Abstracts are listed here alphabetically by author. For order of panels and papers, please see the Progamme page

Bernadette Andrea, ‘The Renaissance of Empire, the Sidney Family, and Mary Wroth’s Urania.’

 This paper focuses on Mary Wroth’s extension of the Sidney family interest in empire into the eastern regions of “Persia” and “Tartaria” in her prose romance, The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania.  It argues that Wroth’s representation of empire, particularly in the second part of the Urania, responds to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English efforts to establish trade routes in Central Asia and Persia by “shadowing” — in Josephine Roberts’s resonant phrase — the lives of women from the Islamic world who arrived in England as a result of these, and subsequent, ventures.  The paper concludes that Wroth’s representation of the Tartar and Persian princesses in the second part of the Urania, along with a Tartar king, bears the imprint of these women from the Islamic world who resided in England shortly before and during her lifetime.


Ilona Bell, ‘“I first did her[e] knowe loue”: Penshurst and Wroth’s Poetics of Secrecy’

Mary Sidney Wroth’s earliest extant poem is probably “Penshurst Mount” which she composed in response to William Herbert’s “Elegy.” “Elegy” rests upon a history of intimacy between the Herbert and Sidney families: “thou know’st of mine/ (w[hi]ch is euen all) as much as I of thine.” Herbert recalls their nighttime trysts in “thy garden,” on a “mount,” encircled by an arbor of espaliered trees. As Marion Wynn Davies has shown, this garden room matches the topography of Penshurst, the Sidney family estate where Wroth lived until her marriage, and where William Herbert and his family so often visited (Hannay MSLW). The manuscript version of Mary Sidney’s response, entitled “Penshurst Mount,” situates their nighttime trysts at the Sidney family estate. The opening apostrophe to “Sweet solitariness” dismisses “the multitudes” to whom Herbert’s final lines so angrily bequeath her. The indirect address reflects the distance that has come between them, while the disconsolate tone yearns for the “pleasures late embracd w[i]t[h] loue.” Cognizant of his advice to protect her honor by using “sleight,” she cites, but neither affirms nor denies Herbert’s claim that she lost her virginity “her[e],” in the enclosed garden room atop the mount–“You tell mee that I first did her[e] knowe loue / And mayden Passions in thys roome did moue.”

Together, “Elegy” and “Penshurst Mount” comprise a back-story, or ur-tale, that underlies, propels, complicates, and helps elucidate Wroth’s poetry. The overtly sexual language of this poetic exchange is an exception, provoked by Herbert’s jealous misprision that she allowed “cheapest eyes” to “see thee tread amisse… My Rimes that wonn thee, neuer taught thee this.” If Herbert “taught” her to use “sleight” to conceal their love, Wroth went on to devise her own far more intricate poetics of secrecy, masking their sexual intimacy in syntactical ambiguity, elusive pronouns, apostrophe, metaphor, and abstraction. This paper explores the ways the garden room at Penshurst provides a symbolic site and a context, both dramatized and recollected, for the most erotic, intimate moments in the private manuscript version of Wroth’s poetry (Folger Ms V.a.104) which differs in this important way from the revised, reorganized and expurgated version printed at the end of Urania (1621).

Garth Bond, ‘A Mount of One’s Own: Class and Gender in the Representation of Penshurst’

Because Penshurst has provided a setting for many different lyric poets—Ben Jonson, Edmund Waller, Mary Wroth, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke—those diverse representations of the estate in verse provide an opportunity for thinking about how a poet’s experience of the place is affected by social station and gender.  Whereas Wroth (a childhood resident) and Herbert (an aristocratic family member) largely assume Penshurst and figure it as a private space, Ben Jonson (client) and to a lesser extent Edmund Waller (visiting gentry) feel compelled to perform the estate’s space in far more public terms.  By straying slightly to include Aemilia Lanyer’s country-house poem on the Countess of Cumberland’s Cookham Estate, we can further compare the writings of a female client on another estate, further supporting the observations about the impact of social standing on representations of Penshurst; but also demonstrating some interesting connections to Wroth’s poetry that suggest the role of gender in shaping attitudes toward real estate and residency across class distinctions as well.

Michael G. Brennan, ‘Love’s Victory and the Sidney Family’ 

This talk will give an outline of the Sidney family’s political and literary distinction between 1500 and 1700, primarily to emphasise just how remarkable it is to have within this grouping two such distinguished female writers as Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and Lady Mary Wroth. The talk will show how the Sidney women’s respective public involvements were also of considerable importance from court and political perspectives.

