Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Elizabeth Evelinge (1597–1668)

Elizabeth Evelinge (1597 - 1668) edit

Elizabeth Evelinge
Born1597, England
Other namesCatharine Magdalen (in religion) Also: Augustine; Magdalen; Sister; Catharina; S. Magdalena; Catharine; Sister of St. Magdalen; Saint Augustine.
OccupationAuthor, Translator [3], English abbess of Aire [2], Historian, Nun [1]
SpouseNone, never married. [1]
ChildrenNone [1]

Elizabeth Evelinge (or Evelyn) was born in England in 1597[1] to Robert Evelinge and Sussanah Young.[2] She died in 1668[3] as a woman of revolutionary literary and spiritual activity with published works. This was a rare feat for a woman of her time, as literature was primarily viewed as a masculine occupation.

Biography edit

Evelinge is acknowledged as having been a nun at the Poor Clare convent in Gravelines, the first Franciscan convent for Englishwomen established in 1608/09 which was well-known for its unusual emphasis on scholarship and learning [4](pp. 85).

Scholar Jane Stevenson equates the convent's emphasis on learning to the family heritage of the nuns - many of the nuns came from families of recusant gentry, where learning, particularly the learning of Latin, would have been common. However, unlike other convents, not all nuns of the Poor Clare at Gravelines were encouraged to study- only those with evidenced talent [4](pp. 85).

Evelinge joined the convent in 1620 under the name 'Catherine of Saint Magdalen,' and literary work was a significant facet of her religious devotion[4].

In 1629, Evelinge left the convent at Gravelines to become a founding member of a dissident Poor Clare convent at Aire.[5] It is indicated through her obituary that she was influential within the convent at Aire for her scholarship and leadership, and that she served as the convent's representative for the outside world.[4]

Unfortunately, there is little published information regarding her home or family life, or any other details pertaining to her life until her dates of publication and exile. Scholar Jaimie Goodrich posits Evelinge's omission in the early modern women writer's canon as owing to her mostly anonymous publishings (she was a "quasi-anonymous voice rooted in the cloister"), which reflected Evelinge's immense humility as well as the social stigmas associated with being a woman writer at the time (pp. 100).

Evelinge is remembered as an author, translator[6], English abbess of Aire[3], historian, and Nun.[1]

Works edit

Evelinge produced 64 publications, including 19 works. [6] Her most notable works are Declarations and Ordinances (1622) published in Belgium; The Life of Blessed Sainte Euphrosina (1635); and The History of the Angelicall Virgin Glorious S. Clare (1635), a biography about St Clare which was published in France. [1] The story of St Claire tells of the origins of the Poor Clare convent, following the life of Clara Offreduccio de Favarone, a follower of St Francis of Assisi who was advised to withdraw from his monastery and consequently founded St Francis' Second Order.[5]

Elizabeth wrote primarily in the period between 1620 and 1645. Her works resurfaced in 1995, and have been republished since.[6] Elizabeth's texts have been categorised within various genres including: legends; controversial literature; biographies; and rules.[6] Although some texts were published in Belgium and France, Elizabeth's works are written in English.

Further publications incorporating her work include:[6]

  • "The history of the angelicall virgin glorious S. Clare: dedicated to the Queen's most excellent majesty", extracted out of the R.F. Luke Wadding his annals of the free minors chiefly, by Francis Hendricq and now donne into English, by Sister Magdalen Augustine, of the holy order of the poore clarcs in Aire, by Luke Wadding (16 editions published in English);
  • The life of the glorious virgin S. Clare: Togeather with the conuersion, and life of S.Agnes her sister. And of another S. Agnes, daughter to the King of Bohemia. Also the rule of S. Clare. And the life of S. Catharine of Bologna. Translated into English by Marcos. (16 editions published);
  • The rule of the Holy Virgin S. Clare: Togeather with the admirable life, of S. Catharine of Bologna of the same order, by Clare (4 editions published);
  • Elizabeth Evelinge, II, by Clare (5 editions published);
  • The early modern Englishwoman: a facsimile library of essential works by Elizabeth Evelinge (1 edition published).

Due to her desires to comply with the rules of her life as a nun and to have her voice obscured within her writing, her scholarly work was neglected in it's publication. It was challenging for scholars to establish Evelinge as the author of her works and to establish what was hers and what may have been writings of others at the convent.[4] (CITE)

Legacy edit

Evelinge is a prime example of the struggle between the life of devotion and the life of literature that faced female writers in the early modern era. The resurgence in popularity of her texts in contemporary early modern scholarship highlights the impact women's writing can have despite its years of neglect in the historical canon.

The Poor Clares was a space of privilege for women as far as literature goes. Women were encouraged to author, translate and read, in line with St. Clare herself being the first women to write a religious text prescribing procedural monistic life. She fostered the written scholarship of many other women including Mother Mary Bonaventure Browne.

