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Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America

by William J. Scheick

Availablecloth$60.00x 978-0-8131-2054-6
168 pages  Pubdate: 02/26/1998  5.5 x 8.5  

Should women concern themselves with reading other than the Bible? Should women attempt to write at all? Did these activities violate the hierarchy of the universe and men’s and women’s places in it? Colonial American women relied on the same authorities and traditions as did colonial men, but they encountered special difficulties validating themselves in writing. William Scheick explores logonomic conflict in the works of northeastern colonial women, whose writings often register anxiety not typical of their male contemporaries. This study features the poetry of Mary English and Anne Bradstreet, the letter-journals of Esther Edwards Burr and Sarah Prince, the autobiographical prose of Elizabeth Hanson and Elizabeth Ashbridge, and the political verse of Phyllis Wheatley. These works, along with the writings of other colonial women, provide especially noteworthy instances of bifurcations emanating from American colonial women’s conflicted confiscation of male authority. Scheick reveals subtle authorial uneasiness and subtextual tensions caused by the attempt to draw legitimacy from male authorities and traditions.

William J. Scheick, J.R. Miliken Centennial Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of Design in Puritan American Literature.

Addresses the question of how to understand colonial women’s writing given the gendered constraints they faced in their creative endeavors. -- American Literature

Small and compact, with an excellent index and bibliography, this book joins such similar titles as Amy Lang's Prophetic Women and American Women Writers to 1800, ed. by Sharon Harris. Highly recommended for both undergraduates and advanced scholars. -- Choice

Offers material of great interest to students and scholars interested in emergent women’s voices in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America. -- Eighteenth Century: A Current Bibliography

It is hard to see that criticism can do more: this is a book which should be read by anyone with an interest in colonial writing; I hope it will be turned to by others well beyond the field. -- Journal of American Studies

Colonialists and specialists in American women's writing, as well as those who believe in an ethos of looking closely and with respect at the object of study, will come away from this book enriched and encouraged. -- Journal of English and Germanic Philology

Scheick has made an important and welcome contribution to the growing literature on early American women, writing, and authority. -- New England Quarterly

Reveals a great deal about the presence of female voices and the struggle between orthodox and individual authority. -- Rocky Mountain Review

A provocative book which corroborates some of our earlier ideas about female writing in colonial America and finds some new ways of looking at familiar verse and prose. -- Seventeenth-Century News

The book is short, to the point, timely and rooted in careful attention to primary texts. -- South Atlantic Review

Should prove a useful book to a variety of readers. Scheick nuances and complicates past feminist readings of authors like Anne Bradstreet, while contributing new readings of writers like Mary English, Esther Burr, Elizabeth Hanson, and Phillis Wheatley. -- Teresa A. Toulouse

Scheick convincingly demonstrates the ways in which these early texts express the uncertainties of female authorization in colonial America. -- The American Cultural Association Journal

Provocative, tightly argued, and well written. . . . It models a productive blend of solid historical and cultural contextualizing with the often neglected practice of close, attentive reading. -- William and Mary Quarterly

This is required reading for scholars in the period. -- Year’s Work in English Studies