Beyond Milton’s daughters: Dorothy dury, lady ranelagh, and the question of female education

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Contribution to a Book

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Women (Re)Writing Milton



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What were John Milton’s views of educated women in his intellectual circle? This essay explores the connections between Milton and members of the Samuel Hartlib Circle, including Dorothy Dury, John Dury’s wife, and Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh to engage this important question. A theme of marital ‘conversation’ dominates Milton’s arguments for divorce in his 1643 Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Milton’s own arguments that a husband and wife must be able to have an intellectual, not just a physical, ‘conversation’ also marks the letters of John and Dorothy Dury during this period, most of them exchanged with Lady Ranelagh and copied to Samuel Hartlib. Samuel Hartlib’s editorial changes to letters by John and Dorothy as they consider the values necessary in a spouse further underscore the importance of such ‘conversation’. At exactly the same time that Milton introduces the notion of marital ‘conversation’ into a debate about divorce, Hartlib will edit and publish the Durys’ letters to model this central trait within the decision to marry. As a consequence, Hartlib highlights the issue of female education within marriage that remains unstated, but implicit, in Milton’s writing on companionate marriage.


English and Comparative Literature