Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Wntr 2002 v42 i1 p155(17)
Speaking and silent women in Upon Appleton House.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2002 Rice University
Ostensibly, Andrew Marvell's Upon Appleton House is a country-house poem praising Nunappleton House, the Yorkshire estate of the great Parliamentarian general, Thomas, Lord Fairfax. (1) Marvell, however, is never one to do anything simply; Upon Appleton House, ranging widely through the gardens and the history of Nunappleton House, is as much a conflict, on its own poetical terms, as the Civil War itself, the memory of which the poem so uneasily skirts. One locus of this pervasive agon is poetic representation, an arena in which the poem's argument with itself plays out most clearly through its use of feminine voices; as Christopher Kendrick points out, remarking on the sexual connotations of "upon" in the poem's title, "women sum this manor up." (2) Marvell deploys the women in the poem to show ruptures between history and poetry, and between the historical poet and the poetic speaker. There are two feminine voices that disrupt the masculine voice of the speaker, and two other women in the poem who, like th ese speakers' shadows, do not speak at all. The voices are the unnamed nun and the cook Thestylis; the silent bodies are the virgin Thwaites and the child Maria.
Women's speech is not a new topic, either for literary studies in general or for early modern studies in particular. The culturally constructed link between speech and gender, a link which Marvell exploits in structuring Upon Appleton House, has been examined by many critics; Carol Thomas Neely voices an important and often articulated idea when she observes, in her discussion of the relationship between Shakespeare's heroines and his female relatives, that "Silence was the virtue most often and most stringently required of Renaissance women, and women's verbal self-assertion was almost invariably associated with sexual selfassertion and promiscuity." (3) Thwaites and Maria, the historically "real" women, are the silent ones; their silence is linked to the suppression of their ability to assert themselves, both verbally and sexually.
In Shakespeare's plays--characterized, like Upon Appleton House, by a male poet's engagement with the issue of female speech--silence is often the price of achieving marriage; Shirley Nelson Garner points out in reference to A Midsummer Night's Dream that, once married, Helena and Hermia are silent throughout the last act. (4) Lorraine Helms observes this same awkward female silence in both Measure for Measure and Pericles, and other critics have traced similar patterns elsewhere in the canon. (5) Marriage, women's proper estate, is linked to silence. This connection, and the general valorization of women's silence in the Renaissance, leads to the question of why Marvell allows women to speak at all. Why do the nun and Thestylis have voices?
Criticism of Upon Appleton House is as wide-ranging as the poem itself, but little of it addresses the issue of who speaks and who is silent. Several critics, among them Patsy Griffin and Peter Schwenger, comment on the nun's speech, but they do not link her to the wider patterns of women's speech and silence; (6) though the nun's power as a speaker is frequently recognized, only James Holstun notes the obvious corollary that "Marvell never lets us hear Thwaites's response." (7) Likewise, Thestylis's speech, which is even more powerful tin textual terms) than the nun's, is curiously ignored by most critics. Both Schwenger and Frank J. Warnke note that, as Warnke puts it, Thestylis "casually crack[s] the frame of fiction so carefully crafted by the narrator," but they only mention it in passing, without giving full consideration to the powerfully metatextual upheaval Thestylis embodies. (8) Rosalie L. Colie does give Thestylis the attention she deserves in a discussion of Marvell's use of magic lantern and ma sque devices, but the argument is in no way a gendered one. (9)
Meanwhile, the silence of Maria has been absolutely ignored. Readings of Upon Appleton House are eager to find in Maria a positive resolution to a rambling and troublesome poem, to call her the epitome of the virtues Marvell praises and the philosophical star around which his poem orbits; to do this, many ignore those aspects of his treatment of Maria that are less than straightforward. Isabel MacCaffrey and T. R. Langley voice a minority opinion in suggesting that the praise of Maria may not be entirely serious. (10) Most critics take the poem's conclusion entirely at face value, in regard to both its seriousness and its praise--never a safe tactic with a poet as devious as Marvell.
Though Brian Patton and John Klause note the disturbing subtext to the discussion of Maria's marriage (lines 737-52), Patton's argument is strictly about the legal and economic aspects of the historical Mary Fairfax's marriage, and Klause's interpretation is focused narrowly upon the moral imagination of the conflated poet/speaker." Klause sees the figures in the poem only as they relate to his own theoretical question about Marvell's philosophy, while Patton views them primarily as stand-ins for their historical counterparts. Neither Klause nor Patton has any particular interest in Maria for herself, reversing the usual critical practice--most scholars focus upon the praise of her to the exclusion of that praise's own uneasiness. It is true that Maria is used to represent the virtues of Nunappleton House, but she serves other purposes, as well; more ambiguity lurks in Marvell's representation of her than a monochromatically positive interpretation will allow.
