This impressive folio volume of Katherine Philips’s poems and translations was published in 1667, three years after her death. Philips’s work was exceptionally popular throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries, and she is regarded as one of the first and most influential female poets of the period. The pastoral pen name she used in life, ‘Orinda’, features in the title of this volume as a tribute to her poetic genius.
During her lifetime, Philips (1632–1664) rarely appeared in print. This was due, in part, to the social stigma attached to women publishing their work. Contemporary opinion held that publishing was an act of personal exposure, and any woman daring to do so was immodest and indecent. The stigma was further compounded by the commercial nature of printing: women who published their works exposing themselves to the anonymous public – they were also seeking financial gain.
The themes Philips engaged with – notably intense (verging on erotic) female friendship and Royalist politics – also prohibited mass-market reproduction, especially during the Interregnum (‘between reigns’) of 1649–60. Instead, Philips circulated her poems in manuscript form to a select group of friends and patrons, bonded together in her ‘Society of Friendship’.
In 1664, the bookseller Richard Marriott published a pirated edition of Philips’s poems. Philips was outraged. She sent a letter (reproduced in this posthumous edition) to Sir Charles Cotterell, King Charles II’s Master of the Ceremonies, in which she strongly denied any involvement with Marriott’s book and vehemently protested against the unwanted exposure:
but tis only I who am that unfortunate person that cannot so much as think in private, that must have my imaginations rifled and exposed to play the Mountebanks, and dance upon the ropes to entertain the rabble
Philips’s protests presented her as a demure, virtuous woman, and promoted her reputation as a ‘good’ author. Over the following centuries her work and authorial persona were frequently contrasted against her more explicit and unapologetic contemporaries, particularly Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn.