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Welcome to The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 website. Our blog includes information about upcoming events, call for papers, reviews and reflections. This pinned post will highlight top blog posts so it is easy to find information, such as event sign up. However, if you would like to find other previous posts from the blog, please use the search function or click on one of the categories found on the right-hand side of this page.

Recent blog posts

WSG Mentoring Scheme: The Mentor’s Experience by Gillian Williamson

WSG Mentoring Scheme: The Mentee’s Experience by Eva Lippold

Book reviews

Domestic Space in Britain, 1750–1840: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion. Freya Gowrley. Review by Penelope Cave

Mary Shelley and Europe: Essays in Honour of Jean de Palacio. Edited by Antonella Braida. Review by Jacqueline Mulhallen

Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Nation of Makers, Edited by Serena Dyer and Chloe Wigston Smith. London and New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020. Pp. 309, 74 bw + colour illus. £ 91.80 (hardback), ISBN: 9781501349614. Review by Madeleine Pelling

Seminar Review

Review: WSG Seminar, 26th March 2022 at The Foundling Museum by Miriam Al Jamil

Reminder : WSG Seminar Saturday February 4, 2023 at The Foundling Museum 12:30 for 13:00 GMT

Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 welcomes both WSG members and non-members to this in-person seminar.

Chair : Miriam Al Jamil

Speakers and papers:

Maria Grazia Dongu: Uses of Boccaccio and Shakespeare in Shakespear Illustrated by Charlotte Lennox.

Jennifer Germann: “At the tribunal of public and just criticism”: The Social and Scientific Networks of Margaret Bryan.

Francesca Saggini: On the Humble Writing Desk

We will be allowed into the room at 12.30, Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 13.00 – 15.30. Please arrive between 12:30 and 13:00. There is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.

The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Please see our website for further details https://womensstudiesgroup.org/seminars/

Worlds of Knowledge in Women’s Travel Writing. Edited by James Uden. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, Ilex Series 25. 2022. Pp 177. £15.95 (paperback), ISBN 9780674260566.

Reviewed by Valentina Aparicio

This fascinating collection explores how women travelers from a wide range of backgrounds used different forms of knowledge to make sense of their travel experiences. The volume explores narratives from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, fictional and otherwise, set in locations that range from Japan to the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). In what James Uden calls a pluralizing effort, Worlds of Knowledge tackles sources written in English, French, Urdu, and Turkish, paying attention to the different voices present (or absent) in each cultural encounter. The essays in this volume can seem disconnected at first glance. However, they are brought together by their attention to textual layers and differing internal voices, as well as genre and gender conventions. Worlds of Knowledge puts in practice the notion, explored by scholars like Laura Nenzi and Churnjeet Mahn before, that travel narratives should be read as ‘palimpsestuous,’ as sources where there is both an upper text that is most visible and other underlying ones to be explored. The volume proposes that, in the texts studied, ‘worlds of knowledge’ can refer not only to the incorporation of discourses beyond the literary, but also to the texts as discursive and cultural meeting points.

The chapter by Roberta Micallef on Lady Elizabeth Craven’s A Journey Through the Crimea to Constantinople (1789) exemplifies well the analysis of these textual layers of knowledge. On the one hand, Micallef shows that Craven uses her text to create an image of herself as a factually reliable travel writer. She reproduces already-known information about the region and Orientalist stereotypes while correcting minor factual details, creating an image of precision. Her work also has a palimpsestuous relationship with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters (1763). Lady Craven uses her knowledge of Montagu to undermine the latter, presenting an opposing and negative view of Ottoman society, while agreeing with Montagu on the freedom of Ottoman women. On the other hand, Craven’s text shows how she fails to genuinely engage with the women she met in her travels. For instance, Craven presents the harem as a space free of envy between women, but describes those in them as hairy, dull, ugly, and fat, in order to disrupt European male fantasies about this space. Interestingly, Micallef adds a new textual layer to her analysis by reading Craven vis-à-vis Ottoman women’s writing. Referencing Halide Edib Adıvar, Mihri Hatun, and Zeyneb and Melek Hanım, Micallef shows that Craven completely misunderstood the social dynamics of the harem. She also reveals that, just like Craven envied Ottoman women’s freedom, the same was true for the latter, who often interpreted Western women’s mobility as a sign of access to male privilege. Micallef closes her analysis by suggesting that a better exchange of information would have benefitted both parties, if only Craven had engaged Ottoman women in conversation on equal terms.

