Ann Finch's "Ephelia."
In all fairness to my colleagues, let me briefly provide a summary statement on Finch's "Ephelia." Myra Reynolds in 1903 suggested that Ann Finch's Ephelia might have been Frances Thynne, Lady Worsley, daughter of Francis and Henry Thynne. Ellen Moody in 1999 tendered a counter-hypothesis in Ann Finch's sister-in-law, Frances Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth (www.jimandellen.org/finch/poem111.html). While it certainly follows that Ann Finch's Ephelia could have been almost any woman of the exclusive Worsley-Thynne-Finch circle at (or associated with) the Longleat estate in Wiltshire, Mary Villiers is the most persuasive candidate, to date, for Ann Finch's Ephelia. Three important pieces of information about Finch's Ephelia in the opening lines of Finch's most polished moral and cultural critique, Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia, who had invited her to come to her in the town..., offer rather stunning support. Here are the opening lines of Finch's 247-line poem:
Me, dear Ephelia, me in vain you court
With all your pow'rfull Influence, to resort
To that great Town, where Friendship can but have
The few spare hours, which meaner pleasures leave
No! Let some shade, or your large Pallace be
Our place of meeting, love, and liberty;
But to those walls, excuse my slow repair;
Who have no business, or diversion there;
(1) As this poem's title and text state, Finch presents Ephelia as a resolute urbanite, who does not reside at Longleate or any other great country house, but rather in "that great Town." (Mary Villiers principal place of residence was London, thus making her the appropriate femae addressee of Finch's extended moral and cultural critique of certain strata of citified Engliswomen. (2) Finch's Ephelia lives in a "large Pallace" (this is Whitehall, Mary Villier's second home as a de facto member of the royal Stuart line; she was, in truth, a frequent family resident at Whitehall all of her long life. Longleat, though one of the great English treasure-houses, was not a "large Pallace"). (3) Finch's Ephelia enjoys high, public status, "all your pow'rfull Influence" (with the exceptions of Queen Catherine and the queen-mother, Henrietta Maria, few women at this time had more "pow'rfull Influence" then Mary Villiers Herbert Stuart, Duchess of Richmond & Lennox, a best friend from childhood of Charles II and, according to my case, the most highly-placed woman writer fo the second Caroline court. Ann Finch's clever juxtaposition of "Ephelia" and "court" in her poems incipit may also be included in my argument.
Until more persuasive arguments come to light, I must deduce that the addressee in Ann Finch's two poems to Ephelia is Mary Villiers, whose affectionate regard for women and for women writers (Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn) is expressed in her elegant octavo of 1679. The Ephelia poems in Finch's canon are a new window on the sororal bonds among literary women nobles during the second half of the seventeenth century.