Prophecy, Dreams, and Fantasy: Writing Englishwomen's Practical Knowledge, 1640-1680

Hu, Rebecca C.W. (2017) Prophecy, Dreams, and Fantasy: Writing Englishwomen's Practical Knowledge, 1640-1680. PhD thesis, University of Miami.

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This project sheds light on how presumably irrational, intuitive, and affective modes of knowing evident in seventeenth-century Englishwomen’s writings are, in their own ways, practical, rational, and consequential. Thanks to important scholarship such as Linda Woodbridge’s The Scythe of Saturn: Shakespeare and Magical Thinking and Diane Purkiss’s The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations, the concept of intuitive and affective knowledge as practical has received increasing academic attention. At least some seventeenth- century women wrote to legitimize the usefulness of what they knew. My project examines Anna Trapnel’s ecstatic prophecies, Katherine Austen’s numerology of dreams, and Margaret Cavendish’s imaginative philosophies in search of instances where definitions of knowledge are contested to return intellectual agency to the thinking-feeling woman. It thus analyzes how such women who know through unorthodox, irrational, associative, or intuitive means speak out against rationalist forms of knowledge, and as a consequence, contribute significantly to a more organic and inclusive system of knowing. Chapter One explores Trapnel’s juxtaposition of rational knowledge -- what she calls “Head-piece languages” or the “Arts and Sciences” --against what she names the “Heart-piece sense.” Trapnel urges her audience to question thevalue of knowledge when it is a product of rational learning and formal institutional education. She presents true knowledge as the result of one’s spiritual attunement to God. By evoking images of drunkenness, Trapnel associates the effects of knowing with the effects of inebriation. In teaching her mesmerized audiences to consume divine knowledge through digestion and emotion, Trapnel’s sentimental education adds her poetic voice to the tumultuous debates that occurred during England’s Interregnum. Chapter Two examines Austen’s curious method of husbandry that involves counting, calculating, and interpreting numerical images that appear in her dreams. Rather than succumbing to raptures as Trapnel had done, Austen feverishly hits the accounting books after inspiration strikes; in lieu of delivering her ideas through fluid transitions between genres which occasionally become unintelligible to her audience, Austen organizes them in a measured manner through poetic meters and arithmetic in her book, which was probably shared with a coterie of family and friends. Her model is unique in that it combines two artful, spiritual practices -- dream divination and number mysticism--to guide her as she undergoes a series of rather material challenges in securing financial entitlements. The conclusions of Book M suggest that this model succeeded not only in securing tangible assets for Austen’s children as her legacy, but also in giving the independent Austen increasing skill and confidence as a thinker and poet. Chapter Three argues that Cavendish imagines herself a melancholic figure in order to produce a growing emotional self-knowledge that enables her to adapt to life in exile from England and to add her voice to the fashionable academicconversations of her day. In her own analysis of what melancholia means, Cavendish materializes melancholic thoughts -- indeed, depicts emotions as physical objects that act -- to study their relationships with the brain. Cavendish contends that the writing out of her fancies gives delight and relieves her from melancholic oppression. Her philosophical writings thus highlight how her feelings (in particular, her negative emotions) are sites for intellectual activity instrumental to producing the kind of knowledge that heals.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: It has been accepted for inclusion in Open Access Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Scholarly Repository. For more information, please contact
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Comparative
Depositing User: Emmanuel Ndorimana
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2018 12:46
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2018 12:46

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