Despite Micallef’s conclusion, Sunil Sharma’s chapter reveals that sometimes communication could be better achieved without conversation. Sharma’s work focuses on non-verbal communication in British women’s nineteenth-century travels in Iran and India. It suggests that, in fact, a basic knowledge of the local language could sometimes create other barriers. Sharma briefly explores how women communicated without language in the narratives of several authors. He suggests that one common problem, where some level of language was shared, was that conversations remained extremely superficial. Regarding Lady Mary Sheil (1825–1869), for example, Sharma explains that knowing a bit of Persian did not have a strong impact on her relationships. Rather, she became closer to the people she met through non-verbal communication, taking meals with them for instance. Similarly, Sharma shows how Gertrude Bell (1868–1926) bonded with the daughter of her host by walking in the garden hand in hand. This chapter brilliantly exemplifies how small body-language gestures could produce more genuine communication and often had more power to challenge hierarchies in these encounters.

Another unifying thread in this collection is the study of genre conventions as a form of acquiring and expressing knowledge. Uden’s chapter focuses on the fictional travels of Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818). He suggests Catherine fits the cultural role of the Gothic traveler: a traveler motivated by curiosity, interested in historical speculation, and fascinated by the theme of oppression. Uden traces the influence of Ann Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (1795) on Catherine’s account, a text that exemplified how a Gothic traveler engaged with and acquired knowledge. Uden shows that the Gothic traveler perspective was often used to highlight real dangers in the face of cliched tropes. The same notion of the Gothic traveler appears in MB Raycraft’s chapter on George Sand’s Winter in Majorca (1842). According to Raycraft, Sand visited Majorca informed by Romantic views of Spain as an anti-modern paradise. However, while staying there with her convalescent lover Chopin and her children, she found the island very challenging. Sand felt rejected by locals because she did not speak the dialect, and was disliked for living outside traditional gender roles and not attending church. She also found it difficult to get domestic help in the island and felt locals to be greedy. Raycraft contrasts this fear of unwelcoming villagers with the material everyday challenges Sand encountered as she became overwhelmed with household chores. For Raycraft, much like Catherine in Austen’s novel, Sand presented her experience as one of Gothic imprisonment, combining the ‘robinsonade’ and the Gothic travel narrative to make sense of her negative experience. In light of Micallef’s contribution to the volume, one interesting aspect that emerges from Raycraft’s essay, but was not explored, is how Sand’s narrative reflects an underlying entitlement. Sand’s demand that locals must be welcoming, and that locals mustwork as domestic help, suggests a conflicted relationship with those she encountered. Ultimately, the analysis reveals an expectation of hierarchy from Sand. Here, I believe, exploring Majorcan accounts of interactions with travelers could have added an illuminating layer to Raycraft’s analysis.

Encounters less marked by hierarchy can be found at the end of the collection, which closes with a fascinating translation to English of some letters by Nishat un-Nisa (also known as Begum Hasrat Mohani) to her daughter. Nishat un-Nisa is today remembered by her role in Indian independence, but these letters focus on her life as a devout Sunni Muslim. In this translation by Daniel Majchrowicz, Nishat un-Nisa recounts her travel with members of her family to Mecca and Medina. The letters reveal an observant religious traveler who does not establish strong hierarchies between herself and those she meets. Some remarkable passages include the author’s trips to the cinema in Baghdad, her observation of the modern clothes of Iraqi women, and the vaccination and quarantine requirements of each country. Describing to her daughter both everyday difficulties, like crowded trains, and more existential religious experiences, the letters shed light on women’s correspondence in Urdu and add a religious textual layer to the collection.

