Anne G. Myles

Summer 2003

The Power and Perils of Identification; or, There’s Something about Mary (Dyer)

     This is an essay about desire, but I don’t really know how to start off from myself in terms I’d trust you would understand. It’s often seemed to me that the intersection of identities and concerns I inhabit don’t seem to connect very well to anyone else’s, although “Quaker lesbian English professor” sounds garden-variety enough to my ears, most days. Still, that’s not precisely what I want to talk about. If I add one more term, and specify that I am a scholar of early American literature -- early early, as in the seventeenth century -- I get one step closer to introducing you to my terrain. Still, it’s this last step that makes me feel like I’m entering the terrain of “All men say ‘What’ to me,” as Emily Dickinson observed (L 271), a comment that’s resonated in my life in and after graduate school. You are probably wondering why I don’t work on Dickinson or some other more promising field for women writers; what is any self-respecting lesbian feminist doing mucking around with all those grim Puritans anyway? I may be able to answer that question for you in a way, but I am particularly interested in interrogating how the field, or one corner of it anyway, looks from where I find myself in my personal and academic journey. And for most of you in the world who don’t care very much about things early American, just hold on, for this is, as I promised at the outset, a story about desire, and about building a room of one’s own in the wilderness.

     Let me begin with a scene that I invite you to enter, a very small scene from the all too limited annals of women’s presence in early American literature. The place is Boston, the time the spring of 1638. The radical spiritist Anne Hutchinson, having been sentenced the preceding fall to civil banishment by the General Court of Massachusetts for her beliefs, her temerity in teaching mixed groups, and her shocking claim of understanding God through “immediate revelation” (Hall 337), has now been brought to trial by the Boston Church. Caught in contradictions, she is convicted, verbally chastised, and excommunicated, a “lost Woman” (366) who threatens “to seduce and draw away many, Espetially simple Weomen of her owne sexe” (365). Of what followed, John Winthrop, the major eyewitness chronicler of the events, recounts the following occurrence:

[The] very day Mistris Hutchinson was cast out of the Church for her monstrous errors, and notorious falsehood . . . being commanded to depart the Assembly, Mistris Dyer accompanied her, which a stranger observing, asked another what woman that was, the other answered, it was the woman who had the Monster. . . . (Hall 281)

     That’s it, the thing above all I want you to see:one woman follows another woman out of a church, a performance that is unscripted and highly conspicuous, an act that clearly signifies but exists without verbal expression or explanation. The merest narrative trace is all we have of it, a subordinate clause in a hostile account.

     A great deal has led to this moment, and even more will develop out of it. Not long before, Hutchinson had served as midwife when Dyer gave birth to a grotesquely deformed, stillborn infant, which received a clandestine private burial. After its existence was exposed by the gossiping tongues in the church, the body of the monstrous “woman child” was exhumed, its anatomy reported and discussed by the various authorities (interestingly enough, while everything about its body represents a confusion, its sex is never questioned). The monstrous birth, a precursor for Hutchinson’s own even more malformed and, for her opponents, interpretable “birth” shortly after, would be made much of as a providential sign of the evils of Antinomianism – and of the radical women who embodied it. This would not, however, be the end of Dyer’s story. She and her family, banished along with a long series of Hutchinson’s followers, lived in Rhode Island; sometime in the 1650s, Dyer returned to England for a time, ultimately returning to Massachusetts in 1657 as a Quaker. She would boldly defy Massachusetts’ ever-escalating anti-Quaker laws, entering Boston over and over in order to visit other Friends in prison and witness against the laws’ injustice, until she was finally hanged in 1660 -- the only woman to be executed outright for religious dissent in seventeenth-century New England.   [ii] During a 1659 imprisonment, before and after being sentenced to hang and only reprieved at the last minute on scaffold, after witnessing the death of two friends, she wrote two powerful, resistant letters to the General Court, which represent pretty much the only writing we have by a woman who had anything directly to do with the Antinomian crisis.

