chapter  8
Women’s labor and the Little Gidding Harmonies
ByWhitney Trettien
Pages 16

In 1625, Nicholas Ferrar and his mother, Mary, left London to found the religious household of Little Gidding. There, the extended Ferrar and Collett families aimed to be “a pattern for an adge [sic] that needs patterns,” as Nicholas put it, practicing a rigorous schedule of collective devotion. As part of their religious practice, Mary Collett, her sister Anna, and their female relatives spent their afternoons in the estate’s Concordance Room cutting and pasting printed Bibles and engravings into elaborate collages of fragmented text and images. These thirteen cut-and-paste volumes “harmonize” various books of the Bible and thus are collectively known as the Little Gidding Harmonies.

Patriarchal assumptions have tended to obscure the women’s contributions to the devotional practices of Little Gidding. Countering these assumptions, this chapter joins other recent work in returning the young women of the Ferrar and Collett families to their rightful place in Little Gidding’s legacy. Specifically, it argues that they invented their “new kind of printing,” as the family described it, as a proto-feminist hack of contemporaneous printing technologies. This hack applies ideologically gendered skill sets, such as women’s knowledge of domestic handiwork with needles and scissors, to the process of composing, imposing, and binding a printed book, and it does so in service of carving out a unique space for both women’s published authorship and Little Gidding’s inclusively syncretic devotional reading habits. By placing women’s hands and “women’s scissors” (as George Herbert put it) at the center of the printshop known as the Concordance Room, and this space of female collectivity at the center of Little Gidding’s devotional lifestyle, this chapter aims to bring the household’s technical and sociopolitical interventions into sharp relief.