Women’s Writing special issue on Janet Todd launch

In June at Mansfield College, Oxford, Ros Ballaster and Ruth Perry held the launch for their special issue of Women’s Writing, a festschrift in honour of Professor Janet Todd.  WSG member Angela Escott was there to hear Janet reflect on a life in scholarship.

Front cover of Women's Writing
Front cover of Women’s Writing

WSG has had a close association with the journal Women’s Writing since its early days. The Editor, Marie Mulvey-Roberts, was a member of WSG, and she encouraged other members to contribute papers given at our Saturday sessions or annual one-day workshop. In 2010 some of us co-edited a special issue in honour of Mary Waldron, an active committee member. Now current and former WSG members are contributors to a special issue in honour of Professor Janet Todd, the pioneering scholar of Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, and a Founding (now Consultant) Editor of WW. The celebration took the form of an interview by Marie of her distinguished colleague in an imposing hall at Mansfield College, Oxford. Ros Ballaster, co-editor of the issue and fellow WSG member, hosted the event which included a reception and a banquet dinner.

Marie questioned Janet about her life and her extensive travelling both as a child and during her academic career. Janet spoke of the patronising attitudes towards women when she was a student at Cambridge University, and women were confined to three female undergraduate colleges. She told of the impossibility of choosing Mary Wollstonecraft as a PhD subject, so she wrote instead on John Clare. The only feminist theory being studied when she began her career was that of the French feminists, Irigaray, Kristeva and Cixous. Todd bravely defended Anglo-American “socio-historical” feminist criticism and also challenged the jargon of New Historicism. A pioneer in the study of women writers, Todd founded a journal Women and Literature which can be considered a forerunner to Women’s Writing.

She described the pressure under which she published her Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800, the immense and significant project she conceived and researched extensively by herself, and she spoke self-effacingly of the number of times she had read ‘erroneously mentioned by Janet Todd’ in references to the women covered in her Dictionary. In a question about role-models she described sharing a platform with Germaine Greer who towered above her in height and whose confidence she admired. Although female networks were an important part of her own research, and Marilyn Butler was a close friend, no network of women academics existed to provide support for Janet early in her career, particularly as she was working in the USA, Ghana, Bermuda and Puerto Rica. Finally, she spoke of her recent first venture at writing fiction, and of the lack of pressure to publish at the beginning of her career. Marie ended by reminding us of the impressive publication list of this inspiring academic, including the multi-volume editions of the works of Behn, Wollstonecraft and Austen.

Want to read more? The special issue of Women’s Writing is available here, with a subscription.  Ros Ballaster tweets as @BallasterRos.

WSG seminar series 2016-2017

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is pleased to announce the speakers for their seminar series 2016-17.  Please note the change of dates this year to the third Saturday of each month, and we have also added a fourth date in March for the presentation of “works in progress”.  All seminars will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum afterwards.

Saturday 17th September, 2016. Chair: TBC
Brianna Elyse Robertson-Kirkland: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746 – 1810) and his female operatic students.
Judith Page: Austen and Shakespeare: Mansfield Park, Shylock, and the ‘exquisite acting’ of Edmund Kean.
Lucy Gent: What is becoming in Mansfield Park? Jane Austen and Cicero’s De Officiis.

Saturday 19th November, 2016. Chair: TBC
Valerie Schutte: Celebrating the 500th Birthday of Queen Mary I in Manuscript Images.
Emma Newport: Interplay and Interpretation: Lady Banks’s “Dairy Book” and the collection and collation of Chinese Porcelain.
Chrisy Dennis: “We were born to grace society: but not to be its slaves”: Chivalry and Revolution in Mary Robinson’s Hubert de Sevrac, A Romance of the Eighteenth Century (1796).

Saturday 21st January, 2017. Chair: Lois Chaber
Charlotte Young: “Our Wives you find at Goldsmiths Hall”: Women and sequestration during the English Civil War.
Helen Draper: Mary Beale and the Performance of Friendship.
Mascha Hansen: Beyond Marriage: Envisioning the Future in Women’s Writings, 1660-1830.

Saturday 18th March, 2017 (works in progress). Chair: TBC
Madeleine Pelling:That Noble Possessor”: The Pursuit of Virtuous Knowledge and its Materials in the Collection of Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-1785).
Erica Buurman: Almack’s ballroom and the introduction of European dances.
Angela Escott: Hannah Cowley’s “dramatic talents” employed in her epic poem of the Napoleonic Wars, The Siege of Acre (1801).

For further information, see our seminars page, or contact the organiser Carolyn D. Williams.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.