Women's Studies, Nov 1994 v24 n1-2 p15(15)
Feminizing vision: Andrew Marvell and female prophecy.
Abstract: Puritan poet-prophet Andrew Marvell's works 'The Garden' and 'Upon Appleton House' portrays women as important players in the struggle towards socio-historical redemption. His use of sexually ambiguous characters in his poems, particularly of women prophets, all served to elevate the female persona. However, they also reflect the unease entertained by Marvell and other Puritan reformers in the task of gender definition. Nevertheless, Marvell's works successfully narrow the gap between female and male discourse.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT Gordon and Breach Science Publishers S.A. (UK) 1994
In 1651, Oliver Cromwell expressed his sense of impending apocalypse when he urged John Cotton to tell him, "What is the Lord a-doing? What prophecies are now fulfilling?"(1) Cromwell was not alone in posing such questions. The belief that "a glorious Time [was] a coming" inspired intense speculation about the upcoming apocalyptic epoch on both sides of the Atlantic by writers with widely divergent religious and political allegiances.(2) In England, during the two decades of the Revolution, both royalists and radical sectarians strove to characterize the events of their own historical moment as ushering in the millennium prophesied in scripture.(3) Such a prophetic approach to history lent clarity and purpose to the present and made the future comprehensible and predictable, but it also had manifest political advantages: it enabled competing factions, and factions within factions, to characterize their partisan positions as universal, as participating in God's progressively unfolding grand pattern of human history and cosmic truth.
But while writers of all political and religious convictions tried to justify or condemn revolution and regicide as demonstrations of a divinely inspired pattern of salvation or retribution, not all prophetic roles were equally compelling to the competing royalists and sectarian factions. Unlike their royalist counterparts, the radical sects attributed divine inspiration to those outside of and excluded from traditional arenas of political power and religious authority; women and artisan "tub-preachers" became newly recognizable as public authorities, chosen instruments of God's words, perfect embodiments of the anti-traditional society that sectarians hoped their rebellion against monarchy and the established church would usher in.(4)
The new prominence of women visionaries was also a function of the various and often conflicting gender ideologies shaping Puritan perceptions of the prophetic role. For many Protestants, prophecy was, as Phyllis Mack points out, "a feminine activity, whether or not the actual prophet was a man or woman."(5) But while this linkage between prophecy and the feminine helped sectarian women to acquire new forms of public presence and authority, it nevertheless issued from and helped to sustain the constellation of very conventional anti-female assumptions underpinning Puritan perceptions of the nature of women. For most radical sectarians, it was women's divinely dictated inferiority, ignorance, receptivity, and openness that specifically elected them to be specially chosen agents of God's Word. Puritan celebrations of women's "lowliness majestic"(6) helped to elevate women into divinely appointed authorities, but it also reinforced traditional anti-female views of the nature of "women."
The Belgian prophet Antonia Bourginon's efforts to defend female prophesying permit a useful encapsulation of the ideological contradictions that governed Civil War reformulations of women's roles. Bourginon argues that "they ought to let God speak by Woman, if it be his Pleasure, since he spoke in former times to a Prophet by a Beast."(7) Her choice of scriptural example is revealing. Instead of the more clearly positive images of powerful female prophets like Deborah, Jael, or Miriam, Bourginon sanctions Women's prophesying by alluding to the story in Numbers of how King Baalam comes to understand God's Word through the divinely inspired voice of his ass (which in the King James version is distinctly gendered female). If in alluding to Baalam's ass Bourginon corroborates conventional anti-female assumptions of female inferiority by linking women with beasts, she also subverts anti-female convention by reWriting women's lowliness as a divinely inspired mark of their spiritual elevation. "Is there any thing," Bourginon asks, "meaner, weaker and more contemptible in the esteem of the World, in the matter of Doctrin than a Maid?"(8) For her, female meanness and weakness offer irrefutable signs of invulnerability to the corrosive effects of worldly esteem and profit, and hence they uniquely qualify women to serve as prophets. But while this innovative reinscription of despised female nature helps Bourginon to reconstruct "woman" as a divinely appointed vessel of God's Word, it does not eradicate enduring masculinist presumptions of female inferiority, upon which women's new authority as prophets, however forceful its social and cultural impact, remained contingent and by which it was limited and contained.
