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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.

WSG 2020-21 Seminar Series

Recent blog posts

In memory of Deirdre Gillian Gina Le Faye 26 October 1933-16 August 2020 by Gillian Dow (University of Southampton)

Upcoming Publication: Princesses Mary and Elizabeth Tudor and the Gift Book Exchange by Valerie Schutte

WSG Mentoring Scheme

Now open!

Book review

Angelica Kauffman. Edited by Bettina Baumgärtel. With contributions by Inken Maria Holubec, Johannes Myssok and Helen Valentine. Munich: Hirmer Publishers. 2020. £35 / $45 (hardback), ISBN: 978-3-7774-3462-9 (English edition). Reviewed by Hannah Lyon.

Online event reviews

Chawton House Lockdown Literary Festival, 15-17 May 2020

Reminder: WSG seminar December 2020

The third seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 5 December 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

December 5, 2020
Daniel Beaumont: Melancholy and Despair among Early Modern English Women: A case study of Hannah Allen’s Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683).

In an age where mental health is receiving more attention than ever, it is essential to remember that perceptions of mental health are themselves historical constructions. This paper examines a key part of that historical construction in early modern England, exploring the case of Hannah Allen, who, according to her published narrative Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683), suffered from temptations by the Devil and a “deep melancholy” for much of her life. Allen’s striking and disquieting narrative traces her decline into life-threatening despair, in which she believed herself worthless and a “cursed reprobate”, before describing her gradual recovery and restoration of faith. Amidst a field still largely dominated by research into medical and spiritual treatises and literary works written by men, Allen’s text offers a rich opportunity for exploration into the perceptions and mentalities of melancholy and despair amongst early modern women and their communities.
This paper asks how we might best explore this work, paying attention to the textual structure and context of production as well as the substance of the narrative itself. I present two underexamined lines of inquiry: The first is the cultural and religious lens through which Allen perceived her own state of mind and the ways in which she presents that state to the reader. This interpretive schema exhibits a complex combination of ideas about Allen’s despair and melancholy that is informed by, but not restricted to, contemporary physiological and spiritual theories and authorial customs. The second line of investigation examines the glimpse the text provides into the social and emotional communities surrounding melancholy and mental distress amongst non-aristocratic English women of the seventeenth century at a local and familial level. Crucially, such attitudes seldom appear in the more frequently examined medical or religious treatises on melancholy, and what scholarship there is on Allen’s text has largely refrained from examining this more social aspect of her narrative. However, if we wish to understand the place and conceptualisation of this “affliction” (as Allen describes it) among early modern English women, an investigation into both areas is essential.

Yvonne Noble: Elizabeth Elstob, Mary Delany, and Money.

Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

An analysis of the literature written to celebrate Queen Mary I’s accession makes clear that several genres of writing were used and each seemed to have a different audience in mind. Of course, there were royal proclamations, such as those that announced both Jane and Mary as Queens of England, meant to be read or heard by all. Ballads, which were mass produced “because of people’s interest in the news and because of a genuine mood of celebration.” There were both official and non-official letters shared among Mary, her council, and all of the resident ambassadors, each meant for their specific recipient. Sermons were given and often later printed in Latin, meant for a learned audience, specifically those interested in the religious ramifications of Mary’s accession. And, plays and panegyrics were written and performed at court, meant for an audience of courtiers that surrounded Mary and even for Mary herself.

For the purposes of this essay, I am going to look at the broadsides, ballads, and pamphlets that were produced to celebrate Mary’s accession. These short, often single-sheet, texts were meant for a broad audience and essentially served to spread the news of Mary’s accession, as well as give a brief account of what had happened since the death of Edward. Often, they stressed the treasonous activities of Northumberland, almost never mentioning Jane at all, and they attempted to assuage concerns over possible changes in religious policy. Many were printed in the immediate aftermath of Mary’s proclamation as Queen, and give insight into the most pressing concerns for both Queen and country at that moment. Overwhelmingly, these popular texts concluded that Mary’s hereditary right was of the utmost importance, never questioning that right on the basis of her gender.

