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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Gentlewomans Companion, an electronic edition. Edited with an introduction by Katherine Ellison

by Anonymous

date: 1673
source publisher: Printed by A. Maxwell for Dorman Newman
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

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The Authorship of The Gentlewomans Companion

The author of The Gentlewomans Companion, in a chapter entitled "What Recreations and Pleasures are most fitting and proper for young Gentlewomen," asks: "Why should ye seek that in many which you may find in one? The Sun, whilst in our Hemisphere needs no other light but its own to illuminate the World. One Book may serve for a Library. The reading of few Books, is not to be less knowing, but to be the less troubled." The statement is an essential one, for it not only describes the author's perspective on education and reading, but also contributes a fitting description of the structure of the Companion. Simply put, the work is a compilation of writings taken from a number of sources, brought together to provide female readers with a definitive edition they can consult on any occasion. More importantly, the argument that "[o]ne Book may serve for a Library" also provides justification for the Companion's problematic | | ii authorship. Despite the work's title page, which boasts that Hannah Wolley is the undisputed author of The Gentlewomans Companion, the work does not belong in Wolley's impressive corpus of advice books, cooking guides, conduct literature, and medical references. In fact, until Elaine Hobby's important discovery, published in Virtue of Necessity: English Women'' Writing, 1646-1688 (1988), Wolley has been misidentified as the Companion's author for over three centuries. To prove her theory of the authorship of The Gentlewomans Companion, Hobby studies the chronology of Wolley's writing, as well as analyzes the text's language and style.

In the dedicatory poem in the beginning of A Supplement to The Queen-like Closet, first published in 1674, Wolley makes a serious accusation-she has been falsely attributed with the authorship of a recent, unnamed work of writing.1

Unto my self, who have been much abus'd
By a late printed Book, my Name there us'd:
I was far distant when they printed it,
Therefore that Book to own I think not fit.
To boast, to brag, tell stories in my praise,
That's not the way (I know) my Fame to raise.
Nor shall I borrow any Pen or Wit
(Innocence will hide what faults I do commit.) (ll.23-30)

Although Wolley resists naming the book and the accused printer, her reference to The Gentlewomans Companion is rather clear. On one hand, her mention of "a late printed Book" points to the Companion because, published only one year before A Supplement, it is the only work to appear under Wolley's name since 1670, when A Queen-like Closet was published. Wolley does, in fact, make mention of A Queen-like Closet in the beginning of her poem, citing it as the last work "I sent unto your view" (l.1). The poem also indicates that the mysterious book employs a style that Wolley considers boasting, and she resents the author's attempts to build her reputation through immodest language. Indeed, the Companion contains lines that emphasize Wolley's merits, often with excess. These lines appear in "A Short Account of the life and abilities of the Authoress of this Book," where the author begins by justifying the included biography.2 The opening is a conventional one, but the bitter tone that emerges is uncharacteristic of Wolley. "I would not presume to trouble you with any passages of my life," the author writes, "were it not in obedience to a Person of Honour, who engag'd me so to do if for no other reason than to stop the mouths of such who may be so maliciously censorious as to believe I pretend what I cannot perform" (5). Throughout the text that follows, the author repeatedly refers to "my extraordinary parts" and countless domestic skills, languages, musical instruments, and other tasks that she has mastered since the age of fourteen. As well as indicating the style of the Companion and that of Wolley's usual style are not compatible, the biography also presents an inaccurate chronology, which Hobby discusses at length.

