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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 4 – Mary Wroth 187

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CHAPTER 4 Mary Wroth Mary (Sidney) Wroth was born on October 18, most probably in 1587, just a year and a day after the death of her illustrious uncle, Philip and nine days before the twenty-sixth birthday of her aunt Mary Sidney Her- bert (after whom she was possibly named) 1. She was the first daughter for Sir Robert Sidney and the heiress Barbara Gamage. It was at about this time when a very attractive eighteen year old Aemilia Bassano (Lanyer) was dazzling Elizabeth’s Lord Chamberlain at court, and some 20 years after Isabella Whitney’s The Copy of a Letter appeared in the Stationers’ Register. The young Mary seems to have received a reasonable education for a woman of her era. There are numerous mentions in letters addressed to the absent Robert Sidney from his steward, Rowland Whyte, of progress in the children’s education, and some specific references to Mary’s “forwardness” in “learning, writing and other exercises she is put to, as dawncing and the virginals”2. While there is scant detail available about what constituted this education, commentators such as Barbara Lewalski surmise, on the basis of Wroth’s later writing, that it included “wide reading in English and Continental romances and pastoral dramas, and in 1 As is recorded by a number of commentators, the records of the births and deaths of Robert Sidney’s children are incomplete, and the parish registers of Penshurst have no record of his eldest daughter Mary’s birth. Evidence for the day of her birth...

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