Reminder: WSG Seminar on Saturday 12 November 2022 at The Foundling Museum (12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

This is an in-person meeting. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30, Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 13.00 – 15.30. Please arrive between 12:30 and 13:00. There is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.

The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Chair: Miriam Al Jamil

Three paper titles and abstracts

Tia Caswell: “La Reine en Chemise”: The Deployment of Female Agency and the Construction of Marie-Antoinette’s Public Image as the Natural Woman.

The aim of this paper is to examine the construction of Marie-Antoinette’s public image as the “Natural Woman” through the lens of the infamous portrait “la Chemise de la Reine” by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, exhibited in 1783 at the Paris Salon. 

I would like to begin with an explanation of how I intend to use the terms “image” and “identity” in the sphere of my research. I argue that images suggest though they do not define identity. Physical images (paintings, portraits, propaganda) are projected to the public and play an integral part in identity construction. We begin with the image: the image is central to the construction of the overarching “public image” and of the external identity; it is the first thing that the public receives and reacts to. It is through the circulation of images (in multitude) that we see the potential that the image as a media source has to shape and navigate the public reception of a monarchical figure. “Image” and “public image” have certain nuances of meaning; I use the term “image” to refer to the stand-alone physical picture that is projected to the audience, whereas I use the term “public image” to refer to the ambiguously expressed attitudes and opinions that the physical pictures evoke.

Clémentine Garcenot: The impact of the French Revolution on aristocratic family life.

This paper will explore the impact of the French Revolution on the aristocratic family through a literary analysis of the marquise de la Rochejaquelein’s Memoirs (1885). Scholars such as M. Darrow or S. Desan have perceived the Revolution as a watershed responsible for the metamorphosis of family life, progressing from an Ancien Régime model characterised by coldness and ambition to a republican one consisting in loving spouses and parents. The Memoirs are a hitherto ignored yet fascinating source covering the period before and during the Revolution. Through them, I observe the progression of sentiment in aristocratic family life, focusing specifically on women. Rochejaquelein describes her upbringing by loving parents and gives an account of her love-match before tackling the challenges posed by the Revolution to these relationships. Thus, I will demonstrate that the shift from one model to another was gradual rather than radical.

Building on Darrow’s and Desan’s works, I will consider the circumstantial difficulties which complicated women’s roles as wives and mothers. In order to avoid imprisonment and death during the Revolution and subsequent Vendean war, aristocratic women were constantly uprooting their homes and upsetting their family life. Faced with the loss of household staff, they paradoxically enjoyed domestic bliss, becoming closer to their husband and taking care of raising their children by themselves for the first time. However, the circumstances also provoked miscarriages or led them to become widows. Therein lies the tension in this domestic transformation. I will argue that the latter was appreciated but also a source of grief.

Carolyn D. Williams: Problems with Reading Plays: Degradations and Redemptions of Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

This session is devoted to papers on aristocratic and royal women who are devoted to their families, lead exemplary private lives, and yet are subject to scandal and are tried and condemned for crimes of which they are innocent. I have chosen a fictitious example, Hermione, the Queen Consort of Sicilia, in Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragicomedy, The Winter’s Tale.  He would have thought of it as a tragicomedy because it has a happy ending overall, which makes it a comedy, but two characters who appear on stage die in the course of the action: Mamilius, Hermione’s young son, and Antigonus, the husband of Paulina, a court lady who is Hermione’s trusty friend.  I interested in the ways in which misreadings of the play can lead people who are inexperienced in reading drama to misunderstand Hermione: consequently it begins as a how-to paper, considering some general techniques that can help people get the most out of play texts in general. Finally, I would like to open up a creative pathway for further explorations of the themes and situations under discussion. 

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

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