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Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet    by Charlotte Gordon order for
Mistress Bradstreet
by Charlotte Gordon
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

Anne Bradstreet was the 'First American Poet', so-called, and as such is studied in literature courses. But it's only lately that she has come back into style and has gained recognition outside of the classroom. Charlotte Gordon, a poet and fellow at Boston University, became interested in Bradstreet when she moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, for a teaching position - Bradstreet had lived there also at one time. This biography, Mistress Bradstreet, focuses on the poet in a more personal way than previous biographical publications.

Anne lived in a harsh and tough environment as a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, one of the first groups to settle in America. This colony was composed of mostly Puritan dissenters from England, of whom her father and husband were prominent members. Only eighteen when she arrived, Anne was dismayed at the environment and conditions in the colony. However, she made the best of it and worked hard at raising a large family, running her household well and efficiently, all while moving numerous times at the behest of her husband, who was constantly endeavoring to enlarge his holdings. At the same time, she became a published author, in a century which didn't really have female writers. Despite much criticism, censure, and patronizing views of her work, she was fairly popular and successful at the time.

Gordon uses an almost novelistic approach to describe Anne Bradstreet's life, in that she often writes about what Anne thought or felt. Though some of this is drawn from Anne's own writings (and is cited), some seems to be conjecture. The beginning of the book approaches the subject in a romantic manner, but it later takes on a less sentimental tone. Throughout, however, a feminist tone is apparent, which is a natural interpretation to take considering Anne's position and her refusal to stay in male shadows. She often expressed her frustration with the patronizing view the male world took of her work, but in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner through her writings. However, she was a strong Christian woman of her time, who had no desire to take a man's place. As expressed in her writings, she loved her children and husband, and enjoyed her homes and the things in them. She just wanted a place of her own, and honest recognition for herself as a person.

I enjoyed reading about Anne Bradstreet, and learned much about her that was new to me. Though the style of the biography was a little too informal for my taste at times (I'm not fond of ascribing motives or thoughts to a person, when there is little to base them on), there was also good documentation for much of the contents, and the sources (listed at the back) are clear and easy to understand. I recommend Mistress Bradstreet as a good introduction to Anne Bradstreet, and in a broader sense, to the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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