Ephelia's Polyvocality and Manuscript Transmission


Ephelia's "multidimensional self-imaging," noticed by Judith Page in her thesis of 1995, as well as the poet's many "confusing" voices, which befuddled Warren Chernaik in 1995, are but manifestations of Mary Villiers's ventrilloquial skill and documented delight in mimicry and impersonation: she is "Celadon" in "A Reply, by a Friend"; she is the jilted courtesan "Mall" Kirke in the famous lamentation to Ld. Mulgrave ("Bajazet"); and she is the literary ingénue, "Ephelia," seeking patronal protection from her public double -- the high and mighty Mary Villiers, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox.

The transmission of pseudonymous and anonymous poetry is an essential consideration in the complex subject of manuscript dissemination at the Stuart court. The key to my subject's modus operandi may exist in another of Van Dyck's poetic renderings of the present candidate. His famous double-portrait, Mary Villiers, with Mrs Gibson, her Dwarf (ca. late 1630s) (Image 11a), which hangs in the double-cube room at Wilton House (Wilton House Catalogue [1968], No. 163), illustrates the popularity of the dwarf theme in Stuart portraiture, which Van Dyck evidently brought into vogue in 1633 with his portrait of Mary Villiers's adoptive mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, who posed for Van Dyck with her dwarf, Sir Jeffrey Hudson (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Image 11b). We know that Mary Villiers emulated her surrogate mother (the "Eugenia" in Female Poems...by Ephelia) in her choice of costume, hair-style, and jewelry, which remained consistent in almost all surviving portraits of Mary Villiers. It now appears that Henrietta Maria also inspired some of the poses, tropes, and themes in Van Dyck's portraits of the queen's adoptive (or foster) Villiers daughter. I was struck by the "dwarf" portrait of Mary Villiers, rivetted by the power of her ironic gaze. I saw in the picture an encoded image of literary transmission. On the tray which Mrs Gibson offers her mistress, we see a pair of long gloves, which Mary Villiers importantly touches with her right hand. She, in fact, raises one of the gloves from the plate, lest there be any confusion as to the plate's contents. Her arch gaze is not directed at her companion or the gloves, but rather at us. She dramatically engages our attention through her gaze and through this theatrical gesture in order, it appears, to communicate closely-held information.

It is entirely possible that Mary's gloves provided a convenient vehicle of transit for her small sheets of manuscript verse. A precedent for gloves as a medium of literary transmission exists in the Comte de Gramont's Mémoires of the later-Stuart court, in which Lord Hamilton, speaking of his affair with Lady Chesterfield, mentions that she transmitted a sensitive letter to him by secreting it away among her gloves and fan (74) (Gloves). From what we know of Mary Villiers's intriguing character, this particular portrait seems to be much more than a striking power-text of high status and gracious living: it may tender a clue to the sitter's secret literary life and habits. Just as a pseudonym, the glove performs a service: it is a cover for the hand. As Christopher Brown has shown, the best of Van Dyck's portraits rely on strong allegorical and symbolic content.

But what of Mary's dwarf, Mrs Gibson? Was this diminutive court page the stealthy and inconspicuous conduit of Lady Villiers's (engloved) poems? I presently am investigating contemporary materials relating to Anne Gibson, with the hope of finding even a fragile reference to the character of her relationship with Mary Villiers.