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ENGLISH 2K06 Study Guide - Final Guide: Aphra Behn, Emilia Lanier, Female Promiscuity

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Robert O' Brien
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Khan 1
1) I have written this small volume … for the general use of all virtuous ladies and
gentlewomen of this kingdom; and in commendation of some particular persons
of our own sex, such as for the most part, are so well known to myself, and
others, that I dare undertake Fame does not call any better. And this I have done,
to make known to the world, that all women deserve not to be blamed though
some forgetting they are women themselves, and in danger to be condemned by
the words of their own mouths, fall into so great an error, as to speak unadvisedly
against the rest of their sex; which if it be true, I am persuaded they can show
their own imperfection in nothing more: and therefore could wish (for their own
ease, modesties, and credit) they would refer such points of folly, to be practised
by evil disposed men, who forgetting they were born of women, nourished of
women, and that if it were not by the means of women, they would be quite
extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all, do like vipers deface the
wombs wherein they were bred, only to give way and utterance to their want of
discretion and goodness. Such as these, were they that dishonoured Christ his
Apostles and Prophets, putting them to shameful deaths. Therefore we are not to
regard any imputations, to our own benefits, as spurs to virtue, making us fly all
occasions that may colour their unjust speeches to past current.
-This passage is from Lanyer’s work in SDRJ, especially demonstrates that women
should not be blamed (for the original sin) and that the same men who abuse women
now are the ones who once abused Christ. Basically, the passage aims to empower
women such that women should never undermine themselves and the perception
society has about women. Further, Lanyer goes on to criticize men and mention the
instance of the Passion which itself speaks towards her bold move as a writer. The fact
that Lanyer was able to allude to the instance of Christ, was not only a bold move but
further signifies how writing can serve as a platform and means for empowerment of
women- sometimes allowing women to voice concerns that would’ve otherwise been
shunned by society.
-There are countless ways that this passage of Lanyer’s relates to different authors and
works discussed in the duration of this court. Firstly, this passage related to both Woolf
(in A Room of One’s Own) and Behn (in Oroonoko) as this passage is directly
addressing its readers, especially as Lanyer says “for the general use of all virtuous
ladies and gentlewomen”. That is to say, Woolf, Behn and Lanyer have all used the tactic
of directly addressing their audience in the opening lines of their work and this is
especially noticeable for Lanyer as she acknowledges that she wants a female audience
for her work. Furthermore, as these narrators are female, their way of addressing the
audience shows their narrative authority, further empower female authors even more. In
addition, this passage also relates to Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and A True Copie
petition, as both these works highlight the credibility of women writers. While Lanyer’s
SDRJ aims to defend the treatment of women, Woolf defends women’s abilities as
writers and the petition demonstrates women’s abilities as writers, and further their