 Beth Cortese, ‘Off the Beaten Path: Public Expectation and Intimate Desire in Open and Enclosed Spaces in Love’s Victory and Pamphilia to Amphilanthus

This paper will explore the emotional landscape in Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory and Pamphilia and Amphilanthus crown of sonnets through close readings of the of open and enclosed spaces  at Penshurst  represented in Love’s Victory and the crown of sonnets. Enclosed spaces such as the forest in Love’s Victory and the maze in the crown of sonnets are private and represent the unconscious where desire, in particular female desire, is concealed. While open spaces such as paths and gardens are ordered spaces in which following “the path” represents early modern society’s expected codes of feminine conduct. Wroth’s Sonnets have a dual nature, while they are ordered in structure; they are intimate in expression of emotion. The emotional labyrinth Wroth describes in her sonnets depicts the speaker’s struggle to stay on “the path” due to conflicting emotions and a similar struggle occurs in Love’s Victory where women must not declare their love or be seen to be unchaste in open and ordered spaces. It is enclosed spaces therefore, which enable women to express their intimate and concealed desires, much as the sonnet provides an intimate space in literature. I will argue that the landscape of Penshurst is used to represents an allegory for the conflicting emotion of love and how the trope of the path reveals the expectations of feminine conduct in courtship.

Richard Harp, ‘Ben Jonson’s Penshurst Place: Intersection of the traditional and the postmodern’

Penshurst is a place; indeed its formal name is “Penshurst Place.” The Renaissance was a time in which old and traditional notions of place, such as that of topos koinos , “common place,” that “in which all things are,” was moving towards a more prevalent idea of “space,” an emptiness or void in which material entities such as atoms freely moved through. Some postmodern thinking, though, is moving back towards at least in part earlier notions of “place,” under the stimulus for example of thinkers like Martin Heidegger; “Dwelling places,” says Heidegger in his late meditation on “Building, Dwelling, Thinking,” “offer not just bare shelter but the possibility of sojourns of upbringing, of education, of contemplation, of conviviality. . .” What sort of place, then, is Penshurst as it is portrayed in Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst”? It differs from later “Prospect Poems,” which have a sinister side to them, anticipated in Paradise Lost where Satan, perched upon the Tree of Life in Eden, “sat devising Death . . . [and] only us’ed / For prospect, what well us’d had bin the pledge / Of immortality.” Penshurst, though, as Jonson presents it, is specifically not a point on a map, a reference to be used as a comparison to other homes or places, as generosity rather than envy is its modus vivendi; it is, to use a term of contemporary humanistic geographers, vertically integrated; to be on its grounds is to walk through woods belonging to Sidney and Gamage (the family name of Barbara Gamage, Lady Sidney) at one and the same time as one may also walk to the “Mount” where “Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made”; and where one may “dwell” (a resonant word emphasized by Jonson at the poem’s end) in a “place” rather than simply inhabit a building.

 Amanda Henrichs,  “Wroth’s Sidney: Reading Astrophil and Stella with Pamphilia’s Eyes”  

Analysis of Sir Philip Sidney together with his niece, Lady Mary Wroth, is typically performed with an eye to further understanding Wroth’s literary production; whether the goal is to explore Wroth’s sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus or her prose romance Urania, Sidney is read forward, as it were, in order to explain or clarify some aspect of Wroth’s work. This paper proposes instead that we perform the familiar humanist operation of looking backwards; in other words, that we read Wroth back onto Sidney in order to illuminate Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella by the light of Wroth’s later sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. In reading contrary to teleological models of genealogy and literary influence, scholars of Wroth’s Pamphilia gain a temporally-inverted perspective on Sidney’s poetic legacy, valuable for exploring the sonnet tradition as such.

By inverting the paradigms of master and student, uncle and niece, early and late, this paper claims that not only does Wroth’s sequence illuminate formal and thematic aspects of Sidney’s, but that this particular reading approach provides new understandings of influence, tradition, and familial and literary community. Focusing specifically on the sonnet sequences of two authors connected not just by form, but by blood and by the rich history of place that they shared at Penshurst, this paper complements criticism on genealogical connections in the Sidney family by scholars such as Mary Ellen Lamb and Marion Wynne-Davies. Even as it poses resistance to clear-cut models of familial influence, this talk ultimately suggests that reading backwards provides greater context for questions of literary tradition and genealogy. In fact, reading backwards opens up tradition itself as a hermeneutic, a lens for understanding the participants in that tradition.

