Cfp WSG Seminars 2019-20

Established in the 1980s, the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is an informal, multidisciplinary group which promotes in the study of women and gender in the early modern period and long eighteenth century.  The group enables members to keep in touch, to hear about one another’s research and publications, and to meet regularly to discuss relevant topics, including at regular weekend seminars and an annual workshop at the Foundling Museum. We can offer advice and opportunities to engage in activities that increase opportunities for publication, or enhance professional profiles in other ways.

For our 2019-20 seminars, we invite papers related to any aspect of women’s and gender studies: not only women writers, but any activity of a woman or women in the period of our concern, or anything that affects or is affected by women in this period, such as the law, religion, etc. Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome. We would also welcome how-to presentations for discussion: examples of suitable topics would include, but are not limited to, applying for grants, setting up research networks, becoming a curator, co-authorship, using specialised data, and writing about images.  Papers should be about 20-25 minutes. The closing date for applications is 20 May 2019.

The seminar dates are:

  • Saturday 21 September, 2019, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 23 November, 2019, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 18 January, 2020, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 21 March, 2020, 1-4pm

The full address for the Foundling Museum is 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ. It is a wheelchair accessible venue and there are further access directions including directions for partially-sighted visitors here.  We are allowed into the room at 12.30pm to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1-4pm. So please arrive a little early if you can.

The WSG is open to women, men and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join our group and to give papers.

Find out more about us at https://womensstudiesgroup.org

Check the Book section for progress on Exploring the Lives of Women

Please reply to WSG seminars organiser Carolyn D. Williams at cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

How to sustain a women’s studies group

After last month’s posts, you might think that organising an informal women’s studies group is a piece of cake. But there are always teething troubles. In the third of our series reflecting on the history of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837, and celebrating our book Exploring the Lives of Women (Pen & Sword, 2018), Lois Chaber gives an honest account of how WSG evolved …

Confessions of an OAP Survivor: Out of the thick murky mist emerges an illumined scene of figures around a table—no, not Hrothgar’s mead-hall rising bright from the dark moors, but the blurry memory of my first WSG meeting—female scholars drinking tea, not warriors downing beer, sometime in 1988, the year after the group was founded. But if my first memory is not clear, what is clear is what the Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 meant to me and did for me.

Where I was coming from, literally and figuratively, gave special meaning to my entry into WSG.  I had recently come to London after a long sojourn in the Middle East, living through the Iranian Revolution in that country and feeling the effects of the Iran-Iraq War in Qatar, struggling to teach Austen, T.S. Eliot et al., to students with mostly basic English with few intellectual colleagues, and pursuing research with dinosaur technology—no email, no internet, just eighteenth-century articles, photocopied and sent by a hired graduate student of an American friend, making their slow way across continents to my desk, and hefty books ordered from Blackwell’s in Oxford–sent at great postal cost.  Driven to England by my husband’s pursuit of a one-year business degree at LSE, we had hoped to leave London after a year to settle in New Zealand, but for a combination of reasons, London became our default home.  I was an American Anglophile with a skimpy CV, trying to write an article, in isolation, on Pamela’s cheeky treatment of John Locke in Richardson’s unloved sequel.

But serendipity rescued me from wallowing in self-pity.  My American friend, Carole Fabricant, a distinguished Swift scholar, chanced to be in London at the time of our arrival on these shores, and directed me to meet her in a pub—my very first one—where my American naiveté found me trying to order a Brandy Alexander and nearly getting booted out of said pub.  Carole happened to know Yvonne Noble, told me about her women’s studies group, and gave me her contact details.  When I called Yvonne, I was promptly invited to join WSG, and started coming to the meetings. The ‘herstory’ of WSG’s founding belongs to Yvonne; I was just an early member with modest ambitions who fell in love with WSG and became a dogged hanger-on.

At the meetings, I got to know Mary Waldron, another independent scholar like Yvonne and myself, all of us looking for a refuge from scholarly isolation.  I also have fuzzy images over the next few years of getting to know various women withfaculty positions, such as Carolyn Williams, Penny Richards and Clare Brant, as well as graduate students like Sarah Prescott and Emma Clery, who found WSG a resonant sounding board for their work-in-progress before moving on to successful academic careers.  Two WSG presentations particularly stand out.  Isobel Grundy, before the Canadians seduced her away from us with an offer she couldn’t refuse, regaled us with a talk on ‘Cheerfulness in Jane Austen’s Persuasion’—a counter-intuitive view of that notoriously autumnal novel, which won my heart by a close reading of the text that slowly but inexorably proved her case about the sunny form that Austen’s stoicism took. The second is an early talk by Mary Waldron countering another critical truism–a reading of Mansfield Park in which she argued that Austen intended Fanny Price to be a flawed, wrong-headed character–an interpretation which eventually became a chapter in her book, Jane Austen and the Fiction of her Time (1999).  Interesting that my first impressions of WSG were of women going against the grain!

And all this time I was too paralyzed with fear and shyness to open my mouth during the post-presentation discussions.  Even though the first article I’d ever written in my Middle Eastern isolation had wound up in PMLA (beginner’s luck!), I felt terribly inferior to all these British scholars—even the graduate students—partially because I had no academic position (though a few others were in the same boat), but mainly from the conviction of being a country bumpkin, an innocent abroad in the Mark Twain tradition—and those teddiblyeducated British accents all around me were quite intimidating.  The gradual forging of a bond with Mary, and the friendly, non-competitive atmosphere of the group, eventually held sway, and after the first year or two in WSG, I began to find my voice.

*     *    *     *

It was WSG that alerted me to BSECS and encouraged me to attend.  Nevertheless, I have dug up my first ever programme for the annual meeting, only to find a telling example of the sticky conditions women scholars often have to operate within and why it’s so helpful that WSG is a welcoming and supportive place for them to be: threaded in haphazardly amongst the innocent and amateurish single sheet of the 1988 BSECS programme (a far cry from current BSECS slick, professional programmes with their multitudinous parallel sessions!), I had scribbled in biro the following self-instructions in order to accommodate going to the conference while my husband was studying full time: ‘check girls’[my two small daughters’] schedules’; ‘Have to arrange for pickup of girls & possibly (?) getting them to Brownies’; ‘arrange with Denyse for pick-up & keys to house’—and so on.  Evidently it all worked out in the end as I have notes on the various speakers’ talks. 

It is a triumph for WSG’s growing intellectual status–and its persistence—(mainly through the ongoing efforts and enthusiasm of Carolyn Williams) that after many years we eventually achieved a slot as an official panel, within the main time framework of the conference, during the later Oxford phase of BSECS—climaxing in 2015’s TWO WSG panels!

*   *   *   *

Back to our own regular seminars:  I finally worked up the courage not only to take part in discussion but to present my own paper in 1991, encouraged by what I had perceived as the unspoken ethos of WSG: to provide a supportive, constructive audience in an egalitarian context.  I was working on a new project—the treatment of childbearing in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, Part II and Sir Charles Grandison and offered a talk on this topic for one of the monthly seminars.  As this was my first speaking occasion before a WSG audience, even my awareness of its usual friendliness didn’t stop me from having the jitters.  When I arrived at the venue, lo and behold, only two other members had turned up to listen—Peg Katrizky and loyal Mary Waldron.  Nevertheless, this ‘fit audience though few’ managed to give me some incisive feedback, which laid the basis for a tighter version of these ideas for the ISECS conference that year and eventually, for a substantial article in Eighteenth-Century Fiction. And this experience underscores one of the major virtues of the WSG seminars—their openness to work-in-progress, work not necessarily complete or perfectly polished, so that authors can receive feedback that helps their work develop further.  This WSG tradition has proven especially useful to graduate students and to young scholars in the very early stages of their career, as well as to independent scholars with no university structure to support them. (The downside of this, I must say, however, is that while some remain fiercely loyal, many fledgling scholars have in the past deserted WSG when their careers took wing.)

