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Ephelia's voice: the authorship of 'Female Poems' (1679).

In 1679 an enigmatic collection of poems was published under the title Female Poems on Several Occasions, with the author identified only as "Ephelia." Most of the poems in the volume make up a loose sequence, narrating the progress of an unhappy love affair. With rare exceptions, critical accounts of the Ephelia poems have made two assumptions: that they are autobiographical, and that they are indeed "Female Poems," the work of a seventeenth-century woman poet. Neither of these assumptions is justified: both, as I shall show, are based on exiguous evidence, susceptible of varying interpretations.

The position of David Vieth, writing in 1963, and of James Sutherland, in 1969, characterizing the Ephelia poems as "intensely personal" and "based on genuine experience," is essentially that argued by Edmund Gosse in 1883: "It is a sincere page out of the heart of a human being -- a series of confessions so true and so poignant that we seem to hear a living voice across two centuries. In its warmth and vivacity, its womanly passion and subtlety, I know no utterance like it." [1] Despite changes in critical vocabulary -- surely no critic of the 1980s or 1990s would allow "womanly passion" to escape the blue pencil -- most recent studies, even those which are feminist in approach, share the assumption that Ephelia is an amateur poet, young and inexperienced, whose poems are the unmediated, unreflective product of personal experience.

The leading twentieth-century authority on the Ephelia poems is Maureen Mulvihill, whose impressive and valuable edition of Poems by Ephelia appeared in 1992. [2] Highly speculative accounts by Mulvihill in two reference works on women writers published in the 1980s, like the lengthy introduction to her edition, construct imaginary biographies from materials provided by the poems, hunting for a "Bona fide Restoration personality" to whom the poems can be attached.

The poetry suggests that she was born into a well-connected, upper-class London family.... The early death of both parents left her destitute.... Because of E's acknowledged poverty, she may have become involved in the London demi-monde.... Ephelia's employment as a hired hack-writer at the beginning and end of a brief career explains her facility with several genres and subjects.... Her poetic unpretentiousness may derive from her lack of formal education. [3]

Germaine Greer's ingenious attribution of Female Poems to Cary Frazier, the discarded mistress of the Earl of Mulgrave, rests on the same unproven assumption that the poems have a direct autobiographical basis -- in Mulvihill's words, that the sequence "reconstructs with poignant emotional and psychological veracity the romantic crises in the life of a young woman writer." [4]

Mulvihill's edition, for all the valuable information it contains in its introduction and appendices, is dedicated throughout to the proposition that "Ephelia lived a life in London during the 1670s and 80s, and that contemporary references and facts about her life and work attest to this." According to Mulvihill, the many biographical details" in the poems to and about the faithless lover Strephon -- "appearance, age, occupation, movements in and out of London" -- serve to "authenticate him as a real person in my poet's life." [5] Similar assumptions underlie the attack on the author of Female Poems in 1691 by the misogynist author Robert Gould, who had no doubt that Ephelia was a woman writing out of sordid experience. Mulvihill, searching for scraps of evidence to support the hypothesis of a "real" Ephelia, sees Gould's poem as "persuasively truthful" in its "striking details" of a poet's "everyday life." [6] But Gould's poem, one of several satires on women by this prolific, splenetic writer, seeks to blacken the reputation of rival poets in a pamphlet war, and is in no sense reliable as evidence. In Gould's poem, the transgression of authorship by a woman, breaking a silence prescribed by custom, is equated to prostitution: the "Scribling Itch" in Ephelia, Aphra Behn ("Sapho" in the lines that follow), or the "Sylvia" of Sylvia's Revenge (1688), is presented as an assertion of a threatening, indecorous female sexuality:

What has this Age produc'd from Female Pens, But a wide Boldness that outstrides the Mens? ... Ephelia, poor Ephelia, Ragged Jilt, And Sapho, Famous for her Gout and Guilt, Either of these, tho' both Debaucht and Vile, Had answer'd me in a more Decent Style; Yet Hackney Writers, when their Verse did fail To get 'em Brandy, Bread and Cheese, and Ale, Their Wants by Prostitution were supply'd, Shew but a Tester, you might up and Ride; For Punk and Poetess agree so pat, You cannot well be this, and not be that. [7]

What these accounts of "poor Ephelia," by admirers and detractors, fail to recognize is that the central sequence of Female Poems, in which the forsaken heroine traces, stage by stage, the development of her obsessive love for the cold and unfaithful Strephon (or "J.G.") is a work of fiction. If the poems exhibit "a forthrightness of utterance ... an honest self-analysis," that is because, following the advice of classical rhetoricians, the poet seeks to convince his or her audience that the emotions expressed in the poem are genuine, as Sidney does in Astrophil and Stella.

But truly many of such writings as come under the banner of unresistible love, if I were a mistress, would never persuade me that they were in love: so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lovers' writings ... than that in truth they feel those passions. [8]

The Ephelia poems are no more "intensely personal" than many other works of the period written in the tradition of Ovidian complaint: first-person laments, purportedly written or spoken by seduced and abandoned women, who seek relief from pain in telling their story. Some of these works, like Sylvia's Complaint (1692), explicitly provide a male overhearer in a framing narrative, but others, like the Portuguese Letters (1669; English translation 1678), restrict themselves to a single point of view throughout. In works in this tradition-another instance is Marvell's "Nymph complaining for the death of her Faun" -- apparent artlessness and immediacy are the result of authorial calculation: their implied aesthetic, as Rebecca Ferguson says, emphasizes "the submergence of the poet's voice in the imagined experience and consciousness of his protagonist." [9]

In the Portuguese Letters, immensely popular during this period, the author so successfully effaced himself that for over two centuries this epistolary novel was almost universally assumed to be a historical document. The Portuguese Letters, a direct or indirect source of Female Poems, is a successful hoax which, as the editors of the definitive scholarly edition have put it, manages to "seduce" the reader into thinking "that he holds in his hands the authentic witness of a real passion," expressed with artless directness. [10] Though recent criticism of the Portuguese Letters has largely abandoned treating the work as naively expressive, such a view remains common in critical discussion of Female Poems. [11] In the received opinion, virtually unchanged since the day when Gosse could remark, with breathtaking complacency, that Ephelia might, one fancies, under proper training, have become a genuine poet," any distinction between author and persona is elided: women are assumed to be creatures of instinct, who when they take pen to paper are capable only of transcribing what had happened to them. [12]

