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Writing the Way Out

Inheritance and Appropriation in Aemilia Lanyer, Isabella Whitney, Mary (Sidney) Herbert and Mary Wroth

Ann Margaret Lange

In the early modern period, there have been a vigorous debate in the public arena on the nature of women and their place in society. For instance, most women had been excluded from inheritance.
The author of this work is shedding light on how the notion of inheritance intrudes into the literature produced by women of the period.
She analyses the tropes of inheritance and appropriation as they are evidenced in the works of women from the upper strata of society – women such as Mary (Sidney) Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, and Lady Mary Wroth, both scions of the renowned Sidney family – and also those produced by those from lower down in the social spectrum, such as Aemilia Lanyer and Isabella Whitney.

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CHAPTER 2 – Isabella Whitney 115

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CHAPTER 2 Isabella Whitney If Aemilia Lanyer’s history is relatively well documented for a woman of her class and time, the same cannot be said of Isabella Whitney’s. As far as established fact is concerned, it can be noted that she produced two volumes of poetry, both of which were published in London by Richard Jones. The remainder of what little we know about Whitney is specula- tively drawn from her writings and their publications. There is a sugges- tion that Whitney was the sister of another author of the same period: Geffrey Whitney. As well as the fact that they share a surname, there is a close correspondence between the people mentioned in her works (in- cluding the dedications) and the people to whom Geffrey refers in A Choice of Emblems (published in 1586), or who appear in his will of 16001. If Geffrey Whitney was her brother, and the relevant allusions in her writing can be accepted as fact, then Whitney also had another brother, Brooke, who was in service in London, a married sister Anne Baron and two younger sisters, both her parents were alive in 1573, and her father at least was still alive in 1586. George Mainwaring, to whom A Sweet Nosegay, or Pleasant Posy (hereafter Nosegay) is dedicated, was a member of a prominent family who had been neighbours of Whit- ney during her childhood2. It may also be possible that Whitney finally found some “household cares” to “tye” her3, if the “Sister Eldershae...

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