This first experience as a speaker also pointed to the flaws in our earlier WSG structure.  The (probably) overambitious goal of having a speaker every month all too often led to similar situations of scholars arriving at the seminar only to discover a disappointingly small audience—since these scholars were sometimes not even WSG members, they often felt let down at the underwhelming reception, and thus not disposed in the future either to join the group or to offer another talk. Later on, when we re-formed, Mary Waldron and I for quite a while had the responsibility of soliciting speakers for the sessions. Eventually, our present system, of having fewer sessions but more speakers at each—to gratify our speakers and make their efforts worthwhile by luring more punters into London, emerged from discussions, and, I believe, has worked well through to the present day.

*  *   *   *

Speaking of burdens, my last concern in these ‘confessions’, by way of enlightening newer members of WSG and plucking the consciences of older ones, is this: Yvonne Noble, as a major founder of the group, initially took on the responsibility of running allaspects of this group on her own—a virtual Atlas heaving under the weight of WSG.  The WSG members from this time period (and I am ashamed to say I was one!) allowed her to carry this burden alone for far too long. With her internationalist viewpoint and idealistic goals of widening the horizons of WSG, she made contact with feminist scholars outside the UK—in not only her native US, but also in many places in Europe, and coaxed them into becoming speakers, or at least members, of WSG. The membership ballooned, Yvonne’s duties swelled to enormous proportions and, inevitably, when Yvonne was offered a teaching post for a year at New York University, the group burst–and collapsed.

Finally, the implications of this crisis became clear to us, and a group of interested members met (at my home, in fact) to re-launch WSG on a more sensible and sustainable basis. We agreed to set up an organising committee and to share out all the responsibilities that Yvonne had taken on singly, a structure that has generally worked well to enable the WSG that we know today—with Carolyn Williams as our gadfly, nudging us into the unknown territory of WSG publications as well.  It’s not a perfect structure, to be sure, as there remain issues of further democratising the group and giving the non-committee WSG members more of a say in suggesting activities and making decisions, a goal rightly insisted on by Yvonne and one highlighted by the members’ survey she created a couple of years ago now.  We still have much to achieve in reaching that goal—one of the sticking points being where and when to have a ‘real’ AGM and how to get our geographically-scattered membership to attend—but as a witness of WSG’s own survival of its ups and downs—most recently our ejection from Senate House and quest for pastures new—I have faith that solutions will be found for this and that the future for WSG is bright and promising: the world is all before us…

Robin Runia, The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery

The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery. Edited by Robin Runia. New York and London: Routledge. 2018. Pp. 185. £110.00 (hardback), ISBN 9781138571372.

Robin Runia’s edited collection The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery makes both a fascinating and timely historiographical intervention within eighteenth-century literary studies. This is a discipline that for some time has enacted important acts of recovery, particularly by recentring into the forefront of critical discussion, women writers, editors, and critics who have traditionally fallen outside of literary canons,. As Rounia’s ‘Introduction’ sets out, the collection represents an attempt to argue for the continued necessity of such feminist scholarship of eighteenth-century literature in the face of perceptions that this important work has now been ‘done’. Yet, in the age of the digital humanities, in which a huge number of eighteenth-century texts have been made available through digitisation projects, the recovery of forgotten texts by women writers is easier than ever. At the same time, the important shifts that have characterised feminist movements in the last few years, such as #MeToo and the rise of intersectional approaches, mean that a critical reassessment of this feminist scholarship, including the politics and methodologies that underpin ‘recovery’, has never been more necessary.

Collectively, the various essays included in this volume highlight the continued vibrancy of feminist scholarship of eighteenth-century literature. Together the chapters represent a broad range of approaches to the idea of recovery, with some authors actively considering recovery as a framework for their scholarship, and others passively employing the methodologies associated with it (such as reassessing existing accounts, and bringing new attention to overlooked women authors) as part of their analyses. Of the latter, Karen Bloom Gevirtz’s chapter, ‘Philosophy and/in Verse: Jane Barker’s “Farewell to Poetry” and the Anatomy of Verse’, offers a compelling reassessment of Jane Barker’s use of rhetoric and structure in the ‘investigation and explication of the experience of feeling’ (55) within the experimental philosophy of the New Science. Likewise, Jennifer L. Avery’s chapter, ‘The “English Sappho’s” Daughter: Reading the Works of Maria Elizabeth Robinson’, argues for the necessity of a critical reassessment of Robinson’s works, particularly her gothic novel, The Shrine of Bertha.

However, the volume is most successful when it tackles issues of recovery head on. Kate Parker’s essay ‘Recovery and Translation in Cross-Channel Eighteenth-Century Women’s Writing’, for example, makes an important argument about the nature of the texts that feminist scholarship has previously favoured for recovery, that is, the privileging of ‘original’ and ‘creative’ writing over the intellectual work associated with the production of translated texts. As such, Parker’s chapter demonstrates how recovery, normally viewed as an act which disrupts traditional notions of value as ascribed to canonical texts, in fact reproduces, albeit in a different form, this hierarchical approach to literary culture.

Beyond this theoretical emphasis, the volume is also concerned with contemporary relevance of historic texts, with a number of essays asking how the reading and recovery of these eighteenth-century narratives might shed light on current attitudes, ideas, and issues. For example, Shawn Lisa Maurer’s chapter, ‘Lydia Still: Adolescent Wildness in Pride and Prejudice,’ asks how our reading of Lydia Bennet shifts when we read her through a contemporary lens, as a stereotypical ‘teenager’. Likewise, Brittany Pladek’s chapter ‘Beyond the Poet-Physician: Letitia Landon’s Reader-Centred Therapy,’ attempts to redefine and bring nuance to the stock figure of the poet-physician by integrating Landon’s reader-oriented model. In so doing, she asks how recovering ‘alternate traditions of literary medicine’ might offer ‘a historical resource for present and future approaches to humanistic healing’ (72).

Perhaps the most useful consideration of the relationship between past text and literary present, however, is Cynthia Richards’s contribution to the collection. This chapter attempts to square what Richards refers to as ‘the transhistorical nature of trauma studies’ (15) with historicist accounts of the eighteenth-century, reading the rape of Richardson’s Clarissa in relation to DSM-IV and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, she highlights the lack of trauma studies within eighteenth-century studies, enacting her own kind of productive recovery by bringing these two fields into conversation. Although the type of retrospective diagnosis intimated by this approach is often bemoaned by historicists, the chapter highlights how these readings resonate with current readers of the text, specifically students. Richards’s account provocatively draws out the unavoidable contemporary resonances of books like Clarissa in an age of #MeToo, thereby offering a compelling exploration of the dynamic potential of using the lens of trauma studies to interrogate these historic documents.

This dual emphasis on history and present day is also echoed in the volume’s attention to the figure of the reader, who appears in both contemporaneous and current forms throughout. In her modern manifestations in the volume, a critically-aware author-reader emerges who rethinks eighteenth-century texts through multiple layers of historiography, the current cultural and political climate, and personal experience. Indeed, both Runia’s introduction and Richards’s piece reflect on their own experiences from panels at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference, framing these discussions in relation to the acts of recovery their own scholarship enacts. The eighteenth-century author-reader is also given attention through Stacey L. Kikendall’s account, ‘(Imprudent Travel): The Politics of Locations and the Gendered Experience in Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Mary Shelley’s Travel Writing’. In this essay, Kikendall skilfully reads the women’s travel writing in terms of a dialogue of included versus excluded detail, wherein the prudent author anticipates the aspects of a text that might be judged as imprudent by its potential readers and edits accordingly. Like Runia and Richards’s contributions, Kikendall’s essay is dependent on a dense historiography around both women and their writing, including edited private letters and biographical texts, which serve to sharpen Kikendall’s reading of Wollstonecraft’s and Shelley’s authorial prudence, resulting in a complex analysis of authorship that functions on multiple levels and through different timeframes.

