Reminder: WSG seminar October 2021

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 9 October 2021 (BST).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Charlotte MacKenzie

Mary Broad – the creation of a Cornish legend

The life of Mary Broad has been the subject of biographies, fiction, and film. Her experiences were exceptional by any account. Mary Broad was one of few women convicted as a highway robber in eighteenth century Devon; transported on the first fleet to New South Wales; escaped with her husband William Bryant, two young children, and seven fellow convicts all of whom survived a 69 day voyage in an open boat from Port Jackson to Timor; lost her husband and both children to illnesses; was returned to Britain where her case attracted the active support of James Boswell to obtain her pardon and release; and then came home to some of her family in Cornwall.

This paper considers the reasons why Boswell’s efforts to raise financial contributions for the freed Mary Broad / Bryant was his last lost cause. It is partly thanks to the ‘great biographer’ and
attorney’s habits as a notary, that we know as much as we do – and can discover more – about
Mary Broad’s origins and some of her fellow escapees. Boswell’s friend William Johnson Temple, who was a Cornish vicar, was the first to observe that Mary Broad’s ‘perils & escape exceed the fictions of poetry’ while voicing doubts that he would be able to raise any money for her locally.

Mary Broad / Bryant’s life story assumed epic proportions through many partly fictional retellings. This is a documentary not a drama. It uncovers Mary Broad’s actual origins as a Cornish forester’s daughter, explores who the victim of the ‘highway robbery’ Agnes Lakeman was, and considers Mary Broad’s legacy and impacts on two of her Fowey relations: the London Society missionaries James and William Puckey who sailed for Tahiti three years after Mary returned home with extraordinary tales to tell.

Marissa C. Rhodes

Tender Trades: Wet Nursing and the Intimate Politics of Inequity in the Urban Atlantic, 1750-1815

In this comparative project, I use the London and Philadelphia wet nurse trades from 1750-1815 as access points into the intersectional processes of class- and race-formation in Anglo-Atlantic cities. The project uses large stores of seemingly trivial data and cutting-edge digital methodologies to build intimate and narrative-driven histories of ordinary people’s lives. I found that, in an era of unprecedented proportions of domestic service, the homes of the respectable classes served as venues for intimate negotiations that established and reinforced gender, race, and class hierarchies in the Anglo-Atlantic world.

Crystal Biggin

Editing Eighteenth-Century Letters: Anna Barbauld’s Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (1804) and Women Novel Critics

This paper examines the presentation of women as novel critics in Anna Barbauld’s 1804 edition of Samuel Richardson’s correspondence. As an editor and literary critic herself, Barbauld was particularly attentive to the ambiguities that she thought characterised Richardson’s relationships with women writers and readers in the middle of the eighteenth century. In the first volume’s lengthy introductory essay, Barbauld cautiously described Richardson as ‘a friend to mental improvement in women’ as well as admitting that ‘he sometimes betray[ed] a mean opinion of the sex in general.’ She also drew on an unflattering contemporary portrait of him as somebody who ‘took care always to be surrounded by women, who listened to him implicitly, and did not venture to contradict his opinions’, as Boswell had recorded being discussed by Dr. Johnson. Barbauld challenged these claims by repositioning women in dialogue with Richardson. She framed his female correspondents as inseparable from his success as an epistolary novelist by arguing that ‘they were his inspirers, his critics, his applauders’ and by emphasising how ‘the ladies he associated with were well able to appreciate his works. They were both his critics and his models’. These were polemical statements which likewise offered comment on Barbauld’s place both as biographer and as editor in constructing perceptions of the author and his correspondents for future generations. My exploration of these interrelated issues draws on Richardson’s manuscript correspondence in the archives at the V&A, London, as well as the paratextual apparatuses of Barbauld’s edition. It seeks to shed light on women writers as novel critics by considering how letter-writers like Dorothy, Lady Bradshaigh, who exchanged a remarkable number of letters with Richardson while his novels were still works-in-progress, helped pave the way for women like Barbauld to gain wider acceptance as literary critics by the end of the eighteenth century.

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

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