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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 review

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

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

Review: WSG Seminar, 26th March 2022 at The Foundling Museum

Sophie Johnson: History’s ‘Other’ Sculptors: The Underrepresentation of Historic women sculptors (1558-1837) in the history of art

Charlotte Goodge: ‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the long eighteenth century

Moira Goff: Evered Laguerre: A Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

We returned to the Foundling Museum for our March seminar, after an absence of two years, to hear three outstanding papers and to enjoy an afternoon of lively and informative discussion. As so often happens, unexpected connections between the subjects emerged and we could certainly have continued our explorations for much longer. Sophie Johnson began by extemporizing on her research into women sculptors throughout the period covered by the Women’s Studies Group and beyond, to examine how the few who have found a place in art history have been represented and under what circumstances they forged a career in this overwhelmingly male-dominated art form. She discussed the amateur/professional binaries, the problems and risks surrounding the perceived transgressive nature of the art and emphasised curatorial practice and questions of mistaken attribution as crucial factors in the invisibility of women sculptors.

Charlotte Goodge tackled debates about corpulent women in the eighteenth century in the light of society’s expectations about women’s delicate nature and what kind of exercise was considered appropriate. She focussed on participation in the hunt and on mountaineering and walking, citing literary examples from Charlotte Lennox The Female Quixote (1752) and Thomas Love Peacock Crotchet Castle (1831). Through these literary examples, Goodge argued that the ‘fatness’ of their female protagonists was pointedly used to flag an immoderate excess in terms of over rather than under exercising. Contemporary anxieties about women’s over-enthusiastic exercise centred less on health risks and benefits and more on the fact that robust physical strength was perceived as characteristic of labouring people (especially labouring men), an undesirable outcome for women from the genteel classes. Women’s transgression in different forms was important in both these papers.

Moira Goff offered her findings on the life of the early eighteenth-century dancer, Evered Laguerre, whose remarkable career on the London stage lasted more than twenty years, from her debut at thirteen in 1716 to her final performances in leading dance roles for John Rich’s company in 1737 when she was only thirty-five. We had glimpses of her in a print depicting her dancing with Francis Nivelon in the pantomime Perseus and Andromeda (1731),and in a possible second representation as the ‘Lady dancing’ in Nivelon’s The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior (1737). During our discussion, Goff gave us further fascinating insights into the stage careers of young dancers and into the published dance notation for a Harlequin dance, perhaps related to The Necromancer; or, Harlequin Doctor Faustus (1723) in which Laguerre danced the part of ‘Harlequin Woman’.

The papers demonstrated the difficulties of finding women in the archives, but the importance of pursuing the research if we are to recognise their contributions, a perennial problem faced by those working on women’s history. They also highlighted the delicate line between compliance and error, recognition and notoriety and the inescapable judgements of a patriarchal system. Our thanks to all three presenters, and to those who joined us at the seminar.

Miriam Al jamil

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2022

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 March 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place at The Foundling Museum. The Foundling Museum is situated at 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ and sessions start promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm. Doors open at 12.30pm, and 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.

Speakers:

Sophie Johnson

History’s ‘other’ sculptors: The under-representation of historic women sculptors (1558 – 1837) in the history of art

Since Linda Nochlin’s seminal essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (1971), research has been increasingly published on women artists. However, the focus of this work has primarily been on painters, or artists from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One group who are still largely absent from art historical research are historic women sculptors. In particular, we see very little research into women sculptors from before the mid-19th century, the point at which women were formally admitted into art academies. It appears that these women are almost as absent in modern scholarship as they were in the artists’ dictionaries of their day. Not only is there a lack of research on these women compared to their painter or contemporary sisters, but we also see very few examples of their work in UK public art collections. An invisibility not simply resulting from a lack of women practicing sculpture historically, but a continued hierarchy in the perceived quality of sculptural materials. A preference for marble and bronze inadvertently prejudices historic women sculptors working in wax and organic materials; the more popular materials for them to work in. Furthermore, the view that the physicality of sculpture would have been prohibitive for women has not yet disappeared from the academic or indeed public consciousness.

This paper will briefly highlight the women sculptors who existed from 1558 – 1837 and the structural constraints which prevented many from achieving recognition. Moreover, the biases in art-historical research and museum practice which continue to obscure their visibility today. Arguing that we must go further than simply uncovering historic women sculptors but challenge outdated standards of ‘quality’ and an exclusionary art-historical canon. Demonstrating how the under-representation of historic women sculptors is a crucial part of today’s wider discussion around diversifying our collections and research for a contemporary audience.

