Saturday, April 6, 2013

Seventeenth-Century Quaker Women: Writing Technologies and Feminist Subjects

Seventeenth-Century Quaker Women:
Writing Technologies and Feminist Subjects

paper delivered June 29, 1996
for the Folger Library Institute on the Graphic Revolution in Early Modern Europe

Katie King
Women’s Studies, University of Maryland, College Park

Tracing, trailing, scrutinizing objects of study, political objects, in their coming-into-being, follows the method devised in my last book Theory in Its Feminist Travels: Conversations in U.S. Women’s Movements. So, tracing and scrutinizing “Seventeenth-Century Quaker Women” as an object of feminist study with feminist political meanings is a logical follow up. In 1989 I met Elaine Hobby for the first time. Author of Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing, 1649-1688, Elaine is one of the pioneers of feminist work in this area and herself a living repository of vast knowledge of documents and theories about English women writing in the seventeenth-century.[1]  When I met her in the late 80s Elaine made many comments, in informal gatherings and discussion, and in more formal presentations, about women’s activities intersecting with writing, and about the historical issues of sexual identity. A few years later in transatlantic phone calls, Elaine chided me for taking too uncritically histories about Quaker women in particular, telling me to reexamine the historical arguments about women’s meetings and about Quaker pacifism. Elaine’s work is quite legendary in this field today: almost every new book has acknowledgements that delineate the intellectual networks she’s established, altered or infiltrated. Her still-to-come-book about lesbianism in the period is also legendary, as is her encyclopedic knowledge of manuscripts, rare books and archives. One of the early members of the Birmingham school, she left that crowd to engage in archival work; as a radical historian with primarily literary interests and an emphasis on revolutionary politics she follows but also alters and extends the work of Christopher Hill. A new generation of her students now are shaping the tools that configure this object of study “Seventeenth-century Quaker women.” Second-guessing many of Elaine’s suggestive and deliberately provoking comments is one of the motors for this paper and my work in this period.

For several years now I’ve been working to think about the layers of locals (in the plural) and globals (in the plural) that dynamically interconnect in what I call “Global Gay Formations and Local Homosexualities.”[2] As I’ve spent my sabbatical trying to conceptualize a book, I’ve wanted both notions -- the idea of layers of locals and globals and the specific version Global Gay Formations and Local Homosexualities -- to structure my investigation of the materials I’ve been researching and writing about.

I work in a field I call Feminism and Writing Technologies, which on the one hand looks at histories of various writing technologies, for example, alphabet, movable type, index, pencil, typewriter, xerox machine, computer, internet.  On the other hand Feminism and Writing Technologies examines the ideologies that proliferate around the shifting terms “the oral” and “the written.” In the course of researching my book on this subject I’ve been examining the two great, indeed truly mythical moments in the scholarship on writing technologies: the so-called Printing Revolution and the so-called Information Revolution.The point of looking at each is to study these “layers of locals and globals”; that is, rather than posit a binary local and global, or multiple locals and a single global, I want to describe and understand the material interactions among layers of plural locals and globals. I mean these terms to have both synchronic and diachronic meanings: for example, to emphasize the investments of contemporary gay folk in creating transhistorical continuities, across time and cultures, to produce objects like “the homosexual,” but within and accountable to very local, indeed culturally quite narrow, political meanings and strategies--themselves ephemeral, and soon to be replaced with other objects of knowledge, with other centers producing objects of knowledge.

As I decided to write my book on Feminism and Writing Technologies, and decided to include two “case studies” (for lack of a better term), one on each of these mythical moments, I wanted to make sure several threads of concern would be knotted together. The work on the Information Revolution, or perhaps better, the Tele-Information Revolution is now centered around global and national tv and tv technologies, women’s involvements in internet media fandoms and in the domestication of tv and video, computer and satellite technologies, and in the global circulation of eroticized images with queer valences. I discussed these materials in relation to the tv show Highlander a couple of week ago for HistCon.

The complementary study is the one on the printing revolution--which I’ll be talking about today. In this one I’m looking at Quaker women’s writings on women’s public speech, in a new colonial-slash-national formation “Britain,” in the 1640s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. This takes place during and after the English Revolution and the Commonwealth and their political-religious upheavals, and during the twenty year de facto shifting of controls on printing, affecting guild and state control, access to printing apparatus, shifts in which ideologies are censored, all within a complex writing technological ecology, highly gendered and classed. Contemporary feminist scholars have investments in these materials and this period, questioning what relations Quakers had to any possible proto-proletarian revolutions of this moment, what positions women had in terms of power and leadership as well as speakers, writers, printers and prophets in the periods before Quakerism becomes a bounded sect, and questioning the meanings of the traveling in pairs Quaker women pursued, to the American colonies, throughout Europe and to farther places such as Malta and Turkey. Some U.S., British and European, Australian and New Zealand feminist and lesbian scholars have contended that Foucauldian periodizations of homosexual identity are inadequate to account for these Quaker women traveling in pairs.

