Anne Hutchinson (1592-1643)

(More general information on Hutchinson's life and convictions).

"She Doth Continually Say and Unsay Things":
 

Anne Hutchinson

and the Consequences of Misreading
 
 
Kim Oldenburg
Professor Laura Arnold
English 341

METHODOLOGY

  Literary historicism, in the context of this discussion, describes the interpretation of literary or historical texts with respect to the cultural and temporal conditions in which they were produced. This means that the text not only catalogues how individuals respond to their particular circumstances, but also chronicles the movements and inclinations of an age as expressed in the rhetorical devices of its literature. Evaluating the trial of Anne Hutchinson within such a theoretical framework means speculating on the genesis of her theological beliefs with recourse to prevailing theories of gender, class, and interpretation. Because texts are self-contained spheres of discourse, nuanced interpretations of them can be undertaken with greater assiduity than in the case of individuals whose private experiences remain largely concealed from the interpreter's knowledge. A historical analysis of Anne Hutchinson herself is hence, in the present discussion, secondary to the analysis of how she comes across in textual discourse as a palimpsest of seventeenth century gender controversy.

  According to David M. Carr, the history of Scriptural interpretation indicates that religious texts are popular candidates for reinterpretation and, as such, are spaces wherein the personal identity of the reader frequently inscribes itself at length:

It is the reader and his or her interpretive community who attempts to impose a unified reading on a given text. Such readers may, and probably will, claim that the unity they find is in the text, but this claim is only a mask for the creative process actually going on. Even the most carefully designed text can not be unified; only the reader's attempted taming of it. Therefore, an attempt to use seams and shifts in the biblical text to discover its textual precursors is based on a fundamentally faulty assumption that one might recover a stage of the text that lacked such fractures (Carr 23-4).
I do not so much wish to emphasize the deconstructive rhetoric of this approach as the fact that religious texts lend themselves to creative readings that originate in the reader's experiences or historical circumstances. In other words, the history of Scriptural interpretation exemplifies the text's role as a space where emerging ideologies may be refigured and incorporated into an authoritative cultural tradition. One may think of the genesis of such readings in terms of Harold Bloom's notion of literary succession as "an act of creative correction," the difference in this case being that Anne Hutchinson's creative act involves reviewing the Scripture itself and deriving spiritual knowledge from a finite textual canon (Bloom 30).

  Inasmuch as Hutchinson's Scriptural readings place her at the beginning of a new interpretive tradition while playing on the tradition of male interpretive authority, they constitute a revisionary feminist theology. To say that Hutchinson's interpretations are feminist is not to emphasize her deliberate assertions of female authority, but rather to point out the manner in which historical circumstances rewrite her subjectivity through her involvement in the antinomian controversy and through the popular mythologies that appeal to her womanhood as central to her heresies. Hutchinson's interpretations stem from conditions specific to her position as the female member of a religious household in seventeenth century America. Her incrimination, though not overtly preoccupied with gender, is certainly marked by her unconventional vocality as a woman, and her rhetorical maneuvers repeatedly challenge the stability of traditional gender categories. Hutchinson is continually written and rewritten within the context of theological rhetoric and, as a textual figure, becomes the center from which we may observe the status of womanhood in Puritan New England.

 

"She Doth Continually Say and Unsay Things":

Anne Hutchinson and the Consequences of Misreading

 

Examination of a Witch, by T.H. Matteson 1853.

 

  In 1584, an Italian miller named Domenico Scandella, publically known as Menocchio, was tried for heresy. The fact of his incarceration and his ultimate execution in 1599 is not remarkable in itself, but the nuanced debate regarding the origins of Menocchio's religious convictions is quite extraordinary:

"I heard him say," Giovanni Povoledo related, "that in the beginning this world was nothing, and that it was thrashed by the water of the sea-like foam, and it curdled like cheese, from which later great multitudes of worms were born, and these worms became men, of whom the most powerful and wisest was God, to whom the others rendered obedience. . . ." (Ginzburg 53).

