Examination of Women's Friendships through an Analysis of Katherine Philips' Friendship's Mystery:
To My Dearest Lucasia
When readers reflect on the poetry of the seventeenth century, poets such as John Donne and the
Metaphysicals, Jonson and the Cavaliers, and John Milton often come to mind. The poetry crosses over
various boundaries of Neoplatonic, Ovidian, and Petrarchan forms, for example, often with many
references to women filling the lines. Described as helpless creatures, seventeenth century women were
often shut out from all possibilities of power, and they were generalized into four categories: virgins,
women to be married, married, and widowed. In the state of marriage, women were forced to be the
submissive, powerless objects of their husbands. Equality and balance within their marriages were of no
concern to men of the seventeenth century. Out of the oppressive setting of the seventeenth century
arose very few women poets; however, Katherine Philips not only became a poet, but she also displayed
her will to survive by responding to the negativity that surrounded the lives of females, especially the
oppression of women in marriages. By focusing on the importance of friendships between women
Philips used her poetry, specifically "Friendship's Mystery: To My Dearest Lucasia," as an outlet to
critique the misogyny and misrepresentations of marriages put forth by male poets, such as John Donne,
and the oppressive social settings of the seventeenth century.
In order to better understand Philip's critique of Donne within the lines of her poetry, a reading
of twentieth century critic Adrienne Rich's essay "When We Dead Awaken: Writing for Re-Vision" may
offer a possible theoretical reasoning for Philip's approach. Rich explains readers must challenge the
accepted, predominantly white male canon of literature. In her essay, Rich expresses "[t)hat the
argument will go on whether an oppressive economic class system is responsible for the oppressive
nature of male/female relations, or whether, in fact, patriarchythe domination of males-is the original
model of oppression on which all others are based" (35). Rich further develops this point by suggesting
that 11[r]e-vision-the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new
critical direction-is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival" (35).
When reading Philips in light of Rich's essay, the reader realizes that Philips was writing for "re-vision"
long before the concept was coined by the critic. According to Rich, "Until we can understand the
assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for
women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the selfdestructiveness of
male-dominated society" (35). Apparent in Philips' alterations of...