One of the premises underlying this talk is that an attention to writing technologies--ours today and theirs in the mid-seventeenth-century--allows us to see more clearly objects of study like “17th-c. Quaker women” coming-into-being. The point of examining this process and its technologies is to understand such “objects” as sites of political struggle, struggles we are inevitably part of, altogether academic and feminist, global and local in layers. As a feminist theorist and as a teacher of feminist theory, I’ve become worried about the decontextualization of theoretical apparatus from political context. So I’ve worked to develop an apparatus myself that shows the political struggles in which feminist objects of knowledge are embedded. This theoretical apparatus is influenced by both bibliographic studies and the history of the book, and by the social studies of science and technology, most especially the work of Donna Haraway, and hers and others’ various feminist “diffractions” about and beyond the work of Bruno Latour.[3]  Such forms of inquiry allow counter-intuitive shifts in analytic focus--requiring material examination of what at first may appear transparent or even trivial.

Access to materials about English women’s writing in the mid-seventeenth-c. has long been demanding and laborious. Feminist scholarship has understandably focused on figures like Aphra Behn, whose plays can be made to fit into contemporary notions of literary genre and value, and whose work has a modest history of reprinting over the last three centuries. Accessibility thus includes not only texts to look at, but also traditions of intelligibility and scholarly use and consumption. The main tool to “access”--now a term I hope thus has already become thicker and more felted with meanings and problems--the main tool to “access” 17th-c. texts has been the English Short Title Catalog, which has two parts. The first is called “Pollard & Redgrave” and covers the years 1475-1640. [And this is the first of several “show and tell” objects I’m going to pass around. PASS] The STC, as it is abbreviated, had its beginnings in the Catalogue of Books in the Library of the British Museum, first begun over a century ago, in 1884, and contemporaneous with the beginnings of the OED. A.W. Pollard, Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum, and Gilbert R. Redgrave, an art historian, engineer and architect, produced its contemporary version in 1927; the second edition appeared in 1986.[4] The second part of the STC is a U.S. product , called “Wing,” after its compiler Donald Wing, who worked for over forty years at the Yale University Library. [PASS] Published between 1945 and 1951, it was revised in 1972 and in 1982, suggesting its continuing centrality.[5] Other kinds of useful indexes, for example Paul G. Morrison’s Index of Printers, Publishers and Booksellers, are keyed to the STC.[6] [Pass] Such indexes make it possible to search the STC by interests not accommodated in the exhaustive listing limited by its codex format (that is, its “book-like binding”).

Feminist scholars have recently produced similar indexes keyed to particularly feminist concerns. Two of the most valuable and monumental are Bell, Parfitt and Shepherd’s biographical dictionary and Smith & Cardinale’s annotated bibliography, each of so-called “women authors,” both published in 1990.[7] Maureen Bell was a student of Elaine Hobby’s at Loughbourgh University near Nottingham, and her and her colleagues’, George Parfitt and Simon Shepherd’s, biographical dictionary not only produces with greater clarity and specificity this object of study “women authors” but it also includes stunningly synthetic critical appendices that realign processes of intelligibility and value. [PASS] These “women authors” have been laboriously constructed by cross-checking many bibliographic and genealogical sources for bits and pieces of material, often drawn from entries of women’s fathers, husbands, brothers and sons to produce information centering the women themselves. Bell and her colleagues are very savvy about the processes of commodification that both hinder and enable their work and that they intend their dictionary politically to realign, pivotally by using the fuzzy inclusive term “writing” to counter the obfuscating politics of literary commodification surrounding the term “literature,” the processes of which are now being charted by feminist literary historians like Margaret Ezell.[8] 

Smith & Cardinale’s bibliography is keyed to the STC, to Wing in particular, and also to the series of UMI microfilms, called Early English Books, that make the objects referred to in Wing’s short titles more generally accessible. [PASS] Both parts of the STC say where one may go to look at an example of the objects listed. Objects not simply texts. Objects contain more information than just their texts. Still, texts are easier to circulate in contemporary technologies: I can more easily send to UC Berkeley for a reel of microfilm which photographs the text in the object, and then xerox it myself, preserving only the text, while thus reprinting it singly “for scholarly purposes” as the fair use doctrine in xerox copyright law still permits--I can do all this more easily than I can drive down to the Huntington Library and spend a week looking at a fewer number of objects located there. Indeed, I may have a hard time knowing exactly what’s at the Huntington written by Quaker women. But the STC is now online, and “accessibly,” while still not simple, still labor intensive, has shifted a dramatic notch. I can get more and less coded information from the online version than from the very carefully condensed and thus esoteric notations in, for example Pollard & Redgrave--as I’ve shown by printing out the online entry of STC #23 for comparison--and I can search the online version both by author and by location, so as to see what I might find when I do get to the Huntington.[9]  For, of course, few of these texts are available in any other forms of publication. It’s important to understand that these bibliographic tools are some of the actual material resources out of which this object “17th-c. Quaker women” is constructed, and that their forms, configurations and availabilities are determined by relations of political struggle and meanings that the object then comprehends.

Twentyish years after Christopher Hill’s cultural revolutionary interventions to destabilize terms like “Quaker” for the 1640s and 50s, and for the 1960s and 70s [Note TEXT #1 on handout], feminists of quite differing moments and politics have themselves remade this term--and others, seemingly prior or ancillary, like “woman writer”--for their own purposes and meanings; and have solidified these new forms in new objects with new forms, configurations and availabilities. I’ll show you several of them just to illustrate what I mean here. Although because of time constraints I can’t do the kind of detailed political analysis of these objects that they would allow, try to note yourself what sorts of political projects they exemplify and permit. At first glance all are simply examples from older technologies, indeed those very roughly contemporaneous with the period in discussion; that is, they are printed books. Although transparently like the seventeenth-century objects we call printed books too, they are in fact both very different and yet very importantly continuous, as the colophon of one: the 1996 Hidden in Plain Sight will suggest. [PASS] It says the book was composed on a Macintosh Quadra, and the results printed in an edition of 1500 by a Michigan printer, Thomson-Shore; a limited local project of some global importance. It contains works reprinted for the first time after approximately 350 years, edited by U.S. Quaker feminists of differing religious intentions, published and distributed by Pendle Hill, a U.S. Quaker publishing house. Compare it to my xerox of the microfilmed copy of Katharine Evans & Sarah Chevers [PASS], the Relation of the Some of the Cruel Sufferings, (reprinted in excerpt in Hidden in Plain Sight), which stands for the 1662 object I saw recently at the Huntington Library, but stand for it only as a highly mediated, newly technologized object of far greater “accessibility.”[10] 

Compare these to the 1994 Penguin Classics international mass market edition of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World [PASS], whose back cover says how much it costs in the U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S., is edited by an Australian feminist poet and scholar with a Ph.D. from London, and intended for an international school market for whom Margaret Cavendish is now a commodity for women’s studies classes around a world mapped by the colonalized British educational system. Also newly reprinted after 350 years, the text of The Blazing World has been detached from its 1668 location as an addition to Cavendish’s work of natural philosophy--what today we call “science”--Observations upon Experimental Philosophy [PASS], a move presumptively made with an eye to market value, that is, with the assumption that it will be used more as a utopian tale than as 17th-c. science.[11] 

The final object I mention is Emma Donaghue’s Passions Between Women: British lesbian culture, 1668-1801.[PASS] My edition is the 1993 British paperback from the speciality press in London, Scarlet Press, sold in a gay bookstore in Washington, D.C. Its colophon makes it a small local project too, saying “typeset from the author’s disks by Stanford DTP Services, Milton Keynes. Printed in the EC,” that is, in a newly “Europeanized” Britain.[12]  However, the book is now available in two U.S. editions, a hardback 1995 Harper Collins, and a paperback 1996 Harper Perennial, suggesting its movement along the lines of global gay formations and commodifications. Looking back over these objects, you might note that the Cavendish book is intended to appeal to this global gay market as well, with back blurb phrases like “exuding ambiguous sexuality,” and “the empowering possibilities of disguise or masking for women.” Margaret Cavendish, along with the Quaker pair Katharine Evans and Sarah Chevers, have been the subjects of feminist questions about 17th-c. lesbianism.

