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ELH 67.4 (2000) 925-949



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The Sovereignty and Goodness of God in 1682: Royal Authority, Female Captivity, and "Creole" Male Identity

Teresa Toulouse


Much past scholarship placed Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative in the context of generalized Puritan views of providence or typology. Challenging such assumptions, current scholarship has largely been dedicated to locating the text's gendered resistance to orthodoxy. More recently, scholars such as Tara Fitzpatrick, Nancy Armstrong, and Leonard Tennenhouse have offered a third line of inquiry, arguing in different ways that Rowlandson's and other women's narratives performed larger "cultural work" than assumptions either about complicity or about resistance had fully considered. 1 Whereas Fitzpatrick notes Rowlandson's and other captives' interpretive battles with ministerial editors, for example, she is less concerned with personal resistance than with how widely circulated representations of the woman in the wilderness eventually came to transform elite and popular religious constructions of "nature" and of "covenant." Captivity narratives by women indicated that conversion could be an individual rather than a corporate covenantal experience, and that it could occur in a nature that was not demonic, but possibly even redemptive. Fitzpatrick shows how the captivities of orthodox women paradoxically participated in the transformation of late seventeenth-century orthodoxy from within rather than from without. 2 Similarly interested in broader cultural uses of captivities, Armstrong and Tennenhouse have turned attention to the possible effects of these narratives outside the colonies. In their reading, women captives' representations of inner cultural consistency in the face of other cultural groups helped to give printed shape and voice to a distinctly "English" bourgeois identity. 3

The following essay draws on these critics' argument that narratives like Rowlandson's perform larger cultural work than current complicity/resistance models can explain, but differs from them in its analysis of the nature of such work. Applauding Armstrong and Tennenhouse's insight that the Rowlandson text has international dimensions, I argue that these dimensions must also be understood from the vantage of the [End Page 925] colonies, especially Massachusetts, and not solely from the point of view of the metropolitan center. Implicit in the essay is the belief that the notion of such a center is always constructed, and constructed differently by those in variable relations to it. The essay explores how an elite woman's text about her captivity among the Nipmuc, Wampanoag, and Narragansett Indians was published, appropriated, and directed to interlinked theological, political, and social ends by a group of ministers spearheaded by Increase Mather. It was to serve as an indirect rhetorical salvo in an emerging cultural battle involving beliefs about "new" English versus "royal" English sovereignty in the New World. In contrast to Armstrong and Tennenhouse, therefore, this essay suggests that while the identity at stake in publishing a woman's text is related to a colonial construction of England, the identity so expressed in this act seems less "English" than it is "colonial English," or, more specifically, "colonial male English." 4 Acknowledging Fitzpatrick's insight that Mary Rowlandson's narrative performed local cultural work, the essay reconfigures the meaning of such local work in terms of certain second and third generation male colonials' attitudes towards England and their English-born fathers rather than towards the redemptive possibilities of the literal American wilderness. Far from being a simple site of natural suffering and conversion, "wilderness" in the 1680s often renews and reconstructs associations both with the moral and psychological "Babylon" of Catholic Europe and post-Restoration England and with the questionable spiritual status of colonials who did not support Increase Mather and his cohort.

The primary goal of the following comments is to draw attention to such different cultural contexts as useful and necessary for understanding the publication of Mary White Rowlandson's 1682 captivity narrative. To establish such contexts is to argue that this popular text had cultural uses other than those specifically related to Metacomet's ("King Philip's") War, uses which we have simply not explored. I suggest that the publication and re-publication of Rowlandson...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6547
Print ISSN
0013-8304
Pages
pp. 925-949
Launched on MUSE
2000-12-01
Open Access
No
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