Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Countess of Montgomeries Urania

This engraved title page depicting a temple on a hill in a sculpted landscape with formal gardens ushered readers into an equally remarkable book: Lady Mary Wroth's The First Part of the Countess of Montgomeries Urania (London: Printed for Joh[n] Marriott and John Gismand, 1621).  Wroth's Urania is thought to be the first original work of fiction written by an English woman.

Urania was written in imitation of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia by Wroth's uncle Sir Philip Sidney with a sprawling plot, hundreds of characters, allusions to members of the court, and a character based on Wroth's lover, the third Earl of Pembroke. When it was first published it caused such a scandal that Wroth sought to have it suppressed.

The book ends with another first in English literature: the first published sonnet sequence penned by an English woman.

For more on Lady Mary Wroth and her writing, see the University of Cambridge's Sidney Homepage.  To see Urania, ask for Rare Book PR2399.W7 U7 1621.  To see the inspiration, ask for Sidney's Arcadia, Rauner Hickmott 120.

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