Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Why Can’t You Be Like the Virgin Mary?"

Just a quick note on my current research on Ms. Bradstreet. I’m still reading and notating “Domesticall Duties,” the 17th-century marriage and family manual. It is very helpful for understanding just how marriage relationships worked. I’ve finished the lengthly “instructions for wives” section and am going through the almost-as-long “instructions for husbands" section.

I learned today that one common gripe that women had was that their husbands would get cheap on them during pregnancy and childbirth, even to the extremity of not wanting to provide a nice room for them to give birth in. [In the seventeenth century and through most of history, women gave birth at home or perhaps a midwife’s home; they did not go to the hospital.] And here’s the ultimate retort to the wife who wants to give birth in the cosy room at the midwife’s place rather than in her own drafty chamber: “Cannot my wife be brought to bed in a room without a chimney as well as the virgin Mary? Why should my wife need more things than she did?”

Now just how does a mother-to-be compete with the Virgin Mary?

Pastor Gouge rightly calls this an “inhumane and more than barbarous unkindness[.]” He has lots of cheerful things to say about both men’s and women’s attitudes and actions. Once I finish notating this tome (I’m on page 167 of 400 pages), I’ll talk more about how the opposing genders were supposed to get along with each other in that day, and how they actually did.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How I Drove to England

Somewhere in a quiet corner of England is St. Andrew’s church, standing as it has for a millennium or so. It's all that's left of the village of Sempringham where once upon a time an upper-class girl named Anne Dudley dipped into an Earl's library and began her love affair with books.

There was a manor house here once and it's driven me crazy, trying to find information on it. I just want to know: what did Anne see when she looked out a window? How many people could the Sempringham manor house accommodate? And concerning that cozy image that all of us interested in Anne Bradstreet have conjured up at one time or another -- young Anne curled up with a book in the Earl’s library -- was that library on the first floor or the second floor? Was it magnificent in its proportions, or small and cheerful? And so on.

I think its probable that the manor’s actual layout has slipped out of knowledge, unless a local
Lincolnshire history society comes through for me. So I settled on the easiest of the above questions to answer: what did Anne see when she looked out of a window? This area is described alternatively as flat, fenny, hilly and wooded by various sources. Perhaps I needed to go to England and see. Hmmm. As good an excuse as any. But that money issue . . .

Then I consulted a calendar and discovered it’s the 21st century. I hopped on to Google Map’s street view started driving all over Lincolnshire. Yes, folks, I drove almost to the
North Sea, all from the comfort of the big green chair in my living room. AND I drove on the correct side of the road, notwithstanding any local traffic regulations.

Now ain’t that a pretty town, above? That’s Billingsborough, between Pointon and Boston. I drove there last weekend. Note the dividing line is an annoying white instead of the correct yellow.

It took several tries to find the road that leads to the church (thank you, Google Map People, for driving down there), but I did at last.

And the answer to my question, “What did Anne see when she looked out of the window in 1628?"

She saw Iowa.

Unpave that road and take out the telephone poles -- and you’ve got it. Mostly flat, with some swells of land. Maybe there were some larger stands of trees and a few more sheep four hundred years ago, but it was mostly agricultural then -- and it’s mostly agricultural now. It looks like Iowa. So much for the romance of the past.