Speaking Silences: Lyric Poetry in the Narrative Strategies of Mary Wroth, Margaret Cavendish, and Jane Barker
Type of DegreeDissertation
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This dissertation is an exploration of how Mary Wroth, Margaret Cavendish, and Jane Barker co-opted Philip Sidney’s prose romance interpolated with poems, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. I explore how each writer uses her own poetry to fill silences and create alternative narratives in her prose fiction. In Arcadia, Sidney integrates poetry into the narratives as a means by which to explain motivations behind human behavior. Conjured by the heroines, poems enter these narratives as creations springing from the heroines’ need not only to express themselves emotionally and lament injustices, but also, crucially, to imagine worlds where they are not restricted as writers. Important for my reading of the narrative form of prosimetrum in these fictions is the theory that silence as a rhetorical technique provides women writers with a space to work both in and against conventional patriarchal discourses. Poems in prose fiction by Wroth, Cavendish, and Barker occur at moments when silence takes over the prose. Silence invades these romances as a testament to limitations faced by early modern women fiction writers as they attempted to express the experience of the woman writer. These silences speak forcefully to the ways in which early modern women writers found themselves restricted by patriarchal discourses. Poems then enter as recourse for female expression. Innovations in narrative discourses enable women writers to question available plots, support structures, and means of emotional expression. Furthermore, the space provided by narrative innovation gave women the power to transform that which they questioned and criticized into what they imagined the world should allow for them.