The Civil War and Commonwealth years in short did not reform, and in fact deeply reinforced, traditional anti-female assumptions. Nevertheless, Puritan elevation of feminine lowliness into a basic condition of prophetic insight did prove, at least superficially, advantageous to sectarian women: women's published writing increased dramatically during this period; women took on prominent roles in church government; they publicly asserted their political rights, and preached and prophesied before parliament with great authority. Although ridiculed and condemned not only by those hostile to the sectaries but also by the sectaries themselves, sectarian women prophets became a visible and influential presence on the public stage. Paradoxically, women's elevated status as humble but chosen instruments of God's Word - while a function of traditional anti-female assumptions - helped to shape a new feminized model of authority that undermined, or at least loosened, the rigidly patriarchal structures of Jacobean and Caroline power. Through the figure of the woman prophet, the sectarian challenge to traditional forms of power was intertwined with a proliferation of the possible gender positions open to both sexes. If it helped women to achieve prominence in what had hitherto been exclusively male roles, the loosening up of conventional gender categories epitomized by women's prophesying pushed male sectaries toward adopting a feminized identity and symbolic womanhood as a sign of their opposition to monarchy as well as their hopes for personal redemption and divine inspiration.
While spiritual feminization was rehearsed by many different kinds of male Puritan writers, it was especially compelling to those who styled themselves as prophets. This essay will examine the ways in which prophetic identity is gendered by one of the Civil War's most notable Puritan poet-prophets, Andrew Marvell. I shall show that in "The Garden" and Upon Appleton House Marvell creates prophetic personae that incorporate and elevate the feminine, but that also register his fears about the dissolution of traditional gender definition produced by the spiritual feminization associated with prophetic insight.
Marvell's sometimes anxious, sexually ambivalent constructions of the prophetic role also inscribe the more general unease about gender definition shared by many radicals that was fueled in large part by a fundamental ambivalence about patriarchal authority, especially as dissociated from the person of the king. With the execution of Charles I, many supporters of parliamentarian and sectarian causes welcomed the demise of monarchy and the rigidly hierarchican implications of its patriarchal model of authority; but if most radicals could envision a regendering of the male body politic, few were ready to embrace a radical refashioning of traditional gender roles and the complete dismantling of the cultural mechanisms of masculine supremacy that such roles help to sustain. N. H. Keeble's comment that "despite her republican repudiation of monarchy, patriarchy remains for Lucy Hutchinson the natural order of things" is apt, not only as an assessment of Hutchinson's conflicting political and gender ideologies, but as an account of the broader contradictions underpinning the larger radical sectarian worldview.(9) I shall try to show that it is precisely this kind of ideological ambivalence that unhinges the poetic constructions of prophetic identity in "The Garden" and Upon Appleton House.
In 1650, Lord Thomas Fairfax, in protest against the execution of the king, resigned from his position as commander in chief of the Parliamentary army and retired to his Yorkshire estates, Bilbrough and Nun Appleton. He took Andrew Marvell with him as a literary companion, and in 1651, appointed the poet tutor to his daughter, Mary. Between 1650 and 1653, Marvell lived outside the tumultuous centers of his nation's political turmoils in the quiet and rural isolation of Nun Appleton House - though his verse from this period clearly reflects his intellectual engagement with the revolutionary events of his time.(10) From a literary perspective, Marvell's years with the Fairfax family appear to have been most fruitful and creative. Scholars date two of his most enigmatic and richest poems to this period: "The Garden" and Upon Appleton House.(11) These two poems have received abundant attention from scholars and yielded interpretations too numerous and varied to review here.(12) Few of these readings, however, concentrate on Marvell's shifting constructions of the prophetic role, which is the focus of this essay.(13) Both poems also celebrate the idea of retreat, an idea embraced by royalist poets like Beaumont, Cleveland, and Lovelace, for whose Lucasta collection (1659) Marvell wrote a prefatory poem ("To his Noble Friend Mr. Richard Lovelace").(14) But while for royalists retreat (into a pastoral landscape, into a reintegrated self) provides a paradigmatic form of refuge from what Beaumont calls the "turbulence of these times," it offers Marvell an "off-stage" private site for rehearsing, and also questioning, the prophetic role - the role he publicly, if somewhat tentatively, assumes in such explicitly political Civil War poems as "An Horation Ode" and "The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector, 1655."(15)
