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'My Name Was Martha':

A Renaissance Woman's Autobiographical Poem

Edited with Commentary by

Robert C. Evans and Barbara Wiedemann


West Cornwall, CT



Tucked away in a commonplace book held by the Beinecke Library at Yale University, a manuscript autobiographical poem dated 1632 and entitled "The Memorandum of Martha Moulsworth / Widdowe" was first brought into print in the 1993 edition of the present book.

Now that the 1993 volume has gone out of physical print, Locust Hill Press has granted permission to reprint the text on-line. The on-line text is a slightly revised version of the original edition. A few typographical errors have been corrected and a few statements of fact have been modified in light of subsequent research. For the most part, however, the on-line edition is offered as a straight transcript of the original edition of the 1993 printed book. Even the page numbering is substantially the same.

Readers interested in more recent information about Moulsworth should follow the "LITPAGE" link listed below.

Moulsworth's poem has now begun to attract great interest. It is reprinted, for example, in the latest (7th) edition of volume 1 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and is due to be included in several other such anthologies. It has been the subject of numerous scholarly articles, many of them included in two books published since 1993. (For more information, please follow the "LITPAGE" link listed below.)

Moulsworth's "Memorandum" is intriguing for a number of different reasons, including the following:

* The poem is one of the first autobiographical works (per se) by anyone in English, and it is certainly one of the first autobiographical English poems. The fact that it is by a woman, of course, adds to its importance.

* The poem makes one of the most sweeping and radical claims for the right to equal education ever issued in the Renaissance. That this claim is made by a woman, and that it is made so early, heightens the significance of the statement.

* This work stands on its own merits as a poem and needs no apologies as a complex work of art.

In covering the years 1577 to 1632, the poem encompasses some of the most important decades of English history and expresses opinions that would seem to make Moulsworth one of the earliest English advocates of truly equal education. At the same time, however, her poem also suggests a highly complex attitude toward her status in a rigidly patriarchal society, including her relations with her God, her father, and her three successive husbands. The poem offers a complicated mixture of self-assertion and deference, of shrewdness and wisdom, of self-respect and selfless love.

Essays placing the "Memorandum" in its historical, literary, and theoretical contexts follow the text of the poem itself in this on-line version of the 1993 edition.


geocities archive Links to other sites on the Web

geocities mirror Preliminaries and Chapter 1: The Poem Itself
geocities archive Chapter 2: Historical Contexts
geocities archive Chapter 3: The Poem as Autobiography
geocities archive Chapter 4: Feminist Contexts
geocities mirror Bibliography
geocities archive LITPAGE: Includes more Moulsworth information

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