Andrew Marvell and Privacy
McDonald, Keith A
As an elusive private figure who, by his own admission, was ‘inclined to keep [my] thoughts private’ and favoured ‘modest retirement’, Marvell experienced both extremes of private and public life in times when these structural concepts were developing into what have come to be known as the private and public spheres. Moreover, Marvell interacts with the concept of privacy in several ways: through a recurrent language of privacy throughout his work; the prosody and poetics of enclosure in his poetic composition; his choice to publish very little in a flourishing and popular print culture; and, crucially, his ability to conceal. Marvell’s mastery of ambiguity and ambivalence, the difficulty in ascertaining the chronology of many of his poems (which has tempted critics into categorizing his works too schematically), the limited biography, drawing us to the poems for evidence, and his ability to give little away: these factors combined make the paradigm of ‘privacy’ highly complex in his case. Marvell’s career overlaps the development of the private and presents the rising consciousness of the self from a literary perspective. This dissertation suggests that Marvell grew to favour privacy through his varied experiences and by becoming disconcerted with the agents of publishing and publicity. It also perhaps became an interest through which to frame his poetics as well as providing a life-model. I argue that current Marvellian critical orthodoxy, weighted heavily towards his political works, belies the private lyric poet, and, as his later public life appears to pose fewer questions regarding privacy, secrecy and anonymity, these issues which shroud the entirety of Marvell’s life and works are left behind. Following an overview of the development of the private in the seventeenth-century, I suggest three fronts by which Marvell interacts with privacy in different ways at different stages of his career: the dilemma of publishing in his early career; commentary on Cromwell’s switch from private to public life and Fairfax’s retirement; and later poetics of enclosure, assuming that some of his lyric verse was composed while engaged in public affairs at Westminster.