by John Butler
Katherine Philips was born Katherine Fowler on January 1, 1632. Her father was a London merchant and a moderate puritan. She was educated at Mrs.
Salmon's School in Hackney (London) where she met Mary Aubrey, the
"Rosania" of her poems, and Mary Harvey, later the wife of Sir Edward Dering,
who became "Silvander." Katherine's father died in 1639, and her mother
remarried in 1646 to a Welsh baronet. Katherine's new stepfather
married Katherine to a relative of his, James Philips.
When the couple married in 1648, Philips was thirty-eight years older
than Katherine, who was sixteen. James Philips was a prominent
Parliamentary supporter who signed Charles I's death-warrant in 1649.
Katherine seems to have started to write
poetry soon after she got
married, and she was "discovered" by the poet Henry Vaughan, who praised
the work of "The Matchless Orinda"
in his Olor Iscanus. Vaughan subsequently published a
memorial poem Katharine had
written for the poet and playwright William Cartwright (1611-1643).
at this time that she began to use "Orinda" as a pen-name, and wrote
principally of a personal nature to Mary Aubrey, her "Rosania".
marriage Katharine's chief poetic "correspondent" became Anne Owen,
During the Civil War Katherine harboured
royalist sympathies in spite of
her puritan upbringing and marriage; she duly celebrated the Restoration
1660, but could not avoid being caught up in her husband's problems.
regicide, James Philips was lucky to avoid prosecution, but he lost
his position as an
MP, and most of the land he had acquired as a gift from Lord Protector
Cromwell was reposessed by the Crown. In the end, however, Katherine
her husband's reputation was saved by Sir Charles Cotterell, Charles II's
Master of Ceremonies. Cotterell was interested in the hand of
Katherine's friend Anne
Owen, and because of the help given to him by the Philipses, Cotterell
interceded for James Philips. In the end, Anne did not marry Cotterell,
Katherine and Cotterell remained friends, and it was he who prepared
for publication after her premature death from smallpox in 1664, just
she had returned to England from a visit to Anne in Ireland.
In her lifetime Philips saw only two
of her books in print. The first was
a translation of Corneille's play La mort de Pompee, which her
fellow-dramatist the Earl of Orrery had staged in Dublin, and which
printed shortly afterwards (1663). The second, unauthorized, book was
by the Incomparable Mrs. K.P. (1664), which was withdrawn a
few days after
publication because Katherine objected on the grounds that the text
inadequately printed. Cotterell's "authorized" edition of the
appeared in 1667, with further editions in 1669, 1678, and 1710--a
considerable achievment for a dead female poet. Her letters to "Poliarchus"
(Cotterell) were published in 1705.
2. Reputation and Criticism
In her own time, Katherine Philips was
seen as a respectable antidote to the
notorious Aphra Behn, who was considered by many amongst the great
as immoral and coarse. Certainly Orinda's poetry is refined, and for
reason she became the best-known female poet of her generation, winning
praise from Dryden and others. Modern feminist critics have extolled
because of her praise of female Platonic friendship and the interest
in scholars by female coteries in the seventeenth century, although
denigrate her because she did not encourage her relationships to go
the intellectual level. Her translation of Corneille is accurate and
well-conceived. Her poetry is elegant, but much of it is also rather
it is written simply and straightforwardly, and it sometimes exhibits
strong feelings, but there is never much beyond the conventional. Orinda
a "safe" female poet for women to read and men to praise. She certainly
her intellectual friendships seriously, but as Greer has remarked in
the Rod, "the flame is always pure, the relationship strictly
meeting of souls, never the flesh" (190).
3. Philips in Print
A good selection of her poetry may be
found in Germaine Greer's excellent
anthology Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth Century Women's
(London: Virago, 1988). Alastair Fowler prints eight poems in his New
Book of Seventeenth Century Verse (1991). Her Poems (1667)
form Volume 462
of Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints. Also, see
Thomas, Patrick [Ed]. Collected Works. Volume I: Poetry. Stump Cross, 1990.
There are two biographies / studies:
Philip Souers. Matchless Orinda. Johnson Reprints, 1969.
Patrick Thomas. Katherine Philips. University of Wales Press,
Butler, John. "The Life of Katherine Philips." Luminarium.
15 Apr 2003. [Date you accessed the article].
Katherine Philips | Works | Links | Essays | Books | 17th Century English Literature
||to Katherine Philips|
Biography ©2003-2007 John Butler. All rights reserved.
Published by Luminarium through express written permission.
Site copyright ©1996-2007 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created by Anniina Jokinen on April 15, 2003. Last updated January 24, 2007.
Background ©2003-2007 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.