H B Wheatley

In 1885, Wheatley contributed an undocumented, one-line identification of "Ephelia" as "Mrs Joan Phillips" to A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature edited by Halkett and Laing (VIII: 1885). Wheatley may have found Joan Phillips in the work of two of his prominent bibliophilic contemporaries, Peter Cunningham and the Rev. John Francis Stainforth. An annotated copy of the sale catalogue (166 pages) of Stainforth's famous library, which included a copy of both editions of Female Poems...by Ephelia (1679, 1682), is preserved at the New York Public Library Research Facility.

Though Wheatley was certainly closer to the primary materials than today's scholars, he, as most bookmen of his day, was not sympathetic to women writers. In point of fact, feminist researchers have had to work very hard these last few decades to correct errors which emanated from the early canonical work of several nineteenth-century dons.

Most extant copies of Ephelia's work include a "Joan Phillips" annotation by owners and booksellers over the centuries. But who was "Joan Phillips"? It is not entirely preposterous, in view of Ephelia's probable identity in the tricksy 'Mall' Villiers, that "Joan Phillips" was yet another alter-ego of Mary Villiers's, an urban identity or cover which allowed this inventive Duchess easy access to the colorful street culture of Restoration London. Such an hypothesis is utterly compatible with Mary's creative character and delight in madcap capers; and, as I document later in this essay, such a speculation would explain Aphra Behn's playful reference to "a Poet Joan" and Robert Gould's gritty vignette of Behn and Ephelia (Aphra Behn). Within the constricted confines of the Court, Mary Villiers was the pseudonymous writer, Ephelia; on the streets of Restoration London, she was known as "Joan Phillips." A woman of imposed multiple identities all of her long life, Mary Villiers, in the 1660s and 1670s, finally had the freedom, time, and personal space to recreate herself through multiple poetic voices and identities. From her privileged position at Court, she had the resources and surely the talent to bring off such trickery.