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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

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Authors: Anne Bradstreet (c. 1612-1672)

[1219] Anonymous, The Mason Children: David, Joanna, Abigail (1670), courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, 1979.7.3.

Anne Bradstreet Activities
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Anne Bradstreet was born in England in 1612 to well-connected Puritan parents. Her father, Thomas Dudley, was unusual in his commitment to teaching his daughter literature, history, and philosophy, and Bradstreet benefited from an extensive classical education such as was usually reserved only for male children. Her sixty years of life were troubled by recurring sickness and ill health, beginning with an attack of smallpox when she was sixteen. Shortly after recovering, she married her father's assistant, Simon Bradstreet. She immigrated to America with her husband and parents in 1630 as part of the group that sailed with John Winthrop on the Arbella. Although she later admitted that her "heart rose" in protest against the "new world and new manners" she encountered when she landed in Massachusetts, Bradstreet overcame her resentment and made a life for herself as a dutiful and respected Puritan daughter, wife, and mother.

Bradstreet and her family moved frequently, living in Boston, Newtown (modern Cambridge), and Ipswich before settling in North Andover. While her father and husband embarked on long and successful careers in public service—both would eventually occupy the position of governor—Bradstreet raised eight children and composed poetry. In 1650, her brother-in-law, John Woodbridge, brought a manuscript of her work with him on a trip to London and had it published without Bradstreet's knowledge. The volume, The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up In America, was the first published collection of poetry written by a resident of America, and met with popular and critical success both in England and among the Puritan patriarchy. While Bradstreet did not publish again within her lifetime, a posthumous collection containing her corrections to the original volume and several new poems was printed six years after her death. The fact that she took the time to rework and correct the original volume suggests that she was planning for further publication and provides evidence that she took her vocation as a poet very seriously.

Bradstreet received acclaim in her own time for her long meditative poems on classical themes, but the poems that have interested modern readers are the more personal and intimate ones, reflecting her experiences with marriage, motherhood, childbirth, and housekeeping. This personal poetry is notable for the tensions it reveals between Bradstreet's affection for the things of this world—home, family, natural beauty—and her Puritan commitment to shunning earthly concerns in order to focus on the spiritual. Her evocations of the passion she felt for her husband and her children are poignantly balanced by her reminders to herself that such attachments should remain secondary to her love for Christ. Bradstreet's reflections on the issue of women's status within the Puritan community and on her own role as a female writer also create tensions within her poetry. Her self-conscious musings about her claims to literary authority and intellectual equality in "The Author to her Book" and "Prologue" provide rare insight into the pressures inherent in being both a woman and a writer in Puritan New England.

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