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  • “To Love Have Prov’d a Foe”: Virginity, Virtue, and Love’s Dangers in Anne Killigrew’s Pastoral Dialogues
  • Brian Elliott

Only a small volume of Anne Killigrew’s poems, published posthumously in 1686, have survived. Although some of the poems commonly receiving critical treatment from this volume are considered pastorals—such as “The Discontent” and “The Miseries of Man,” as well as the three “Eudora” poems that end the collection (and that Killigrew may not have written1)—Killigrew’s other pastoral works have not received sufficient attention.2 Drawing on Harriette Andreadis’s observation that several “poems address pastoral topics, many of them from a unique and unusually dark perspective” (113), and Richard Morton’s claim that the “modern reader may gain from her book of verse a moving insight into the thoughts and preoccupations of a young lady at court in the declining years of the Stuarts” (ix),3 this essay will explore three poems by Killigrew, all entitled “A Pastoral Dialogue.” I will argue that Anne Killigrew creates a group of pastoral dialogues that set out a paradigm of love based on virtues other than beauty, while simultaneously providing powerful subject positions for her female speakers. As a woman renowned among her contemporaries for her virtue, her poetry addressing these topics provides valuable insight into her personal views and our understanding of what it meant to be virtuous in the Restoration. Anne Killigrew’s poetry offers a window into the mind of a woman in the Restoration and sheds new light on the complicated social and artistic world of which the poet was a part. If Aphra Behn, Katherine Philips, and Anne Finch were part of “a small social world that could be transformed into a fictional society that provided both context and material for verse,” Anne Killigrew’s experiences in life similarly may have found voice in her pastoral poetry and left a fresh, compelling image of virtue and vice as seen by a young woman at the Restoration court (Mermin 335). [End Page 27]

Pastoral poetry was already a well-worn tradition by the time Anne Killigrew’s poems were published in the late 1680s. Originally, the pastoral mode was primarily concerned with the idyllic depiction of the countryside and its inhabitants, its purpose the juxtaposition, whether implicit or explicit, of the idealized rural world and the civilized one, a yoking of the simple and the complex (Congleton 4). In the Renaissance the focus shifted, with pastoral becoming the site of cloaked social and political discussion: “Petrarch, Bocaccio,… Spenser, and the other humanists, thinking that the primary function of the pastoral [was] to deal with ecclesiastical and political matters, vitiated their pastorals with allegory” (5).4 By the time of the Restoration, the pastoral mode and tradition had become a battleground for the debate over Nature versus Art. Ann Messenger notes, “The French critics Rapin and Fontenelle started the war,” and it continued on into the eighteenth century with writers like Pope and Ambrose Philips joining the fray, further diversifying an already diverse and heterogeneous form (Pastoral 2).

While pastoral may have been of high importance in contemporary critical debates, the mode itself was not generally held in high regard by the literary elite. “Pastoral was, quite simply, an inferior mode near the bottom of the hierarchy,” Messenger says, “an intellectually limited mode, suitable for a young poet to practice as he learned his craft and to abandon as he matured” (Pastoral 8). It was also increasingly associated with women,5 making it a natural, acceptable, and “safe” mode for female poets. For a woman like Anne Killigrew, it also provided a ready-made vehicle for expression: the form’s traditions of juxtaposition and allegory, coupled with its common themes of love and disappointment, were the perfect tools with which to represent both her internal and external experiences in the Stuart court and Mary of Modena’s retinue.

Killigrew’s pastoral poems work against some of the well-established conventions of the genre, such as the dominance of males and male voices, an emphasis on beauty, and prevalence of love and courtship.6 Her subtle changes to convention suggest a reworking of the poetic...


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pp. 27-41
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