Reminder: WSG seminar February 2021

The fifth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 20 February 2021.

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.

February 20, 2021
Sarah Ailwood: ‘In justice to myself’: Legal and Textual Subjectivities in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Memoirs.

Costas Douzinas identifies the modern legal subject as both subjectum – the subject of the law – and subjectus – or subject to the law: simultaneously participating in law’s authorial creation, and obedient to its command.[1] Historically, however, women have occupied a status that is more subjectus than subjectum: as placed under the law’s authority with few opportunities to participate in its creation or authorisation. In this paper, I explore how, from the mid-eighteenth century, women began to contest their status as subjectus to the law through the writing, publication and dissemination of memoirs that interrogated their experience of the substance and process of law. Although women’s memoirs addressing the law and justice questions by the so-called ‘scandalous memoirists’, actresses and celebrities have received some scholarly attention, memoirs by comparatively little-known women that explicitly targeted law have been overlooked. Yet these memoirs offer a rich opportunity to explore relationships between gender and legal and textual subjectivities in the context of burgeoning print culture in eighteenth-century England.

From mid-century, women appropriated the newly emerging genre of the published memoir to publicise their experience of the law and justice system, to contest the subjectivity constructed of them and authorised as ‘fact’ by legal process, and to counter the representation of this subjectivity within the newspaper and periodical press. The published memoir offered women an opportunity to discursively construct an alternative self framed through reference to legal ‘norms’ as well as the emerging conventions of the memoirs genre. In this paper I will particularly focus on two memoirs that reveal women’s discursive negotiation of legal and textual subjectivities: The True State of the Case of Sarah Rippon (1756), by Sarah Rippon, a middle-class widow who published her memoir after a protracted series of law suits triggered by her husband’s death, to contest both the injustice she experienced through the court system and her representation as a litigant within wider public culture; and The Memoirs of Mrs Anne Bailey (1771), in which a woman living on the social margin details the violence inflicted upon her by high-profile men and her experiences of summary justice and the bridewell. If, as is widely argued, legal subjects are produced and imagined through language and law, memoirs by these and later eighteenth-century women reveal the centrality of the published memoir genre not only to women’s construction of textual subjectivity, but also to their conceptualisation of legal subjectivity and its relationship to power.

[1] Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century (Hart Publishing 2000) 216–22.

Daisy Winter: “I who am but dust”: mortal fear in Elizabeth Delaval’s ‘Memoirs and Meditations’.

Known as a memoirist and Jacobite, Lady Elizabeth Delaval (1648? -1717) left a manuscript volume of memoirs and meditations that provide a fascinating insight into the often-unhappy life of a devout seventeenth-century gentlewoman. Biographies of Elizabeth have largely focused upon her failed romances and later, loveless marriage. While these real-life events certainly contributed to her unhappiness and induced her to write, this paper will instead consider Elizabeth’s expressions of anxiety in relation to a persistent, psychological trigger: her fear of the passage (and therefore, loss) of time. In the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth centuries, the mode of recording time increasingly “called attention away from endpoints and invested it in middles” (Stuart Sherman, Telling Time, 1996). ‘Memoirs’ responds to this trend for recounting the “middle” of one’s life, and Elizabeth records daily events and actions in detail. However, her fixation with time goes beyond the daily – thanatophobic paranoia often overwhelms her writing. Trying to make sense of her usage of time is, for Elizabeth, as much a reflection of her anxiety over her mortal “endpoint” as an urge to record. In a close reading of two key moments of Elizabeth’s manuscript, the chronophobic poem ‘Upon the singing of a lark’, and a morbid account of parasitic infection, this paper will explore the ways in which Elizabeth’s writing confronts the ephemerality of life and the inevitability of her own mortality.

Valentina Aparicio: Maria Graham’s Journal of a residence in Chile (1824): a transnational community of women.

Maria Graham became a widow in 1822, on her way to Valparaiso as the wife of the captain of HMS Doris. When arriving at Valparaiso, Graham decided to stay in Chile for a year and live by herself in the port in a rented cottage. She spent her time writing her Journal, as she travelled central regions of the newly independent country. In the ‘Preface’ of the journal, she expressed that she hoped to fill a gap in knowledge with her publication.  She considered most of the accounts on Chile to be tainted by political interests. She, on the other hand, wished to show that ‘there is so much of good in that country, so much in the character of the people and the excellence of the soil and climate’ (iv). As a widow, British traveller, artist, and female intellectual, Graham found herself able to socialise with people of different social stations, providing a variety of very complete accounts of Chilean life. Her positive depictions of people in Chile cover from countryside workers to the half-Irish president of the country, Bernardo O’Higgins. Graham’s accounts are particularly interesting regarding other women, their occupations, and education. My paper will focus particularly on this subject. Graham’s Journal provides several sympathetic descriptions of the life of women in the early republic of Chile – a subject ignored by male writers of the period, both European and South American. Graham’s Journal sheds light on the lives of women from creole aristocracy, creole lower classes, and women of indigenous backgrounds. While an inequality of power is inevitably present in these accounts, Graham’s work creates a remarkable sense of a community of women with her Chilean peers – including herself, the female pottery-makers of Pomaire, the high-society creole women of Santiago, the indigenous wife of the cacique of Yupeo, amongst many others. I will argue that the rich accounts of Chilean women found in Graham’s work provide a glimpse into an early nineteenth-century sense of female solidarity and understanding that goes beyond imperial divisions, as Graham places both herself and her peers in one shared space of female-centred dialogue.

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

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