As Hobby points out, Wolley mentions elsewhere in the supplement that she is fifty-two years old, thus placing her birth in 1622 (counting back from the date of Wolley's writing of the supplement, which was most like 1673) (166). With a 1622 date of birth, Wolley was most likely married to her first husband, Benjamin Wolley at the age of twenty-four in 1646. These figures, however, do not fit with the biography included in The Gentlewomans Companion. | | iii Hobby does not go into detail with the contradictions raised with her findings, so it is necessary to turn to the biography for a look at the signs of its falsification. When she was fifteen, the author writes, Wolley "was intrusted to keep a little School, and was the sole Mistress thereof" (6). What is notable about this beginning is that, according to the biography, Wolley has already mastered Italian, singing, dancing, and several musical instruments, and thus, after just two years, she is employed by a "Noble Lady in the Kingdom" who "was infinitely pleas'd" with the author's learning (6). Wolley, forced to find work as a schoolmistress at the age of fifteen and admittedly not considering "how I might improve my time to the best advantage" until the age of fourteen, would have to be a prodigy in foreign language and the arts to reach the point of mastery the author describes here. The time spent in the noble lady's home is not provided, but Wolley's accomplishments during this stay--she was governess, learned the arts of preserving and cookery, and became acquainted with the court--suggest that her stay was not a short one. After the death of the lady, Wolley allegedly moved to another lady's home, where she was governess, stewardess, scribe, and secretary for seven years. Already, then, Wolley's age is, at the very least, twenty-four years old. Though the biography is suspicious in its depiction of her early life, then, proof of false authorship demands more substantial evidence. This is provided in the last paragraph of the biography, where the author states that the "hand of the Almighty hath exercised me in all manner of Afflictions, by death of Parents when very young, by loss of Husband, Children, Friends, Estate, very much sickness, by which I was disenabled from my Employment" (7). While Wolley's first husband did die in 1661 and her second husband died one year after the publication of the Companion in 1673, we know of at least one of Wolley's children who lived after 1674, for she cites a son in A Supplement. Hobby's interpretation of the last paragraph of the false biography is both humorous and insightful: "[Wolley's] story ends with the sad reflection that everyone she loves, including her husband, friends and children are dead" (174). "This silly account," Hobby continues, "turns Hannah Wolley into a romance heroine, discounting the problems created by her imperfect education and the financial insecurity of her existence" (174).

The biographical account of Wolley is not the only section of the Companion that points to falsified authorship, but, along with A Supplement, it provides the strongest evidence. Guesses as to who the true author of the first parts of the Companion can only be speculative, but Hobby feels that a number of passages suggest that the writer is male. To prove this, Hobby turns to the first paragraph of "The Introduction," where the author discusses society's neglect of female education. This passage is referred to by every scholarly work that mentions Wolley, and it is usually cited as support for Wolley's inclusion in the debate about female education. Because the section is the most famous of Wolley's alleged writings, and in order to provide a framework for Hobby's assumption, it is worth citing the entire first paragraph:

The right Education of the Female Sex, as it is in a manner everywhere neglected, so it ought to be generally lamented. Most in this depraved later Age think a Woman learned and wife enough, if she can distinguish her Husbands Bed from anothers. Certainly Mans Soul cannot boast of a more sublime Original than ours, they had equally their efflux from the same eternal Immensity, and therefore capable of the same Improvement by good Education. Vain Man is apt to think we were meerly intended for the Worlds propagation, and to keep its humane Inhabitants sweet and clean; but, by their leaves, had we the same Literature, he would find our brains as fruitful as our bodies. Hence I am induced to believe, we are debar'd from the | | iv knowledg of Humane Learning, lest our pregnant Wits should rival towring conceits of our insulting Lords and Masters. (3)

