chapter  11
THE TENTH MUSE: Gender, rationality, and the marketing of knowledge
Pages 14

Anne Bradstreet's brother-in-law and promoter John Woodbridge carefully adhered to this taxonomic "fact," by introducing The Tenth Muse and her work of writing in the light of gender ambiguity. Fearing that the "excellency" of Bradstreet's poetry might make the (male) reader doubt that a woman wrote them, Woodbridge wrote: "the worst effect of his reading will be unbelief, which will make him question whether it be a woman's work, and ask, is it possible?" The two contradictory meanings of "whether it be a woman's work" - one being the question "could a woman have written such accomplished poetry?" and the other "should women be allowed to write poetry?" - were precisely those which characterized the difficulty of classifying the woman writer: if she were a writer, she could not be a woman, and if she were a woman, why wasn't she doing a woman's work? Given these two alternative taxonomies, Woodbridge chose them both: he classified Bradstreet as a woman "honoured and esteemed ... [for] her exact diligence in her place," but he also classified her as a woman who wrote outside the time and space of "a woman's work," in the "few hours curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments." In this way, in Woodbridge'S estimation, she was able to sustain the ambiguity of being both a woman and a writer. And so, she earned the classification "Tenth Muse," that "factual" category which marked her

Bradstreet's own "Prologue" to her poetry adhered, in many ways, to this same taxonomic "fact." Citing the very convention that excluded women from writing, she excoriated the hypothetical critic "who says my hand a needle better fits." At the same time, however, she suggested that the Muse who inspired her poetry, unlike the female personifications who inspired male poets, was a neuter:

My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings, And this to mend, alas, no art is able, 'Cause nature made it so irreparable.