Bell, Parfitt and Shepherd produce in their critical appendices a series of discussions that synthesize much feminist scholarship over the last twenty years, in the process reconfiguring past interests and pointing to and producing new interests. These sections are: “Women’s writing before 1640,” “After 1640: the prophets,” “Quaker women writers,” “Petitions,” “Letters,” “Men as ‘gatekeepers,’” and “Women in the book trade.” Maureen Bell’s own scholarship has focused on women in the booktrade: women printers, booksellers, and hawkers, for examples. I teach a class in Feminism and Writing Technologies in my women’s studies program at the University of Maryland, where we read materials on the history of printing and the book as part of the course. We read an abridged version of one of the great works of scholarship on the subject, the monumental 1979 two volume, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: communications and cultural transformations in early modern Europe, by Elizabeth Eisenstein.[13] When I first began teaching this course, and rereading Eisenstein over and over, I got into the habit of striking through and thus marking, each use of the generic masculine, in which the book abounds. Gender is not one of Eisenstein’s scholarly concerns. Over time my students and I started making lists of these generics and looking for patterns in their use, in the course of which we also started turning them into research questions and projects. For example, confronted with “the printer, he” over and over, we wondered about possible “printers, she.”

Morrison’s printers list, contains around 29 “printers, she,” pre-1640, while Smith & Cardinale name 112 women printers, publishers and booksellers listed in Wing. After 1641 state and guild controls on printing were weakened, and restrictions on the numbers of printers, apprentices and presses ended. In London illegal printing, piracies, and unregistered materials all increased. Bell and her colleagues say: “What is particularly striking is that a large proportion of...[women’s] writing [after 1640] came from women of a lower social status than the predominately aristocratic and genteel writers of the preceding sixty years, and much of it was the product of women inspired by their commitment to the radical puritan movement.”[14] 

Looking at books as writing technologies, as material objects that are sites of political struggle marked by gender, nationality, religion, race and class, reconfigures the attention that the object “literacy” has received over the last few decades, as the limit on the visibility, audibility, intelligibility of women, and of women writers in the 17th, and other centuries. Books as objects not just texts, have more uses and paths of connection to women and power than just in being read, let alone in being written. Previous estimates of women’s literacy, based on signature lists, underestimate the numbers of women reading, since reading was taught before writing in the 17th-c. and some folks were able to read, but unable to sign their name.[15] But even illiterate women hawkers were shouting and singing the ballad broadsides they sold on the streets, altering the words and ending up in prison for their political interventions into the objects and texts. Aristocrats and royalists like Margaret Cavendish were members of circles of scribal circulation and publication who put their work into print uneagerly with concern for their loss of control over the texts and their readerships, and for whom print had low status.[16] So-called “cheap print” was the medium of the “middling” folk, so named by marxist scholars trying to mark out proto-bourgeois and working class interests in a period before these terms have technical currency.

And why Quaker women? How it is that they are new political “objects” produced by these interests of feminists and by these knowledge-making technologies? Once a real list of “women writers” has been constructed we are then free to note that a third (about 200) of the new authorial subjects produced in Bell’s biographical dictionary are Quakers. Quaker women’s texts survive probably disproportionately to the numbers of their writers because of a Quaker system of financing, publication, distribution and historical preservation of Quaker documents, begun in the 1670s. But only recently have these comparatively numerous texts been “accessible” to feminist scholars, one might even say, intelligible to feminist scholars, or for that matter, Quaker scholars, and scholars of Quakerism. Partly what makes them newly intelligible is even the realization of a feminist paradox within this system of preservation.  As Bell, Parfitt and Shepherd point out: [Note TEXT #2 on handout]

“Whereas in the early Quaker period access to printing was organized locally by enthusiastic individuals, the post-Restoration establishment of a hierarchical organization led to close co-ordination and centralised supervision. In the 1650s women such as Priscilla Cotton, Mary Cole, Rebeckah Travers and Martha Simmonds wrote and published as and when they chose....[But] No work has been yet done to establish how [this later system of supervision] may have affected, perhaps disproportionately, women Friends, whose early enthusiasm, enactments of signs and wonders, and opposition to the increasingly male leadership and its organizational forms tended to alienate them from [George] Fox [the usually acknowledged founder of Quakerism]....”[17] 

Along with other radical religious sects, Quakers in the 1650s and 60s were millenarians, and the first writings by Quaker women are euphoric announcements of Christ’s Second Coming, as in TEXT #3 from Dorothy White’s 1662 tract:

