New Details on Saturday’s Seminar

The first of WSG’s 2017-18 seminars is Saturday, 23 September, with three papers on women earning a living during the early modern period and long eighteenth century, including one by WSG’s 2016 bursary winner, Charmian Mansell.

The seminar will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm. Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though non-members are asked to contribute £2 for refreshments. Attendees are welcome to look round the museum before or after the seminar.

SATURDAY, 23 September, 2017. Chair: Sara Read
Charmian Mansell: Female servants in the early modern community: space, place and identity
Service was a typical and defining experience for young women in early modern England. Around 60 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds were employed in rural and urban, rich and poor households across the country in exchange for wages and bed and board. The working, social and religious lives of these women and the relationships they established are considered almost exclusively within the domestic context. The ‘separate spheres’ model continues to underpin the way in which female servants are studied. Using depositional evidence from church courts, this paper challenges this framework by exploring the range of spaces that female servants moved between, both within and outside the household. It demonstrates the range of working and social activities that took women in service outside the household as well as the friendships and relationships that they built beyond the home. This paper places servants at the heart of the neighbourhoods in which they lived and the parishes to which they belonged, and in turn, re-evaluates our understanding of the early modern community.

Christina Paine: Crises of Celebrity
Italian opera star Angelica Catalani was a highly successful female immigrant singer in London between 1806 and 1814. Her status was built on achievement and adaptability within the opera industry, which allowed her exceptional privileges, including financial success, control of her career and access to the public sphere. Issues of gender, culture and nationality intersected with growing anxiety about female freedom and power; efforts to foster English national identity; concerns about class and access to theatres; English philanthropy; and the effect of Italian opera on British culture. The publicity generated through an obsession with Catalani’s every move, notably with the more controversial aspects of her career management, served to propel her into the mainstream political and cultural arena. This paper considers two crises her actions initiated, in relation to interpretations of her status as a celebrity, through a pair of related case studies: (1) her refusal to sing at a benefit for the Middlesex Hospital; and (2) her position as a figurehead for the Old Price Riots.

Emma Clery: Jane Austen on Money
This paper addresses the aptness and irony of Jane Austen's appearance on the new £10 note in the light of her fictional treatment of money issues, her struggles in the literary marketplace and her close knowledge of the banking career of her brother Henry. 
Emma Clery has recently published Jane Austen: The Banker's Sister (Biteback).

WSG 30th Anniversary Commonplace Book

As regular readers of this blog will know, the WSG is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 (the date is a little bit hazy – it was so long ago! – but it is generally agreed that our panel at BSECS 1987 was our first meaningful action). As part of the celebrations, WSG has not only instituted a bursary, but is in the process of compiling and editing a volume intended to be a reflection of its members’ 30 years of research and activism.  Edited by Carolyn Williams, Sara Read and Louise Duckling and with a working title of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 Commonplace Book, it will comprise a mixture of short research articles, reminiscences, interviews and poems by members past and present.  Those interested in the upcoming book can get a taste of it by listening to Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies at Loughborough University and a long-time associate of WSG, in conversation with Sara Read in a separate blog post later this month.

Commonplacing was a common knowledge-making practice during the early modern period whereby people would write short extracts or digests from their reading into books under topical headings.  These could be poetry, prose, quotations, proverbs, letters and prayers, which the compiler could then reference and recombine.  Books could be kept for pragmatic as well as recreational reasons.  Men such as Francis Bacon and John Locke famously wrote about and kept commonplace books, but women kept them too, and in recent years much work has been done on a closely related genre, the recipe book, to which the whole household might contribute.  Some thought the practice of commonplacing a cause for concern, because it would encourage superficial reading.

The commonplace book as a discursive practice arguably reached its peak during the early modern period but commonplacing is by its very nature also highly personal and has continued in various forms into the Romantic period and the present day.  WSG’s Commonplace Book will be a printed rather than manuscript form, but it will reflect the collaborative, interdisciplinary, unruly, highly mobile forms of interaction and support WSG has encouraged over the years. We hope to see it published in 2018.

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2017

The first of WSG’s 2017-18 seminars takes place in about a fortnight, with three papers on women earning a living during the early modern period and long eighteenth century, including one by WSG’s 2016 bursary winner, Charmian Mansell.

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Saturday September 23, 2017. Chair: TBC
Charmian Mansell: Female servants in the early modern community: space, place and identity.
Christina Paine: Crises of Celebrity (on Angelica Catalani and her experience as a highly successful female immigrant singer in London, between 1806 and 1814).
Emma Clery: Jane Austen on Money.

Jackie Mulhallen: performing Sylvia Pankhurst

WSG members frequently combine their research into early modern and eighteenth-century women’s history with present day activism.  Here, long-time member Jackie Mulhallen reflects on her recent experiences touring her play Sylvia, about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), the prominent suffragette, communist and anti-fascist.

