Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Anne Cary (1615-1671)

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Anne Cary (born 1614), more commonly known as Dame Clementina, was a British Benedictine Nun and author from London, England. She served as a Benedictine nun in Paris, establishing the “Our Lady of Good Hope” monastery in 1651 after spending time training as a nun in Cambrai. During her service as a nun, Anne authored over eight Collection Books, Spiritual songs and Psalms Translations. Till today, it is still debated of her participation in the mystery of the written work, “Life”. Anne remained in Paris at the monastery up to her death in 1671 due to illness.

Early Life Anne was born in 1614 in London, England, and baptised at Berkhamsted the same year . She was the eldest daughter of mother, Elizabeth Cary and father, Henry Cary. Elizabeth was a well-known figure in the author community, being one of the first women to publish an original play in English, while Henry served as the first Viscount of Falkland, working as the Jewel house master. Anne was considered “very zealous” at a young age and grew up in Aldenham in London amongst her ten siblings . In 1622, the family moved to Dublin following Henry’s promotion to Lord Deputy of Ireland. Three years after arriving in Ireland, Anne returned to England for some time, travelling between Ireland and England. There she developed a lifelong friendship with Queen Henriette Maria.

Religious Conversion and Cambrai In November 1626, Elizabeth Cary discreetly converted to Catholicism under the eye of Father John Fursdon. During this time, the relationship between Anne’s parents had become strained, and the announcement of Elizabeth’s conversions caused the two to split and live separately with the children assumedly living with their father. When Anne’s father died in 1633, Elizabeth attempted to regain custody of the children with the intention to convert them to Catholicism however, King Charles 1 received news of her plans, and instead sent Anne, alongside her sisters, Lucy, Mary and Elizabeth to the Great Tew estate which was governed by their brother Lucius Cary. The irony of this plan, however, lies in the fact that Anne, alongside her sisters had previously converted to Catholicism in 1634 discreetly, and not informing their mother. However, in 1636, Elizabeth ‘kidnapped’ the children, alongside two of Anne’s brothers, Patrick and Henry, and took them to the convent of Our Lady of Consolation in Cambrai. There, Anne took on the religious name of Clementia and began to take their vows which lasted 8 months from 1638 to 1639. On the 8th of March 1639, Anne officially joined the Benedictines as a choir nun, at the age of 24. According to writings from the Class of 1640 form the convent, Anne, amongst her sisters were described as “more prolific than any other group of nuns educated and professed together at Cambrai.” During her time at Cambrai, Anne began intensely devoting her time and energy to the promotion of Catholicism. Like her mother, she took great pride in her servitude to God. An obituary notice claimed that Clementina often shunned “frequent visits and longe discources”, instead utilising the time to promote prayer and working towards religious perfection. Similarly, when it was announced that a prominent figure in the convent, Father Baker was asked to teach some of the novices, Anne was excited, indicated by her disappointment when the event was cancelled. But his teachings still influenced Anne, emphasised by her death notice which outlined the instructions and mental exercises she adapted from Baker, stating that “she found non more easie and plean to be understood then those of Reverend Father Bakers.” Anne’s time at the convent would end in October 1651, after a downturn in the economic struggle the convent began to experience. To alleviate these difficulties, Anne, alongside her sister Mary, and Sister Scholastica Hodson and Father Serenus Cressy were sent to Paris to establish a new convent, the convent of Our Lady of Good Hope.

“Our Lady of Good Hope Convent” The journey to Paris took them around 1 month, of which Anne was suffering from an illness throughout and they arrived on the 1st of November where they lodged with a commune of Augustinian nuns. With her arrival in Paris, Anne tuned to her friendship with Queen Henrietta Maria to aid in the nun’s goal of establishing a new convent in the city. They were offered an ongoing pension to support them, which remained intact until the Queen died in 1669 and Anne rented a house on Rue St. Dominique for the group, and for the potential to get more sisters for the convent. Similarly, Anne was able to procure funds and support for the development of the convent from Maria and Abbot Walter Montagu. Anne’s skills and such connections made her the key element in the convent being established. Her ability to speak French, and her scholarship made establishing constitutions for the convent significantly easier, a necessary component of the development. And while offered for her significant contributions to the development of the covenant, Anne turned down the position of Abbess.