Elaine Hobby, in a valuable commentary on Female Poems, has, in contrast, emphasized their "artistry," arguing that "a consistent ironic distance is kept between the poet Ephelia and the figure Ephelia" as she appears in the poems. [13] This distancing effect is most pronounced in the songs, written in the third person, which as in Astrophil and Stella are interspersed among the first-person poems, far greater in number, with their differing decorum of immediacy and directness. Throughout the sequence, both in the songs and in those poems using the convention of direct address by the persona, the carefully limited point of view, though allowing a degree of authorial irony, focuses attention on the betrayed innocent, whose voice is the only one we are allowed to hear. While maintaining the pretence that the sequence is "a relic or artifact of history rather than a work of art," the author unobtrusively arranges materials to direct the reader's response. [14]

The song "Ephelia, while her Flocks were fair," late in the sequence, is retrospective in its stance and, by the careful patterning of its four verses, where the end is foreshadowed in the conditional clause of the opening line, suggests a general moral. The heroine of the poem and the sequence is treated as exemplum, acting out a scenario the significance of which neither she nor the other inhabitants of her pastoral world can ever fully comprehend.

Ephelia, while her Flocks were fair, Was sought by ev'ry Swain, The Shepherds knew no other care, Than how her Love to gain: In Rural Gifts, they vainly strove Each other to Out-vie, Fondly imagining her Love They might with Presents buy. [15]

As throughout the sequence, the vocabulary and syntax are simple, creating the impression of artlessness, in accordance with the accepted decorum of pastoral, which presents the court world of sexual intrigue and betrayal through a transparent disguise. Both the disdainful Ephelia and the besotted shepherds measure love in material terms: Ephelia may think her attractiveness lies in intrinsic qualities of beauty and character, but the power by which she can "every Gift despise" (line 9) only lasts so long as she retains the virginity which gives her a high market value. Once Strephon arrives on the scene, "in spight of all [her] Pride" (line 16), she falls prey to a hopeless destructive passion against which she is unable to defend herself.

The Wolves might now at pleasure Prey, On her defenceless Sheep; Her Lambs o're all the Plain did stray, None in the Fold would keep; But she regardless of these Harms, In Pastimes spent the Day, Or in her faithless Strephons Arms, Dissolv'd in Pleasures lay.

The last two stanzas make it clear that her mistake was in being "easie" (line 27), surrendering to impulse: her lambs are both symbols of lost innocence and capital assets, lost as a consequence of her being "regardless," imprudently giving herself up to intense pleasures which cannot last.

What ensues can be seen as "ev'ry Womans Fate" (line 12), the fulfillment of a preordained pattern on which, as Hobby points out, the shepherdess Ephelia explicitly comments in another song ("Beneath a spreading Willows shade"):

Oh Love! (she said) is it the Fate Of all that Love, to meet with Hate, And be like me, unkindly us'd? [16]

Mariana, the heroine of the Portuguese Letters, draws a similar conclusion under parallel circumstances: "Why is it that by a Conspiracy of Blind Affection, and Inexorable fate, we are still condemn'd to Love where we are Despis'd, and to hate where we are Belov'd?" The parallel may reflect a direct influence: Roger L'Estrange's English translation of the highly popular Portuguese Letters was published in 1678, one year before Female Poems. But it is more likely to be a generic resemblance between two works in the same Ovidian tradition, sharing similar assumptions. [17] The heroine of Sylvia's Complaint, another contemporaneous work in that tradition, generalizes to similar effect, extrapolating from her own immediate situation to draw some conclusions about the nature of love and about the way men treat women:

Alike ye all with flattery begin, To tempt and draw us to the Pleasing Sin; Alike ye all forsake us when ye find We Love you, and without Reserve, are kind.

The assumptions of these lines are those of contemporary libertinism: enjoyment rapidly brings about bored indifference in the male, where in women, according to Sylvia's Complaint and other poems of the period, the sexual act begets longing ("And still the more enjoy'd, the more she loves")."' Love, it is implied, is inherently unstable in that all partners are incompatible: the birth of love is the death of love. "Ephelia, while her Flocks were fair" in its final stanza draws a bleak conclusion of this kind, though here it is not presented as a truth the central figure has come to recognize but as a truth which, remaining in ignorance, she demonstrates:

But as Her num'rous Flocks decay'd His Passion did so too, Till for a Smile the easie Maid Was forc'd with Tears to woe: But being Shrunk from few to none, He left the Nymph forlorn, Derided now by every one, That she did lately scorn.

In the first-person poems which make up most of the sequence, Ephelia rarely generalizes, complaining of "My Fate" as peculiarly malign in singling her out for punishment (p. 95). Yet the anatomy of love in the songs and the first-person complaints is essentially the same: love thrives on inequality, tyrannizes over the helpless. The "soft Am'rous tales" and "gentle Vows" by which Strephon secures his desired ends are mere stratagems, designed to give him mastery, and the "Study'd Cruelty" with which he treats her maintains his dominance over her after, satiated with enjoyment, his own passion declines.

Being your Slave, I'm not so vain To hope to have one minutes Ease, But shoul'd take Pleasure in my Pain, If my Dear Conqu'rer it wou'd please.

What particularly characterizes the Ephelia poems is their use of a naive persona to explore the psychology of a love inseparable from guilt, pain and rejection. Passion is not only intensified by the unresponsiveness of the beloved, but created by it:

You Shun my sight, you feed me with delays, You slight, affront, a Thousand several ways You do Torment with Study'd Cruelty, And yet alternately you Flatter me.

Implicit throughout the sequence, as in a number of other poems of the Restoration period, is a Hobbesian competitive model, in which the game of love is a life-and-death struggle and reciprocal love is a virtual impossibility, since surrender to emotion means defeat.