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Khan 2
strengths as political members of society.
2) Mr Pym came to the Commons’ door, and called for the women, and spake unto
them in these words: ‘Good women, your petition and the reasons have been read
I the House; and is very thankfully accepted of, and is come in a seasonable time:
You shall (God willing) receive from us all the satisfaction which we can possibly
give to your just and lawful desires. We entreat you to repair to your houses, and
turn your petition which you have delivered here, into prayers at home for us; for
we have been, are, and shall be (to our utmost power) ready to believe you, your
husbands, and children, and to perform the trust committed unto us towards God,
our King, and country, as becometh faithful Christians and loyal subjects.
-This speaker of this passage is Pym, the Parliamentarian politician who conveys this
message to the women petitioners of A True Copie petition. In this passage, Pym
technically notifies the women that he has heard their concern and now they should go
home and pray by saying “we entreat you to repair to your houses, and turn your petition
which you have delivered here, into prayers at home for us” (basically he brushes the
women off by telling them to retrieve back to their original duties of being women). The
passage leads to the question of whether the women’s petitioning was successful or not.
While there were no real results for their action, some argue that women were
successful as they weren’t petitioning to be treated differently and so being told to go
back home and pray isn’t going against their morals of returning home and praying. Also,
Pym’s answer was a fairly respectful response to women of that time and the entire
pamphlet was about women appealing to the house of commons- which is what they did,
and therefore, it was successful. Nevertheless, Pym’s response can also be taken
negatively as Pym technically means that for next time, women shouldn’t bother with
petitioning but should instead pray for the circumstances to improve. Furthermore, this
passage speaks specifically towards the political success of women (especially women
writers) and how society has responded to the political involvement of women. One can
even argue that Pym had merely even tolerated women petitioning due to the rhetorical
strength applied in the petition A True Copie because without the perceived gender
weakness and other stereotypes applied by the women in their petition, Pym wouldn’t
have even tolerated the mere act of women petitioning. Pym’s dialogue doesn’t only
speak to the larger context of women’s political participation, but also outlines the type of
response women writers of the petitioner received upon their writing. Nevertheless, this
passage (and Pym’s dialogue) further speaks to the challenges faced by women as
writers and as petitioners in a political society, where women’s access to political
platforms was very restricted.
-Since this passage speaks to the political participation of women writers, it can also be
compared to the City-Dames Petition which was essentially a satire and mockery of
women petitioning- it was men masked as women petitioning for the return of the
Cavaliers, portraying women as lustful and promiscuous. Further, not only does the City-
Dames Petition undermine women’s petitioning and political participation, it can also be
compared to Pym’s response to the women such that it is evident through early modern

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Khan 3
literature, that men were rather sarcastic about women’s political participation and
portrayed their objections with women’s political participation through their dialogues.
That is to say, while Pym was sarcastic in telling women to go back home and pray
about circumstances rather than petition any further, the writers of City-Dames Petition
also were trying to delegitimize women’s petitioning and mock women’s political
participation by highlighting the lustful aspects of women in relation to the Cavaliers.
Nevertheless, both examples portray the constant efforts made by male figures to
maintain the gender boundaries and constrain women from entering political platforms.
In addition, this passage can also be related to the Covenant of Pleasure, especially in
the end where despite Lady Happy’s efforts to change around norms and remain in the
covenant, she was compelled to abide by societal expectations in essentially marrying
and falling into the patriarchal kinship system. The instance of Lady Happy relates to this
passage as towards the end of Covenant of Pleasure, the Prince had declared that he
was to marry Lady Happy and no specific dialogue (or action) of Lady Happy was used
to portray how she felt about it, the scene ended with their marriage declaring that Lady
Happy’s earlier persistence in not marrying had been overlooked. This relates with the
idea of women petitioners and Pym because despite women’s political efforts (and Lady
Happy’s persistence to not abide by societal expectations), it is evident that at the end,
the last decision (and authority) is almost always in the hands of a male (whether it be
Pym or the Prince)- women’s persistence and efforts to reshape their gender boundaries
may be considered, but it is essentially men who make the last call.
3) But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction – what, has
that got to do with a room of one’s own? I will try to explain. When you asked me
to speak about women and fiction I sat down on the banks of a river and began to
wonder what the words meant. They might mean simply a few remarks about
Fanny Burney; a few more about Jane Austen; a tribute to the Brontës and a
sketch of Haworth Parsonage under snow; some witticisms if possible about Miss
Mitford; a respectful allusion to George Eliot; a reference to Mrs Gaskell and one
would have done. But at second sight the words seemed not so simple. The title
women and fiction might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and
what they are like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it
might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and you want
me to consider them in that light. But when I started to consider the subject in this
last way, which seemed the most interesting, I soon saw that it had one fatal
drawback. I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the first duty of a
lecturer to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up
between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece forever. All I
could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point – a woman must have
money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
-In this passage, the speaker is Virginia Woolf in a Room of Ones Own, where Woolf is
arguing that when looking at women as writers of fiction, one must understand that
women must have money and privacy in order to adequately write. That is to say, in the
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