“I beegan, to ourloke this Booke . . . .” These words are written by Lady Anne Clifford on the title page of her copy of John Selden’s Titles of Honor (1631), which is featured in the first case of our new exhibition Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700 , opening on February 3rd.
Not only did she “read” and “overlook” her book, she also made sure that her secretaries marked the passages of particular interest to her, and sometimes she went back herself and made a note. Lady Anne was a great reader, but she is only one of a number of women who marked up their books in different ways, and it was fun to see them come together while I was preparing the exhibition.
Many women simply laid claim to a book by writing their name in it, but sometimes the placement of the name was important. Though Dorothy Wylde wrote her name several times in the front of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1593), she felt moved particularly to inscribe it on a blank page facing the dedication to Philip’s sister, Lady Mary Sidney: “Dorothy Wylld her booke/ 1645” looks boldly across the page at “My Deare Lady And Sister, The Countesse Of Pembroke,” linking two women readers of this prose romance designed for a female audience.
In a romantic gesture, the mother of Philip and Mary Sidney wrote her initials, name, and several lines of verse in a copy of Edward Hall’s Union of the two noble . . . famelies of Lancastre [and] Yorke (1548). Mary Dudley married Henry Sidney in 1551 and together they inscribed the volume in the same year. Henry’s Latin verses, written above Mary’s, are from classical school texts; her verses, written below in English, are from popular proverb literature.
Here is a transcription of what Mary wrote:
To Whyshe the best and fere the Worst
are to [ie, two] pointes of the Wyese
To suffer then Whatt happen shall
That man is happe thryese 1551
Some women made corrections in texts that they wrote themselves; these texts might be in manuscript or in print. Thus, around 1615 or so, the granddaughter of Mary and Henry Sidney (and the niece of Philip and Mary), Lady Mary Wroth, carefully wrote out her sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, correcting herself along the way. For example, in the lines from Sonnet 42, “I, ame the soule that feeles the greatest smart;/ I, ame that body lives deprived of hart,” she crossed out the last five words and wrote over them, “hartles trunk of harts depart” (perhaps not the most felicitous correction!).
Both Lady Anne Southwell and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, made corrections in their manuscript verse that had been copied out by others. Lady Anne Southwell’s poetry appears along with family receipts, letters and a book list in a miscellaneous volume copied by various members of her household from about 1587 to 1636, the year of her death. Here she makes corrections in her angular, scratchy italic hand to a long poem on the Ten Commandments.
Anne Finch’s husband, Heneage, copied out a large manuscript of her poems and plays in a legible hand, to which she made corrections, sometimes by crossing out and writing in or at other times by pinning a piece of paper over the faulty text.
Finally, two writers featured in the exhibition marked up copies of their own printed books. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, customarily made corrections in ink or by using paste-overs in copies of her books that she was giving to friends, as we discussed in a recent post. Her older contemporary, Eleanor Davies, Lady Douglas, is one of the most unusual of all the women featured here. After experiencing a vision of the Day of Judgment in 1625, she associated herself with the Old Testament prophet Daniel and began writing and publishing many short prophetic tracts. A number of them were collected and bound together by her daughter Lucy Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. Many of the tracts show Davies’ annotations, written in a distinctive hand with dark ink, as new ideas suggested revisions for future publication. It is obvious that Davies thought of her writings as works-in-progress, even after their publication, as with this piece:
We invite you to comment on the ways in which these women marked their texts, or on any others you may have found in your own research.