The constitution of narrative identity in seventeenth-century prison writing

Reichardt, Dosia (2006) The constitution of narrative identity in seventeenth-century prison writing. In: Bedford, Ronald, Davis, Lloyd, and Kelly, Philippa, (eds.) Early Modern Autobiography: theories, genres, practices. University of Michigan Press, Michigan, USA, pp. 115-129.

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Abstract

Although the centrality of the prison experience for readers and writers of the early modern period has been recognized within the last decade or so (principally by Anselment, Marotti, and Potter), the diversity of writings originating from prison cells and their place in the development of an early modern subjectivity has not been thoroughly examined. Petitions, confessions, justifications, poems, meditations, letters, translations, travel narratives, journals, and political and religious manifestos were all produced in prisons in the early and mid-seventeenth century. They testify to a wide repertory of available modes of textual self-presentation and participate in a shift of focus from the psychology of Christianity and the rhetoric of conversion to the emergence of a more deliberate if precarious narrative identity. Moreover, the cultural vitality of these texts challenges the classical idea, derived from Livy and Tacitus, of the necessity of physical and political liberty for creativity. For some social groups-women, millenarian sects, even debtors and merchants from a putative bourgeoisie-prison provided an opportunity to be heard in print for the first time; for others, Cavalier poets in particular, imprisonment inhibited the expression of autonomous selfhood. The tension between the dynamic of a desired reunification with a group identity beyond prison and the impetus toward the expression of individuality and interiority through the use of the lyrical 'T' reveals itself in the strategies of dissimulation used by prison writers: allegory, scriptural quotation, and allusion, narratives in which the narrator does not actually participate.

Item ID: 3631
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-0-472-09928-3
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2009 22:51
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE @ 100%
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