This term my graduate class is studying patriarchy in Restoration literature. Here’s our course description:

In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (2006), historian Judith Bennett reminds us that “Patriarchy might be everywhere, but it is not everywhere the same, and therefore patriarchy, in all its immense variety, is something we need to understand, analyze, and explain.” The question then becomes, how do we historicize patriarchy? Eighteenth-century literature scholar Michael McKeon points out that “to historicize patriarchy requires, among other things, an inquiry into the relationship between the modern systems of sexuality—of sex and gender difference—and class.” This seminar will take up these and other scholars’ work on patriarchy in the seventeenth century to investigate the relationship between the literature of the Restoration period (1660-1689) and changes in class identity, in the construction of the family, in the division of labor between the sexes, in the rhetoric of sexual difference between male and female bodies, and in the “rise” of the ‘heterosexual’/’homosexual’ dialectic that led to a new system of gender and sexual difference. Our aims in this course are to familiarize ourselves with major authors and works of the Restoration, to place these authors and works within a historical context, and to review contemporary scholarship on relationships between literature, patriarchy, gender, and sexuality in the period.

We started by reading portions of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I really enjoyed reading again. It’s been a few years since I had read any of it. I liked it to so much that I’m thinking about starting my tutorial next quarter with portions of it.

John Dryden After Milton, we read John Dryden’s operatic adaptation of Paradise Lost, The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man, which was never actually performed. It’s a fascinating poem written in heroic couplets, of course.

We had read a couple of critical essays on Milton’s Eve, so we were particularly interested in comparing Dryden’s depictions with Milton’s. I was impressed with my students’ analysis of this adaptation. We ultimately concluded that Dryden (pictured here) seemed more modern in his depiction of Eve. While Milton’s Eve seems to have little real choice, Dryden’s Eve seems much more independent and autonomous.

I really hope at least one of them chooses to write his or her final paper on The State of Innocence. It seems like a fascinating text. If I were currently working on Restoration poetry or drama, I would definitely find a way to slip it into whatever I was working on.

Due to our course interests, we didn’t spend much time on Satan, but he;s kind of interesting in Dryden’s poem too. I’m surprised that more people haven’t written on it.

Today we read poems by Anne Killigrew and Ephelia, an anonymous poet. Killigrew’s poetry was ultimately of less interest to us than Ephelia’s, which was really gripping. While Killigrew’s poetry seems rather pedestrian and traditional, Ephelia’s poems are burning with human desires, frustrations, and concerns. The vision we get of her in her poems is very much a woman that many of us could identify with.

Restoration literature is often dismissed by students as being “dry,” “too ordered,” and “ornamental” rather than “lively,” “impulsive,” and “full of human spirit.” Ephelia’s poetry contradicts this stereotype. Reading her work was really refreshing. I especially liked the following poem, which is part of series about Ephelia’s romance with a man she calls “J. G.”:

Those that can tell Heaven’s Joy, when News is brought

That some Poor Sinners dear Conversion’s wrought,

Might tell our Raptur’d Extasies, when we

Receiv’d the News, that you were come from Sea:

Each wore such Looks, as visibly exprest

Some more than common Joy, sate smiling in his Brest.

Great as your Friend’s Joys, you will nothing find,

Unless the Grief of those you left behind:

I can describe my Joy for your Return

No more, then tell how I your Absence mourn:

Both are beyond the read of words t’express,

And to describe them, wou’d but make them less:

The Blessing of young Heirs is mixt with Pain,

And by their Father’s Deaths, Princes their Empire gain.

If then all pleasure, meets with some allay,

Forgive me, Dearest Strephon, if I say,

I almost Grieve to think that thou canst be

Six days in London, ere thou visit me.

Like many of her poems, this one packs an emotional wallop at the end. You really get a sense of thwarted desire and love in her volume of poetry. I really hope someone writes on her too.

Apparently, the question of who Ephelia was is still unresolved. Some scholars argue that Mary Villiers was Ephelia. This webpage is one example of the argument for Villiers’ authorship. It’s by Maureen E. Mulvihill, the primary scholar of Ephelia’s work. Others pose other candidates, including a group of male poets masquerading as a woman. Whoever wrote these poems, they’re fabulous. Their intensely personal nature is just astounding and we all really got into them today. I think I’ll have to teach them again sometime. (Maybe in my tutorial next quarter!)