Top Posts

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

2022 Workshop Review

Annual Workshop 24th September 2022
On the Margins: Interrogating the Notion of Marginal Status in the long Eighteenth Century. Foundling Museum, London

Our annual workshop unusually took place in September this year. We were delighted that our morning keynote was given by Dr. Karen Lipsedge and Dr. Emma Newport, both long- standing members, contributors, and supporters of the WSG. Emma Newport began the session by suggesting that there are many questions raised by the word ‘Margins’ which becomes particularly slippery when we consider the prepositions which are often attached, such as outside and beyond, within, between, above or beneath. She guided our discussion about agency and how active or passive words affect our understanding of the term. Power relations and choice are important, and crucially questions of gender, class and issues of who exactly is ‘on the margins’. The term is always political and ideological.

Karen Lipsedge then used the case study of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, giving a close reading of the Joseph Highmore painting of Pamela and Lady Davers 1743-4 , (National Gallery of Victoria) to examine women’s autonomy in the domestic space. The painting shows the consequences of altering a woman’s assigned role in a patriarchal tradition. A lower-class woman was not expected to be genteel or virtuous but to gratify her master’s sexual demands. Pamela’s movement between the informal and formal rooms of the house as lady’s maid, servant and then wife mark the changes in her status. The painting depicts the moment when Lady Davers and her nephew attempt to attack and crush Pamela, asserting she has merely undergone a sham marriage with Mr. B, in a parody of the harmony and sociability usually represented in an eighteenth-century conversation piece. The focus on the table as a sign of social and hierarchical power and the positioning of other characters in the composition highlight the details that were important to Richardson in his alternative domestic scene and could be read as a queering of marginal space and questioning of what it meant to be at the centre.

Coincidentally, a recent Chawton House exhibition From the Margins illustrated efforts to support endangered species of the South Downs through restoration of hedgerows and wildflowers. This exhibition highlighted alternative approaches to the idea of marginal spaces, their fragility and the energy and struggle required to survive in an overlooked and threatened environment. We examined a quotation from Pamela, in which Pamela is described as a cuckoo who needs to be ‘hedged in’, with all the associations conjured by the term ‘cuckold’. Is Pamela a temporary joy of summer or a cuckoo in Mr. B’s nest?

The keynote presentations were rich and thought-provoking and were followed by a lively and enthusiastic discussion.

After a sociable lunch we reconvened for short presentations by workshop attendees, to explore a fascinating range of ideas related to On The Margins. Taking a cue from Pamela, we looked at the ‘monstrous’ masculine Mrs. Jewkes and the eighteenth-century female body as essentially rendered disabled and defined by what it could not do; we heard about medical recipes by women who were on the margins of professional and scientific knowledge whose work was usually printed cheaply, achieving only ephemeral status; and about the marginal status of women in the court room, 1810-12 Scottish case studies of women defendants who insisted on being heard in defiance of efforts to marginalise them because of their ethnicity, illegitimacy or accusations of lesbianism; Criminal cases against women who cross-dressed and made careers of piracy revealed that there was no explicit law against the practice; women as landladies were marginalised figures, surviving under difficult conditions, as were the dancing girls who had no choice but to perform for the French invaders during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.

We heard about a woman who survives a shipwreck to live alone on an island and gain agency when separated from her family, in Penelope Aubin’s The Noble Slaves (1722); and about Caroline-Stéphanie-Félicité, Madame de Genlis’ novella La Femme Philosophe (1804), which imitates the novel Edmund Oliver by Charles Lloyd (1798) where sexual transgression leads to the female character Gertrude’s downfall, but Genlis makes her the protagonist, exploring a liminal space of fluid and unstable subjectivity.

Women travellers such as Hester Piozzi, Ann Flaxman and Mary Shelley stood on the rim of Vesuvius, a real marginal space of danger, and recorded their impressions. We also enjoyed a performance-based presentation in which a portrait of Mary Moser was questioned about her life and career, now that recent attention has brought her out of the shadows.

Marginality in all its subtle shades emerged from our day, in a variety of disciplines and fields of research. Presentations gave us snapshots of exciting ongoing work and, as Karen Lipsedge concluded, ‘a rich ecology of things to explore’.

Many thanks to our keynote speakers and all our participants, and we look forward to further conversations in our next workshop!

Review by Miriam Al Jamil

WSG Mentoring Scheme: The Mentee’s Experience by Amy Solomons

Amy Solomons was mentored by Karen Lipsedge during the 2021-22 scheme. Below, she reflects on her experience of the scheme and the support she received from her mentor.


I started my PhD in October 2019 which means I only had six months of ‘normality’ before the pandemic hit in Spring 2020. My PhD, in collaboration with the National Trust, relied heavily on physical sources which I could no longer access. Throughout 2020 and 2021, I worked to reframe my PhD to mitigate the loss of crucial time in the archives. Throughout the pandemic, I participated in online conferences, made connections on Twitter and connected with my peers at Liverpool through online coffee chats. These experiences were great in tackling the isolation of doing a PhD during the pandemic. As the world began to reopen, I organised a quick succession of trips to archives and National Trust properties, keen to reconnect with colleagues and make strides in my PhD research. I also felt that I needed to fast track my personal and professional development to make up for lost opportunities during the pandemic.

