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Tuesday, April 11th
10:45 AM

Irony, Shame, and Generosity: The Complexity of Whitney’s The Copy of a Letter

Esther Ra, Whitman College

Olin 129

10:45 AM - 11:00 AM

Early women writers have often been dismissed by 20th- and 21st-century critics for the limits of their literary skills or feminism. Isabella Whitney, for example, was accused of emotionless didacticism as well as a self-demeaning and typically moral stance. In our attempt to disrupt traditional stereotypes, however, it has been tempting to focus on women with confrontational rhetoric at the cost of women whose subversion was more subtle. In my presentation on Whitney's The Copy of a Letter, I examine the ways in which Whitney used the very personae society had assigned to her— such as the languishing female lover of the Ovidian tradition— and recreated them in a way that can be both assertive and deeply moving.

11:00 AM

Powers of Attraction and Repulsion: The Ambivalence of the Poet in Propertius’s 4.7

Erin Kirkpatrick, Whitman College

Olin 129

11:00 AM - 11:15 AM

Propertius’s last book of elegies, composed circa 16 BCE, departs from the prior three books composed over the preceding 12 years. In 4.7, the character of the poet is berated by the ghost of his newly-deceased lover, Cynthia. Cynthia’s character functions as metonymy for Propertius’ body of poetry and the genre of elegy as a whole, and the poem’s narrative is a means for Propertius to explore his ambivalence towards his work. 4.7 is a retrospective poem that references the first three poems of Propertius’s first book, composed around 28 BCE. Cynthia’s ghost has the same hair, eyes and acerbic speech as her living counterpart, and these elements represent aspects of writing the love elegy that still attract the poet. However, the changed aspects, such as the ghost’s charred jewelry and clothes, represent over-adornment becoming repulsive to the poet and contributing to his decision to move away from the love elegy.

11:15 AM

‘The Needle, as the Eye, Guides It About’: Women’s Imagination in Margaret Cavendish

Henry Carges, Whitman College

Olin 129

11:15 AM - 11:30 AM

Margaret Cavendish’s debut volume, Poems and Fancies (1653), covers atomist science and the nature of simile in the same breath, often combining seemingly incongruent themes. The primary response to her work chalked up her engagement with disparity to feminine aristocratic eccentricity, branding her “Mad Madge”— a derisive nickname that still plagues much of the critical response to Cavendish’s work. This dismissive reaction masks the complicated, proto-feminist brilliance of an intensely original work, as the book refuses the strictures of a largely masculine poetic tradition in its content, form, and structure. By studying her inventive use of needles and eyes in the text, I show that Cavendish prioritizes a specifically feminine imagination, one that stems from the very bodies of women as well as their lived experience, and in doing so opens up new modes of expression all her own.