Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/ Barbara K. Lewalski

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Barbara K. Lewalski[edit | edit source]

Biography:[edit | edit source]

Brown University, where she and her husband worked during parts of their lives.

Barbara Kiefer Lewalski was an American scholar specialising in Renaissance writing. She was born on February 22nd in 1931 in Topeka, Kansas (Roberts). Her father, John, was a farmer who also worked in commerce, and her Mother, Vivo, was a school teacher and speech therapist (Roberts). Lewalski attended Kansa State Teachers College for her undergraduate degree and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education (Roberts). She also went on to earn her Masters and Doctorate at the University of Chicago (Roberts). She had her first academic appointment at Wellesley College during 1954 to 1956 before teaching at Brown University up until 1982 (Teskey). Following this, Lewalski became an influential figure at Harvard University as the William R. Renon Junior Professor of English Literature and the History of Literature. She continued this work until she retired in 2011 (Teskey). Lewlski died in 2018 on March 2nd of a heart attack. She was 87 years old at the time and was living in Providence, Rhode Island where she resided with her family (Roberts).

Barbara lived a full and successful life. She was a very career-oriented woman, but also had a family in the mix. In her prime, Barbara married Kenneth F. Lewalski who was a Professor at MIT, Brown University, the Beijing Foreign Studies University and then Rhode Island College for thirty years. They originally met at graduate college and later went on to have one son David Lewalski (Roberts). They were with her until the very end.

Works:[edit | edit source]

Lewalski wrote and edited a variety of works during her lifetime, particular in relation to the poet John Milton and other Renaissance writers and themes. She began her writing career with “The Authorship of Ancient Bounds” which was an article she wrote in 1953 that examines the origins of an unsigned tract in 1645 in relation to the Puritan Revolution (Kiefer 192). Lewalski, who was at the time still unmarried as Barbara Kiefer, explores this in a five page article that begins her long career of published writing.

In 1966, Lewalski published one of her most well known works, “Milton’s Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning and Art of Paradise Regained”. This book marked the first of her works on the poems and life of John Milton, the English poet who focused his writing on religious values (Madsen 251). Lewalski’s book discusses the theory of biblical epics, the way that Paradise Regained diverts from the neoclassical norm and provides an analysis of the theme and action within Milton’s text (Madsen 251).

Succeeding this, Lewalski wrote a selection of works focusing on the Renaissance era. These include “Donne’s Anniversaries and the Poetry of Praise: The Creation of a Symbolic Mode” published in 1973 and “Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-century English Lyric” in 1979. In 1985 she published “Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms” which examines Milton’s work “Paradise Lost”. Her book explores the literary genres and modes of the poem, analysing rhetorical techniques and of Milton’s own desires (Lewalski 4).

Her later works include “Writing Women in Jacobean England” in 1993, which explores women writing in resistance to the patriarchal structures of the time they were composing in and acknowledging what the women were able to express despite this (Kegl 147). She also wrote “The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography” in 2000, entailing his development of ideas and analysing his prose and poetry works (Lewalski xii). Lewalski was also the editor of “The Polemics and Poems of Rachel Speght” in 1996 and “John Milton, Paradise Lost” in 2007. Her contribution to the collection of works about Milton and Renaissance writing is extensive and important for this field of study.

Reputation/ Legacy:[edit | edit source]

Overall, Lewalski’s publishings have been met mostly with critical praise both at the time she wrote them, and in contemporary times. Her work “Milton’s Brief epic: The Genre, Meaning and Art of Paradise Regained” was very well received at the time. William Madsen, a scholar at the University of Chicago, reviewed this work in 1968 and wrote that it is a “splendid book” (Madsen 251) with “careful and persuasive analysis” (Madsen 251). Scott-Craig in 'The Journal of Religion 167' also praises this work, expressing how well Lewalski was able to explore Milton’s biblical background and views and her strategic analysis of genre at the time. (Scott-Craig 66).