     The scene described above is critical as the moment that brings Mary Dyer out of obscurity into the New England record. From a strictly historical perspective, it is no more than one small nexus in the continuities of Puritan radicalism in the seventeenth century. But I can’t bring myself to leave it there. I want to explain what this scene means to me, but doing so makes me feel hot with exposure, my own weird passions scandalously on display, afraid that the authorities are going to come along and exhume the monstrous formation of my own inappropriate relation to academia. Or perhaps I should say, my inappropriate relationship to early American studies. In trying to write this piece I am fighting a choking sense of constraint, stemming largely from the fact that, so far as I know, no one within the field has written about it in an personal way, has dared to profess motives for studying it other than the purely scholarly or the acceptably political. No one that I can think of – (only Perry Miller) -- has dared to identify openly with the subject of their research. (We’ve been a rather stodgy bunch, I’m afraid, a bit heavy on the tweed suits and late to every methodological party. We’ve mostly escaped from dusty antiquarianism at this point, but so much of our energy gets drained away trying to define just what our field is and defending our texts as valid for literary interpretation in the first place. However restrained my writing seems, by the standards of the field I’m dancing on the tables; I suppose one reason I got into the field was that it was a place no one would make me feel like a geek for not being cool enough, a feeling I had every day of my life in graduate school, and still have often enough. )Yet something compels me to keep exposing this private thing. I need to talk about how much I love this image, this public progress of two resistant women -- women who would be figured as unnatural mothers, hence monstrous themselves, enacting a profound rhetoric of loyalty to one another. The younger woman following the older, staking everything on . . . what? The moral imperative to express solidarity with a friend in her hour of trial? The overwhelming impulse to say No to the workings of ministerial power? A declaration of allegiance to a person, to spirit, to a charismatic woman and everything she stood for? What do you think her reasons were—or my own?

      We don’t know, of course; there are no sources to tell us, and for better or worse Dyer’s motives are open to be endlessly construed. However I choose to interpret them on a given day, for me this brief passage has cried out to be read as a lesbian scene, the one such scene in seventeenth-century American writing, a faint but compelling trace of what otherwise cannot be found. I do not necessarily mean this in a sexual sense, but rather in terms of Adrienne Rich’s famous formulation of the “lesbian continuum” of woman-identified experience (217). What I see here is a profound testimony to intimacy and solidarity between women, originating in the private female space of the birthing chamber (literally “closeted” according to the language of the time) and, uniquely for this society, manifesting itself in a dissenting act. An allegiance that is powerful and spiritual from within, to the forces of patriarchy it reads precisely as a form of unnaturalness that produces monsters and threatens everything in the social order. At a different level of lesbian signification, the scene also translates itself in my mind into a classic butch-femme pairing:the bravely supportive Mary Dyer, admired even by her opponents as “a very proper and fair woman” (Win­throp 266) figuring as the femme counterpart to Anne Hutchinson’s symbolic gender-transgressive butch. (In taking on the role of a public teacher Hutchinson was seen as having assumed male prerogatives, and accused of acting as “a husband [rather] than a wife” [Hall 382]. )Being femme myself, it is Dyer rather than the more famous Hutchinson with whom I feel a spark of identification; the motif of worshipful dedication to older women teachers, counselors, and mentors has been a prominent theme throughout my life as far back as I can remember. For all the vast differences, Dyer offers me an image out of the past where I can see myself -- can see a kind of love I understand and want to affirm, combined with the energies of spirituality and resistance that are also important elements of how I experience myself in the world. For me, these energies coalesce around the word dissent, in particular the connotations of its etymology:from the Latin dissentire – “to think and desire differently. ”This is a word I’ve been thinking about for a long time, peeling back layer after layer of its ramifications in both my research and personal life.

     In a postmodern feminist/queer academic context, nothing I’ve said feels like a dangerous admission. Yet it has taken me a long time to get here. My area of research focuses on the rhetoric and experience of dissent in early America. It was clear to me when I formulated the project as a dissertation that I felt a sense of identification with this project and with the figures I was writing about, which I understood at the time as being grounded in my own religious identification as a Quaker, which was formed during my experience as an undergraduate at a Quaker college in the early 1980s and which, with many tensions and ambivalences, has endured since. I noticed that almost all the scholarship that existed on seventeenth-century New England took Puritan orthodoxy’s point of view on those who had troubled it. I wanted to shift the lens and look at dissent from within:how did those whose beliefs (religious, political, or social) pushed them to the margins of their society understand their experience and develop a language to express it, a language that could also serve as the basis for oppositional critique? I pursued this project through case studies of a number of figures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