In this introduction, Hobby observes, the author is "indeed progressive" in his argument for increased opportunities in female education. Hobby states, however, that "like other male defences of the excellence of woman," the author goes on to cite the expected list of women who were scholarly yet infamous in virtue. Hobby's main evidence, however, surfaces when she compares the use of first person in this paragraph to the author's slip into second person later on in the introduction. From the author's beginning conclusion that "we are debar'd from the knowledg of Humane Learning," the language undergoes a subtle change to remark, near the end, that readers should "Look then to your own actions, these must inform [your children]: Without you, they cannot perish; with you they may"(4). This shift, Hobby feels, in addition to the author's comments on education--particularly on knowledge of Latin--proves that the writer is an educated male who is revealed by his own language. "His phrases are elaborate," she states, "often verging on the preposterous," which she feels is demonstrated in his use of the phrase "efflux from the same eternal immensity" (174). Overall, Hobby's conclusion is highly probable, but the textual evidence is questionable. A shift from a first-person narrative to a second-person one may indicate the author's detachment from the female gender, or it may merely mark a rhetorical strategy to bring female readers into the text with inclusion and then, once the groundwork is set, begin the actual task of giving advice. The author could in fact be adopting a persona. The author's comments on Latin may point to a classical education, or they could be opinions overheard in conversation, or perhaps the author has been exposed elsewhere. The best evidence for identifying the author as male, I think, lies in the fact that, as Hobby earlier points out, the writer is most likely an employee of Dorman Newman, and the probability of that employee being male is rather high. Pointing to shifts in person and passing references to aspects of education usually attributed to a male classical background may support the argument, but such ventures are not always the most productive way to enter the text.

In addition to The Gentlewomans Companion, Wolley is also inaccurately cited as the author of The Compleat Servant-Maid (1677) and The Accomplish'd Ladies Delight (1675). Although Wolley most likely did not survive to see the publication of the latter two writings, her reaction to the Companion is recorded in the A Supplement to The Queen-like Closet, and later in The Ladies Directory Wolley states that she intended to compile materials for her own collection. "One of her particular complaints," Hobby finds, "is that Newman was selling the text for two shillings and sixpence, when the original had been a much cheaper affair, only one shilling" (172). While Wolley is upset that her name has been attached to a document without her consent, she is also angered that the work is sold at a price that would make it inaccessible to many members of the readership she targeted beginning with The Queen-like Closet in 1670 (168).

Overall, Elaine Hobby's findings are important ones for both the scholarship of seventeenth-century women's writing and for studies of the genre of advice books. Seventy years before Hobby began work on her Virtues of Necessity, however, another scholar voiced suspicion of Wolley's authorship of the Companion. Ada Wallas, author of Before the Bluestockings (1929), a study of "the position of educated Englishwomen from the Restoration to the end of the first third of the eighteenth century," includes the most substantial section on Wolley to date. In her chapter on "Hannah Woolley: A Self-Supporting Woman of the Seventeenth Century," Wallas states that Wolley's contribution to twentieth-century readers' | | v understanding of the "diet, the table-manners, and the social customs of people of quality in the time of the Protectorate and Restoration" is essential (19). More important, however, "is the autobiographical material contained in the Supplement to the second edition of The Queen-like Closet and in The Gentlewoman's Companion" (20). These two documents, Wallas finds, allows one to reconstruct the life of Hannah Wolley. For the next few pages, Wallas relates the biographical information provided in the biography of the Companion, failing to mention the statement in the dedication of A Supplement where Wolley remarks that a "late printed Book, my Name there us'd" has been recently printed (l.24). Unlike Hobby, Wallas locates Wolley's date of birth in 1623, and she cites the 1675 edition of the Companion as the first one, apparently unaware of the earlier, 1673 version. Wallas's account, however, does indicate an awareness of the biography's fantastic content. Although Wolley is evidently in possession of a great deal of knowledge of academic and artistic subjects, she quickly abandons those skills in pursuit of more domestic directions. Wallas observes that "[t]his seems to indicate that book-learning may have held a subordinate place in the time-table of her school" (22). Wallas's most insightful observation, however, follows her account of Wolley's biography. Here, Wallas pays closer attention to the complaints raised in A Supplement, though she does not place as much weight on the false attribution of the work as Hobby does in her 1988 study.