“And now is the last Trumpet sounded, and an Alarm is given from the Lord God Almighty, proclaiming the Day of Restoration and of mighty Salvation, and of glad-tydings unto the poor and meek of the Earth. I will blow the Trumpet of the Lord God Almighty over all Mountains; O let the Heavens rejoyce and sing, for He is come who doth glad-tydings bring, whose Glory is broken-forth, and the Heavens cannot contain it, but the Earth must hear the sound of the holy Day, and the dawning thereof expelleth the mist of the cloudy night which hath been over the Nations, and the Lord is rending the Vail of the Temple in sunder from the top to the bottom, and he is rolling away the Stone from the door of the Sepulchre where the Lord JESUS hath been laid....You Branches of the true Vine, you Spouses of the Beloved, you Daughters of Sion and Sons of Jacob, rejoyce and sing you Virgins and Followers of the Lamb.... Oh! Rejoyce forever, and sing Hallalujahs and Praises unto the God of Power, from whom this is sent and Published; and in his Dominion and Authority I do send it forth, being faithful unto what the Lord hath intrusted me with; I do not with-hold but I freely let it go: So in the Spirit of Life, and Love, and Eternal Peace, I salute all the Faithful in Heart, and in the Union of the holy Life, I bid you all Farewel./ [signed] D.W.”[18] 

Quaker Millenarianism was also expressed in more than words, as in TEXT #4, a 1662 letter by a Quaker leader Edward Burrough:

“The first day of the seventh month a Friend suffered some persecution [in and near Smithfield in the Fair-time,] who was moved to go through the Fair naked, with a pan on his head full of fire and brimestone, flaming up in the sight of the people, crying repentance among them, and bad them remember Sodom, [&c. for which some rude people did abuse him much, and took him to an Officer, but he was not committed to Prison, but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.]
     About the 7th day of the month two Women were committed to Old Bridewel, [for going into Pauls in the time of their worship;] she one of them being moved to go at that very time into that place vvith her face made black, and her hair dovvn vviwth blood poured in it, vvhich run dovvn upon her sackcloth vvhich she had on, and she poured also some blood dovvn upon the Altar, and spoke some vvords, [and another Woman being moved to go along vvith her, they vvere both taken avvay to Bridwel, vvhere they remain to this day, and vvere not yet tried for any fact, nor any evil yet justly laid to their charge.”][19] 

“Going Naked as a Sign,” as in the incidents described by Burrough, was made possible by and signified that these early Quakers were now in a new state of grace, in a new Eden, redeemed from the Fall.[20] Quaker women’s public prophecy, spoken, written, and enacted by signs, was justified as indeed another signal of the Second Coming, already in progress. Mapping out how early Quaker ecstatic practices were the basis for forms of public communication, for subjective states altering body movements and meanings, and justifications for new forms of language, community, partnership and political acts has been the work of recent feminist scholarship, most notably that of Phyllis Mack, and one of the significant resources now for producing so-called “lesbian subjects” in 17th-c. England. Quoting the language of private letters between various traveling Quakers, women and men [Note TEXT #5], Mack draws the conclusion that “Quakers not only bathed in a sea of polymorphous spiritual nurture and eroticism; they occasionally wrote as if they had succeeded in floating above gender altogether.” Indeed they spoke of themselves as “inhabitants of a kind of spiritual fourth dimension where men might feel themselves transformed into brides and infants, and where women might speak in the sacred language of male prophets.”[21] When confronted with Paul’s injunction against women speaking in church, women defending their rights to publicly prophesy announced to the male priests, “Indeed you yourselves are the women that are forbidden to speak in the church, that are become women.”[22] [Note TEXT #6 in handout]

Mack herself is not especially part of any project to produce 17th-c. lesbianism, indeed her political concerns are most clearly invested in detailing the contours of a Quaker figure who becomes more prominent following the Restoration: the so-called “Mother in Israel.” “Mystical Housewife” in Mack’s phrase: in early Quakerism preaching in the streets in the voice of an old testament prophet one moment and at home nursing babies the next, in later Quakerism the elder of the Women’s Meeting: the “Mother in Israel” is most lovingly exemplified in the person of Margaret Fell Fox.[23]  The function of the Mother in Israel is enshrined in the institution of the Women’s Meeting, another object of dispute among feminists studying Quaker women. Indeed Part Three of Mack’s amazing book Visionary Women attempts to reclaim “the radical nature of the women’s meeting,” celebrating but also problematizing the “stable relationship of benevolent control and loving obedience, as opposed to the earlier, more fluid and egalitarian images of collective friendship and brotherhood.” Early Quaker antinominanism--that is, the Edenic millennialism beyond the law--which provides unusual resources for imagining women and women’s relationships for one set of feminisms, gives way, as Mack values it appropriately so, to what she understands to be the more mature adulthood of the Mother in Israel.[24] 

