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Dorothy Leigh, Mother's Blessing, Joseph Swetnam


As one of the first and most popular female-male authored conduct manuals of the seventeenth century, Dorothy Leigh’s The Mother’s Blessing is usually placed in the company of private, domestic literature. However, it does not sit comfortably there. Leigh claims to forget herself, as she rhetorically navigates her way through the constraining but enabling genre of the conduct manual. In this paper, I position Leigh as one of the initial respondents to Joseph Swetnam’s pamphlet The Arraignment of Lewd, idle, froward and unconstant women . Swetnam also claimed forget himself, as he stirred up the ire of writers in the early seventeenth century. Critics usually note the responses of Constance Munda and Rachel Speght. Munda and Speght outwardly attacked Swetnam; Leigh is less obvious, but perhaps more effective at dismantling Swetnam’s culturally disruptive pamphlet. Invested with the powerful ethos of a dying mother, Leigh moves beyond the traditional role of a seventeenth-century mother. She transcends boundaries of genre and gender in her gentle and moving—but also somewhat seditious and scathing—The Mother’s Blessing. In it, Leigh admits, “[I] forget my selfe,” as she confidently enters the discourse of Early Modern society as if [she] were “a man and a preacher.”