From Nishat un-Nisa’s troubles with bureaucracy to George Sand’s caring duties, this volume shows that travelers used different forms of knowledge to make sense of uncomfortable experiences. In the afterword to the volume, quoting Karen Blixen, Rebekah Mitsein calls this form of making sense of events ‘unity,’ that is, the act of creating something meaningful out of the encounter of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Worlds of Knowledge can be read as a volume that, by bringing together several topics unfamiliar to some readers, is itself an exercise on ‘unity.’ While each chapter might find a specialized reader, by looking at how these diverse writers used knowledge to create unity in their travels the volume remains open and cohesive enough to attract even those who have a passing curiosity for the peculiarities that can be found in these narratives.

Valentina Aparicio is a Lecturer in Romanticism at Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on women’s travel writing about Latin America and the Caribbean.

WSG Seminar Reminder

Saturday December 3, 2022 at The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1PH(12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

Julia Gruman Martins: Between Manuscript and Print: Alchemical Recipes from Isabella d’Este to Isabella Cortese.

Eleanor Franzén: Selling Sex, Selling Stories: the Magdalen House Texts, 1758-1777.

Janette Bright: ‘A careful, motherly woman’ or ‘Prime Minister of the House’: assessing the status of Matrons at the London Foundling Hospital (1740-1820).

This is an in-person meeting. The seminars are free and open to the public although non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments, which will include seasonal mince pies.

Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after the seminar. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30, Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 13.00 – 15.30. Please arrive between 12:30 and 13:00. There is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.

The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted.

If you have any queries please contact the Chair, Miriam Al Jamil, by email at wsgworkshop@gmail.com

We look forward to welcoming you.

Reminder of WSG Seminar tomorrow & Notice of a School of Advanced Study (SAS) lecture on Wednesday 16 November.

WSG seminar tomorrow 12 November 2022

This is an in-person meeting to be held at The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30, Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 13.00 – 15.30. Please arrive between 12:30 and 13:00. There is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.

We would like to remind you that the Lord Mayors Show, also on Saturday 12 November, may affect roads and transport from 07:00 to approximately 16:00. The link below provided more detailed information and a link to the London transport planner, which will advise of closures.

https://lordmayorsshow.london/closures

The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after. If you say you are there for the WSG seminar you will not need to pay for admittance to the museum.

WSG Seminar papers for Saturday 12 November.

Tia Caswell: “La Reine en Chemise”: The Deployment of Female Agency and the Construction of Marie-Antoinette’s Public Image as the Natural Woman.

Clémentine Garcenot: The impact of the French Revolution on aristocratic family life.

Carolyn D. Williams: Problems with Reading Plays: Degradations and Redemptions of Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

Please scroll down for abstracts.

For further information, please see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, please see our membership page.

 ******

SAS Free ‘Hybrid’ Seminar on Wednesday 16 November 2022, 17:30 – 19:30 GMT.  ‘The point of the name’: Frances Burney, Elizabeth Montagu and surname change by Royal Licence in late eighteenth-century Britain.

Speaker: Dr Sophie Coulombeau (University of York)

This lecture is free but advance booking is essential via this link: 

https://sas.sym-online.com/registrationforms/ihrbooking_long_18th_century46900/done/

This seminar is part of the SAS (School of Advanced Study) Series on British History in the Long 18th Century.

It is Hybrid: Online- via Zoom & Bloomsbury Room, G35, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

There will be a limited number of places available in person and a larger number of bookings for online attendance via Zoom. Those attending in person are asked to bring a Wi-Fi enabled laptop, tablet or phone. The session will start at the later time of 17:30 GMT.  

Whilst not organised by WSG we thought this lecture may be of interest to members.  Please see after the WSG abstracts for Sophie’s abstract.

WSG Seminar Abstracts for Saturday 12 November 2022

Tia Caswell: “La Reine en Chemise”: The Deployment of Female Agency and the Construction of Marie-Antoinette’s Public Image as the Natural Woman.

The aim of this paper is to examine the construction of Marie-Antoinette’s public image as the “Natural Woman” through the lens of the infamous portrait “la Chemise de la Reine” by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, exhibited in 1783 at the Paris Salon. 