Scholar Laurie Ellinghausen's review of The Early Modern Englishwoman Part 3 & 5 featuring two of Evelinge's texts, Declarations and Ordinances (1622) and The History of the Angelicall Virgin Glorious S. Clare (1635) highlights the texts as reflective of the literature deemed appropriate for women writers of the period, as they comprise the devotional literature and translation genres which were the usual genres for early modern women writers to engage with. However, Ellinghausen criticises the lack of context provided by the editors around the significance of Evelinge's work, having deemed her texts "essential" for study without clarifying why (pp. 829). However, Elinghausen goes on to identify one interesting aspect of Evelinge's publishing- that "not all print endeavours were commercially motivated or aimed at the widest possible audience." Rather, Evelinge's texts exemplify the existence of early modern women engaging in specialist literary pursuits, as they demonstrate Evelinge's printing of devotional literature for a highly specific audience - the nuns of the Poor Clare's convent.[7]

Consequently, Ellinghausen's identification of the specialised nature of Evelinge's texts highlight one of the legacies of her work - that of an 'instructional manual' for future nuns of the Poor Clare convent.

Scholar Jaimie Goodrich points to how Eveligne's religious writings have left behind a unique access point into understanding the lived experiences of female nuns during the early modern period in their portrayal and reflection of the convent context. Goodrich asserts Evelinge's body of work demonstrates the monastery as a "utopian space where spiritual fulfilment results from shedding one’s worldly identity."[2](pp. 28).

The breadth of existing scholarship on Evelinge's literary work and religious context is indicative of her far-reaching impact as an early modern woman writer. Despite there being little known about her own life, it is clear that she was a woman of significant impact, and her story warrants further research.

Further Reading edit

For a current edition of her life of St Clare, examine Elizabeth Evelinge, I. The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works., edited by Frans Korsten, series 1, part 3, New York: Ashgate, 2002. (EDITED)

Also worth recognising ‘Identity Politics and Nuns’ Writing,' by Marie-Louise Coolahan (Women’s Writing, vol. 14, 2007, pp. 306-20).[1]

For further reading on her legacy and reputation,

  • Goodrich, Jaime. "A Poor Clare's Legacy: Catherine Magdalen Evelyn and New Directions in Early Modern Women's Literary History." English Literary Renaissance, vol. 46, no. 1, 2016, pp. 3-28.
  • Blom, J., & Blom, F. The Early Modern Englishwoman: A facsimile library of essential works. Series 1: Printed writings, 1500-1640; part 3, vol. 3, Elizabeth Evelinge, II, 2002, Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers. https://doi.org/10.2307/20477599
  • Blom, J., & Blom, F. The Early Modern Englishwoman: A facsimile library of essential works. Series 1: Printed writings, 1500-1640; part 3, vol. 5, Elizabeth Evelinge, II, 2002, Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers.
  • Goodrich, Jaime. "“Ensigne-bearers of Saint Clare”: Elizabeth Evelinge’s early translations and the restoration of english franciscanism," eds. M. White, 2011, pp. 83-114. ProQuest. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/lib/newcastle/reader.action?docID=679251&ppg=100.

For further reading on the role that English Convents played in early modern England please refer to:

  • Claire Walker, Gender and Politics in Early Modern Europe: English Convents in France and the Low Countries (hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003);
  • Peter Guilday. The English Catholic Refugees on the Continent 1558–1795, vol. 1 (new York: longmans, green, and co., 1914).

References edit

  1. a b c d "NEWW Women Writers". Resources.Huygens.Knaw.Nl, 2021, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/womenwriters/vre/persons/1479ffbb-3adb-456a-91dc-94c9a498b152.
  2. a b Goodrich, Jaime. “A Poor Clare’s Legacy: Catherine Magdalen Evelyn and New Directions in Early Modern Women’s Literary History.” English Literary Renaissance, vol. 46, no. 1, 2016, pg. 7. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/1475-6757.12058.
  3. a b "Elizabeth Evelinge". Wikidata.Org, 2021, https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q18528560. "Evelinge, Elizabeth [Worldcat Identities]".
  4. a b c d e Goodrich, Jaime. ""Ensigne-Bearers of Saint Clare": Elizabeth Evelinge's Early Translations and the Restoration of English Franciscanism," English Women, Religion, and Textual Production, 1500-1625, edited by Micheline White, Taylor & Francis Group, 2011, pp. 83-89 ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/lib/newcastle/detail.action?docID=679251.
  5. a b Korsten, Frans. Elizabeth Evelinge, I: Printed Writings 1500–1640: Series I, Part Three, Volume 3, London, Routledge, 2002. Taylor and Francis Online, https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/books/mono/10.4324/9781315256788/elizabeth-evelinge-frans-korsten
  6. a b c d e "Evelinge, Elizabeth [Worldcat Identities]". Worldcat.Org, 2021, http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-nr93003907/
  7. Ellinghausen, Laurie. "Review of The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works; Printed Writings, 1500-1640; Part 3, Vol. 3, Elizabeth Evelinge, II; The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works; Printed Writings, 1500-1640; Part 3, Vol. 5, Elizabeth Evelinge, II, by J. Blom, F. Blom, B. Travitsky, & A. L. Prescott." The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 36, no. 3, 2005, pp. 828–29. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/20477496. Accessed 24 Oct. 2022.