Andrew Marvell – “Upon Appleton House” (ctd.)

Marvell now flashes back to the past to explain the origins of the house. Many centuries ago, on this spot there was a convent. The story as told by the Helpful Footnote is that in 1518 Isabel Thwaites, betrothed to William Fairfax, Thomas’s ancestor, was confined by the abbess, and Fairfax had to resort to force to get her out of the nunnery and marry her. The way Marvell tells the story is: Isabel is beautiful and an heiress, “Which might Deformity make fair”, as he adds, somewhat cynically. She spends a lot of time visiting “the subtle nuns” and those do their best to convince her to become one of them, although they make sure their words come across as spontaneous. They present the convent to her as a happy republic of women kept safe from “those wild creatures, called men”. They can only look with pity at other women, not as lucky as them, because they will not be as honoured after their death as nuns will. They spend their days praying and embroidering, while one reads a saint’s life aloud. But they need the beautiful Isabel to serve for them as the model for the Virgin Mary. If she joins them, her face, multiplied on numerous church decorations, will be worshipped in every church in the neighbourhood. It would be a sacrilege for Fairfax, or any man, to be anything more than a devotee of this beautiful woman. And if Isabel thinks the rules of the convent are too strict, well, the abbess is getting on in years and she would surely recommend Isabel as her successor, so Isabel could herself bend the rules to make them suit her.

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