Like those poems, Upon Appleton House attempts to set out an apocalyptic vision of the future based on a providential reading of contemporary events and circumstances. As Thomas Healy points out, "the narrator's celebration of the Fairfax family, and the reading of signs invested in the house and surrounding landscape, are ostensibly designed to reveal how family and environment are a unified text which inscribes a pattern of providential hope and renewal."(16) Most important to my discussion is the linkage Marvell establishes between Maria Fairfax and the salvationary history Appleton House encodes. Maria, partly paralleling the redemptive role that Milton's Eve recognizes as her own at the end of Paradise Lost, is the vehicle through which the providential script that Appleton House inscribes will be transcribed into natural events and human actions. Through her nature will revive its prelapsarian order and harmony: "But by her flames, in heaven tried,/Nature is wholly vitrified" (lines 687-88); by "suppl[ying] beyond her sex the line" (line 738) of Fairfax descendents, she is the medium through which humankind will be returned to a new Eden:
'Tis she that to these gardens gave That wondrous beauty which they have; She straightness on the woods bestows; To her the meadow sweetness owes; Nothing could make the river be So crystal pure but only she (689-94).(17)
Maria's role as the female agent of a redemptive future is made comprehensible through her classical and scriptural antecedents: Astraea and Mary.(18) But Marvell's representation of the "feminine" as a special medium of divine providence may also be understood as an historically specific, and, as I shall argue, critical response to the providential agency attributed to and claimed by radical women prophets, like Katherine Chidley, Anna Trapnel, Elizabeth Poole, and at least three hundred others, by Mack's count, who prophesied at least once during the Interregnum.(19) Marvell's Maria differs significantly from the women prophets contemporaneous with his poem, for she is never granted the authoritative voice (or indeed any voice at all) that makes women's prophetic discourse so remarkable and distinctive. But, as a conspicuously female medium through which a redemptive future based on scriptural patterns can be realized, she nevertheless emblematizes both women's new prophetic roles as (weaker) vessels of divine providence and the anti-customary public authority and power that female prophets both exemplified and exerted. Elizabeth Poole, for example, prophesied on two occasions, 29 December 1648 and 5 January 1649, before the General Council of the Parliamentary army: her audience included, among other army grandees, Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton.(20) For the more than twenty years between 1630 and 1653, Katherine Chidley achieved prominence as a lecturer in the separatist churches in and around London.(21) In 1653 she headed a group of twelve women who confronted the Barebones Parliament with a petition with the signatures of more than 6000 women in support of the Leveller John Lilburne.(22) Marvell might also have known Chidley as the object of the Reverend Thomas Edwards' famous attacks on radical religious thought and practice: she is singled out in his heresiography, Gangraena (1648), as a particularly noxious blasphemer. As the agent of divine providence, Marvell's Maria recalls, though with crucial differences, both the providential agency and unconventional authority of women like Poole and Chidley and the sectarian ideals of anti-customary power and polity that the figure of the female prophet embodied. Maria's providential role would thus seem to place Upon Appleton House in at least qualified sympathy with radical causes in ways belied by its ostensible aim in praising Lord Fairfax's resignation from the Parliamentary army and his retreat from the political sphere.
Marvell's celebration of Maria acknowledges, but, as we shall see, also undermines the distinctly female contours of providential agency and authority and the cultural power that accrued to women's prophetic roles. His recognition of the intimate link between prophecy and the feminine elsewhere in the poem is also fraught with ambivalences that register the conflicts within Puritan ideology that helped simultaneously to sustain, control, and ultimately discredit, the authority and power of female prophecy. Nowhere is his ambivalence about the feminine character of prophetic authority more acute than in his unstable and destabilizing constructions of his poetic narrator, whose triumphant prophetic vision of past, present, and future events in Upon Appleton House is called into question by Marvell's shifting representations of his prophetic identity.
