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. Since it was established in the 1980s, the group has enabled those interested in women’s and gender studies to keep in touch, to hear about one another’s research and publications, and to meet regularly to discuss relevant topics.
We organize regular weekend seminars and an annual workshop at the Foundling Museum, 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 profiles in other ways.
For our 2017-18 seminars, we invite papers 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, applying for grants, setting up research networks, becoming a curator, co-authorship, and writing about images. The seminar dates are:
Saturday 23rd September, 2017, 1-4pm
Saturday 18th November, 2017, 1-4pm
Sunday 14th January, 2018, 1-4pm
Sunday 11th March, 2018 1-4pm (work in progress or how-to presentations particularly welcome at this session).
Please note the first two are Saturday and the last two Sunday sessions. The full address for the Foundling Museum is 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ. We are allowed into the room at 12.30pm to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1-4pm. So please arrive a little early if you can. The WSG is open to men, women, and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join our group and to give papers.
The Women, Money and Markets (1750-1850) conference took place at Kings College, London on 11 May 2017 and three WSG members formed one of the panels delivering papers, writes Johanna Holmes. Co-ordinated by Miriam Al Jamil, the panel spoke on married women’s use of their moveable property as security in the credit market in eighteenth-century Scotland (Rebecca Mason, University of Glasgow), women painters constructing careers in the art world of the period 1820-1850 (Johanna Holmes, Royal Holloway) and Eleanor Coade, a woman who meant business in decorative stonework in the eighteenth century (Miriam al Jamil, Birkbeck College).
The conference was extremely well-attended – an estimated 100 or so delegates and panel speakers, including international delegates who had made a special trip. In view of this, conference organisers Emma Newport and Amy Murat also facilitated a visit for delegates the following morning to the Foundling Museum, a trip partly inspired by WSG’s connections there.
With a total of twelve panel sessions and two plenary lectures, it was a long and busy day, but the number and enthusiasm of delegates ensured that every panel had a good-sized (and discerning) audience, and that speakers found plenty to stimulate their thoughts when not on the platform. The full programme and speaker details can be found on the event website. Audio will be available shortly.
The WSG panel’s personal highlights of the day included:
The consistency of a number of themes emerging from the discussions, particularly in recognising women’s agency in a wide range of business activities in various forms of family and business relationships with men – this was history with women in equal focus
The opportunity to share research and emerging thoughts with other enthusiastic delegates.
WSG member Carolyn Williams gave a paper independently, on women and their makeshift ways of making money, which was full of illuminating quotes and anecdotes about the lengths to which women had to go in order to survive.
So WSG were well represented at the conference. Many thanks to our speakers!
The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 annual workshop took place at the Foundling Museum on 6 May, with the theme this year of “The fruitful body: gender and image”, keynote speaker Karen Hearn speaking in the morning on ‘Women, agency and fertility in early modern British portraits’, and presentations relating to the theme from participants and discussion in the afternoon. The following report contains references to pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility and bereavement, which some readers may find distressing.
After tea and coffee conference organizer Miriam al Jamil introduced the keynote. Karen is a former Curator of 16th and 17thC British Art at Tate and is currently Honorary Professor at UCL. At Tate she curated several major exhibitions and is now planning a project on early modern representations of pregnancy for early 2019. Karen gave a wide-ranging and fascinating talk focusing on painted portraits of elite British women. She suggested the difficulties of researching these images, as few sources such as diaries or account books that might explain the intention behind and reception of these portraits survive, and the portraits themselves are constructs, the product of decisions as to what to include as well as what to leave out, and thus can be misleading. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot by looking closely and critically at these images.
Early modern elite men and women commissioned portraits for a variety of reasons and life events, and genres such as the marital portrait and maternity portrait are well known, argued Karen, but the pregnancy portrait is less studied. It was popular during the Elizabethan and Jacobean period and Karen showed workshop participants a number of images by artists such as Marcus Gheeraerts II and Hans Eworth. Eworth painted a portrait of Mildred Cooke Cecil, Lady Burghley pregnant with what would turn out to be her son Robert in 1563, which is now in Hatfield House. Cecil had miscarried several times prior to this successful pregnancy, by contemporary standards she was an older mother and the portrait represented the continued hopes of the family that she would produce a male heir.
