Anne bradstreet, early modern poet, was probably not an arsonist. She is more famous for her ardor, which she preserved in poems, paradigmatic artifacts of the literary. These artifacts, however, also preserve her intellectual labor discerning the conditions that might have led her or other women in an early modern settler colony to consider flaming destruction. Nevertheless, her poems also embody rather than simply communicate the reasoning that would have kept her from it; they materialize the imbrication of domestic felicity and settler colonial power. Bradstreet was frankly interested in empires, colonies, and conquest, even though literary history tends to remember her more intimately relatable desires. Her most frequently anthologized poems showcase these wants: she wanted her husband, the well-being of her offspring, her father’s approval, (at least an authorial) equality with men, and above all, to represent these desires in writing. But, considered more comprehensively, her writing shows desire for more than these things. It shows thoughtful reflection on the artificiality of wanting, what Ann Stoler has called “the education of desire.”1 Brad-street’s writing expresses desire and it disciplines it too. That writing evinces, quietly but powerfully, a secondary desire for reprieve from being unrelentingly perceived as a wanting subject. Verse composition was one possible reprieve, and so was arson. Bradstreet’s use of the latter may be ultimately unverifiable, yet its possibility suggests the attractions of the former. In turn, these together shed light on the subtler disciplines of settler colonialism, that style of governance concerned to make conquest ordinary. Bradstreet’s oeuvre affirms that literature can be complicit with political power, yet it also shows how an individual deeply entangled in projects of conquest might also engage in practices of detection, unmasking, and ideological critique—and that she might do so despite her best, most sincere, intentions.


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