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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.

WSG Speaker Sessions, 2021-2022 Season

Call for proposals

WSG Edited Collection of Essays: Call for Proposals

Recent blog posts

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

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

Book review

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

Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman. By Tabitha Kenlon. London and New York: Anthem Press. 2020. pp. 218. £80 (hardback). ISBN: 9781785273148. Review by Brianna Robertson-Kirkland

Seminar Review

Review: WSG Seminar (25 September 2021) by Miriam Al Jamil

Conference Report – ‘Bath 250: A Virtual Conference to Mark the 250th Anniversary of the New Assembly Rooms At Bath’ by Rachel Bynoth

On 30th September 1771, the Upper Rooms in Bath opened their doors for the first time. Two hundred and fifty years later, the Bath 250 conference welcomed scholars from across the globe to celebrate this momentous occasion.

The conference pushed against a simple retelling of Bath’s glamorous spa town façade to uncover and present many of its hidden depths. In doing so, the papers collectively nuanced understandings of the operations and experiences of Bath in the eighteenth-century and beyond. This conference beautifully demonstrated the merits of utilising one space to examine a variety of different aspects of eighteenth-century society, to understand the multiplicities of experiences and create a fuller picture of how politics, health, entertainment, and polite society played out within one location.

The first day of the conference began with an opening keynote from Dr Hannah Greig, which introduced us to the centrality of the assembly rooms, not just within Bath, but towns and cities throughout the eighteenth century. Her talk wonderfully illustrated the role of the assembly rooms in cultivating ideas of sociability and as an accepted environment for the mingling of the sexes. Later talks considered some of the discomforts of sociability within these public spaces: the mixing of those pursuing entertainment with those seeking remedies, the anxieties of the marriage market and even how the proprieties of touch meant that the use of hands could be both dangerous but exciting.

Despite the Bath season occurring outside of the London parliamentary one, several talks stressed that Bath was not an escape from politics. Indeed, they presented politics as such a central aspect of Bath’s social scene that several speakers questioned exactly how restful it was for those there to recuperate from illness or to simply relax. Politics continued to play out via notions of sociability, through female influence and celebrity politicians.

The overlooked aspects of Bath’s social scene also threaded through the papers. Explorations of sedan chairmen and their struggles, the locations of lodging and boarding houses and the undertakers of Bath revealed social, political, and hierarchical elements of Bath society which co-existed amongst the more well-trodden histories of the balls, promenades, and pump room visits.

Yet Bath can foster more conversation over its overlooked or previously marginalised histories. In the roundtable session which examined the next 250 years of Bath’s history, Professor Olivette Otele called for a joining up of Bath’s decolonising and slavery projects to push this conversation forward and coordinate a response which looks to the future as well as the past. This prompted more general discussion from the panel on the need to present Bath as a place with multiple, concurrent narratives and the challenges of heritage sites to present this.

Various papers across both days focused on the Assembly rooms themselves, from the food and drink served, to the music performed, the country dances, and the competition to elect the Masters of Ceremony for the rooms. This included a consideration of life before the upper rooms and unexecuted assembly room plans. This led very nicely into the various discussions of the international influence and historical legacy of eighteenth-century Bath which brought the online section of the conference to a close.

The finale to the conference was a live event, set in the upper rooms themselves. Beginning proceedings was a keynote by Dr Jonathan Foyle which explored the architectural influences of the upper rooms. It was such a pleasure to gaze upon the plans, shapes and objects while spotting the little details in the rooms around us. After a wonderful introduction to the ridotto by Hillary Burlock, the conference ended with a spectacular dance display by the Bath Minuet Company which captured the essence of the activities of the Upper Rooms on that opening day in 1771. Long sets, cotillions and, of course, the minuet, rounded off what was a compelling two days of discussion and reflection on Bath and its history.

Bath Minuet Company performance

The organisers would like to acknowledge the generous sponsorship of the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies and the Royal Historical Society, whose grants helped to support the attendance of PGRs and ECRs in Bath. They would also like to thank the Early Dance Circle, especially Barbara Segal, Bill Tuck, Sharon Butler and Paul Cooper, for their decision to award the Janet Hauton Grant to the conference. This helped to fund a sound engineer and Bath Minuet Company’s fantastic dance display which concluded the event. The event was also supported by the University of Liverpool, the History of Parliament, TORCH from the University of Oxford, Queen Mary University, London, and the National Trust, and special thanks goes to the technical team at the University of Liverpool for their exceptional work.