One reason that the issue of speech is so important to Upon Appleton House is the nature of its speaker. Most of the poem is presented by a first-person speaker, who is in some measure a stand-in for Marvell himself. Like Marvell, the speaker is the tutor of Mary Fairfax (called Maria in the poem), and he is clearly a poet. It would be as much a mistake to try to separate him entirely from the poetic process as it would be to assume him to be a faithful and accurate reflection of Andrew Marvell. As often in Marvell, the relationship between the speaker and poet is a vexed one--as one of the disruptive voices in the poem points out--and not to be taken for granted.
In a discussion of the balance between seriousness and mockery in Marvell's poetry, Joan Hartwig observes that "this teasing aspect of his 'voice' entices the reader to expend tremendous energy in attempting to resolve the balance by weighting it on either side, inevitably without conviction that the 'answer' will hold. "12 Critics wrestle with this fluid quality in all of Marvell's works, not least in Upon Appleton House. T. R. Langley remarks: "Marvell succeeds in being at once both appreciative and depreciative; simultaneously self-indulgent and self-critical. (13) I would cast this paradox, which Kendrick describes as a separation between the poet's "personality" and his "character," specifically in terms of a disjunction between speaker and poet. (14) The speaker may be appreciative and self-indulgent; the poet, standing back from his microcosm, is often depreciative--and critical--of the self represented by the speaker. The poem registers the disjunction between these two poetic selves with the other, f eminine voices that interrupt and discomfit the speaker.
The first disruptive voice in the text is that of the nameless nun, a voice situated in an extended digression on the history of Nunappleton House. The nun is disruptive both poetically and historically; she supersedes the speaker for twelve and a half stanzas (lines 97--196), and she diverts the virgin Thwaites from the orderly path of marriage (to a Fairfax) and motherhood, thereby seeking to divert the history of Nunappleton House from the speaker's program: "Yet, against Fate, his Spouse they kept; / And the great Race would intercept" (lines 247-8). The nun and her sisters desire not merely to claim Thwaites but also to thwart Fairfax and everything he stands for.
The nun's speech is carefully framed by the speaker to make the reader wary of her and her purpose:
And oft She [Thwaites] spent the Summer Suns
Discoursing with the Suttle Nunns.
Whence in these Words one to her weav'd,
(As 'twere by Chance) Thoughts long conceiv'd.
The nun herself in these lines becomes a poet, "weaving" her words and having indulged in efforts of composition prior to speaking; also, the metaphor of weaving feminizes speech itself by linking it to an activity often associated with women and specifically, perhaps, with the altar cloths that the nuns are depicted as embroidering in stanza 16. The nun is a reflection of the speaker of Upon Appleton House, rendered feminine and sinister, and also his rival.
The reader's suspicion is further encouraged by the indications of the nun's guile: she speaks to Thwaites as if by chance. Like the language of Upon Appleton House, her speech may seem careless, but it has been carefully thought out. The speaker has figured the nun's speech in such a way as to make his own speaking look more innocent. Schwenger calls the nun's speech "a sort of primer of deceit, to prepare us for more sophisticated versions to follow." (15) Griffin sees the same connection, though she interprets it in the opposite way: "the nun's suasion makes Marvell as poet and guide appear guileless in his manipulating of the reader." (16) The ambiguity is in the intention, not the practice. In my terminology, Schwenger is talking about the poet and Griffin about the speaker. The poet exposes, by the very act of concealment, the deceit the speaker wishes to conceal.
The nun's speech and her purpose are also precoded by the term "Suttle," the word used to describe the serpent in the King James Bible: "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast which the LORD God had made." (17) The nun is a serpent who wants to seduce Eve out of Eden before she even gets there: if Thwaites falls prey to the subtle nuns, the edenic garden that the speaker celebrates will never come into existence. MacCaffrey is very right to call the nunnery a "false paradise." (18)
The nun's speech is disruptive to history as well as to poetry, for she seeks to woo Thwaites away from the historical world of heterosexual reproduction into an entirely feminine world, where the only things produced are altar cloths:
"While all the rest with Needles paint
"The Face and Graces of the Saint.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"That serves for Altar's Ornaments."
