Title: A PACK OF LIES IN A LOOKING GLASS: LADY MARY WROTH'S URANIA AND THE MAGIC MIRROR OF ROMANCE ,  By: Carrell, Jennifer Lee, Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter94, Vol. 34, Issue 1
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There is an use howe a dayes worse than amonge the pagans, that bokes wrytten in our mothers tonges, that be made but for idel men and women to reade, have none other matter but of war and love: of the whiche bokes I thinke it shall not nede to geve any preceptes.

In A Very Fruteful and Pleasant Booke Called the Instruction of a christen woman (ca. 1529), Juan Luis Vives, tutor to Princess Mary, firmly announces that he need give no "precepts" about the evil effects of books "of war and love"-the genre that we call romance.[1] However, his statement seems to have provoked rather than soothed his own anxiety on the subject, because he immediately launches into a seven-page diatribe about the evils of reading romances. One of the most peculiar twists in Vives's critique of romance is his perception that the genre is both a pack of lies and a looking glass-a looking glass aimed in part at altering women. On the whole, it is a strange effect to attribute to looking glasses. In Vives's formulation, the genre of romance as read by women is a carnivalesque (and sinful) house of mirrors.

Nearly one hundred years after Vives's book was first translated from Latin into English, an event occurred that might have sent the Tudor tutor into a tantrum had be still been alive to rant. In 1621, Lady Mary Wroth published the first English prose fiction written by a woman, a romance entitled The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania.[2] If it is difficult to find men discussing women reading romances in the Renaissance, it is next to impossible to discover women discussing their own readings of romance. The closest thing to a Renaissance woman's treatise about women reading romances is Wroth's Urania, of which book and its place among fellow Jacobean romances (pace Vives) I think I shall try to give a few precepts.

What the Urania reveals is one woman's repetitive construction of a liminal space, a no-woman's-land between fact, or "what really happened," and fiction, or in Sidney's words, "nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be."[3] These definitions of fact and fiction resolve a complex relationship into a neat opposition; I deliberately use "fact" and "fiction" in this simplistic manner because Wroth appears to have constructed her romance to deconstruct just such a crude formulation. Her fictions are quite often quasifactual, so that her readers find it impossible to distinguish which episodes and characters belong to which category. Both the author and her characters participate in an endless creation of stories within stories; all these storytellers, especially Wroth, stand outside their fictions, looking in at and being changed by distorted reflections of themselves. In Jacobean England, however, Wroth's two-way mirror game was not a standard element of romance. The scant available evidence about generic expectations of romance in this period comes from the pens of men; Wroth's romance suggests that the expectations held by many male readers differed significantly from those held by at least one woman. In the early Renaissance, texts identified as mirror-texts were often conduct-books-literary patterns of ideal behavior that were supposed to reach out from a text and influence reality.[4] It was the use of romances as such pattern-books that Vives abhorred and many romance-writers exploited. On the other hand, the Jacobean romans a clef offered accurate reflections of factual events and people within fiction-real behavior masquerading in romance costume. Wroth's mirror-text, however, purports to reflect in both directions. The authors in and of the Urania continually tell tales that both reflect and distort their own "realities"; the power and the peril of these reflections is that, rather than residing safely within the mirror-fictions, they leap back through the looking glass to alter the various authors' realities. In Wroth's formulation, the genre of romance, as read (and written) by women, is a carnivalesque (and empowering) house of magic mirrors.

Vives divided the fact and the fiction within romance along the lines of love and war; stories of love were sinfully true while stories of war were ridiculously false. When it comes to war, writes Vives, romances lie: "And when they tel ought, what delyte can bee in those thynges, that be so playne and folyshe lies? One kylleth .xx. hym selfe alone another .xxx. an other wounded with C. woundes and lefte deade ryseth up agayne, and on the next day made hole and stronge, overcometh ii. gyauntes, and than goeth away loden with golde, and sylver, and precious stones, mo than a galy wolde cary a waie" (sig. D3r). In contrast, when it comes to love Vives warns that romances tell an odious truth of wanton passion: "For many, in whome there is no good mynd alredy, reden those bokes, to kepe them selfe in the thoughtes of love . . . . For oftentymes the onely cause why they prayse theim, is because they see in them theyr owne condicions, as in a glasse" (sig. D2r-D3r, emphasis mine). For Vives, however, romances not only reproduce the truth; more importantly, they produce it, reaching out from their debauched fictional worlds to alter the shape of reality. Although he notes that these books are made for both "idle men and women," to his mind they are dangerous primarily for women, who are prone to lust and deceit. Vives makes it quite clear that he assumes romances are texts made by men partially in order to provoke women to give themselves up to illicit love: "Also there is no witte in them, but a fewe wordes of wanton lust, which be spoken to move hir mynde, with whom they love, if it chaunce she be stedfast" (sig. D3r, emphasis mine). The pronouns mark a telling division of labor; as usual, the male "they" is active, while the female is passively acted upon. Vives does not specify whether he means primarily characters or readers at this point; however, his argument, complete with looking-glass imagery, suggests that what the characters do has an effect on what the readers do. In Vives's vision, romances are a ploy on the part of lustful men to entrap within their illicit desire even the best of women, and the books are dangerous, Vives suggests, because the ploy works all too well. The answer to this problem is not to curb the appetites of men, but to regulate women's reading:

Therefore a woman shulde beware of all these bokes, lyke wyse as of serpentes or snakes. And if there be any woman, that hath suche delyte in these bokes that she will not leave them oute of hir handes: she shulde not onely be kepte from rheim but also if she reade good bokes with an yil wyll and lothe thereto, hir father and frendes shulde provide that she maie be kept from all readyng, And so by disuse, forget learnyng, if it can be done.

(sig. D4r)

Ever since Eve, Vives implies, women have proved themselves prone to being duped, and romances, with their wheedling lures to immorality, are therefore particularly dangerous for women readers.

Attitudes about the dangers of women reading romances seem to have changed across the century that separated Vives from Wroth. In 1578, Margaret Tyler dared to translate and publish the first part of Ortunez de Calahorra's Mirrour of Princely deedes and Knighthood, but she felt embattled enough to expend two prefatory epistles defending her right to do so despite her gender: "my perswasion hath bene thus," she declares, "that it is all one for a woman to pen a story, as for a man to addresse his story to a woman."[5] Although Tyler subscribes to the old adage that romance should both teach and delight, her self-defense for the act of translating so preoccupied her that she never got around to describing exactly what it was, other than "the varietie and continuall shift of fresh matter" and "speaches short and sweet," that so delighted her within the romance she translated-whether it was the lying feats of war or the alluring feats of love, or even both (sig. A3r).

No woman seems to have followed Tyler's brave lead until Wroth picked up her pen, but male authors continued to dedicate their romances to women. In the 1590s two of the greatest English masterpieces of the genre were published with dedications to quite illustrious women: The Faerie Queene to Queen Elizabeth and The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia to Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Though the Urania lacks a formal dedication, its title suggests a de facto dedication to Susan Herbert, Countess of Montgomery. As well as appearing with honors on dedication pages, women also owned and read romances. Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset recorded having both The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia read to her by one Moll Neville, and one of the extant copies of the Urania is three times inscribed "Dorothy Long her booke"; presumably Dorothy read the book she so proudly claimed to own.[6] Nevertheless, despite abundant evidence that women looked into romances, there is, to date, no evidence that they wrote down any reflections upon what they found there--until Wroth. As the product of a woman's writing, Wroth's book both reflects and embodies one particular woman's precepts about her own process of reading romances.