***

Rachel Bynoth is a final year PhD student examining expressions of anxiety in the Canning family letters, across the lifecycle, between 1760-1830. She has an article forthcoming with the History journal in early 2022 which examines eighteenth-century female distance education through letters.

Review: WSG Seminar (25 September 2021) by Miriam Al Jamil

This is a review of the WSG seminar that took place on 25 September 2021. The speakers were:

  1. Valerie Schutte: Anachronistic representations of Edward Underhill
  2. Helen Leighton Rose: Women’s subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757
  3. Matthew Reznicek: Healing the Nation; Women, Medicine and the Romantic National Tale
  4. Norena Shopland: Women Dressed as Men

Abstracts of the speakers’ papers are available to read here.

Our 2021-2022 Seminar season began with an excellent selection of papers from four speakers, ostensibly on a variety of unrelated topics and yet subtle connections emerged through the discussion.

Valerie Schutte’s paper examined the afterlives of Gentleman Pensioner Edward Underhill’s 1561 memoir which traced his life as a Protestant under Mary I’s reign, beginning with his arrest for publishing a now lost ballad at her accession in 1553. Elements of the memoir later appeared in John Strype’s 1721 Ecclesiastical Memorials which was used by Agnes and Elizabeth Strickland in their Lives of the Queens of England, From the Norman Conquest, With Anecdotes of Their Courts (London: Henry Colburn, 1845) and by the prolific writer W.H. Ainsworth in his popular The Tower of London (London: Bentley, 1840). Schutte offered Underhill’s devotion to the queen in spite of his anti-Catholicism as a more nuanced alternative to the standard view of hostile Protestant reaction to Mary. The nineteenth-century writers she examined were sympathetic to Mary, citing her marriage to Philip II of Spain as the source of Protestant oppression throughout her reign, although Charles Dickens’ unequivocal characterisation of ‘bloody Queen Mary’ still prevails as part of the national historical narrative.

In the discussion Schutte expanded on archival evidence of ballads against Mary I, citing twenty surviving examples, handwritten on cheap paper, most in single copies at the Society of Antiquaries. The writers were persecuted, though some of their ballads no longer exist. Underhill’s Catholic friends gave him the nickname ‘the Hot Gospeller’, a term picked up on by Ainsworth. Schutte also noted that the Strickland sisters’ romantic study of the Queens of England focused on them as women rather than simply as wives, which makes the book unusual.

Helen Leighton Rose’s paper presented her ongoing work on cases brought before the Scottish Kirk in two localities. She discussed the different recorded cases brought before the sessions, the types of moral offences and forms of punishment. The crimes included adultery, for which the punishment was six appearances wearing sackcloth in a public place of repentance, and fornication which involved three appearances. The ultimate sanction, meted out to a woman who repeatedly refused to appear was ‘lesser excommunication’, which meant she was shunned by her community, denied marriage, baptism or a funeral and banished from her place of birth. Rose pointed out that this had serious implications for accessing poor relief. The case studies revealed intriguing facts about women who were unafraid of accusing and naming the men implicated in their crimes, and who defied the punishments meted out to them. They also highlighted the fact that wealthy men could often avoid embarrassing personal repercussions by helping their pregnant victims circumvent the kirk disciplinary system and give birth in arranged lodgings in Edinburgh, while they themselves could evade punishment by paying fines. The case studies brought the individual women uncovered from the archives vividly to life.

Discussion points included the role of the well organised private lodging houses in Edinburgh, which require more research. A question was asked about cross-dressing as a recorded crime, and Rose has not found this or homosexuality mentioned in the records yet. The rich subject of her research clearly offers many different rewarding paths for future work.

Our third paper centred on Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806) Vol. I, II and Vol. III,   

and Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui, or Memoirs of the Earl of Glenthorn (1809).

