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Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Revelation of Jesus Christ by Anne Wentworth, an electronic edition. Edited with an introduction by Vickie Taft

by Anne Wentworth [Wentworth, Anne]

date: 1679
source publisher:
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

Table of Contents

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Literary Form

If the lack of plot makes "The Revelation" difficult to classify generically, so does its mixture of prose and poetic forms. Typically, each revelation begins with a short prose introduction, perhaps only a single sentence or two in length, in which Wentworth posits the poem following it as the received word of Christ. However," The Revelation cannot adequately be described as a long prophetic poem (in which God/Christ is the speaking subject) interspersed with brief prose remarks by the amanuensis. First of all, four of Wentworth's revelations (I, XI, XII, and XVI) are completely written in prose and contain both herself and Christ as speaking subjects. Secondly, within the revelations that do consist of a prose introduction followed by verse, Wentworth's voice is not limited to expression within the prose and Christ's voice is not limited to expression within the poetry. For example, in many of the revelations, Wentworth relates Christ's admonitory, Scripturally imitative words to her in the introduction, prior to their expression in the poetry. Moreover, Wentworth's voice often slips into the verses, resulting in much confusion over the identity of the poem's speaker. For example, in "Revelation VIII," she says in her prose introduction, "And then the Lord spake thus in verses," as though she were going to abandon her own subjectivity for God's in the following poem. She proceeds, however, to posit herself as the speaking subject of the verses: "Full eighteen years in sorrow did I lye, / Then the Lord Jesus came to hear my cry." Several lines later, Christ becomes the speaking subject, and Wentworth becomes the object of his speech: "They do know how I the Lord did make thee whole, / But they see not the spirit of God in thee burn like a Coal."
Though the slipping identity of speakers in "The Revelation" may simply appear to be sloppy literary craftsmanship on the part of Wentworth, it may also stem from a cultural dilemma that women prophets like Wentworth faced. Like Fifth Monarchist prophet Anna Trapnel, Wentworth may have consciously posited herself as both the speaker and as the object of speech in her prophetic writings to represent the "problematic position of women in language" (Purkiss 142). According to Diane Purkiss in her article, "Producing the voice, consuming the body: Women prophets of the seventeenth century," Anna Trapnel in her prophetic writings often awards herself full subjectivity as the first-person speaker "I" in one part of a sentence, and then revokes it in the next part by referring to herself as the third-person object "her," thereby "becoming the object and not the subject of her own speaking" (Purkiss 142). Because Trapnel often quickly exchanges her subject position for an object position in her writing, Purkiss says that Trapnel "is using the conventions of prophecy to represent th[e] marginal position" of women in language, a position in which women are forced to relinquish their own speaking abilities in order to be the silent objects of male expression (Purkiss 142). Though Wentworth never exchanges her position of subjectivity for one of objectivity within single sentences, she does do so within single poems. In the aforementioned "Revelation VIII," for example, she begins the poem by speaking about herself, but then quickly relinquishes the subject position to God and becomes the object of His discourse. Like Anna Trapnel, Wentworth may have represented the seventeenth-century woman's "fractured speaking voice" (Purkiss 142) when she posited herself as the speaker of the poems one moment, only to posit herself as the object of God's speech the next. Even if Trapnel and Wentworth did not actively try to represent this speaking voice, their unconscious use of it in and of itself evidences its existence as a woman's mode of speech within seventeenth-century culture. "Fractures" in the subjectivity of women's prophetic texts, therefore, should be understood as an authorial strategy, not as sloppy literary craftsmanship.
Whereas the cultural "fracturing" of Wentworth's speaking voice may account for the slipping identity of the speakers in "The Revelation", there is no particular cultural or gender-specific reason why Wentworth's poetic lines in this text possess little formal regularity other than falling into couplets ending in masculine rhymes. In fact, women prophet-poets in the seventeenth-century, including Wentworth herself, wrote both loose and highly-wrought poetic lines. According to Nigel Smith in his book "Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640-1660, "the simplicity, the crudeness, the lack of metre, and the obvious rhymes" characterize the verse of Baptist prophet Katherine Sutton in her tract "A Christian Womans Experiences of the glorious working of Gods free grace. Smith also notes, however, that the Baptist prophet Susanna Bateman wrote her prophetic tract" I matter not how I appear to Man in iambic pentameter (Smith 332-note 55). Anna Trapnel also wrote highly-wrought poetry; for instance, she composed her prophetic tract" A lively voice for the King of Saints and Nations, etc.; in alternating lines of iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter. Like Trapnel, Wentworth herself employed this highly regular metrical form in the poetic addendum to "A Vindication . There is no obvious reason, cultural or otherwise, why Wentworth composed the poetry of" The Revelation with little formal regularity.