Akiko Kusunoki, ‘Place, Identity and Women’s Writing: Mary Wroth and Murasaki Shikibu’

Lady Mary Wroth was the first Englishwoman to write a pastoral comedy, a sonnet sequence and a prose romance.  Lady Murasaki Shikibu was, in eleventh-century Japan, the first writer in the world to write a long novel, The Tale of Genji.  Between the respective periods in which these women wrote their works, there exists a separation of nearly six hundred years.  Despite this huge gap between the dates of the production of their creative works and the great cultural differences between these two pioneering women, there were some common aspects in their lives.  The most important ways in which they might be considered similar are that they were both from highly-educated families and that they themselves were very well-educated as a result of their respective family backgrounds.  In this paper, in view of the common aspects between the two women writers, as well as their differences, I would like to explore certain characteristics of Lady Mary Wroth’s output, focusing on her representations of the selfhood of women, by comparing her work with that of Lady Murasaki.

 Katherine R. Larson, ‘Playing at Penshurst: The Songs and Musical Games of Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory’

 This paper examines the songs that pervade Love’s Victory through the architectural and sociocultural lens of Penshurst. The music that likely enlivened Love’s Victory in performance ca. 1619 is no longer extant. Yet song is integral to the structure and narrative development of Wroth’s tragicomedy. The first of the pastoral entertainments features a lively singing competition. Throughout the play, meanwhile, Wroth’s protagonists—as they do in Urania—resort to song to confide their amorous feelings. These moments exemplify Wroth’s fascination with the affective power of song and its relationship to specific sites of textual circulation and musical performance. I will explore how the courtly culture of Penshurst, as well as the spatial features of the estate and its gardens, inform the rhetorical function of the songs and musical entertainments enjoyed by Wroth’s shepherds and shepherdesses.

Joyce Green MacDonald, ‘Chast Desire’: Organizing Erotic Experience in Love’s Victory and The Lady of May 

Love’s Victory is Lady Mary Wroth’s imitation and reproduction of her uncle’s work in The Lady of May. Not a mere copy, Wroth’s work is a larger and more complex meditation on the mysteries of courtship and marriage, one that stages its questions about the possibility of intimacy from the viewpoints of its questing shepherdesses. Elsewhere, I have written about the strikingly anxious negotiations Wroth’s shepherdesses conduct as they attempt to find chaste loves of their own, loves that apparently focus more on emotional rather than physical intimacy and are none the less fulfilling for doing so. In this paper, my plan is to examine not what happens to the female characters in these two entertainments, but rather the circumstances under which they are allowed to experience and encounter their courtships. What do the shepherdesses’ negotiations and the May Lady’s seeking out the queen’s opinion about who she should marry tell us about the nature of erotic experience in the worlds of these two plays? Is it possible that the two works’ different approaches to courtship and marriage mark two kinds of responses to (hetero)sexuality itself, two attempts to contain and manage it? And if so, do the two plays delineate a particularly Sidneian response to finding a social place for erotic experience?

Marion O’Conor, `Silvesta was my instrument ordained’ ?: Lucy Harington Russell, Third Countess of Bedford, as Family Marriage Broker

This paper will consider Lady Bedford’s promotion, in 1618-19, of matches involving her near relations, including  her second cousin, Barbara Sidney.   It will argue that  Lady Bedford’s promotion of these various matches was driven not so much by dynastic ambition as much by her own financial needs and marital circumstances — both of which shadow  any  identification of  the countess with   Silvesta in Mary Sidney Wroth’s Love’s Victory.

Mary Ellen Lamb,Women of the Sidney Family’

Coteries, and the sites they inhabit, are formative to the act of writing. Mary Ellen Lamb will discuss the very different literary coteries of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke and her niece Mary Wroth. Within the Countess’s coterie, three gender-inflected scripts for her as a character provide a sense of the challenges confronting a woman writer. These roles are strikingly different from the scripts written for her in Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory and Urania. Mary Wroth’s coterie is more affirming to her as a woman writer. The paper will close with a poem by William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, to open up a sense of the variety of possible relationships covered by the term “coterie.”

Felicity Maxwell, ‘Scripting Family Life in Rowland Whyte and Sir Robert Sidney’s Letters’

Rowland Whyte’s letters to Sir Robert Sidney vividly illustrate the interdependence of absent master and literate servant during Sir Robert’s time away from Penshurst and the royal court while he was Governor of Flushing. While Whyte relied on Sir Robert for his livelihood, Sir Robert relied on Whyte to conduct his complex business at court and also to look after his family. As part of Whyte’s epistolary self-performance as a trusty servant and friend of the family, he frequently attempts to script his master’s performances as husband and father. Whyte’s letters not only offer regular updates on the wellbeing of the Sidney children, they also give Sir Robert pointed advice on finances and the need to provide for his growing family. Whyte even intervenes on Barbara Gamage Sidney’s behalf when there are tensions between husband and wife.