These sexual ambivalences cannot, I believe, be fully appreciated without some prior discussion of those that emerge from Marvell's poetic persona in "The Garden," which, as noted above, was written contemporaneously with Upon Appleton House. "The Garden" does not set out the same kind of prophetic patterns that Upon Appleton House inscribes; but it offers an important enactment of self-annihilation and spiritual rebirth - a movement away from ego-based social goals and conventional manly labors and toward the merging of the self with God - that in many ways parallels the often traumatic process of becoming spiritually one with the deity preliminary to the prophetic experience. As Nigel Smith points out, "'self-annihilation' of the inner self, or ego, in order to become spiritually one with God, to let God into the individual's heart" was, for radical figures like the Dublin minister John Rogers and the Fifth Monarchist prophet Anna Trapnel, a necessary prerequisite to personal salvation and prophetic insight.(23) "And souls exalted in Christ are the more low and nothing in their own eyes," Rogers claims.(24) The effort to achieve unity with God through self-denial and self-annihilation was not only asserted but also performed by Anna Trapnel through her prophetic activities. Trapnel delivered her prophecies in fast-induced trances so severe that her senses completely shut down. The failure of her body either to function normally or to be shaken from its near-comatose state was interpreted by both herself and her followers as evidence of her spiritual union with God.(25) In one of the anti-Cromwellian visions that she recounts in The Cry of a Stone (1654), Trapnel demonstrates the communion of her soul with the deity by contrasting the menacing presence of Cromwell, who charges at her in the form of a bull, with the intimate, saving embrace that she received from Christ: "[Cromwell] ran at me, and as he was near with his horn to my breast, an arm and a hand clasped me round a Voice said, I will be thy safety."(26) Marvell's poem charts a series of withdrawals (from society, ambition, heterosexual desire, and the body) that similarly climaxes in the annihilation of the speaker's ego - and all of external reality as well - and in his recreation as a discarnate spiritual being both open to inspiration by divine influence and expectant of the saving embrace of the deity. The speaker achieves, in other words, a spiritual state that might be described as preparative to the receiving of prophetic insight and authority.
For Marvell, this receptive state is very specifically gendered as androgynous; it is identified with man's lost prelapsarian sexual integritas.(27) Drawing on neoplatonist, hermetic, and cabalist accounts of the hermaphroditism of prefallen man, Marvell associates openness to God's influence and union with the deity, two true marks of an authentic visionary experience, with man's perfect androgyny, which the creation of Eve destroyed:
Such was that happy garden-state, While man there walked without a mate: After a place so pure, and sweet, What other help could yet be meet! (57-60)
Marvell suggests that to become spiritually one with God, and so to achieve a state preparative to the receiving of God's word, men must regain their sexual wholeness by both spiritually appropriating female nature and avoiding physical, and especially sexual, contact and contamination from actual women's bodies.
The first four stanzas of the poem mark the speaker's retreat from the everyday world of men and, more importantly perhaps, of women. In stanzas 3 and 4, he condemns the cruelty and destructiveness implicit in the heterosexual passions of "Fond lovers" (19), passions that he exchanges for a sensuous relationship with plants, trees, fruits, and flowers, whose "beauties . . . exceed" (22) those of all human mistresses. The speaker's intimate relationship with a nature world that is gendered as feminine, but that prevents any physical contact with actual women, marks the beginning of the speaker's spiritual feminization. At the center of his poem in stanza 5, Marvell breaks down the distinct boundaries of his speaker's traditional masculinity by granting him qualities conventionally associated with women: passivity, receptivity, and openness. He becomes the completely passive recipient of the garden's innocently sensuous pleasures and fruitful nurturing: "luscious clusters of the vine" (35) crush themselves upon his mouth, nectarines and peaches reach themselves into his hands, ripe apples fall without sinister effect about his head. The clear outlines of the speaker's persona become blurred with those of the garden, culminating in a merging of man and nature, or more precisely, of maleness and femaleness. The speaker's fusion of gender categories enables him in stanza 6 to appropriate and masculinize female procreative powers as a mental fecundity that not only recreates the female world of nature in its own male image, but also creates new imaginative worlds that annihilate the external world - "all that's made" (47). At the same time, the dissolution of clear gender boundaries marks the speaker as meta-physically boundary-less and hence open - a formlessness that erases the clearly defined parameters of his ego-based male self and allows him in stanza 7 to cast "the body's vest aside" (51) and send his soul, bird-like, toward heaven, toward eventual subsumption by the deity, and hence, the gaining of both grace and prophetic insight.