Wallas begins her explanation of the odd publishing history of the Companion by stating that the "confused state of the law of copyright in the seventeenth century seems a few years afterwards to have enabled a Mr. Dorman Newman to treat [Wolley] as unscrupulous theatre-managers are now sometimes accused of treating dramatic authors" (30). According to Wallas, Wolley was aware of Newman's plans to compile a collection of her works, and that he actually arranged for the popular author to write a "combined cookery-book and treatise on social behavior" (30). In Wolley's absence, however, Dorman allegedly handed the manuscript to an employee for revision, and the proofs were sent to Wolley for approval. Wallas does not cite her source, but finds that Wolley was unhappy with the revisions, at which time Dorman arranged a new monetary arrangement in which Wolley would be allowed to correct the new version for payment, apparently in exchange for her permission to use her name on the title page (30). According to Wallas, Dorman neglected to honor his payment agreement and, in addition, the Companion was published with a false portrait. Hobby also recognizes the portrait as an inaccurate one, and both scholars discover that the face belongs to Sarah Gilly 3 (Hobby 173, Wallas 30). Wallas concludes with an observation about the Companion's inconsistent style, though it is unclear if the scholar's interpretation is based on the text or the information she discovers about the work's authorship:

The book contains, even after her correction, a good deal of second-rate padding by some literary hack, including many conventional references to Latin mythology, and ends with twenty pages of dull "Pleasant discourses and Witty Dialogues", [sic] which are wholly unlike Hannah Woolley's own style. (30)

Wallas ends her discussion of Wolley's biography and questionable authorship by observing that, like Hobby, she can pinpoint no definite date of death. While Hobby locates Wolley's death sometime, presumably, before the publications of the second edition of The Gentlewomans Companion (1675) and The Accomplish'd Ladies Delight (1675), Wallas speculates that Wolley may have been alive in 1684 when The Queen-like Closet saw its fifth edition (Hobby 167, | | vi Wallas 32). Wallas's miscalculation is due to her assumption that the 1675 edition of the Companion is the first one, when it is actually the second. Wallas does make a point that Hobby is not aware of, however, when she discovers that The Gentlewomans Companion appears in 1711 under a new name, The Complete Gentlewoman (32).

It is tempting to analyze the Companion's problematic authorship against the backdrop of twentieth-century notions of plagiarism. To do so, however, would be to ignore the fact that Renaissance ideas about plagiarism deserve special attention, as well as to ignore the important issue of property as it is raised in both seventeenth-century literature as a whole and in the anonymous Companion. In Playwrights and Plagiarists in Early Modern England: Gender, Authorship, Literary Property, Laura J. Rosenthal discusses plagiarism within the context of the professionalization of literature as a profitable business. "This period," she finds, "defined authorship not just through a material economy of literary property, but through the symbolic economies of social and cultural capital" (3). Plagiarism, then, "functioned more as a cultural category defining the borders between texts and policing the accumulation of cultural capital" (3). In other words, plagiarism was-and still often is-an issue closely aligned with problems of subjectivity and gender (3). Wolley and the compiler of the Companion wrote during an era of economic transition for the business of writing and, significantly, the business of writing opened spaces for women's authorship. Rosenthal believes that "[f]or both genders, professional writing raised the suspicion of transgressive appropriation, and public spaces themselves were seen as intensifying the danger of plagiarism" (31).

Wolley is herself accused of crossing the boundaries of public, printed spaces in her writing. Wallas points out, for example, that "Hannah Woolley made no claim that all her writings on the domestic arts were original" (32). As evidence, Wallas cites the author's statement in the beginning of the dedication "To all Young Ladies, Gentlewomen, and all Maidens whatever":

I will not deny that I have made some use of that Excellent Book, The Queens Closet; May's Cookery; The Ladies Companion; my own Directory and Guide; Also the second part of Youth's Behavior; and what other Books I thought pertinent and proper to make up a Compleat Book, that might have an Universal Usefulness; and to that end I did not only make use of them, but also of all others, especially those that have been lately writ in the French and Italian Languages. For as the things treated of are many and various, so were my Helps. (Companion 1)