The paper interrogated the idea of healing as a potentially feminist intervention. Reznicek gave a close reading of these novels, in the light of the social and economic conditions of Ireland which contributed to high mortality in nineteenth-century cholera outbreaks, and the concept of a healthy social body composed of healthy individuals to which the woman as healer made a crucial contribution. Owenson’s novel is usually cited as the first ‘national tale’, but is not usually interpreted as a story of sickness and healing (See for example, discussions in:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-companion-to-the-irish-novel/national-tale-and-allied-genres-1770s1840s/7195FADCF1F85A2DB7E05A43EE49A15E [accessed 28 September 2021]).

Reznicek suggested that Owenson’s use of the word ‘physicianer’ to describe her character Glorvina was a deliberate subversive one to challenge contemporary male-dominated medical practice. The plot of the novel reveals that the threat of disease and religious fervour in the Prince of Inismore character makes his integration into the new social body impossible. Edgeworth used fever as a potent metaphor with multiple meanings. Her novel Ennui poses literature as the remedy of ennui as a disease. Once again, the woman is healer within the plot and in the broader context of the national social body.

Discussion ranged from the disabled body in Romantic fiction such as the Waverley novels, to Swift’s The Story of the Injured Lady in which ‘Ireland’ is the wronged virgin and ‘Scotland’ is the sickly rival for marriage to ‘England’, in Swift’s critique of marriage.

Our final paper was an overview of Norena Shopland’s writing projects, specialising in LGBT history, highlighting pertinent issues for many researchers into womens’ history. The instability of terminology and changes of definitions over time means that it can be difficult to find people from the past, particularly in the case of women living their lives as men, dressing, and working as men, unrecorded and marginalised. Shopland mentioned such celebrated cases as Hannah Snell, the soldier; Mary Anne Talbot or John Taylor, a sailor; and the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Other unidentified women later worked as navvies on the railways or as bricklayers, etc. The pay was better for men’s work, and it could be a short-term solution to hardship.

During a lively question session, the point was made that the literary cross-dressing heroine usually returns to heteronormativity after her escape to follow her lover is resolved in the plot. The detective work necessary to uncover archival sources for the anonymous women and the confusion over national traditions of dress which might be interpreted as more male than female; the infantilisation of women as a subtext in the ‘breeching’ of boys who progressed to adulthood and left their sisters behind; breeches parts for women in the theatre; and the hazards of labouring as a man with the vulnerabilities of the female body were all topics addressed. The interesting textual alteration made to the 16th century Geneva Bible which described Adam and Eve using fig leaves to make themselves breeches showed the sensitivity to gender-appropriate terms, when it was illegal for a woman to take men’s clothing.

As usual, the discussion could have continued well beyond time. We found all the papers stimulating and thought provoking. Our thanks to all the participants, and we look forward to more insights into WSG speakers’ research in the months to come.

-Miriam Al Jamil

Reminder: WSG seminar October 2021

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 9 October 2021 (BST).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Charlotte MacKenzie

Mary Broad – the creation of a Cornish legend

The life of Mary Broad has been the subject of biographies, fiction, and film. Her experiences were exceptional by any account. Mary Broad was one of few women convicted as a highway robber in eighteenth century Devon; transported on the first fleet to New South Wales; escaped with her husband William Bryant, two young children, and seven fellow convicts all of whom survived a 69 day voyage in an open boat from Port Jackson to Timor; lost her husband and both children to illnesses; was returned to Britain where her case attracted the active support of James Boswell to obtain her pardon and release; and then came home to some of her family in Cornwall.

This paper considers the reasons why Boswell’s efforts to raise financial contributions for the freed Mary Broad / Bryant was his last lost cause. It is partly thanks to the ‘great biographer’ and
attorney’s habits as a notary, that we know as much as we do – and can discover more – about
Mary Broad’s origins and some of her fellow escapees. Boswell’s friend William Johnson Temple, who was a Cornish vicar, was the first to observe that Mary Broad’s ‘perils & escape exceed the fictions of poetry’ while voicing doubts that he would be able to raise any money for her locally.