“Life” Authorship One of the largest mysteries that surround Anne and her family, is the authorship of the written work, Life, which explores the life of their mother, Elizabeth Cary. Over the years there has been extensive research and debate over which of the family wrote the work, but there has been no conclusive evidence for any. It is widely accepted that the work was composed at Cambrai, indicating that author was one of the four sisters, Mary, Anne, Lucy or Elizabeth and was also annotated by some of the other sisters and brother, Patrick. The text is composed of its main text and four editorial commentaries which aim at correcting misinformation in the original text. One belief debates that Anne authored one of these editorial commentaries. However, another belief debates that Anne was the author of the original text and is consistently cited as such in papers. Donald Foster states that that ‘it is clear from a collation of the internal and external evidence that the biography cannot have been written by anyone but Anne Cary.’ And elaborates that she may have preserved many of her mother’s writing as well.

Works Anne’s talents as an author were already recognisable. Her skills as a linguist, and her influence from her mother saw her excel in the literary field. During her time as a nun in Paris, Anne developed over eight collection books, wrote several spiritual songs and translated several Psalms from their Latin Vulgate editions, and has also been titled as one of significant contributors to the Blosius manuscript. Of all her translations, three quires survived and are currently stored at the Archives Departementales du Nord in Lille. The first of these quires contains translations of the Psalms 69 to 78. The second quire contains the end of Psalm 120 to 139, and the final quire covers Psalm 139 to 149. Anne, through her work as a nun, also contributed to the translations of other monastery works. Anne’s written style relies heavily on her usage of the dramatic voice which established a direct communication between God and the speaker. This also establishes Anne’s recognition of the stylised written format, including her familiarity of tone and meter.

Death Anne died on the 26th of April 1671 at the “Our Lady of Good Hope Convent” in Paris due to illness. Her obituary stated that Anne “embraced her illness as a gift from God “and died peacefully on her deathbed.

Legacy After her death, Anne left behind a legacy in both Catholicism and the literary world. Her contributions to the translation of the Psalms, and her original works all altered both the Cambrai and Paris Catholic communities. However, her most significant contribution rests in the development of the “Our Lady of Good Hope covenant” which remains as lasting evidence of the legacy that Anne left behind in her death. During her life, she was praised for both her wisdom, and her devotion to the Catholic faith, and this remained until after her death.

Further Reading

“Cambrai & The Life of Lady Falkland.” By Heather Wolfe
“Sisters and Brothers: Divided Sibling Identity in the Cary Family.” Essay. In Women Writers and Familial Discourse in the English Renaissance: Relative Values. By Marion Wynne-Davies

References Bowden, Caroline. “Collecting the Lives of Early Modern Women Religious: Obituary Writing and the Development of Collective Memory and Corporate Identity.” Women's History Review 19, no. 1 (2010): 7–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/09612020903444619. LISA, JARDINE A FOREWORD BY. Literatures of Exile in the English Revolution and Its Aftermath, 1640-1690. Edited by Philip Major. ROUTLEDGE, 2018. Rhodes, Jan. “The Library Catalogue of the English Benedictine Nuns of Our Lady of Good Hope in Paris.” The Downside Review 130, no. 459 (2012): 54–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/001258061213045904. Wolfe, Heather, ed. Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary 1613 1680. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Wolfe, Heather. “CAMBRAI & THE LIFE OF LADY FALKLAND.” Monlib.org, n.d. http://www.monlib.org.uk/papers/ebch/1998wolfe.pdf. Wynne-Davies, Marion. “Sisters and Brothers: Divided Sibling Identity in the Cary Family.” Essay. In Women Writers and Familial Discourse in the English Renaissance: Relative Values. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.