Amongst his numerous Slaves, you'l hardly find, One pair of Lovers mutually kind ... Wonder not then thou canst no Pleasure see, But know thou seek'st it, where it cannot be. Who vainly seeks for Joys in Love, as well Might Quiet seek in Courts, and Ease in Hell.

"A Lovers State," with its generalizations about pain as the defining element in love, is unusual among these poems in being primarily reflective rather than narrative, avoiding the use of the first person singular. It comments obliquely on the rest of the sequence: though the nymphs and shepherds of the other poems (Ephelia, Strephon, Mopsa, Clovis, Marina, and the rest) are not overtly present, the second-person addressee is evidently Ephelia herself, in an internal dialogue of innocent expectation and bitter experience. The conclusion stated explicitly in "A Lovers State" can be said to underlie the entire sequence, as a truth the heroine, in her repeated "First farewel," "Intended Farewel," and "Last Farewel" to the unreliable Strephon, cannot bring herself to admit:

Men are unconstant, and delight to Range, Not to gain Freedom, but their Fetters change: And, what a Year they did with Passion seek, Grows troublesome, and nauseous in a Week. [19]

This element of internal dialogue is especially marked in "To one that asked me why I lov'd J.G.," a poem both comic and touching in its anatomy of a state of emotional impasse. As in a number of Sidney's sonnets, the detailed, painstaking arguments of analytical reason (objectified at times in the voice of a prudent friend) are counterpointed with the more powerful imperatives of the heart: "True, and yet true, that I must Stella love." Strephon is systematically stripped of his romantic aura in this catalogue of faults, proving a fortiori the axiom that "There is no Reason for our Love or Hate" (p. 58). As Germaine Greer has suggested, the poem is conventional in its anti-Petrarchan paradoxes, while at the same time creating the impression of naive directness and honesty: [20]

'Tis not his Face; I've sence enough to see, That is not good, though doated on by me: Nor is't his Tongue, that has this Conquest won; For that at least is equall'd by my own; His Carriage can to none obliging be, "Tis Rude, Affected, full of Vanity: Strangely Ill-natur'd, Peevish, and Unkind, Unconstant, False, to Jealousie inclin'd; His Temper cou'd not have so great a Pow'r, 'Tis mutable, and changes every hour: Those vigorous Years that Women so Adore, Are past in him; he's twice my Age and more; And yet I love this false, this worthless Man, With all the Passion that a Woman can; Doat on his Imperfections, though I spy Nothing to Love; I Love, and know not why.

The common critical assumption, patronizing and implicitly sexist, that the Ephelia poems are "an innocent outpouring of feminine grief" is thus entirely unjustified: Female Poems comprises a series of literary exercises, written, as one poem in the volume puts it, "In the Person of a Lady." [121] The many details in the sequence giving individuality to the faithless J.G. in his relationship with the unhappy Ephelia -- the disparity in their ages, "his being chosen Steward of his Club," his journeys in and out of London, not informing her when he returns, his flirtation with "the servile Mopsa," Ephelia's scorned rival, Ephelia's growing attraction to another suitor, "young Clovis," Strephon's departure for Tangier, where eventually he marries "an Afric Nymph" -- far from being, evidence of a factual basis for the poems, are conventional details of characterization arranged to form a coherent narrative.(22) Though Hobby has argued eloquently that "the poet speaks from a quintessentially female position," nothing within the sequence itself infallibly indicates either a male or a female author. As Lawrence Lipking has said, "almost every great male poet has written at least one poem in the voice of an abandoned woman.... The view that severs female from male traditions ... must ignore the fact that we do not know whether a man or a woman wrote many of the best works of the kind."(23) On internal evidence alone, we cannot be sure whether Female Poems has a single author or is a volume of composite authorship: certainly to reject the possibility of one or more male authors on the grounds that "Ephelia's voice is unmistakably female" is to rest one's argument on a series of unsupported assumptions about gender characteristics, confusing author and persona.(24)


External evidence for the authorship of Female Poems, though less flimsy than the internal evidence I have been discussing, is inconclusive. Despite the heroic attempts of Mulvihill to find a "Joan Phillips" to whom the poems can be attributed -- the name first appears, without any corroborating evidence, in an entry by H. B. Wheatley in Hallett and Laing's Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature (1883) -- her arguments ultimately have no more solidity than Gosse's hypothesis that Ephelia was the daughter of Katherine Philips.(25) The rickety chain of evidence adduced by Mulvihill for a historical "Joan Phillips" as a female author of the Restoration period includes a reference in Thomas Newcomb's satire Bibliotheca (1712) to a female poet "PH -- PS," who wrote poems (characterized by "Softness" and "Want of Sense") about love, a reference to a "Euphelia" as one of a cabal of female wits in Manley's New Atalantis (1714), and a note in The Roxburghe Ballads (1883) that "humble Joan" was a mistress of the Earl of Mulgrave.(26) None of these stands up on close examination: Newcomb's satire refers to the same poet as "Phillis" several lines later, and is far more likely to satirize a contemporary than an obscure poet of thirty-odd years earlier; and "Euphelia," identified as "Miss Proud," a lady in waiting to Queen Anne, is even more clearly a contemporary figure, in a passage satirizing court intrigues in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Mulvihill presents evidence to show intermarriage among the Prowde and Phillips families, to support her speculative identification of Ephelia as Anne Prowde of Shrewsbury, but gives no reason why Anne Prowde should "plausibly become known" under an invented Christian name (Joan) and her mother's maiden name, Phillips.(27)

The name "Ephelia" also appears in two poems of female friendship by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, written during the late 1690s: this Ephelia, who has been identified as Frances, Lady Worsley, nee Thynne, unlike the Ephelia of Female Poems, is presented as exerting "pow'rfull influence" at court and residing at a "large Pallace" (probably Longleat).(28) The use of the name in widely differing circumstances suggests that the name Ephelia was not the exclusive property of a single poet, and is a further argument against reading Female Poems as autobiography. A portrait of Ephelia included as frontispiece to Female Poems, rather than providing clues to the poet's identity, is evidently that of a fictional construct. Its extreme decolletage (and, as Mulvihill points out, the absence of any undergarment) might well allude to the narrative of victimization and debasement in the poems that follow, and the prominently displayed coat of arms at the top of the portrait is that of a family extinct for more than a century.(29)