The saint represented is Mary (line 131), so the production economy of the nunnery remains both entirely female and entirely in the realm of representations, whereas, in the heterosexual world embodied in Fairfax, Thwaites will be expected to produce, not a picture of a woman, but the living, breathing body of a male heir. (19)
M. J. K. O'Loughlin sees this poem's vision of historical progress embodied in the twin figures of Thwaites and Maria, each having "a state of virginal innocence and a marital destiny in which the early state must be destroyed in order to be renewed." (20) But O'Loughlin's "renewal" is the refiguring of Thwaites in Maria, and Maria herself is doomed to undergo the same fall; hence, the return to Eden suggested by a refiguration of Thwaites in Maria is exceedingly transitory. Moreover, the renewal does Thwaites herself no good; the state of innocence, once lost, cannot be regained.
The nun's speech seems to show a way for Thwaites to preserve her edenic virginity, a possibility which presents a paradox; the nun is a serpent tempting Thwaites/Eve, but she seems to be tempting her into innocence, a retired life apart from the history that began with the Fall. As Upon Appleton House demonstrates repeatedly, however, the fall from Eden cannot be avoided; history must proceed, and those who try to evade it merely fling themselves into another kind of fall, not from virginity to marriage, but to vice: "'For like themselves they alter all, / 'And vice infects the very Wall'" (lines 215-6). Although Michael Morgan Holmes argues that this is merely Fairfax's opinion, "not necessarily shared by readers or (even less likely) the narrator," it is clear from the speaker's partisan remarks elsewhere that it is his opinion as well (lines 197-200, 239-40, 267-8), and the poem nowhere suggests that the nuns' alternative Eden is anything but evil. (21)
The nun's speech persuades and tempts in many ways. The most seductive is the promise of the very things Thwaites will not find in marriage, sovereignty and female community: "'Here live beloved, and obey'd: / 'Each one your Sister, each your Maid'" (lines 153-4). Also, very specifically, the nun offers Thwaites an escape from heterosexual relations:
"These Walls restrain the World without,
"But hedge our Liberty about.
"These Bars inclose that wider Den
"Of those wild Creatures, called Men.
"The Cloyster outward shuts its Gates,
"And, from us, locks on them the Grates."
The cloister gates, preventing men from entering the nunnery, serve as a macrocosmic figuration of the unavailable female bodies within; by shutting the cloister's gates, the nuns figuratively shut the gates of their own bodies, refusing to allow those "wild Creatures" to penetrate them. The nun proposes an alternative to and escape from marriage, the linchpin of the ordered world Marvell's speaker is trying to celebrate.
The conflict between engagement in history and retirement from it is one of the poem's major concerns, directly determined by the actual workings of history within Marvell's experience; in 1651, General Lord Fairfax decided to retire from political engagement in the Commonwealth and retreated to Nunappleton House. One of the problems with which the poem wrestles is whether or not this is a laudable idea. The nun eloquently represents the wrong kind of retirement, hypocritical and self-indulgent. Although the mock-epic triumph of Fairfax ridicules and easily defeats the threat posed by the nuns themselves (lines 249-72), the speech of this singular nun is not so readily dismissed. Her temptation is successful; Thwaites enters the nunnery, and Fairfax cannot persuade her to come out. His speech has no effect on Thwaites at all: "Oft, though he knew it was in vain, / Yet would he valiantly complain" (lines 201-2). Fairfax can only defeat the nun's rhetoric with physical force--by changing the arena of contentio n.
Although the nun can disrupt from her position outside the social norm, her rebellion is doomed before she begins to speak; in the world of the poem's principal speaker, it has already been defeated--even in his indignant sympathy with Fairfax, the speaker knows who triumphed because the evidence is all around him. Nunappleton House is no longer a cloister, but the home of Fairfax's descendants; patriarchy won the struggle for Thwaites, and she caine indeed to a heterosexual marriage bed: "From that blest Bed the Heroe came, / Whom France and Poland yet does fame" (lines 281-2). When Fairfax breaks the boundaries of the cloister, the nuns have no power over him: "But, waving these aside like Flyes, / Young Fairfax through the Wall does rise" (lines 257-8). He wins back his bride from the vice-ridden community of women, and history can progress in triumph--except for the curious matter of Thwaites's tears.