These ballads, broadsides, and pamphlets were what spread the news of Mary’s accession and both reinforced and guided the popular reaction to it. I will pull out the themes and commonalities of these popular sources, which are predominantly accepting of Mary as Queen. I suggest that popular sources produced at Mary’s accession were all generally positive about and accepting of Mary as Queen, based on dynastic tradition and her lineage. Any anti-government tracts produced at Mary’s accession were not against Mary’s accession per se, but were often Protestant works that tended to be anti-Catholic and not Mary-centric.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar 21 November 2020

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 21 November 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

November 21, 2020

Rocio Martinez: To defend a princess’s rights to her father’s throne: Maria Theresia of Austria and the protestations against her renunciation of the inheritance of the Spanish Monarchy.

When infanta Maria Theresia of Austria was married by proxy to her cousin, king Louis XIV of France, in 1659, she was forced by her father to sign a renunciation to all her rights to the Spanish Throne for herself and her descendants. The Spanish Monarchy’s succession law established that women could inherit the throne if they didn’t have any surviving brothers or if they died without any descendants, so Maria Theresia, as the eldest daughter of king Philip IV of Spain, was the first woman called to her father’s succession if he was to die without any surviving sons. Philip IV only had, at the time of Maria Theresa’s marriage, one son that could separate the soon-to-be queen of France from the Spanish Throne, so this renunciation was designed to avoid the possibility that Louis XIV and the recently wed infanta could become one day the legal heirs of the Spanish Monarchy. Despite the fact that the document itself tried to protect Maria Theresia’s rights, saying that, if she became a widow without having any children and came back to Spain, her rights as the eldest daughter of the monarch would be totally restored, the point of it was to prevent the union of France and the Spanish Monarchy under one crown if the scarce male descendants of king Philip IV of Spain were to die without any legitimate descendants. This renunciation was negotiated with the French court, was included in the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, was considered as a law and treated as such by the Spanish government, and Louis XIV promised his uncle that he would ratify it after the marriage was finished, although he didn’t honour this last promise. In fact, Louis XIV began to protest against the renunciation as soon as the marriage was finished and the new queen was in France. There were numerous legal treaties, diplomatic dispatches and formal documents where the king argued that his wife and, later, his son and grandson, were the rightful heirs to the Spanish Monarchy and that her renunciation was totally invalid from a legal, diplomatic and dynastic point of view. But in this proposal, I want to present a document in which the French king presented more that seventy five reasons why the rights of his wife couldn’t be erased and she was the rightful heiress of the Spanish Monarchy, with the intention of going beyond this specific case and analyse how the royal women’s rights of succession were defended, protected and, ultimately, viewed in the complex scenario of the Early Modern Europe.

Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.

This paper examines the brief interactions between Vathek, the protagonist of William Beckford’s Vathek, and the Giaour, a racialized other who travels to Vathek’s kingdom of Samarah. Vathek is depicted as a monstrous masculine figure with a humongous appetite and an ‘evil eye’ that can shock people into a state of unconsciousness. The failure of Vathek’s ‘evil eye’ to police the Giaour’s identity, and orient the Giaour in relation to himself, to make him apprehensible within the particular space of his kingdom, disrupts Vathek’s monstrous power and the disorienting affect of his “terrible,” Medusa-like gaze (Beckford 3)1. This paper juxtaposes Max Fincher’s analysis of Vathek’s fixation on regulation of bodies and his disorienting, and thus queering (Ahmed) gaze with Homi Bhabha’s theorization of the evil eye as it functions to other racial bodies.

Following this, I will then introduce Sara Ahmed’s concept of disorientation and suggest that averting gaze of the subject gives subjective agency to the object and, consequently, disorients the subject. This paper defines the queer under gaze as refusing to be objectified and instead asserting their own subjectivity by rejecting that gaze and its disorienting affects. This paper investigates Vathek’s failure to interpret the Giaour, the Giaour returning Vathek’s gaze by staring back at him, and its relation to Vathek’s inability to translate the inscriptions on the sabres he bought from the Giaour.

