Theses Doctoral

Revised Lives: Lineage and Dislocation in Seventeenth-Century English Autobiography

Murphy, Sara Ann

My central premise in “Revised Lives” is that four English writers - Margaret Cavendish, Anne Halkett, John Bunyan, and John Milton - use the lineal family as a central trope in the autobiographical writings they write in response to the political and social upheaval caused by the civil wars, interregnum, and Restoration (1637-85). By portraying themselves as dislocated heirs who resolutely uphold their families' political legacies, these writers capitalize on the political power inherent in lineage as a repository of political power comprised both of material objects - people and property - and their symbolic meaning - social status and political influence. After the Restoration, Cavendish, Halkett, Bunyan, and Milton repurpose their prewar and interregnum portrayals of lineage - of which all but Milton's emphasized dislocation and political defeat rather than political triumph - for a new political climate, revising their initial works in new, more fictionalized autobiographical narratives. Autobiography in this period thus reaffirms the impression of the lineal family as a political force from which individual agents emerge. In chapter 1, I show how Margaret Cavendish recasts herself and her parents, as she depicts them in her 1656 memoir “A true Relation” as allegorical characters who model royalist political action in her Restoration fiction “The Blazing World”. Chapter 2 argues that royalist Anne Halkett mitigates her record of ongoing alienation as an exile in Scotland, as recorded in her journal Meditations (1658-99), when she reasserts the power of lineal relationships that she witnessed during the 1650s while a royalist conspirator in her 1678 Autobiography. In chapter 3, I explain why John Bunyan separates the individual journeys of the protagonist Christian and that of his wife and children in his two-part allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678; 1684). By splitting the puritan household into two generations (and two narratives), he portrays a father protecting his family from persecution in order to redress his own involuntary separation from his family, chronicled in the spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). Finally, chapter 4 focuses the relationships between fathers and sons in a selection of John Milton's autobiographical and political poems. In his pre-war and interregnum writings, Milton's sons successfully transform resources they have inherited from their fathers - from education to artistic talent and the legacies of political office - into effective political action. When Milton revisits this model in his Restoration verse tragedy Samson Agonistes (1671), however, he undermines the positive nature of these relationships in Manoa's and Samson's competing interpretations of their family's political legacy. Modern English-language autobiography begins not as a genre solely focused on the story of the self, but, rather, as a genre that uses the lineal family from which the author emerges to construct a political legacy that he or she uses writing to uphold.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Crawford, Julie
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 11, 2014