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Quaker Studies

Abstract

An undeniable tension exists in human nature between conscience and external authority. This dichotomy was no less existent in seventeenth-century England, when George Fox began preaching about the inward voice-or Christ's light-as a greater authority than any external entity. His thoughts were radical (anachronistic; fanatical or enthusiastic would be the seventeenth-century terms) because they challenged the hierarchical framework of Early Modern England. The notion of obeying internal authority was particularly 'radical' for Quaker women, whose gender offered them little opportunity to challenge the roles society imposed on them; by challenging external authority these women were bringing into question societal norms as they pertained to gender. This paper explores the compositions of three seventeenth-century Quaker womenHester Biddle, Anne Whitehead, and Elizabeth Bathurst. It considers the obedience they gave to their inward voices, and the obstacles they overcame to be obedient. The practical outcome was literary composition of contemporary and historical import; the theoretical result was a challenge to a patriarchal system of thought. This paper acknowledges both the practical and theoretical results, and proceeds to study the texts in light of each.

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