Charlotte Goodge

‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the ‘long’ Eighteenth Century.

This paper will explore how the ‘exercise’ recommended for genteel women in the ‘long’ eighteenth century was orientated around the concept of ‘delicacy’ (as promoted by Samuel Johnson in an anecdote recorded in Hester Piozzi’s Thralina and discussed frequently as a topic in conduct literature of the period). These ‘exercises’ were not exercises in the way we think of fitness today. Indeed, the exercises deemed appropriately feminine often did not involve physical activity at all (one such exercise being a carriage ride), and when they did, they were notably gentle – a promenade about the room or garden.

Thus, it seems unsurprising that when the genteel woman did physically exert herself, it was understood to undermine the expectation of delicacy (as touched upon in the scholarly works of Donna Landry and Kerri Andrews). Her participation in certain sports, such as horse riding (especially as a member of the hunt) or rambling, was seen as much too over-active for her sex, and, consequently, ‘masculine’. In literary culture especially, there are notable instances of ‘fat’ women participating in these unfemininely, over-active pursuits. Charlotte Lennox’s ‘Miss Groves’ in The Female Quixote (1752) and Thomas Love Peacock’s ‘Susannah Touchandgo’ in Castle Crotchet (1831) demonstrate this.

Although the image of the ‘fat’ woman exhibiting her sporting prowess may seem incongruous, this paper examines how the ‘fatness’ of these literary protagonists was used to draw attention to what the ‘fat’ woman’s overexertion could enable, rather than the indelicacy of the act of overexertion itself. Indeed, as I intend to argue in this paper, ‘fatness’ in these literary instances signified a distinct autonomy. By being pointedly mobile and unprohibited in her movements, the overly active ‘fat’ woman suggested an ability to challenge sexual propriety (by displaying her body on her terms) and confused others’ perception of her social rank, translating an indelicate physical mobility into a disruptive social mobility.

Moira Goff

Evered Laguerre: a Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

Evered Laguerre (1702-1739) has a good claim to be the leading female dancer in the company at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields and then Covent Garden Theatres during the 1720s and 1730s, although her name is rarely to be found in the writings of modern dance historians. In this paper, I will evaluate that claim as I survey her dance repertoire and look at her status within the company in different seasons. Mrs Laguerre was also an actress, but I will not deal with this aspect of her stage work except in passing. I will try to place her in context alongside the other dancers, particularly the female dancers, who appeared on the early 18th-century London stage. Mrs Laguerre’s career is linked to that of the French professional dancer Marie Sallé, who danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden during several seasons over the same period. Mlle Sallé’s career has received much attention from dance writers and historians, who tend to overlook her contemporaries in London. In my paper, I will explore how and where Evered Laguerre’s repertoire intersects with that of Marie Sallé and what this might tell us about the dancing of both women as well as dancing on the London stage more generally.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2022

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 March 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place at The Foundling Museum. The Foundling Museum is situated at 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ and sessions start promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm. Doors open at 12.30pm, and 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.

Speakers:

Sophie Johnson. History’s ‘other’ sculptors: The under-representation of historic women sculptors (1558 –1837) in the history of art

Charlotte Goodge. ‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the ‘long’ Eighteenth Century.

Moira Goff, Independent Scholar. Evered Laguerre: a Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

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

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

Mary Shelley and Europe: Essays in Honour of Jean de Palacio. Edited by Antonella Braida. MHRA, Oxford: Legenda. 2020. pp. 206. £80 (hardback), ISBN: 9781781885482. £10.99 (paperback, forthcoming), ISBN: 9781781885529.

Mary Shelley and Europe is a wonderful selection of essays which discusses an aspect of Mary Shelley’s life that was so important to her art and yet is perhaps under-emphasised in discussing her work.  Mary Shelley travelled to Europe in 1814 and lived in Italy from 1818 to 1823.  She wrote two books of travel, which mark the beginning and end of her writing career, and many of her novels and stories are set either wholly or partly in Europe. She spoke Italian and French fluently and translated from those languages. Europe was very much present to Mary Shelley even when she was unable to travel. And yet, in 1951, when Jean de Palacio began to study her work, she was known mainly as the editor of Shelley’s poems and the author of Frankenstein – and at the time her work as editor was very much under-appreciated and Frankenstein was better known for James Whale’s film version than the novel itself.

