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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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Conclusion 243

Extract

Conclusion What becomes evident from a review of the literary offerings by the women discussed in the preceding chapters, and particularly when focus- sing on ideas of inheritance and appropriation, is both the similarities between some of the imperatives which drive them and differences be- tween the methods which are available to them to address those impera- tives. The Sidney women had the luxury of family connections and so- cial status to authorise their ventures into the literary world – although Mary Wroth quickly discovered that if one, as a woman, has no sympa- thetic and powerful aristocratic husband to rely upon, one’s noble con- nections by birth may provide scant protection from the accusations of a humiliated noble, male enemy. Both Mary Wroth and Mary Sidney are careful, by different means, to highlight their familial “inheritance” – Sidney as the sister, chief mourner, and high priestess of the cult of Sir Philip Sidney, and Mary Wroth as her father’s daughter, and niece of her celebrated aunt and uncle. But it could be argued that, as women (and therefore largely excluded from inheritance – at least, inheritance of property – by law), in practical terms they are appropriating the reputa- tions of their male relatives, and the legitimacy and value of their literary endeavours in order to create their own literary legacies. Mary Wroth re-writes Arcadia, but as a world where women are chosen to inherit thrones, and demonstrate themselves to be the true pos- sessors of discretion, fidelity, courage, wisdom, constancy and love...

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