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.
This paper has benefited significantly from the feedback of audience members, other panelists, and and organizer Carolynn Van Dyke from the Ecofeminist Intersections panel at the 2017 Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, MI.
Ecocriticism, Country House Poem, Amelia Lanyer, Hierarchy, Anthropocentrism
Copyright © 2018 Liberty S. Stanavage
Stanavage, Liberty S. "Questioning Gynocentric Utopia: Nature as Addict in “Description of Cookeham”." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 54, No. 1 (2018) : 65-78.