Featured

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.

Call for Seminar Speakers

Call for papers from the Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 (2022-2023 season)

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

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

Call for papers from the Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 (2022-2023 season)

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is a small, informal, multidisciplinary group formed to promote women’s studies in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century. Established in the 1980s, the group has enabled those interested in women’s and gender studies to keep in touch, hear about one another’s research, meetings and publications, and meet regularly to discuss relevant topics. We organize regular meetings and an annual workshop (see membership application form) where members can meet and discuss women’s studies topics. We can also offer advice and opportunities to engage in activities that increase opportunities for publication, or enhance professional profies in other ways. The WSG is open to men, women, and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join the group and give papers.

The group now has two kinds of meeting.

In-person meetings. These will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, on Saturday afternoons. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30 pm., Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1.00 – 3.30 pm. So please arrive a little early if you can.

ZOOM meetings. These will take place on Thursday evenings and will be hosted by a member of the wsg committee. They will run from 7-8.30 pm, with the waiting room opening at 6.45 pm (British Summer Time Oct 13; Greenwich Mean Time Jan 12).

Topics can be related to any aspect of women’s studies: not only women writers, but any activity of a woman or women in the period of our concern, or anything that affects or is affected by women in this period, such as the law, religion, etc. Male writers writing about women or male historical figures relevant to the condition of women in this period are also a potential topic. Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome; so are topics from the early part of our period. We would also welcome how-to presentations for discussion: examples of suitable topics would include, but are not limited to, grant applications, setting up research networks, becoming a curator, co-authorship, using specialised data, and writing about images. Papers should be 20-25 minutes.

Dates of meetings:

Thursday October 13, 2022, Zoom  (British Summer Time)

Saturday November12, 2022, In-person (Greenwich Mean Time)

Saturday December 3, 2022, In-person (Greenwich Mean Time)

Thursday January 12, 2023, Zoom (Greenwich Mean Time)

Saturday February 4, 2023, In-person (Greenwich Mean Time)

Find our more about us on https://womensstudiesgroup.org Please reply to Carolyn D. Williams on cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

Domestic Space in Britain, 1750–1840: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion. Freya Gowrley. Review by Penelope Cave

Domestic Space in Britain, 1750–1840: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion. Freya Gowrley. London; New York; Dublin: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2022. Pp 266. 8 colour plates, and further illustrations. £80 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-5013-4336-0.

One should not assume that the pretty cottage ornée, on the cover of this book, is an eighteenth-century version of ‘Your Home made Perfect’. Freya Gowrley explores the notion of homely spaces with a depth of scholarship that is exceptional; it is a masterclass in close reading, as she provides ‘thick’ descriptions, going beyond the undoubted charm of her four visual case studies, to find and interpret, within each house, the rarefied history, context, and the particular emotions of its owner/s. In her excellent introduction, she outlines her intention to use a micro-historical methodology, one that interrogates large issues within the confined limits of her chosen material objects, in the wake of Clifford Geertz’s 1973 essay in The Interpretation of Cultures. Her opening image of a small, ceramic pastille burner, in the shape of a cottage, is a nice conceit to introduce the houses of the unconventional, heteronormative subjects that she will go on to study.

Her first section is entitled ‘Representation’, as she is particularly interested in how owners flaunted their homes and contents, and how others viewed and described what they encountered— letters and print are quoted as a crucial element in the dissemination of style and influence. The display of taste in conspicuous materiality, both in ownership and in its critical appreciation of contemporary culture, was thus made more widely available. Gowrley also uncovers interesting aspects of hospitality, sociability, gifting, tourism, letter-writing and identity formation, that are closely related to ownership of the country house, which are as significant in a study of the cottages and small houses presented here.

The four individual dwellings she has chosen, unique as each is in itself, connect to each other through their owners, whose exceptionally creative lives all side-stepped marital convention in their rural retirement, to lend a satisfying homogeneity to the collection. The first to be considered is Sandham Cottage, the ‘villakin’ at Sandown on the Isle of Wight that was owned by the former rake, radical journalist, and politician, John Wilkes, during the last decade of his life, from 1788–97, when his most valued relationship was with his daughter. Gowrley makes a very convincing case for the cause of a change in Wilkes’ previously wild reputation, owing much to the many written words about his expanded island property and its hospitality. Both private letters and contemporary publications inspired tourists to continue visiting, long after he died.

