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In her 1610 “The Description of Cookeham,” Amelia Lanyer presents Cookeham as a space in which women and nature exist in poetry-inducing harmony until the intervention of man. Lanyer’s poem highlights the deference of both the animals (who “sport . . . in her eye” and “attend”), and the landscape to Clifford: the hills “descend” to meet her footstep and then raise themselves again at her whim. This alignment frequently leads critics to describe Cookeham as a utopian feminist landscape that aligns women and nature against an antagonistic masculine influence.

However, this utopian vision dramatizes a landscape that is not simply oriented around the female community led by Margaret Clifford, but addicted to it in destructive ways. The Animals of the estate participate in a voyeuristic fascination with the women, gazing upon them despite the dangers to themselves. The estate may have agency to act, but suffers from the coercion of desire. I argue that, despite the apparent sympathy, the differentiation between human and non-human in Cookeham reinforces existing hierarchies that, while they inscribe woman as subject to or inferior to man also use the animal as a lower point on that hierarchy to reaffirm human superiority and reason.


Ecocriticism, Country House Poem, Amelia Lanyer, Hierarchy, Anthropocentrism

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Copyright © 2018 Liberty S. Stanavage