‘All Passion Extinguish’ d’: The Case of Mary Chandler, 1687–1745
In urging that future generations need not know that ‘she never was handsome’, in the very act of seeking to shed the weight of cultural inscription on her body, the Bath poet Mary Chandler (1687–1745), ironically encouraged a posthumous attention to her falling away from contemporary prescriptions of feminine beauty. Chandler’s anxious attempt to control the traces of language which she anticipates will circulate around the site of her bodily dissolution, suggests the difficulties faced by early modern women poets who sought to challenge, or at the very least negotiate, patriarchal notions of female authenticity and value based upon physical appearance and marriageability. Chandler disturbed the prevailing sex—gender economy, not merely through her public act of publishing her poetry, but also by her physical appearance, for Mary, in the words of her brother Samuel, ’had nothing in her shape to recommend her, being grown, by an accident in her childhood, very irregular in her body’.1 Her brother adds that having ’resolution enough often to make [her ’irregular’ body] the subject of her own pleasantry’, Mary drew ’this wise inference from it’:clearly under social pressures to conform, in both her person and her poetry, to inhibiting ideals of feminine ’agreeableness’.
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