Lewalski’s “Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms” was not praised quite as extensively at the time of its release but was nevertheless still appreciated. As Kendrick states “it is unfortunate then, that Lewalski does not so much argue her case as document it” (Kendrick 213) commenting on her lack of analysis in this text. However, he does praise her book as having many virtues and redeeming features (Kendrick 213). Overall, she was a generally well-received and extremely important scholar in her field during the time that she was composing her texts. As a result of her efforts, she was made an Honoured Scholar of the Milton Society of America in 1977 (Teskey).

Today, Lewalski is regarded by others as a critical figure in renaissance writing and the works of Milton. Loewenstein published a collection of essay’s in 2018 on Lewalski’s works. He asserts that her exploration of genres was ground breaking and her work on early modern women writers was paramount to the field (Loewenstein 175). Strier states that Lewalski had a crucial influence on devotional lyric of the period of early modern English writing. She argues that Lewalski established ideas that had not been raised or analysed before (Strier 184). Knopper also praises her work, arguing that she was able to create a new lens through which to view Milton’s work by having such heterogeneous research. She also highlights that since Lewalski originally opened up a new way of viewing this type of writing, there are actually more diverse and less directed ways of perceiving it in from a more modern standpoint (Knoppers 176). These scholarly views of her work reiterate the far-reaching impact her writing had.

Further Reading:[edit | edit source]

Teskey, Gordon. “Barbara Lewalski (1931-2018).” Harvard University Department of English, 8 March 2018, https://english.fas.harvard.edu/news/barbara-lewalski-1931-2018.Loewenstein, David. "Five Perspectives on Barbara Lewalski's Path‐breaking Scholarship and Career: Preface." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp. 175-175. EBSCOhost, oi:10.1111/milt.12302.

References:[edit | edit source]

“Books by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski.” Goodreads, 2020, https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/388142.Barbara_Kiefer_Lewalski.

Kiefer, Barbara. “The Authorship of ‘Ancient Bounds.’” Church History, vol. 22, no. 3, 1953, pp.192–196. JSTOR, ww.jstor.org/stable/3161860.

Kegl, Rosemary. “Reviewed Works: Writing Women in Jacobean England.” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 1996, pp. 147–150. JSTOR, oi:10.2307/463978.

Kendrick, Chris. "Reviewed Works: Milton, Poet of Duality by R. A. Shoaf; Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski.” Criticism, vol. 28, no. 2, 1986, pp. 213-216. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23110426.

Knoppers, Laura L. "Barbara Lewalski's Optic Glass." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp.176-179. Wiley Online Library, oi:10.1111/milt.12303.

Lewalski, Barbara K. The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography. Wiley-Blackwell, 2001.

Lewalski, Barbara Kiefer. Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms. Princeton University Press, 1985. JSTOR, ww.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvfn9.

Loewenstein, David. "Five Perspectives on Barbara Lewalski's Path‐breaking Scholarship and Career: Preface." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp. 175-175. EBSCOhost, oi:10.1111/milt.12302.

Madsen, William G. "Milton's Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning, and Art of "Paradise Regained” Barbara Kiefer Lewalski , Milton." Modern Philology, vol. 65, no. 3, 1968, pp. 251-253. JSTOR, oi:10.1086/389978.

Roberts, Sam. “Barbara Lewalski, 87, Milton Scholar and Barrier Breaker, Is Dead.” The New York Times, 29 March 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/29/obituaries/barbara-lewalski-87-milton-scholar-and-barrier-breaker-is-dead.html.

Scott-Craig, T. S. K. "Milton's Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning, and Art of "Paradise Regained". Barbara Kiefer Lewalski." The Journal of Religion, vol. 47, no. 1, 1967, pp. 66-67. JSTOR, oi:10.1086/485986.

Strier, Richard. "Barbara Lewalski and a Critical Revolution." Milton Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, 2019, pp. 184-186. Wiley Online Library, oi:10.1111/milt.12305

Teskey, Gordon. “Barbara Lewalski (1931-2018).” Harvard University Department of English, 8 March 2018, https://english.fas.harvard.edu/news/barbara-lewalski-1931-2018.