Feeling and Fragment in the Seventeenth-century Memoir


In this paper I argue that a hitherto unstudied manuscript memoir, My Booke of Rememberance, by Elizabeth Isham of Northamptonshire (1609-54), helps us grasp the drama of early modern life-writing. An unmarried woman, who would otherwise leave behind no descendent or public trace, creates a record and defense of herself. Midway through her vivid account, she describes a major personal disappointment and spiritual crisis at age eighteen: her courtship by and passion for a suitor and the marriage negotiations' miscarriage over money. No Herbert or Austen, yet she covers pages, including dense marginal notes, to shape a self as a “memorial” to God's kindness. The writing is “like hewed stone,” recalling in difference Herbert's more sophisticated “Altar” and suggests how loose forms like the memoir or diary could organize the contradictory self's experience of fragmentation and loss during a time of religious, civil, and epistemological fraction.

Meeting Name

The Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting 2007


English and Technical Communication

Keywords and Phrases

Elizabeth Isham; life-writing; memoir

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





© 2007 Renaissance Society of America, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2007