Mary Broad / Bryant’s life story assumed epic proportions through many partly fictional retellings. This is a documentary not a drama. It uncovers Mary Broad’s actual origins as a Cornish forester’s daughter, explores who the victim of the ‘highway robbery’ Agnes Lakeman was, and considers Mary Broad’s legacy and impacts on two of her Fowey relations: the London Society missionaries James and William Puckey who sailed for Tahiti three years after Mary returned home with extraordinary tales to tell.

Marissa C. Rhodes

Tender Trades: Wet Nursing and the Intimate Politics of Inequity in the Urban Atlantic, 1750-1815

In this comparative project, I use the London and Philadelphia wet nurse trades from 1750-1815 as access points into the intersectional processes of class- and race-formation in Anglo-Atlantic cities. The project uses large stores of seemingly trivial data and cutting-edge digital methodologies to build intimate and narrative-driven histories of ordinary people’s lives. I found that, in an era of unprecedented proportions of domestic service, the homes of the respectable classes served as venues for intimate negotiations that established and reinforced gender, race, and class hierarchies in the Anglo-Atlantic world.

Crystal Biggin

Editing Eighteenth-Century Letters: Anna Barbauld’s Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (1804) and Women Novel Critics

This paper examines the presentation of women as novel critics in Anna Barbauld’s 1804 edition of Samuel Richardson’s correspondence. As an editor and literary critic herself, Barbauld was particularly attentive to the ambiguities that she thought characterised Richardson’s relationships with women writers and readers in the middle of the eighteenth century. In the first volume’s lengthy introductory essay, Barbauld cautiously described Richardson as ‘a friend to mental improvement in women’ as well as admitting that ‘he sometimes betray[ed] a mean opinion of the sex in general.’ She also drew on an unflattering contemporary portrait of him as somebody who ‘took care always to be surrounded by women, who listened to him implicitly, and did not venture to contradict his opinions’, as Boswell had recorded being discussed by Dr. Johnson. Barbauld challenged these claims by repositioning women in dialogue with Richardson. She framed his female correspondents as inseparable from his success as an epistolary novelist by arguing that ‘they were his inspirers, his critics, his applauders’ and by emphasising how ‘the ladies he associated with were well able to appreciate his works. They were both his critics and his models’. These were polemical statements which likewise offered comment on Barbauld’s place both as biographer and as editor in constructing perceptions of the author and his correspondents for future generations. My exploration of these interrelated issues draws on Richardson’s manuscript correspondence in the archives at the V&A, London, as well as the paratextual apparatuses of Barbauld’s edition. It seeks to shed light on women writers as novel critics by considering how letter-writers like Dorothy, Lady Bradshaigh, who exchanged a remarkable number of letters with Richardson while his novels were still works-in-progress, helped pave the way for women like Barbauld to gain wider acceptance as literary critics by the end of the eighteenth century.

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

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

Eva Lippold was mentored by Gillian Williamson during the 2020-21 scheme. Below, she reflects on her experience of the scheme and the support she received from her mentor. Eva’s blog post follows on from Gillian’s blog. Please click here to read it.

***

I really like the concept of a ‘next friend’ – especially as an academic at the beginning of her career, being able to go to someone for advice and feedback is invaluable. I have been lucky throughout my studies to have the support of kind and clever women, from Julia, who was the first to suggest I could go on to Postgraduate studies, to Carol, who helped me complete my PhD. Gillian’s offer to take on this role through the mentoring scheme has been incredibly helpful to me, especially considering the circumstances of the last year and a half.

It is difficult at any time to move on from PhD student status, with the support of a supervisor, other students, and an institutional affiliation, to being an ECR without any of those support structures. During the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the often isolating experience of trying to find your way around the job market, teaching contracts, and publications became even more difficult to navigate. At the beginning of the year, I was working on an article which was a slight departure from my previous research. I thought it was going in a good direction, but I could not be sure – I was working from home, so there was no discussion with colleagues, no casual chats over coffee at conferences. Gillian both listened to my ideas about the article, and gave me specific feedback on the draft, pointing out those things you can never spot in your own writing. This really helped me to refine my work, as well as providing some reassurance that I had not forgotten how to write since my PhD! Since then, we have regularly exchanged updates on work, research ideas, and interesting sources, and this continues to be a very helpful aspect of developing my work and academic ability. At the same time, this has always remained an informal and flexible conversation, so that rather than adding any extra work or deadlines, it has been an additional asset to my research.

