Reminder: WSG seminar March 2021

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 20 March 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.

March 20, 2021
Cheryll Duncan: ‘Much want of judgment’?: new evidence concerning the singer Jane Barbier.

The contralto Jane Barbier enjoyed a long and illustrious career on the London stage, performing in Italian and English operas, masques, pantomimes and afterpieces at leading theatres between 1711 and 1740. Her personal life was subject to some colourful contemporary comment, particularly in response to her reported elopement in 1717. This paper presents a number of archival discoveries which significantly expand Barbier’s known biography; these include new information about her family, the man with whom she eloped, her financial activity and details of the contract for her final season at Covent Garden. The findings prompt a reassessment of Barbier’s reputation and allow a more nuanced portrait of the singer to emerge.

Maria Clara Pivate Biajoli: Understanding Current Readers’ Reception of Jane Austen through Fan Fiction.

Over the last two decades, mostly due to the “Austenmania” encouraged by several TV and movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s work during the 1990s, an overwhelming amount of sequels, variations, and modern retellings have been produced by fans who were not satisfied with the six completed novels Austen has left us. They constantly bring their favorite characters back to life by giving them new stories, new settings, new problems to solve, but never missing the chance to relive all the emotions created by their happy ending. Since Pride and Prejudice is, today, Austen’s most popular novel, it should be no surprise that it is also the one with the greatest number of sequels and variations. Fans have taken Elizabeth and Darcy from adventures with pirates to a shelter for the homeless in Canada, always making sure that their love would conquer it all.

Although the happy ending is indeed the destiny of all of Austen’s heroines, it is difficult to say for sure that it was the main purpose of their journey in the novels. On the contrary, many critics have argued that there are complex issues present in Austen’s text that we risk disregarding when we look only at the love story. Although Austen has probably never been more popular than today (a “global brand”, according to Janet Todd), this phenomenon was built on a very specific image of the author – the writer of romantic and naïve novels. Since the love story is exactly what current fan fiction focuses on, it can be said that they are both part of the cause and the consequence of the loss of other “Austens” in the public’s mind, such as her social criticism and acute perception of gender roles in her society.

This paper will address then the paradoxical question of how current fan fiction helps to promote Austen’s long-term popularity and, at the same time, her death. By presenting examples from sequels, variations, and modern adaptations, I will explore how the analysis of fan fiction can further our understanding of the current reception of Austen’s work. My premise is that fan-authors rewrite the novels according to their interpretation of the story, highlighting aspects they like, seeking repetition of the pleasures of the first reading, and changing or excluding aspects they didn’t like. In this sense, fan fiction could be a strategic source of information to answer the famous question “Why Austen”.

Miriam al Jamil: The Grand Duchess of Tuscany’s Birth Days: Weary and Waiting at the Florentine Court.

The late eighteenth-century Court of Leopold II, Arch Duke of Tuscany does not receive much scholarly attention in its own right. Leopold’s wife Maria Luisa attracts even less interest. Described as gentle and kind, she fades into the background of the wider political picture, as she quietly fulfils her duty and produces children destined for strategic dynastic Hapsburg marriages.

However, archival research into the State Papers records between Whitehall and Sir Horace Mann, British Resident in Florence, has enabled an unanticipated focus on Maria Luisa’s life through Mann’s regular reports and observations on the Ducal Court. His presence there for the frequent birth days of Maria Luisa’s children, together with details of her health and birthing practices offer insights which are unavailable elsewhere. His comments also counter the assumption that Maria Luisa did not participate in Court functions and ceremony.

This paper both charts the Ducal couple’s lives together and celebrates the potential for archival material to contribute to a range of hitherto untapped historical inquiry.

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