Hilary Hinds on The Poetry of Mary Mollineux.
In 1671, George Fox urged Friends to ‘pluck down your images, your likenesses, your pictures, and your representation of things in heaven, things in the earth, and things in the waters’. Like other early Protestants, Fox and other early Quakers rejected artistic endeavour: to create was the prerogative of the Almighty, so the creative arts made of the human artificer an imitator of the Creator rather than his worshipper.
Despite such strongly worded prohibitions, however, MaryMollineux (1651?-1696) – a lifelong Friend, born in Liverpool and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle in 1684 for attending a Meeting for Worship – wrote poetry, published posthumously in 1702 as The Fruits of Retirement. The volume found a wide readership, going into six editions over the course of the eighteenth century.
This lecture will consider the early Quaker case against creativity alongside the arguments of other seventeenth-century religious writers on this subject. It will then address the ways in which Mollineux’s work navigates such prohibitions as Fox’s, before considering how the specific forms and practices of Quaker belief find literary shape in her work. It will ask, in particular, what kind of relationship might a faith premised on the godly power of silence have with the artfully written word? How might a commitment to the spontaneity and simplicity of godly utterance be reconciled with the consciously formal craft of literary production?