'What say you to [this] book? Is it yours?': Oral and Collaborative Narrative Trajectories in the Mediated Writings of Anna Trapnel

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This article argues that, when a printed page is initially orally generated and then transcribed, either at the time or on a subsequent occasion by a listener or an interlocutor, there are important critical implications for the “I” of the account. It takes as a case study Anna Trapnel's first published works. Appearing within a few weeks of each other in 1654, The Cry of a Stone and Strange and Wonderful News are both mediated texts, large parts of which depend on the agency of a relater. The article begins by examining the textual traces of the relater, arguing for the centrality of his role and other agencies in the shaping of the works which bear Trapnel's name. Situating itself in relation to a current orientation in feminist autobiographical theory that places emphasis on the external requirement to narrate one's life, rather than on the spontaneous production of autobiography by an inner self, the article emphasizes notions of coaxing, witnessing and intersubjectivity to point up an appreciation of women's life writing as a species of cultural production in which various historical actors—male and female—participate. This dialogic process, which persists into the afterlife of transcription, owes part of its genesis to the political vagaries of 1654 and precipitates two contrasting—but equally “authentic”—versions of Trapnel's life and self. Mapping this movement, discussion concentrates on the ways in which a critical confrontation with women's oral narrative is as much an activity of disentangling as it is of reconstructing, an activity which is revealing of the extent to which a spectrum of social and cultural networks participates in and facilitates the female writing act.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-424
Number of pages17
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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