Presenting Privacy: Marvell and London

Privacy is a daunting and fascinating topic, as I’m constantly reminded. In the last few weeks, I’ve presented two papers: ‘Denying Authorship: Marvell, Maniban and the Quest for Privacy’ in Geneva, then ‘Marvell in Manuscript and Print: Public and Private Experiences, 1649-1660’ at the Andrew Marvell Centre in Hull. Finally, I ended up in Oxford for a ‘Marvell and London’ conference.

Deserted Street

An intriguing advantage of privacy is that people actually remember the subject. Unlike topographies and typography, episcopacy and liturgies, privacy is something that everyone can identify with and wants to discuss.

We are drawn to relate our own sense of privacy to the picture we have of the early modern world. Tapping into our protagonists’ psyche is part of creating and defining a more colourful literary history.

We want to know what there was to hide. We probably won’t find out!

Privacy & Evidence: ‘Marvell and London’

A really useful discussion from the ‘Marvell and London’ event concerned the way evidence is used.

Privacy is a nightmare when it comes to evidence. We are dealing with what we don’t know as much – if not more – as what we do know.

All the same, it’s quite easy to make statements that we cannot be certain about. In particular, we need to understand the spectrum of possibilities available when there is an absence of evidence.

‘Marvell never married’ is a potent example. That itself cannot be proven, and would have to disprove testimonial evidence to the contrary.

Useful papers included an analysis of the 1665 London edition of ‘The Character of Holland’ by David Norbrook, which assessed how the language of the abridged version brought the English and Dutch closer together in Marvell’s poetry of criticism. This is unlike the original version (c. 1653) which distinctly kept them apart.

The detail here is valuable for the debates surrounding Marvell’s authorship of this later version, which have hitherto been inconclusive.

Johanna Harris’s review of Marvell’s correspondence with Sir Edward Harley explored the two men’s relationship with each other and with the Anglican, Herbert Croft, author of The Naked Truth.

For me, this raises further questions about the ‘fool’ in Marvell’s 1676 letter to William Popple, which could equally be identified as Croft or the abbé and graphologist, Maniban.

Would Marvell have mocked Croft for his authorship if he knew of Harley’s involvement? Questions, questions…

Back to Manuscripts

Steven Zwicker questioned whether we have become over-reliant on printed texts as evidence and consequently underestimate or overlook the impact of manuscript circulation.

Zwicker’s work, co-authored with long-time collaborator Derek Hirst, challenged an increasingly accepted argument from Allan Pritchard in 1983 that much of Marvell’s lyric poetry belongs after the Restoration.

Pritchard’s claims, that select Marvellian works include echoes from Cowley and Katherine Phillips in 1666/67, rely on printed texts and ignore the possibility of manuscript circulation in the prior 15 years, said Zwicker.

Although Marvell did commonly comsume and use printed texts upon their release, the issue raised was if the absence of evidence is too easily assumed as evidence of absence – something I keep very close in mind.

5 thoughts on “Presenting Privacy: Marvell and London

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