Women’s Studies Group 1558 – 1837 2022 – 2023 Seminars

We are pleased to announce that we now have both in-person and zoom seminars.

In-person meetings. These will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, on Saturday afternoons. 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.

ZOOM meetings. These will take place on Thursday evenings and will be hosted by a member of the WSG committee. The session on Thursday 13 October 2022 is from 18:00 – 19:30 (British Summer Time),  with the waiting room opening at 17:45.  In 2023 the January  12th  & March 9th sessions will run from 19:00-20:30 (Greenwich Mean Time), with the waiting room opening at 18:45.

Thursday October 13, 2022 via ZOOM.  Waiting room opens 17.45 for 18:00 – 19:30 (British Summer Time) Host: Sara Read

Yvonne Noble: Anne Finch’s Mrs Randolph.

Valeria Viola: Eighteenth-century Global Domesticity. Don Luigi and Donna Caterina Riggio, Princes of Campofiorito.

Saturday November 12, 2022 at The Foundling Museum (12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

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

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

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

Saturday December 3, 2022 at The Foundling Museum (12:30 for 13:00 GMT)

Julia Gruman Martins: Between Manuscript and Print: Alchemical Recipes from Isabella d’Este to Isabella Cortese.

Eleanor Franzén: Selling Sex, Selling Stories: the Magdalen House Texts, 1758-1777.

Janette Bright: ‘A careful, motherly woman’ or ‘Prime Minister of the House’: assessing the status of Matrons at the London Foundling Hospital (1740-1820).

Thursday January 12, 2023 via ZOOM. Waiting room opens 18.45 for 19:00 – 20:30 (GMT) Host: Sara Read

Emanuele Costa: Pen and Paper, Not Needle and Spindle: Maria Gaetana Agnesi on Women’s Equality.

Lesley McKay: Widows fight the disruption of widowhood in Norway and its former territory, Shetland during the early sixteenth century.

Anna Ferrandez: Did Jane Austen Read Mary Wollstonecraft? A Comparative Study of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Austen’s Fiction.

Saturday February 4, 2023 at The Foundling Museum 12:30 for 13:00  GMT

Federica Coluzzi:  Epistolary networks of early women readers of Dante: a survey of the reading evidence.

Maria Grazia Dongu: Uses of Boccaccio and Shakespeare in Shakespear Illustrated by Charlotte Lennox.

Jennifer Germann: “At the tribunal of public and just criticism”: The Social and Scientific Networks of Margaret Bryan.

Francesca Saggini: On the Humble Writing Desk

Thursday March 9, 2023  via Zoom.  Waiting room opens 18.45 for 19:00 – 20:30 (GMT) Host: Trudie Messent

Karen Griscom: Lucy Hutchinson Reads Poetry and History in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Claudia Cristell Marin Berttolini: Sor María Anna Águeda de San Ignacio: a unique woman in 18th century Puebla.

Find our more about us on https://womensstudiesgroup.org

Please reply to Carolyn D. Williams on cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

Reminder: WSG Workshop Saturday 24 September 2022

The Women’s Studies Group Annual Workshop on ‘Women on the Margins 1558 – 1837’ will take place in-person on Saturday 24 September from 12:30 – 16:40 (BST) at The Foundling Museum,  40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ

Registration is now open on Eventbrite via this link, which will close on Friday 16 September 2022. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/womens-studies-group-1558-1837-annual-workshop-2022-tickets-400948657227

Late registrations may be possible by emailing the organiser, Miriam Al Jamil via wsgworkshop@gmail.com

Registration fees include lunch, refreshments, and entry to the Foundling Museum:  

£23 for non-WSG members; £19 for WSG members; £17 unwaged/student members


10:30 Doors open. Distribution of materials and refreshments.

