By Amanda E. Herbert
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Additional info for Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain
50 For Bell and other Quakers like her, true spiritual companionship was achieved only when friends viewed one another as they imagined God had made them: as equals and equally loved. Medical and Physiological Texts While ideas about religious friendships led some early modern women to style their female alliances as spiritual bonds, other texts enabled them to depict friendship as a naturalized, bodily experience. On May 6, 1695, Rebecca Sherbrook (whose close relationship with her granddaughter 32 i d i o m s a n d l a n g u a g e s o f f e m a l e a l l i a n c e s Dorothea Crisp was mentioned above) understood female alliances as derived from women’s bodies.
These emotions were surely as varied as the women and the situations in which they were experienced: some women may have wept because they were truly sad or empathetic, while others may have wept because it was expected. Whatever individual women’s motivations for weeping might have been, women themselves strategically ignored medical and scientiﬁc prescriptions on controlling women’s natural emotions with the aim of creating and maintaining female alliances. Epistolary Texts The many examples I have given of women expressing their emotional attachments to other women in letters are not accidental, for letters served as a major mode of communication in the early modern British world, and they were centrally integrated into early modern British culture.
Several key features of female friendship are identiﬁed by tracing the impact of ﬁve literary forms and traditions that inﬂuenced elite women’s understandings of sociability, alliance, and friendship: ﬁrst, writings on idealized, classically inspired friendships, a kind of relationship that early modern men often denied as being possible for women but, as we will see, was explicitly claimed by some women as constitutive of their own alliances; next, spiritual discourses on Christian friendship, which were used by women to explain and justify the ties they shared with other women, often in ways which challenged women’s subordination to men; third, vernacular, cheap-print medical pamphlets on such emotions as affection and love, said to be involved in women’s friendships; fourth, correspondence and epistolary guides, which helped to structure and inform women’s letters to their female friends, relatives, and neighbors; and ﬁnally—and critically for this book, because of their impact on constructions of gender identity—works of prescriptive literature about female behavior, which recounted how women were expected to act toward their friends.