According to Carlo Ginzburg, who has carefully detailed Menocchio's estrangement from conventional church doctrine, Menocchio's interpretation of the Scripture stemmed from two contemporary cultural circumstances: the invention of the printing press which made secular and religious texts increasingly available to the lower classes, and the endurance of oral culture which circulated Scriptural interpretations within those levels of society. In this way, the nature of the miller's religious understanding corresponds nicely to his social marginalization-- it comments on his intercourse with a population to whom religious texts were available, but whose literary interpretations were not legitimated by the Church fathers. Revisionary theologies have emerged throughout history as suppressed voices, gradually acquiring direct access to secular or non-secular knowledge, attempt to locate themselves within a pre-existing canon of criticism. The case of Anne Hutchinson is exceptional in this respect, for while antinomianism appealed particularly to the domestic woman of Puritan America, Hutchinson dignifies her position within the movement by allying herself with a biblical lineage that is decidedly male: because she so subverts conventional gender categories, Hutchinson may be regarded as the progenitor of a revisionary feminist theology. In the court transcript of Anne Hutchinson's trial, the rhetorical exchange between conventional Puritan theologians and Anne Hutchinson involves a continual reading and rereading of the Scriptural woman, as well as a revaluation of formal rhetoric in terms of gender and sexuality. Both Hutchinson and the Puritan fathers appeal to the paternal genesis of Scriptural readings, but the rhetoric of those appeals is particularly suited to their respective positions in the social and religious praxis of Puritan New England.

 

"A Model of Christian Charity," by John Winthrop: the famous essay that describes America as "a city upon a hill"-- an experiment in religious and political renewal-- that positions the New World as a space reserved for the spiritually elect.

"Advertisements for the Inexperienced Planters of New England," by Captain John Smith: describes the many difficulties encounters by the first New World colonists and justifies English rule in America with recourse to Christian doctrine.

Context and Developments (Pilgrims and Puritans in the New World): a detailed insight into the literary, historical, and material culture in Hutchinson's New England.

"Puritanism and Predestination": an overview of Puritan doctrine, education, and historical controversies.

"What Must I do to be Saved?" by Cotton Mather: an excellent introduction into Puritan religious and literary conventions of this period.

John Wintrhop
(by Richard S. Greenough, 1875)
 

Gender and Religion in Colonial America: Dissenting Women: an evaluation of Mary Rowlandson, Anne Bradstreet, and Anne Hutchinson as subversive female thinkers.

Family Life, Gender Relations, Old Age, and Death in the New England Primer: a brief outline of basic education in early America.

HUTCHINSON AND THE FEDERAL COVENANT

  Anne Hutchinson was raised according to the doctrines of conventional Puritan theology. Generally speaking, this theology maintained that God originally established a covenant with Adam stipulating that unwavering obedience of God's law would result in salvation. This covenant with Adam was a covenant of works. After the Fall, humanity wallowed in sin until God formed a second covenant with Abraham. Because post-Lapserian man could not abide by a covenant of works, God established a covenant of grace whereby certain individuals were preordained as the spiritually elect, but were concealed as such from the secular world. The inability to determine one's spiritual status empirically-- the "invisibility" of the elect-- largely cultivated the self-deprecating, anxiety-ridden nature of Puritan discourse in New England. According to Amy Schrager Lang, the interpretation of the covenant of grace in New England was closely connected with the geographical virginity and isolation of the colonies:

The leaders of Massachusetts Bay envisioned a commonwealth in which civil and religious institutions would work harmoniously to uphold the special covenant between God and the New Israel. Full participation in the affairs of the community was, therefore, contingent upon church membership, and full involvement in the church depended on a demonstration of sainthood. The fulfillment of the covenant required that the invisible status of men be determined, not surely-- for the Puritans understood that certain knowledge of election was God's alone-- but with as much accuracy as possible. In their desire to keep the visible church as much like the invisible as possible, they evolved the paradox of "visible sainthood" (Lang 18).

If the spirit of Christ flowed naturally through the elect, then actions could attest to one's sainthood. In this way, the Scriptural covenant with Abraham developed into a federal covenant founded on a mutual assurance among New England colonists that they had indeed discovered a New Canaan.

  Although Hutchinson conceded the basic tenets of Puritan theology, visible sainthood seemed to her inherently fallacious. If the saint performs good deeds only through Christ's grace, then "there is no inherent righteousnesse in the Saints . . . but in Christ only" (Hutchinson; qtd. in Lang 19). The grace of Christ was most perfect in those who unwittingly performed good deeds: conscious works proved nothing of one's spiritual status. From the purview of her theological opponents, such a contention implied that "man's unaltered sinfulness should be no cause for distress" and was tantamount to religious anarchy (Lang 19). The so-called antinomians rejected the notion of a federal covenant which, in a landscape still spiritually unsullied, significantly frustrated the Puritan notion of social order and community. By describing the elect as an invisibly connected community united by spirit rather than geography, the antinomians only augmented Puritan fears of religious and epistemic obscurity.