11:00 Keynote – ‘On the Margins?: Interrogating the notion of marginal status in the Long Eighteenth Century by Dr Karen Lipsedge (Kingston University) & Dr Emma Newport (University of Sussex)

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch & time for participants to view the Foundling Museum (both included in fee)

1:15 – 15:45 Participant presentations (including tea break) Participants are invited to prepare a 5-minute presentation from any discipline, related to  ‘Women on the Margins 1558 – 1837’.

These presentations should focus on women, imaginary, fictional or real, who might be considered as being on the margins, or in borderlands, and the ways in which they experience, navigate, and/or disrupt this characterisation.  20 printed handouts and/or a couple of PowerPoint slides are helpful. Please email slides in advance to  wsgworkshop@gmail.com 

15:45 – 16:30 Summing up and closing discussions – Dr Karen Lipsedge & Dr Emma Newport

Email wsgworkshop@gmail.com with dietary requirements and any queries/late registration.

Call for papers from the Women’s Studies Group: 1558-1837 (2022-2023 season)

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is a small, informal, multidisciplinary group formed to promote women’s studies in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century. Established in the 1980s, the group has enabled those interested in women’s and gender studies to keep in touch, hear about one another’s research, meetings and publications, and meet regularly to discuss relevant topics. We organize regular meetings and an annual workshop (see membership application form) where members can meet and discuss women’s studies topics. We can also offer advice and opportunities to engage in activities that increase opportunities for publication, or enhance professional profies in other ways. The WSG is open to men, women, and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join the group and give papers.

The group now has two kinds of meeting.

In-person meetings. These will take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, on Saturday afternoons. We will be allowed into the room at 12.30 pm., Greenwich Mean Time, to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1.00 – 3.30 pm. So please arrive a little early if you can.

ZOOM meetings. These will take place on Thursday evenings and will be hosted by a member of the wsg committee. They will run from 7-8.30 pm, with the waiting room opening at 6.45 pm (British Summer Time Oct 13; Greenwich Mean Time Jan 12).

Topics can be related to any aspect of women’s studies: not only women writers, but any activity of a woman or women in the period of our concern, or anything that affects or is affected by women in this period, such as the law, religion, etc. Male writers writing about women or male historical figures relevant to the condition of women in this period are also a potential topic. Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome; so are topics from the early part of our period. We would also welcome how-to presentations for discussion: examples of suitable topics would include, but are not limited to, grant applications, setting up research networks, becoming a curator, co-authorship, using specialised data, and writing about images. Papers should be 20-25 minutes.

Dates of meetings:

Thursday October 13, 2022, Zoom  (British Summer Time)

Saturday November12, 2022, In-person (Greenwich Mean Time)

Saturday December 3, 2022, In-person (Greenwich Mean Time)

Thursday January 12, 2023, Zoom (Greenwich Mean Time)

Saturday February 4, 2023, In-person (Greenwich Mean Time)

Find our more about us on https://womensstudiesgroup.org Please reply to Carolyn D. Williams on cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

Domestic Space in Britain, 1750–1840: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion. Freya Gowrley. Review by Penelope Cave

Domestic Space in Britain, 1750–1840: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion. Freya Gowrley. London; New York; Dublin: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2022. Pp 266. 8 colour plates, and further illustrations. £80 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-5013-4336-0.

One should not assume that the pretty cottage ornée, on the cover of this book, is an eighteenth-century version of ‘Your Home made Perfect’. Freya Gowrley explores the notion of homely spaces with a depth of scholarship that is exceptional; it is a masterclass in close reading, as she provides ‘thick’ descriptions, going beyond the undoubted charm of her four visual case studies, to find and interpret, within each house, the rarefied history, context, and the particular emotions of its owner/s. In her excellent introduction, she outlines her intention to use a micro-historical methodology, one that interrogates large issues within the confined limits of her chosen material objects, in the wake of Clifford Geertz’s 1973 essay in The Interpretation of Cultures. Her opening image of a small, ceramic pastille burner, in the shape of a cottage, is a nice conceit to introduce the houses of the unconventional, heteronormative subjects that she will go on to study.