Of course, the author's statement here cannot be used as evidence of Wolley's borrowing practices, but it does indicate that the author takes a casual approach to the adoption of others' texts for the work at hand. The author's casualness, however, is in striking contrast to Wolley's actual reaction to the "borrowing" of her own words and, more importantly, of her own name, for an unauthorized compilation. Gender is not at the center of the author's use of the anonymous The Queens Closet (1661), Robert May's The Accomplish't Cooke, or the Art and Mystery of Cookery (1660), William Sermon's The Ladies Companion, or The English Midwife (1671), and Francis Hawkin's translation of Youths Behaviour (1663). Even though the author borrows from these sources, the names of the writers are not emphasized. Wolley's name, however, is arguably the center point of the work, which is suggested not only by the appearance of her name on both the title page and following the dedication, but also by the long included biography. In contrast, the dedicatory poem of A Supplement ends with a modest "H.W." In this | | vii poem, it is also interesting that Wolley writes her line with emphasis on the name, and not the book: "By a late printed Book, my Name there us'd" (l.24). Wolley is clearly not as angry about the unauthorized publication of a collection of her works as much as she is about the attachment of her name to a text that does not meet the high standards of her writing. Issues and problems of gender in the compiler's use of Wolley's work and name, however, may be more closely linked to the rights of women writers in the seventeenth century.

Wolley's concern for the use of her name emphasizes the important issue of authorship during an era of increased literacy, advancing technology, and expanded print cultures. In The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance, Wendy Wall finds that "authorship bears the mark of things unauthorized" (346). "In the case of Renaissance authorship," she continues, "what is 'unauthorized' is an unwieldy and curious mass that includes manuscript coterie texts and unstable courtly pageants as well as more expected cultural staples of unruly women and transvestite prodigals" (346). In Wall's reading, then, advice and conduct literature, as genres that often encourage the development of female communities, are parts of an immense body of literature that is not authorized in the same way that, say, a work of poetry may be. While there are exceptions to every rule, Wall's point is an important one to keep in mind when studying the advice genre, in part because the physical make-up of the book is often an essential part of its reception. Wall explains, for example, that the question of authorship is "complicated by the contradictory politics of print that are played out in the physical features of the book, the gendered rhetoric that attends to those features, and the strange overlay of sexual and social authorizations into the domain of literary textuality" (345). One could argue, for instance, that the concept of "borrowing" is more acceptable to readers of works like the Companion because the very physical make-up of an advice book is a somewhat cluttered one. In 261 pages, the Companion lectures on topics ranging from ballroom dancing to the preparation of a "Pig Roasted with the Hair on" and how to cure bad breath.4 The book's structure and highly advertised address to women, then, can be used to support stereotypes of women and, more specifically-women writers-as unable to produce works that progress in the logical, polished manner of stereotypical fine literature.

Wolley's attention to the preserving, canning, and cooking of food provides another interesting gateway into a discussion of property and commodification in the Companion. Rosenthal draws an odd yet striking analogy, for example, between virtue and food: "But while the circulation of virtue to make another person good is impossible, the circulation of food to make another fat is comprehensible" (17). She continues to ask, "Is literary property, then, like virtue in that it adheres to the person and could not possibly add to another's stock of symbolic capital, or is it like food, easily circulated and converted to material capital?" (17). Rosenthal's question highlights two concerns that are applicable to a discussion of the Companion: first, it asks if Wolley's name, as the name of an author, ceases to be her own name after she publishes a number of texts, becoming instead a public name up for grabs by compilers, plagiarists, and imitators. Though the situation of the Companion differs from other more clear-cut examples of plagiarism, it nonetheless suggests that Wolley's name can add to another's stock of symbolic capital. Second, Rosenthal's comparison of literary property and food points to an interesting relationship between the two crafts. During the seventeenth-century, both the art of writing and the art of cooking experienced a move toward the business world. When the market of print reached a new level of efficiency and could publish more pamphlets, advice books, conduct | | viii books, miscellanies, and companions, writers like Wolley were introduced to new career opportunities. Domestic expertise in the areas of cooking, needlepoint, conduct, letter-writing, fashion, cosmetics, and medicine could be assembled in print form for the benefit of a large audience of both female and male readers. At the same time, such publications threatened men and women who specialized in these tasks, because information that was once learned only after a long career of practice could be communicated and learned by all literate members of society. Rosenthal finds, for example, that "the reconceptualization of food as a commodity challenged the traditional perspective of the farmer" (24). "The seventeenth century," she summarizes, "saw both the emergence of food as a commodity like any other as well as vigorous debates over this transition by economists and moralists" (24). Ironically, then, domestic occupations open to seventeenth-century women were being threatened by a print culture that opened up new opportunities for women writers. In her reference to Hannah Wolley, Moira Ferguson points to this very issue as justification for Wolley's importance as a writer. Wolley, she writes, "wrote a form of training manual for women in the domestic arts at a time when jobs were disappearing" (3). Importantly, Ferguson states, Wolley's "encyclopaedic handbooks" are addressed to women in service jobs as well as middle-class women, thus setting her work apart from other female authors of the time like Bathsua Makin (13).