As attitudes towards women reading romances changed across the century separating Vives from Wroth, readers' concerns about the division between fact and fiction were also changing. Like Vives, Wroth uses the metaphor of a looking glass full of both fact and fancy to describe romance. The unsettling thing about Wroth's romance is that, contrary to Vives's formulation, she (and her characters) refuse to divide fact from fancy-along Vives's lines of love and war, or any other lines. The Urania is a many-layered Chinese Box of tales; sometimes the narration shows two, even three levels of story (within story [within story]) within the primary narrator's tale. Many of these inset tales deliberately echo with varying degrees of fidelity the events and characters that surround them; often, when a character within the Urania tells a story, he or she presents the tale as a fiction-with a wink. When the perpetually lovelorn and fanatically constant Queen Pamphilia requests a love story, her friend Limena replies: "If you doe desire to heare, of Love, and of loves crosses, I will tell you a discourse, the Sceane shall be in my Countrey, and the rather will I tell it, since in that, you shall see your selfe truly free from such distresse, as in a perfect glasse, none of your true perfections can be hidden, but take not this tale for truth" (U, p. 189 [misnumbered as 199], emphasis mine). Oddly enough, the story that follows is indeed a "perfect glasse," but to Pamphilia, it reflects an image anything but "truly free from such distresse." Limena tells a story of a young princess named Alena who grows up with the young Lord Lincus, who eventually becomes her lover. After some years, however, Lincus deserts her and pins his attention on another, leaving Alena to weep, though not to betray her own desperate constancy. When Alena is near death of a broken heart, he comes back to her, and she recovers, only to watch him leave her again. Alena makes a friend of her rival Pelia, becoming the confidante whom Pelia chooses as the audience for her own love lament when the fickle Lincus wanders off after yet another woman. Limena concludes this "fiction" by assuring Pamphilia: "I have given you this short example of true love, faigned I confesse the story is, yet such may be, and will be lovers Fates" (U, p. 191, emphasis mine).

Despite Limena's precept, "take not this tale for truth," this looking glass refuses to lie outright, and the short feigned story mirrors with uncomfortable accuracy some of the trials of three of the Urania's primary characters, Pamphilia, Amphilanthus, and Antissia. Pamphilia recognizes the reflected image, giving "great attention to it, and the more, because her last adventure, and this discourse did somewhat neere concurre, as ending in misfortune. why (said she to her selfe), should all chuse: these or such like wofull histories, of purpose to torment me with feare, that I may live to see like woes?" (U, pp. 191-92). The question is rhetorical. Pamphilia can partially answer it even as she asks it because Uranian fictions have certain marked characteristics; Limena's tale and Pamphilia's response exhibit two of them. First, Uranian tales mingle fact and fiction to fulfill a spiral function: to alter (or fictionalize) the reflections of "reality" found within romance and then to project such altered reflections (or fictions) back out of the romance to alter the original "reality." The answer to the queen's question of "why tell this story?" is that Limena wishes her to avoid "like woes" by hearing tales both like and unlike Pamphilia's life-story, in the hopes that the queen will consequently change that unhappy plot. Second, Uranian tales mingle fact and fiction in such a way as to create an inseparable tangle of truth and lies; insofar as the factual elements are recognizable, they are to be noted silently, in private. Pamphilia notes her reflected image only to herself. Over and over again in the Urania, fiction and fact blend, but the recognition of the factual elements within the fiction always takes place as a private meditation. The reader is allowed to watch the characters recognize distorted images of themselves and relate distorted images of others, but the characters never allegorically interpret their factual fictions. If the purpose of romance as a magic mirror is to fictionalize facts in order to reflect the alterations back out into "reality," then to unfictionalize the facts is perhaps to unravel the spell, to suggest that the facts can remain unchanged by the fictions. It is as if the practice of separating the fact from the fiction would destroy the magic of the mirror. It is therefore imperative for Wroth's project that romance remain in a liminal space between fiction and fact.

Within her fiction, Wroth does not split the preference for this kind of tale-telling along gender lines. Both men and women conspire to entwine fact with fiction in order to change the facts, and both men and women conspire to keep their stories in this liminal space-at least publicly. When Pelarina wants to make a particularly powerful and poignant complaint to her unfaithful lover, she confesses to having exercised a "fond humour of writing":

I had set downe some things in an idle Booke I had written, which when he saw, hee thought touched, or came too neere, or I imagined so, because in some places he had turnd downe leaves, and onely at such as he might if hee would dislike, and were those I thought hee would take notice of, yet he neither did by word nor writing, not honouring so much, who was his slave, as to finde fault, or to seeme pleasd. I was me thought left to conjecture, and the further I went in such conjecture I runne into feare and sorrow that I had offended, yet I can cleare my selfe if I might come to answere, but I cannot.

(U, p. 454 [misnumbered as 424])

Both Pelarina and her inconstant lover know what Uranian fictions are and what they are supposed to do. Whether or not the strategy works, Pelarina tells her tale in order to alter her lover's behavior--to change the "real" story that the tale at least partially reflects. Although her lover recognizes what she is doing, neither he nor she ever explicitly interprets the allegory. There is a tacit understanding inside Wroth's fictional world that the links (and the gaps) between fact and fiction are to be allowed to remain invisible-certainly in public, and arguably even in private. Only the command of a queen can induce Pelarina to retell her story as a tale imbedded within the Urania; even so, the public version is less than generous with details like names and places. Pelarina tells her tale because the queen is anxious to hear a love story-not a gossip session about who committed which sordid acts.

Like her characters, Wroth doggedly refused to separate out the fiction from the fact in her stories. The Urania has no preface and no key; Wroth offers not so much as a sly authorial wink to the reader to compare with Limena's coy caveat to Pamphilia. This silence was, by 1621, a strange and tantalizing refusal to play the game of pastoral romance according to generic expectations-as expounded by men. The Urania is in part a pastoral romance, and, in the words of George Puttenham, the pastoral was a mode that poets employed "under the vaile of homely persons, and in rude speeches to insinuate and glaunce at greater matters, and such as perchance had not bene safe to have been disclosed in any other sort."[7] Pastoral, in other words, carried a generic expectation to present truth dressed as fiction, and, on the whole, pastoral romance had at least paid lip service to that expectation. In his preface to the pastoral romance Diana, one of the major literary influences on the Urania, Jorge de Montemayor announced that "from hence the first booke begins: and in the others following, they [presumably the readers] shall finde divers histories of accidents, that have truly happened, though they goe muffled under pastorall names and style."[8]

In contrast to the state of affairs within Wroth's fictional world, in the actual world of Jacobean England the opposing desires for romance to remain suspended in a liminal space between fact and fiction, or to provide one-to-one allegorical equivalences that translate facts into fiction and back again, appear to be split quite definitely along gender lines. Without exception, all the extant response to the Urania reveals the assumptions that Wroth's fiction masked facts and that she both could and should expose the masquerade. Without exception, all the extant response is also male? It is precarious to generalize along gender lines about the Jacobean practice of the reading of romance when there remains (to my knowledge) only one example of a woman's reading as opposed to countless snippets of information-from formal literary criticism, to romances and their prefaces, to letters and poems of "non-professional" readers-which illustrate men's readings of romance. However, since one woman's reading is all that is currently available, I will venture to highlight this woman's reading as a deliberate refusal to play the game of romance reading (and writing) according to male expectations, leaving open the possibility that her response may be indicative of the way other educated women of Jacobean England wanted to read romance.[10]

Immediately upon publication, Wroth's book was assumed to be a roman a clef, and although she did not provide a key to her work, her (male) readers set out to work one out for themselves. Edward, Lord Denny read himself into the episode of Sirelius, in which a father, "a phantastical thing, vaine as Courtiers, rash as mad-men, & ignorant as women," tries to kill his daughter when he suspects her of infidelity; the supposedly cuckolded Sirelius rescues his wife from her father's knife (U, p. 439). Denny was powerful enough to raise a ruckus that Wroth could not avoid; his letters of protest to Wroth reveal that the most powerful men in England, including King James, seem to have been acquainted with her book and to have read it with fact-digging preoccupations similar to his own. "The whole wor[l]d conceves me to be ment in one of the weakest and unworthiest passages of your booke," he wrote, and proceeded to defend his own production of insulting verses directed at Wroth as "but a small recompence to be the onely chosen foole for a May-game, before all the World and especially before a Wise King and Prince, with all the nobility."[11] Wounded male pride was apparently not the only impetus to view her romance as a mirror; even those who felt themselves to be no more than spectators of a scandal assumed that Wroth's book was a grand roman a clef that indiscriminately whisked courtiers from reality into romance. The indefatigable letter writer John Chamberlain wrote that in the Urania Wroth "takes great libertie or rather licence to traduce whom she please, and thincks she daunces in a net."[12] However, Chamberlain names no names other than those of Denny and his daughter, nor does anyone else. Despite her critics' (contemporary and modern) tendency to generalize about her wholesale insertion of the Jacobean court into her romance, Denny and his family remain to this day the only identifiable people within the Urania other than Wroth's family, and Denny publicly blazoned this identification himself.[13] Wroth merely replied, "I never thought on you in my writing, nor meant you or any nor did I never speake any such thing."[14] Despite her denial, Wroth may indeed have meant Denny, having badly misjudged the cost of her indiscretion. However, insofar as it is a roman a clef, the Urania is for the most part a distorted reflection of her own family affairs, not an accurate portrait of public scandals. Nonetheless, generic expectations are not easily foiled. Nearly twenty years after the Urania's only publication, at least one male reader was still picking through her fiction for facts; George Manners, seventh earl of Rutland, wrote to Lady Mary asking for a key: "And heere meetinge with your Urania I make bold to send this enclosed and begg a favor from you that I may read with more delight. If you please to interprete unto me the names as heere I have begunn them, wherein you shall much oblige me."[15] The response of these men to Wroth's fiction suggests that what Jacobean male readers looked for in a romance was not, in fact, fiction, but fact dressed up as fiction, and dressed up in such a way that it could be readily stripped of its costume, so that the reader could stare at the naked truth.

