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Order and Disorder, the first epic poem by an Englishwoman, has never before been available in its entirety. The first five cantos were printed anonymously in 1679, but fifteen further cantos remained in manuscript, probably because they were so politically sensitive. David Norbrook, widely recognized as a leading authority on Renaissance literature and politics, has now attributed the work to the republican, Lucy Hutchison. In this prestigious scholarly volume, he provides a wealth of editorial matter, along with the first full version of Order and Disorder ever to be published. Order and Disorder shares much in common with 'Paradise Lost'. Both poems use the Christian myth of man's fall as an analogy for troubled times. Writing in similar circumstances to Milton, as a republican whose hopes were shattered by the return of the monarchy in 1660, Lucy Hutchinson also turned to the Book of Genesis as the ultimate creation story. Vivid passages portraying the fall of Babel, the Flood and the destruction of Sodom are edged with hostility towards the Restoration political regime.
The stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel are interspersed with eloquent personal meditations on divine and human justice, the natural world, and women's role. Lucy Hutchinson is one of the most important women writers of the seventeenth century; her other works include a classic political biography, 'Memoirs of the Life of Colonel John Hutchinson', and the first English translation of Lucretius's materialist epic, The Nature of the Universe. Order and Disorder will be of particular interest to scholars, students and general readers of seventeenth-century poetry in general, of Milton in particular, of Early Modern women's writing, and of Biblical narrative.
David Norbrook is Professor of English at the University of Maryland. His publications include Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (1984) and Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics 1627-1660 (1999).