  Significantly, Hutchinson and her followers were devoted readers of the Geneva Bible, which included extensive commentaries on the rewards of seeking personal communion with Christ. In contradistinction to the

The Puritan Exiles and the Separatists:

A detailed history by Barbara Burgess, including further biographical information on Anne Hutchinson and John Winthrop.
 
The Puritan Vision: a detailed description of the prevailing Puritan notion of salvation.

Authorized Version of 1611, which contained no such observations, the "asocial orientation of the Geneva Bible came to be seen as anachronistic" in a New England increasingly united under a federal covenant (Lang 37). The subjective spirituality advocated by antinomianism particularly suited the women of this period whose religious activity remained more or less within the home. Women were generally designated as passive recipients of Scriptural readings issued by the Puritan fathers, and thus consigned to self-effacement where the possibility of subjective readings emerged. Antinomianism, rejecting the notion that human beings could affect their own salvation, ironically called upon a similar self-abnegation before Christ as a condition of piety:

Claiming to be nothing in herself but all in Christ, Hutchinson reduced herself to a medium through which God spoke and, in this way, empowered herself more fully than the men in whom the community vested power (Lang 42).

The passivity and silence naturally associated with the domestic sphere emerged as rhetorical devices espoused by antinomianism and placed the domestic woman in a position to participate in the religious community more fully than the current religious hierarchy permitted. Altogether, perceiving antinomianism as extolling subjectivity would be inaccurate in light of its genuine belief in self-effacement, but Hutchinson undoubtedly rejected the kind of community advocated by Puritan New England. Though individuality was not what the antinomians were advocating per se, Hutchinson's vocality on the matter ironically became a way of inscribing her own subjectivity as a woman into literary and political history. By participating in a religious controversy discussed largely in terms of gender, as we shall see, Hutchinson stands at the beginning of a new covenant of grace that effectively writes women out of the margins of religious discourse.

RE-VISIONS

  I do not so much wish to discuss antinomianism as an essentially feminist movement as to indicate how the restriction of women to the domestic sphere made the personal nature of the movement appealing and its rhetoric appropriate to educated women. As previously stated, the antinomian controversy was not an intrinsically gender-based one, but the examination of Anne Hutchinson suggests that the court was deeply concerned about the impropriety of her behavior based on gender expectations:

you are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions that are causes of this trouble . . . you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and notwithstanding that was cried down you have continued that same ("Examination" 156; emphasis added).

A bit further on, the Governor checks these observations with the statement: "We do not mean to discourse with those of your sex but only this; you do adhere unto them and do endeavor to set forward this faction and so you do dishonour us" (Hall 314). The fact that the magistrates must examine a woman on spiritual matters is itself something that needs to be qualified by extenuating circumstances. The Puritan fathers do not want to discuss theological matters with Hutchinson, and their peculiar compulsion to do so highlights a nervous tension between the paternal structure of religious hierarchy and the possibility of female revelation:

the problem was that Hutchinson stepped out of the role the community defined for her. She ignored the strictures placed upon women, and she exaggerated this transgression by her haughty carriage, by refusing the correction of her "betters," by her impudence. . . . If a woman could instruct men, then all legitimate authority was in jeopardy" (Lang 42-3).

The mere fact of Hutchinson's vocality on religious matters, according the the Puritan fathers, points to a possible impingement on their authority within the paternal ecclesiastical hierarchy. It is in Hutchinson's particular rhetorical maneuvers and in her appeal to the power of speech that this impingement actually comes to fruition.