Jean de Palacio’s study of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion led to his interest in Mary Shelley, especially when he discovered that she had correctly included a line omitted by a Victorian editor of the poem. Yet he was discouraged from this study and found it difficult to find texts, reading them in the British Library and acquiring them from rare books dealers.  Since then, as he notes in his chapter, Mary Shelley’s status as a writer has been completely transformed and now she is considered a major writer of the time. De Palacio was one of the first to show how Mary Shelley’s transcription of her husband’s poetry and her knowledge of Italian made her superior to the Victorian editors who followed her.

Nora Crook, as well as paying tribute to de Palacio’s pioneering work, shows how many poems, reviews, articles and translations have been identified subsequently, thus establishing Mary Shelley as a professional writer with her own style and voice and showing her as European.  She describes the difficulties of identifying these and other contributions to journals where they are unsigned. Although style, subject matter and dating are helpful, mistakes can be made. She gives examples of possible work yet to be confirmed and stresses the need for fora to be set up to establish an agreed canon of work since no current bibliography on Mary Shelley is comprehensive.

De Palacio also suggested that collaboration between husband and wife tended to give Mary Shelley an entitlement to sometimes make additions, though she may have exceeded this on occasions. He also appreciated the importance of Italy to Mary Shelley. Michael Rossington, also paying tribute to de Palacio’s groundbreaking work, considers how, when he started his studies in the 1950s, the critical appreciation of the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley, then at its nadir, began to rise. Manuscripts from the Shelley family were donated to the Bodleian Library prompting fresh books and essays from scholars, in particular Geoffrey Matthews, who seems to have been one of the first to have realised the difficulties facing Mary Shelley as an editor, citing examples of text crossed out, written criss-crossed or upside down. The difficulties were not only practical but emotional, such as the pain involved in looking at text stained with seawater as a result of being in the boat when her husband drowned. Valentina Varinelli also discusses what she describes as two forms of dialogue with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry (p. 57), being the memories prompted from these texts, and Mary Shelley’s poem The Choice. Varinelli’s extended critique of this poem is particularly interesting. The theme of collaboration is discussed in more detail by Anna Mercer in her essay, which also looks at the poetry that Mary Shelley wrote in Italy.

Lisa Vargo’s chapter on Mary Shelley’s political thought and activity shows that Mary Shelley was always interested in Italian politics and that, although her politics remained liberal, she never wished to ally herself wholly to a group and did not want to play a public part. Maria Parrino’s essay emphasises Mary Shelley’s study of Italian. When they lived in Italy, the Shelleys’ knowledge of the language distinguished them from other English residents. Mary Shelley was not only able to converse with well-educated Italian friends but to chat happily with her servants, using their colloquial phrases. Years later, on her return to Italy, she was still able to speak Italian fluently, showing that she had in the intervening years kept up her study of the language. Indeed, she reviewed books and translated stories from French and Italian, so the knowledge of the languages was very much part of her cultural life and her career.

Other essays in the book discuss the reception of adaptations for the theatre of Frankenstein, such as Presumption (1823), and popular images of Mary Shelley. However, the idea of her as a European, whose working life involved translation and travel in Europe and interaction both politically and artistically with other Europeans, is one which transforms her image from that of an indigent, lonely widow and single mother living on memories of a brief happiness into an independent professional woman with a fascinating creative life and interesting contacts. One realises that this must have always been the case, of course, but emphasis on her editing of her husband’s poetry and on Frankenstein, rather than on the later novels and stories, has obscured the literary and personal achievements of her later life. This book does much to redress the balance.

Jacqueline Mulhallen

Author of The Theatre of Shelley (2010), Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (2015), and the plays Sylvia and Rebels and Friends.

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2022

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 March 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place at The Foundling Museum. The Foundling Museum is situated at 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ and sessions start promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm. Doors open at 12.30pm, and 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.

Speakers:

Sophie Johnson. History’s ‘other’ sculptors: The under-representation of historic women sculptors (1558 –1837) in the history of art

Charlotte Goodge. ‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the ‘long’ Eighteenth Century.

Moira Goff, Independent Scholar. Evered Laguerre: a Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

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