Sunday, December 5, 2010



A is for Anne by Penelope Scambly Schott
(Turning Point, Cincinnati, OH, 2007)

What more enticing way to learn history than through poetry? Penelope Scambly Schott’s A is for Anne tells, with poems, the story of a woman of whom a Reverend Peter said something along the lines of:
           You have stepped out of your place: You
have rather been a Husband than a Wife, and a Preacher
than a Hearer, and a Magistrate than a Subject.

           --“My Second Trial: March 22, 1638: Day Two: the afternoon on which I am Cast Out”

Grrr… sooo irritating – albeit said almost 400 years ago but, horribly, probably still endorsed by many, even today. Scambly Schott provides a family tree at the beginning of her book of poems about Anne Hutchinson and this reveals that she birthed and raised fifteen(!) children – she must have been pregnant more than eleven of her thirty years of married life! How on earth did she find the time and energy to (often) be reminded, rebuked along the lines of:
For the man is not of the woman,
but the woman is of the man.

           --“Unpleasant Weeks Aboard the Griffin”

More disturbingly, I notice that she and six of her youngest children all died in the same year – 1643. Fire? Disease? I force myself to not page immediately to the end of the book. I begin at the beginning and learn that from early girlhood Anne was:
… my father’s dearest scholar:

see how he leads me through deep waters.
Denied his parish, my father ravishes me

with argument of fiercest precision,
chapter and verse correctly quoted.

            “Daughter of a Dissenter”

And that the girl who was to become good friend and midwife to Mary Dyer, one of the “Boston Martyrs”, was groomed early to follow her father’s lead…
Papa’s finger longer than my hand.
My older sisters learn their stitches,
and I, my letters. Our Queen reads,
so why not Anne?

           --“Reverend Francis Marbury is under House Arrest for Preaching against the Church of England”

Through pages of persona poetry, mostly in the voice of Mistress Anne Marbury Hutchinson, I learn that she married in her early twenties; through Penelope Scambly Scott’s deft word craft I learn that Anne is a sensual wife; I learn too, that Anne or Penelope or the both of them have a fine knack for subtle erotic word play:
                                 …Who said

it was duty? I grow in beauty
under his hands. To know

my husband as Eve knew Adam
as Rachel knew Jacob, as Mother,

Father. It’s a wise God
devised this jointure of flesh.

                      I applaud His gentle rod.

                                 --“I Like It Well”

And so the life-story-in-poems of this no-nonsense mother, midwife and lay-preacher continues and narrates that, weekly, she gathers of an evening in her home,
An ever larger meeting. They spill
from parlour to kitchen.

So many listeners. I am sure
of myself in my husband’s chair.

           --“Now Also on Thursday Nights”

The quote above begins to shed some light as to why the first quote in this review, from Reverend Peter, was directed at Mistress Hutchinson. A strong and outspoken woman is bound to be quashed sooner or later and the Boston patriarchs were not, for long, about to put up with one who was not shy to say (again, often),
If my dear father were alive today,
I know exactly what he’d say: Piffle.

                      As I do too.

           --“The Great Comet of 1618”

A is for Anne brings its sassy protagonist to life. She is bullied, betrayed by friends, and even manipulated in way reminiscent of recent political events:
Is Boston too small for more than one opinion?
If am not with them, must I be against them?

           --“Private Interrogation at the Home of Mr. Cotton, October 25, 1636”

I’ll not give away the end of the story, nor tell any more of it here. Penelope Scambly Shott’s book tells it compellingly and in the after notes, fills in background detail and bits about subsequent events, some of which took place just a few years ago. She also lists a pile of reference materials for those curious to know yet more, the most easily accessible of which is this website:


Moira Richards lives in South Africa and hangs out here
and here.

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