When John Woodbridge, Bradstreet's brother-in-law, compiled her poetry for publication, he included a preface vouching for the book's authenticity and for his sister-in-law's character: ...the...
When John Woodbridge, Bradstreet's brother-in-law, compiled her poetry for publication, he included a preface vouching for the book's authenticity and for his sister-in-law's character:
...the worse effect of his [the reader's] reading will be unbelief, which will make him question whether it be a woman's work, and ask, is it possible? If any do, take this as an answer from him that dares to avow it; it is the work of a woman, honored, and esteemed where she lives, for her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her family occasions, and more than so, these poems are the fruit but of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments.
Why so you think Woodbridge felt compelled to include this information as a preface Bradstreet's poetry? What does this preface reveal about women's status in Puritan society? What does it tell us about the kinds of anxieties Bradstreet probably felt with regard to her poetry and its publication?
Anne Bradstreet was one of the few women authors of her time. This was shocking in that not only was she a woman, but she was also a Puritan woman. The Puritan woman was expected to run the household, work from sunup to sundown, worship devoutly, and do all these things with a cheerful countenance. Is it any wonder her brother-in-law had to almost apologize for publishing her poetry?
He no doubt felt as if the people of his time would see Bradstreet’s poetry as “frivolous.” In a Puritan society, the only real reading women did was reading from the Bible. So, no matter how good Bradstreet’s poetry was, no matter how religious its themes, Woodbridge probably realized that people would see it as spending time doing what she wanted to do instead of what needed to be done. By writing his almost apologetic preface, he hopes that people will look past the fact that she is wasting time and appreciate the beauty of her work.
A woman’s status in Puritan society was really no status at all. Bradstreet manages to elevate the status of women by making their ordinary, everyday tasks seem almost holy. In “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “Upon the Burning of Our House,” she shows that women have a far greater understanding of life and spirituality than was previously thought. She also writes many poems to departed family members or those who have suffered serious illnesses, elevating the womanly task of tending the sick and dealing with death to an almost holy stature.
It seems obvious by Woodbridge’s words, “more than so, these poems are the fruit but of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments´ that both he and Bradstreet see the inevitable comment of “Why is she neglecting her tasks to write frivolous poetry?” He defends her in advance by saying that she wrote poetry only in the hours when she should have been resting, therefore taking nothing from her “real” work.