     There were, however, no women in this project. Why not, one might well ask. The reason I gave at the time was that I didn’t feel I had anything fresh to say about Anne Hutchinson, who seemed the most obvious (and nearly the only) female figure to study; further, questions of gender oppression, of the dissent of someone marginalized by her very existence as a woman, complicated the issue of chosen otherness I wanted to interrogate. A deeper reason, one I would have felt ashamed to admit at the time, is that the whole domain of gender was simply too much of a personal minefield for me to approach on top of all my other academic anxieties. I was struggling with my own relationship to womanhood, to forms of identification and difference I felt unable to acknowledge in myself, much less find an authentic voice to express – except through my Quakerism, which at times provided resources for expressing a spirit-centered female identity that didn’t have to be organized around the norms of all-American heterosexuality. When I came out as a lesbian a year after completing my Ph. D. -- inspired, fittingly, by my attraction to a powerful, radical woman mentor in my first job -- I gained an entirely new perspective on what I had been really talking about when I wrote earnestly about the cultural and experiential importance of “feeling differently. ”

      I still had not solved the “woman problem” in my research, however, though I struggled with it after the reader at an academic press said I needed have at least one chapter devoted to women. Then, in 1997, I attended at the annual conference of a Quaker academic organization, the Friends Association for Higher Education. I recall being in a rather skeptical mood at that conference, chafed by the eternal friction between the various components of my own identity, heightened by the summer heat, saggy campus beds, and my state-college ressentiment towards the aura of privileged goodness. One afternoon there was a performance by an earnest young adult theater group, in the course of which they did a song about the trial of Anne Hutchinson, celebrated as a proto-Quaker heroine of “speaking truth to power. ”My attention was riveted by the song’s pronounced attention to the Dyer-Hutchinson scene, an incident I knew I must surely have encountered in the primary texts but found I could not recall. Was it real, I wondered, hoping against hope? It seemed too perfect, too shapely (not to say too dykey) to be true. A year or so later, I began researching the paths this scene led me down. As a result, I have written several articles that have revitalized my professional life and transformed the way I am able to identify with early American subjects.

      What intrigues me about all of this is not just that I managed to make hay out of something no one else had really picked up on, but, more profoundly, the essential form of Dyer’s act as something not-noticed, historically and critically. Winthrop’s passing notation of “the manner of the [monster’s] discovery” (Hall 281) is the only telling of this incident I have found in any source. For all the orthodox parsing of Antinomian and Quaker signs, there is no commentary whatsoever on Dyer’s amazing performance of female allegiance. Strange as this seems from one perspective, it makes sense when you think about it:Mary Dyer was of interest to authorities as the mother of the “monstrous birth”; once the infant’s body itself was exhumed and made available as text, the circumstances that led up to its exposure mattered only as an example of God’s remarkable providence. And what might have constituted Dyer’s individual subjectivity in that moment – what led her to put herself forward so riskily on behalf of another woman – did not register to male writers as a matter of interest at all. No surprise in 1638. Yet this moment has not been registered in any meaningful way by present academics either. What I find myself wondering is, isn’t there something of an analogy between Winthrop having no thoughts about Dyer’s act then and most scholars passing over it now? That is, literary histories of America are still fixated on Hutchinson as the singular (and vanquished) dissenting woman; Dyer, despite her remarkable, heroic later life, is still is noted (if at all) almost entirely for the birth. Why this blind spot? Clearly mainstream scholarship still has trouble registering two women together as meaning anything, and, I think, even feminist scholars of pre-twentieth-century materials sometimes have difficulty noticing rhetorics of female expression not defined by domesticity or other heterosexist structures. If I was one of the first critics to actually (if belatedly) see this incident, it was because I needed to see it, in order to have an early American textual moment I could identify with as a lesbian and Quaker.

      The broader issue I see here concerns the issue of identifying with the textual material one studies. This dynamic may not seem problematic on the surface, but from my perspective it is both highly charged and highly fraught – powerful and perilous. For female scholars of texts representing women, the grounding in identification is probably so fundamental we don’t even think about it anymore. Feminist scholarship is about connectedness, uniting what we study and who we are. If our object of study is the literary and historical past, this implies as well a linkage between past and present. Although nowadays we are likely to emphasize carefully distanced terms – claiming we are interested in “the historical deployment of gender categories” or some such – surely even here we are concerned with gender in the past because we understand its continuing importance to our lives now. Such a basis in identification, baldly stated, may seem embarrassingly naïve at this late stage, yet let us recall how the first phase of feminist literary criticism was spurred by women’s profound need to find women’s voices, stories, and presences in the past, to overcome the limitations of a canon that forced us to identify almost exclusively with a masculine tradition. To find, in effect, a place for ourselves in history. (The same, of course, can be said of other scholarship such as that on minority literatures, in which the ongoing need for this kind of reclamation of the past may remain more visible. )