I lead a double life – apart from writing academic articles and books, I am an actor and playwright. I thought WSG members might like to know how a play, written in 1987, can evolve through performance, interaction with the audience and the impact of other events, despite the script changing very little. This is what is happening to Sylvia, a one woman play written and performed by me, about Sylvia Pankhurst’s early career as an artist and suffragette.

Sylvia was so successful that it ran 1987-1992 with a revival in 1997. Designed for schools (suffragettes were, and are, on the National Curriculum), we also visited museums, libraries and arts centres. Among the 250 slides accompanying the performance are most of Sylvia’s extant paintings which are generally acknowledged to have promised a brilliant career, if she had not given it up for politics.

We decided to take a break from the theatre and I began a Ph.D. But by 2013, three new biographies of Sylvia had been published, there had been a conference in Woodford, Essex, an exhibition of her art at the Tate, and a campaign to have a statue erected to her.

It was time to revive the play – but it could not be the same! In 1997 I was very fit. Now I have back problems, making it difficult to walk. Yet Sylvia got older and fatter – digestive problems were a consequence of the many hunger strikes she undertook – and walked with a stick. So my interpretation of Sylvia aged. Instead of a William Morris style dress with brown hair, she now is silver grey, wearing a 1950s suit! William Alderson re-directed the play to keep movement to a minimum. One side of the stage became an art studio with easel and stool, and a new emphasis was developed. Sylvia the artist had equal weight with Sylvia the suffragette.

Something else happened. The earlier Sylvia was still young and shy, although eager to encounter new challenges. Now she was an old woman, those challenges having been met. My knowledge of her had developed through keeping up with the biographies and exhibitions, resulting in an enriched performance of the older Sylvia who now had greater authority.

This spring we toured from Newcastle to Surrey. We follow the play with an open-ended discussion which ranges through history, politics and art to detailed contributions from the audience – many interesting people who added to our own research and knowledge. Often audience members had ancestors who had been suffragettes – one turned out to be Flora Drummond, a prominent suffragette, nicknamed ‘the General’. We were joined for one post-show discussion by Chris Wiley, an expert on Ethel Smyth, and for another by Dinah Iredale, author of The Bondagers, a study of women agricultural workers in the North East. Sylvia toured Britain in 1907 researching and painting women at work. We learnt more about the pit brow lasses from our audiences in Wigan; about a local suffragette and pottery worker, Sarah Bennett, at Stoke on Trent; and in Northampton someone had written about women working in shoe-making.

It struck me how similar our audiences were to Sylvia’s East London Federation of Suffragettes – they were women, men and children and included immigrants. At one performance, women hissed Christabel Pankhurst when she expelled the Federation from the Women’s Social and Political Union – just how Sylvia’s members must have felt! They reacted just like the uninhibited audience as the eighteenth century actors I had researched for my Ph.D. This is really interactive research!

WSG seminar series 2017-18

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is pleased to announce the speakers for their seminar series 2017-18.  All seminars will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum afterwards.

Saturday 23 September, 2017. Chair: TBC
Charmian Mansell: Female servants in the early modern community: space, place and identity.
Christina Paine: Crises of celebrity: Angelica Catalani and her experience as a highly successful female immigrant singer in London, between 1806 and 1814.
Emma Clery: Jane Austen on money.

Saturday 25 November, 2017. Chair: TBC
Eva-Maria Lauenstein: ‘Within these tombes enclos’d’: delineating Renaissance love in Mary Sidney Herbert’s Antonius.
Mihoko Suzuki: Political writing beyond borders: Charlotte Stanley and Margaret Cavendish.
Valerie G. Derbyshire: Words and pictures: Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) and the works of the artists of her day.

Sunday 14 January, 2018. Chair: TBC
Maryann Feola: Aphra Behn and the shaping of an imagined Naples.
Karen Lipsedge: Reading women and the eighteenth-Ccntury home.
Sarah Burdett: From bloodthirsty Amazon to ‘Desp’rate Mother’: Sarah Yates’s re-invention of Queen Margaret of Anjou on the 1790s London stage.

Sunday March 11, 2018 (This is a ‘how-to’ session that also involves a measure of ‘work in progress’: the techniques under discussion are life writing, the use of legal documents, and audio research). Chair: TBC
Valerie Schutte: Princess, Duchess, Queen: Mary Tudor as represented in the long eighteenth century.
Cheryll Duncan: Music, women and the law: the challenges and rewards of legal documents.
Catriona Cooper: Listening to the Commons: the sounds of debate and the experience of women in Parliament c.1800.

For further information, see our seminars page, or contact the organiser Carolyn D. Williams.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.