Poems outside the main sequence but included in Female Poems or otherwise associated with the name "Ephelia" provide more substantial evidence for authorship. The strongest argument for a female author is the independent existence of three poems during the period 1678-81 ascribed to "Ephelia." Advice to His Grace, an attack on the Duke of Monmouth published as a broadside in 1681, and the MS "funerall Elegie" to Sir Thomas Isham, who died on 27 February 1681, both bear attributions to "Ephelia." The Isham elegy (included, along with Advice to His Grace, in Mulvihill's Poems by Ephelia) is evidently in the author's autograph, rather than being a scribal copy, and is signed in the same hand. A third poem, A Poem to His S"red Majesty, on the Plot, included in the collection as by Ephelia, is attributed in its original broadside publication (1678) to "a Gentlewoman."(30) In all probability these three poems have a single author: they are similar in style, and Advice to His Grace and A Poem to His Sacred Majesty are alike in their strongly partisan, divine-right Tory politics, which they share with the dedicatory epistle of Female Poems, addressed "To the most excellent Princess Mary, Dutchess of Richmond and Lenox."(31) The existence of these poems would seem to indicate a single author using the pseudonym Ephelia in a number of works written between 1678 and 1681.

But even if these poems independent of the collection have one author, we cannot know for sure whether that author was male or female, or is responsible for the entire contents of Female Poems. In the two poems commenting on political affairs, A Poem to His Sacred Majesty and Advice to His Grace, nothing in the text explicitly indicates the gender of the author, though their political allegiances are clear, as they castigate the King's enemies and proponents of Exclusion as "Traytors" and attack "the Rabbles fruitless Zeal."(32) Three poems in the collection outside the main sequence, an elegy on the death of Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the prologue and epilogue to an otherwise unknown play, "the Pair-Royal of Coxcombs" (an odd tide for a committed Royalist), announce themselves as by "a Female Pen," deploying conventional metaphors of female modesty.(33) In certain respects the Isham elegy provides a strong argument for female authorship of at least one "Ephelia" poem, since there would appear to be no reason for the author of the elegy, evidently a familiar intimate of the Isham family, to hide behind a female pseudonym in a poem not circulated outside the family. Nevertheless, there are several pieces of evidence which strongly suggest that at least one poem in Female Poems, if not the entire collection, is by a man.

The poem generally known as "Ephelia to Bajazet," widely circulated in manuscript during the period, is included in Female Poems under the title "In the Person of a Lady to Bajazet, Her unconstant Gallant." Its author, beyond question, is Sir George Etherege.(34) Therefore, unless the poem can be shown to be an interpolation, its inclusion would indicate either that Female Poems is a volume of multiple, collaborative authorship or that Etherege is the author of the entire volume, using a female pseudonym. One contemporary source, "A Familiar Epistle to Mr. Julian," associates Etherege with the name "Ephelia" in 1677, two years before the publication of Female Poems:

Poor George, grows old, his Muse worne out of fashion

Hoarsly she sung Ephelias Lamentation.(35)

Topical references in "Ephelia to Bajazet" suggest a date of 1675-7; nearly all extant manuscripts (at least one of which antedates Female Poems) use the name "Ephelia" for the deserted mistress in the poem. Etherege's priority in employing the persona of the seduced and abandoned Ephelia seems clear.

What is considerably more problematical is the relationship between "Ephelia to Bajazet" and the main sequence, with which it shares a number of characteristics. Aside from its use of the name "Bajazet" rather than "Strephon" for the "unconstant Gallant," the poem follows much the same overall pattern as the other Ephelia poems. The claim of Vieth that the poem is "spurious," "foisted into Female Poems by the publisher," is without foundation.(36) In all significant respects the persona of the naive, betrayed Ephelia is identical with that in the other poems in the volume. But this does not in itself indicate common authorship: what links 'Ephelia to Bajazet' to the rest of the sequence is a common approach to the decorum of first-person address and a shared ideology, in which libertine assumptions are both accepted and shown to be inadequate. The poem is an exercise in the same genre as the other Ephelia poems, finding its ultimate origin in Ovid's Heroides. It differs from the other poems in the sequence in one way only, its explicit topical dimension: Bajazet is not only, like Strephon, the generic deceitful, inconstant lover-- "Soe kind he look'd, such tender words he spoke, / 'Twas past beliefe, such Vows shou'd e're be broke!" -- but a specific historical personage, the Earl of Mulgrave.(37)

Further references in contemporary satires not only confirm that "Bajazet" is Mulgrave, but raise the intriguing possibility that the entire sequence satirizes Mulgrave's amorous exploits. Aphra Behn's "Ovid to Julia," published in 1685 (and given the title "Bajazet to Gloriana" in Poems on Affairs of State, 1697), presents Mulgrave as quintessential heartless libertine, "cloy'd" with "Love's variety":

Witness how oft, all careless of their Fame,

They languish'd for the Author of their flame ...

What sighing Maid was next to be undone?(38)

"Ovid to Julia," which concerns Mulgrave's attempted seduction of Princess Anne, daughter of the Duke of York, is one of several poems of the period accusing Mulgave of overweening ambition. Another satire, dated 1686 and quoted by Greer, would appear to suggest that either "Ephelia to Bajazet" or the sequence of Ephelia poems generally serve as commentary on Mulgrave's abandonment in 1679 of the court beauty Cary Frazier, who (pregnant by one or another of her admirers) married the Earl of Mordaunt in 1679:

Never for women was so bad a time,

Falsness in man is grown a common crime,

Which Frazier doth in tender rhyme.(39)

Cary Frazier, "Mulgrave's painted whore" in one account, was celebrated at this time for her beauty and her expensive tastes in clothing: though her position as Maid of Honour to the Queen differed from that of the shepherdess Ephelia, her situation as cast-off mistress and victim of libertine "falseness" (in one poem her lover rudely refuses "To marry with one that in time will be mine for a guinea") could be seen as equivalent. Greer ingeniously interprets the lines from the satire To Captain Warcup" as an attribution of "some though not all of the Female Poems" to Cary Frazier.(40) But the lines can more plausibly be read as suggesting that Cary Frazier was not author but subject of the Ephelia poems, and that either "Ephelia's Lamentation" or the entire sequence referes to Cary Frazier's relations with the proud and fickle Mulgrave.

