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  • Elizabeth Delaval’s Memoirs and Meditations:Textual Transmission and Jacobite Context1
  • Susan Wiseman (bio)

Many seventeenth-century women’s writings offer little evidence of their circumstances of composition or purpose. They therefore invite us to ask factual and methodological questions about their purchase on the world, as well as on how we might locate the specific parameters of their potential objectives. One such text is Elizabeth Delaval’s meditations and narrative “memoir.” A significant contribution to the study of early modern “life writing,” it invites questions regarding its production and reception with wider implications for how we approach these texts. This essay examines the way in which Delaval’s memoir has been transmitted through the institutional protocols of historical and literary scholarship. By investigating the body of evidence surrounding Delaval and how it has been used, it aims to focus on the production of the text and place the events of the text, the more usual focus of scholars, in relation to that. The essay thus works at the level of Delaval’s text in order to draw out some wider implications concerning the application of disciplinary boundaries, the role of transmission, and the shifting assumptions concerning the public and private spheres when researching early modern women’s writing.

Elizabeth Delaval’s text earns a place in interdisciplinary scholarship by dint of the very strong effect that disciplinary assumptions have had on its reception. Delaval’s life and writings have been studied by historians and literary scholars, but in only partially related ways. Her text has been mined by social historians [End Page 68] for its apparently direct representation of the role of women in later seventeenth-century marriage negotiations.2 Thus, Ralph Houlbrooke anthologizes some of her writings under the heading of “courtship and marriage” (subsection “flirting”), and dates the selections to 1667–68 and 1669.3 By contrast, historians of Jacobitism, whose methods are both political and cultural, and who utilize the genre of memoir in order to evoke a subject’s experience of a time period, have not made use of the text.4 Within literary studies, the manuscript is primarily considered as an example of the Protestant genre of occasional meditation and life writing and is productively discussed in these terms by Marie-Louise Coolahan, Femke Molekamp, and Margaret Ezell, who also significantly notes Delaval’s use of romance plotting and values.5 Where most responses from the various disciplinary approaches come together is in reading the text in relation to the periodicity of events described, rather than to the date of production of the physical manuscript. In doing so, scholarship takes its cue from the assertion by the editor, Douglas Greene, in the title page that the text was “written between 1662 and 1671.”

This essay has a contrasting focus. By attending to the importance of the events and the subsequent practices of writing described in the text, it focuses on the defining events of the text’s transmission, the circumstances of its actual composition, and the later circumstances of Delaval’s life, in order to argue that while the text certainly describes and responds to events in the 1660s and 1670s, the copy that we have also offers a re-reading of earlier events and a politically [End Page 69] saturated text. Accordingly, what follows aims to contextualize the manuscript in terms of the interrelationship among the story a text tells, the events in its transmission history, which determine how it comes to us, and, finally, the material text as it was made. Three periods in its existence are significant: the period of the events it describes and of some of the writing (1660–71); the accidents of its transmission that strongly shape how it has been read (1717–1978); and its place in the author’s world between 1671 and her death in 1717.

1660–71: Composition, Event, Memory

Elizabeth Delaval was born around 1649 to royalist parents. Through her father, she was connected to the Scottish peerage, and through her mother, to the Stuarts. Her mother, Katherine Howard (then Katherine d’Aubigny), was a distinguished royalist conspirator. A widow with two children, she married James Livingston, first Earl of Newburgh.6...