Wroth was not the only person to entangle fact and fiction within romance, and fact-finding expeditions were by no means confined to the Urania. The generic expectation of finding fact in romance fiction seems to have been a chief part of the delight that Jacobean male readers took in these works. In 1621, John Barclay published his Argenis, the only other major original romance fiction published by an English writer in that year. Because Barclay chose to write his romance in Latin, it appears that he originally intended it for an educated (and therefore primarily male) audience. The king, in his role of wise Solomon, was delighted with the book, and requested Ben Jonson to translate it, presumably to disseminate its royally sanctioned glories to the less educated but romance-hungry public.[16] Like the Urania, the Argenis was also read as a mirror-fiction. In his preface to the first English translation in 1625, Kingesmill Long described the work as "a perfect Glasse of State."[17] This "perfect glass," far more audacious than Wroth's romance, presented in the guise of fiction highly sensitive facts, including a version of the Overbury murder and the fall of Somerset.[18] The major differences between the Argenis and the Urania seem to have been that the Argenis was written by a man for an audience of men, and that the relationship between its fiction and Jacobean fact was easily discernible: it was fact masquerading (not very subtly) as fiction. Barclay's book was translated and republished several times in both Latin and English-and, beginning with the second editions in each language, it was published with a key that made explicit one-to-one links between fictional characters and historical people.

If Jacobean readers could not find such explicit links in romances, they created them. Decades earlier, in the 1580s, Philip Sidney had included within the Arcadia some characters that seem to be ciphers for himself, but they remained marginal, hovering in the shadows at the edges of his fiction. However, in 1621 (a curiously overdetermined year in the annals of allegorical romance) Sidney's romance was newly published with a bridge between the new and old Arcadias; this supplement, by Sir William Alexander, unambiguously unites the Knight of the Sheep, Philisides, and Philip Sidney.[19] Whereas Vives had fulminated against romances as lies that served as patterns of sinful conduct, Jacobean men reveled in romances that were reflections of actual conduct, whether ideally heroic (as in the addition to the Arcadia) or scandalously sinful (as in the Argenis).

Wroth's refusal to interpret her work as a roman d clef and her characters' silent meditation on the inextricable links between fact and fiction suggest that Wroth wanted her fiction to remain in the liminal space that she so carefully created between fact and fiction. Her male readers' response to both her book and to other romances suggests that this liminal space was not only not what most male readers desired, it was downright threatening. The idea that her romance was a mirror with strange powers (rather than the simple mirror or "perfect glass" to be expected in pastoral romance) is not merely a nice critical metaphor; Wroth herself employed mirror imagery within her text, and Lord Denny picked up on it. His complaint is not exactly that the Urania reveals the truth by publicly reflecting a private family scandal, but that the romance reflects both truth and lies. "The truth is too apparant," he protested.[20] Nevertheless, Denny also staunchly and even hysterically maintained that the story of domestic violence was a lie. He saw in the Urania the same pack of lies in a looking glass that Vives saw a century earlier, and he vented his fury on Wroth in verse:

A Thrid but of thine owne which thou hast spunn By which thou plainly seest in thine owne glass How easy tis to bring a ly to pass Thus hast thou made thy self a lying wonder.[21]

A mirror-image that lies is a monstrous thing, and Denny, in an angry lapse of logic that conflates Wroth with her romance, asserts that Wroth is not only "a lying wonder" but also a "Hermophradite in show, in deed a monster."[22] As a woman assuming the usually male position of author, Wroth opened herself up to abuse; however, Denny's scorn of Wroth as the ultimate embodiment of liminality takes on an added significance in light of her struggle to keep her romance in a liminal position between fact and fiction and his interpretation of the text as both true and false.

Denny was perhaps unwise to attack Wroth using looking-glass imagery since she had already proved herself a magician with mirrors. Her response demonstrates her powers once again. Rather than create original invective, Wroth held up to Denny a mirror image of his own verse. Her poem "Railing Rimes Returned upon the Author by Mistress Mary Wrothe" reverses Denny's poem line by line, twisting the sense to Wroth's own ends and revealing a cleverness with language that is truly Sidneian.[23] Her cleverness, however, could not rescue her fiction. Her refusal to meet the generic expectations of her powerful male readers resulted in her offer to recall the book and ultimately in its obscurity; it was never reprinted.[24] Nevertheless, despite the fact that her male readers either could not or would not leave her romance in a liminal position, the Urania and Wroth's defense of it suggests that part of what Wroth and her female characters enjoyed in a romance story was that very liminality, the neither-flesh-nor-fowl character of fictional fact/factual fiction.

A recent study of the continual, even addictive, reading of romances by modern suburban housewives suggests that a similar mixture of fact and fiction is still what fascinates many women within one modern descendant of the Urania's genre. Over and over, the women interviewed said "I am whatever is going on in the story."[25] By their own admission, these women use these romances as a kind of rebellion, an escape from the monotony of their everyday lives; they identify with the fictional characters and experience vicariously the fictional events of the love stories. While they do not want plots that reflect the shape of their own lives too closely, these same women do demand from their romances factual (if formulaically exotic) settings like Regency England or Caribbean islands, and they proudly regard these works as geographically and historically educational. Lady Mary Wroth's reading of romance, as seen through her writing of romance, presents a similar scenario of mixed fact and fiction with an important twist. Rather than walking into a satisfying fictional story in a factual setting, Wroth takes an unsatisfying situation from her own life and creates a fantasia of endless variations upon her basic factual story; weaving fact and fantasy into an inseparable web, she uses the Urania to tell and retell the story of her own love affair with her first cousin, William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke. As a background for this reality, or more precisely, these fictionalized realities, Wroth provides formulaically exotic fictional settings. Rather than places or periods, Wroth offers as background a sort of greatest hits parade of the most memorable episodes from masterpieces of romance. From Sidney, she takes an episode of a knight dressing up as an Amazon to woo his lady love. From Amadis of Gaul, she takes the story of an island palace that magically tests the lovers who attempt to enter it. From Montemayor, she takes the magic water that induces oblivion in lovers, allowing them to turn to new loves without blame. From Spenser, she takes the gruesome scene of the magician who carves out a fair lady's heart in an enchanted underground chamber; and from Malory, or some version of the Arthurian legend, she takes the motif of the sword in the stone. For Wroth, reading and writing a romance is not a rebellion in the form of escape, but a rebellion in the form of control. By becoming the author of her own ideal romance, she can consciously shape and reshape the outcomes of her nearly infinite variations on the single basic (basically factual) plot of unrequited constancy that so enthralls her.[26] It was perhaps this assertion of control over plots both fictional and factual that was so appalling to her male readers.

The Jacobean responses to the Urania suggest that Wroth was perceived to be breaking the male-defined rules of the game of pastoral romance. She did much more, however, than break or revise the rules of a man's game to make it reflect more accurately her desires; she created a whole new game-a new mode of romance-using the same old pieces. She combines the Jacobean idea that romances are fictions which simply mask fact with Vives's old idea that romances are fictions that alter fact; the result is a double mirroring, a spiralling process of controlled change. In the Urania, Wroth experiments with the basic structure of romance narrative, tinkering with tales that reflect altered images of reality in order to alter, in turn, (rather than merely report) the very reality that they supposedly reflect.

