Malcolmson, Cristina. George Herbert: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
EGERTON, SARAH FYGE (LATER FIELD) (1670-1723) Born into a family of six daughters, Sarah Fyge showed feminist sympathies at an early age. Her father, Thomas, practiced as a physician at Winslow, Buckinghamshire. He descended from well-to-do landowners and married Mary Beacham, who died in 1704. Not much is known of Fyge's childhood; more is known of her teen years. By age 14 she had begun to write, and at 16 she saw her first work published. She titled the poem The Female Advocate (1686), writing in reply to Robert Gould's Love Given O're: Or, A Satyr Against the Pride, Lust and Inconstancy, etc., of Woman (1682). In the reply that may have been published without her consent, Fyge vented her disgust over Gould's, and society's, marginalization of women and the gender-based double standard, offering a new interpretation of the Garden of Eden story. She reimagined the beginning of humankind in an attempt to convince men to look upon women as sources of pleasure, not sin and treachery. She cleverly argued that man was created of dull inert matter, while woman originated in the far more noble source of man himself. Her act infuriated her father, who exiled her to country living with relatives, an action Fyge found unfair.
Fyge's first marriage, to the attorney Edward Field, may have been arranged. It ended with his death before 1700, but she seemed happy with Field, as indicated in her later poetry. Left a well-off widow, in 1700 she published an ode to John Dryden, which appeared in Luctus Britannici. Whether she personally knew Dryden remains unclear. A second piece in his honor was among those dedicated to him in Delariviere Manley's The Nine Muses, which Fyge, then Fielding, signed "Mrs. S.F." In 1703, she wrote a dedication to the earl of Halifax indicating her remarriage through its signature of "S.F.E."; it appeared in her Poems on Several Occasions, Together with a Pastoral.
Fyge married her second cousin, a minister much older than she, the Reverend Thomas Egerton. He had children by a first marriage and could offer Fyge wealth and stability in his long-term position as rector of Adstock, Buckinghamshire. However, continuing to exhibit the early independence that had landed her in trouble with her father, she continued during her marriage a sexual affair with Henry Pierce. A friend of Edward Field, Pierce remained dedicated to the new Mrs. Egerton, who had immortalized him in previous verse as "Alexis." Their relationship caused conflict in Egerton's marriage, and divorce proceedings began as early as 1703. Although accusations flew on both sides, including claims by Field's children of her attempt to take their rightful inheritance, the legal suit was never resolved and no divorce occurred. Her tempestuous-ness led her into a later falling out with Manley, a writer of popular scandalous fiction, and Manley immediately created an unflattering rendition of Egerton from the point of view of her tormented husband in her Secret Memoirs . . . from the New Atalantis (1709-10). Manley titled that section "A Fury of a Wife," constructing a farcical battle of the sexes. In it, the male narrator declares of his wife, "She looks as if she had been buried a twelve-month," and "Deliver me from a poetical wife." He complains of her genius as Manley alludes to some of Egerton's works, including "To One Who Said I Must Not Love," as mere "rumbles
. . . foreign to all fashionable understanding." The Egertons' unfortunate marital battles were apparently common knowledge, satirized again in a 1711 broadsheet titled The Butter'd Apple-Pye. Thomas Egerton died in 1720, and she followed in 1723, never having achieved the poetic fame for which she longed.
While a minor female poet, Egerton remains important for her support of women's right to artistic expression. Her support of the intellectual equality of women to men and of education for both sexes earned her the enmity of many readers, particularly those insulted by Egerton's attack on the idea that women remained morally inferior to men. Her The Female Advocate may be found in complete version on microfilm in many university library collections.
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