Thwaites's last appearance in the poem comes at the apogee of Fairfax's mock epic: "truly bright and holy Thwaites / That weeping at the Altar waites" (lines 263-4). Her tears are neither explained nor much heeded. The emphasis at this point is entirely on Fairfax and his assertion of his patriarchal rights: "But the glad Youth away her bears, / And to the Nuns bequeaths her Tears" (lines 265-6). Yet Thwaites does weep, whether her tears are of repentance or grief, and the incomprehensibility of her crying is itself a small pinprick of disruption in Fairfax's heroic destiny.
These opaque tears are the only form of expression given to Thwaites, who otherwise simply serves as a pawn in the multivalent struggle between Fairfax and the nuns. (22) Although her tears have none of the persuasive power of the nun's speech or the metatextual force of Thestylis's, they do register Thwaites as a subject, outside the objectified uses made of her by the combatants for her land. She is a person, not merely a mobile metonym for Nunappleton House; she has a subject position of her own, although she is never given the words with which to explain it. Even granted expression (i.e., her tears), she is still silenced.
These wordless tears point to an important aspect of normative femininity in Upon Appleton House. Only females who are already somehow aberrant, the nun and the classically derived cook, can speak against the patriarchal and historical forces at work in the poem. Upper-class virgins may weep, but they cannot put their objections, if they have them, into speech; they cannot divert or even protest the destiny appointed to them.
This is why the nun is so dangerous. She disrupts the course of the poem by presenting an alternative to its poetic representation of history. Thwaites is not the only one in danger of being seduced. Although Holstun ably identifies the erotic nature of the nun's speech, he argues that it is not a threat to the patriarchal order because "it depends utterly on a certain economic and institutional configuration. When that configuration changes, it can be absorbed without trauma into the Protestant household that replaces it." (23) This narrowly historical view ignores the very real threat the nun poses to the poem through the vision of erotic retirement from history for which she speaks. It is a mistake to see the nun as nonthreatening simply because of her ultimate failure.
The threat of the nun's speech is shown, not only by the speaker's framing of it and by its rhetorical power, but also by the poem's response. Her speech ends in the middle of a stanza, and the speaker follows it immediately with a direct apostrophe to Fairfax: "Now Fairfax seek her promis'd faith" (line 197). The speaker needs to reassert two things immediately: the claims of the heterosexual, reproductive world represented by Fairfax, and his own control over the poem. This latter has grown problematic; at the point where the first speaker reemerges, he and the nun have had equal control over the course of the poem (he has the first twelve stanzas, she the second, and they split stanza 25--he interrupts just in time to prevent her from taking an advantage in stanzas), and her influence has been moving it in a direction diametrically opposed to his desires.
The historical disruption the nun attempts is echoed by the disturbance she causes in the fabric of the poem. Fairfax, rescuing Thwaites from the nunnery, serves as a surrogate for the first speaker, rescuing his poem from the nun. The question "Ill-counsell'd Women, do you know / Whom you resist, or what you do?" takes on a double meaning (lines 239--40). The nun threatens, but does not overturn, both the speaker's idea of history and the poetry in which he represents it. This is a serious threat, as both its own rhetorical power and the speaker's response show, but the speaker is equal to the challenge, perhaps because, in contradistinction to the second feminine disruption, the poetical war between the speaker and the nun is fought through the historical figures of Fairfax and Thwaites. The nun does not challenge the speaker directly--Thestylis does.
Thestylis is the second disruptive woman in the poem, and her subversion, unlike the nun's, signally escapes the speaker's control:
But bloody Thestylis, that waites
To bring the mowing Camp their Cates,
Greedy as Kites has trust it up,
And forthwith means on it to sup:
When on another quick She lights,
And cryes, he call'd us Israelites;
But now, to make his saying true,
Rails rain for Quails, for Manna Dew.
Thestylis has no connection with the history the speaker has been exploring; she is an escapee from classical poetry, specifically Virgil's second Eclogue: "Thestylis et rapido fessis messoribus aestu / alia serpullumque herbas contundit olentis." (24) For Virgil, she is no more than a piece of local color, dashed in for verisimilitude. For Marvell, she becomes something far more disturbing.
To understand fully the peculiarity of Thestylis's speech, it is necessary to backtrack to stanza 49, in which the speaker says:
The tawny Mowers enter next;
Who seem like Israalites to be,
Walking on foot through a green Sea.