  Asked to recant her theological beliefs, Hutchinson inquires as to the nature of her crime. Repeatedly, she pushes the Governor to charge her explicitly, and he repeatedly evades the question with such replies as "I have told you some

Execution of Charles Stuart, "That Man of Blood" (1649)
[charges] already and more I can tell you" or "Have I not named some already?" (156) Finally, the Governor proclaims: "Why for your doings, this you did harbor and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of" (157). Hutchinson answers, quite simply, that her behavior is a "matter of conscience" (157). Hutchinson's rhetorical strategy in this exchange performs two important functions. First, it mirrors in social discourse her tendency to interpret the Scripture literally: what her accusers can not articulate is not something that she can fairly interpret. When they finally do articulate a complaint, Hutchinson disqualifies the point by noting that it does not fall under legal jurisdiction. Second, Hutchinson's invocation of the notion of conscience at once speaks to personal, as opposed to communal, evaluations of moral behavior and denies the privilege of the ministers based on ecclesiastical hierarchy. It is significant, then, that legal strictures were largely concerned with speech acts as measures of social status during this period. As Jane Kamensky notes:

the history of "governing the tongue" extends beyond colonial America to include the Anglo-Atlantic world and, indeed, the broader universe of face-to-face societies. But in other respects, the power and danger of speech and the necessity of imposing "rules" to check that power were of singular importance in early New England. Orderly speech took on heightened meaning in communities where traditional measures of status, identity, and authority had been left behind, abandoned (by intent or merely by default) as relics of an "Old World." Where all forms of Government had to be, in essence, created anew, verbal governance assumed momentous significance (xiii).

In Puritan New England, the power of speech signified authority and generally corresponded to one's position in the social hierarchy. At the head of this hierarchy of speech, Kamensky continues, were the Puritan fathers:

Scripture also provided a mandate for another important aspect of early New England's verbal hierarchy: constructing voices of ministerial authority. Although the power of the minister's voice was rooted in texts-- biblical doctrine-- his spoken interpretation of that written canon became what Harry Stout calls "the only regular voice of authority" in New England towns. Since ministers effectively spoke for God to a captive audience of the assembled community, their words had "awesome powers" in Puritan culture (45).

The Puritan fathers retained the highest degree of vocal authority because their words were inextricably linked, in the eyes of the community, to the Word. Male members of the religious community derived spiritual knowledge from these men and imparted it indirectly to the female members of their households. Women were more or less expected to remain silent, their vocality being typically identified with intellectual vanity or a decidedly unfeminine forthrightness. By challenging the articulacy of the Puritan fathers and asserting her own ability to interpret their words, Hutchinson appeals to the contemporary legal conventions regarding female vocality to subvert the authority of patriarchal speech acts.

  Mr. Coggeshall later engages in a similar exchange with the Governor, exposing the fundamental inarticulacy of Hutchinson's accusers:

Gov. Will you Mr. Coggeshall say that she did not say so?
Mr. Coggeshall. Yes I dare say that she did not say all that which they lay against her.
Mr. Peters. How dare you look into the court to say such a word?
Mr. Coggeshall. Mr. Peters takes upon him to forbid me. I shall be silent (157).
 

Since to speak is to assert authority and, as we saw earlier with Hutchinson, to challenge the vocal authority of the Puritan fathers, Mr. Coggeshall both points to the Governor's inarticulacy and subverts the very power of his words. Submission, in the form of silence and a professed inability to comment on abstract discourse, is in both cases a way of retaliating against magisterial rhetoric. The inclination of the antinomians toward literal interpretation relates, as Hutchinson notes, tothe belief that "The Lord knows that I could not open scripture; he must by his prophetical office open it unto me" (159). It is, consequently, linked to the believer's dependence on the Father to decipher religious meaning from the text: it is an appeal to the patriarchal social structure in which women were to rely on husbands and fathers for spiritual enlightenment. Appealing to a patriarchal hierarchy based on speech, and exposing the fundamental futility of speech acts in the face of passive revelation, Hutchinson both undermines the ministers' authority and asserts her own theological convictions. While this does not designate antinomianism as a feminist association per se, the refiguring of the private sphere and passive revelation into a position of relative authority that is consonant with God's covenant does explain why the movement became so popular among women in New England during this period.
 
"My Obscure Lines:
Women Writers Negotiating
Authority in Colonial America,"
by Dr. Nancy Shankle:
interprets the manner in which
Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson
assert their authority as women within
the "hierarchy of ecclesiastic-controlled
discourse" (see abstract).
 
 
 
An Amazon warrior carrying her companion from the battlefield. For more Amazon images click here.