I would like to begin with an explanation of how I intend to use the terms “image” and “identity” in the sphere of my research. I argue that images suggest though they do not define identity. Physical images (paintings, portraits, propaganda) are projected to the public and play an integral part in identity construction. We begin with the image: the image is central to the construction of the overarching “public image” and of the external identity; it is the first thing that the public receives and reacts to. It is through the circulation of images (in multitude) that we see the potential that the image as a media source has to shape and navigate the public reception of a monarchical figure. “Image” and “public image” have certain nuances of meaning; I use the term “image” to refer to the stand-alone physical picture that is projected to the audience, whereas I use the term “public image” to refer to the ambiguously expressed attitudes and opinions that the physical pictures evoke.

Clémentine Garcenot: The impact of the French Revolution on aristocratic family life.

This paper will explore the impact of the French Revolution on the aristocratic family through a literary analysis of the marquise de la Rochejaquelein’s Memoirs (1885). Scholars such as M. Darrow or S. Desan have perceived the Revolution as a watershed responsible for the metamorphosis of family life, progressing from an Ancien Régime model characterised by coldness and ambition to a republican one consisting in loving spouses and parents. The Memoirs are a hitherto ignored yet fascinating source covering the period before and during the Revolution. Through them, I observe the progression of sentiment in aristocratic family life, focusing specifically on women. Rochejaquelein describes her upbringing by loving parents and gives an account of her love-match before tackling the challenges posed by the Revolution to these relationships. Thus, I will demonstrate that the shift from one model to another was gradual rather than radical.

Building on Darrow’s and Desan’s works, I will consider the circumstantial difficulties which complicated women’s roles as wives and mothers. In order to avoid imprisonment and death during the Revolution and subsequent Vendean war, aristocratic women were constantly uprooting their homes and upsetting their family life. Faced with the loss of household staff, they paradoxically enjoyed domestic bliss, becoming closer to their husband and taking care of raising their children by themselves for the first time. However, the circumstances also provoked miscarriages or led them to become widows. Therein lies the tension in this domestic transformation. I will argue that the latter was appreciated but also a source of grief.

Carolyn D. Williams: Problems with Reading Plays: Degradations and Redemptions of Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

This session is devoted to papers on aristocratic and royal women who are devoted to their families, lead exemplary private lives, and yet are subject to scandal and are tried and condemned for crimes of which they are innocent. I have chosen a fictitious example, Hermione, the Queen Consort of Sicilia, in Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragicomedy, The Winter’s Tale.  He would have thought of it as a tragicomedy because it has a happy ending overall, which makes it a comedy, but two characters who appear on stage die in the course of the action: Mamilius, Hermione’s young son, and Antigonus, the husband of Paulina, a court lady who is Hermione’s trusty friend.  I interested in the ways in which misreadings of the play can lead people who are inexperienced in reading drama to misunderstand Hermione: consequently it begins as a how-to paper, considering some general techniques that can help people get the most out of play texts in general. Finally, I would like to open up a creative pathway for further explorations of the themes and situations under discussion. 

******

Abstract for SAS Free ‘Hybrid’ Seminar on Wednesday 16 November 2022, 17:30 – 19:30 GMT.  ‘The point of the name’: Frances Burney, Elizabeth Montagu and surname change by Royal Licence in late eighteenth-century Britain. Speaker: Dr Sophie Coulombeau (University of York)

This paper presents original research about the late eighteenth-century fashion for requesting a change of surname by Royal Licence. Drawing on archival research carried out in the College of Arms, I argue that the sharp statistical rise in this expensive and technically unnecessary phenomenon during the later eighteenth century indicates a remarkable degree of anxiety among elite social groups about the hereditary name’s efficacy as an arbiter of cultural belonging. My findings suggest important modifications to the scant work available on the gender, class and motivations of applicants for Royal Licences during this period.
I then turn to literary and biographical methodologies to draw out the implications of this fashion for contemporary understandings of personal identity. My key text is Frances Burney’s 1782 novel Cecilia: or, Memoirs of an Heiress, in which the plot is predicated upon exactly such a change of name, obliged by testamentary injunction. Burney admitted that her whole ‘End’ in writing the novel was to ‘point out the absurdity & short-sightedness of those Name-Compelling Wills’, and her novel ignited remarkable debate and dissension among its polite metropolitan readership – many of whom had changed their own or a relative’s surname by Royal Licence. Indeed, I suggest that Burney had a particular case in mind: Elizabeth Montagu, the ‘Queen of the Blues’, whose nephew Matthew Robinson took her surname in 1776 and who exemplified, in Burney’s eyes, a cultural prerogative to ‘bind posterity’. Uniting historical, biographical and literary approaches to the ‘Name-Compelling Will’, I suggest, can help us to re-think how the surname acts as a nexus for anxieties about gender, kinship, and posterity.

