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Evolution of Modern Feminism

Katherine Philips, a younger contemporary of Cavendish who appears to have held royalist sentiment but whose (much older) husband was a Puritan and republican official spared the axe after the Restoration, has been described as challenging the patriarchal presumptions and values of Cavalier seduction poetry. Her poem "The Virgin," says Scodel in that regard, "idealizes a virgin whose moderation [in sexual activity, flirting] is not subservient to men." The logic of the argument is that Philips's approving attitude toward independence for unmarried women--who unlike matrons would not see their legal rights to property, control of person, and so on subsumed by a husband's rights and social privileges--is a proxy for feminist social critique and anticipates its modern elaboration.

Evaluations of Cavendish, Philips, and other women writers of seventeenth-century England as facilitators of modern feminism have emerged in the context of modern feminism's rediscovery and rehabilitation of their lives and works in ways not inconsistent with Virginia Woolf's 1929 indictment in A Room of One's Own of a social patriarchy that has stifled women's literary expression throughout history. In that essay Woolf laments a whole range of realities inhering in the


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