The Temptation of Eve

  The second accusation brought against Hutchinson is that she has charged local ministers with advocating a covenant of works. Here too Hutchinson's violation of contemporary gender categories seems to be at issue: "Now this is charged upon her, and they therefore sent for her seeing she made it her table talk, and then she said the fear of man was a snare and therefore she would not be affeared of them" (157). It is telling that the impropriety of Hutchinson's alleged irreverence to the ministers is compounded by her vocality on the topic in casual, domestic settings. Because the woman's power of speech during this period was so concentrated in the domestic sphere, it is interesting thatcontemporary restrictions on speech were discussed in terms of "mak[ing] a door and bar" to "shut the wicket of our mouth against unsavoury speeches" (Anonymous qtd. in Kamensky 52). Women were expected to speak with some reserve even in the home. The possibility that the private sphere could not contain a woman's thoughts posed a serious threat to the containment of the female voice on which the Puritan hierarchy so relied. 

  Toward the end of the transcript Mr. Coddington observes: ""There is one thing objected against the meetings. What if she designed to edify her own family in her own meeting may none else be present?" (163) In short, if a virtuous woman conducts family prayers in the absence of her husband, takes an active role in the religious education of her children and is free to discuss her religious sentiments in the private sphere, then the home can not be transformed into an inappropriate place for such exercises merely by the addition of more people. Coddington's objection points to an aspect of antinomianism that proved especially appealing to women of the period. Confined for the most part to the domestic sphere, women could articulate theological views by bringing the public into the private domain where a personal communion with God was not frustrated by public support of the federal covenant. It is noteworthy, then, that Hutchinson's religious meetings are denounced   as "table talk," thus associating her vocality with gossip-mongering. In response to Coddington's remark, it should be noted, the Governor remarks: "If you have nothing else to say but that, it is a pity Mr. Coddington that you should interrupt us in proceeding to censure" (163).

  Hutchinson's third and final transgression of conventional gender roles consists in her consciously identifying with male Scriptural heroes. Mr. Nowell asks Hutchinson how she knew that she had experienced a direct revelation of God's will, to which she answers: "How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?" (160) She extrapolates on this analogy later on:

after he was pleased to reveal himself to me I did presently like Abraham run to Hagar. And after that he did let me see the atheism of my own heart, for which I begged of the Lord that it might not remain in my heart, and being thus, he did shew me this (a twelvemonth after) which I told you of before (160).

Abraham, who conceives a child with the slave-girl Hagar when God does not give him a child by Sarah, becomes an authoritative ally for Hutchinson. In her quest for spiritual revelation, Hutchinson confesses to her temporary seduction by prevailing theology and the words of the Puritan ministers. Hutchinson did go through a period of dedication to what she later alleged to be the Puritan covenant of works, and this she equates to adulterous and unnatural behavior. It is especially remarkable, however, that Hutchinson simultaneously allies herself with the male progenitor of an elect people-- he with whom the covenant of grace is established-- and allies the Puritan ministers with a woman, and a socially inferior woman no less. It is, as Hutchinson's reference to Jeremiah 46:27-8 suggests, her children who will be saved "from the land of their captivity." Hutchinson positions herself in a relative position of authority, and while she does not necessarily institute a matrilineal tradition of the elect, she certainly upsets the stability of patrilineal authority.

  The association of Hutchinson with the beginning of a new covenant of grace is also juxtaposed with the story of Daniel. She explains:

Yet that place of Isaiah did much follow me, though the Lord give thee the bread of adversity and water of affliction. This place lying I say upon me then this place in Daniel was brought unto me and did shew me that though I should meet with affliction yet I am the same God that delivered Daniel out of the lion's den, I will also deliver thee (160).

Superficially, Hutchinson's statement reiterates her elect status and reaffirms her identification with patrilineal figures of male valor. On another level, however, Hutchinson is directly commenting on the trial itself and the status of antinomianism reflected by it:

 

So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. The men said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God" (Daniel 6:4-5).

If one lesson can be gleaned from Daniel it is that the authority that secular politics and social institutions bestows on men should not be revered equally to God's law. Daniel's passive acceptance of divine acts, as a way of testifying to his God's magnificence, rescues him from both the lion's den and the fiery furnace. In this sense, Daniel's faith seems very much in line with Hutchinson's notion of divine grace. By mapping her theological belief in passive revelation onto a preexisting male Scriptural hero, Hutchinson grafts her convictions onto the Scriptural tradition of male heroism. Again, she subverts the conventional order that confined women to passive reception of the Puritan fathers' interpretations by appealing to paternal figures that supersede the authority of men. To be brief, Hutchinson's arguments before the court continually appeal to the contemporary expectation that women derive Scriptural interpretations from men. By looking to the Scripture and playing on exegetical rhetoric, she justifies her authority as a woman among male theologians through the very paternal tradition that opposes her.