But this is also the historical trajectory: a trajectory most scholars understand as following a Weberian logic: from charismatic enthusiasm to rationalized institutionalization, and the apparently general principle in which women’s participations are narrowed and controlled.[25]  The Women’s Meeting is understood by one set of feminisms as the emblem of this control: part of the system of meeting structures set up by Fox, solidifying his personal leadership, at the expense of women’s continuing prophetic authority. They understand the Women’s Meeting to begin a process that Mack details well, in which that “fluid egalitarianism” gives way to a gender division of spiritual labors. Mack, however, points out that Fox’s followers, albeit those advocating such bureaucratizing, uphold women’s public speech while the so-called Separatists, or antiformalists, do not, and that the Women’s Meeting is a new solution to such institutionalization, not wholly at the expense of women, “less to discredit or transcend visionary insight than to contain it within a rational and orderly context,” what Mack also calls “a mutual penetration of opposites.” She contends that the importance of this solution for women is that it valued them as women and give them important forms of authority.[26] 

Scholars have historically understood this new system of meeting structures set up by Fox to be the beginning of modern Quakerism, its coming-into-being.  Mack persuasively calls it “Fox’s vision of sanctified, familial discipline.”[27]  Some scholars believe that Quakerism would not have survived the terrible persecutions after the Restoration if it had not been for several strategic shifts (some call them retreats) by Fox.[28] The Peace Testimony in its political origins had two purposes: the first, of confirming to the Restored Monarchy that the Quakers were not revolutionaries, as some claim many of them were originally. It also reconfigured Friends’ political actions. Quakers had always been victims of violent treatment: their use of language, their clothing, the visibility of women, had all been profound confrontations with forms of authority, status and power, and had provoked abusive treatment, from spontaneous beatings on the street to publicly sanctioned whippings, confiscation of property, transportation and imprisonment. The violent language of old testament prophecy and the transgressive enactment of signs had been both response and provocations to such treatment. Now the Peace Testimony required Friends not only to not retaliate in any physical violences, but also to abstain from these powerfully transgressive verbal and bodily violences, seemingly likely to provoke individual and group persecutions.[29] 

Now some folks might be disappointed that I’m not arguing more literally with historical evidence for 17th-c. lesbianism, Quaker and otherwise. I was myself very taken with Elaine Hobby’s dissemination of 17th-c. texts that seemed to suggest lesbian meanings seven years ago. [This is the one she was showing then, now published. PASS] But in fact, gathering such suggestive texts is no longer an isolated task, despite the recurring citation of the OED as offering only one reference, for tribade, before the 19th-c.[30] As Emma Donaghue laughingly points out, the OED is not noted for its exhaustive investigations of erotica and pornography; and the kind of religious language that Mack points to, and that Elaine Hobby was showing around, once noted, if at all, as a mystical sexuality, or an artifact of Biblical allusion, while the passionate letters among women gentry and aristocrats like Margaret Cavendish and Katharine Phillips were not cited, already contained within the notion of “female friendship”--these assumptions are rightfully challenged, if still only laboriously, with great difficulty. Personally I’m particularly interested in the resources that the language of ecstatic prophecy offers for 17th-c. women to speak their religious and their erotic experiences, perhaps to construct an erotic subject, and I want to know more about how new writing technologies might have allowed another accessibility to this language for 17th-c. women. Erotic, religious and “friendly” texts are more available to read now, but continue to be subject to two patterns of political controversy in feminism: are they about “love” rather than “sex” or, in another register, are they only textual sources of evidence rather than some kind of behavioral evidence?

Well, first I want to plead that this is work in progress! But second, I want to be clear about two things I find especially interesting about the Quaker women materials in relation to these questions.  Indeed I’ve structured this talk this way so as to make them as close to impossible to NOT consider as I can. The first one is the fruitful, even amazing fusion, con-fusion, in Quaker practice among speech, writing, and acts, especially during and because of this millenarian period, this period of fluidity of language, community and action. That a so-called “ethnographer of speech,” that is anthropologist Richard Bauman, would write a book about speech in reference to historical subjects whose language is accessible seemingly only as written text, is not a stupidity on his part, but a reliance upon this meaningful confusion. “Language” in its most inclusive sense--as comprising together symbolic action, vocalizations and inscription systems--is deliberately conflated, to allow for this Quaker historical specificity. Indeed, one way I sometimes describe this field I work in, “Feminism and Writing Technologies,” is as investigating the politics of making distinctions generating these endlessly productive reifications “the oral” and “the written.” So, one element of meaningfulness I extract from the materials making up “17th-c. Quaker women,” this political object coming-into-being, has to do with the problems of imposing upon them too unreflectingly distinctions among text, speech, and action. Not because there aren’t any, but because they are configured in ways that are not intuitively obvious. For example, there are reasons to make very interesting distinctions between inscriptions in manuscript and inscriptions via printing apparatus that reveal important configurations in movements of power and social organization, in communication and affiliation.