In order to demonstrate Wroth's experimental construction of a magic mirror out of romance narrative, it will be necessary to review the pertinent details of her biography. Wroth, nee Sidney, was a scion of one of the most eminent literary families in Renaissance England; Sir Philip Sidney was her uncle, and Mary (Sidney) Herbert, the countess of Pembroke, Wroth's aunt and probably her namesake, undoubtedly provided Wroth with the figure of a female author whom she could idolize at close range. Even Sir Robert Sidney, Wroth's father, found time during his Governorship of Flushing to write a sonnet sequence. If Wroth's family connections make some sense out of what must have been an unquenchable drive to write, her own experience makes sense of her drive to write the particular story told and retold in The Countess of Mountgomery's Urania.[27]

Nothing is known about the early relationship between Wroth and her cousin Pembroke except that they seem to have spent a great deal of time together when they were young. In 1604, the cousins were both married, Mary to Sir Robert Wroth in September, and William to Lady Mary Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury, in November. Both marriages appear to have been unhappy from the beginning. Just weeks after the Wroths' wedding, Sir Robert Sidney was already writing to Lady Sidney that "there was some what that doth discontent [Wroth]: but the particulars I could not get out of him, onely that hee protests that bee cannot take any exceptions to his wife, nor her carriage towards him."[28] Ben Jonson lifted the veil a bit more when he reported succinctly to Drummond, "my Lady wroth is unworthily maried on a Jealous husband."[29] Pembroke's marriage was also less than ideal. His first biographer wrote that "he was most unhappy, for he paid much too dear for his wife's fortune by taking her person into the bargain," though just what was so obnoxious about Lady Mary Talbot is never clarified.[30]

Although whatever bad feelings lay between the Wroths were eventually smoothed over, the couple's interests diverged. Sir Robert Wroth was a sportsman whose life revolved around royal forests and hunting, while both Lady Mary's and Pembroke's lives centered on court and literary circles. Lady Mary, at least at the beginning of James's reign, was one of the queen's favorite ladies; Pembroke became the Lord Chamberlain upon the fall of Somerset. Both Lady Mary and Pembroke wrote poetry, and both were famous literary patrons.[31]

In February of 1614, Lady Mary bore a son she named James; the earl of Pembroke stood in as deputy godfather for the king during the infant's christening at Penshurst. Then, on March 14, Sir Robert Wroth died. Only two years later, the Wroths' young son died. Sometime following the death of her husband, Lady Mary's long friendship with Pembroke blossomed into a passionate love affair, and she bore him two illegitimate children. Although he did not marry Wroth, Pembroke acknowledged paternity and his family maintained responsibility for both children even after Pembroke died in 1630.[32] Save that Wroth was not Pembroke's first paramour and that she may not have been his last, no further particulars are known about their love affair.[33]

An influential but nearly invisible ribbon woven through this love story traces Queen Anne's changing attitudes towards the lovers. For Wroth, the central event of this subplot was her fall from the queen's grace. At some point, Lady Mary lost her place among the bevy of Queen Anne's favorite ladies, and it may well be that these illegitimate children were a major reason for this fall from favor. However, Wroth almost certainly bore these children after the death of her husband in 1614, and her slide out of the queen's graces may have begun several years earlier. In 1605, she had a prominent role in the queen's first Christmas masque by Jonson, The Masque of Blacknesse, but there is no further record of Lady Mary's participation in any later masques at court, although Queen Anne continued to dance in masques for several years, doling out leading roles like prize plums. It is therefore highly possible that Lady Mary Wroth's fall from grace began much earlier than her extramarital liaison with Pembroke.[34]

In contrast, Pembroke, seems to have remained high in the queen's favor throughout her reign. His early influence with her was obvious enough to be compared with his brother's influence with the king: "As [the Queen] had her Favourites in one place, the King had his in an other. She loved the elder Brother, the Earl of Pembroke; he the younger, whom he made Earl of Mountgomery, and Knight of the Garter."[35] Although the king's interest in Montgomery waned with the appearance of Robert Carr, later created earl of Somerset, the queen's affection for Pembroke seems to have endured. It was in part due to her lobbying that the king made Pembroke Lord Chamberlain in December 1615, after Somerset's fall.[36] However, the precise nature of the queen's continuing interest in Pembroke and her loss of interest in Wroth are hidden in discreet silence.[37]

Despite Lady Mary's stubborn reticence on the subject of matching her fiction to real characters and events, two of her stories mirror known events in the Sidney family so closely as to act as internal hinges between fact and fiction. Most obviously, the central plot is a variation on Wroth's love life; there is not much room for doubt that Pamphilia and Amphilanthus were fictional personae of Lady Mary Wroth and the earl of Pembroke.[38] Nonetheless, the episode of Bersindor and his daughter Lindamira, a story told by Pamphilia to the Lady Dorolina, is perhaps the most incontrovertible link between Wroth's life and her fictions. "Bersindor" is a partial anagram of "Robert Sidney," and the story of his marriage "to a great Heyre in little Brittany, of rich possessions" exactly follows the rather romance-like story of Robert Sidney's successful wooing against all odds (including Queen Elizabeth's disapproval) of the wealthy heiress Barbara Gamage.[39] Pamphilia proceeds from the story of Bersindor's wedding straight into the story of his eldest daughter, Lindamira, whose story reflects at once Wroth's life and Pamphilia's own story (and whose name perhaps reflects Lady Mary Sidney). Lindamira goes to the French court as one of the queen's favorites, where she loves a young nobleman for many years before he realizes it. She is careful not to let the secret slip, for she is married; what is worse, Pamphilia suggests that the queen of France is Lindamira's jealous rival. Slandered by another of the queen's ladies, Lindamira is suddenly disgraced and given leave to retire from court. The queen, however, will not say why she is in such disfavor, saying only "that she should not know the cause, therefore willed her to be satisfied with that & with knowledge that she was, and had just cause to bee offended" (U, p. 425). When Lindamira's beloved comes to visit her at her husband's home, he claims to know the queen's reason, and whispers it to her. Pamphilia does not disclose the whispered information, acknowledging only that Lindamira is suffering for the lord, and that he has in turn suffered for her. At last their love comes out: "he did not it seemed lose that opportunity, nor was she nice to let him know her long love, expression of it, and embracing affections wanted of neither side" (U, p. 425). This is not the happily-ever-after promised by the fairy tales, however, for after losing the queen's affections, enduring a jealous husband, and watching her honor "cast down, and laid open to all mens toungs and eares, to be used as they pleas'd," Lindamira sinks even lower into misery when she loses her lord's love (U, p. 425).[40] There follow after this story seven sonnets, all complaints for a lost love. By telling this story and appending to it a woman's sonnet sequence about her lover's infidelity, Pamphilia produces within the fictional world of the Urania (that is already a mirror of the reader's world), a mirror image of Wroth telling the story of the Urania, complete with the sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus tacked on at the end. Nevertheless, though there are enough clues to warrant a recognition of some facts among the fiction, and perhaps to suggest a further fact-finding expedition, Wroth makes it clear that the reader is not to set out on that particular tantalizing quest. When Pamphilia finishes, Dorolina concludes that the story and the sonnets are "some thing more exactly related then a fixion, yet her discretion taught her to be no Inquisitor" (U, p. 429, emphasis mine). The lady Dorolina is no fool, but she is no gossip either. The reader/writer/teller of tales is not, in the Uranian world, supposed to tattle-to expose the links between fiction and fact.

I have retold this story at length, not only because it reveals some correlation to Wroth's known story, but because it also shows an even more remarkable correlation with a number of long episodes that begin to appear with some frequency in the second half of the Urania.[41] A structural comparison of these stories produces a sort of ghostly ur-tale that is told nowhere in particular, and everywhere at once in Wroth's romance:

A young woman grows up in close proximity to a young nobleman, and she realizes that she loves him long before he returns that love. They marry, but not each other--the woman' especially unworthily, "on a jealous husband." At court, however, the old friends see each other and fall in love--a chaste love for married folk. Nevertheless, this love provokes the suspicion and jealousy of the queen, and the lady eventually loses her position at court and retreats to her husband's home in the country. The husband dies, but instead of this opening a window for bliss, she finds that her love has deserted her for another woman. His infidelity does nothing to shake her constancy, though it produces reams of poetic love complaints. Despite tears and poetry, her lover cruelly scorns her. However, he returns to her briefly, and their relationship blooms again, before he leaves her again, once more for another woman. Despite continual betrayal, the lady, who has lost her beauty due to continual weeping, declares that she will remain forever constant to her first and greatest love.