Though the poems in the main sequence do not contain the kind of specific references to the "Noble" birth and court position of "this greate Man" (including an allusion to the "Starr" of the Order of the Garter) which dearly identify "Ephelia to Bajazet" as a satire on Mulgrave,(41) there is historical evidence linking Mulgrave, like the Strephon of the main sequence, with Tangier. In May 1680, a year after the publication of Female Poems, Mulgrave led a military expedition to relieve the British garrison at Tangier. Like other activities of Mulgrave, the costly and futile Tangier expedition was widely satirized. Tangier (part of the Queen's dowry, and intermittently exposed to attacks by the Moors over several years) was a subject of anti-court satire before the sailing of the "Tangier Bullies" under Mulgrave attacked in the poem "Rochester's Farewell," and it is possible that Mulgrave was associated with this colonial venture earlier.(42) If Etherege is a candidate not just for "Ephelia to Bajazet" but for the entire sequence, then the Isham elegy becomes a much less persuasive piece of evidence for a "real" female Ephelia. Etherege was a close friend of Isham, a rake frequenting theatrical circles, and at least one letter from Etherege has been preserved in the Isham family papers. Etherege also, like the author of A Poem to His Sacred Majesty and Advice to His Grace, was a staunch royalist and opponent of Exclusion, who retained a "deep and unshakable loyalty to King James II" even after the accession of William III.(43) If the Isham family was aware that Etherege was the author of Female Poems, then it is not inconceivable that Etherege might have used the name Ephelia in a poem mourning (in fairly conventional terms) his friend Sir Thomas Isham's death at the age of twenty-four:

but greifs like this can never be confin'd,

They universally invade mankind: ...

for hardly any age a man has bred,

so lov'd when living, or so mourn'd when dead.(44)

None of this of course proves Etherege's authorship of any of the Ephelia poems other than "Ephelia to Bajazet," but it does suggest that there is no more solid evidence for a single female author than for a single male author or several authors of poems associated with the name Ephelia.


In modern editions of Etherege and Rochester, "Ephelia to Bajazet" is printed side by side with its companion piece, Rochester's "A very Heroicall Epistle in Answer to Ephelia." Rochester's tide further indicates the genre to which the two poems belong: the Ovidian epistle, with its decorum of first-person address by deceived mistress or inconstant lover. Rochester's poem, one of several he wrote attacking Mulgrave, is sharply critical of a libertinism which exploits and tyrannizes over women:

What Man, or Woman, upon Earth can say,

I ever us'd 'em wen above a Day? ...

In my deare self, I centre ev'ry thing,

My Servants, Friends, my Mistresse and my King,

Nay Heav'n, and Earth, to that one poynt I bring ...

Oh happy Sultan! whom wee barbarous call!

How much refin'd art thou above us all?

Who Envys not the Joys of thy Seraill?

Thee, like some God, the trembling Crowd adore,

Each Man's thy Slave, and Woman-kind, thy Whore?


But the ironic mode of address in "A very Heroicall Epistle," in which the persona, carrying conventional attitudes to a point of sublime idiocy, exposes his own overweening vanity, is far removed from that in "Ephelia to Bajazet." Rochester is not particularly interested in the figure of Ephelia, except in so far as she, one victim among many, illustrates the temptation of absolute power over "Man, or Woman," sought by the Mulgraves of the world in private and in public life.

"Ephelia to Bajazet," on the other hand, like such poems as "To J.G. in Absence," "To J.G. on the News of his Marriage," and "My Fate," employs authorial irony to arouse sympathy for the predicament of a heroine wholly dedicated to a blind and headlong passion:

In him I centr'd all my hopes of Blisse!

For him my Duty to my Friends forgot,

For him I lost, alas, what lost I not!

Fame, all the valuable things of life

To meete his Love, by a lesse name than Wife!

How happy was I then, how dearely blest,

When this greate Man, lay panting on my Breast,

Lookeing such things, as ne're can be exprest!

Thousand fresh lookes, he gave me evry Houre,

Whilst greedily I did his lookes devoure.


The passage juxtaposes present desolation and past joys, intensely physical, evoked in terms which prefigure even in their momentary rekindling their inevitable, irreparable loss. Here and elsewhere parallels can readily be found with passages in other poems in the sequence.

Claspt in each other's Arms we sate all Day ... In every Hour an Ages Bliss we reap'd.

For thee I've left the wise, the great, the good, And on my Vows, not my Preferment stood.(45)

Yet these parallels. neither prove nor disprove authorship, since equally close parallels can be cited with several contemporaneous works which are recognizably part of the same tradition: "I have blasted my Reputation: I have lost my Parents; I have expos'd myself to the Lawes of my Country" (Five Love-letters, p. 41).

In the tradition to which Mariana in the Portuguese Letters and Ephelia in Female Poems and 'Ephelia to Bajazet' belong, transgression entails a painful freedom. Given identity by the act of her abandonment, the newly self-conscious heroine can, as Lipking has shown, assume the role of "victom or outlaw ... both forsaken and unrestrained."(46)

In the closing lines of "Ephelia to Bajazet," the persona, reflecting on the bitter contrast between her lover's present coldnesse" and "the Generous heat [he] once did shew," is stung into rebellion, choosing the active emotion of "Rage" in preference to "dull Indiff'rency" of despair:

I cannot live on pitty, or respect,

A thought soe meane, wou'd my whole frame infect ...

For if from you, I needs must meete my Fate,

Before your pitty, I wou'd choose your hate.


As in the strikingly similar conclusion to the poem "To J.G.," the persona's attempt to distinguish love from hate by sharp antithesis ironically displays her inability to put an end to a one-sided relationship nutured on self-contempt:

Oh! if you Love not, plainly say you hate,

And give my Miseries a shorter date,

`Tis kinder than to Linger out my Fate.

