Five College Digital Humanities Program Presents:
Visualizing Absence: Broken (hyper)Links between Mary Wroth and Mary Sidney Herbert
By Amanda Henrichs
April 3rd 4:30 pm
Amherst College Room: Fayerweather 113
The Sidney family is fertile ground for scholars: whether in Early Modern literature, politics, empire building, or cultural formation, some member of the Sidney family is usually found, playing a key role. Their contributions to British history are extraordinarily well documented; in, for example, the magisterial two-volume Ashgate research companion (2015). Yet by employing digital tools such as text-mining and data visualization, I argue that our thoroughness is based in very specific kinds of knowledge—and knowledge-seeking—that obscure the gaps that remain to be filled in. Visualizing these absences delineates what we think we already know and contours areas for future study.
The particular absence in question is an absence of literary allusion in Mary Wroth’s literary corpus to the works of her aunt and supposed literary mentor (Hannay 2010) Mary Sidney Herbert. Scholars have not identified, however, stylistic connections between Sidney Herbert and Wroth. This lack is an important one; allusion abounds in Wroth’s work, as evidenced by thorough documentation of Wroth’s connection to her uncle Philip Sidney, to Petrarch, or her father Robert Sidney (Roberts 1992), documentation which is missing from claims about Wroth and her aunt. Arguments which claim a close connection between Wroth and Sidney Herbert, then, prioritize historical and familial data over the stylistic data that is consistently used to trace other literary relationships.
In addition to contributing to knowledge about an important literary community, this talk attempts to manifest an intertextual gap, at a site where such a gap—according to our assumptions about this group of authors—should not exist. Further, when scholars prioritize historical data in their claims about Early Modern women, when we favor biography over literary style, we in fact reinscribe the substance vs. style (and therefore the masculine vs. feminine) binary that Renaissance rhetorical manuals worried over.