This story, as I have reconstructed it, is not Wroth's lived story, at least not as we know it from recoverable facts. It is a fiction that both reflects and distorts her biography; its open-ended nature allows Wroth to control the outcome of each retelling, at least within the Urania. It is the manner in which she varies and employs this archetype, rather than its basic content, that reveals Wroth's experiments in constructing a magic mirror out of romance narrative.

Wroth does not write a single style of romance across all four books that fill the 558 published pages of the Urania. Instead, her romance traces a progression of modes as it takes shape as a paradoxically sui generis member of the genre. She opens by writing what is essentially a Sidneian romance, but at the end of the second and the beginning of the third books, the detailed and intricately organized primary fiction gives way to a surreal dreamscape. A chaotic whirl of inset fictions that echo and alter both Wroth's and Pamphilia's "facts" characterizes the second half of the Urania. As the romance comes to a close, Wroth flirts briefly with a parodic mode, but in the end she retreats from parody back into the mirror-mode and imagines the consequences of layering mirror-fictions.

Although Wroth does make significant adjustments in her predecessors' blueprints for romance from the beginning, the first half of her romance offers the characteristic combination of chivalric and pastoral modes that marks a Sidneian romance. Like the Arcadia, the Urania includes pastoral scenes of shepherds and shepherdesses piping and singing love songs, courtly scenes that detail the bejewelled clothing and witty repartee of lords and ladies, and militant scenes that present the gorgeous, curiously wrought armor of knights before launching into blow-by-blow accounts of jousts and battles. At the end of her first book, Wroth even includes a set of dialogic poems--a vastly simplified and more readable version of Sidney's endless eclogues. Like Sidney, Wroth decides to organize her romance around the adventures of two main characters, Urania and Pamphilia. Perhaps under the influence of Montemayor's Diana, however, Wroth opts for central characters who are women rather than men.[42]

The Urania's most marked Jacobean revision of Sidneian romance appears in the story of Queen Pamphilia and her unfaithful lover Amphilanthus, a fictional reflection of the adventures of Wroth and Pembroke. Sidneian romance is determinedly fictional, creating an alternate world that is a tightly organized web of amorous, familial, and political alliances. Idiosyncratic foibles and glorious perfections mark Arcadian denizens like Basilius, Gynecia, Musidorus, Pyrocles, Pamela, and Philoclea as individuals; their individuality, however, is by no means disconnected from their fictions. The most powerful linkage in Sidney's romance is not between the fictional world and the author's factual world but between the affairs of the heart and affairs of geopolitics within the fictional space. When an Arcadian character falls in love, much less marries, wars begin or end.

Like good Sidneian characters, Pamphilia and Amphilanthus are firmly tied into their fictional world; neither is merely a cipher for a historical person. These two characters act in remarkable and memorable ways in scene after scene, gradually building individual characteristics. Pamphilia, for instance, likes to write poetry by moonlight and carve verses into the bark of trees, while Amphilanthus has a sheepish way of giving in to any woman's amorous attentions rather than enduring the stress of disappointing a lady. Both of them maintain intricate relationships with other characters via blood and marriage, and both of them maintain intricate political loyalties. The geopolitics of Urania are precise. The countries explored include the "real" kingdoms of Greece, Italy, Romania, and Albania; even the kingdoms of Morea and Pamphilia, whose names may now sound deliciously, romantically fictional, were once upon a time realistic names--Morea being the medieval name for the Peloponnesus, and Pamphilia being a once-sovereign kingdom that is now part of Turkey.[43] Their boundaries are presented in such detail that the world Wroth creates in her first two books seems mappable--as indeed it is. The shifting power structures within the boundaries of this map create the illusion of recordable geopolitical history occurring behind and because of the more personal histories foregrounded by Wroth. In the first half of the Urania, Wroth follows Sidney in inextricably linking amorous and geopolitical affairs. As in the Arcadia, when the characters in the Urania fall in love, much less marry, wars begin or end, and maps change.

In short, although Pamphilia and Amphilanthus are in part mirrors of Wroth and Pembroke, they are also determinedly fictional characters, not easily separable from the world they inhabit. There are fleeting glimpses of elements of the Wroth/ Pembroke story in the stories of Limena and Perissus, Ollorandus and Melasinda, and Dolorindus and Melinea, but, like Pamphilia and Amphilanthus, all of these pairs are tightly woven into the political and genealogical pattern of the Uranian world. Only once in the first half of the romance does a story surface which closely echoes Wroth's archetypal story, and the story of Allarina and her nameless lover has no connection to the web of relationships that holds together the fictional space of the Urania (U, pp. 181[misnumbered as 281]-88). At this point in the reading, Allarina's story seems marginal--a digression from the central history.

Near the midpoint of the romance, however, changes begin to occur in the way Wroth tells her story. After Sidney had finished the Old Arcadia, he apparently discovered that he wanted to tell stories in a different way, so he went back to the beginning and started over. His niece seems to have decided that her romance was not behaving desirably at approximately the midway mark. Rather than starting over, Wroth changes modes in midstream. Both authors' revisions reveal a growing interest in the complex arrangement of fictions-within-fictions. The New Arcadia, for example, shows a marked increase in the geopolitical details of Sidney's fictional world and in the number of different plots the narrative fits into that world. In contrast, many of Wroth's fictions-within-fictions are variations on a single theme and result in the dissipation of her fictional world.

As the second half of the published Urania commences, it appears that the only momentous occurrence likely to happen soon is the invasion of Albania. At the end of the second book, Wroth sets up a political nightmare that will require the concerted machinations of all the knightly heroes to set to rights; five usurpers have partitioned off Albania among themselves, and Steriamus (the rightful king) and company must wrest power from them one by one in a militant march across the country. Wroth organizes the invasion with an eye to fine details about everything from aristocratic protocol as to which princes should accompany which kings, to the building of a strategic bridge, to the placement of cavalry and infantry. The very wealth of detail suggests that Wroth is about to fall headlong into the vast battlefield vistas of epic. Ironically, just when she has set up the battle-formation with a mind-boggling complexity, her concern with geopolitics falters, and she abruptly turns away from the military scene: "But now it is time to leave these affaires to Mars, and let his Mistris have her part awhile who alwayes, and at all times hath some share in businesses" (U, p. 264). The book closes with a survey of all the women lamenting the absence of their lovers and husbands due to the wars. The second book comes to a close with the focus firmly on love, not war.

As the third book opens, the disintegration of the geopolitics becomes marked. Although Wroth does return the scene once to Albania in order to narrate directly the second Albanian battle, all the other battles appear only indirectly, as brief reports to characters who were not present. Even this second battle, which does offer some epic detail of individual deeds and single blows, seems to be chiefly remarkable for producing the death of Albanian usurper number two (named Pollidorus), which in turn is chiefly remarkable for producing yet another woman's love lament. The suspicion that Wroth has grown tired of war stories and is now using politics primarily as a generator of new characters who must be given love stories becomes even more apparent in the last mention of the Albanian wars. When the queen of Naples asks Paraphilia "what shee heard of the warres in Albania," Pamphilia "discoursed it all unto her, but the last business seemd the strangest, & unusuallest," and this strange and unusual business belongs to Venus rather than to Mars (U, p. 316). Pamphilia tells a long story about the romantic trials of Albanian usurper number three (named Nicholarus). His military trials and tribulations appear only as an aside within this love story: Paraphilia remembers to deliver a messenger's report that there now remains only one more usurper to conquer, "and then Steriamus hath all" (U, p. 318). This "one more" (Albanian usurper number four) remains nothing but an aside; the fifth usurper apparently drops out of the world of Urania altogether. Wroth's preoccupation with politics dissipates before the reader's eyes.