And yet I cou'd with less regret have Dy'd,

A Victime to your Coldness, than your Pride.(47)

The opening lines of "Ephelia to Bajazet" state in universal terms (using the pronouns "wee" and "they" rather than the first-person singular of the rest of the poem) a series of axioms which the fifty lines which follow, as well as the sequence as a whole, may be said to confirm by particular illustration. As in the similar passage from "A Lovers State," discussed earlier, advancing bitter generalizations about the impossibility of finding "One pair of Lovers mutually kind" and the vanity of seeking "Joys in Love," the voice here is, in effect, authorial, since the character of the victimized Ephelia in "Ephelia to Bajazet" and in the sequence generally is defined precisely by her ignorance of these truths.

How farre are they deceiv'd who hope in vaine, A lasting Lease of joys, from Love t'obtaine? All the deare sweets, wee promise or expect, After Enjoyment, turnes to cold neglect.(48)

The psychology of the poem and the sequence, encapsulated here, as with such lyrics by Rochester as "The Mistress," "Love and Life" or "The Fall," accepts Hobbesian materialist premises as self-evident, yet emphasizes the ubiquity of the hope of their refutation.(49) "Ephelia to Bajazet," like the other Ephelia poems, enacts a dialogue between innocence and experience, as embodied in the contrast between narrator and invisible author.

The attempt to penetrate the disguise of the author of Female Poems is in some ways misconceived: the author and the character "Ephelia" are both fictions. Female Poems achieves coherence by the construction of a persona, within a recognizable tradition. It is possible that several authors, male and female, contributed to a collaborative enterprise; it is possible that the volume is the work of a single female author or a single male author. "Ephelia" does not exist, except as embodied in the poems.


(1) David M. Vieth, Attribution in Restoration Poetry (Yale U. Press, 1963), p. 345; James Sutherland, English Literature of the Late Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 173; Edmund Gosse, Seventeenth Century Studies, 3rd ed. (London: Heinemann, 1897), p. 256.

(2) Maureen E. Mulvihill, ed., Poems by Ephelia (Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimile & Reprints, 1992).

(3) Janet Todd, ed., British Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide (New York: Continuum, 1989), p. 227; Janet Todd, ed., A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800 (London: Methuen, 1984), pp. 115-16; Poems by Ephelia, p. 27.

(4) Germaine Greer, ed., Uncollected Verse of Aphra Behn (Stump Cross, Essex: Stump Cross Books, 1989), pp. 117-18; Todd, Dictionary, p. 227.

(5) Poems by Ephelia, p. 4, 37.

(6) Poems by Ephelia, pp. 26-7. This poem and others by Gould, together with responses to them, are discussed in Felicity Nussbaum, The Brink of All We Hate: English Satires on Women, 1660-1750 (U. of Kentucky Press, 1984), pp. 25-30, 34-41; see also my Sexual Freedom in Restoration England (Cambridge U. Press, 1995), pp. 118-19, 134-35.

(7) Robert Gould, A Satyrical Epistle to the Female Author of a Poem, call'd Sylvia's Revenge (London, 1691), pp. 5, 22 (text emended in the penultimate line). Gould assumed that `Sylvia, like Ephelia and Aphra Behn, was a woman, though the poem he is answering is in fact by a man: see the discussion in Nussbaum, The Brink of All We Hate, pp. 34-37, 172-73.

(8) Sutherland, p. 173; "A Defence of Poetry," in Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan Van Dorsten (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), pp. 116-17. Mulvihill comments on parallels with Astrophil and Stella in Poems by Ephelia, pp. 37-8.

(9) Rebecca Ferguson, The Unbalanced Mind: Pope and the Rule of Passion (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1986), p. 29. For accounts of this tradition, see Lawrence Lipking, Abandoned Women and Poetic Tradition (U. of Chicago Press, 1988); Linda S. Kauffman, Discourses of Desire: Gender, Genre, and Epistolary Fictions (Cornell U. Press, 1986); and John Kerrigan, ed., Motives of Woe: Shakespeare "Female Complaint" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).

(10) Gabriel de Lavergne, vicomte de Guilleragues, Chansons et Bon Mots, Valentins, Lettres Portugaises, ed. Frederic Deloffre and Jacques Rougeot (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1972), p. 94 (my translation). Deloffre and Rougeot have proved conclusively that the author of this anonymous epistolary novel is Guilleragues.

(11) The case for the artistic unity of the Portuguese Letters is persuasively argued by Leo Spitzer in Romanische Forschungen, 65 (1953): 94:135; and by Deloffre and Rougeot in their edition. Recent studies, emphasizing the psychological complexity of the work, include Peggy Kamuf, Fictions of Feminine Desire (U. of Nebraska Press, 1982); Lipking, Abandoned Wowen and Poetic Tradition; and Kauffman, Discourses of Desire.

(12) Gosse, p. 258. Marilyn L. Williamson, in Raising their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650-1750 Wayne State U. Press, 1990), who like Mulvihill in 1984 and 1989 attributes the poems to a shadowy "Joan Phillips," not only sees the sequence as "purposely autobiographical" but states as a general feminist principle that "Woman's art is autobiographical" (pp. 154, 158).

(13) Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writting 1649-88 (London: Virago Press, 1988), 6. 148. According to Gillian Beer in " `Our unnatural No-voice': The Heroic Epistle Pope, and Women's Gothic," Yearbook of English Studies, 12 (1982): 125-51, "the separation between author and persona is crucial to the form" of the Ovidian heroic epistle (p. 141). In most heroic epistles, the persona is female and the hidden author male: as Beer says, "the primary `author' or authority is conceived as the experiencer; the actual author-writer casts himself as secondary, a concealed scribe recording the actualities derived from women's experience" (p. 140).

(14) Lipking, Abandoned Women and Poetic Tradition, p. 40. In this respect, the Ephelia poems differ from those works in the genre of complaint which, as Kerrigan has noted, place a male observer in the poem as witness to the forsaken maiden's lament, thus making a dear distinction between the `reported voice and the script that conveys it' (Motives of Woe, pp. 11, 38).