The speaker's process of self-annihilation and resurrection is, however, only suggested and not realized. His aborted spiritual rebirth brings a significant halt to the dissolving of the speaker's gender identity, which in effect cancels the process of his spiritual feminization. In the poem's last stanza, this road to redemption and inspiration becomes a road no longer open to postlapsarian men: "But 'twas beyond a mortal's share / To wander solitary there" (61-62). The speaker shifts his focus from "that happy garden-state" of the Edenic past to an actual formal garden in mid-seventeenth-century England that is planted by a "skilful gardener" (65), a literally fruitful collaboration between man and nature, a nature imaged not by alluring and fecund female plants and flowers, but by "the industrious bee" (69), the male drone. If "The Garden" does not deny the possibility of a providentially ordered universe, it registers serious reservations about the sacrifice men must make - self-annihilation and rebirth through spiritual feminization - to gain a vision of it. Despite his innovative feminizing of his poetic persona's masculine identity, Marvell in the end consigns male androgyny, and the prophetic vision of cosmic happiness, purity, and sweetness that it permits, to an idealized and forever closed-off past. Unlike the gardener's cultivated "dial," prophetic vision, if it could even be achieved in postlapsarian time, cannot convert the confusion of the real historical present into "sweet and wholesome hours" (66, 71).
Through the shifting outlines of its poetic narrator's prophetic identity, Upon Appleton House registers similar hesitations and anxieties about visionary experience. As Healy has argued, the poem, "details an unease about the poet's role as historical explicator and projector of the future."(28) For Healy this "unease" can be attributed to Marvell's skepticism about universal truths and about the ability of men of whatever religious sect or political party to comprehend and express them. Healy's argument represents an important account of the intellectual sources of Marvell's ambivalence about his own prophetic role, but it does not measure the degree of sexual anxiety that such ambivalence registers. Like "The Garden," Upon Appleton House links prophecy to the dissolution of gender boundaries, but it also stands back from and subverts the wider cultural implications suggested by this linkage.
If in "The Garden" only the possibility of prophetic insight is allowed to the speaker, Upon Appleton House clearly defines its poetic narrator as a prophet who "Out of these scattered sibyl's leaves" of Fairfax's trees "Strange prophecies my fancy weaves" (577, 578). A "thrice happy" reader of "Nature's mystic book" (583, 584), he finds in the Fairfax house and grounds reinscriptions of the glorious histories of Palestine, Greece, Rome, and England. For him, Appleton House marks the spot upon which classical, scriptural, and contemporary English promises of a redeemed future are, or will be, fulfilled. Appleton House thus resembles Romulus's "bee-like cell" (33-40), an association that suggests the powerful historical destiny of the Vere and Fairfax line. Walking through a parted "green sea," the "tawny mowers ... / Who seem like Israelites to be" (390, 388-89) serve to emblematize Fairfax's Mosaic role in leading England out of imperial bondage and to national redemption. The "flood" let loose by Denton's cataracts permits a refertilization similar to that produced by the Nile's annual deluge: "For now that waves are fall'n and dried, / And now the meadows fresher dyed" (625-26). The poetic narrator, taking refuge from the flood in the "double wood" of Fairfax and Vere, compares his sanctuary to Noah's ark, thus implying that the promise of the world's salvation and a new covenant between man and God will be fulfilled by the Fairfaxes (489-92).
