendish ultimately recognizes limits to how far women’s experimental forms of collective wifely privacy could (or should) remain entirely free from husbands. Nevertheless, she suggests that wives could continue to be producers and influencers of culture after marriage, enjoying important roles in symbolically rebuilding public culture after the material losses they and their husbands suffered between the civil wars and restoration.


seventeenth-century literature; women's writing; privacy; public sphere; Katherine Philips; Margaret Cavendish; Anne Bradstreet; retirement; renaissance friendship

Available for download on Thursday, April 22, 2021