Digressive Voices in Early Modern English Literature


This book begins and ends with the intellectual and imaginative pleasures of narrative wandering. 'To digress' in early modern England carried a range of associations with authority and gender, from amplitude and escape to deviance and transgression. The book argues that writers classically trained in verbal contest used the liberty of digression to create a complex form of underground writing and self-definition in some of the richest non-dramatic texts of 17th-century England; such a pointed use of digressiveness in the period has not been recognized. Within these textual mazes writers captured the ambiguities of political occasion and patronage, while they anatomized enemies and mourned personal loss. The narrator of each text addresses a specter of speechlessness as well as loss of self through a figurative descent to an unstable underworld associated with a female or effeminate weakness. In fresh readings of Donne's Anniversaries, Marvell's Upon Appleton House, Sir Thomas Browne's The Garden of Cyrus, Milton's Paradise Lost, Dryden's The Hind and the Panther and A Discourse of Satire, and Swift's A Tale of a Tub, the book draws attention to the expansiveness of many of the period's literary forms, such as country-house poem, literary anatomy, dedicatory epistle, beast fable, and epic. Turning current sensitivity toward the silenced voice in a new direction, the book argues that rhetorical amplitude might suggest anxieties about speech and silence for early modern men forced to be competitive yet circumspect to make their voices heard.


English and Technical Communication

Keywords and Phrases

17th-century; Anatomy; Beast fable; Country-house poem; Dedicatory epistle; Gender; Patronage; Self-definition; Transgression

Time Period

1500 - 1700

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