The audience of the Companion and Wolley's true works is essential, for it is here that we begin to note the importance that the advice book genre held in seventeenth-century society and literature. Ferguson seems comfortable with Wolley's double audience, while other critics either emphasize one readership or express concern over the writer's ambiguity. Deirdre Raftery, writing in Women and Learning in English Writing, 1600-1900, believes that writers like Wolley "proposed schools and colleges catering for an intellectual rather than a vocational education," and this emphasis on middle- and upper-class women's education "reflects concern at the paucity of provision" (30).5 On one hand, the Companion does repeatedly speak directly to "ladies," revealing that the Companion is directed toward literature readers of the middle and upper classes. The Companion also includes sections like "Of a young Gentlewomans deportment to her Governess and Servants in the Family," but the table of contents also notably includes specific individual sections dedicated specifically "To Nursery-Maids in Noble Familes" and "in London or elsewhere," as well as chapters "To Cook-maids," "Laundry-maids," "Dairy-maids," "House-maids," and "Scullery-maids." Hobby cites Wolley's third publication, The Queen-like Closet (1670), as indicative of the writer's double audience. This third publication, Hobby feels, is "divided over the problem of which class it is addressing" because while, on one hand, Wolley discusses party food of the upper classes, she also directs the third part of the Closet to servants (169). "Her more likely pupils, of course," Hobby writes, "are not servants themselves, but their mistresses who, in becoming more leisured, might be losing the traditional female skills of running the household" (Hobby 171). "She seeks, indeed, to professionalize housework, or to turn it into a recognised trade, offering a seven-year training in some ways comparable to the seven-year apprenticeship that Robert May and other men took to become cooks" (171). Another view of the "problematic" audience of the Companion and Wolley's Closet--and one not mentioned in current scholarship--is that it marks one of the most important characteristics of the genres of advice writing and cookery. While Wolley's upper-class audience may overlook those sections addressed to their employees, women hired as service workers no doubt paid close attention not only to the chapters dedicated to them, but also | | ix to the beginning sections of the work that outline proper conduct and education for "ladies and gentlewomen." Although literacy amongst the working class was still relatively low, advice literature gave women of that class access to literature that not only provided recipes and cleaning suggestions, but that also included arguments for the improved education of the female sex. It is impossible to measure the impact that advice literature had on members of the working classes, but the content and wide target audience of works like the Companion repeatedly reached readers in a way that poetry, fiction, and other forms of prose could not.


1. A copy of Wolley's introductory remarks to A Supplement to The Queen-like Closet is available in Appendix A.

2. "A Short Account" is included in this edited copy of selected sections of the Companion. For references to this and other included sections, I will refer to the page numbers as they appear in the following text.

3. A copy of this portrait is reproduced in Appendix B.

4. These topics appear as chapter headings in the Companion's table of contents, located in this version in its original position at the beginning of the text.

5. Raftery is apparently unfamiliar with Hobby's findings, thus in her observations she refers to Wolley as the author of the Companion.

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