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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

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.

Lodgers, Landlords, and Landladies in Georgian London by Gillian Williamson. Review by Sarah Murden

London: Bloomsbury Academic. 2021. Pp 256. £85.00 Hardback; £28.99 Paperback; £76.50 Ebook. ISBN: 978-1350212633.

How often, when we walk past surviving Georgian houses, do we wonder what life would have been like for the people who lived behind those closed doors back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Probably not very often, if at all, if truth be known. We admire the classical architecture which has stood the test of time and is iconic of that period, but what about the lives of those who lived there?

Gillian Williamson’s book Lodgers, Landlords, and Landladies in Georgian London investigates what life would have been like behind those closed doors, both for the landlord/lady and for a lodger. The majority of homeowners weren’t rich and famous, they were more your average working people, living lives we may well be familiar with today – going to work to provide for their family, staying at home to raise the family, socialising with friends, but also taking in lodgers to make ends meet – so what was life really like behind those iconic Georgian doors?

I have to begin this review with a confession. As someone who spends most of their time in the eighteenth century, I had never given lodgers, landlords or landladies a second thought, but this book has definitely shone a very bright light into this world, and how much social history was hidden behind those doors. This book is quite probably unique in its investigation, which makes it utterly fascinating and extremely thought-provoking.

Lodging in the eighteenth century could be compared to a certain extent with multi-occupancy student accommodation today, but with the landlord/lady and possibly their family also living ‘on site’. A lodger rarely had their own door key, and did you even know that there was a ‘code’ to ringing a doorbell or knocking on one of those Georgian front doors waiting to be let in? Each knock or ring defined who you were and your status within Georgian society.

How did one approach the task of finding somewhere to lodge in Georgian London? In some ways part of the actual process of finding lodgings hasn’t really changed that much since the eighteenth century, instead, it has just become quicker. As with today, where you are going to live in London determined the price you would pay for lodgings. Some people only took lodgings for ‘The Season’, others only when Parliament was sitting, but for most, it was taken more as a long-term residence, assuming you weren’t ejected for a misdemeanour, or simply because the owner had a change in their situation, and you would perhaps stay there for about a year or so.

Williamson investigates this process thoroughly, in a step by step way, from the landlord/lady placing an advert in say a newspaper, to potential candidates applying, often via a third party, to how lodgings were advertised, how much it would cost to rent a room(s), the size of your accommodation and then of course, there were the extras to be carefully considered – did you want to do your own cooking in your room or pay for meals with your landlord/lady or dine out? How about laundry? – would you do you own or pay the household servant to do it for you? What about heating? – after all, it was cheaper to sit in the parlour with the owner rather than spend money on your own coals, but then maybe you would have to mix with other lodgers who you may or may not rub along with, who were also trying to save money on heating. Cost was of paramount importance, as were ways to save money on what was an expensive art of simply living. One amusing quote Williamson includes is a reference to the poet William Wordsworth who visited the Lambs at their lodgings, who were then charged extra for sugar as Wordsworth took more sugar in his tea than most – everything had its price!

Lodgers agreed an inventory so there could be no argument when they moved out, along with recompense at the end of the agreement for any damage caused, which it appears was not uncommon, be it spilled ink or fire damage, the list goes on. It was always worth considering when taking unfurnished accommodation that the lodger should check out the status of their landlord so that, should the bailiffs be called in, your possessions weren’t also seized to fund their debt.

Moving lodgings, now this was another performance in itself, such as packing your chest(s) then unpacking at your new location. Williamson investigates methods for arranging your chest to be transported for you, as of course it contained all your worldly goods. Next came the settling into new, strange accommodation, often with people you would never have associated with before and who you may not get along with.

Williamson cites several people who disliked this process intensely and for whom a record remains of their experiences. Then of course, there was the issue of having to live in a room with furniture and accessories which might not have been to one’s taste, but not being able to afford one’s own dwelling with a front door meant there was no choice. Funds determined the potential size of the accommodation, so it may have been just a tiny garret or several rooms with use of the household servants.  Stereotypical gender roles were often assumed, with female lodgers having to fend for themselves, whereas it was commonplace for female landladies to do extra things for their male lodgers, such as repairing clothing and caring for them if unwell.

Some landlord/ladies allowed their lodgers to have their name on the front door to help callers know that you lived there, but it’s perfectly feasible you might be charged extra for this service.

Trying to ‘rub along’ together with strangers is never easy and that hasn’t changed despite the passage of two hundred years. We all have our own idiosyncrasies, as people did back then, but for most people today, we can close our doors and be ourselves – not so for many in Georgian London, as you had to consider the other lodgers.

The book comprises of seven chapters, plus an extensive notes section at the end and is without doubt a book which will appeal to anyone with an interest in social history, day to day life in the Georgian Era and social housing in general. The book is filled with fascinating anecdotes, and I have learnt so much from it, including much I had never even thought about, and as such I would highly recommend it. I’m sure it’s one I will return to again and again in future research.

Sarah Murden

All Things Georgian

Sarah Murden, FRHistS, is an eighteenth-century historian, genealogist and independent researcher, who has also co-authored five books, published by Pen & Sword books. Sarah is most well known for her website, All Things Georgian, which includes around 700 articles, covering all aspects of Georgian life.

