The Author to Her Book: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Anne Bradstreet
  • 1:06 Poem Summary
  • 2:11 Poem Analysis
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

This lesson covers Anne Bradstreet's poem 'The Author to her Book.' We'll discuss the poem's inspiration and summary, analyze some of its major themes, and finish with a quiz to test your knowledge.

Anne Bradstreet

When we think about art forms, such as novels, poetry, paintings, or music, how much thought do we give to the diligent work that went into creating it? Did they write, or paint, or compose music for their own amusement? Did they use it for financial support? Was their work never intended for public consumption and only discovered after their death? Anne Bradstreet's 17th-century poem called, 'The Author to Her Book', tries to answer precisely these types of questions from the perspective of a writer.

Anne Bradstreet was one of the first settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America. She traveled there from England with her husband, Simon. During her lifetime, she wrote a series of poems about England, her love for her husband, and her family life. Her brother-in-law, John Woolbridge, took her collection of poetry to London and had it published. He discovered the collection in 1650 and, many scholars presume, took it without Bradstreet's knowledge or permission, which supposedly prompted the writing of 'The Author to Her Book.'

Poem Summary

The poem's speaker, presumably Bradstreet, personifies her book of poetry, addressing it as if it were her own child, calling it the 'offspring' of her brain. She does not, at first, seem to think highly of it, describing it as ill-formed, and she is unhappy that 'friends,' (supposedly Woolbridge), took it from her to be published. She describes it as a child dressed in rags, unfit to be seen in public. However, maternal feelings prevail, and she tries to revise it but continues to find fault. Finally, she concludes that the book is fit for popular consumption, but should remain out of the hands of critics, who might not appreciate it.

Bradstreet probably wrote the poem in around 1666, and it was included in an edition published in 1678, after her death. It remains unclear whether or not she wished her book to be published. Female authors at the time were scorned, so speculation is that she had to pretend ignorance of Woolbridge's actions for the sake of her reputation.

Poem Analysis

'The Author to Her Book' is a poem that deals with the question of authorial agency, or the amount of control that an author has over his or her writing. Bradstreet clearly has a strong attachment to her work, so much so that she refers to it as a child to which she's given birth. In the opening line, she refers to the book as 'thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain.'

Like any protective mother, she wishes to keep it close and doesn't want it released into the world until it is strong enough, or perhaps even at all. Her struggle to maintain agency over the book shows when she claims it was 'snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true, who thee abroad exposed to public view.' This is believed to refer, as previously mentioned, to the fact that Bradstreet's brother-in-law took the book with him to England in 1650 and had it published. These lines suggest that Woolbridge acted against Bradstreet's wishes; they also reflect the scrutiny that women authors faced during this period, when they were expected to parrot the opinions of men rather than express their own. Many of Bradstreet's poems are intimate verses about her marriage, as well as reflections on religion and spirituality.

The poem also explores the idea of art for the sake of utility versus entertainment. Bradstreet might have written for her own amusement and for that of close family and friends, but in the poem's final lines, she declares, 'And for thy mother, she alas is poor, which caused her thus to send thee out of door.' That Bradstreet allowed her work to be published only as a way to earn money is a familiar theme among many writers who never believed they would be famous, only to discover that the popularity of their work earned them financial stability.

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