To them the Grassy Deeps divide,
And crowd a Lane to either Side.
Here the metaphor of the Israelites, which Thestylis picks up, is put into play. In the next stanza, the single overtly violent act in this long, war-haunted poem occurs:
With whistling Sithe, and Elbow strong,
These Massacre the Grass along:
While one, unknowing, carves the Rail,
Whose yet unfeather's Quils her fail.
The Edge all bloody from its Breast
He draws, and does his stroke detest.
The explicit femininity of the rail gives uncomfortable sexual overtones to this act of violence--especially uncomfortable in a poem so concerned with virginity and marriage. Moreover, MacCaffrey points out in reference to "massacre" in line 394: "The violent verb seems merely conventional in this couplet... But the violence springs to life in the following lines, actualized in the unwitting but detestable murder of the rail ... Marvell's dead metaphor in Massacre is revived when the mower carves the rail, and the fancy that had so casually used the verb is recalled to its responsibilities." (25) Although MacCaffrey's subsequent reading of Thestylis's speech as "genial" and "hilarious" seems unfounded, she is correct about the way Marvell suddenly turns his metaphors against himself. (26) The sudden, violent literalization of a poetically-meant metaphor is a habitual gesture of Marvell's; in this case, he grants the performance of that poetic idiosyncrasy to one of his own characters.
Whereas metatextual issues are latent in the speaker's conflict with the nun, Thestylis overtly compels a metatextual awareness of the split between the poet and the speaker. (27) The poet creates her specifically for this purpose, as Colie emphasizes in her argument, remarking on the "poetical self-criticism" Thestylis embodies. (28) Thestylis forces the poet into view, deliberately shattering the illusion that governs poetry, the illusion that there is, in a certain sense, no poet--i.e., no detached, Machiavellian intelligence orchestrating from the wings, only the speaker who experiences what he speaks.
O'Loughlin usefully remarks that the meadow scene, like the massacre of the rail itself, brutally literalizes an earlier metaphorical gesture in the poem, in this case the "dissolution and perfection of art into life." (29) It is possible to apply this idea very directly to Thestylis, not only to her speech, but also to her person. The metamorphosis of art into life is exactly the movement she impels with her speech, forcing the speaker's metaphor to become literally true. As a figure from Virgil's Eclogues transposed into Marvell's poem, she has crossed one boundary already, from the literature behind the poem into the poem itself; when she expresses her awareness of the poet and the poem, she crosses a second boundary, from the poem into a kind of metatextual existence that, rather than literally allowing Thestylis to escape from the poem into life, forces the poem backwards into a space where fiction cannot pretend not to know that it is fiction.
Unlike the nun's, Thestylis's disruption has no Fairfax to subdue it; the speaker cannot bring himself to grapple with it, but turns his attention instead to the dead rail, as if by ignoring Thestylis he could make her go away. In a sense, he is successful. Because his consciousness filters the poem, he can shift it away from Thestylis and her troublesome, metatextual conversation. But the speaker is not in complete control of the poem; he cannot simply erase Thestylis any more than he can deny that what she says is true. Thestylis, in discomfiting the speaker, is the poet's agent, and her relentlessly clear exposure of the illusions of poetry is unchallenged.
Opposed to the disruptive and subversive figures of the nun and the cook stand Thwaites and Maria, chaste, silent, and obedient. The latter two are specifically linked by the speaker (lines 747-8). Colie points out another link between them, as Maria and the speaker reverse the story of Fairfax and Thwaites: "The poet must be reclaimed [from his passive descent into nature] too, we find: another Fairfax is required to free him from his delicious relaxation ... to a less passive life." (30) Maria, however, does not rescue the speaker, as Fairfax does Thwaites; her appearance merely recalls him to his duty.
But now away my Hooks, my Quills,
And Angles, idle Utensils.
The young Maria walks to night:
Hide trifling Youth thy Pleasures slight.
'Twere shame that such judicious Eyes
Should with such Toyes a Man surprize.
Maria takes no action comparable to Fairfax's storming the nunnery; she simply appears. Her presence is a spur to the speaker, who then rescues himself from his own slothful retirement.