It is at this juncture that Wroth begins to restructure her romance radically. First, she sidelines all her major characters. Directly upon the conquest of Albania follows Urania's second major enchantment, in which Pamphilia and Urania find themselves magically trapped in 'a round building like a Theater, carved curiously, and in mighty pillars" on a small rock in the Mediterranean (U, p. 321). Inside this enchanted theater are four marble chairs on a dais; when Pamphilia and her friends attempt to ascend this throne:

instantly the sweetest musicke, and most inchanging harmony of voyces, so overruld their sences, as they thought no more of any thing, but went up, and sate downe in the chayers. The gate was instantly lock'd againe, and so was all thought in them shut up for their comming forth thence . . . . To say these brave princes were in paine, I should say amisse, for all the comfort their owne hearts could imagine to them selves, they felt there, seeing before them, (as they thought) their loves smiling, and joying in them; thus flattering love deceiv'd the true, and brought contrary effects to the most good. (U, p. 322)

Penned up in a theater and dreaming of imaginary happy endings to their own love stories, the fictional characters Wroth has authorized reflect her process of constructing a romance out of an open-ended plot founded on her own life. However, although this enchantment with its lavishly described wonders is marked as an important event in the text, it is, in narrative terms, a decoy. As more and more of the main characters are enchanted in the theater of love, fewer and fewer are left to carry the plot forward. Eventually, every major character in the romance is drawn into this enthralling theater; with Pamphilia and company as a captive audience, the center stage of the romance is left empty. What proceeds to fill the romance is the archetypal story somewhere between fiction and fact that was previously only a hint flitting at the margins of the Uranian world. To follow a deconstructionist metaphor, the frame becomes the center.

By imprisoning her characters, Wroth has also magically sidelined their tangle of amorous and geopolitical affairs that is the world of Urania. Thus, following this enchantment, the carefully created Uranian world ceases to be a place with political and geographical boundaries that mark alliances and feuds. It ceases to be a place where everyone is related to everyone else by blood or marriage. It ceases to be a place with a history. The Uranian world dissolves into a dreamscape of undifferentiated forests, rivers, and meadows; out of this endless wilderness float knights and ladies who tell their stories and fade back into the landscape. The characters grow more and more flat and transparent. Much of the time they remain nameless; if names do appear, they are likely to be withheld until the end of the story, and they offer no significant information. The actors have no family or national loyalties that connect them to the previously precise fiction; their stories are emphatically local expressions. The only important relationship acknowledged is the fidelity (or infidelity) that binds the knight and his lady love. The only tie to the relatively precise and detailed Uranian world created in books one and two is the presence of the main characters from the first half of the romance--no longer present primarily as actors, but as enchanted audience. Wroth introduces only two major characters with close ties to the interwoven worlds of Greece and Italy in this second half of her book; Leonius and Veralinda bring the theater enchantment to a close. Nevertheless, even after this charm is dispelled, the released characters continue to act as audience rather than as actors.

What Wroth creates is a uniquely Uranian mode of romance.[44] In the second half of the text, the Urania reveals a fascination with the layering of reflections within reflections and with the consequences that this layering has upon the primary reflection. From the beginning, the Urania reveals Wroth's interest in fiction as mirror; it is not until she begins experimenting with narrative structure in the second half of her romance that the text emphasizes her fascination with fiction as magic mirror.

Despite her rejection of the conception of romance as a process of world-building, Wroth's romance does not wander entirely aimlessly in a labyrinth of short episodes about nameless characters in nameless places. From a point just before the beginning of the Albanian campaign through to the end of the romance, Wroth punctuates her dreamscape with long tales that are recognizably versions of the same story; it is indeed the telling and retelling of the same basic tale in many different incarnations that enables the reader to discern Wroth's archetypal structure. The stories of the Fisher Lady (U, pp. 240-46), Bellamira (U, pp. 326-37), Lindamira (U, pp. 423-39), Pelarina (U, pp. 449-454[misnumbered as 424]), Curardinus (U, pp. 471-74), Lisia (U, pp. 474-77), and Elyna (U, pp. 499-500, 505-509) are not exact images of each other, but together they build a great kaleidoscopic hall of mirrors as they ornament, alter, and twist a basic story line with countless individual flourishes. In between these highly developed fantasias are many more simple and fleeting examples of separate leitmotifs of Wroth's story, from jealous husbands to friendly rivals to penitent returning lovers, some of them evoked in only a few sentences. These distorted reflections all swirl around the stories of the two primary women in the layered audience, Pamphilia and Wroth.

The weight of this relentlessly dreamed story eventually proves impossible to sustain. It is no coincidence that what first gives way in the Urania's pressure cooker of fact and fiction is the fine line that separates romance from parody. In 1612, the first part of Don Quixote was published in an English translation; the second part followed in 1620. By 1621, any relentless insistence on interpreting one's own experience as a romance plot would produce the image of Don Quixote in the mind of an avid English reader of romances. Not surprisingly, as the fourth and final book of Urania nears its end, parodic characters begin to pop out of the interminable woods. An old man mounted on a mule accompanies and woos in ridiculous fashion a lusty young damsel (U, p. 514). Two vain noblewomen, bored by the overblown romance rhetoric of the duke of Florence, wander off in the middle of his speech, smiling to themselves as if to say, "by that time the Oration is done, wee will come againe" (U, p. 533). A young knight chatters so incessantly that he incites the admiration and irritation of everyone in hearing range (U, p. 535). The romance veers perilously close to a Cervantine parodic mode. This mode, however, requires a juxtaposition of realistic fact and romance fiction in order to mock romance. As if she is unwilling to hold her own story up to mockery, Wroth substitutes at this point a nominal political reality for the much stronger presence of her personal reality. While Wroth focuses on the comedy, no further emanations of her own story waft into the romance; instead the comedy pushes the romance into Britain. At either end of the romance, the presence of mappable political boundaries seems to displace Wroth's personal story.

However, Wroth seems to have been reluctant to close her fiction on a ridiculous note. Instead, she retreats from parody and from Britain and returns to her mirror image, to Queen Pamphilia in the country of Pamphilia. Not surprisingly, the end of the published Urania is abrupt, as tense as the lid on a jack-in-the-box; the long continuation attests that the first ending was not a convincing conclusion. Wroth ends in mid-sentence. In doing so, it is highly likely that she is deliberately imitating Sidney's characteristic, if accidental ending to the New Arcadia. However, Wroth's ending is quintessentially Uranian in content, even while it mischievously wears the mask of Sidneian form.

The conclusion and the final consequence of all these mirror-fictions is the story of the reunion of Pamphilia and Amphilanthus, a story that embodies the process of reading that underlies the construction of the entire Urania. The enchantment of Amphilanthus that has produced the latest set of knightly peregrinations in quest of the lost king comes to no magical climax, as did both the previous two elaborate enchantments of the Throne and the Theater of Love. Amphilanthus's magically induced amnesia regarding Pamphilia simply dissipates in the face of the continual telling and retelling of stories. The duke of Saxony spends an entire sea voyage telling Amphilanthus tales whose "marvellous, rare, and unheard passages" sound suspiciously like tales out of a romance (U, p. 556). Nevertheless, these stories truly tell Amphilanthus exactly what havoc his disappearance has caused in the way of Pamphilia's incessant weeping and his friends' incessant questing for him. "These things wrought in him, like drops falling on soft stones, they weare in to them at last, though in the beginning touch & slide off; more & more this pierced, and so much strengthned with his owne affection, as bee resolves to see her; so he commanded the mariners to land him on the Pamphilian shore" (U, p. 556). The force of fictions which tell the truth at long last brings Amphilanthus back to Pamphilia. Romance finally alters the "reality" it reflects.

The queen, lying in a field of flowers, sees a knight stoop by a spring to drink, and when he takes his helmet off, she sees her long lost love: "O what? nay what? her soule without her selfe, because in an other body returned, she quickly rose up, and as she parted so hoped to meete him, kind to her, she ranne unto him, forgiving, nay forgeting all injuries, he seeing her threw down his helme, with open armes received her, and withall unfained affection embraced her" (U, p. 557). This final union is the ultimate dream that drives the mingling of fact and fiction in Wroth's romance. Tales of the truth seen in the mirror of romance fictions induce an unfaithful lover to become constant to his lady: "These things wrought in him, like drops falling on soft stones." The ending of Wroth's book suggests that her understanding of romance is quite the opposite of Vives's; the looking glass of romance fictions acts not to dupe women into illicit lust by the telling of lies, but to lead men into constant love by the telling of (partly, or perhaps potentially) truthful fictions. The Urania literalizes Sidney's claim that fiction "delight[s], to move men to take that goodness in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger" (Defence, p. 81, emphasis mine).