As such, each of these chapters offers a refreshing analysis or use of recovery as a strategy for writing about eighteenth-century literature, as inflected by previous scholarship, present debates, and digital technologies. Yet ‘recovery’ as feminist praxis is not simply a literary concern, particularly within eighteenth-century studies. Indeed, important work has been done on once obscure women artists such as Anne Seymour Damer and Mary Linwood, while the field examining women’s material and craft productions during this period is flourishing. Due to the hierarchical divisions between art and craft that have previously characterised canonical art historical scholarship on the period, such work has reflected deeply on the utility and limitations of feminist recovery as a methodology. As such, I feel that the broader implications of this study could be more successfully teased out through an interdisciplinary volume, one that reflects the multitudinous approaches to recovery that characterise research undertaken by a wide range of scholars working in the highly interdisciplinary field of eighteenth-century studies. Emily M. N. Kugler’s essay, ‘Fantasies of Emancipation: Collaborations and Contestations in The History of Mary Prince’, is one of the few essays in this volume to take advantage of such an approach, using a compelling analysis of surviving material objects against the texts which are part of her discussion, which together work to show how new digital approaches can bring material and textual cultures into fascinating dialogue.

Overall however,The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery represents a welcome addition to the reflexive historiographical conversations that have long characterised eighteenth-century studies. Just as Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown’s The New Eighteenth-Century: Theory, Politics and English Literature asked vital questions about the discipline’s use of (and then resistance to) theory in 1988, so too does Runia’s edited volume offer an important reassessment of those concerns and methodologies in light of the current scholarly and cultural climate.

FREYA GOWRLEY
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2019

The final WSG seminar of the year takes place on Saturday 30th March, with three papers on women’s poetry, familial negotiation, and sports in the eighteenth century.

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.  The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including those for the visually impaired.  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 30 March, 2019. Chair: Angela Escott and Miriam al Jamil
Mary Chadwick: ‘Thy work appears unnotic’d or unknown’: Elizabeth Harcourt (1746-1826)
Caitlin Kitchener: ‘The Mania of Amending the Constitution’: Female Reformers in 1819
Valeria Viola: ‘…They would surpass men by far’: Maria Anna Alliata and her Agonal Spaces in Eighteenth-century Palermo
Peter Radford: Women as Team Players in the Long Eighteenth Century

Who can start a women’s studies group?

After the first guest post by Isobel Grundy in our new series reflecting on the history of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837, and celebrating the publication of our book Exploring the Lives of Women (Pen & Sword, 2018), you might be wondering who can start a women’s studies society, reading group, activist organisation… Well, anyone who feels the need for one can. Find your people, dig where you stand. In this post WSG founder Yvonne Noble explains her decision to start the group and argues for the importance of scholarly community.

Like many Americans of my generation, I come from a small town—right over the hill, four miles from Clairton, Pennsylvania, where the beginning of The Deer Hunteris set. College was a liberation and graduate school, study that could continue the encounter with literature that I had come to love, at last put me into a congenial community.  It took many years before I understood that I should prepare myself for a profession, but finally I proceeded quite successfully with good credentials and tenure at a very good university. When, fifteen years after most of my contemporaries, I found myself with the husband, children, and house that the 1950s had imagined, except located in England, confident of my competence and armed with imperfect advice, I resigned my tenure and found myself right back in the boots of the sixteen-year-old who has had a baby too soon—that is, with no job and therefore no funds to enable me to complete my research.  And no colleagues.

