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A life in writing: Elizabeth Cellier and print culture

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The Civil War and Interregnum had enabled a far wider range than before of female activity and vocalisation. The traditions established by spiritual writings asserted the validity and authority of women to write about their souls, trials and opinions. The Popish Plot (1678-81) crisis was seen by contemporaries as a reprise of that war, and, like that period, provoked an outburst of pamphleteering. Elizabeth Cellier, a Catholic midwife at the heart of the “Meal-tub Plot” (1679), was one of the most notorious female writers of the laterseventeenth century. She was both literally and metaphorically pilloried for thepublication of her first pamphlet, Malice Defeated (1680). However, she survived to re-emerge at the accession of James II (1685) as the author of a medical proposal as well as an ironic pamphlet. Cellier, it is argued here, constructed a variety of selves through a variety of styles, drawing deftly on her sources – religious and literary – to defend herself and defame her accusers. Taken as a whole; however, there is considerable consistency in Cellier's writings, and this article discusses the various modes and models that Cellier drew upon as she forged a personality in print.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-10-01

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