When I saw the WSG Mentoring Scheme advertised, I knew that it would be a fantastic opportunity to enhance my PhD experience. I applied to the WSG Mentoring Scheme in February 2022 with three aims: to enhance my networking skills, to explore post-PhD career options and to write my first journal article. My supervisory team are hugely supportive but I was keen to expand my network and learn from different experiences. I was really pleased when the WSG got in touch and paired me with Dr Karen Lipsedge.

Our first meeting was fantastic and Karen helped me to set out a strategy to achieve my first aim: networking. I was attending my second in-person conference not long after our meeting and asked Karen for tips in growing my network. Karen’s advice was hugely reassuring and helped me to feel more confident in approaching senior academics at the conference. It was great to be able to feedback on the conference with Karen in a future meeting. I have now attended several face-to-face conferences and have started to enjoy the previously dreaded ‘tea break’ on the schedule!

Karen’s advice on forming connections with non-academic partners proved hugely beneficial during my recent placement with the British Library. I took advantage of available training and worked with colleagues at the library to learn about different career paths within the sector. Outside of the placement, I continued to have discussions with Karen about post-PhD options and now have two routes (one academic and one in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums sector, otherwise known as GLAM) to explore next year when I submit my PhD.

We also dedicated time in every meeting to progress on my publication plans. Academia is hugely competitive and sometimes difficult for those of us in the earlier stages of our career to navigate. Informal conversations with Karen have been invaluable in understanding the process and thinking about the best way to frame an article. I now feel more confident about the co-editing experience and review process. I am currently co-editing a special issue for a journal and the process now seems less daunting. I am looking forward to seeing my article in print later in the year.

Throughout the process, Karen has continued to encourage me to reflect on my experiences and celebrate the small wins! The mentoring scheme has been a fantastic opportunity to broaden my network, gain advice and set aside dedicated time to work on my professional development. Like many current PhD researchers, I missed out on face-to-face connections and informal network building for almost two years. My meetings with Karen pushed me to make new contacts, develop my ideas and think about future opportunities. I am hugely grateful to Karen for her continued support beyond our sessions and to the WSG for facilitating the experience.


Amy Solomons is currently undertaking a collaborative PhD with the University of Liverpool and the National Trust researching networks of female readers in eighteenth-century library collections.

Reminder : WSG Seminar Saturday February 4, 2023 at The Foundling Museum 12:30 for 13:00 GMT

Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 welcomes both WSG members and non-members to this in-person seminar.

Chair : Miriam Al Jamil

Speakers and papers:

Maria Grazia Dongu: Uses of Boccaccio and Shakespeare in Shakespear Illustrated by Charlotte Lennox.

Jennifer Germann: “At the tribunal of public and just criticism”: The Social and Scientific Networks of Margaret Bryan.

Francesca Saggini: On the Humble Writing Desk

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.

Please see our website for further details https://womensstudiesgroup.org/seminars/

Worlds of Knowledge in Women’s Travel Writing. Edited by James Uden. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, Ilex Series 25. 2022. Pp 177. £15.95 (paperback), ISBN 9780674260566.

Reviewed by Valentina Aparicio

This fascinating collection explores how women travelers from a wide range of backgrounds used different forms of knowledge to make sense of their travel experiences. The volume explores narratives from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, fictional and otherwise, set in locations that range from Japan to the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). In what James Uden calls a pluralizing effort, Worlds of Knowledge tackles sources written in English, French, Urdu, and Turkish, paying attention to the different voices present (or absent) in each cultural encounter. The essays in this volume can seem disconnected at first glance. However, they are brought together by their attention to textual layers and differing internal voices, as well as genre and gender conventions. Worlds of Knowledge puts in practice the notion, explored by scholars like Laura Nenzi and Churnjeet Mahn before, that travel narratives should be read as ‘palimpsestuous,’ as sources where there is both an upper text that is most visible and other underlying ones to be explored. The volume proposes that, in the texts studied, ‘worlds of knowledge’ can refer not only to the incorporation of discourses beyond the literary, but also to the texts as discursive and cultural meeting points.

The chapter by Roberta Micallef on Lady Elizabeth Craven’s A Journey Through the Crimea to Constantinople (1789) exemplifies well the analysis of these textual layers of knowledge. On the one hand, Micallef shows that Craven uses her text to create an image of herself as a factually reliable travel writer. She reproduces already-known information about the region and Orientalist stereotypes while correcting minor factual details, creating an image of precision. Her work also has a palimpsestuous relationship with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters (1763). Lady Craven uses her knowledge of Montagu to undermine the latter, presenting an opposing and negative view of Ottoman society, while agreeing with Montagu on the freedom of Ottoman women. On the other hand, Craven’s text shows how she fails to genuinely engage with the women she met in her travels. For instance, Craven presents the harem as a space free of envy between women, but describes those in them as hairy, dull, ugly, and fat, in order to disrupt European male fantasies about this space. Interestingly, Micallef adds a new textual layer to her analysis by reading Craven vis-à-vis Ottoman women’s writing. Referencing Halide Edib Adıvar, Mihri Hatun, and Zeyneb and Melek Hanım, Micallef shows that Craven completely misunderstood the social dynamics of the harem. She also reveals that, just like Craven envied Ottoman women’s freedom, the same was true for the latter, who often interpreted Western women’s mobility as a sign of access to male privilege. Micallef closes her analysis by suggesting that a better exchange of information would have benefitted both parties, if only Craven had engaged Ottoman women in conversation on equal terms.