Her first section is entitled ‘Representation’, as she is particularly interested in how owners flaunted their homes and contents, and how others viewed and described what they encountered— letters and print are quoted as a crucial element in the dissemination of style and influence. The display of taste in conspicuous materiality, both in ownership and in its critical appreciation of contemporary culture, was thus made more widely available. Gowrley also uncovers interesting aspects of hospitality, sociability, gifting, tourism, letter-writing and identity formation, that are closely related to ownership of the country house, which are as significant in a study of the cottages and small houses presented here.

The four individual dwellings she has chosen, unique as each is in itself, connect to each other through their owners, whose exceptionally creative lives all side-stepped marital convention in their rural retirement, to lend a satisfying homogeneity to the collection. The first to be considered is Sandham Cottage, the ‘villakin’ at Sandown on the Isle of Wight that was owned by the former rake, radical journalist, and politician, John Wilkes, during the last decade of his life, from 1788–97, when his most valued relationship was with his daughter. Gowrley makes a very convincing case for the cause of a change in Wilkes’ previously wild reputation, owing much to the many written words about his expanded island property and its hospitality. Both private letters and contemporary publications inspired tourists to continue visiting, long after he died.

A la Ronde, near Exmouth in Devon, and Plas Newydd, Llangollen, in Wales are the case studies that form the second section of this book. Gowrley exemplifies the movement of both people and objects; tourism that commemorated personal travel in the first example, and the movement of objects in the form of gifts both incoming and outgoing in the second. A la Ronde was built from the specifications of two first cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter, after their extensive tour of the Continent from about 1784—91. Unlike Sandham Cottage, the unusual, sixteen-sided building has been conserved by the National Trust, but the alterations it underwent, after the deaths of the cousins (whose intention had been that it should pass only down the female line), by the Reverend Oswald Reichel, mean that the original thatched roof and limewashed exterior, so typical of the Devon vernacular, is no longer evident. Gowrley has chosen a building which I would describe as, itself, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, that houses a highly distinctive collection of personal and, indeed, curious, meticulously displayed souvenirs of their European experience, memorials of loved family members, and feats of female craftwork that, as she says, “evoke memory, experience, and narrative, and therefore … function biographically” (106).

Plas Newydd is taken into consideration as the setting for its occupiers, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, whose intimate friendship, domestic crafts and hospitality led to a generous gift exchange with their friends and visitors. As elsewhere, Gowrley airs diverse opinions on the nature of their relationship building a cultured friendship circle that included the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Southey. All chapters are well-supplied with illustrations, such as images of the original cottage, gothicised, but boasting the original stone outer walls, and the gift from Anna Seward of Romney’s Serena. Missing, I felt, was the addition of one of the many later items, merchandised as ‘The Two Ladies of Llangollen’ in their matching top hats, which would have emphasised the lasting celebrity of their ‘shrine to friendship’.

In the third section of the book, subtitled ‘Ownership’, Gowrley uses Horace Walpole’s highly creative, gothic masterpiece, Strawberry Hill, to explore legacy, and what she has earlier described as “a gesture of queer heirlooming” (13). The reasons for his decision to leave this property to Anne Damer, the daughter of his cousin (and close friend at Eton), Henry Seymour Conway, substantiate Walpole’s manner of assembling and personalising the idiosyncratic collection, and continuing the private theatricals. We are persuaded that it could only have been similarly perpetuated by the related sculptress whose work was already represented at “his darling Strawberry”, as Mary Berry, another major legatee, described it (205). Walpole described Mary and Agnes Berry as his “sister wives” (211), who were not only left Little Strawberry (once owned by another Walpole friend, the actress, Kitty Clive), but also his literary estate for them to produce a new edition. Walpole thus extended his coterie of cultural and emotional ties, to ensure longevity; the lamentable sale of Strawberry Hill’s contents in 1842 was probably what he most dreaded.

