“A Womans Logicke”

Puritan women writers and the rejection of education

Authored by: Christina Luckyj

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315613772-11

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Abstract

In the early seventeenth century, Anna Walker, Elizabeth Jocelin, and Anne Southwell all produced godly works in manuscript. As elite women, all clearly had access to an education usually reserved for men. Yet all openly reject or disparage the male humanist education they had acquired to exalt the knowledge of God as the supreme goal of a human life. It has been common to assume that women’s turn to religion is a symptom of their indoctrination in the womanly virtues of modesty and piety, yet this ignores the intense ambivalence with which godly reformers themselves regarded humanist education. Echoing the Geneva Bible’s contempt for “curious teachers of humane sciences,” for example, Daniel Featley disparages “humane wit and learning [which] may tickle the eare, and (as Seneca speakes of Chrysipus his acute Sentences) pricke but neuer pierce the heart: that is the singular prerogative of the Word of God.” As his learned parenthesis suggests, however, godly preachers were often driven to display the very learning they otherwise disparaged. By contrast, in their association with the purity of religious doctrine, godly women figured as ideal proponents of the reformed faith. Far from retreating into bland piety, these women writers return to the first principles of their faith at moments of crisis in their church and model what Francis Quarles approvingly calls “a womans Logicke” in “graces schoole.” Their turn to religion is political, their rejection of classical male education not a regressive move but a strategic choice.

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