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Raylor's Article Published in Explorations in Renaissance Culture

January 28, 2013 at 11:13 am
By Anna Versen '14

Professor of English Timothy Raylor has published an article, "Fertility, Mortality, and Anxiety in Waller’s ‘To my Young Lady Lucy Sidney’ and Marvell’s ‘The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers,’” in Explorations in Renaissance Culture. The article attempts to rehabilitate a much-loved lyric by the seventeenth-century poet, Andrew Marvell, which in recent years has come under suspicion of a not-so-heavily disguised pedophilia. The paper argues that the pedophilic reading of the poem, which sees the treatment of "Little T.C." as seductive and threatening, is an anachronism, following a failure to recognize that the poem isn't really about sex but fertility.

Raylor suggests that there's a particular reason for this: the historical "Little T.C." (Theophila Cornewall) was named for an elder sister who had died in infancy.  She was therefore a living reminder of the cycle of mortality and continuity.  Rather than being an act of sexual aggression, the poem is a sympathetic effort to assauge a family's anxieties about child mortality and hopes for the future.  The article shows how literary and social history can help us look beyond modern preoccupations and better understand the writings of the past.