      These ideas seem relatively safe to me as generalizations, but they become stickier in the context of early American literary and cultural studies, where the desire to link the past and present has a specific, deeply problematic history. Since the late 1980s, a number of theorists have leveled sharp critiques against the construction of early American literature as a field of study. The core of the argument (articulated by William Spengemann, Philip Gura, and Richard DeProspo among others) has been that the field’s intellectual validity has been undercut by its difficulty in examining its own ideological foundations. Specifically, decades of early American criticism were shaped by an unexamined faith in American exceptional­ism (the idea of America as a special, destined nation marked from the outset by distinctive qualities of expression), and by a persistent rhetoric of continuities between early and later American writing. This work, in other words, tended to treat colonial texts as prototypes of identifiably national forms or themes or qualities that reach their fuller literary realization at some subsequent period (most typically, among the male writers of the American Renaissance, whom other literary critics can go on to turn into precursors of the present). As DeProspo pointed out in 1992, such assumptions depend on a form of romantic nationalism that appears noxious to us when we see other countries participate in it (and, for most of us, equally noxious when we get a clear view of its operations in U. S. politics, as we certainly have in recent months). He argues further that “the reliance [of early American scholarship] on continuity commits it structurally to the marginalizing of early American literature” (253), since within this model early texts can never be encountered on their own terms, in their historically situated particularity. To put it simply, we can’t engage with the all-important differentness of past texts if we connect everything to some version of what we are now.

     So perhaps the problem isn’t exactly as I stated it before, that no one in the field has identified with what they’re studying; identification (of a certain type) has in fact been very much part of the agenda of early American studies, and its prevalence is precisely the problem. Only this has been not a personal but a nationalist identification with the past (and hence it still doesn’t provide a context for me to talk about the reasons I love Mary Dyer). Not surprisingly, feminist scholars have been among those who critiqued the undifferentiated tradition of criticism that implicitly reduced women’s expression to its representative “Americanness” and who have contributed greatly to the field’s dynamic reconstruction. [iii](One of the ways they have done this is to remind us that there are other women to study beyond the eternal troika of Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, and Anne Hutchinson – two women acceptable to patriarchy and one heretic silenced by it. )I would characterize the present moment in the field as one of nurturing this belated and still fragile triumph of difference over continuity.

     As a loyal, striving-for-tenure early Americanist, I entirely understand why this emphasis on difference is good and necessary. But it leaves me with a nagging problem which shapes itself into a dangerous query:once we have dismantled the nationalist impulse to identify with the past, what happens to the feminist impulse? One can’t help noticing that most of the voices defining this debate have been men’s. What, in particular, happens to critics on the margin, who perhaps have never identified with the nation in a mainstream way, yet who cannot unburden themselves of the need to find or construct a usable past? Is there any way to defend a continuing investment in connection? Can I defend my attachment to Mary Dyer as anything more than wishful thinking? What would it look like to queer the continuities debate?

     One theoretical perspective that casts a helpful light on these queries comes from Linda Hutcheon. Hutcheon argues that it is a given that the writing of literary history serves political ends. In traditional histories that invoke a romantic evolutionary narrative, these ends have involved an “identity politics” of the nation. But today, she writes, “when we think of identity politics . . . we usually think of issues related to class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and a host of other categories with which people self-identify and which are not coincident with the boundaries of the nation-state” (403). Literary histories are now written from these emergent perspectives as well, and their narratives likewise create a sense of continuity between past and present, also for political, pragmatic ends. Yet these “intervention­ist literary histories,” as Hutcheon calls them, have a valid existence. Their narratives are not retrograde but in effect utopian, because, as she puts it, “their politics are goal-driven:they discuss the past, but they aim towards progress and emancipation” (416). Examining the domain of women’s literary history in particular, Hutcheon writes that “in their use of a developmental narrative model [some] feminist historians – like some gay, lesbian, or queer historians – reveal the need to recover and document a cultural heritage, as well as to contribute to it and its future” (415-416). So – turning back to my own concerns -- Hutcheon’s argument suggests that while female early Americanists have not been immune to the pitfalls of uncritical nationalist scholarship, as feminist scholars our agenda may not be dominated at every point by the terms of a debate that has been largely based on the work of, and articulated by, mainstream male critics.

