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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 3 – Mary (Sidney) Herbert 151

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CHAPTER 3 Mary (Sidney) Herbert Up to this point, we have been considering two women writers from the lower end of the early modern social and economic spectrum – the daughter of a court musician who, despite the early good fortune of an upbringing among the nobility and the attentions of the Lord Chamber- lain, was largely dependent on her own ingenuity and persistence to sup- port herself and her family, and a serving gentlewoman who, though ap- parently enjoying the friendship and encouragement of male friends, re- mained heavily reliant on her good reputation and usefulness to enable her to provide for herself. Neither enjoyed the protection of position, family, or wealth which could cushion them from the vagaries of life. That either woman was able to carve out for herself the space and time to write, let alone the audacity to publish her poetry (albeit, in Lanyer’s case, to a very specific audience), is remarkable. The method by which those women establish this creative space could generally be character- ised as “appropriation”. But were these difficulties – and this method of overcoming them – simply the province of women for whom inheritance, in any sense of the word, was unavailable as an option? Would a woman of family, position, education and wealth have written differently? Would she have chosen different subjects, or different language to ex- press them in? Would inheritance rather than appropriation have been the driving trope underlying and infusing her work, or would it simply have allowed her...

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