"This soft eclipse": Family roles and women writers at the English Restoration
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In "'This Soft Eclipse': Family Roles and Women Writers at the English Restoration" I examine women writing during the early years of the Restoration who discursively positioned themselves vis-à-vis family roles--wife, widow, mother, daughter--in ways that engaged contemporary debates about the changing nature of government, specifically the new culture of outrageous display, consumption, and libertinism; the defeat and retreat (to some extent) of republicanism; and the persecution of nonconformist sects. As I argue, women writers entering and manipulating public discourse both enacted a variety of allegiances--social, biological, cultural, economic, and political--and offered self-definitions through a range of textual forms (from letters to pamphlets to poems to satire) circulating from the period of the English Civil War through the Restoration. The texts that I examine reveal conflicts in ideological perspectives--conflicts that demonstrate expanding modes of communicating and changing conceptions of social networks, while at the same time adhering to time-honored views about family, gender, and status. In addition, questions of authenticity, staging, and spectacle that were raised during the English Civil War persisted through the Restoration, as professional female actresses performed in public for the first time and women writers became more culturally visible. An important feature of the texts I look at is their exploration of the complexity of self-definition through the social role of wife. Each of these four women offers her own definition of "wife," which she deploys to facilitate a foray into some unauthorized realm--print, public preaching, performance. Although they produced writing that was generically and ideologically distinct, and although they themselves were from different socio-economic spheres, the women I discuss announce themselves by a traditionally definable role--wife, widow, mother--thus authorizing their participation in the public sphere at a time when socially and politically conservative values are being redeployed. The four women I focus on in this study--lower-class trickster Mary Carleton, Royalist writer Margaret Cavendish, Republican poet Lucy Hutchinson, and Quaker leader Margaret Fell--wrote in response to the return of Charles Stuart to England and the restoration of monarchy after more than a decade of parliamentary and army rule. Occupying distinct ideological perspectives, representing different classes, and writing in diverse literary genres, these women, like all of England's people, experienced the Restoration as a transformation, another version of the "soft eclipse" of marriage that occasioned feelings of doubt and loss as well as a powerful and new social identity.