The narrator's declaration of his prophetic role in stanza 73 is followed in stanza 74 by an account of his intimate relationship with a sensuous female Nature that bears a close resemblance to that experienced by the speaker in "The Garden." Having asserted his prophetic role, the narrator proceeds to chronicle the dissolution of the clear outlines of his sexual identity. Embroidered by oak leaves and crawling caterpillars, and licked, clasped, curled, and haled by ivy, he merges with a wood which is gendered female and becomes the passive recipient of its sensual pleasures and maternal comforts. So integral is his merger with nature - his spiritual fusion of maleness and femaleness - to the narrator's personal security and, I would argue, to his prophetic authority as historical interpretor and future projector of Fairfaxian destiny, that he implores the wood to bind, chain, and even crucify him to force his still unyielding masculinity into sweet but unwavering submission to the feminine:
Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines, Curl me about ye gadding vines, And, oh, so close your circles lace, That I may never leave this place: But lest your fetters prove too weak, Ere I your silken bondage break, Do you, O brambles, chain me too, And, courteous briars, nail me through. (609-16)
His passionate desire to fuse his distinctly male self with female nature is reiterated in stanza 80; the narrator surveys the river after the flood waters have subsided and finds it a curious kind of "crystal mirror," one that dissolves subject-object relations in much the same way that gender distinctions are dissolved by his merger with the wood. He responds to his mirroring river, "Where all things gaze themselves and doubt/If they be in it or without" (637-38), by becoming a river bank - "Abandoning my lazy side, / Stretched as a bank unto the tide" (643-44) - to hold the river and be held in its self-annihilating reflections.
With the appearance of "young Maria," however, the narrator arrests the process by which his masculine identity is both eroded and spiritually feminized. He vows to put away his "idle utensils" (649), his hooks, quills, and angles, but also his desires for self-obliteration and spiritual feminization, which he now condemns as shameful and dismisses as the "toys" belonging to "trifling youth" (652). In stanzas 82-95, he adopts what Nardo calls his "mature vision," but I would call his more conventionally paternal authority as Maria's tutor.(29) From this fixed male vantage point, female Nature no longer functions as the site of dissolving gender identity; what was previously "loose" in nature is, with Maria's entrance and the restoration of the narrator's clearly defined paternal role, now "recollect[ed]." The narrator now perceives fixed boundaries himself and the sensuous female world of nature. The narrator's celebration of Maria as the providentially chosen vehicle through which imperfect nature is restored to its prelapsarian perfection serves as a corrective to the dizzying and unstable perceptions of nature and self recorded in the earlier sections of the poem.
The narrator's tutorial persona also "corrects" the prophetic one he rehearses in those same earlier sections. In comparison to his more conventionally male role as Maria's mentor and eulogist, his sexually ambivalent prophetic persona comes to appear as a naive fabrication of extreme youth; the providential signs he has read into the Fairfax estate seem delusions. Instead of the fulfillment of classical and scriptural patterns, Fairfaxs retreat to Appleton House represents itself as a severely flawed narrative of national redemption. Marvell's poem, which begins as a celebration of Fairfax's retirement, ends by subtly critiquing royalist ideals of retreat. By diminishing the authority of his narrator's prophetic persona and of the providential scenario he creates, Marvell both registers his reservations about Fairfax's decision to distance himself from the new republican order and cautions his patron against acting according to royalist paradigms.
But if Marvell's reformulation of his narrator's prophetic role enables him to critique Fairfax's retreat from radical causes, it also registers some anxiety about radical reform. In arresting and, in effect, trivializing the process of gender dissolution that enables his narrator's acquisition of prophetic identity, Marvell cautions against the loss of conventional masculinity and the elevation of the feminine. The warning encodes his ambivalence about sectarian subversions of traditional forms of power, since these challenges to custom and convention enabled, and were enabled by, the proliferation of new, nontraditional gender positions such as those occupied by women prophets.
To be sure, as noted above, Marvell also appears to praise or at least recognize the kind of anti-customary power that women prophets both inscribed and exerted by making Maria the providentially chosen agent of a redemptive historical process. However, he also implicitly limits the new female authority to which Maria alludes by defining her as the object of the paternal vision and discourse that his narrator enjoys as tutor. In Maria, the narrator celebrates female agency, but he also denies female speech. When he does represent female speech, as in the "the subtle nuns" and the "bloody Thestylis," he does so only to underscore its unruly and subversive qualities. The nun's long speech, which emerges from her "smooth tongue," in the narrator's interpolated tale of Isabella Thwaites (stanzas 11-35), is the vehicle by which the dangerous seduction of false religion is enacted. Her speech is especially pernicious as the product of an exclusively female world and its threatening erotic implications of female community (the sisters sleep "As pearls together billeted,/All night embracing arm in arm" [190-91]). Thestylis in stanza 51 not only challenges the narrator's typological rendering of the mowers as Israelites, but turns it to her own bloodthirsty advantage by making his "saying" justify her greed: "But now, to make his saying true, / Rails rain for quails, for manna dew" (406-07). Both interventions of female voice dangerously evoke rebellion against male authority and threaten, not reform, but annihilation of the social order's existing patriarchal structures. Unlike the nuns or Thestylis, the silent Maria, under the narrator's tutelage, will play her proper generative role in redemptive history but, denied prophetic vision and discourse, she can neither gain insight into her divine election nor enlighten the larger community about the God-given destiny of which sheis an agent.