In the end, the enjoyment of a liminal space between fact and fiction is, at least for one woman, a bid for control, and it is, as I have said, perhaps this female bid for control that was so threatening to Jacobean male readers. Liminal spaces are, however, positions of vulnerability as well as of power. It is possible that the happy ending Wroth forces onto her open-ended story of female suffering mirrors the factual outcome she would have liked her fictions to produce; like Pelarina's lover, however, although Wroth's lover may have read himself in the fiction, "yet he neither did by word nor writing, not honouring so much, who was his slave, as to finde fault, or to seeme pleasd." Pembroke never publicly revealed any recognition of his own image in these pages. In addition, the unpublished continuation of the Urania reveals that Wroth either could or would not allow romance's magic mirror to work any more than a temporary change within the fiction; Pamphilia and Amphilanthus do not, in the end, remain together.

However great her rebellious achievement was, Lady Mary Wroth's control remains in the end limited and temporary. What is more, Wroth's women, through all their sufferings, remain firmly entrenched in the patriarchal fairy-tale plot which teaches that a woman's "happily-ever-after" is the successful effort to induce the right prince to love her. Some of Wroth's characters achieve this goal, and others do not, but none of them ceases to desire it desperately. Nonetheless, as Wroth rewrites it, romance is a magic mirror that produces distorted images of the truth; these fictional images, in turn, have the power to alter--at least temporarily--the reality they partially reflect. Urania speaks for the ideal reading of romance as expounded by one Jacobean woman: "I did resemble one newly come out of a vision, distracted, scarce able to tell, whether it were a fixion, or the truth" (U, p. 275).


1 Juan Luis Vives, A Very Fruteful and Pleasant Booke Called the Instruction of a christen woman, trans. Richarde Hyrde (15297; London, 1557 [i.e. 1567?]), STC 24861, sig. D", italics mine. The original Latin text appeared in 1523. In all sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, I have modernized the long "s," "u" and "v," "i" and "j." I have also corrected minor typographical errors, e.g., "u" for "n."

2 Lady Mary Wroth, The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (London, 1621), STC 26051. Quotations will be cited in the text as U. I would like to thank G. Blakemore Evans for the generous loan of his copy. I would also like to thank Barbara Lewalski for making the Brown Women Writers Project transcription available to me. Although there is a sequel to the published text, it is extant in only one holograph manuscript, now housed at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Since I have not yet had the opportunity to read this manuscript, all my references to the Urania will refer only to the published text unless specifically noted. For information on the sequel, see Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 282-96; Naomi J. Miller, "Strange Labyrinth: Pattern as Process in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia and Lady Mary Wroth's Urania" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard Univ., 1987), pp. 152-96; and Josephine A. Roberts, ed., intro., and notes, The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 36-37, 51-52 (further cited as PLMV). There is an excellent annotated bibliography of Wroth research in Reading Mary Wroth: Representing Alternatives in Early Modern England, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1991), pp. 229-34 (further cited as RMW). Josephine Roberts is currently editing both the published Urania and its unpublished continuation.

3 Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poetry (1595), in Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan Van Dotsten (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 70-121, 81.

4 Even the biographies titled as mirrors were presented hagiographically, as models of ideal behavior. There was one other major tradition of mirror-texts. In the middle ages, many of the compendia now called encyclopedias were called specula; "mirror," "glass," and "speculum" were also popular titles for more narrowly focused how-to manuals, a usage that continued through the Renaissance. For further information on mirror-texts, see Herbert Grabes, The Mutable Glass: Mirror-Imagery in Titles and Texts of the Middle Ages and English Renaissance, trans. Gordon Collier (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982).

5 Margaret Tyler, "M T. to the Reader," in Diego Ortunez de Calahorra, The Mirrour of Princely deedes and Knighthood, trans. Margaret Tyler (London, 1578), STC 18859, sig. A4v. For a modern reprint, see Moira Ferguson, ed., First Feminists: British Women Writers 1578-1799 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 52-57. See also Tina Krontiris, "Breaking the Barriers of Genre and Gender: Margaret Tyler's Translation of The Mirrour of Knighthood," ELR 18, 1 (Winter 1988): 19-39.

6 The Diary of the Lady Anne Clifford, intro. Vita Sackville-West (New York: Doran, 1923), pp. 52 and 76; Wroth, copy of G. Blakemore Evans. The hand is italic and could date anywhere from the early seventeenth through the eighteenth century.

7 George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (1589), intro. Baxter Hathaway (Kent, OH: Kent State Univ. Press, 1970), p. 53.

8 Jorge de Montemayor, Diana, trans. Bartholomew Yong (1598), in A Critical Edition of Yong's Translation of George of Montemayor's "Diana" and Gil Polo's "Enamoured Diana," ed. Judith M. Kennedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 10.

9 A state of affairs which ought to curb the easy tendency to assume that romance was, in the Renaissance, primarily a woman's genre, as it is perceived and specifically marketed today.

10 For a feminist argument that both Wroth and her female characters were resisting readers, see Mary Ellen Lamb, "Women Readers in Mary Wroth's Urania," in RMW, pp. 210-27. My essay will focus on describing Wroth's experiments with a new kind of narrative structure in her romance, rather than on the ways in which she resisted existing reading practices and narrative structures.

11 26 February, 1621/2, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Salisbury 22:160-61, rprt. in PLMW, pp. 238-39,238 (further references to the Historical Manuscripts Commission abbreviated as HMC). For the full known account of the scandal, see Roberts, PLMW, pp. 31-36; Paul Salzman, "Contemporary References in Mary Wroth's Urania," RES n.s. 29, 114 (May 1978): 178-81; John J. O'Connor, "James Hay and The Countess of Montgomerie's Urania," N&Q 200, 4 (April 1955): 150-52; and William Chapman Waller, "An Extinct County Family: Wroth of Loughton Hall," Transactions of the Essex Archeological Society, n.s. 8 (1903): 145-81.

12 9 March 1622, to Sir Dudley Carleton, in The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman Egbert McClure, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939), 2:425-27, 427 (further cited as Chamberlain).

13 Roberts tentatively identifies a version of the love affair between Lady Frances Howard and Robert Carr, earl of Somerset in the story of the lady who abducts the King of Frigia (U, pp. 477-79), mostly on the strength of the lady remaining a virgin after marriage. However, I think this story is probably one more variation on the basic fictional story Wroth has built out of her own love affair. The Frigian lady's story contains details that fit neither Howard nor Wroth exactly. See Roberts, PLMW, pp. 35-36; and Lewalski, p. 265. The two most famous historical people to appear in the Urania are Mary (Sidney) Herbert, the countess of Pembroke, who appears in the romance as the queen of Naples, and her son William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, who appears as Amphilanthus. Both, however, were part of Wroth's family circle; the countess was her aunt, and the earl was her first cousin and the father of two of her children. For Pembroke as Amphilanthus, see my discussion of Wroth's family below. For the identification of the countess of Pembroke as the queen of Naples, see Margaret P. Hannay, "'Your vertuous and learned Aunt': The Countess of Pembroke as a Mentor to Mary Wroth," in RMW, pp. 15-34.

14 27 February 1621/2, HMC, Denbigh 5:3, rprt. in PLMW, p. 240.

15 31 May 1640, HMC, Rutland 1:520, rprt. in PLMW, pp. 244-45. Unfortunately, the key Rutland claims to have begun is no longer extant. Rutland, it is worth noting, was a part of Wroth's extended family by marriage; he signed this letter "Your Ladyships affectionate Kinsman and servant." His eldest brother Roger, the fifth earl of Rutland, had married Elizabeth Sidney (Philip Sidney's daughter and Mary Wroth's first cousin).

16 Chamberlain, to Sir Dudley Carleton, 11 May 1622, 2:435-38. See Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction 1558-1700: A Critical History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1086), pp. 140-55, for a short summary and discussion of the Argenis. Salzman reports: "This translation was entered in the Stationers' Register on 2 October 1623, but was among those works destroyed in the infamous fire of November in the same year" (p. 150).

17 John Barclay, Barclay his Argenis: or, The Loves of Poliarchus and Argenis, trans. Kingesmill Long (London, 1625), STC 1392, prelim. p. 3.

18 Trepidation about Barclay's presumption where angels might fear to tread may have had something to do with the fact that the first edition (1621) was published in Paris; if so, it proved an unnecessary caution, since, as I have noted, King James loved the book. For consideration of later reinterpretations of this book and its continued popularity through the reign of Charles I, see Annabel Patterson, Censorship and lnterpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp. 188-93.

