Early Modern Women's Complain Poetry Index
The Early Modern Women’s Complaint Poetry Index is a data-based project that was three years in the making, funded by the Australian and New Zealand government with the aim to represent the evidence of woman’s engagement with complaint poetry. For context ‘Complaint Poetry’ is when the writer is describing feelings of aggrievance about misery, personal misfortune, injustice, or unrequited love. This particular index reveals new texts and authors, shows new ways in which women have written, and for the first time reclassifies well-known works by female authors as complaints.
The index was created with the intention to encourage research and further analysis in order to allow people to delve into new work on early modern women and complaint poetry. The poem is classified as complaint poetry, when the complaints are grouped together at specific places in the poem. A consistent engagement with the method of complaint in at least one section of the poem, which is shown in the index through using more than one complaint type, keyword, and other formal representation of the complaint, is required for inclusion in the database.
The explore feature allows us to view poems through the filters of the agent (author), complaint type, which is colour-coded throughout the index and illustrates the mixing of types in a single poem, poetic form, complaint markers (distinctive features, such as women in nature), poetic devices, complaint cause, and a complex set of classifications surrounding the speaker's gender: explicit, implicit, open, or unknown. Then there is also then a link to view and read the poem on a reliable platform. As a user, you can search and find specific poems, themes or authors using key words and the ‘search’ function. There is also a function where you can ‘favourite’ an index entry and come back to it later.
The team who developed and created this index consists of 5 people. These people include Professor Rosalind Smith who is the Chair of the Department of English and Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the Australian National University. She is also the author of Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing (2014) and Early Modern Women and Complaint: Gender, Form, Politics (2020). Smith is currently working on a project on early modern women’s marginalia with the University of Oxford and the Folger Shakespeare library
Sarah C. E. Ross, an associate Professor of English at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of Women, Poetry, and Politics in Seventeenth-Century Britain (2015), and co-editor of Editing Early Modern Women (2016), Women Poets of the English Civil War (2017), and Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form, and Politics (2020)
Michelle O’Callaghan, a Professor of Early Modern Literature at the University of Reading. Callaghan has released a number of books, her most recent on being Crafting Poetry Anthologies in Renaissance England: Early Modern Cultures of Recreation (Cambridge, 2020)
Jake Arthur, who is a Clarendon Scholar at Oxford University. His thesis ‘The stuffe not ours’ (preliminary title) investigates the translation and paraphrase of early modern women's writing in an effort to restore the expressive and intellectual potential of "derivative" works. Arthur is co-editor of the poetry section of the upcoming Palgrave Encyclopaedia of Early Modern Women’s Writing. He has also co-authored a chapter in Early Modern Women and Complaint: Gender, Form and Politics (2020).
Professor Mitchell Whitelaw, is an academic, writer and currently a professor of design at the School of Art and Design at the Australian National University. His work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Senses and Society.
As a result of the development of this index, it was found that the English women who engaged with and wrote complaint was totalled at 43 female complaint writers and 512 poems between the years of 1530 and 1680. This includes 66 poems that were transcribed (copied) into a new form. The woman who contributed the largest amount of complaint poetry to the index was Lady Mary Wroth, with a total of 117 which was mostly found in her prose romance The Countess of Montgomerie’s Urania, her sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus and her play Love’s Victory.
The index results demonstrate that the main theme (or complaint) that women wrote about was sexual love and or desire (also known as amatory). Lady Mary Wroth makes up a fifth of this type of complaint in the data base, with only six of her other poems classified under a different category. There were 62 complaints that were 'against the times' and 30 about 'political injustice', with writers Lady Margaret Douglas and Margaret More Roper beginning this trend in the early Tudor period. The index also discovered that the most common form of complaint was in the style of a lyric, with 396 poems under that category and the second most common form being sonnets with 110 poems. On the lower end of the spectrum was emblem, country house poem and dream vision.
This project, though it is of a niche nature, is extremely informative. It has simplified and made complaint poetry more accessible and comprehensive for those who wish to learn more about the topic. The index demonstrates the depths of woman’s poetry that is often overlooked and finally recognises the women of the 16th and 17th century who composed complaint poetry.
For further reading on this topic, which can also be found on the website, includes works by those who constructed the index:
- Arthur, Jake, and Rosalind Smith. 2020. “Women’s Complaint, 1530–1680: Taxonomy, Voice, and the Index in the Digital Age”, in Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form, and Politics, edited by Rosalind Smith and Sarah C. E. Ross. Cham: Palgrave: 291-312.
- O’Callaghan, Michelle. 2019. ‘“Good Ladies be working”: singing at work in Tudor woman’s song’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 82: 107-26.
- Ross, Sarah C. E. 2020. ‘Complaint’s Echoes’, in Early Modern Women and Complaint: Gender, Form, and Politics, edited by Sarah C. E. Ross and Rosalind Smith. Cham: Palgrave, 2020): 183-202.
- Ross, Sarah C. E. 2020. ‘Hester Pulter’s Devotional Complaints: “Then will I hallelujahs ever sing”’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 20.2: 99-119.
- Ross, Sarah C. E. and Rosalind Smith, eds. 2020. Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form, and Politics. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Smith, Rosalind, Sarah C. E. Ross and Michelle O’Callaghan. 2016. “Complaint”. In A Companion to Renaissance Poetry. Edited by Catherine Bates. Oxford: Blackwell. 339-52.
- Smith, Rosalind. 2019. “‘Woman-like complaints’: lost love in the first part of The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania”. Textual Practice 33.8: 1341-62.