Themes of loss and gain ran throughout Karen’s talk. Pregnancy was a risky time for early modern women and its representation would be freighted with fears of miscarriage or death, but also hope for or in celebration of a successful birth. These portraits therefore suggest interesting questions and interpretive challenges as to time – when were such portraits began, late in pregnancy when it was likely a woman would carry to term, or earlier? When were they ended, before or after the birth? Did some paintings end up as memento mori, if the mother died? And since women were pregnant so often, were pregnancies actually routinely erased in the process of representation?
Lunch was followed in the afternoon by participants’ 5-minute presentations and discussion (for images and comments from the day, see the twitter hashtag #wsg2017). The chair Felicity Roberts had organized speakers into broadly chronological and thematic groups of three, and in the first Jennifer Evans discussed early modern aphrodisiacs, followed by Sara Read on diagnosing early modern pregnancy and Carolyn Williams on seventeenth-century pregnancy cravings or ‘Pica’. Carolyn described how women who claimed cravings for exotic fruit were suspected of exaggerating this desire, exploiting the special status that being pregnant brought in what might be termed an early modern “power play”.
In the second group of presentations, Helen Draper described the 17thC professional portrait painter Mary Beale’s art practices, and detailed how a portrait of her cousin-in-law Alice Beale by the artist Peter Lely, was finished after her death by having other female family members sit as model instead. Sara Ayres discussed the gendered portrayal of elbows in early modern royal portraits, while Rosemary Keep looked at the prevalence of maternity, where the mother is shown with her children, over paternity portraits. These presentations provoked questions concerning the ir/replaceability of women subjects.
Following this, Rebecca Whiteley looked at early modern anatomical images of the gravid uterus, which functioned “analogically”, depicting the uterus as ripe fruit. Helen Hackett described early modern male poets’ use of pregnancy metaphors to describe the labour of literary invention, while Helen Hopkins discussed some uses of maternity in Shakespeare’s plays. Clearly there were rich resonances between visual and literary metaphors of early modern pregnancy.
Just before the break, Jasmine Losasso discussed the representation of female homicides in 1630s broadsides, noting the way their bodies were still described as maternal, thus making their crimes seem more monstrous.
Gillian Williamson looked at images of landladies in the mid-18thC, including a lurid print of a real life case in which a landlady was murdered by her lodger, an artist, after a disagreement about… her portrait, which he had undertaken. Yvonne Noble described the 1730s actress Anne Oldfield’s directions for her burial clothes, arguably her last great performance.
After a break for tea and coffee, Annette Rubery discussed a print of the actress Peg Woffington closely modelled on earlier images of Nell Gwyn. Charlotte Keighron considered the eighteenth-century gentlewoman Sarah Hurst, her diaries and emotional relationships to clothes she wore and made, while Louise Duckling looked at the choices the late eighteenth-century poets Charlotte Smith and Helen Maria Williams made concerning their public images. This group of presentations suggested how the comparative availability of resources for studying 18thC portraiture and material culture gives the researcher greater scope for determining the relative agency of women in shaping their own reputations, representations and identity.
Next Carol Stewart discussed Henry Fielding’s Amelia and the presence of men during childbirth in the eighteenth century, while Angela Escott described the actress Sarah Siddons’ maternal roles and her use of her own son as her fictional child on the stage. Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou looked at William Blake’s representation of the soul as a female figure.
In the last group of presentations, Georgina White discussed the establishment of the Society for Lying In Women in the early nineteenth century, while Moira Taylor looked at women’s efforts to provide inheritances for female relatives during the same period. Finally, Joanna Crosby brought the workshop to a close with a storming presentation on Victorian paintings and the role of apples in gendering images of women as fallen, including this one by the artist Augustus Egg, where the woman seems to reach out of the frame towards the viewer. It had been a whistle-stop tour of women, gender, portraiture and identity from the early modern through to the mid-Victorian period, but many fruitful connections were made.
 For a famous example of an early modern woman’s commission of her own portrait, see Karen Hearn, ‘Lady Anne Clifford’s “Great Triptych”‘, in Karen Hearn and Lynn Hulse (eds), Lady Anne Clifford: Culture, Patronage and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Leeds, 2009), 1-24.
 For further information see Karen Hearn, ‘A fatal fertility? Elizabethan and Jacobean pregnancy portraits’, Costume 34 (2000), 39-43.
In February, WSG began an occasional series interviewing group members about their research and influences. This month we’re speaking to Andrew McInnes. The interviewer was Felicity Roberts and the conversation took place over email.
Hi Andy, tell me a bit about yourself.