My dissertation had been an edition of The Beggar’s Opera. I had had a lot of trouble because at that time the principles of editing words and editing music were almost opposite, and people in different fields tended not to talk to each other. I was therefore an enthusiastic participant at the founding of the first (the International) Society for [Interdisciplinary] Eighteenth-Century Studies at St. Andrews in 1967. In my isolation in England, the three days of the local affiliate (BSECS) was my only time of professional contact. In their original conception the SECS societies required that all sections of the meeting be interdisciplinary, and it was found that two new fields—garden history and women’s studies—could most easily provide such interdisciplinary sessions. I was very interested to follow both fields, and I began to track where they overlapped, especially in the imaginative arts. (I had taught Paradise Lost and Clarissa and had ideas about the relationship of women and gardens.)

On this basis, supported by Ludmilla Jordanova, someone also interested in gendered imagery, whom I had met through BSECS, I obtained an unfunded but psychologically very valuable fellowship to the Bunting Institute at Harvard, in a program aimed to give a boost to women scholars whose careers had been impaired. There were more than forty of us in a year. We all in turn told our stories—and it was always the same tale. (This is all a commonplace of feminism, but it is always new to each individual woman.) The lesson, of course, was that our difficulties were not largely owing to our own inadequacy, and that it was important to have associates and colleagues.

With this necessity in mind, at the next BSECS meeting I attended, I called a pilot meeting to explore there being a group for women’s studies. I remember Jessica Munns and her sister Penny Richards being there—Penny has worked in 16thcentury history, hence our extension to include that period in the group. I didn’t keep a record of the others who came just then, but Isobel Grundy and Carolyn Williams were certainly members very soon, as well as Jean Bloch (in French at Royal Holloway), who interceded to arrange our meeting rooms at the University of London’s Senate House. Not long after Isobel brought in two mature students of hers, Mary Waldren and Linda Bree.

Our first session at the Senate House was on gendered imagery in Erasmus Darwin by Janet Browne, who went on to edit Charles Darwin (and never returned to us, though it was she who suggested that we name ourselves a “group.”) We tried to have single hour-long talks each month. Many times we also held Day Schools on a particular theme—I remember Marilyn Brooks holding one on ‘Appropriations of Power’ in Cambridge, and Marie Roberts (as was then) on the Gothic (with Devendra Varma in Mourning Dress). My favourite was a two-day meeting at College Hall in Gower Street on Liminality, which ran from boy actors in Shakespeare through the coming of actresses at the Restoration, hermaphrodites by Carolyn Williams, and castrati by me and by Pat Rogers, who embodied liminality by 1) turning out not to be the female Pat many assumed and by 2) wearing blue eyeshadow in accord with the topic.

At this juncture I was suddenly offered a year’s teaching at New York University, with a faculty apartment on Washington Square—first semester, undergraduate eighteenth-century novel and graduate eighteenth-century “intellectual prose”; second semester graduate eighteenth-century novel and freshman composition. My husband in England could manage his job, the house, and our two children, but not WSG and it collapsed.  By that time we had members in nineteen countries.

Carolyn Williams and Lois Chaber will have to tell you how they picked up the pieces and reorganized WSG with a committee, seminar sessions three times a year, a workshop, and an outing, and, with the coming of the web, thanks to Louise Duckling and later Felicity Roberts, invaluable online facilities.  When the changing financial policies of the University of London precluded our continuing at Senate House, Angela Escott found us receptive quarters at the Foundling Hospital. Our existence—and continuing existence, as you see—is sustained by improvisatory efforts of members without institutional support. We could therefore offer members a venue for day schools on new topics they would like to organize, with, as is the fashion, new edited collections to arise from the presentations given. We can offer support for activities yet unimagined that members may propose. We offer support and companionship for unaffiliated people like me.

I would say a word to scholars in women’s studies of our period who are fortunate to have permanent university posts: please keep up your membership!  We need you because it is you who know the men and women who complete PhDs and then cannot find permanent work—you can direct them to us, you can tell us who they are. We understand that you are very busy, that it isn’t convenient for you to come to us on Saturdays, but it is important to us to be able to ask you for advice and information from time to time.