(15) Female Poems on several Occasions. Written by Ephelia (London, 1679), p. 77, lines 1-8. The second edition of Female Poems (London, 1682) is substantially identical with the first, up to p. 110; "To Madam G.," the final poem in the original collection, is reset and printed on the new pp. 111-12. The remaining pages of the 1682 collection (pp. 112-69) comprise a miscellany of poems by Restoration authors, male and female, some of which also appear in Rochester's Poems on Several Occasions (1680), in texts derived from other MS sources. On the relationship between the 1679 and 1682 editions of Female Poems, see Hobby, p. 147; Mulvihill, Poems by Ephelia, pp. 10-12, 229-30; and Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse, ed. Germaine Greer, Susan Hastings, Jeslyn Medoff and Melinda Sansone (London: Virago Press, 1988), p. 272.

(16) Female Poems, p. 35; Hobby, pp. 148-49. "Beneath a spreading Willows shade" is discussed in Kerrigan, pp. 38-39, 75.

(17) Five Love-Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier, tr. Roger L'Estrange (London, 1678), p. 98. On the relationship between Ovid's Heroides and the Portuguese Letters, see Kauffman, Discourses of Desire, chapters 1 and 3; and Kerrigan, pp. 67-70. Kerrigan comments that "the letters of Ephelia to J. G. deploy situations and strategies inherited from Heroides without following a classical format" (p. 70). The general similarity between Ephelia and "the abandoned heroines of the fiction" of the period, including the Portuguese Letters, is noted in Williamson, Raising their Voices, p. 155. Williamson, however, reads the poems as autobiograpical, arguing that "the autobiographical mode in women's writing is an artistic construct like any other" (p. 158).

(18) Sylvia's Complaint, of her Sexes Unhappiness (London, 1692), pp. 9, 15. For further discussion of Sylvia's Complaint and the ideology of Restoration libertinism, see my Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature, pp. 118-21.

(19) Female Poems, pp. 63-64; cf., pp. 12, 60, 66. In the heroine's repeated, ineffectual attempts to break away, as in the situation of the "Unkind Parting" (p. 67), there may be a specific echo of the Portuguese Letters, letters three and four: see, e.g., the long string of adieux at the end of letter three (Five Love-Letters, pp. 45-48).

(20) Kissing the Rod, p. 281; Astrophil and Stella, sonnet 5, in Selected Poems, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973). Instances of internal dialogue in Astrophil and Stella include sonnets 5, 10, 18, 21, 34, and 56.

(21) Hobby, p. 148; Female Poems, p. 104.

(22) See, e.g., Female Poems, pp. 14, 22, 43, 51, 59, 69. 97; and, for Mulvihill's commentary, Poems by Ephelia, pp. 36-7. Both Williamson (pp. 155-8) and Hobby (pp. 149-52) see the poems as constituting a coherent sequence, with beginning, middle, and end; to Hobby, "the pastoral figure Ephelia represents all women involved in the courtly love mystique" (p. 149).

(23) Hobby, p. 149; Lipking, p. xx. Kerrigan has remarked that most examples of this genre are "the work of men ... impersonations of the feminine in ways which ... make it difficult to judge the authorship and tone ... of anonymous texts" (Motives of Woe, p. 2). For a similar view, see Beer, "Our unnatural No-voice," pp. 129, 140-1.

(24) On these grounds, Hobby considers and then rejects the hypothesis, proposed by Paddy Lyons, that "the Female Poems were written by a group of male rakes" (p. 222). The possibility that some or all of the Ephelia poems may have a male author has also been suggested by Germaine Greer in an unpublished lecture delivered at the University of London on 21 February 1990 and, as the "suspicion that `Ephelia' is a composite of unacknowledged male and female poets," in Kissing the Rod, p. 279. The second edition of Female Poems, which bears the same attribution to "Ephelia," is unquestionably such a miscellany, with added material by male and female authors.

(25) See Poems by Ephelia, pp. 65-77; Samuel Halkett and John Laing, Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature, new and enlarged edition, ed. James Kennedy, W. A. Smith and A. F. Johnson, 7 vols. (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1926-34), 2:278; and Gosse, Seventeenth Century Studies, p. 255.

(26) Poems by Ephelia, p. 65; Thomas Newcomb, Bibliotheca: A Poem (London, 1712), pp. 30-31; J. Woodfall Ebsworth, ed., The Roxburghe Ballads, Vol. 4, Part 2 (Hertford: Stephen Austin and Sons, 1883), p. 568. I have not been able to find the reference to "humble Joan" in contemporary satires of Mulgrave.

(27) Newcomb, Bibliotheca, p. 31; Delarivier Manley, New Atalantis, ed. Ros Ballaster (London: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 156-7, 292; Poems by Ephelia, pp. 66-73.

(28) "Friendship between Ephelia and Ardelia" and "Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia, who had invited her to come to town: reflecting on the Coquetterie and detracting humour of the Age," in The Poem of Anne Countess of Winchilsea, ed. Myra Reynolds (U. of Chicago Press, 1903), pp. 38-46; see esp. lines 1-5. The poem is dated 1690-1 by Reynolds, who presents evidence for Anne Finch's close relations with the Thynnes of Longleat and for the identification of Finch's "Ephelia" as Lady Worsley in Poems, pp. xxxvii-ix. For further discussion, see Kissing the Rod, pp. 272-3.

(29) Poems by Ephelia, pp. 20, 77-84; cf. Kissing the Rod, p. 271.

(30) These poems are included in Poems by Ephelia, with full and useful annotation (pp. 28-30, 49-52, 93, 217-223), and are described more briefly in Kissing the Rod, p. 272. The broadsides Advice to His Grace (dated 1681 by Luttrell) and A Poem to His Sacred Majesty, on the Plot are both in the Bodleian (Ashmole G5 and G16). The funeral elegy to Isham is in the University of Nottingham Library, Portland MS. PwV 336. For information about Isham, see The Diary of Thomas Isham of Lamport, ed. Sir Giles Isham (Farnborough: Gregg International Publishers, 1971); and Poems by Ephelia, pp. 52-64.