19 Alexander's supplement was first published separately ca. 1616-1617; it was first included in the Arcadia in the edition of 1621. See A.G.D. Wiles, "The Date of Publication and Composition of Sir William Alexander's Supplement to Sidney's Arcadia," PBSA 50 (1956): 387-92; and Alison Mitchell and Katharine Foster, "Sir William Alexander's Supplement to Book III of Sidney's Arcadia," The Library 5th ser., 24 (1969): 234-41.

20 HMC, Denbigh 5:3, rprt. in PLMW, p. 241. It is perhaps worth noting that libel usually consists of lies deliberately attached to a real person's name. It is difficult to understand how this episode could have attached itself to Denny unless it was known or rumored to be true; Wroth does not name him, even in riddling fashion, and we would know nothing at all of the historicity of this particular sordid story if Denny had not in essence publicly accused himself. Even Chamberlain refrains from attaching Denny's name to any particular episode.

21 Edward Denny, Baron Denny of Waltham (later earl of Norwich), "To Pamphilia from the father-in-law of Seralius," in PLMW, pp. 32-33, lines 2023.

22 Denny, line 1.

23 For the text of Wroth's poem, see PLMW, pp. 34-35.

24 For Wroth's offer to recall the Urania, see her letter to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, 15 December 1621, in PLMW, p. 236.

25 See Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill and London: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1984), p. 159, emphasis mine. The first part of this paragraph summarizes Radway's findings.

26 For further discussions of constancy in the Urania, see Elaine V. Beilin, "Heroic Virtue: Mary Wroth's Urania and Pamphilia to Amphilanthus," in Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 208-43; Beilin, "'The Onely Perfect Vertue': Constancy in Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus," Spenser Studies 2 (1981): 229-45; Mary Ellen Lamb, Gender and Authorship in the Sidney Circle (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1990), pp. 142-93; Lewalski, pp. 267-74; Maureen Quilligan, "The Constant Subject: Instability and Authority in Wroth's Urania Poems," in Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth-Century English Poetry, ed. Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisaman Maus (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 307-35, esp. pp. 321-24; and Quilligan, "Lady Mary Wroth: Female Authority and the Family Romance," in Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, ed. George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 25780.

27 For further information on Wroth, see Roberts's introduction to PLMW, pp. 3-40. See also Hannay; Lewalski, pp. 243-51; and Roberts, "The Biographical Problem of Paraphilia to Amphilanthus," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 1, 1 (Spring 1982): 43-53. For further information on Pembroke, see Michael Brennan, Literary Patronage in the English Renaissance: The Pembroke Family (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), pp. 99-184.

28 10 Oct. 1604, HMC, De L'Isle 3:140, rprt. in PLMW, pp. 11-12.

29 Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden, in Ben Jonson, ed. C.H. Herford and Percy Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925-52), 1:142.

30 Edward Hyde, first earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England Begun in the Year 1641, 1702-704, ed. W. Dunn Macray, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), 1:72.

31 Wroth's sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, was published at the end of the Urania. John Donne (the younger, not the poet) published Herbert's poems posthumously: William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, Poems, Written by the Right Honorable William Earl of Pembroke (London, 1660), STC P 1128.Jonson dedicated The Alchemist to Lady Mary, and Heminge and Condell dedicated Shakespeare's First Folio to Pembroke and his brother Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery. For further information about Lady Mary Wroth as a patron, see Roberts, PLMW, pp. 14-22; and Lewalksi, pp. 246-47; for Pembroke as a patron, see Brennan, pp. 99-184.

32 No birth dates are recorded in the Herbert genealogy which identifies William and Catherine Herbert as the offspring of Wroth and Pembroke (Roberts, PLMW, p. 24). However, since Sir Robert Wroth was on good terms with Lady Mary when he died, and Chamberlain implies that James Wroth is Mary's first child, the illegitimate children almost certainly appear after Wroth's death (Chamberlain to Alice Carleton, 17 February 1614, 1: 511-13, 512).

33 For a fascinating speculation about a possible clandestine marriage between Wroth and Pembroke, see Roberts, "'The Knott Never to Bee Untide': The Controversy Regarding Marriage in Mary Wroth's Urania," in RMW, pp. 109-32.

34 In an undated letter, Wroth addressed Queen Anne as "the only help wheron I dare rely" (HMC, Salisbury 22:3, rprt. in PLMW, pp. 233-34, 233). The subject of the letter is Wroth's appeal for financial aid in the rebuilding of Loughton Hall, the Wroths' residence which James seems to have used as a hunting lodge. Presumably, the letter dates from Lady Mary Wroth's period of high favor; it is undated, but Roberts suggests that she wrote it between 1608 and 1612, when the rebuilding of Loughton Hall was completed.

35 Arthur Wilson, The History of Great Britain, Being the Life and Reign of King James the First (London, 1653), STC W 2888, p. 54.

36 Wilson, p. 144.

37 It is the nature rather than the duration of the queen's regard for Pembroke that is of interest, for Wilson (who was inclined to disapprove of the Stuarts) implied that the queen's interest in Pembroke was not merely platonic. Wilson notes that Pembroke was her "favourite"just after censuring the queen and her court for immorality so terrible that he refuses "so much as to stain the innocent paper" with a plain account of it. He then embarks upon a long account of the King's 'violent stream" of "fancy" moving from Montgomery to Robert Cart (p. 54). Both Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery (husband of the countess commemorated in the title of the Urania) and Robert Cart, earl of Somerset, were notorious sexual favorites of King James. The context surrounding the talc of Queen Anne's love for Pembroke carries a rumor that was then unspeakable in plain language. Even veiled, however, it is a rumor that makes sense of Pembroke's reputation as a remarkable rake. For although Clarendon noted that the earl was "immoderately given up to women," Pembroke's fertile affairs with Mary Fitton and Wroth do not mark him as a particularly exceptional adulterer at the wanton and wayward court of James I (Clarendon, 1:72). However, even the rumor of a sexual liaison with the queen would indeed mark Pembroke as an extraordinary lover, while confining gossip to the shadowy realm of innuendo.

38 The circumstantial evidence that points to Wroth as Pamphilia and Pembroke as Amphilanthus is strongly convincing. Among other suggestive details, Lady Mary wrote her sonnet sequence in the persona of Pamphilia, while a poem that Amphilanthus claims as his own in the manuscript continuation of the Urania is attributed to Pembroke in three of the four early seventeenth-century commonplace books in which it is extant (Roberts, PLMW, p. 44). For further information, see the works cited in note 27 above.

39 See Wroth, Urania, pp. 423-24, for the story of Bersindor; and Roberts, PLMW, pp. 3-5, for the story of the wedding of Robert Sidney and Barbara Gamage.

40 The text reads (or rather, Pamphilia says): "Lastly, after fourteen years unchang'd affection, she cast her off contemptuously and scornfully, she complain'd, which complaint, because I lik'd it, or rather found her estate so neere agree with mine, I put into Sonnets, this course I might call ungratefulnesse in him, and give all ill names to it; but I will with the story conclude my rage against him; for the Booke leaves her, the complaint is this divided into seayen Sonnets" (U, p. 425, emphasis mine). I think it likely that the "she" I have emphasized is a typographical error for "he." This sentence is predicated on the previous sentence, in which Lindamira has already left the queen; in addition, the phrase "ungratefulnesse in him" and the general tenor of the sonnets, which are all laments for a lost love, make more sense in relation to the sudden rejection after fourteen years by "the lord, whom she so much loved," rather than the rejection by a woman, presumably the queen who has already cast her off (U, p. 425).

41 However delicious it would be to conclude from the story of Lindamira that Wroth and Queen Anne were romantic rivals for Pembroke's attention, I am not suggesting that anyone read back into the historical Jacobean court from Wroth's many-layered fictionalizations of her life-story; Wroth's various narrators (not to mention many scholars) continually advise against exactly that kind of reading process.

42 However, although Montemayor named the Diana for a female character, his leading lady does not actually put in an appearance until well past the halfway point of the book (Book 5, p. 198); Wroth's main characters, like Sidney's, appear early on. Whereas the Arcadia begins with shepherds lamenting the absence of Urania, the Urania opens with a very present Urania lamenting her lack of identity.

43 I am indebted to Josephine Roberts for the geographical identification of Morea and Paraphilia.

44 In turning away from Sidney and towards a less political and geographical world, Wroth is not turning towards the pastoral mode of her other major influence, the Diana. Montemayor keeps his plot tight and simple; he sets up three main love stories in his first three books and spends the latter part of his romance escorting these to a close.



Jennifer Lee Carrell is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University.