Posted by Trudie Messent on 11 November 2022

Reminder: WSG Seminar on Saturday 12 November 2022 at The Foundling Museum (12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

This is an in-person meeting. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30, Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 13.00 – 15.30. Please arrive between 12:30 and 13:00. There is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.

The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Chair: Miriam Al Jamil

Three paper titles and abstracts

Tia Caswell: “La Reine en Chemise”: The Deployment of Female Agency and the Construction of Marie-Antoinette’s Public Image as the Natural Woman.

The aim of this paper is to examine the construction of Marie-Antoinette’s public image as the “Natural Woman” through the lens of the infamous portrait “la Chemise de la Reine” by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, exhibited in 1783 at the Paris Salon. 

I would like to begin with an explanation of how I intend to use the terms “image” and “identity” in the sphere of my research. I argue that images suggest though they do not define identity. Physical images (paintings, portraits, propaganda) are projected to the public and play an integral part in identity construction. We begin with the image: the image is central to the construction of the overarching “public image” and of the external identity; it is the first thing that the public receives and reacts to. It is through the circulation of images (in multitude) that we see the potential that the image as a media source has to shape and navigate the public reception of a monarchical figure. “Image” and “public image” have certain nuances of meaning; I use the term “image” to refer to the stand-alone physical picture that is projected to the audience, whereas I use the term “public image” to refer to the ambiguously expressed attitudes and opinions that the physical pictures evoke.

Clémentine Garcenot: The impact of the French Revolution on aristocratic family life.

This paper will explore the impact of the French Revolution on the aristocratic family through a literary analysis of the marquise de la Rochejaquelein’s Memoirs (1885). Scholars such as M. Darrow or S. Desan have perceived the Revolution as a watershed responsible for the metamorphosis of family life, progressing from an Ancien Régime model characterised by coldness and ambition to a republican one consisting in loving spouses and parents. The Memoirs are a hitherto ignored yet fascinating source covering the period before and during the Revolution. Through them, I observe the progression of sentiment in aristocratic family life, focusing specifically on women. Rochejaquelein describes her upbringing by loving parents and gives an account of her love-match before tackling the challenges posed by the Revolution to these relationships. Thus, I will demonstrate that the shift from one model to another was gradual rather than radical.

Building on Darrow’s and Desan’s works, I will consider the circumstantial difficulties which complicated women’s roles as wives and mothers. In order to avoid imprisonment and death during the Revolution and subsequent Vendean war, aristocratic women were constantly uprooting their homes and upsetting their family life. Faced with the loss of household staff, they paradoxically enjoyed domestic bliss, becoming closer to their husband and taking care of raising their children by themselves for the first time. However, the circumstances also provoked miscarriages or led them to become widows. Therein lies the tension in this domestic transformation. I will argue that the latter was appreciated but also a source of grief.

Carolyn D. Williams: Problems with Reading Plays: Degradations and Redemptions of Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

This session is devoted to papers on aristocratic and royal women who are devoted to their families, lead exemplary private lives, and yet are subject to scandal and are tried and condemned for crimes of which they are innocent. I have chosen a fictitious example, Hermione, the Queen Consort of Sicilia, in Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragicomedy, The Winter’s Tale.  He would have thought of it as a tragicomedy because it has a happy ending overall, which makes it a comedy, but two characters who appear on stage die in the course of the action: Mamilius, Hermione’s young son, and Antigonus, the husband of Paulina, a court lady who is Hermione’s trusty friend.  I interested in the ways in which misreadings of the play can lead people who are inexperienced in reading drama to misunderstand Hermione: consequently it begins as a how-to paper, considering some general techniques that can help people get the most out of play texts in general. Finally, I would like to open up a creative pathway for further explorations of the themes and situations under discussion. 

For further information, please see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, please see our membership page.