Despite this quibble, Maria and Thwaites are clearly connected in the architecture of the poem. They, unlike Thestylis and the nun, are representations of historical women, and so are resistant to poetry in ways the other two are not. Both Thwaites and Maria have an existence that the poem can neither fully represent nor explain. The two also hold analogous positions in regard to Nunappleton House; both Thwaites and Maria are required to marry in order that the house may be safely transferred to the next generation. Although the example of the nuns makes it very clear that any attempt to avoid history is both vice-laden and doomed, the poem regards the necessity of entering history, specifically figured as marriage, with some ambiguity.
This uneasiness is visible both in Thwaites's inexplicable tears and in a certain concern about Mafia's fate:
And, like a sprig of Misleto,
On the Fairfacian Oak does grow;
Whence, for some universal good,
The Priest shall cut the sacred Bud;
While her glad Parents most rejoice,
And make their Destiny their Choice.
Although this passage appears celebratory, there are distinct problems just beneath the surface, many of them caused by the mistletoe metaphor, which has the same effect here that the metaphor of the Israelites had in the meadow sequence. Again, a seemingly innocuous metaphor turns literal in the speaker's hands, leading him into places he did not want to go. As Patton notices, by the terms of this metaphor, "She [Mary] is not, after all, a branch on the great Fairfacian oak,' but a sprig of mistletoe with only a tenuous connection to the genealogical tree. Furthermore, even that connection must be severed for Thomas and Anne's hopes to be realized. Mary must wed and surrender the Fairfax name if she is to bear the desired offspring." (31) This metaphor also contains an implied violence against Maria (like the violence against the rail in the meadow), as she, the "sacred Bud," is severed from her parent tree.
Moreover, those who rejoice at this sundering, however qualified that rejoicing maybe, are Maria's parents, not Maria and her groom. Arranged marriages were, granted, not uncommon for women of Mary Fairfax's class, but that breath of irony in "their Destiny"--surely Mafia's marriage is much more her own destiny than her parent's--emphasizes Maria's lack of involvement in the metaphorically violent process she is undergoing. In this passage, she becomes first an object, passive and victimized, and then simply erased. Her parents rejoice in her marriage, but Maria herself is not granted an opinion.
What makes Maria's silent objectification all the more ironic is that the poem treats her as a figure of considerable power: "'Tis She that to these Gardens gave / That wondrous Beauty which they have" (lines 689-90). Where Thwaites was Eve, Maria is somewhere between Adam and God in the Eden of the poem, both chief inhabitant and cause. As Robert Markley notes: This virginal young woman is the imaginative guarantee of a natural order that she seems both to embody and transcend." (32) Also, though Maria never speaks directly in the poem, she is praised for her speaking: "She counts her Beauty to converse / In all the Languages as hers" (lines 707-8). The speaker describes her as a powerful and speaking figure.
It is a mistake, however, to read the poem's praise of Maria as completely straight-faced. Her celebrated speech is never heard. She is powerful, but, as Kathleen Kelly points out: "[Marvell] makes clear at the end of the poem that though Maria's beauty mesmerizes all things into their ideal selves, her power is fleeting, secure only for a season." Eventually, "she will have to enter into the world of experience" and "will no longer be the spiritual source for all green things." (33) Maria's power is only ephemeral. The pressure of patriarchal history will dismantle it, as the poet--if not the speaker--is well aware. Markley's analysis is extremely cogent on the ironies manifest in a patrmineal system depending for its stability and order upon a female figure. (34) Markley, however, locates these ironies outside the poem, in historical eventualities (the childless and financially disastrous marriage of Mary Fairfax to George Villiers, duke of Buckingham) of which Marvell could not be aware, rather than in the social irony with which Marvell was engaged, namely that Maria, as a woman, is an unsatisfactory "repository of those patrilineal values that presumably will secure the continuation of the Fairfax line and the integrity of the estate." (35) When Maria marries, she will surrender the name of Fairfax and leave Nunappleton House; the Eden of the poem, created by patriarchal history (Fairfax "rescuing" Thwaites from the nuns), will be destroyed by the selfsame force. Furthermore, the extravagant praise of Maria's speech and beauty is the conceit of the speaker, who is made to look exceptionally foolish precisely at the moment of Maria's entry into the poem. As in the encounters with the nun and Thestylis, the poet here undercuts the authority of the speaker and therefore the reliability of his praise. The speaker may believe in Maria as a kind of Astraea for the natural world, but the poet, detached and ironic, almost assuredly does not.
