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  • The Crisis of RestorationMary Rowlandson’s Lost Home
  • Bridget Bennett (bio)

Catastrophic loss marks Mary Rowlandson’s 1682 captivity narrative from almost its opening lines. Toward the end of the first remove she laments her fate in the following long sentence:

All was gone, my Husband gone (at least separated from me, he being in the Bay; and to add to my grief, the Indians told me they would kill him as he came homeward) my Children gone, my Relations and Friends gone, our House and home and all our comforts within door, and without, all was gone, (except my life) and I knew not but the next moment that might go too.

(Rowlandson 71)

This moment of sorrowful recognition opens with an expression of inclusion and continues by delineating a set of losses. She starts and finishes with a totality—“all”—and moves from intimate human relationships—“my Children … Relations … Friends”—to material objects that carry an affective load as well as being signifiers of status and well-being—“our House and home and all our comforts.” They bring mental solace as well as physical and spiritual ease.1 Since “all” are envisaged as already “gone,” as she terms it, indicating the depth of her loss, they have also already moved to an imaginary or at the least intangible realm. They can only be restored imaginatively and textually, through language and an act of naming that invokes them momentarily only to register their absence more fully. The sentence finishes by stating that even Rowlandson’s future existence was uncertain, for her life could be taken from her at any time. Her words resonate with Hamlet’s mournful protestation to Polonius that “[y]ou cannot take from me anything that I will not more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life, except my life” (253), evoking a similar sense of bleakness and dismay.2

The fleeting verbal reinstatement reveals just how much has “gone,” a word she uses five times, making her anguish resonate profoundly. The sentence [End Page 327] is a lament, compiled from a series of repetitions, each of which suggests a terrible gap caused either by death, absence, or separation. It suggests a longing for a more sustained restitution and the comfort it would bring. Her narrative ultimately reveals the fact that she is both redeemed and then restored, terms that delineate the process of bringing her back into her colonial Puritan family and community. Yet it also shows the way the experience of attack and captivity changes the structure of her family and her affective life. Her youngest child and several close family members die as a direct consequence, so the family’s full reunion is not possible. She cannot ever return to the family home, “our House” from which she was taken, as it has been destroyed in the attack: “all was gone,” as she puts it.

Home is what is lost to Rowlandson at the start of the narrative and is what she aims textually, affectively, and materially to rebuild. The title of her narrative names Rowlandson herself as the subject of this process—A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson—suggesting that it is her restoration from captivity that the first-person work depicts. Yet while this is certainly the case, regarding Rowlandson only as subject to restoration by others elides her persistent preoccupation with what she is restored to and what is restored to her—how she tries to render herself whole once more. The reestablishment of home is of key significance to the larger process charted in her work. Restoration thus emerges as not just adverting to the process of returning a female Puritan captive to her community, as the title of the narrative suggests and its prefatory material by Ter Amicum3 reiterates, but to defining the terms of colonial encounter through its impact on the home and its articulation using metaphors about home. It suggests that what needs to be repaired is a colonial home that requires spiritual and military protection. The restoration of Mary Rowlandson is also a reinstatement of one set of claims of home and a legitimization of the...


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pp. 327-356
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