      It is a relief to me to have at hand this alternative model for thinking about the desire to link the past and the present, to be able to claim that nationalist and feminist uses of the past, while they may follow similar rhetorical patterns, are not the same thing. Because my interest in Dyer is not just about me, I do want to bring her into the present, and indeed the future. I want her there, and others like her, to serve as a locus for things that I’d like to get all women, indeed everyone, thinking about: the sources of women’s agency, the possibility of organizing one’s life around allegiances and ideologies not defined by or modeled on either the nuclear family or the state, and the power of doing so (Dyer’s letters were preserved because she had the Quaker community to circulate them and to tell her story and reclaim her image after her death). At the same time, what Hutcheon offers me seems a little too easy. Frankly, I’d find it cringe-inducingly romantic—a dangerously essentialist oversimplification—to set up the fragmentary Hutchinson-Dyer scene as a founding moment in an interventionist history of lesbian or feminist inheritance in American literature. Here, too, it is problematic to assume any simple continuities. The evolutionary model doesn’t feel valid, on the one hand, for something as historically “other” as women’s religious community in the seventeenth century, or, on the other, for something as contested as the meaning of “lesbian” in the present—or something as open-ended as all the other dimensions I’d like to think the scene could speak to.

     Any connections I might venture would not be evolutionary but would resemble at most fugitive flashes and felt resonances. I feel much kinship with the work of the contemporary poet-critic Susan Howe, who has understood the most about Hutchin­son and Dyer of anyone I’ve found. I think she has long known what I have been uncovering in a slower way. She writes, “Voices I am following lead me to the margins. . . . They express to me a sense of unrevealedness. They walk in my imagination and I love them” (4). Howe’s writing has sketched an alternative lineage of heterodox and transgressive spirits from Puritan New England to Dickinson, “my strength and shelter” (2), and onwards to the radical poetics of Gertrude Stein and many others. It is a lineage that she sees as essentially antinomian, and as such one that is not national, not straightforward; it draws on silences and, as she titles one of her sections, “submarginalia. ”   The connections she’s making are both historical and personal, and they resist any simple linear notion of evolution. But Howe, writing in 1993, still constructs her project around her faith in “a distinctively American voice” (155), that same exceptionalist move I’m unwilling to make. And the poetic freedom and fragmentation of her writing, though it thrills me, makes it hard to use for thinking through my commitments in a systematic way, or for positioning myself within a field where I still want to be able to speak others as an insider.

     It is in some contemporary queer scholarship that I have found the most exciting ability to identify with the past without minimizing its differences, while remaining rigorous in critically interrogating methodological issues. One study that ventures boldly on such a project is Carolyn Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval. Dinshaw, who also works the terrain of religious difference in an even more remote context, casts her work in terms of following what she calls a “queer historical impulse,” which she defines as “an impulse toward making connections across time between, on the one hand, lives, texts, and other cultural phenomena left out of sexual categories back then, and on the other, those left out of current sexual categories now” (1). I’d want to broaden “sexual categories,” as Dinshaw herself does, to “affective relations” (2), but I am excited by the implications of the “left out” as a place to begin, by the intersection of religious and sexual discourses that she mines, and most of all by the complex and nonlinear example her work offers of “using ideas of the past, creating relations with the past, touching in this way the past in our efforts to build selves and communities now and into the future” (206). Though I take seriously the feminist objection that queer scholarship potentially re-marginalizes women, I don’t believe it must do so, and I find its ability to be methodologically reflective about investments in the past challenging and inspiring. Indeed, rather than remarginalizing women, queer scholarship acknowledges the margin as a significant social context and posits “submarginalia” like the scene of Dyer’s courtroom departure as sites of significant history and valuable literature.