Although Upon Appleton House insists on the necessity of silent, obedient women for the progress of history, the poem recognizes the power women's voices can have; it makes this power a negative thing, but it will not or cannot negate it. Fairfax may defeat the nuns, but Thestylis's speech remains untamed. Also, considering its treatment of Maria, the poem cannot be said to celebrate the necessity of obedient silence. Both Thwaites and Maria have an inner truth that the poem cannot represent, and the poem's recognition of this gap is a sad one, marked by tears and the praise of speech that must remain unheard.
Women who participate fully in the poem's version of history do so by nonparticipation. In return for being allowed into the center, they must be silent; they cannot even speak in praise of heterosexual history. There is no space for nondisruptive female speech. Maria, who is widely regarded by critics as the center of the poem, has no form of expression available to her within its confines, not even the tears of her predecessor--and Thwaites's weeping registers only within the nunnery, the failed bastion of deviancy. Silence is the price of a place in history. The nun and Thestylis pay for their speech with their marginalized positions; the nun quite literally pays with her own dissolution:
Thenceforth (as when th'Inchantment ends
The Castle vanishes or rends)
The wasting Cloister with the rest
Was in one instant dispossest.
The nun dares to attempt to centralize the portion of the margin for which she speaks, privileging it above the normal world of heterosexual history, and she is stringently punished. Thestylis, on the other hand, speaks to destabilize the center of the poem itself, to make the reader uncertain where to focus; she meets with no retribution, but she does not speak again. Even for marginal women, speech is an uncertain gift.
The women in the poem register the split between the poet and the speaker; that split in turn reflects in a different mode the relationship between history and poetic representation with which Marvell is concerned. Marvell uses his female characters, both speaking and silent, to erect a poem that can question its own structure without collapsing. The fact that the voices of disruption are specifically gendered female suggests (as does the silence of the "good" women) an unease about women's speech, perhaps a feeling that disruptive speech is inherently feminine--or that feminine speech is inherently disruptive.
This unease about women's speech contaminates the relationship between the poet and the speaker. The poet's doubts about his speaker are expressed by, and embodied in, the women of the poem, who are themselves either silenced or demonized. Marvell makes it impossible to trust either the speaker or the poet wholeheartedly because of the way in which he uses the female figures in the poem to play out the struggle between them. The speaker's viewpoint is limited, but the poet's opposition to him is channeled through women who are not themselves trustworthy. By juxtaposing his naive speaker, who uncritically believes in the transparency of history and its linguistic medium, with the women of the poem, Marvell shows the ways in which representation must always be incomplete and to some degree unsatisfactory--including the representation of that very imperfection.
More specifically, Marvell builds this poem in order to ask questions about how history can be represented and, ultimately, how it can be endured. To these questions Upon Appleton House offers no answers. On the one hand, participation in history (and representation of that participation) is clearly fraught and dangerous; the Civil War, never openly acknowledged but an omnipresent taint throughout the poem, is proof enough of that. But retirement within the confines of Nunappleton House is not the answer, either. No walls are strong enough to keep history out, just as the speaker's poetic edifice cannot withstand Thestylis. Maria may appear to make Nunappleton House a paradise and history a triumph, but this solution is precarious and doomed; she will have to leave Nunappleton House, and its unstable, ambiguous Eden will be lost. Marvell, whose self-representation is as fluid and ironic as any other kind of representation in the poem, exposes through the women of the poem the insolubility of the inherent con flict in representation between history and poetry.
Sarah Monette is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is writing her dissertation on ghosts in Tudor and Stuart revenge tragedy.
I would like to thank Heather Dubrow, Tisha Turk, and the anonymous reader at SFL for forcing this essay to say what it means.
(1.) Andrew Marvell, Upon Appleton House, in The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell. ed. H. M. Margoliouth. 2d edn., 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), 1:59-83. All subsequent citations will be to this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text by line number.
(2.) Christopher Kendrick. "Agons of the Manor: 'Upon Appleton House' and Agrarian Capitalism," in The Production of English Renaissance Culture, ed. David Lee Miller, Sharon O'Dair, and Harold Weber (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 13-55, 28.
(3.) Carol Thomas Neely, "Shakespeare's Women: Historical Facts and Dramatic Representations," in Shakespeare's Personality, ed. Norman N. Holland, Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989), pp. 116-34, 126, citing Lisa Jardine's work.
(4.) Shirley Nelson Garner, "A Midsummer Night's Dream: 'Jack shall have Jill; / Nought shall go ill,'" WS 9 (1981): 47--63, 59.
