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The first woman, and the first poet to be published in North America, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was an educated, worldly female living in a time and place in which the role of women in society was very narrowly defined. The Puritan settlements of the New World to which she had moved from her native England with her husband, Simon, and parents were socially repressive, and the prospects of professional or academic recognition for a female were dismal. That did not stop Anne from writing, though. In fact, she was a prolific author, and had accumulated enough material that, without her consent – possibly, without her knowledge – some of her poems were taken back to England by her brother-in-law, the Reverend John Woodbridge, and published as a collection titled The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of those Parts. It has been suggested by historians of Anne Bradstreet that her poem “The Author to Her Book” is her reaction to that bit of subterfuge on the part of Woodbridge. Bradstreet’s poems, particularly the well-known “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” are very personal and were almost certainly not intended for public viewing -- a reasonable assumption during an era when women were rarely encouraged to emerge as public figures or to draw attention to themselves. That the conclusion among students of Bradstreet regarding the motivation behind the writing of this particular poem is almost certainly correct can easily be surmised by its opening lines:
“Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view, . . .”
Bradstreet clearly was not enamored of the idea of having her poems removed from her possession and published. Her comparison of her relationship to her poetry with that of motherhood leaves little room for interpretation. She doesn’t appear to question the intentions of Woodbridge, which she believes were well-inclined, but she just as clearly wishes he had kept his hands off of her poetry.
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