Today I got to talk about Anne Bradstreet — I haven’t gotten to talk about her in years — in the church where her brother-in -law (who loved her too much) was the minister. It was the perfect opportunity to make sure everyone knew the true story about Anne. Of course, first I had to tell everyone who she was, that she was smart and funny and even though she was a model Puritan sometimes thought there was no God. She drank ale from morning to night. She wrote sexy poems to her husband and begged men to take women more seriously. Then I stomped on the story people still tell about her. In fact, it is still up on Wikipedia (I can’t figure out how to change it). It goes like this: Anne played no part in the publication of her book; she was too humble, too pious to want to be famous so her brother in law stole the manuscript and had it published for her. This story is the story Anne and her family told people so no one would think she was too pushy, but the evidence tells a different story. We have a letter she wrote to her brother in law in which she enclosed a final poem for her book, demonstrating she was fully involved in the manuscript’s publication. In fact, she was ambitious. True, she was also self deprecatory. She apologized for her work in almost every poem. But you can be insecure and confident at the same time, a point brought home to me today when I climbed down from the altar, feeling sort of sorry for Anne (Poor Anne, you didn’t know it was ok to be a woman writer; it’s too bad you couldn’t have been more like me) and then discovered that I had brought the wrong stack of books to sell. Last year, when I spoke at this church about The Woman Who Named God I brought all my Mistress Bradstreets. This year I brought only Womans and no Mistress Bradstreets. I was going to write this off as an accident, but then I realized this was my version of Anne’s self deprecation. Every time I put myself forward, I figure out a way to stop myself.
As I stood next to the book table apologizing for having brought the wrong books, I made a new friend who says she does exactly the same kind of thing. She tells people about her business, even urges them to call her, but she never has any business cards with her because she has left them at home.
How are we any different from Anne?