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Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Society of Friendship 1651-1661

Katherine Philips founded the Society of Friendship in 1651 until 1661 was a semi-literary correspondence circle made up of mostly women, though men were also involved. The membership of this group, however, is somewhat questionable, because the authors took on pseudonyms from Classical literature (for example Katherine took on the name Orinda, in which the other members added on the accolade "Matchless.") It is as "Matchless Orinda" that Katherine is most often known, as this was her usual signature for her writing. It is in this group that the women began writing poems of love and friendship to one another.

Henry Vaughan, a poet, (1622-1695) was probably a member of the group, and was most likely a personal friend to Philips. Her first published work was as a preface to his poems, in 1651. The only other publication of Katherine's work in her lifetime was an unauthorized edition in 1664.

More important are the female members of the circle, especially Anne Owen, who is known in Philips's poems as Lucasia. Half of Katherine's poetry is dedicated to this woman. Anne and Katherine seem to have been lovers in an emotional, if not in a physical, sense for about ten years. Also significant as correspondents and lovers were Mary Awbrey (Rosania) and Elizabeth Boyle (Celimena). Elizabeth's relationship with Katherine, however, was cut short by Philips' death in 1664. These loves are used prominently in her poetry. Because she used the language of courtly love to describe her relationships, their extent and nature are not entirely certain, but the love between these women was most likely platonic. Katherine remarked at times that the love between these women was pure and uncorrupted by the sexual. The poetry does not overtly suggest physical relationships. In fact, Philips' contemporaries often praised her modest, properly feminine subject matter.


Blogger james said...

I am writing a blog about "Orinda to Polyarchus today, can I use your post?

1:34 PM  

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