«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
In the writings of her contemporary, the Ursuline missionary Marie de l’Incarnation, we find that the shift from custom to education also provides the rhetorical basis for imperial expansion through the assimilation of aboriginal populations.86 Like Bradstreet, de Marie de l’Incarnation was born Marie Guyart in Tours in 1599. At the age of seventeen she married a master silkworker, Claude Martin, at her parents’ behest and contrary to her own desire to become a nun.
A mere two years later, de l’Incarnation would be both a mother and a widow, moving in with her sister and brother-in-law in 1625 in order to manage their burgeoning import/export business. De l’Incarnation’s religious fervor, however, had hardly weakened, and, after a series of religious visions, she became an Ursuline nun in 1631. At that time her son, named Claude after his father, was only eleven years old, and he communicated his distress at being left by her through his actions: running away from home, appearing at the monastery to demand her return, and even getting himself expelled from boarding school. Soon after the completion of her novitiate, de l’Incarnation expressed a desire to engage in missionary work, ultimately receiving permission to travel to Canada in order to establish a teaching mission in Québec;
meanwhile her son remained in France, receiving a religious education, and becoming a Benedictine soon after his mother’s arrival in Canada. De l’Incarnation died, in Québec, in 1672, having spent a full thirtythree years in her mission to educate Native American girls and convert them to Christianity. In the dozen years following her death, her son published a series of works containing her writings: La vie in 1677, Lettres in 1681, Retraites in 1682, and, finally, L’école sainte in 1684. There has been a good deal of debate over the significance of the editorial changes Martin made to his mother’s manuscripts, with modern editors like Irene Mahoney lamenting “his tampering with the style and at times even with the structure of l’Incarnation struggles to symbolically link the demands of family with those of religion, but unlike Bradstreet she maintains the integrity of the family by symbolically extending it. Thus in her writings de l’Incarnation portrays the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) as the ideal expression of a spiritual and sensual relationship that transcends the biological connection between mother and son. She then uses this reconception of family in order to characterize her relationship with her Native American pupils, depicting them in her writings as her spiritual children. Thus de l’Incarnation, like Bradstreet, situates education within the family, but expands the conception of family to include anyone who takes part in the educational process, thereby justifying the religious—and national— conversion of Native Americans.
If traditional scholarship on both of these authors singles out the domestic in their writing—and this is indeed the case with de l’Incarnation as well, with Réal Ouellet, a prominent French-Canadian literary critic, emphasizing how her texts “ne relatent pas l’aventure, mais la dure vie quotidienne des débuts” (14)87—we should hardly be surprised: this is precisely what Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation intend their readers to do.
The relationship between family and education that they produce in their writings derives its power from the literalization of their metaphors; it may seem strange to baldly state that the nuclear family is the nation, or religion for that matter, but that is the effect of his mother’s writing” (Selected Writings 39). My own comparison of the modern editions of Dom Jamet, based wherever possible on recovered manuscripts, and those of Martin suggest that the vast majority of differences are superficial, though there are a couple of notable omissions in his La vie that appear when it is compared to de l’Incarnation’s biographical Rélation of 1654. See Natalie Zemon Davis’ Women on the Margins for a thorough and even-handed discussion of several of these differences; see also Mahoney’s edited translation of de l’Incarnation’s Selected Writings 150, note 11.
“They do not relate adventures, but the difficult daily life of the first settlers” (Translation mine).
much contemporary sociology and anthropology, not to mention psychoanalysis. All of the human sciences, as we now term them, take the family (and, more broadly, kin relations) as the ur-institution which grounds all other cultural institutions—as Stephen Greenblatt hints when he states that “kinship arrangements … are crucial indices of the prevailing codes governing human mobility and constraint” (229-30)—if not explaining the very emergence of culture itself. By invoking parents as social models, Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation offer a model for those disciplines that follow in their wake. That said, the power of this invocation, as Greenblatt himself implies, lies in these authors’ ability to use this figure to bridge the gap between the ideal and the actual. While their texts give us a glimpse of an emergent conceptual opposition between nature and culture—poles that can only be bridged by the family, or at least the invocation thereof— their method remains resolutely grounded in the logic of accoutumance (or “accustomization”) articulated by Montaigne, echoed by Shakespeare, and then again by Pascal. Repeat something often enough and it will become a second nature.
“A TRUE INSTRUCTER TO HER FAMILY”In “DissemiNation,” Homi Bhabha identifies two opposing modes of signification at work in the articulation of national identity—the pedagogical and the performative. The pedagogical, Bhabha states, is characterized by its “continuist, accumulative temporality,” while the performative is “repetitious” and “recursive” (297). Bhabha further suggests that the role of the performative, in his practice, is to “open up … a space of cultural signification” that makes it possible to represent “those residual and emergent meanings and practices that [Raymond] Williams locates in the margins of the contemporary experience of society” (299). The power of the performative, in other words, is that it interrupts the continuous narrative of pedagogical time, producing a disjunctive temporality that allows for the emergence, or preservation, of alternative representations of national identity.
Bhabha’s opposition, though it comes from his analysis of the representation of the modern nation-state, is useful to us here because it clarifies the difference between Bacon’s conception of education and those of Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation, and thereby allows us to better understand the implications of their gendering and domesticating of custom. Where Bacon emphasizes education as the product of a scientific method based on inductive logic—“I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception” (New Organon 34)—Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation conceive of education as a process in which correct behavior is modeled and then imitated. In a letter to her nephews, for example, de l’Incarnation instructs them that “[l]e vray moyen de vivre dans ce haut état [l’état de grâce] … c’est d’observer Ses commandemens, de frequenter souvent les Sacremens & de regler vos moeurs sur les exemples de JESUS-CHRIST” (Correspondance 129).88 Thus, while Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation hardly espouse the overt theatricality of Morton and Lescarbot, their writing is, in Bhabha’s terms, “The true way to live in this high state [the state of grace] … is to observe His commandments, to partake often of the Sacraments, and to measure your mores against the example of Jesus Christ” (Translation mine).
