Anne Hutchinson and the Consequences of Misreading

Satisfactory Essays
Anne Hutchinson and the Consequences of Misreading


Literary historicism, in the context of this discussion, describes the interpretation of literary or historical texts with respect to the cultural and temporal conditions in which they were produced. This means that the text not only catalogues how individuals respond to their particular circumstances, but also chronicles the movements and inclinations of an age as expressed in the rhetorical devices of its literature. Evaluating the trial of Anne Hutchinson within such a theoretical framework means speculating on the genesis of her theological beliefs with recourse to prevailing theories of gender, class, and interpretation. Because texts are self-contained spheres of discourse, nuanced interpretations of them can be undertaken with greater assiduity than in the case of individuals whose private experiences remain largely concealed from the interpreter's knowledge. A historical analysis of Anne Hutchinson herself is hence, in the present discussion, secondary to the analysis of how she comes across in textual discourse as a palimpsest of seventeenth century gender controversy.

According to David M. Carr, the history of Scriptural interpretation indicates that religious texts are popular candidates for reinterpretation and, as such, are spaces wherein the personal identity of the reader frequently inscribes itself at length:

It is the reader and his or her interpretive community who attempts to impose a unified reading on a given text. Such readers may, and probably will, claim that the unity they find is in the text, but this claim is only a mask for the creative process actually going on. Even the most carefully designed text can not be unified; only the reader's attempted taming of it. Therefore, an attempt to use seams and shifts in the biblical text to discover its textual precursors is based on a fundamentally faulty assumption that one might recover a stage of the text that lacked such fractures (Carr 23-4).

I do not so much wish to emphasize the deconstructive rhetoric of this approach as the fact that religious texts lend themselves to creative readings that originate in the reader's experiences or historical circumstances. In other words, the history of Scriptural interpretation exemplifies the text's role as a space where emerging ideologies may be refigured and incorporated into an authoritative cultural tradition. One may think of the genesis of such readings in terms of Harold Bloom's notion of literary succession as "an act of creative correction," the difference in this case being that Anne Hutchinson's creative act involves reviewing the Scripture itself and deriving spiritual knowledge from a finite textual canon (Bloom 30).