The limits of Maria's providential role and authority can be made even clearer by comparing her to Milton's enlightened, postlapsarian Eve. Unlike Marvell's Maria, Milton's Eve lends credibility and distinction to the figure of the woman prophet when she announces, in last words spoken by any character in Paradise Lost, her secure sense of her prophetic power and her central role in humankind's redemption:
. . . . . . . . though all by mee is lost, Such favour I unworthy am vouchsaf't, By mee the Promise Seed shall all restore. (12: 611-22)
Through this oracular Eve, Milton's post Civil-War epic renews lost sectarian promises of human renewal through female prophetic speech; in Upon Appleton House, Maria's silence articulates Marvell's ambivalence about the emerging new social order.
Upon Appleton House thus ends both poetically and ideologically in uncertainty - in "the dark hemisphere." It delivers a critique both of royalist idealism and radical republicanism and rebellion through its severely qualified praise of Fairfax's retreat and Maria's providential agency. But Marvell nevertheless does not search for a middle way. Instead, he suggests that no one way through the "rude heap" (762) that is the world can be made intelligible to men, "these rational amphibii" (774). Ironically, despite his best efforts to recontain the feminine within traditional structures of patriarchal power, Marvell's evident distrust of categorical political solutions coheres with, and newly sanctions, the sensuous scenes he constructs of dissolving gender categories in which his narrator attempts to claim a feminized prophetic identity.
Maria remains the poem's most vivid example of future hope, even though she also provides a cautionary reminder not to attempt or say too much. As a female vehicle of redemptive history, she both replicates and aggravates sectarian ambivalence to the feminine as a medium of providential authority and, therefore, as a potent sign of cultural power. If in shifting the focus of his poem from Fairfax to Maria, Marvell diminishes the traditional power of the patriarch and honors the anti-customary female authority of his daughter, the limitations he places on Maria's role, his denying her of speech and of prophetic insight, spring from the same investment in maintaining traditional gender categories shared by other Puritan reformers. Marvell's rendering of Maria, which embodies but greatly diminishes the special providential authority that Puritans associated with stereotypical female lowliness, innovatively reconstructs "woman" as a central force of social and historical redemption, even as it consigns her to obscurity in man's world and time.
1. Wilber Cortez Abbot, ed., The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934-47), 2: 482-83.
2. Thomas Goodwin, A Glimpse of Syons Glory (1641), quoted in Philip F. Gura, A Glimpse of Sion's Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1660 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1984).
3. See Achsah Guibbory, The Map of Time: Seventeenth-Century English Literature and Ideas of Pattern in History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Katherine R. Firth, The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain 1530-1645 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Edward W. Tayler, Milton's Poetry: Its Development in Time (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1979); C. A. Patrides, The Grand Design of God: The Literary Form of the Christian View of History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).
4. On prophecy and Puritanism, see Nigel Smith, Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640-60 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) and Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribner's, 1971), 128-46. Studies of sectarian women prophets include Phyllis Mack, "The Prophet and Her Audience: Gender and Knowledge in the World Turned Upside Down," in Reviving the English Revolution: Reflections and Elaborations on the Work of Christopher Hill, Geoff Eley and William Hunt, eds. (London: Verso, 1988); "Women as Prophets During the Civil War," Feminist Studies, 8.1 (1982): 19-45; Christine Berg and Phillipa Berry, "Spiritual Whoredom: An Essay on Female Prophets in the Seventeenth Century," in 1642: Literature and Power in the Seventeenth Century, Francis Barker, ed. (Essex, 1981), 37-54; Keith Thomas, "Women and the Civil War Sects," Past and Present, 13 (1958): 42-62; Ethyn Morgan Williams, "Women Preachers in the Civil War," Journal of Modern History, 1 (1929): 561-9.
