Bev Braune Reviews Kate Lilley

1 April 2013

The resourceful Mary Carleton may have been a social climbing con who used the system of marital engagement to secure promises of marriage, which, if broken, could secure the disappointed ‘lady’ financial compensation. What Lilley draws out from the story is what was regarded, at the time, as Mary Carleton’s unnatural behaviour according to her social class (not upper class as she claimed) and gender. Lilley adopts and adapts certain statements from Mary’s case in constructing the poem about her: ‘To deceive the deceiver is no deceit’ (46), Lilley’s work becoming another addition to all the versions of Mary Carleton’s life and death.1

Supporting these paradings-as-something-else and borrowings-to-discover-definition is a poem central to the collection: a cataloguer’s game with the word like and its associations: like, love, taste, similar to. The poem is ‘Ane suit of podasey’ (48). It reads:

Padua say

Spanish taffetie ...

The reference is generated by an account that Mary was accused of ‘accepting under false pretences’ a taffeta gown (among other items) from one of her husbands. Lilley refers to that garment of ‘podasey’ or finely spun often gilded or brightly-dyed silk (a ‘Podasey Gown’) as it is listed in the Dictionary of the Scots Language ‘Ane suit of podasey cloathes’, with its etymology. The entry reads:

DSL – DOST Podesway, Podasey, Podosoy, Poudesay, n. Also: poyedesey, poyl-de-soy; pedesway. [17th-18th c. Eng. poudesoy (1663), poode- (1689), pudisway (1704), also paduasoy (prob. corruption after Padua say kind of serge), F. pou-de-soie (1677 in Littré; mod. F. poult-de-soie), earlier pout de soye, poul de soie (1389–94 in Godef. Compl.).] Paduasoy, a strong corded silk fabric. Also attrib. — xx ellis silk callit poyl de soy at iiij l.; 1588 Cal. Sc. P. IX 671. Poyedesey; 1646 Edinb. Test. LXII 341. Spanish taffetie, French poudesay; 1646–8 Thanes of Cawdor 306. Six ellis of pedesway to his lordships ryding coat at 11 lib. the ell; 1664 Household Bks. Archb. Sharp in Misc. Maitl. C. II 512. Podesway; 1666 Ib. 539. Ane suit of podasey cloathes; 1666 Edinb. Test. LXXII 150. Podosoy; 1669 Ib. LXXIII 312.2

Lilley’s interest in archaic words and contemporary currency re-renders aspects of the entry to make her poem. She appears to be fascinated by trains of thought, by corruptions in the weaving of matters, by variations in names, by what may be like what.

Taking the likelihoods into account that Lilley has put to her readers, if to be ‘ladylike’ in the late seventeenth-century England meant to be defined in a strict sense – as belonging to the upper class, well-bred – as well to be defined in a general sense – as not acting like a man, why does the word still seem so relevant in the twenty-first century? This question takes us to the heart of Lilley’s book. It is the sense behind the basic notion of ‘woman, as daughter’. That notion continues to play a foundational part in a dominant definition of women, legislation regarding their well-being, approaches to their health and sexual lives, and responses to their aspirations.

Throughout the book, Lilley challenges the Freudian notion of a homosexual woman as an unnatural or fraudulent female. She draws on Freud’s associations of the inessential woman: the woman who doesn’t fall in love with the father but with the mother. In Freud’s terms, that woman was supposed to be ‘pre-nominative’, pre-language and underdeveloped, attached to the mother and pre-oedipal, an invert, belonging to a ‘backward motion’. Freud’s answer? ‘“Restore” the invert to his or her “full bisexual functions”.’3 The strength of Lilley’s retort is in how she plays with those ideas that shape attempts to correct ‘un-womanly’ behaviour: the anxiety about ‘incest’ between women.

  1. Kate Lilley, Mary Carleton’s false additions: the case of the ‘German Princess’
  2. Dictionary of the Scots Language/Dictionar of the Scots Leid (DSL). (Electronic editions of two historical dictionaries of the Scots language: the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) and the Scottish National Dictionary (SND).
  3. in ‘Über die Psychogenese eines Falles von weiblicher Homosexualität’ (‘The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman’). Cited in Diana Fuss, Identification Papers: Readings on Psychoanalysis, Sexuality, and Culture. New York: Routledge, 1995. 58-70.
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Bev Braune

About Bev Braune

Dr Bev Braune is interested in practice-led research in poetry and theories of literature. She completed a Doctorate in Creative Arts (UOW, 1999) in the areas of Epic Poetry and Old Norse Poetry, its history, criticism and translations into English, with the first part of her poem Skulváði Úlfr. Her related areas of interest are reader theory and aesthetics. She brought out a book poems on the search for beauty entitled Camouflage. Excerpts of her thesis appeared in Cordite and other journals, such as Sulfur 44: Anglophone Poetry & Poetics Outside the US and UK and Salt 15: An ABC of Theory & Praxis.

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