(31) The Duchess of Richmond, a Catholic convert, was the daughter of the first Duke of Buckingham, whose assassination the dedicatory poem calls "as undeserv'd as sad," and outlived two husbands, one of whom was a cousin of Charles I (Poems by Ephelia, pp. 31-4, 100). It is possible that the Duchess of Richmond is, as Mulvihill suggests, the "Eugenia" of three poems in the volume, addressed as an imperious and rather irritable patroness, though the "awful Charms" of her "Heavenly" beauty seem rather inappropriate for a woman in her late fifties (ibid., pp. 33-34, 87-88, 98-99, 109-10).

(32) Poems by Ephelia, pp. 93, 217. The attribution of A Poem to His Sacred Majesty to "a Gentlewoman" proves nothing, since a number of poems in the Restoration period claimed by publishers to be the work of a woman poet are in fact by men: e.g., Sylvia's Revenge, Sylvia's Complaint, and The Emulation. For further discussion, see Kissing the Rod, pp. 309-14; and Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature, pp. 118-21, 125, 245.

(33) Female Poems, pp. 4-5, 16-21. If the "Pair-Royal of Coxcombs" are Charles II and the Duke of York, that suggests a Whig rather than a Tory author for the prologue, epilogue and two songs associated with this play, and would support the hypothesis of multiple authorship for the volume. The reference may however be to two of the illegitimate sons of Charles II, as in "Rochester's Farewel," where the phrase "Pair Royal" refers to two "pert young Voluntiers" for the Tangier expedition (Poems by John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, ed. Viviande Sola Pinto [Harvard U. Press, 1964], pp. 151, 234-5).

(34) See Vieth, Attribution, pp. 343-46, 465-67; and The Poems of Sir George Etherege, ed. James Thorpe (Princeton U. Press, 1963), pp. 79-82. Mulvihill contests this attribution, but her arguments (e.g., that the poem is "an impassioned lament, written in a decidedly female voice") are unconvincing: see Poems by Ephelia, pp. 38-47.

(35) Vieth, Attribution, pp. 345-6. A variant in several MSS is "he" for "she" in the second line quoted, one version referring to the male poet, the other to his female Muse, but both versions attribute "Ephelia to Bajazet" to Etherege: see Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714, Vol. 1, ed. George deF. Lord (Yale U. Press, 1963), pp. 387-8, 477.

(36) Vieth, Attribution, p. 345. Thorpe similarly argues that "the poem is quite out of keeping with the remainder of the contents of the collection" (p. 82).

(37) "Ephelia to Bajazet," lines 9-10, in Poems by John Wilmot: Earl of Rochester, ed. Keith Walker (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 111-12. All quotations from "Ephelia to Bajazet" and Rochester's "A very Heroicall Epistle in Answer to Ephelia" are taken from Walker, who provides the best text, with full collation of variant readings.

(38) "Ovid to Julia," lines 31-5, 39, in Behn, Uncollected Verse, ed. Greer, p. 19. Mulgrave's "Ambitious Love" of Princess Anne, the third in line to the succession to the throne, led to his disgrace and temporary banishment from court in 1682, and was the subject of several contemporary poems: see ibid., pp. 174-79.

(39) Uncollected Verse, ed. Greer, p. 178. The poem from which these lines are taken, "To Capt. Warcup," details the "scandal ... of the Town," and can be dated June 1686. It is included in John Harold Wilson, ed., Court Satires of the Restoration (Ohio State Press, 1976), pp. 159-60. Wilson identifies "Frazier" as Sir Charles Frazier, Cary's brother, but as Greer says, he is not known to have written any poems lamenting male inconstancy: see Uncollected Verse, pp. 177-78.

(40) Uncollected Verse, ed. Greer, p. 178; Court Satires, ed. Wilson, pp. 239-40. In Uncollected Verse, pp. 177-78, Greer accepts Etherege's authorship of "Ephelia to Bajazet" but attributes the other Ephelia poems to Cary Frazier, assuming them to be autobiographical.

(41) "Ephelia to Bajazet," lines 27, 43, 44. For an authoritative discussion of the topical allusions in this poem and Rochester's "A very Heroicall Epistle in Answer to Ephelia," see Vieth, Attribution, pp. 103-31.

(42) See "Rochester's Farewell," 13-63, in Poems by John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, ed. Vivian de Sola Pinto (Harvard U. Press, 1964), and Pinto's useful notes on the poem, pp. 231-7; Calendar of State Papers (Domestic), 1679/80, pp. 494-7, 573. The authorship of "Rochester's Farewell" (c. 1680, after Rochester's death) is unknown.

(43) Letters of Sir George Etherege, ed. Frederick Bracher (U. of California Press, 1974), b. xxii; Isham, Diary, p. 45; Poems by Ephelia, pp. 44-5, 52-4. Isham's death at an early age was characterized by a contemporary in terms quite different from elegy as exemplifying "the ruinous effects of a life of Plesure" (Isham, Diary, p. 51).

(44) "A funerall Elegie," Poems by Ephelia, p. 222.

(45) "My Fate," Female Poems, p. 96; "To J. G. in Absence," ibid., p. 15. Among other passages providing close parallels with "Ephelia to Bajazet," one could cite "His presence was my Heav'n, his absence Hell" ("To my Rival", p. 36); or for the role of imagination in rekindling desire, a recurrent theme in "Ephelia to Bajazet" as in the Portuguese Letters, "Yet you intrude / On every Thought; if I but close my Eyes / Methinks your pleasing Form besides me lies" (To J.G. on the News of his Marriage," p. 81).

(46) Lipking, p. xvii.

(47) Female Poems, p. 34. The parallel is noted in Kissing the Rod, pp. 277-78, whose editors comment: "the correspondence between the sentiments of the Ephelia-Bajazet exchanges and the poems of the J.G./Strephon series is such that a connection between them cannot be ruled out" (p. 278). The ending of the Portuguese Letters similarly shows the heroine trying to renounce a love which still exercises power over her-as Lipking says, it shows "a woman who repeats her obsession even in the act of renouncing it" (Lipking, p. 200).

(48) "Ephelia to Bajazet," lines 1-4; "A Lovers State," Female Poems, pp. 63-4.

(49) See my discussion of "The Fall" and "The Mistress" in Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature, pp. 32-33, 68-70.
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Author:Chernaik, Warren
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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