Date

8-1-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Adviser

Emily Weissbourd

Abstract

My thesis examines early modern, literary women’s relationships to death and property, both in the material terms of objects disturbed through last wills and testaments, objects, and in the symbolic readings of bodies, both living and dead, these distributed items can produce. As historian Amy Louise Erickson poignantly points out, “early modern women’s lives are [ordinarily] only observable indirectly in impersonal legal documents, and then they are most visible in death – their parents’, their husbands’ and their own”. If life can be found in death, then the material and legal objects surrounding death become especially fruitful sites of meaning. For my reading, they become especially fruitful, if not counterintuitive sites of erotic meaning for the women who deploy them. In Thomas Heywood’s The Fair Maid of the West, Bess Bridges utilizes the death of the patriarch and the will(s) he leaves behind to invest meaning in objects, like rings and portraiture, whose symbolic transformations into things are deployed to express erotic desire denied to necessarily virginal body.

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