This paper will reveal on the one hand how Whyte uses information, advice (including directive speech acts), and affective language to try to influence his master’s attitudes and behaviour towards his family (while at the same time expressing Whyte’s duty and willingness to obey orders) and on the other hand the extent to which Sir Robert’s letters to his wife show him taking Whyte’s advice. The paper will thus shed light on how these two men negotiated their complex familial roles and relationships through correspondence, in response to particular needs and concerns of the wider Sidney family and under the adverse circumstance of Sir Robert’s long absences.

Naomi Miller, ‘Reimagining the Subject: Traveling from Scholarship to Fiction with Mary Wroth.

This paper presents my experience of the creative process of writing a historical novel about Mary Wroth, called The Tale-Teller, which is currenly under review by agents and as yet unpublished.

Rahel Orgis, ‘Attempted Murder on the Banks of the Medway: Melodramatising Penshurst Place in Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania’

References to Penshurst Place are encoded throughout Lady Mary Wroth’s oeuvre. As critics have demonstrated, it figures as a retreat enabling female companionship and exchange in Love’s Victory and as the site of secret love vows and shared memories in the poetry of Wroth and her cousin, William Herbert. In her prose romance, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, I contend, Wroth proposes a more imaginative and – at least at first sight – less autobiographically informed vision of the Sidney home. Indeed, in an episode that, to my knowledge, has not yet been identified as referencing Penshurst Place, the site becomes the idyllic backdrop to an attempted murder, an unhappy love triangle, but also a prospective love marriage. This ambivalent melodramatic treatment of the Sidney home, I argue, complicates the notion of Penshurst as a safe retreat and site of nostalgia. Rather, it becomes a space of conflicted meanings, a deceptive locus amoenus that simultaneously stands for exclusion and companionship, independent agency and external threat, the promise of a love marriage and the despair of unrequited love.

Paul Salzman, ‘Editing Love’s Victory

In this paper I want to explore some ideas associated with my on-line edition of Love’s Victory. In particular, I want to shift discussion away from debates over the exact relationship between the Penshurst and Huntington manuscripts of the play. Instead, I will explore three texts of the play as publication events: looking at how Huntington, Penshurst, and the mid nineteenth-century partial transcription of Huntington by Henrietta Halliwell-Phillipps, can, through the resources of a digital edition, offer us three distinct versions of the play that can be interpreted independently, rather than through an implicit hierarchy of value. This process opens up critical discussion of the play as something like a palimpsest, with strategic critical engagements possible across a range of contexts not dependent upon fixed historical or biographical frames.

Gary Waller, ‘Penshurst’s “Sad Pilgrim”: Robert Sidney’s Sixth Song’

Robert Sidney’s sixth Song, headed ‘Lady. Pilgrim’, echoes the tune and words of the popular ballad that looked back to the Virgin’s shrine at Walsingham, devastated in the 1530s. Robert’s most autobiographical poem expresses his wistful desire to be at Penshurst, “ near Medway’s sandy bed.”  By the 1590s, pilgrimages were long forbidden; pilgrimage  here is not to a saint’s shrine ­ but to the very material location of Penshurst Place. The speaker doesn’t seek to make a spiritual pilgrimage; rather, he longs to lie in his wife’s arms, and the poem’s climax praises of the physical and emotional powers which draw him to her and the absence of which has led to his pining away.  His ‘Lifes delights’, he acknowledges, are found not with God or the saints, but with her, in her arms, where he will finally be ‘laid’.   Yet, firmly Protestant and domestic as the poem’s sentiments are, the devastated shrine and its now marginalized Virgin still haunt its lines as Walsingham’s aura is in some sense transferred to Penshurst. A fascinating sideline is that the Walsingham estate was transferred to one of Robert ‘s cousins; in 1633 that line of the Sidne.  ys died out, and Robert’s son, also Robert, third Earl of Leicester, acquired the Walsingham property, the absent presence of which so intriguingly haunts his father’s poem about his yearning for Penshurst itself

Susie West, ‘Architects of the self: the Sidneys take on Penshurst Place’

The performance space of the Great Hall at Penshurst has always had a performative role, in representing the identities of the owners of Penshurst through its symbolic content and massive scale, and in acting as a key space for action within the house. This paper will note the material aspects of the Great Hall that contribute towards the definition of Sidney identities, in particular addressing the medievalising aspect of Sidney fittings and fixtures introduced to the hall. The inscription of a medieval past for the newly prominent Sidneys at their new home suggest a degree of conscious self-representation matched by their literary personas. The Great Hall as a space of display also needs to be understood within the spatial relations of Penshurst Place, for its central position within the series of courtyards and for its role as a nodal point in the pathways available to the household. The role of the medieval form of the great hall within the great house was undergoing substantial revision during the early modern period; many such halls were remodelled or removed altogether. The Penshurst great hall not only survived under the Sidneys but was enhanced along with other material interventions around the medieval house that cumulatively suggest a high level of control of an emerging dynastic image.