Publication details [#4445]

Fabrizio, Andrea. 2008. Prophetic authority and the rhetoric of passivity in seventeenth-century English women's writing. New York, N.Y.. 256 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


This project examines the rhetorical strategies employed by six prophetic women writers of the seventeenth century and aims to redefine the parameters of the history of women's authorship. Agnes Beaumont, Anna Trapnel, Anne Wentworth, Lady Eleanor Davies, Sarah Cheevers and Katharine Evans challenge nearly every level of English society, including the government, the church, and family structure through their representations of their connection to God. However, they also paradoxically depict themselves in their works as the powerless vessels of the Lord. This study will argue that this paradox of power and passivity is a subversive rhetorical strategy. Through their representations of the spiritual marriage metaphor, spectacle, and community these women enact passive rhetorical roles in order to question, subvert, and redefine them. By drawing on the power of religious and prophetic discourse in the seventeenth century as well as on the prescribed social codes for women, these prophets craft an authorial space in three strategic ways. They couch their religious experiences in the very language valued by the institutions that oppress them. Secondly, though they occupy the rhetorical spaces that typically dominate and silence them, it is in the occupation that they redefine them. Lastly, they renegotiate these spaces by representing the passivity and reticence they enact as a prophet's self-abnegation, not necessarily as a gendered submissiveness. Their ability to gain power through their representations of passivity and divine communication enriches the study of women's authorship, and demonstrates that an overt statement of authorship is not the only sign of authority. In these texts, silence is not the mark of submission, but a rhetorical position that allows the women to draw on the authority of internal and personal communications with the divine in the form of silent prayer, dreams, and visions. Rather than view the silence, passivity and devotion in these women's writing as proof of their acceptance of normative social roles, this study argues these women are self-conscious authors, making rhetorical decisions to enact normative social codes in order to challenge and subvert their existing positions in their families, religion, and government. (Dissertation Abstracts)