Despite Micallef’s conclusion, Sunil Sharma’s chapter reveals that sometimes communication could be better achieved without conversation. Sharma’s work focuses on non-verbal communication in British women’s nineteenth-century travels in Iran and India. It suggests that, in fact, a basic knowledge of the local language could sometimes create other barriers. Sharma briefly explores how women communicated without language in the narratives of several authors. He suggests that one common problem, where some level of language was shared, was that conversations remained extremely superficial. Regarding Lady Mary Sheil (1825–1869), for example, Sharma explains that knowing a bit of Persian did not have a strong impact on her relationships. Rather, she became closer to the people she met through non-verbal communication, taking meals with them for instance. Similarly, Sharma shows how Gertrude Bell (1868–1926) bonded with the daughter of her host by walking in the garden hand in hand. This chapter brilliantly exemplifies how small body-language gestures could produce more genuine communication and often had more power to challenge hierarchies in these encounters.

Another unifying thread in this collection is the study of genre conventions as a form of acquiring and expressing knowledge. Uden’s chapter focuses on the fictional travels of Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818). He suggests Catherine fits the cultural role of the Gothic traveler: a traveler motivated by curiosity, interested in historical speculation, and fascinated by the theme of oppression. Uden traces the influence of Ann Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (1795) on Catherine’s account, a text that exemplified how a Gothic traveler engaged with and acquired knowledge. Uden shows that the Gothic traveler perspective was often used to highlight real dangers in the face of cliched tropes. The same notion of the Gothic traveler appears in MB Raycraft’s chapter on George Sand’s Winter in Majorca (1842). According to Raycraft, Sand visited Majorca informed by Romantic views of Spain as an anti-modern paradise. However, while staying there with her convalescent lover Chopin and her children, she found the island very challenging. Sand felt rejected by locals because she did not speak the dialect, and was disliked for living outside traditional gender roles and not attending church. She also found it difficult to get domestic help in the island and felt locals to be greedy. Raycraft contrasts this fear of unwelcoming villagers with the material everyday challenges Sand encountered as she became overwhelmed with household chores. For Raycraft, much like Catherine in Austen’s novel, Sand presented her experience as one of Gothic imprisonment, combining the ‘robinsonade’ and the Gothic travel narrative to make sense of her negative experience. In light of Micallef’s contribution to the volume, one interesting aspect that emerges from Raycraft’s essay, but was not explored, is how Sand’s narrative reflects an underlying entitlement. Sand’s demand that locals must be welcoming, and that locals mustwork as domestic help, suggests a conflicted relationship with those she encountered. Ultimately, the analysis reveals an expectation of hierarchy from Sand. Here, I believe, exploring Majorcan accounts of interactions with travelers could have added an illuminating layer to Raycraft’s analysis.

Encounters less marked by hierarchy can be found at the end of the collection, which closes with a fascinating translation to English of some letters by Nishat un-Nisa (also known as Begum Hasrat Mohani) to her daughter. Nishat un-Nisa is today remembered by her role in Indian independence, but these letters focus on her life as a devout Sunni Muslim. In this translation by Daniel Majchrowicz, Nishat un-Nisa recounts her travel with members of her family to Mecca and Medina. The letters reveal an observant religious traveler who does not establish strong hierarchies between herself and those she meets. Some remarkable passages include the author’s trips to the cinema in Baghdad, her observation of the modern clothes of Iraqi women, and the vaccination and quarantine requirements of each country. Describing to her daughter both everyday difficulties, like crowded trains, and more existential religious experiences, the letters shed light on women’s correspondence in Urdu and add a religious textual layer to the collection.

From Nishat un-Nisa’s troubles with bureaucracy to George Sand’s caring duties, this volume shows that travelers used different forms of knowledge to make sense of uncomfortable experiences. In the afterword to the volume, quoting Karen Blixen, Rebekah Mitsein calls this form of making sense of events ‘unity,’ that is, the act of creating something meaningful out of the encounter of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Worlds of Knowledge can be read as a volume that, by bringing together several topics unfamiliar to some readers, is itself an exercise on ‘unity.’ While each chapter might find a specialized reader, by looking at how these diverse writers used knowledge to create unity in their travels the volume remains open and cohesive enough to attract even those who have a passing curiosity for the peculiarities that can be found in these narratives.

Valentina Aparicio is a Lecturer in Romanticism at Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on women’s travel writing about Latin America and the Caribbean.

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.