This multimedia archive of information and new findings on a complex case in literary detection has introduced readers to the literary 'thumbprints' of Ephelia. These embedded signs of the poet's actual existence were presented here as authentic impressions of the same writerly hand. Readers have viewed digital images of these thumbprints and also heard a recent sonic portrait of one of them. Ephelia's 'thumbprints' leave posterity a record of the author's identity and character, while also illustrating the fundamental attribute of the pseudonymous personality: the dual impulse to conceal and reveal identity. As this essay has shown, the poet exploited clever rhetorics of disguise and disclosure throughout her texts, which this researcher has enjoyed decoding and assembling into a new case for this longstanding conundrum in Restoration attribution.
present case for Ephelia's identity, built on factual and circumstantial evidence,
offers students of seventeenth-century literature a new candidate for Ephelia's
authorship, while also recovering a relatively little known duchess of the Stuart
court: the fascinating Mary Villiers. My work restores her to the scholarship
on Stuart court culture and Stuart women writers, whereas heretofore she was
only known as one of Van Dyck's favorite English subjects. To date, colleagues
have found the new case convincing. John Shawcross, in a detailed letter to
me of 19 December 1996, remarked: "Your identification of Mary Villiers as Ephelia
certainly has much to commend it: your case is strong, the evidence nicely interrelated,
and it makes sense....there isn't any conflicting evidence that I'm aware of
to reject your case, which...has many interesting ramifications, particularly
in those biographical interrelationships of people at the end of the seventeenth
century and its literary world....Hid[ing] relationships (gendered and otherwise)
was part of a way of coterie life and a necessary action." James Thorpe, Director
emeritus, Huntington Library, and an editor of Etherege, has also expressed
support of the present hypothesis. Other area specialists, such as Anne Barbeau
Gardiner, R.G. Peterson, Hugh de Quehen, David Norbrook, and the several publishers
and peer-reviewers of my recent work on this subject, have also shown,
in varying degrees, supportive interest. The author takes special pleasure in acknowledging supportive comments
from Philip Mould and his capable associates, whose finely-documented profile of Mary Villiers, constructed by
James Mulraine (about 2002), is the gold standard of recorded facts on Duchess Mary (see Picture Library, input
"Mary Villiers" in Search box, at Philip Mould | Fine Paintings:
http://www.historicalportraits.com/InternalMain.asp); that profile is now supplemented by Freda Hast's article on
Mary Villiers (Oxford DNB, 2004), which valuably documents contemporary praise of Lady Mary's great humor and also
her unusual "diction" and way of writing (PRO 31/3/121, fols. 70–72); we now can observe something of the Duchess's
quick, conversational style in her letter to Prince Rupert, a letter soon to be presented in this archive.
A more recent endorsement of the Villiers attribution for the Ephelia poetess is in Reading Early Modern Women edited by Helen Ostovich & Elizabeth Sauer (Routledge, 2004; 520 pp), the most exhaustive anthology of its kind to date, with full-page facsimiles of selected printed writings & title-pages, manuscripts, portraits, printer's ornaments, musical scores, decorative arts -- all pertaining to women's production of 'text'. This anthology includes three chapters on the Ephelia subject, with images, and the following editorial assessment: "... the question of Ephelia's authorship has been the subject of extensive scholarly debate, which has now yielded intriguing results, if not a highly probable identification" (p 362). Dr Liam Semler (Sydney University), also a researcher on pseudonymous women writers, especially "Eliza," was a valued consultant to this important project, especially on chapters which concerned contentious attributional content (xxi). The Villiers attribution for Ephelia is not universally accepted, of course; in fact, there have been a few opportunistic and strenuous attempts to discredit it, attempts which rely on highly selective documentation and also misrepresentation of this author's work on the subject.
If in truth the Ephelia poet, Mary (Stuart née Villiers), Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, whose extended pedigree included distinguished women writers from the Herbert-Wroth-Sidney circle, was the highest placed English woman writer at the Court of Charles II. She produced the first pseudonymous collection of secular poetry in the history of English literature; and her gendered book of "female poems" is the first dedicated collection of verse written from an explicitly female point of view. Her status over three centuries as an indecipherable enigma attests to her consummate skill in concealed authorship.
By any standard, this so-called "Butterfly" of the Stuart court was a monarch among women poets, and no assessment of the contribution of women to the literature of seventeenth-century England is quite complete without her.