The Hydra

REINSCRIPTIONS OF THE VISIONARY WOMAN

  The Puritan fathers, however affronted by Hutchinson's subversive tactics, nonetheless were backed by an authority already embedded in the social hierarchy of New England. The role of vocality and literary interpretation in instituting social and political authority there also contributed to the refutations of the fathers. At the trial's conclusion, the Deputy Governor explains: ". . . I am fully persuaded that Mrs. Hutchinson is deluded by the devil, because the spirit of God speaks truth in all his subjects" (162). The logic itself is startling, for to argue that Hutchinson was possessed because God only speaks truth already presupposes that Hutchinson's remarks are false. The demonization of Hutchinson found no impediment in such circularity. The popular imagination quickly seized on her as a threat to the new Israel and, variously, as New England's great Seducer. According to Thomas Welde's preface to A Short Story of the Rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists & Libertines (1637):

Like the harlot in Proverbs, the antinomians, "with much faire speech . . . caused [the colonists] to yeeld, with the flattering of their lips they forced them." . . . to prove the legitimacy of their deceitful doctrines, the heretics "fathered" them upon the eminent men of the country. The "worst" of these seducers was, of course, Mistress Hutchinson, who, snakelike, "diffused the venome of these opinions into the very veines and vitalls of the People in the country" (Lang 55; emphasis added).

All at once, Hutchinson is mythologized as the wileful serpent who inseminates New England with dangerous ideas, but because such phallic powers are attributed to her, Hutchinson also becomes an unnatural, hermaphroditic presence in the community. In this sense, she is a woman, but a woman who has disturbed conventional categories of social praxis. Her vocality is transformed into betrayal, her womanhood into an epidemic subversion of recognizable categories. The work itself, written by John Winthrop, described the antinomians as commonly labour[ing] to worke first upon women, being (as they conceived) the weaker to resist; the more flexible, tender, and ready to yeeld: and if once they could winde in them, they hoped by them, as by Eve, to catch their husbands also, which indeed often proved too true amongst us there (Hall 206). Cotton Mather associates Hutchinson with Eve, Jezebel, and Satan, but also with the Hydra whose decapitated head

is replaced by two more horrible than the first. As the Hydra is also the child of the hermaphroditic Echidna, the heresy is doubly connected to the confusion of gender roles that Hutchinson's vocality presents. It is her ostensible attempt to become hermaphroditic that constitutes her degeneracy. More importantly, though, this hermaphroditism results in the cancerous regeneration of error, particularly in the form of antinomian conversions or of still more original Scriptural readings.

Monstrous Births:

"How it may be wrought, that Women should bring forth fair and beautiful children," by John Baptist Porta (1537-1615): a chapter from the Second Book of Natural Magick drawing on Renaissance associations of pregnancy with the occult.

 "Popular Hermeneutics: Monstrous Children in English Renaissance Broadside Ballads," by Helaine Razovsky: discusses the relations between exegetic interpretations and the motif of monstrous births in Renaissance literature.

Take a look at Samuel Johnson's definition of "Monster": it is an interesting comment on the status of femininity in both the linguistic and mythological imaginations of early modern culture.

In Book I ofThe Faery Queene Spenser gives a marvelous description of a dragon who resembles the Hydra in her hermaphroditic and reproductive qualities. Notice the way Spenser associates reproductive error with the text.

  To be sure, Hutchinson's "mothering" of antinomian fallacies comes to light most graphically in the accounts of the "monstrous births" experienced by several women in New England during the period of controversy. Winthrop, Mather, Welde, and others produced accounts of the strange circumstances surrounding the birth scenes of Hutchinson, as well as Mary Dyer and other followers of Hutchinson, and although some argued that these were merely medical anomalies, God's displeasure in the antinomians quickly became a favored interpretation of the events. In these so-called "monstrous births," the virulent proliferation of errors associated with Hutchinson through the Hydra metaphor becomes literalized. Winthrop writes:

And see how the wisdome of God fitted this judgement of her sinne everyway, for looke as she had vented mishapen opinions, so she must bring forth deformed monsters; and as about 30. Opinions in number, so many monsters; and as those were publike, and not in a corner mentioned, so this is now come to be knowne and famous over all these Churches, and a great part of the world (Hall 214-5).

