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LIT 4386 British and American Literature
by Women

Class 4

Reading Assignment:

    Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity ... (106)

    Class Objectives:

  • To Introduce Mary Rowlandson
  • To discuss the captivity narrative and the colonial American context
  • To analyze the issues of gender the Rowlandson's writing

Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Backgrounds for Mary Rowlandson (1636-1711)

What do we know of Mary Rowlandson's personal history?

Born in England, Father wealthy landowner, mother outspoken Puritan;
Married the new minister of the new town of Lancaster // achieved status
Not much is known about the time before and after her three month captivity (compare this to Woolf’s problem about historical lapses.)

Major issues that affect her story:
Puritanism – what is it? (Calvinism; not good works, not faith, The Elect)
Colonialism -- English settlers of New England / frontier realities
Metacom’s war – what tensions led to the war between the settlers and a group of native American tribes (Wampanoag, Nipmucs and Narragansetts)?


2. From A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson

What form of literature is it?

The original title of the work was: The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Why do you think the editors of the anthology changed the title?

What does Rowlandson’s original title tell us about her intentions in writing the book? Why is this important for studying women’s literature?

What style is the writing?
Consider page 106 through first Biblical verse.

What is the significance of this style? (How does it compare, for instance, with the poetry of Aphra Behn, being written at the same time, across the ocean?)

What role does her audience play in the construction of her tale?

Why is the Bible so important to Rowlandson? What role does the Bible play in her narrative? See for example the passage on Jacob on page 108.

What does this quote mean? How does it reflect on Rowlandson’s situation? How does it reflect on Rowlandson as a person? How does it reflect on Rowlandson as a writer?

Note that this is the first published narrative by a woman in the American colonies (Bradstreet had published her poems prior). It was also immensely popular. However, it was originally intended for private use in her family.

First published in Cambridge 1682 (part of Increase Mather’s campaign to prove the salvation of god through remarkable salvation narratives?) Published again the same year (it was packaged with her late husband’s last sermon). It has been in print since 1770.

Have we read the whole or only an excerpt?


3. Gender and the construction of the narrative

How does gender shape the text that we have read for today? (Consider everything from the content to the author to the style to its appearance in print).

What does Rowlandson’s experience as a captive and an author tell us about seventeenth-century women?

Did you learn anything about women’s experience from Rowlandson’s narrative?

How does this differ from your expectations about women’s early writing?

How does this differ from Woolf’s account of women writing?

Would you consider this literature? By what standards would you judge this?

How do we account for its popularity?

What is uniquely female about Rowlandson’s narrative – or, how might this differ if written by a man?

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