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Research Award Report by Sophie Shorland

I used this funding to visit Special Collections at the Brotherton library in Leeds. brotherton_library_interior.jpg

It enabled me to stay in the city for five days, spent viewing manuscript MS Lt q 32, which an attractive gold-tooled, calfskin volume containing the only surviving work of seventeenth century poet Hester Pulter. Her work was only discovered in 1992, so a great deal of scholarship remains to be done in order to contextualise, analyse and disseminate her work.


Being able to access the original document enabled me to read some marks and evidence of corrections that are not clear from either the digitised version, or the current printed edition of Hester Pulter’s complete work. These corrections are in her own hand, and therefore offer very important evidence of Pulter’s poetic process. As I am particularly interested in her language, it is incredibly important to work out which are Pulter’s deliberate corrections, and which features are in the scribe’s hand. Some of her corrections increase the repetition of particular words or phrases running through the poem (rather than excising repetition, as one might expect of the editorial process). This supports my thesis that Pulter’s poetry deliberately resists contemporary notions of ‘the right way to grieve’, instead repeating language to show the real form of grief, in which the bereaved often wishes to repeat information about the deceased. There is a gender distinction here: women generally talk through their grief, while men will more often retreat, spending time alone. In the short term, men can therefore often be seen publicly to be coping ‘better’ than women, but this approach can cause longer-term problems. Hester Pulter’s insistence on repeating her grief, and her use of rhetorical forms in which to articulate this grief, speak in a fascinating way to these gender differences. These ideas are based on therapeutic practices and cognitive behavioural science, and my current project attempts to position the two alongside a study of early modern rhetoric. I am planning to write this as an article for the journal Advances in Early Modern Rhetoric, and hope to have a draft version completed over the summer.

I have yet to attend the Literary Form After Matter conference at Queen’s College, Oxford, but I hope to develop these ideas further there. It is promising that this conference even exists, and hopefully signals a rejuvenated study of language. I give the undergraduate lecture and sometimes teach the seminars on Hester Pulter and Katherine Philips (another seventeenth century poet) every year at Warwick, and hope to incorporate this research into my pedagogical practice. Female writers like Philips and Pulter are often read biographically, so tying them into the issue of grief is a useful way for students to access the text, without needing to focus on the ‘homely’ or ‘domestic’ elements of their poetry.

I would also like to note how useful this grant was in terms of making connections, simply through being in a new place: I discovered a Calverley Road in Leeds, supporting an idea I have already stated in my PhD thesis about the Calverley family’s continued influence in the North of England long after the Renaissance. Similarly, the Brotherton Library’s special exhibition on Gipsy culture also provoked a new reading of a text I had been struggling with. The trip also had the unexpected benefit of being a complete break from worrying about the litany of other daily tasks. Being able to spend time in the beautiful Brotherton and see Leeds’ Victoriana at its best was a privilege.