“In This Strang Labourinth, How Shall I Turne?”: Needlework, Gardens, and Writing in Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus

Jennifer Munroe, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring 2005), 35-55

This essay shows how Lady Mary Wroth calls into question the gendered boundaries between the different domains of needlework and gardens and of published writing, and how Wroth contests Robert Burton’s assertion that women should work with their needles and garden instead of engaging in laborious studies. This essay places Wroth’s sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621), in the historical contexts of early modern gardening and needlework practices to show how Wroth plays upon the interlacings of gardening and needlework, turning their overlapping metaphors into metaphors for writing. This essay discusses the ambivalences inscribed in the figuration of bands, knots, and labyrinths—all three of which appear as paradigms in the domains of needlework, gardening, and writing—in order to emphasize the ways in which women need not merely be limited by needlework and gardening but could also use these modes and writing for creative agency. Women both within Wroth’s poem and outside it historically used these creative means to make something new. With the aim of publishing her work, however, Wroth pressed further than women needle workers and gardeners to assume agency also in the non-feminine realm of public writing.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]