     Still, while I feel energized by the possibilities I’ve presented, I remain uneasy as well. For what, actually, is the knowledge upon which my reading of Dyer is based? In some ways, my reading of this scene/text is more directly about my variously marginalized positions—queer, Quaker, feminist, untenured—than about Mary Dyer’s queer foremother potential. It is my need for an example of female allegiance in the past that enables me to see the Hutchinson-Dyer scene as the kind of performance I believe it was. On the other hand, I say I believe it was such an act, but once again, I cannot prove this. One could thus dismiss my claim outright as lacking sufficient evidence (and at my back I always hear a legion of authorities telling me precisely this). But the issue is not quite so simple, because it is not as if I can substitute some lesser claim that will serve me almost as well, or realistically expect to find a better text to serve as the basis for the same claims. It seems I must offer the reading that I long for, while recognizing that the knowledge I have constructed cannot transcend the desire on which it is predicated. I am, in effect, in love with the Mary Dyer my reading has created for me, the object of identification through whom I can read traces of my own allegiances into the wilderness of early American discourse.

     I wish I could end on a less tentative note, one that tells you just what this means for all of us, or at the very least for me. But I haven’t worked out a conclusion for this story, either in terms of where it might be taking my scholarship, how to resolve the contradictions that remain, or what all of this might be telling me about myself. As a result, I don’t really know how to reach one for this essay. One thing that has always stood out in my study of dissent is the importance of a supportive community, and I do know that I long to hear other people talking about these issues and about Dyer herself. Her voice has just recently made it into the database of selections for a new electronic anthology of American literature, so perhaps this conversation might even happen soon. In the meantime, I know I cannot escape the dilemmas of the personal in an area of literary scholarship that has not so far been amenable to it, nor the strange tangle of my own allegiances. For now, I have decided that the path I must choose is not to suppress my desire, but to bring it out of the closet and make it part of the story—like Dyer herself, who, it occurs to me, as she felt her knees unfolding body from the rough-hewn pew, her skirts brushing against her husband’s legs as she passed beyond him into the aisle and into the church’s wondering and critical gaze, must also have wondered just what on earth she was doing, and where it was going to take her.

Works Cited


Behling, Susanne (Sam). “Mary Barrett Dyer. ”Notable Women Ancestors. http://www. rootsweb. com/%7Enwa/dyer. html. March 7, 2003.

Carruth, Mary, ed. Feminist Interventions in Early American Studies. Tuscaloosa:University of Alabama Press. Forthcoming 2003.

DeProspo, R. C. “Marginalizing Early American Literature. ”New Literary History 23 (1992): 233-265.

Dickinson, Emily. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Thomas H. Johnson, ed. , 3 vols. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1965.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval:Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham:Duke University Press, 1999.

Gura, Philip F. “Early American Literature at the New Century. ”William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. , 57. 3 (2000):599-646.

Hall, David D. , ed. The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638:A Documentary History. Durham and London:Duke University Press, 1990.

Howe, Susan. The Birth-mark:  Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History. Hanover, NH:University Press of New England, 1993.

Hutcheon, Linda. “Interventionist Literary Histories:Nostalgic, Pragmatic, or Utopian? ”Modern Language Quarterly 59. 4 (1998):401-417.

Miller, Perry. “Preface. ”Errand into the Wilderness. Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1956.

Myles, Anne G. “From Monster to Martyr:Re-Presenting Mary Dyer,” Early American Literature 36. 1 (2001): 1-30.

___________. “Queering the History of Early American Sexuality. ”William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 59. 1 (2003): 199-202.


Pearson Custom Library of American Literature. Information available online, http://www. pearsoncustom. com/database/americanlit. html. March 7, 2003.

Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. ”In Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, eds. , Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose. New York:W. W. Norton and Company, 1993.

Spengemann, William. A Mirror for Americanists:Reflections on the Idea of American Literature. Hanover, NH:University Press of New England, 1989.

Winthrop, John. Winthrop’s Journal, “History of New England,” 1630-1649. Ed. James Kendall Hosmer. 2 vols. New York:Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. Vol. 1.


[i] Another account of the birth and its discovery is given in Winthrop 267-269.

[ii] I have discussed Dyer’s later life and writing in detail elsewhere; see Myles, “From Monster to Martyr. ”You can read a fuller account of Dyer’s life, and the text of the letters, on her page at the Notable Women Ancestors website; a couple of nonacademic biographies also exist in print.

[iii] Feminist Interventions in Early American Studies, a forthcoming collection, should represent an important showcase for recent work by feminist critics of early American literature.

About the Author:

Anne Myles received her PhD from the University of Chicago and is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. She would like to thank Penny Dugan, Kristina Bross, and Kathryn Schmidt for their inspiration in writing this piece.

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