Victoria E. Burke, “Collecting, Compiling, and Creating: Engaging with the Bible in Seventeenth-Century Women’s Manuscript Writing”

February 20, 2018

The next meeting of the Washington Area Group for Print Culture Studies 2017-2018 series will take place on Friday, March 2nd, from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in the Rosenwald Room (LJ 205), 2nd floor, Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Dr. Victoria E. Burke will deliver a talk entitled “Collecting, Compiling, and Creating: Engaging with the Bible in Seventeenth-Century Women’s Manuscript Writing.”

abstract from Prof. Burke:

In this talk I consider the ways in which women used the writing of religious authorities to create their own devotional manuscripts. Though they may at first glance appear to be quite derivative, I argue that these manuscripts—from collections of scriptural passages, to prayers, to meditations—are important forms of writing since they demonstrate how actively and distinctively women engaged with the literature, religion, and politics of their time. Taking as a focus the extensive occasional and biblical meditations of Anne Halkett (which survive in fourteen manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland), I compare Halkett’s methods (biblical analysis applied to contemporary politics, plus assured doctrinal interpretation) to other writers such as Sarah Cowper and Lucy Hutchinson. In analyzing Halkett’s meditations on biblical women such as Eve, the widow Anna, and Esther, preserver of the Jewish people, I argue that Halkett is just one of several women writers who, while largely orthodox in her celebration of women’s virtues, allows for a nuanced discussion of their behaviour and motives that shows a questioning intelligence at work. Seventeenth-century readers like Halkett could experience their religious practices as occasions for self-expression.

Victoria E. Burke is Associate Professor of English at the University of Ottawa. She has published widely on early modern women's manuscript writing, most recently on how late seventeenth-century women read Katherine Philips (published in the journal Women's Writing).She is a series editor for “Gendering the Late Medieval and Early Modern World” published by Amsterdam University Press and a member of the editorial board of the journal The Seventeenth Century. She is the inaugural winner of the Margaret P. Hannay Short-Term Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library, co-sponsored by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and the Folger, where she is carrying out research for the month of March. She is completing a monograph on the topic of seventeenth-century women’s manuscript writing, which investigates the processes of compilation and creation in religious and literary writing.