Indeed I hope that considering a historically shifting object “lesbianism” within such a context of such con-fusion might have useful clues to offer about sexuality, sexual identities in flux, overlapping sexualities in history, useful for feminisms today. Which brings me to the second thing I find interesting about “17th-c. Quaker women,” this political object coming-into-being. I’ve wanted to make very clear the layers of mediating technologies--sites of struggle--through which this object is made, to consider how made and for whose political interests today. I think I’ve already given away some of my own political interests. For example, my concerns about sexuality lead me in my contemporary politics to make alliances with such scholars and political activists as Janet E. Halley, who argue for sexual actions to be accorded First Amendment Free Speech rights.[31]  Because of such political interests I’m not nearly as concerned to pin down a stability, a transhistorical object “lesbian” myself as other feminists with other political projects understandably are. I consider both sides of Global Gay Formations and Local Homosexualities as not universal, as narrow and ephemeral, without using narrow and ephemeral to mean “unimportant,” or “trivial.”

Working in this field “Feminism and Writing Technologies” makes me acutely aware that more feminists will be participating in the construction of this object “17th-c. Quaker women.” Until recently one had to serve a long apprenticeship to the materials of this period in order to engage in meaningful co-production. While as I’ve suggested the materials are still laboriously engaged, they are also newly “accessible” in many meanings of this term. On the World Wide Web day before yesterday I found the scholarly text of 17th-c. Baptist prophet Anne Wentworth recently “published [32] and a popular site called the Isle of Lesbos for lesbian poetry, which included poems by Katharine Phillips and Aphra Behn. [I downloaded these bits off the Web. PASS] There are other internet projects to make scholarly texts available both to classrooms and to non-specialist scholars going on today, one being the Brown Women Writers Project.[33]  Investments in copyright and intellectual property on the Web will configure who will offer texts for downloading, and who will be selling them in various forms.[34]  Sophistications of textual editorial practice will be more requisite for those using and uploading such materials, but also highly variable. The objects with text now in archives like the Huntington will have relations to new objects with text produced by and within other technologies, other “frozen social relations,” to use Donna Haraway’s eye-opening phrase, as what counts as an archive also multiplies.  Networks of circulation have shifted, such that I could recently email Heather Findlay for her talk including Quaker women prophets and prophetic lesbians of the 17th-c. and have her send it back to me from the internet site for her magazine Girlfriends.[35] [PASS]

I intended to talk about many other disputes among feminists about Quaker women, especially ones concerning women’s leadership in the 1640s, 50s, and 60s; and also to describe particular women, but of course, I never have time to do everything I want. So I apologize to some of you for some misleading forecasts of what I was going to say.

Tracing, trailing, scrutinizing objects of study, political objects, in their coming-into-being continues to be one method for understanding “Feminism and Writing Technologies.” Thank you for giving me an opportunity to try out some of the materials I’ve been assembling for this next book.

