A symbol of everything that is dark about the past and woman, the witch continues to fascinate us in the late twentieth century. The Witch in History explores that
fascination and its manifold forms through court records, early modern dramas and the modern histories and fictions that draw upon them.
This book argues that in early modern England, the witch was a woman's fantasy and not simply a male nightmare. Through witch-beliefs and stories about witches,
early modern women were able to express and manage powerful and passionate feelings that still resonate for us today, feelings that could not be uttered in a
seventeenth-century context: unconscious fears of and fury with children and mothers.
In our own era, groups as diverse as women writers, academic historians and radical feminists have found in the witch a figure who justifies and defines their own
identities. Then too, there are those who still call themselves witches in 1990s Britain, who still practise magic and who invent their own histories of witchcraft to
sustain them. Constantly reworked and debated, the witch is central to all these groups.
Looking at texts from colonial narratives to court masques, trial records to folktales, and literary texts from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, this book shows how
the witch acts as a carrier for the fears, desires and fantasies of women and men both now and in the early modern period. Diane Purkiss is Lecturer in English at the University of Reading.
Diane Purkiss is professor of English Literature; Tutorial Fellow, Keble College. Diane Purkiss areas of interest include the English Civil War, Milton, and Marvell; Marvell in manuscript culture; the supernatural, especially witchcraft; food and food history; children's literature; folklore and folktale/fairytale; writer's block.
Current projects near completion:
- Food: A People's History. This book argues that 'mainstream
' history and food history overlap significantly, and that changes in taste and ideas about taste and distaste which derive from food also inflect politics and ideology.
- Shakespeare and the supernatural. This book considers the place of the unauthorised supernatural in the plays of Shakespeare, arguing that his treatment of ghosts, fairies and witches is one of the distinguishing features of his work.
- Articles from the following will be polished in the runup to Christmas: two on fairies, one on magic books, and one on witches and the 'undomestic
Under development is a plan to create a database of all Marvell manuscripts in world libraries. Articles arising from this include one on Bodleian MS Eng Poet d. 49; what it is. Argues that this manuscript does represent an attempt to create an accurate version of Marvell's poems in accordance with a now-lost ms version, but that it has subsequently been turned to other uses. Attempts a thorough codicology and description. A further article will also appear on Marvell's miscellaneous circulation. What we can learn about the reinvention of the Restoration Marvell by a study of the poems transcribed alongside his painter poems in various manuscripts.
I am also developing a Milton article for new volume on Milton and Gender to commemorate Re-Membering Milton
Further ahead, my next large project will be on the dissolution of the monasteries and its literatures
Diane Purkiss Teaching Areas:
1550-1830; Shakespeare; women's writing; literary theory; film; Milton; Donne; Marlowe; Woolf; Plath.
Diane Purkiss Recent Publications:
The English civil War: A People's History, Harper Collins, 2006
Literature, Gender and Politics during the English civil War, Cambridge 2005
Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories, Penguin 2000
The Witch in History, Routledge 1996.
Editions of the writings of Elizabeth Cary, Jane Lumley, Mary Sidneya and Aemilia Lanyer
Diane Purkiss Work in Progress:
A history of food; A history of the dissolution of the monasteries; A book on Shakespeare and the supernatural; A book on writer's block; An interdisciplinary essay collection on girls in the renaissance.
Diane Purkiss contacts: [email protected]