The reinscriptions of Anne Hutchinson's identity thus seems to incorporate two readings of Genesis. First, the Puritan fathers identify Hutchinson consistently with figures of rhetorical betrayal: the serpent, Eve, Jezebel, all characters who at some time practice a deception that figures dangerously into the Fall. She is reinscribed as the traditional figure of linguistic mystification and heresy. Second, the monstrous birth of the Hydra-like Hutchinsonian transforms the life-giving power of woman into a hardship, so that God's afflicting Eve with birth-pains resurfaces in the punishment of the new Seducers. The thoughts and words that transform Hutchinson's womanhood into an unnatural, phallic power are once again transformed into her penitence. By literally conceiving and giving birth to monstrous offspring, the antinomian women are once again reduced to the condition of women repenting for Eve's original betrayal. Just as Hutchinson appeals to the patrilineal system of reading Scripture to give herself a voice among men, the Puritan fathers return to an even earlier portion of the Scripture to reclaim authority-- to Eve's first infraction of the covenant of works.

  In Scripture, the possibilities for interpretive innovation point to the instability of language, but also indicate the potential fluctuation of any social system based on opposition. The rhetorical exchange between Hutchinson and the Puritan fathers-- the manner in which they both appeal to the same strategies of self-assertion-- suggests that the manner in which rhetoric is inverted in the court transcripts and unofficial records of Hutchinson's character mirrors the instability of gender categories exposed by both sides of the antinomian controversy. David Rutledge offers a particularly applicable interpretation of Genesis as the beginning of an investigation into sexual difference, which is worth citing at some length:

If Genesis . . . is to be read as an aetiology, a prescriptive myth, then it should be read as such with this understanding in mind, as documenting the way in which logocentrism of all kinds (whether patriarchal or otherwise) must always fall prey to language-- which makes the story the most peculiarly "Greek" of tragedies. The Garden of Eden thus provides the setting for a genesis of the uneasy, restless tension that exists between fixed structures of signification and approaches to meaning which allow for "flux, continuity and phases of alternation . . ." This tension receives frequent and close attention within the context of feminist discourse, but it operates wherever statically dualistic modes of thought and language are in conflict with ambiguity and change (214).

It would be quite appropriate that the Scriptural canon should begin with this kind of lesson. IfGenesis does indeed point to the mutability of language and rhetoric, and if Hutchinson can be read as the original deceiver, then exegetics itself may be interpreted as the subject of the Fall. Cleverly enough, the Puritan fathers managed to reassert the danger of subjective interpretations of Scripture, especially on the part of women, by reinscribing the story of man's Fall from a covenant of works onto the modern antinomian advocate.

Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson: a biography written by one of her descendents and accompanied by excellent historical detail and images of Hutchinson.

Anne Hutchinson's Examination at the Court at Newton, November 1637.

Statues of Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer at Suffolk, Massachusetts.

 

 

CONCLUSION

  In 1638, Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated. Her confrontation with the Puritan ministers had not vindicated her theological views in the eyes of the church, but one may assume that institutional isolation little offended her propensity to subjective revelation. The rhetorical exchange in which the two sides of the antinomian controversy engaged essentially took place within the Scripture itself; ironically, though, it left the ministers still appealing to the covenant of works, and Hutchinson comfortably allied with Abraham and his lineage. Menocchio's literal interpretation of the Scripture infuriated the authorities, until the vicar general finally exclaimed: "Menocchio, please, for the love of God, do not say such things!" (Ginzburg 3) In this case, merely hearing a revisionist theology is unendurable, however ineffective it might prove in shaking the authority of traditional readings of Scripture. The flexibility of the text, and the consequent empowerment of a marginalized reader, is altogether hateful. Despite the official defeat of Hutchinson's theology, the rhetorical exercises in which she engages during the trial allow her to create a wider sphere of interpretation for the Puritan woman, for even the Governor ultimately admits that they can not "limit the word of God" (162). Following Hutchinson's lengthy relation of her revelation and deliverance into grace, the Deputy General inquires: "What is the scripture she brings?" (161) Speechless, perhaps, Mr. Stroughton replies: "Behold I turn away from you" (161).

_______WORKSCITED_______

 

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University Press, 1989.
 
Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. NY: Oxford University
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Carr, David M. Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches.
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
 
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