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Examination Of Women's Friendships Through An Analysis Of Katherine Philips' Friendship's Mystery

4274 words - 17 pages

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...

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