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Anne Finch, plays and verses

Jennifer Keith on Anne Finch:


Readers today know of Anne Finch mainly through her poetry, but the volume on display preserves the only manuscript copies of the two plays she is known to have composed, including Aristomenes, or the Royal Shepherd.


Earlier in the same volume, Finch insists that her plays must be shown only to family and friends and never be performed in public. But more than twenty years after this play was written, she authorized its printing as the concluding piece for her Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (1713). We have no evidence that explains why she later wished to see the tragedy in print. As years passed, she may have gained confidence in the play’s merit and grew interested in conveying more widely its political themes during the succession crisis near the end of Queen Anne’s reign. 


Although Aristomenes uses elements of the pastoral, notably shepherds and their amorous interests, the play is a tragedy focused on a brave soldier’s fight against his country’s usurpers. The character Climander despises the “vile hook” that disguises him temporarily as a harmless shepherd in a rural retreat while he must wait to defend his country. Climander’s retreat parallels that of many English remaining loyal to James II—including Anne and her husband, Heneage Finch—after the revolution of 1688. In Finch’s view, William and Mary had usurped the throne of James II.


Of Finch’s work that survives in manuscript, one of its unusual aspects is its transcriber: her husband, Heneage. In addition to copying out the more than 300 pages of this volume, he copied out two other manuscript volumes. Why did he do this? Did he aim to control, particularly censor, her writing? Or did he wish to help her, particularly given how difficult her own handwriting is to read? Evidence of their cooperation appears throughout the volume. Whereas Heneage copied out his wife’s work, she altered his transcription here and in many other pages. Thanks to this manuscript we have unique evidence of Anne Finch’s revisions and the relation they expose to her husband’s role in her transmitting her work.



Jennifer Keith, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is the author of Poetry and the Feminine from Behn to Cowper (2005) and numerous essays on eighteenth-century poetry. She is completing, with Claudia Kairoff, a critical edition of The Works of Anne Finch. The NEH and a Folger long-term fellowship have supported their work on the edition, which will be published in two volumes by Cambridge University Press.



Case 13 -- Christine de Pisan >>>

Ann Kingsmill Finch. Miscellany poems with two plays by Ardelia. Manuscript, ca. 1685-1702


Audio Stop: Jennifer Keith on Anne Finch

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