This double-failure to translate the sabres puts Vathek in a disoriented state, resulting in his loss of appetite, a metaphoric and literal indicator of his monstrous masculinity. Without translation, there is no degree of intervention by the subject. In that moment of disjointedness, the Giaour’s unreadability threatens the impact of Vathek’s gaze and power. When Vathek stares at the Giaour, and the Giaour gazes back at him, Vathek loses his appetite and fears his wives being seduced by the Giaour’s appetite. Vathek’s identity and orientation become vulnerable to be affected and shifted without his consent.

1 Beckford, William. Vathek, edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788) is a play which unites two very different worlds. It is a romantic comedy full of fairytale elements, set in exotic India. At the same time, it deals extensively with facts of eighteenth-century life, even those which reflect an uncompromising and often brutal reality – including the marriage market and the slave trade. The play often shifts rapidly between two different tones: the light, entertaining witticisms of eighteenth-century comedy, and incisive political commentary reminiscent of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works.

In this paper, I will show how Starke strikes a delicate balance between romance and reality, using the popular conventions of the London stage to comment on life in the British colonies. The outwardly fictional nature of stage comedy enabled Starke and other playwrights to use it as a vehicle for serious discussions about the real world. The Sword of Peace shows particularly clearly that although entertainment and politics were supposedly two separate spheres, eighteenth-century playwrights and theatre audiences were happy to combine both.

By demonstrating the play’s extensive engagement with contemporary and social issues, I will argue that eighteenth-century female playwrights were especially interested in putting politics on the stage – even though contemporary gender roles and theatre regulations officially prevented this.

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

WSG Mentoring Scheme: Get your applications in!

Scheme now open! Deadline 15th January 2021

Academia is becoming an increasingly competitive environment and some may feel at a loss when it comes to developing new research projects, producing publications, building networks and curating knowledge exchange events/resources. All of these activities are an important part of scholarly work and can help build a lucrative research portfolio (no matter the field). Yet, graduates may struggle to find specific support in these areas, especially if they do not belong to an institution.  

The WSG recognise that among its members is a diverse community with a wealth of expertise and experience, as well as those who would benefit from collegial support. With this in mind, we are implementing a mentoring scheme. The scheme hopes to pair mentees and mentors from similar fields to work together on one or more goals. A goal could be a mentee seeking advice on developing a fellowship application or a funding application, or perhaps developing a new research project, writing an article or book proposal or developing a knowledge exchange activity. We also strongly encourage mentees to work with their mentor to develop a WSG bursary application.

For further details, please see our mentoring scheme page.

Reminder: WSG seminar November 2020

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 21 November 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

November 21, 2020
Rocio Martinez: To defend a princess’s rights to her father’s throne: Maria Theresia of Austria and the protestations against her renunciation of the inheritance of the Spanish Monarchy.

When infanta Maria Theresia of Austria was married by proxy to her cousin, king Louis XIV of France, in 1659, she was forced by her father to sign a renunciation to all her rights to the Spanish Throne for herself and her descendants. The Spanish Monarchy’s succession law established that women could inherit the throne if they didn’t have any surviving brothers or if they died without any descendants, so Maria Theresia, as the eldest daughter of king Philip IV of Spain, was the first woman called to her father’s succession if he was to die without any surviving sons. Philip IV only had, at the time of Maria Theresa’s marriage, one son that could separate the soon-to-be queen of France from the Spanish Throne, so this renunciation was designed to avoid the possibility that Louis XIV and the recently wed infanta could become one day the legal heirs of the Spanish Monarchy. Despite the fact that the document itself tried to protect Maria Theresia’s rights, saying that, if she became a widow without having any children and came back to Spain, her rights as the eldest daughter of the monarch would be totally restored, the point of it was to prevent the union of France and the Spanish Monarchy under one crown if the scarce male descendants of king Philip IV of Spain were to die without any legitimate descendants. This renunciation was negotiated with the French court, was included in the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, was considered as a law and treated as such by the Spanish government, and Louis XIV promised his uncle that he would ratify it after the marriage was finished, although he didn’t honour this last promise. In fact, Louis XIV began to protest against the renunciation as soon as the marriage was finished and the new queen was in France. There were numerous legal treaties, diplomatic dispatches and formal documents where the king argued that his wife and, later, his son and grandson, were the rightful heirs to the Spanish Monarchy and that her renunciation was totally invalid from a legal, diplomatic and dynastic point of view. But in this proposal, I want to present a document in which the French king presented more that seventy five reasons why the rights of his wife couldn’t be erased and she was the rightful heiress of the Spanish Monarchy, with the intention of going beyond this specific case and analyse how the royal women’s rights of succession were defended, protected and, ultimately, viewed in the complex scenario of the Early Modern Europe.

Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.

This paper examines the brief interactions between Vathek, the protagonist of William Beckford’s Vathek, and the Giaour, a racialized other who travels to Vathek’s kingdom of Samarah. Vathek is depicted as a monstrous masculine figure with a humongous appetite and an ‘evil eye’ that can shock people into a state of unconsciousness. The failure of Vathek’s ‘evil eye’ to police the Giaour’s identity, and orient the Giaour in relation to himself, to make him apprehensible within the particular space of his kingdom, disrupts Vathek’s monstrous power and the disorienting affect of his “terrible,” Medusa-like gaze (Beckford 3)1. This paper juxtaposes Max Fincher’s analysis of Vathek’s fixation on regulation of bodies and his disorienting, and thus queering (Ahmed) gaze with Homi Bhabha’s theorization of the evil eye as it functions to other racial bodies.

Following this, I will then introduce Sara Ahmed’s concept of disorientation and suggest that averting gaze of the subject gives subjective agency to the object and, consequently, disorients the subject. This paper defines the queer under gaze as refusing to be objectified and instead asserting their own subjectivity by rejecting that gaze and its disorienting affects. This paper investigates Vathek’s failure to interpret the Giaour, the Giaour returning Vathek’s gaze by staring back at him, and its relation to Vathek’s inability to translate the inscriptions on the sabres he bought from the Giaour.

This double-failure to translate the sabres puts Vathek in a disoriented state, resulting in his loss of appetite, a metaphoric and literal indicator of his monstrous masculinity. Without translation, there is no degree of intervention by the subject. In that moment of disjointedness, the Giaour’s unreadability threatens the impact of Vathek’s gaze and power. When Vathek stares at the Giaour, and the Giaour gazes back at him, Vathek loses his appetite and fears his wives being seduced by the Giaour’s appetite. Vathek’s identity and orientation become vulnerable to be affected and shifted without his consent.

1 Beckford, William. Vathek, edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788) is a play which unites two very different worlds. It is a romantic comedy full of fairytale elements, set in exotic India. At the same time, it deals extensively with facts of eighteenth-century life, even those which reflect an uncompromising and often brutal reality – including the marriage market and the slave trade. The play often shifts rapidly between two different tones: the light, entertaining witticisms of eighteenth-century comedy, and incisive political commentary reminiscent of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works.

In this paper, I will show how Starke strikes a delicate balance between romance and reality, using the popular conventions of the London stage to comment on life in the British colonies. The outwardly fictional nature of stage comedy enabled Starke and other playwrights to use it as a vehicle for serious discussions about the real world. The Sword of Peace shows particularly clearly that although entertainment and politics were supposedly two separate spheres, eighteenth-century playwrights and theatre audiences were happy to combine both.

By demonstrating the play’s extensive engagement with contemporary and social issues, I will argue that eighteenth-century female playwrights were especially interested in putting politics on the stage – even though contemporary gender roles and theatre regulations officially prevented this.

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

Review of WSG Seminar, 19 September 2020 by Miriam Al Jamil

The first seminar of our 2020-2021 programme took place via zoom on 19th September. It was an inspiring start, with papers from Stephen Spiess, Sonia Villegas Lopez and Anthony Walker-Cook (see programme) and our usual lively discussion to follow. The papers represented research into the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which covers most of the period with which the group is concerned. There were many interesting connections between them through their discourses on shaping narratives of power and chastity by monarchs and mistresses, and their sensual evocations of the beguiling incense of the seraglio and the grease and smoke of the country house kitchen.

