"Your garbe makes me I knowe you not": The Cavendish Family and the Literary Transformation of Marriage Practices

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2004-08-09

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In this dissertation, I examine Jane Cavendish, Elizabeth Brackley, and their father, William Cavendish, as a literary coterie, asserting that comparisons between the generations are necessary to a full understanding of their literature and its historical context. Each family member authored texts that examine the role of women in marriage, and each of their analyses places the English Civil War in the forefront. This conjunction between marriage and war preoccupies the Cavendish family with conflations of domestic and state business. I argue that each member of the Cavendish family portrays a war where noblewomen's marital choices influenced who would--and who would not--join the power structure, hoping to regain authority for the monarchy and its followers. Father and daughters address marriage and the nobility in different ways, but in each case, marriage is a device to explain larger social conditions and choices by women. The family was at the center of dialogue concerning women's marital and martial roles in the English Civil War.

With my introduction, I provide an overview of the Cavendish family's historical circumstances in the war, examining the relationship between Royalism and the aristocratic household. In Chapter 2, I use the <I>Book of Common Prayer</I> and sources on monastic community to situate Jane Cavendish's poetic threat to become a nun to avoid marriage, and I place in context the sisters' <I>Concealed Fancies</I>, a household drama in which women employ a variety of techniques--including the threat to be a nun--to postpone marital decisions.

Chapters 3 and 4 each concern the family's use of the pastoral to dramatize Civil War nobility. Cavendish and Brackley's <I>A Pastorall</I> rewrites pastoral tradition as a feminist endeavor, one that gives shepherdesses a vocal demonstration against marriage during war. William Cavendish's "Parte of a Pastorall" and its supporting texts attempt to recreate history, uplifting the defeated Royalist, while claiming marriage as a way to restore Royalist plentitude.

With each chapter, I maintain that the Cavendish family sought to define home, looking at marriage with a new sense of purpose because of the war surrounding them.

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