“performative,” inasmuch as it relies on the power of an iterative representational strategy to produce collective identity.
Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation’s rhetorical performances may be more like those of Lescarbot and Morton than they initially seem, since both develop a new way of writing about identity in order to argue that they are in fact preserving an existing, traditional identity. This similarity points to the larger blind spot at work in the critical reception of Bradstreet’s poetry in particular. Adrienne Rich, in her foreword to Jeannine Hensley’s 1967 edition of Bradstreet, posits a split between Bradstreet’s early, masculine and derivative, verse and her later, more successful, domestic poetry (xii-xiv). This division, since supported by numerous critics, draws its rhetorical strength from an equation of the vitality of Bradstreet’s later, domestic poems with their putative originality and authenticity, what Rich calls her “personal history [of] marriage, childbearing, [and] death” (xiv). Though Rich’s intent is to claim Bradstreet as a proto-feminist whose work helped to establish female experience as a fit subject for poetry, this reads like a rather more sexist formula: women should write about the private world they know—family and household—rather than the public realm of politics and history.
The political tenor—sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit—of much of Bradstreet’s and de l’Incarnation’s writing puts the lie to this formula. Still, their regendering of the discourse of colonial identity has significant effects. Firstly, it shifts attention away from the hierarchical, even divisive, class identities that remain so central to Morton and Lescarbot by taking politics out of the sphere of male competition. Then it positions a particular religious orthodoxy as a means to secure communal integrity. And, finally, it organizes the discursive connections between national politics, religion, and collective identity around the figure of the mother instructing her children in proper moral behavior.
Of Bradstreet’s poems, “The Author to Her Book” is most frequently cited as the crucial poem that divides the early poetry from the later. Wendy Martin holds it forth as proof that “she now views her daily experience as a valid subject for her art” (67). Reading this poem alongside Alsop’s “Author to His Book,”, however, foregrounds its political resonances, making it possible to read this poem as part of Bradstreet’s ongoing concern about the relationship between Old and New England. Bradstreet, like Alsop, characterizes her book as a child of unspecified gender and sex. Further like Alsop, Bradstreet worries about her book’s public reception by the critics, all the more so since her poetry was first “expos’d to public view” without her consent, having been published in London from a manuscript copy secreted across the Atlantic by her brother-in-law, John Woodbridge (177). Woodbridge even acknowledges, in his “Epistle to the Reader,” that Bradstreet “resolved [these poems] should never in such a manner see the sun” (Bradstreet 526). While Woodbridge’s “such manner” implicitly refers to the act of publication, Bradstreet’s “Author to Her Work” exhumes another possible meaning by insisting on her attempts to “amend” her book-child’s “blemishes” before she returns it to public view and suggesting that her resolution is not against her poems’ publication, but rather against their appearing in public before they have been properly educated (178).
Where Woodbridge’s “Epistle” aims to depoliticize the publication of Bradstreet’s poetry by downplaying her authorial role, Bradstreet repoliticizes it on her own, domestic terms, offering us a crash course in what we might call “poetic pedagogy.” Thus, while Bradstreet expresses much of the same shame as Alsop at her “ill form’d offspring,” she owns up to her maternity and takes the book-child in, rather than casting it out (177).
Further, Bradstreet insists on the possibility of improving her book-child by “stretching [its] joynts to make [it] even feet” and “dress[ing]” it “in better trim” (178). These puns provoke a series of reinforcing associations: the appropriate gait and attire of a respectable English person overlap with the appropriate meter and diction of English poetry, producing a figurative evocation of a text that knows how to behave itself.
Bradstreet, in amending her poetry, teaches it its manners, but she also teaches us something about the role of education in governing the transatlantic relationship between the metropole and the colony: to be properly English, the colonists have to reproduce proper English customs, and in order to reproduce those customs, they have to model them for their children to imitate in their turn.
To draw out the political and religious implications of this poem, we need to pay attention to its rhetorical constructedness—precisely the puns, metaphors, and other figures that are apt to be dissolved into the authentic, literal voice that Rich and others find in Bradstreet’s later verse. Rather than reading this poem as a crux between two phases in Bradstreet’s career, I want to insist that it is typical of all her poetry—indeed, all of her writing—in its use of domestic tropes to address political purposes, and thus focus our attention on the productive tension between literal and figurative levels of meaning that pervades Bradstreet’s work.
This tension is underwritten by the recursive aspects of Bradstreet’s representational strategy. As Bradstreet represents education taking place, she is also educating her readers, encouraging her readers to identify with the figures in her poem. The impulse to identify, however, requires that readers first recognize a gap between themselves and the representation that can then be bridged through the learning process. This recognition, then, by drawing our attention to the status of Bradstreet’s poetry as a representation, opens up that “space of cultural signification” that Williams and Bhabha foresee. Yet where Williams and Bhabha implicitly oppose the emergent “meanings and practices” that performative discourse enables to the preservative or conservative ones, Bradstreet demonstrates that these two terms cannot be so readily opposed, since the emergent aspects of her writings operate, like those of Morton and Lescarbot, to help conserve an already existing identity that is conceived of as traditional in nature.