Blog: WSG Mentoring Scheme by Dr Annalisa Nicholson  

I applied to the WSG Mentoring Scheme in the autumn of 2020 at a time when isolation was the order of the day in the UK. For me, this sense of disconnect with the wider world was compounded by the faceless cycle of postdoctoral applications, a process that felt bewildering and discouraging. Still in the third year of my PhD, I was only eligible to apply for Oxbridge Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs) where every application required a slightly different set of research statements. The rejections steadily rolled in with zero feedback.

For those unfamiliar with this particular postdoctoral scheme, the Oxbridge JRF competitions run annually. Every Oxbridge college runs its own scheme, so positions vary widely from one-year to five-year posts with different salaries and benefits. Some colleges have ‘open’ competitions where applicants can apply from any subject background in the arts and sciences while others are subject-specific (e.g. English JRF) or even have a defined theme (e.g. a JRF focused on postcolonial studies). In terms of eligibility, you usually need to be within three years of handing in your thesis. What is especially attractive is that you can apply in the third or fourth year of your PhD, i.e. *before* you have handed in your thesis, which can really help close any funding gaps. For instance, if you’re planning to hand in your thesis by the end of an academic year in August or September, you can apply for a JRF that will start in September or October of the following academic year, allowing you to move immediately from PhD to postdoctoral position. This differs from the eligibility requirements of Leverhulme and British Academy where you need to have either submitted by 23 February (Leverhulme) or had your viva by 1 April (BA). In both cases, you’re left with a funding gap of several months between PhD and potential postdoc. However, what is especially unattractive of the Oxbridge JRF scheme is that each college runs its competition distinctly from other colleges. This means that every application is different – different closing dates, different length research statements, different number of referees. They are also hugely competitive. One rejection email I recall stated that the college had received over 900 applications for one post. Amid such an oblique landscape, it was difficult to know how to pitch my research.  

When I saw the WSG Mentoring Scheme advertised, I was immediately keen to apply with a view to focusing entirely on my postdoctoral applications. My supervisor, Professor Emma Gilby, was always wonderfully supportive of these applications, but only so much of our supervision time could be devoted to projects beyond the thesis. As well as wanting to carve out time for applications, I was especially eager to talk to an academic with expertise on early modern women in multiple national contexts to help me situate my own work. Even though I was officially attached to the French department, my research interests lie in the history and writings of early modern women in Europe, hovering at the intersection of several disciplinary boundaries including French, English, and History. My PhD was on French exiles in Restoration London and my future research was leaning towards the global reach of Huguenot women. I was unsure how to frame the value of my interdisciplinary approach.

Not long after the deadline for the scheme passed, I was thrilled to find out that I had been successful and would be paired with Professor Brenda Hosington. It was an excellent fit as Brenda’s long and rich research career has drawn attention to the writings and influence of dozens of early modern women in both France and Britain. We set up a virtual meeting for January 2021. In preparation for it, Brenda asked me to send her a detailed summary of my thesis and its chapters.

The meeting was enormously encouraging and reassuring. Firstly, I benefitted from a new pair of eyes on my work, which is always helpful. Brenda gave me wonderful feedback on my doctoral project from how to frame it in broad terms to little snippets of insight like Voltaire’s comment in his Lettres philosophiques on women’s influence in England. Secondly, we had an enjoyable and productive conversation about how to pitch a postdoctoral project. Although a big part of any first postdoctoral position involves developing your thesis into a monograph, you still have to pitch a second major project in your applications. If you’re applying in the third or fourth year of your PhD, it can be difficult to come up with a second project. I’d written statements for several similar projects – usually on banished women in Francophone contexts – but I was underconfident in my ideas. During my conversation with Brenda, she probed each chapter of my thesis to see if there was spare material to inspire the second project. We ended up speaking a lot about Huguenot women because part of my thesis discussed Huguenots in London and Brenda had recently worked on the Huguenot-born translator Suzanne DuVerger who lived and worked in London. I mentioned that I had considered writing up a postdoc idea on Huguenot women but hadn’t been sure how to formulate my intervention in the field. She recommended some reading and we decided to organise our next meeting for a few months’ time to give me space to think.

Weeks later, I saw an advertisement for a JRF in Modern Languages, with a preference for projects on ‘translation’, at The Queen’s College, Oxford. Buzzing with ideas about Huguenot women and translation from Brenda’s reading recommendations, I applied with my usual description of my thesis and a brand new research statement on ‘Huguenot Women: Lively Translation and Communication, 1500-1700’. Happily, I got the interview and the job.

The whole experience of the mentoring scheme was incredibly useful. Even if I hadn’t got the job, I gained fresh perspectives on my work and a sense of confidence in my ideas. Like many ECRs, I missed out on heaps of opportunities to network during the pandemic at a crucial time in my career. The WSG Mentoring Scheme is an excellent way to make a new contact – with the possible bonus that your mentor will extend their own network to you – and to hear about future opportunities for conference papers, publications, and teaching posts from someone well-acquainted with the field. I am very grateful for the experience.

Dr Annalisa Nicholson

The Queen’s College, Oxford