Prophetic Writings of Lady Eleanor Davies.
Cope's biographical introduction, a condensed version of her 1992 monograph Handmaid of the Spirit, provides a fascinating overview of Lady Eleanor's life and struggles. As a prophet she sought political and moral influence on her society, but Lady Eleanor never gave up her aristocratic identity or belonged to a millenarian group. Instead she struggled both in her writings and in the courts to maintain legal and social autonomy (like some other aristocratic women, she went to court to wrest her inheritance from male relatives). Having captured court and public attention in the late 1620s by accurately predicting the deaths of her first husband and the hated favorite Buckingham, Lady Eleanor fell afoul of the authorities in the 1630s by boldly and illegally publishing prophecies against Charles I and Archbishop Laud, and spent most of the decade either in prison or in Bedlam. Her stock rose somewhat in the 1640s and 50s, however, when she participated in the millennial fervor that swept the country, and published alongside other women prophets such as Mary Cary and Anna Trapnel. Her self-presentation as a vessel for God's word and as a "weak woman" forced to write despite her natural modesty were typical strategies for women writers of the period, but her bold linking of her own life with the political and religious life of England and her self-identification with the Word of God made her a controversial figure, earning her the reputation of madness that stuck with her until her death.
The prophecies themselves are rather thick reading, due to Lady Eleanor's circuitous and at times deliberately obscure style, full of metaphysical puns and anagrams. Cope alms to preserve this style out of respect for Lady Eleanor's belief that "those who thought her message was in hieroglyphics were unworthy to understand its contents" (xx). Modern readers might usefully see this style as a example of ecriture feminine. Cope regularizes some letters and punctuation but leaves the rest alone, and provides clear, helpful footnotes, along with a headnote to each prophecy placing it in its biographical and political context. Except for the first, the prophecies are short, easily lending themselves to thematic, political, or biographical grouping. "We need good modern editions of these women's works," said Elaine Hobby in her 1988 study Virtue of Necessity. Cope has provided us with the definitive edition of Lady Eleanor's works and a model for future editions of such women writers.
KATHERINE HOFFMAN Roanoke College
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1997|
|Previous Article:||The Diary of Anne Clifford: 1616-1619.|
|Next Article:||Language and Images of Renaissance Italy.|