Reminder: WSG seminar 5 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.

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