(5.) Lorraine Helms, "The Saint in the Brothel: Or, Eloquence Rewarded," SQ 41, 3 (Fall 1990): 319--32, 331.
(6.) Patsy Griffin, "'Twas no Religious House till now': Marvell's 'Upon Appleton House,'" SEL 28, 1 (Winter 1988): 61--76; Peter Schwenger, "'To Make His Saying True': Deceit in Appleton House," SP 77, 1 (Late Winter 1980): 84--104.
(7.) James Holstun, "'Will You Rent Our Ancient Love Asunder?': Lesbian Elegy in Donne, Marvell, and Milton," ELH 54, 4 (Winter 1987): 835--67, 848--9. Michael Morgan Holmes observes more generally that "Perhaps the most dissident aspect of Marvell's poem is the fact that Isabel is never given a voice" ("The Love of Other Women: Rich Chains and Sweet Kisses," in Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, ed. Marshall Grossman (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1998], pp. 167--90, 172).
(8.) Frank J. Warnke, "The Meadow-Sequence in Upon Appleton House: Questions of Tone and Meaning," in Approaches to Marvell; The York Tercentenary Lectures, ed. C. A. Patrides (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), pp. 234--50, 238.
(9.) Rosalie L. Colie, "My Ecchoing Song": Andrew Marvell's Poetry of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 213--4.
(10.) Isabel G. MacCaffrey, "The Scope of Imagination in Upon Appleton House," in Tercentenary Essays in Honor of Andrew Marvell, ed. Kenneth Friedenreich (Hamden CT: Archon Books, Shoe String Press, 1977), pp. 224--44, 239--40; T. R. Langley. "Upon 'Upon Appleton House' and Other Marvellous Matters," CritQ 40, 4 (Winter 1998): 18--38, 31.
(11.) "Brian Patton, "Preserving Property: History, Genealogy, and Inheritance in 'Upon Appleton House,'" RenQ 49, 4 (Winter 1996): 824-39; John Klause, The Unfortunate Fall: Theodicy and the Moral Imagination of Andrew Marvell (Hamden CT: Archon Books, Shoe String Press, 1983), p. 111.
(12.) Joan Hartwig, "Marvell's Metamorphic 'Fleckno,'" SEL 36, 1 (Winter 1996): 171--212, 189.
(13.) Langley, p. 27.
(14.) Kendrick, p. 23.
(15.) Schwenger, p. 90.
(16.) Griffin, p. 65.
(17.) Genesis 3:1 AV.
(18.) MacCaffrey, p. 229.
(19.) There is perhaps a small point of subversion in the fact that, although Fairfax removes Thwaites from the Marian representational economy of the nunnery, her descendants end up producing a corporeal Mary instead of a male heir.
(20.) M. J. K. O'Loughlin, "This Sober Frame: A Reading of 'Upon Appleton House,'" in Andrew Marvell: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. George deF. Lord (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), pp. 120--42, 125.
(21.) Holmes, p. 172.
(22.) See Patton for the legal and economic aspects. Holstun and Holmes discuss the feud in terms of sexuality and women's community.
(23.) Holstun, pp. 851--2.
(24.) "[A]nd Thestylis pounds for the reapers, spent with the scorching heat, her savoury herbs of garlic and thyme" [Virgil, "Eclogue II," Virgil, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. edn., 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935], 1:10-5, lines 10-1).
(25.) MacCaffrey, p. 233.
(26.) MacCaffrey, p. 234.
(27.) Here I differ from Kendrick, whose reading of this same moment, at which I argue that speaker and poet are most distinct, collapses them into one unproblematic persona: "Marvell unwittingly instigates a massacre of harmless and improvident rails" (p. 52).
(28.) Colie, p. 214.
(29.) O'Loughlin, p. 129.
(30.) Colie, p. 217.
(31.) Patton, p. 836.
(32.) Robert Markley, "'Gulfes, Deserts, Precipices, Stone': Marvell's 'Upon Appleton House' and the Contradictions of 'Nature,'" in The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550-1850, ed. Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, Joseph P. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 89-105, 99.
(33.) Kathleen Kelly, "Narcissus in Paradise Lost and Upon Appleton House: Disenchanting the Renaissance Lyric," in Traditions and Innovations: Essays on British Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. ed. David G. Allen and Robert A. White (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1990). pp. 200-13, 210.
(34.) Markley, pp. 100-2.
(35.) Markley, p. 99.