I’m a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Edge Hill. My research interests include Romantic period women’s writing, the geographies of Gothic fiction, and children’s literature. My first monograph, Wollstonecraft’s Ghost: The Fate of the Female Philosopher in the Romantic Period has recently been published. In a weird way, this combines all of my interests: the book explores Wollstonecraft’s legacy on Romantic period writing; it does so by focusing on the way she seems to haunt women’s writing of the early nineteenth century; and she is a profound thinker about the urgent need to improve the education of children: to prepare boys and girls to be critically thinking citizens – as necessary now as then!
What’s your current research?
At the moment, I’m dividing my time between two projects: one on how Austen continues to engage with the Gothic, beyond Northanger Abbey, by positioning it in different locations – London, Ireland, the Mediterranean, Antigua, fairy land – away from the geographies of her novels; the other looks at how contemporary children’s literature makes use of the past in ways which move beyond nostalgia.
I haven’t read beyond Austen’s major novels but will you be using any of her juvenilia for instance? I loved Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship last year (an adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan), and wondered why nobody had done it before.
I love that film! It presents such a different vision of Austen from most other adaptations, focusing more on her satirical wit, verging towards cynicism at times. I read an interview with Kate Beckinsale, who plays Lady Susan in the movie, and she felt the character was full of rage, which I think is a new perspective on Austen. We still tend to think of her like Virginia Woolf did, as the cool, stylish one, contrasted with Charlotte Bronte’s anger, but I want to think about an angrier, more awkward Austen, railing against the injustices her heroines face.
Tell me about a formative influence on your work; it could be a person, a book, an exhibition, or a piece of advice.
My PhD supervisors, Jane Spencer and Adeline Johns-Putra (who also supervised my MA on Wollstonecraft’s Letters from Sweden) remain my models of how to be academics: pastorally and personally supportive, intellectually and academically challenging, excellent scholars both.
I know of Jane! She’s written some great stuff on the links between 18thC natural history and natural rights. I think 18thC women’s studies and ecocriticism have a lot to say to each other.
Yes, Jane was moving into Animal Studies over the course of my PhD – I remember she presented a paper on the orangutan in one of Peacock’s novels! She was a fantastic supervisor, shaping the development of my ideas through patient, scrupulous, and encouraging discussion.
What’s your own personal recipe for researching or writing successfully?
I think I’m yet to discover the perfect recipe but I find writing the first draft of a piece of work the closest I can get to transcendence in this fallen world.
Are there any support networks you’ve found useful?
I’d be a hopeless wreck without my wife, Abbi McInnes, and my writing would be a hopeless wreck without the editing skills of my friend and PhD peer, Rebecca Mills.
(Interviewer’s note – Rebecca researches 20thC poetry and geography – proving you don’t have to be an expert in your friend’s field to be able to critique a friend’s writing. In fact, it often helps not to be)
Finally, what’s the last thing you read or saw – it doesn’t have to be work-related?
I’m writing a lecture on the Romantic Self and have decided to tackle Wordsworth’s The Prelude- and in Andrew Bennett’s Wordsworth in Context, in an essay by Maureen McLane called ‘Wordsworth Now’, I stumbled upon a poem by Bob Perelman called ‘Fake Dreams: The Library’ which captures my divided feelings towards Wordsworth’s undeniable power and awfulness, ending in obscenity.
Obscenity! Do you mean Perelman’s poem ends in obscenity or your feelings towards Wordsworth do?! I know he’s frustrating at times…
‘Fake Dream: The Library’ begins with a couple trying to have sex in a library, against the collected works of Wordsworth, which allows the speaker to engage in a poetic critique of Wordsworth’s self-representation. It ends in a men’s room with the speaker’s partner pointing out obscene graffiti, which McLane argues in ‘Wordsworth Now’ is Perelman’s surprisingly sympathetic rewriting of Wordsworth’s desire to write in ‘the real language of men’. I remember hating Wordsworth as an undergraduate, but one of the pleasures of growing up is changing your mind about things: now, I find parts of The Prelude – the ‘Crossing the Alps’ episode, for example – extraordinarily powerful poetry: both vertiginous and precisely ordered.
Keynote Speaker: Karen Hearn, UCL “Women, agency and fertility in early modern British portraits”
Early modern painted portraits are constructs. They result from a series of choices – what to include, what to exclude – made to suit specific contexts and purposes. Karen’s paper will consider 16th and early 17thC British portraits of women, addressing the types of information they offer to present-day users/viewers.