'The Body of the Friend and the Woman Writer: Katherine Philips's Absence from Alan Bray's "The Friend" (2003)'

Lorna Margaret Hutson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article takes as its starting point the omission of Katherine Philips from Alan Bray's The Friend (2003), his important intervention in the histories of friendship and sexuality. It is an omission which poses the question of whether women's writing can be absorbed into existing narratives of literary and cultural history, or whether the attempt to include women's writing is more disruptive, requiring us to rethink not only the more orthodox narratives and periodizations of history, but their "oppositional" variants as well. Bray's persuasive narrative of radical change in the meaning of the body as signifier of (male) friendship prompts a rethinking of the relation of embodiment to the cultural capital of friendship in Philips's poems. In her poetry, Philips appropriates a male tradition of ethical friendship for women and for Royalist politics, but in ways which appeal to the passions and interests as capable of bringing about the erotic and political subjection of one woman to another. For Philips, as a woman writer, the difficulty lies not in the need to distinguish ethical bodily gestures from transgressive sexual ones, but in the claim that writings on female friendship can signify as ethical and political at all. So, for the history of female friendship and its poetry, the recovery of "the gift of the friend's body" may not be as important as the revolutionary upheaval that made it thinkable to deploy materialistic discourses of the passions and the interests in articulating a kind of libidinal economy of passionate obligation between women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007


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