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Patricia Phillippy, ed. and Jaime Goodrich, trans. The Writings of an English Sappho.

Patricia Phillippy, ed. and Jaime Goodrich, trans. The Writings of an English Sappho. Toronto: Iter Inc., 2011. xvi + 514 pp. + 16 illus. $37.00 Review by KAREN RABER, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI.

The Toronto series "The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe" has made available a wide and useful variety of texts by early modern women writers, and this edition of Elizabeth Cooke Hoby Russell's writings is another welcome addition to the list. Patricia Phillippy's organization of the volume allows an overview of Russell's productive life, and her inclusion of numerous images, along with a selection of documents written not by Russell, but by those with whom she was in correspondence, adds new dimensions to the usual character of a "collected works" edition. Indeed, since Russell made writing epitaphs and creating monuments to her family a kind of genre in itself, leaving out the images of the tombs she designed would deny readers an important context. And because Phillippy has also chosen to reproduce bills for celebrations, plans for funerals, even drawings of dinner table arrangements, the volume gives material evidence for the strategies and courtly knowledge Russell brought to the events of her life.

Elizabeth Cooke was born one of the five learned daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke in 1540; that the sisters were given a thorough classical education is evidenced by Elizabeth's numerous poems, epitaphs and inscriptions in Latin and Greek, ably translated for the volume by Jaime Goodrich. Her close ties to the Cecils and the Bacons put her for a time at the center of power in Elizabeth's court. In 1558 she married Thomas Hoby, who died while the couple was in Paris in 1566, leaving Elizabeth pregnant with their fourth child, and responsible for the transportation of his body back to England: what must have been a traumatic situation gave rise to Russell's first efforts at memorializing family with the construction of an elaborate tomb, inscribed with two of her own epitaphs. Phillippy notes that Russell's design of funerary monuments was "innovative and highly personal," not to mention a departure from Protestant suspicion of visual images (12). Her later work on such monuments for her own daughters, for neighbors and friends, and for her parents' tomb, constitutes a whole genre of artistic creation through which women could participate in cultural production. Her verses for Thomas Hoby, for instance, emphasize her role as mother to his children, their union as one flesh in marriage, and her struggles to accept his death, all acceptable versions of female mourning, but Phillippy points out that this is nonetheless an opportunity to turn dutiful celebration of a spouse into an act self-portraiture. Russell outlived her second husband John Russell as well, giving him a splendid London funeral and a tomb that "sacrifice[d] intimacy for grandeur" (173) to confirm the family's status. Along with her siblings, she created a monument to her father and mother that "makes it clear that Anthony Cooke's intellectual legacy was carried on not by his sons, but by his daughters" (160), yet affirms the daughters as following their mother's pattern by representing them as her identical copies in their clothing and posture.

Russell's exploitation of ceremonial occasions was not limited to funerals, however: Russell hosted Queen Elizabeth on three separate occasions, first upon her first husband's death and many years later when as a widow for the second time, she was faced with the need to secure her children's future with little money. Both visits were to Russell's estate at Bisham; the second, in 1592, occasioned Russell's efforts at a pastoral entertainment, included in the volume's second section. After periods of preferment and then relative distance from the Queen, she also secured Elizabeth's attendance at the wedding of her daughter Anne to Henry Herbert at Blackfriars in 1600. The queen's procession is recorded in Robert Peake's famous painting, The Procession to Blackfriars, much analyzed by art historians and critics, which testifies to the political uses the queen had for the procession, but also to the prominence at court Russell had gained for her daughter and herself in yet another "managed performance" (273). Indeed, Russell was a tireless dynastic laborer, fighting (mostly successfully) to retain control over her children after Hoby's death, and working tirelessly to ensure her daughters' bright futures. This intersection of mothering with political scheming was derailed in the case of her son, Thomas Posthumous, with whom and about whom her correspondence is quite grumpy. Her eldest son by Thomas Hoby made a good marriage and career, but her eldest Russell daughter, Bess, died shortly after Anne's glorious wedding, occasioning a beautiful, but very personal and private memorial.

Phillippy claims one of her goals is to dispel the image of Russell as a "curmudgeon," engaged in continual wrangling over court and family matters, and indeed she is successful in doing so, showing Russell as a complex and sometimes contradictory personality in the Elizabethan court. Russell's writings convey subtle courtiership, stubborn persistence in pursuing her interests, a wife's love and duty to each of her spouses, evidence of motherly indulgence as well as of motherly irritation and nagging, and a record of attention to the most minute details of her property and prestige. The volume is divided into four sections, reflecting the changes in Russell's life--her first marriage to Hoby, her second to Russell, her years negotiating at court, and finally her years as Dowager; perhaps the flattest of these sections is the last, since it is entirely taken up with her translation of Bishop John Ponet's treatise on the Eucharist, A Way of Reconciliation of a Good and Learned Man. Phillippy notes that the translation was probably accomplished early in Russell's life, but that she chose to publish it in 1605 as a response to Cathholic attacks on the Elizabethan settlement following the queen's death, but also "from her sense of her own mortality and her effort to created a permanent monument to herself and her accomplishments" (319). Fittingly, the volume ends with one final monument, her own tomb, planned and largely created by her before her death, which offers an elaborate set of images that Phillippy claims celebrate Russell's independence and focus on female community (445). Whether this made her, as Phillippy also suggests in her introduction, someone who "advance[d] ... women's rights and roles" (4) is perhaps a subject for further debate, but this volume ensures that the debate is made more easily possible for future scholars and students.
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Author:Raber, Karen
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2012
Words:1077
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