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EN949 Sexuality & Spirituality

NB - this module will not be available 2009-10

Tutor:  Elizabeth Clarke

Spring Term:  Thursday 10-12

This course investigates a fascinating phenomenon—the conceptual and verbal similarities between sexuality and religion in a period when Puritan thinking is dominant and the two areas of human experience are considered to be completely separate. The textual tradition of poems as ‘ejaculations’, begun by George Herbert, will be investigated, as will the trope of the mystical marriage, which is found everywhere in seventeenth-century discourse, whether in John Donne’s poetry or in political pamphlets. Diaries and journals will be examined for evidence of the expression of intimacy, whether spiritual or sexual. Courtly literature, in particular the masques and emblems of Charles I and Henrietta Maria’s reign, configures the relationship between sexuality and spirituality within a neo-Platonic scheme. The reaction to Puritan attitudes seen in libertine poetry of the Restoration such as that by the Earl of Rochester also has a surprising affinity to Christian spirituality. The relationship between gender and religion in women’s authorship is also important.

This course will not draw on modern theories of psychoanalysis but use a historicist approach to understand seventeenth-century attitudes to spirituality and sexuality. The tracing of changes in word definition will be crucial, as will an understanding of the theological movements in seventeenth-century England. Student participation will be required, and independent research will be a compulsory component.

Sexuality and Spirituality in Seventeenth-Century Writing: provisional programme

Week 1. The course starts with a consideration of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, in which both sexuality and spirituality are famously present. Sonnets 14, 17 and 18 will be considered in this session, as an introduction to both platonic and puritan versions of the intersection of spirituality and sexuality.

Week 2. The 'private ejaculations' which are the subtitle to George Herbert's volume of religious poetry 'The Temple' have caused some critical disagreement. Jonathan Goldberg in Voice Terminal Echo argues that his title page is 'a site of masturbation'. This view will be set against historicist accounts of 'ejaculations' and it is hoped that a lively discussion will ensue. Texts: 'Sighes and Grones,' 'Grief,' 'Jordan (i)', 'Jordan (ii),' 'A True Hymne,' 'Artillerie', 'The Method,' 'Love (iii).'

Over the next two weeks the class will conduct research on a term vital to early modern accounts of spirituality and sexuality; 'Motions'. --Lucretian motions --Hobbesian motions --Rhetorical motions --Spiritual motions --Aristotelian motions.

Week 3. In the 1630s court culture and Puritan culture polarised, leading up to the Civil War. This session looks at emblem books, and at two emblem books which dealt with the text of the Song of Songs: Henry Hawkins's Partheneia Sacra, one of the key texts of Henrietta Maria's court, and Francis Quarles's Emblemes. This session will feature detailed textual comparison of the two modes, looking for political, religious, and sexual differences between the two.

Week 4. In week 4 individual members of the class will feed back what they have discovered about ‘motions’ to the rest of the group.

Week 5. Andrew Marvell is one poet who in his pre-Restoration incarnation at least enjoyed mobilising discourses that were at the same time redolent of religion and sexuality. 'The Nymph Complaining' and 'The Garden' will be studied in great detail for the resonances employed by Marvell in his use of other discourses, and their effect on the meaning of the poems. Nigel Smith's 2003 Longman edition of Marvell is recommended.

Week 6. Katherine Philips has been claimed as a precursor by lesbian poets, but other critics argue that her poetry is drawing on discourses that are not primarily sexual. Drawing on prominent critics' arguments, this session will explore the critical implications of considering Katherine Philips' poetry to be essentially 'lesbian'.

Week 7. In the mid-seventeenth century, the intimate discourse of the Biblical Song of Songs became particularly characteristic of Puritan spiritual diaries. Extracts from the diaries of Samuel Rogers, Anne Venn and Mary Rich will be examined and the effect of this spiritual and sexual discourse on devotion considered.

Week 8. The female voice that dominates the Biblical Song of Songs inspired imitators amongst women writers, who were encouraged to write, in an otherwise hostile climate, with the Scriptural text as authority. This session looks at some of the uses of the Song of Songs by women poets throughout the century, such as Aemilia Lanyer, Anne Southwell, 'Eliza' and Julia Palmer, and considers the contribution of the spirituality of the mystical marriage to women's authorship.

Week 9. The Earl of Rochester is considered to be one of the most explicitly sexual poets in the whole of the literary canon, but Germaine Greer among others has argued that he is also one of the most spiritual of poets. This session examines the paradox of the libertine who had a Puritanical upbringing, and the narratives of his extraordinary deathbed conversion, considering the reliability of the poems as evidence for a construction of Rochester's attitudes.

Week 10. Elizabeth Singer-Rowe was a huge and early publishing success in the 1690s, from a nonconformist background. Her work represents the commercial success of a spiritual discourse which was also highly sexualised, and this session considers Sharon Achinstein's conclusion that her success is due to the annexing of the secular romance genre for religious poetry.