[1] Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing, 1649-1688 (London: Virago, 1988).
[2] See Katie King, "Feminism and Writing Technologies: Teaching Queerish Travels through Maps, Territories, and Pattern." Configurations 2 (Winter 1994): 89-106; "Local and Global: AIDS Activism and Feminist Theory." In Imaging Technologies, Inscribing Science.  Special issue of  camera obscura 28 (January 1992):78-99.
[3] For examples of bibliographic studies and histories of the book, see Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: UP, 1983) and Roger Chartier, The Order of Books (Stanford: UP, 1994; French ed. Editions Alinea, 1992). Donna Haraway, “Science, the Very Idea! Feminist Diffractions,” talk given at Indiana University Feb. 7, 1991; and also “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” in Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New  York: Routledge, 1992). Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts (Beverley Hills: Sage, 1979).
[4] Revised and enlarged, begun by W.A. Jackson and F.S. Ferguson, and completed by Katharine F. Pantzer. See the the Preface to the second edition for this history: A.W. Pollard & G.R. Redgrave, A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad,1475-1640 (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1926; 2nd ed., 1976-86) vii.
[5] Donald Wing, Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America and of English Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641-1700 , rev. ed.  (New York: MLA, 1945-51; 2nd ed.,1972-82.
[6] Paul G. Morrison, Index of Printers, Publishers and Booksellers in A.W. Pollard and G.R. Redgrave...1475-1640 (Charlottesville VA: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1961).
[7] Maureen Bell, George Parfitt, and Simon Shepherd, A Biographical Dictionary of English Women Writers, 1580-1720 (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990; Hilda L. Smith and Susan Cardinale, Women and the Literature of the Seventeenth Century: an annotated bibliography based on Wing’s SHORT-TITLE CATALOGUE (New York: Greenwood, 1990).
[8] Margaret J.M. Ezell, The Patriarch’s Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1987) and Writing Women’s Literary History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1993).
[9] Some collections have web sites describing their contents: see, for example, “The Quaker Collection” at Haverford College (last updated March 14, 1996).  May 20, 1996. Available:
[10] Mary Garman, Judith Applegate, Margaret Benefiel, Dortha Meredith, eds. Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women’s Writings, 1650-1700 (Wallingford PA: Pendle Hill, 1996). Also Katharine Evans and Sarah Cheevers, This is a Short Relation of some of the Cruel Sufferings (London: Printed for  Robert Wilson, 1662) [Huntington Library, #94144].
[11] Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World and Other Writings, ed. Kate Lilley (New York: Penguin, 1992). The Duchess of Newcastle [Margaret Cavendish], Observations upon Experimental Philosophy: to which is added the Description of a New Blazing World, 2nd ed. (London: Printed by A. Maxwell, 1668).
[12] Emma Donoghue, Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture, 1668-1801 (London: Scarlet Press, 1993).
[13] Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The printing press as an agent of change : communications and cultural transformations in early modern Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
[14] Bell, Parfitt, Shepherd, Dictionary, 250.
[15] See Margaret Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and Its Readership in Seventeenth-Century England (London: Methuen, 1981).
[16] See Margaret J.M. Ezell, “Reading Pseudonyms in Seventeenth-Century English Coterie Literature,” Essays in Literature 21 (Spring, 1994), 14-26; and also chapter 3, “Women Writers: Patterns of Manuscript Circulation and Publication,” in Patriarch’s Wife, 62-100.  See also Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeen-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993) and its review by Gerald MacLean in Modern Language Quarterly 55 (Dec. 1994): 461-5.
[17] Bell, Parfitt, Shepherd, Dictionary, 285-286.
[18] D.W. [Dorothy White], A Trumpet of the Lord of Hosts (London: “Published by me, D.W.,” 1662) [Huntington Library #94165] 5-7.
[19] From a quoted letter signed E.B. [Edward Burrough] in [George Fox], A brief relation of the persecutions and cruelties that have been acted upon the people called Quakers (London: “printed in the year 1662.”) [Huntington Library, #94153] 5.
[20] Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley: U California,1992), see esp. Part II: Friends in Eden: Gender and Spirituality in Early Quakerism, 1650-1664, 127-261. See also Richard Bauman, Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century Quakers (Cambridge: UP, 1983; esp. Chap. 6: Going naked as a sign: The prophetic mission and the performance of metaphors, 84-94.
[21] Mack, Visionary, 157, 308-9.
[22] Priscilla Cotton and Mary Cole, To the Priests and People of England (London: For Giles Calvert, 1655) 8; quoted by Phyllis Mack, “Gender and Spirituality in Early English Quakerism, 1650-1665,” in Witnesses for Change: Quaker Women over Three Centuries, eds. Elisabeth Potts Brown and Susan Mosher Stuard (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1989) 49.
[23] Mack, Visionary, 303, 305.
[24] Mack, Visionary, 289-292.
[25]Bauman,Words, 138-153.
[26] Mack, Visionary, 308, 279, 349.
[27] Mack, Visionary, 295.
[28] See for example Barry Reay’s discussion in The Quakers and the English Revolution (London: Temple Smith, 1985) 121.
[29] Mack, Visionary, 279. See also Peter Brock, The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1660-1914 (York: Sessions Book Trust, 1990).
[30]See discussion in section “Widow hood, Celibacy and Female Friendship,” in  N.H. Keeble, ed., The Cultural Identity of Seventeenth-Century Woman: A Reader (London: Routledge, 1994) 252.
[31] See Janet E. Halley, “The Politics of the Closet: Towards Equal Protection for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity,” UCLA Law Review 36 (1989).
[32] Anne Wentworth, Revelations of Jesus Christ, ed. Sheila Cavanagh. Emory Women Writers Resource Project. May 20, 1996. Available:
[33] See “An Overview of the Brown Women Writers Project.”  May 20, 1996. Available:
[34] See, for example, the copyright privileges asserted at the WWW site: “Isle of Lesbos: Lesbian Poetry,” including both Katherine Phillips and Aphra Behn. (Last revised Jan. 21, 1996). Available:
[35] Heather Findlay, “Witchcraft, Prophesy, and Sexual Politics,” ms. sent April 9, 1996. See also Findlay, “Does the Internet Matter?” Girlfriends (Jan/Feb. 1996) 20-22, 44-5, 47. See also the Girlfriends Web site:

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