A la Ronde, near Exmouth in Devon, and Plas Newydd, Llangollen, in Wales are the case studies that form the second section of this book. Gowrley exemplifies the movement of both people and objects; tourism that commemorated personal travel in the first example, and the movement of objects in the form of gifts both incoming and outgoing in the second. A la Ronde was built from the specifications of two first cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter, after their extensive tour of the Continent from about 1784—91. Unlike Sandham Cottage, the unusual, sixteen-sided building has been conserved by the National Trust, but the alterations it underwent, after the deaths of the cousins (whose intention had been that it should pass only down the female line), by the Reverend Oswald Reichel, mean that the original thatched roof and limewashed exterior, so typical of the Devon vernacular, is no longer evident. Gowrley has chosen a building which I would describe as, itself, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, that houses a highly distinctive collection of personal and, indeed, curious, meticulously displayed souvenirs of their European experience, memorials of loved family members, and feats of female craftwork that, as she says, “evoke memory, experience, and narrative, and therefore … function biographically” (106).

Plas Newydd is taken into consideration as the setting for its occupiers, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, whose intimate friendship, domestic crafts and hospitality led to a generous gift exchange with their friends and visitors. As elsewhere, Gowrley airs diverse opinions on the nature of their relationship building a cultured friendship circle that included the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Southey. All chapters are well-supplied with illustrations, such as images of the original cottage, gothicised, but boasting the original stone outer walls, and the gift from Anna Seward of Romney’s Serena. Missing, I felt, was the addition of one of the many later items, merchandised as ‘The Two Ladies of Llangollen’ in their matching top hats, which would have emphasised the lasting celebrity of their ‘shrine to friendship’.

In the third section of the book, subtitled ‘Ownership’, Gowrley uses Horace Walpole’s highly creative, gothic masterpiece, Strawberry Hill, to explore legacy, and what she has earlier described as “a gesture of queer heirlooming” (13). The reasons for his decision to leave this property to Anne Damer, the daughter of his cousin (and close friend at Eton), Henry Seymour Conway, substantiate Walpole’s manner of assembling and personalising the idiosyncratic collection, and continuing the private theatricals. We are persuaded that it could only have been similarly perpetuated by the related sculptress whose work was already represented at “his darling Strawberry”, as Mary Berry, another major legatee, described it (205). Walpole described Mary and Agnes Berry as his “sister wives” (211), who were not only left Little Strawberry (once owned by another Walpole friend, the actress, Kitty Clive), but also his literary estate for them to produce a new edition. Walpole thus extended his coterie of cultural and emotional ties, to ensure longevity; the lamentable sale of Strawberry Hill’s contents in 1842 was probably what he most dreaded.

The Conclusion completes the book with descriptions of a valedictory dinner party given by Anne Damer’s mother before leaving her family home of Park Place, and following her departure, noting the emotional and material loss to her friends, of emptying the house, and a later description of a ball held there by the new inhabitants. Gowrley emphasises the strength of identity formed by the change of ownership. She quotes the text from the Parminters’ pottery jug, which perfectly aligns the life of an earthy object to that of the human span and reiterates the value of evocative objects in bereavement. Gowrley’s intention to view the four houses and their owners, through an historical and contextual lens, is meticulously achieved in this richly fascinating study; the multi-layered, emotional sub-texts invested in material objects are sensitively extracted and interpreted, to display meaningful domestic spaces, three of which outlived their owners.  

Penelope Cave

Penelope Cave gained her PhD from the University of Southampton in 2014, with a thesis on music in the English country house, and she was accepted as an Attingham Scholar, before working as a music advisor for the National Trust. She was also a visiting scholar at Wolfson College, Oxford from 2018–20, and in addition to numerous conference papers, her essays appear in a number of recent and forthcoming academic publications.

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.