Erin Murphy’s Familial Forms: Politics and Genealogy in Seventeenth-Century English Literature is an insightful addition to recent work on the relationship between the state and the family in the English Renaissance and Restoration period. To this rich topic, Murphy adds a focus onto the period’s “genealogical politics,” the deployment of the genealogical family line to argue for, and against, theories of monarchial authority (29). Centrally positioning the figure of the mother into discussions about the contested relationship of the family to the state, the book simultaneously explores the implicit temporality invoked by generational production.
The first chapter, “The Jesuit, the King, and a Lady: Form and Jacobean Patriarchalism,” leads the reader through the writings of a less known political thinker, Robert Parsons, whose 1595 A Conference About the Next Succession was reprinted during the most contested seventeenth-century political crises. Framing a discussion of the importance of genealogy in Parsons with an effective summary of work on patriarchal thought, Murphy illustrates the disruption that actual families pose to theories of monarchical inheritance grounded on genealogy. The second part of the chapter considers Parsons’ views in light of James I’s writings on inheritance and government—including his difficult negotiation of his own mother Mary, Queen of Scots—and then Aemilia Lanyer’s portrayal of an alternative, female-based lineage in “The Description of Cookeham.”
The seven chapters that follow illustrate how the “political temporality of the family” (34) becomes a central problem for patriarchal theory and literary texts throughout the seventeenth century. Murphy describes how “[s]ome texts would mobilize typology to shore up lineal right, while others would deploy it as an alternative to genealogy” (70), thus countering the lineal right upon which Filmerian-style patriarchalism depended. As Murphy moves from these Jacobean texts into three chapters on Milton, the book appears at times to be anexploration of the influence of Parsons’ thought, at others the exploration of a trope that Parsons deploys rather than introduces. When Familial [End Page 59] Forms is at its best, it engages this latter, much broader topic.
The three Milton chapters engage the family politics of John Milton’s writing, offering a shorter chapter on the prose and two substantive chapters on Paradise Lost. This portion of the book effectively addresses the problem of Milton’s seeming use of the analogy of the family and state in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. By positioning his use of this analogy amidst a broader view of Milton’s treatment of genealogy and its political implications, Murphy traces the development of Milton’s theories on the family and state from “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” through Comus, and then into Paradise Lost: in his Restoration epic, the politics of reproduction and its connection to genealogical politics become significantly more focused. I find Murphy’s emphasis on the development of Milton’s thought particularly convincing at resolving the conundrum of a Republican seemingly relying on the family-state analogy in the 1640’s. By stressing the generational politics raised by the inheritance of the title of Protector from father (Oliver Cromwell) to son (Richard), as well as the moment of Charles’ restoration, Murphy offers rich, topical interpretations of key sequences of Paradise Lost. In Murphy’s reading of the Book 2 Sin and Death scene, which portrays reproduction as destructive and perverse, Milton “attacks royalist ideology [of genealogy] by attempting to expose the way. . .it literalizes metaphor” (93). In negating the genealogical argument, Milton effectively creates the domestic sphere and consequently dismisses the analogical argument at the heart of Filmerian thinking; the effect is to “preserve the health of the English nation” by separating it from the family (105). In Chapter 4 on Books 11–12 of Paradise Lost, Murphy emphasizes the disruption to the genealogical narrative as Eve is banned from Michael’s account of the history of man. The restoration of any genealogical line—one challenged by the choice of biblical stories recounted in Books 11–12—occurs through typology, and especially Christ. The biological...