Stephen Spiess presented an intriguing discussion of the ‘sexual conversion narrative’, the manipulation of female chastity as a status which could be regained and rewritten. He used the example of Anne Boleyn who was executed as a ‘harlot’ but was quietly reinstated as a chaste wife at the time of her daughter Elizabeth I’s coronation. Ecclesiastical records reveal at the other end of the social scale, the 1589 case of Ursula Shepherd who publicly repented her ‘whoredom’ and vowed ‘hereafter to lead a chaste life’. Spiess asked how this renewed ‘chastity’ might have been accepted by the community and effected in practice. He is interested in the social formation that constructed the ‘epistemology of the whore’ in early modern England as part of an ongoing project. Questions after his paper focussed on the continual making and remaking of sexual representation, the traditions of whore narratives such as that of Mary Magdalen and on the patriarchal institutions which formulated the narratives and why. Legal and religious structures, but also the fact that
women themselves were often the loudest accusatory voices were discussed, and the flexibility of spousal contracts which might condone pre-marital sex if formal marriage then took place. Chastity was clearly a fluid idea, composed of complex socially agreed and reinterpreted meanings.

The beautiful oil paintings which accompanied Spiess’ presentation deserve a mention. Sonia Villegas Lopez examined the idea of libertinism in the seventeenth century which was seen as primarily a male transgression but one which female writers such as Behn and Haywood increasingly redefined (see Laura Linker, Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730). Lopez based her argument on two ‘Oriental’ or as Lopez prefers
‘transnational’ texts by Sébastien Brémond, Hattige, or the Amours of the King of Tamaran (1680) and Homais, Queen of Tunis (1681) which were thinly veiled critiques of Charles II’s court and the power of royal mistresses. Though at the boundaries of society, the women used their bodies to shape the opportunities which their confined lives presented, and to exploit the fallibilities of the
monarchs who ostensibly control them. The novels play with cross-dressing and multiple identities and show sexuality and politics as almost interchangeable. Ideas raised in discussions after the paper included the possibility that class was more important than gender in novels which featured
kings who raised lower status women to positions of power. This female power could safely be discussed in settings of ‘far-away places’. It was pointed out that Behn’s work demonstrates many of the prejudices against women, not least in terms of age and power. For example, Onahal, the old
wife of the king in Oroonoka, retains much of her power though relegated to second place and communicates with Oroonoko on behalf of Imoinda.

Anthony Walker-Cook took us into the eighteenth century and on a journey to the Underworld and the Mock-heroic as a way of writing in the epic mode through the work of Sarah Fielding and Mary Leapor. He analysed their use of Classical references, particularly from Homer and Virgil. We looked at Fielding’s The History of the Countess of Dellwyn (1759) which uses the references to frame commentary on her contemporary world, one which mirrors the chthonic confusion and dark recesses of myth and its powerful stories. Mary Leapor employs the tradition of ‘katabasis’ (descent)
in her poem Crumble-Hall to take us into the lower levels, the domain of the lower classes, workers and domestics who labour unseen like so many hideous mythological figures. She constructed ‘female narratives within a classical space’, where Sophronia kneads her dough and

‘thro’ her Fingers squeeze
Ambrosial Butter with the temper’d Cheese:
Sweet Tarts and Pudden. Too, her Skill declare;
And the soft Jellies, hid from baneful Air’

(in A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry, ed. Christine Gerard, 2006, p.209).

Who could resist those tarts and ‘puddens’?! During the discussion, the tone of the poem was compared to Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s Washing Day (1797). The translations of Classical work, particularly Horatian Odes by Bluestocking women and the lesser known Mary Goddard were mentioned.

The particularly harrowing image of Hector’s dead body dragged behind a chariot in The Iliad sparked several examples in womens’ writing, notably Mary Wortley Montagu in her poem Saturday (1747) which conjures up the horror in a meditation on the effects of smallpox:

‘A glass in her right hand she bore,
For now she shunned the face she sought before.
‘How am I changed! Alas! How am I grown
A frightful spectre, to myself unknown!’ (line 1-6)

Thanks are due to all the speakers and to the host and chair of our first zoom meeting as a group. If this was a taste of what is to come, we can expect an exceptionally erudite and stimulating season of papers!