In concert with my post from last week, Black-Out Conversion, I want to tackle another topic from Smith & Watson’s Chapter on Autobiographical Acts in their book Reading Autobiography. This time, what I referred to as the “who” interests me in reference to Anne Bradstreet‘s poetry. Smith & Watson call the who “the addressee” which they say arises because “the narrator of necessity tells his story to someone” (Smith & Watson 88) either purposefully, like in a letter, or generally, like in a published book. According to Smith & Watson, it is important to talk about to whom an author writes their autobiographical works because in “attending to the addressee or implied reader of a life narrative” we are able to “observe subtle shifts in narrative intent” (90). This intent, I would add, is not only folded up inside of who the addressee is but also who the addressee is not.
For instance, in Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” the title obviously sets out her mission to write a poem to her spouse, and, as we learn from the poem’s introduction in the anthology, no one else. Given the puritan religion of Anne and her husband, it reveals something about at least Anne’s self that in her private love poetry, she appeals to her love for her husband for eternal salvation and not God. The last lines of the poem read “Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere / That when we live no more, we may live ever” (Bradstreet 11-12), boldly implying that if in life they love each other enough, they will live forever more after death in love together. This would have been a radically God-excluding idea in puritan times and that is perhaps why Anne did not want her poetry published. At the same time though, the radical nature of the idea shows what a close, intimate, and unique relationship Anne must have had with her husband to be able to share such words with him, even if she was not perhaps completely committed to what the words were suggesting (Anne was certainly a believer in God and the God-provided afterlife). It seems that Anne thought that her love for her husband and his love for her could be so great that eventually it would show that they were part of the elect in some way. This is a romantic idea surely, even if it is not completely in line with puritan doctrine.
Fun note: David Souter, the Supreme Court Justice replaced by Sonia Sotomayor, is a descendent of Anne Bradstreet. Aaaaaand (drum-rolllll) so is Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of these United States. Cool.