5. Mack, "Women as Prophets," 24.
6. The phrase is Milton's from Paradise Lost, VIII, 42.
7. Quoted in Mack, "Women as Prophets," 23.
8. Antonia Bourginon, The Light of the World: A Most True Relation of a Pilgrimess, M. Antonia Bourginon, Travelling towards Eternity (London: 1969), xxxii.
9. N. H. Keeble, "'The Colonel's Shadow': Lucy Hutchinson, women's writing and the Civil War," in Literature and the English Civil War, Thomas Healy and Jonathan Sawday, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 199), 233.
10. Biographical studies of Marvell include Michael Craze, The Life and Lyrics of Andrew Marvell (New York: Barnes & Noble-Harper & Row, 1979); John Dixon Hunt, Andrew Marvell: His Life and Writings (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978); and Pierre Legouis, Andrew Marvell: Poet, Puritan, Patriot, rev. ed. (London: Clarendon, 1970).
11. Legouis, Poet, Puritan, Patriot, 19-20, 27-28; Anna K. Nardo, The Ludic Self in Seventeenth-Century English Literature (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), 117.
12. My own reading is indebted primarily to the discussion of "The Garden" and Upon Appleton House in Nardo, The Ludic Self in Seventeenth-Century English Literature, 116-31, and Thomas Healy, "'Dark all without it knits': vision and authority in Marvell's Upon Appleton House," in Literature and the English Civil War, 170-88.
13. For analysis of the prophetic implications of "The Garden" and Upon Appleton House different from my own, see Margarita Stocker, Apocalyptic Marvell: The Second Coming in Seventeenth-Century Poetry (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986), 46-66, 240-56.
14. On the idea of retreat in royalist verse, see Jonathan Sawdy, "'Mysteriously divided': Civil War, madness, and the divided self," Literature and the English Civil War, 127-43.
15. Joseph Beaumont, "The author to the Reader," sig. A4." Psyche: or Love's Mysteries (London, 1648).
16. Healy, "Marvell's Upon Appleton House," 174.
17. All references to Marvell's verse are from Frank Kermode and Keith Walker, eds., Andrew Marvell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
18. Critical assessment of Maria's role is quite varied. Stocker believes that Maria recalls "the character of Christ as the Prince of Peace," Apocalyptic Marvell, 60; Annabel Patterson compares Maria to Cromwell - "Dialectically she belongs with Cromwell, as a figure who will leave her public gardens to fulfil her dynastic obligation" - Marvell and the Civic Crown (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 109; Rosalie Colie links Maria to Britomart and Milton's Lady, 'My Ecchoing Song': Andrew Marvell's Poetry of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 246.
19. Mack, "Women as Prophets," 24.
20. Elizabeth Poole, A vision Wherein is Manifested the disease and cure of the Kingdome . . . (London, 1648) and An alarum of War Given to the Army, and to their High Court of Justice (so called) by the will of God (London, 1649). On Poole's prophetic activities, see Margaret George, Women in the First Capitalist Society: Experiences in Seventeenth-Century England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 98-101, and David Underdown, Pride's Purge: Politics in the Puritan Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 183.
21. On Chidley, see George, Women in the First Capitalist Society, 94-95, 54.
22. On women petitioners during the Civil War, see Ann Marie McEntee, "'The [Un]Civil sisterhood of Oranges and Lemons': Female Petitioners and Demonstrators," Pamphlet Wars: Prose in the English Revolution, James Holstun, ed., Prose Studies, 14.3 (1991): 92-111.
23. Smith, Perfection Proclaimed, 39.
24. John Rogers, Ohel or Beth-shemesh. A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, 1653), 413; also quoted in Smith, 39.
25. See Smith, 50-51.
26. Anna Trapnel, The Cry of a Stone, or a relation of something spoken in Whitehall by Anna Trapnel . . . (London, 1654), 13.
27. See Eugene R. Cunnar, "Names on Trees, the Hermaphrodite, and 'The Garden,'" in On the Celebrated and Neglected Verse of Andrew Marvell, Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, eds. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990), 121-38.
28. Healy, "Marvell's Upon Appleton House," 172.
29. Nardo, 128.
30. Merritt Y. Hughes, ed., John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957).