Textual Geographies: The Literary and Social Networks of Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645)
Intellectual Geography / Tuesday 6 September, 2011
Intellectual geography is a multivalent and evocative term, inviting us to reflect upon the spaces occupied by both a writer’s words and worlds. A writer’s text typically inhabits physical space on the page of a book, but also dwells in a more abstract series of spaces—intellectual, imaginative, intertextual, and spiritual, for example. The paratext, comprised of such elements as title-pages, tables of contents, dedications, epilogues, and indexes which reside in the textual hinterlands of a book, is, according to French theorists Gérard Genette and Claude Duchet, a threshold where two sets of codes merge: the social code as it relates to publicizing the author and the work, and the regulatory code which controls how a text is produced or read. Literally framing the principal text of a book, paratext both beckons the reader into the intellectual world of the writer and reaches out to the social world beyond.
In this paper, I explore the textual geography of middle-class Englishwoman Aemilia Lanyer’s 1611 Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in order to reconstruct her intellectual and social networks. A long poem on the passion of Christ, this text is striking because it was the first original poetry by a woman published in the seventeenth century; it included the first country-house poem printed in English; and, most significant for this paper, it was prefaced by eleven separate dedications to nine named noblewomen of the Jacobean court. These dedications, comprising a substantial portion of Salve Deus’s paratext, prove to be particularly rich terrain from which to investigate the encounters between Lanyer’s words and worlds. A useful tool by which to create a kind of piecework or bricolage of her social, literary, spiritual, and intellectual lives, they take us on a journey from the continental outposts of Marian exiles to the highest echelons of the English aristocracy via a network of aspiring middle-class court musicians and writers in early modern London.