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Isaac Stephens, ''Imboldened' by Saint Augustine'

'Imboldened' by Saint Augustine: The Influence of the Confessions on Elizabeth Isham



Isaac Stephens, University of California, Riverside





 In 1639 Elizabeth Isham, daughter of Sir John Isham of Lamport Hall, spent the better part of a year writing her “My Booke of Rememberance,” a spiritual autobiography that is a testament of her godly piety. With its production, she joined other individuals with a similar Calvinist religiosity who wrote comparable documents in seventeenth-century England. My paper examines Elizabeth’s motivations for the production of her “My Booke of Rememberance,” arguing that Augustine’s Confessions was both an influence and literary model for her life-writing. In general, Elizabeth’s autobiography shares stylistic and thematic similarities with the Confessions. She also extensively referenced and quoted from Augustine’s work, further illustrating the importance his Confessions had on her autobiography. Moreover, there is direct evidence in Elizabeth’s “My Booke of Rememberance” that Augustine’s Confessions inspired her to take up the quill and write about her life. Combined, all of this evidence cautions us from fully accepting the position of scholars, like Mary Mason and Estelle Jelinek, who have de-emphasized the influence of Augustine on the development of women’s autobiography. Elizabeth Isham is also a case example of the importance that Augustine’s Confessions could have in the shaping and expression of a godly gentlewoman’s personal piety in the seventeenth century.