The Conclusion completes the book with descriptions of a valedictory dinner party given by Anne Damer’s mother before leaving her family home of Park Place, and following her departure, noting the emotional and material loss to her friends, of emptying the house, and a later description of a ball held there by the new inhabitants. Gowrley emphasises the strength of identity formed by the change of ownership. She quotes the text from the Parminters’ pottery jug, which perfectly aligns the life of an earthy object to that of the human span and reiterates the value of evocative objects in bereavement. Gowrley’s intention to view the four houses and their owners, through an historical and contextual lens, is meticulously achieved in this richly fascinating study; the multi-layered, emotional sub-texts invested in material objects are sensitively extracted and interpreted, to display meaningful domestic spaces, three of which outlived their owners.  

Penelope Cave

Penelope Cave gained her PhD from the University of Southampton in 2014, with a thesis on music in the English country house, and she was accepted as an Attingham Scholar, before working as a music advisor for the National Trust. She was also a visiting scholar at Wolfson College, Oxford from 2018–20, and in addition to numerous conference papers, her essays appear in a number of recent and forthcoming academic publications.

Review: WSG Seminar, 26th March 2022 at The Foundling Museum

Sophie Johnson: History’s ‘Other’ Sculptors: The Underrepresentation of Historic women sculptors (1558-1837) in the history of art

Charlotte Goodge: ‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the long eighteenth century

Moira Goff: Evered Laguerre: A Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

We returned to the Foundling Museum for our March seminar, after an absence of two years, to hear three outstanding papers and to enjoy an afternoon of lively and informative discussion. As so often happens, unexpected connections between the subjects emerged and we could certainly have continued our explorations for much longer. Sophie Johnson began by extemporizing on her research into women sculptors throughout the period covered by the Women’s Studies Group and beyond, to examine how the few who have found a place in art history have been represented and under what circumstances they forged a career in this overwhelmingly male-dominated art form. She discussed the amateur/professional binaries, the problems and risks surrounding the perceived transgressive nature of the art and emphasised curatorial practice and questions of mistaken attribution as crucial factors in the invisibility of women sculptors.

Charlotte Goodge tackled debates about corpulent women in the eighteenth century in the light of society’s expectations about women’s delicate nature and what kind of exercise was considered appropriate. She focussed on participation in the hunt and on mountaineering and walking, citing literary examples from Charlotte Lennox The Female Quixote (1752) and Thomas Love Peacock Crotchet Castle (1831). Through these literary examples, Goodge argued that the ‘fatness’ of their female protagonists was pointedly used to flag an immoderate excess in terms of over rather than under exercising. Contemporary anxieties about women’s over-enthusiastic exercise centred less on health risks and benefits and more on the fact that robust physical strength was perceived as characteristic of labouring people (especially labouring men), an undesirable outcome for women from the genteel classes. Women’s transgression in different forms was important in both these papers.

Moira Goff offered her findings on the life of the early eighteenth-century dancer, Evered Laguerre, whose remarkable career on the London stage lasted more than twenty years, from her debut at thirteen in 1716 to her final performances in leading dance roles for John Rich’s company in 1737 when she was only thirty-five. We had glimpses of her in a print depicting her dancing with Francis Nivelon in the pantomime Perseus and Andromeda (1731),and in a possible second representation as the ‘Lady dancing’ in Nivelon’s The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior (1737). During our discussion, Goff gave us further fascinating insights into the stage careers of young dancers and into the published dance notation for a Harlequin dance, perhaps related to The Necromancer; or, Harlequin Doctor Faustus (1723) in which Laguerre danced the part of ‘Harlequin Woman’.

The papers demonstrated the difficulties of finding women in the archives, but the importance of pursuing the research if we are to recognise their contributions, a perennial problem faced by those working on women’s history. They also highlighted the delicate line between compliance and error, recognition and notoriety and the inescapable judgements of a patriarchal system. Our thanks to all three presenters, and to those who joined us at the seminar.

Miriam Al jamil