While in-person meetings, chats, and conferences are now slowly becoming a possibility again, the mentoring scheme remains just as valuable; sometimes, especially when you are new to being an academic, all you need is sometime to listen to your ideas and say, ‘That sounds interesting!’. Having received some good advice through Gillian’s mentoring, I can now advise any ECRs who are thinking about applying for the mentoring scheme to go ahead, and hope that at some point, I can take on a mentoring role myself to be the ‘next friend’ to a future researcher.

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Eva Lippold completed her PhD at Loughborough University in 2018, and also hold a BA and MA in English Literature from Anglia Ruskin University. Her PhD project, entitled “Most Women have no Character at all’: Female Playwrights and the London Stage, 1760-1800’, investigated the representation of women’s lives and works on the eighteenth-century stage. She now teaches at Coventry University, and is working on research into women’s travel and travel writing.

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

Gillian Williamson mentored Eva Lippold during the 2020-21 scheme. Below, she reflects on her experience of the scheme and the support she gave to her mentee. Eva’s blog immediately follows Gillian’s blog. Please click here to read it.

***

One of the best pieced of advice I was given by one of my PhD examiners is that all scholars should have at least one ‘next friend’: someone with whom one can candidly chew the fat over research projects and who will happily read through drafts and make helpful comments as a piece of writing edges towards publication. As a published independent scholar, I have taken that advice to heart and have benefitted much from it. It both avoids academic loneliness and keeps research and writing sharp. When WSG began a mentoring programme, I felt that being this ‘next friend’ was something I could try to offer in return.

Eva and I were paired in January 2021. It was bad timing in one sense – the COVID pandemic and lockdown meant that there was no chance of meeting in person at that time. When Eva and I first ‘met’ in early February 2021 it was therefore by Zoom, making use of the WSG account. We introduced ourselves and chatted about our research interests and Eva’s current position and goals. Our subsequent contact was by email until we finally got together in person in September for a hugely enjoyable extended chat over coffee in the Wellcome Collection café in London.

Our pairing was a good one as Eva, as I understand her, very much wanted the sort of friendly scholarly contact and encouragement that I had been advised to seek. She had completed her PhD (on women dramatists in the 18th century) in 2018 and while currently working in a university this was in a general role as an academic writing tutor. She was developing new lines of research and had an article in draft for a specific journal. However, she felt now she lacked the background presence of a support that a supervisor provides to a research student.

One of the first tasks I undertook was reading and commenting to Eva on the article, and I was pleased to learn when we met in September that this is now complete, accepted and will be published towards the end of this year. I have also read Eva’s thesis – which was both a new treatment of female theatrical careers and extremely well-written. I continue to encourage her to publish this important work and after discussing the field with a WSG colleague, have suggested a particular series and publisher. Once Eva is ready for this step, I will be able to use my own experience of the process to help with the proposal.

The September meeting was also a chance to chat generally about research and ideas. Eva is currently working inter alia on women’s travel writing and polar exploration and, in a team, transcribing the Anne Lister diaries for digital publication. I was delighted to learn that she has also picked up teaching roles both at her current and another university. I am encouraging Eva to embrace this broad approach to areas covered by her teaching and research projects, in their various stages of development. When I see publicity for a conference or other event that is a good fit and would help build and maintain scholarly networks, I get in touch and will continue to do so. One good opportunity for publication on a theme where Eva’s work on travel writing would be a good fit is the forthcoming, second WSG edited volume and I am again encouraging Eva to put in a proposal to this.

However, I am very aware that ECRs are juggling a huge workload including various paid teaching contracts, in addition to research and publishing. Scholarship can be a lonely pursuit at times, a rollercoaster of exhaustion and elation. It is here that I hope our relationship can develop into one where I am truly that supportive ‘next friend’ for Eva.

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Gillian Williamson is an Independent Scholar. After co-editing a local history project she returned to academic life as a mature student, gaining her PhD at Birkbeck, University of London in 2014.  She has since published two monographs, articles and has contributed to two edited volumes. She is a WSG Committee member and a Convenor of the IHR British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar.