- Mary Wroth: The Countess of Montgomery's 'Urania' (Abridged) ed. by Mary Ellen Lamb
Mary Wroth has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past twenty-five years, from largely invisible, obscure early modern woman writer to something approaching canonical status, as demonstrated by her generous representation in the fifth edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Her most ambitious work, Urania, published in 1621, with an unpublished continuation in manuscript, is now much studied. However, outside the group of scholars who have a particular interest in Wroth, it is hard to find people who have read Urania all the way through, because it is extremely long and its narrative is extremely complex. The complexity is wonderful to analyse but presents a barrier to students, and as a result Urania seldom makes an appearance on undergraduate courses. Mary Ellen Lamb, a noted scholar who has spent many years writing about Wroth's work, has performed an invaluable service in redacting Urania for those who would like to set a manageable version of this remarkable romance. Lamb has pared Wroth's formidable 600,000-odd words down to a neat 250-page paperback, with a detailed introduction, and helpful connecting explanations joining the sections she has extracted.
The end result is a valuable textbook easily able to be set for undergraduate students. Lamb notes that she has carved a kind of trail through the romance by cutting out a considerable number of subsidiary stories (as one must do in an abridgement), but at the same time she recognizes that getting lost in the maze of criss-crossing stories is a fundamental part of the experience of reading a work like Urania. Lamb hopes that her edition will send interested readers to the full text, which is available in two fine volumes published by The Renaissance English Text Society (Part I, 1995; Part II, 1999) and edited by Josephine Roberts, with the second volume completed by Janel Mueller and Suzanne Gossett. Lamb's modernized, repunctuated text is based on the full scholarly edition, which gives her redaction a textual authority which reinforces its usefulness as an invaluable introduction to Wroth's most ambitious and challenging work. [End Page 329]
Paul Salzman is a Professor of English Literature at La Trobe University. He has published widely in the area of early modern women's writing, including Reading Early Modern Women's Writing (Oxford University Press, 2006) and an online edition of Mary Wroth's poetry (see http://wroth.latrobe.edu.au/). He is currently writing a book for Palgrave entitled '"Whisper'd Counsells": Literature and Politics in the 1620s'.