Shrew(d) Maternities, Elizabeth Cary’s Life, and Filial Equivocations

Elizabeth Ann Mackay, University of Dayton
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Fall 2014), 23-50

This essay explores a range of representations of early modern mother/ daughter relationships through Elizabeth Cary’s maternal practices as illustrated in her biography, The Lady Falkland, Her Life (c. 1645), and by her biographer’s rhetorical strategies. The essay claims that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century male authors of popular literature represented maternity as inherently paradoxical; rather than limiting mothers’ duties, they created possibilities for mothers’ agency within and outside of a maternal ideal. Read alongside these popular texts, The Lady Falkland, Her Life illustrates how Cary worked both with and against that maternal ideal and thus displayed a model of shrew(d) maternal instruction and practice. Cary’s biographer (one of her daughters) used the rhetorical strategies of equivocation simultaneously to depict Cary as an exemplum of early modern motherhood and to undermine Cary’s exemplary status, all while reproving Cary’s transgressions of a maternal ideal. However, Cary’s maternal practices also are the means by which the biographer discovered such rhetorical strategies to write her mother’s life story. Lastly, the essay argues for new methods of evaluating early modern maternal instruction, a model through which mothers teach their daughters domestic and public resistance.

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]