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MLA 2007

Modern Languages Association Convention 2007, Special Session 89

Social and Material Genres in Early Modern Life Writing - Abstracts Presiding: Julie Ann Eckerle, Univ. of Minnesota, MorrisExamining the Self in Early Life Writing,” Erica Longfellow, Kingston Univ. Erica Longfellow’s paper adds to recent scholarly efforts to understand the relationship between the self, emotional discourse and life writing in the early modern period. Using incidents recounted in one of Nehemiah Wallington’s manuscript notebooks and Elizabeth Isham’s manuscript ‘Book of Rememberance’, the paper posits that that the Calvinist concept of self-examination provided early modern writers with a discourse for expressing emotions that is noticeably different from modern autobiographical discourses. Although this language may not have expressed an individual subjectivity identical to our own, self-examination did provide a vehicle for an individual to construct her responses to God and events in her own life. Early modern individuals described these responses as their ‘inward’ part or self, opposed to the outward self known to and acting in the world. Far from remaining unrecorded or unconnected to individual identity, as some recent scholars have argued, such inward experiences were subjected to rigorous examination, for the benefit of the individual and the instruction of future generations. Nevertheless, early modern writers do not aim to present a unified self, as modern autobiographers do, but rather write with the goal of exposing and analysing precisely those moments when the self is forgotten, distracted or fragmented, that the workings of Providence might be discerned.“Pious Housewifery in the Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby,” Michelle Dowd, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro Michelle Dowd’s paper argues that the manuscript diary of Lady Margaret Hoby (1599-1603) offers a particularly rich and fascinating autobiographical narrative of the conjunction between personal spirituality and a housewife’s daily chores. The brief, but saturated accounts of Hoby’s domestic practices that comprise her diary both document her daily labors and position that work within a larger spiritual narrative, a narrative that is to a large extent necessitated by the genre of the spiritual journal in which she writes. By carefully examining the rhetorical techniques that Hoby uses throughout her diary, this paper explores the textual methods by which she creates an authoritative “self”. Her journal provides a medium in which both the invisible processes of introspection and the physical acts of housewifery can take new, material forms. As a result, the diary participates in a larger cultural and discursive process whereby the housewife’s subjectivity comes to be associated with her successful management of both her domestic duties and her own soul.‘som other nots’: Augustine, Audience and Revision in Elizabeth Isham’s ‘Booke of Rememberance’ (c.1639). Alice Eardley, Warwick Univ. Alice Eardley considers a manuscript recently brought to light in the Northamptonshire Record Office by Erica Longfellow. This text is a rough draft of the presentation volume of Elizabeth Isham’s ‘Life’ or ‘Booke of Rememberance’ (c. 1639), complete with revisions, corrections, additions and all the other markings of a text in progress. A comparison of these two versions of Isham’s ‘autobiographical’ text not only sheds light on Isham’s own composition practices, it also contributes new evidence to recent arguments put forward by scholars working within the field of early modern women’s life-writing, specifically the emphasis they place on the constructed nature of women’s autobiographical narratives. Taking Isham’s conception of ‘audience’ as the main focus of the paper, Eardley considers the revisions Isham made to her text in light of the specific material conditions within which she was writing. Firstly she addresses the influence that St Augustine’s Confessions had on Isham’s decision to address her text both to God and to her family. Eardley then considers the way in which social conventions and familial loyalties disrupted Isham’s aim to present the absolute truth of her life to God. The discrepancies between the two versions of Isham’s text reveal the ways in which the conflict between two different sources of material influence, specifically her reading and the domestic setting in which she was writing, had a significant impact on the way she chose to construct her own life.