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Quaker Studies

Abstract

Elizabeth Ash bridge offers one of the most striking transatlantic spiritual autobiographies of the eighteenth century. While historians and scholars alike have given careful attention to this now-canonical text, no one to date has yet positioned this narrative in the context of the transatlantic Friends' unique literary traditions. Turning to the first generation of Friends, who also cal led themselves 'The Publishers of Truth' , this essay explores the Quakers' mystical relationship to language, prophecy and writing, and their subsequent creation of a New Word. I trace how the Friends created their own literary theory, locating the written word as the site of divine opening. They consequently created a religious print culture, perceiving their literature as a spiritual and political force which had the power to convince, to heal, and to usher in the apocalyptic world. Elizabeth Ashbridge's spiritual autobiography upholds and reflects this tradition in the eighteenth century: framed around her pivotal moment of reading a Quakers' Book, hers is ultimately a text about spiritual literacy and the act of reading - the sacred act which transforms lives. Placing her work in relation to other Quaker women diarists, Spiritual Mothers and Traveling Ministers, I consider how Ashbridge's narrative represents the transatlantic religious reading culture among Friends which intentionally fostered and influenced succeeding generations of readers and writers.

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