Review: WSG Seminar (25 September 2021) by Miriam Al Jamil

This is a review of the WSG seminar that took place on 25 September 2021. The speakers were:

  1. Valerie Schutte: Anachronistic representations of Edward Underhill
  2. Helen Leighton Rose: Women’s subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757
  3. Matthew Reznicek: Healing the Nation; Women, Medicine and the Romantic National Tale
  4. Norena Shopland: Women Dressed as Men

Abstracts of the speakers’ papers are available to read here.

Our 2021-2022 Seminar season began with an excellent selection of papers from four speakers, ostensibly on a variety of unrelated topics and yet subtle connections emerged through the discussion.

Valerie Schutte’s paper examined the afterlives of Gentleman Pensioner Edward Underhill’s 1561 memoir which traced his life as a Protestant under Mary I’s reign, beginning with his arrest for publishing a now lost ballad at her accession in 1553. Elements of the memoir later appeared in John Strype’s 1721 Ecclesiastical Memorials which was used by Agnes and Elizabeth Strickland in their Lives of the Queens of England, From the Norman Conquest, With Anecdotes of Their Courts (London: Henry Colburn, 1845) and by the prolific writer W.H. Ainsworth in his popular The Tower of London (London: Bentley, 1840). Schutte offered Underhill’s devotion to the queen in spite of his anti-Catholicism as a more nuanced alternative to the standard view of hostile Protestant reaction to Mary. The nineteenth-century writers she examined were sympathetic to Mary, citing her marriage to Philip II of Spain as the source of Protestant oppression throughout her reign, although Charles Dickens’ unequivocal characterisation of ‘bloody Queen Mary’ still prevails as part of the national historical narrative.

In the discussion Schutte expanded on archival evidence of ballads against Mary I, citing twenty surviving examples, handwritten on cheap paper, most in single copies at the Society of Antiquaries. The writers were persecuted, though some of their ballads no longer exist. Underhill’s Catholic friends gave him the nickname ‘the Hot Gospeller’, a term picked up on by Ainsworth. Schutte also noted that the Strickland sisters’ romantic study of the Queens of England focused on them as women rather than simply as wives, which makes the book unusual.

Helen Leighton Rose’s paper presented her ongoing work on cases brought before the Scottish Kirk in two localities. She discussed the different recorded cases brought before the sessions, the types of moral offences and forms of punishment. The crimes included adultery, for which the punishment was six appearances wearing sackcloth in a public place of repentance, and fornication which involved three appearances. The ultimate sanction, meted out to a woman who repeatedly refused to appear was ‘lesser excommunication’, which meant she was shunned by her community, denied marriage, baptism or a funeral and banished from her place of birth. Rose pointed out that this had serious implications for accessing poor relief. The case studies revealed intriguing facts about women who were unafraid of accusing and naming the men implicated in their crimes, and who defied the punishments meted out to them. They also highlighted the fact that wealthy men could often avoid embarrassing personal repercussions by helping their pregnant victims circumvent the kirk disciplinary system and give birth in arranged lodgings in Edinburgh, while they themselves could evade punishment by paying fines. The case studies brought the individual women uncovered from the archives vividly to life.

Discussion points included the role of the well organised private lodging houses in Edinburgh, which require more research. A question was asked about cross-dressing as a recorded crime, and Rose has not found this or homosexuality mentioned in the records yet. The rich subject of her research clearly offers many different rewarding paths for future work.

Our third paper centred on Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806) Vol. I, II and Vol. III,   

and Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui, or Memoirs of the Earl of Glenthorn (1809).

The paper interrogated the idea of healing as a potentially feminist intervention. Reznicek gave a close reading of these novels, in the light of the social and economic conditions of Ireland which contributed to high mortality in nineteenth-century cholera outbreaks, and the concept of a healthy social body composed of healthy individuals to which the woman as healer made a crucial contribution. Owenson’s novel is usually cited as the first ‘national tale’, but is not usually interpreted as a story of sickness and healing (See for example, discussions in:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-companion-to-the-irish-novel/national-tale-and-allied-genres-1770s1840s/7195FADCF1F85A2DB7E05A43EE49A15E [accessed 28 September 2021]).

Reznicek suggested that Owenson’s use of the word ‘physicianer’ to describe her character Glorvina was a deliberate subversive one to challenge contemporary male-dominated medical practice. The plot of the novel reveals that the threat of disease and religious fervour in the Prince of Inismore character makes his integration into the new social body impossible. Edgeworth used fever as a potent metaphor with multiple meanings. Her novel Ennui poses literature as the remedy of ennui as a disease. Once again, the woman is healer within the plot and in the broader context of the national social body.

Discussion ranged from the disabled body in Romantic fiction such as the Waverley novels, to Swift’s The Story of the Injured Lady in which ‘Ireland’ is the wronged virgin and ‘Scotland’ is the sickly rival for marriage to ‘England’, in Swift’s critique of marriage.

Our final paper was an overview of Norena Shopland’s writing projects, specialising in LGBT history, highlighting pertinent issues for many researchers into womens’ history. The instability of terminology and changes of definitions over time means that it can be difficult to find people from the past, particularly in the case of women living their lives as men, dressing, and working as men, unrecorded and marginalised. Shopland mentioned such celebrated cases as Hannah Snell, the soldier; Mary Anne Talbot or John Taylor, a sailor; and the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Other unidentified women later worked as navvies on the railways or as bricklayers, etc. The pay was better for men’s work, and it could be a short-term solution to hardship.

During a lively question session, the point was made that the literary cross-dressing heroine usually returns to heteronormativity after her escape to follow her lover is resolved in the plot. The detective work necessary to uncover archival sources for the anonymous women and the confusion over national traditions of dress which might be interpreted as more male than female; the infantilisation of women as a subtext in the ‘breeching’ of boys who progressed to adulthood and left their sisters behind; breeches parts for women in the theatre; and the hazards of labouring as a man with the vulnerabilities of the female body were all topics addressed. The interesting textual alteration made to the 16th century Geneva Bible which described Adam and Eve using fig leaves to make themselves breeches showed the sensitivity to gender-appropriate terms, when it was illegal for a woman to take men’s clothing.

As usual, the discussion could have continued well beyond time. We found all the papers stimulating and thought provoking. Our thanks to all the participants, and we look forward to more insights into WSG speakers’ research in the months to come.

-Miriam Al Jamil

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.

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.

Speakers:

Charlotte MacKenzie. Mary Broad – the creation of a Cornish legend

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

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

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

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

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.

Valerie Schutte

Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Upon Queen Mary I’s accession on 19 July 1553, Edward Underhill, a Gentleman Pensioner under Henry VIII and Edward VI, was arrested for producing an anti-Catholic ballad, interrogated by the Privy Council, and served one month in prison. Yet he went on to serve as a Gentleman Pensioner during Wyatt’s Rebellion and at Mary’s wedding. In 1561, he wrote a memoir of his life beginning with this arrest. His memoir received much historical attention in the mid-nineteenth century, as it was reproduced several times in both extracts and its entirety. This culminated in two high-profile publications in the 1840s, one historical and one fictional. The first of which was William Harrison Ainswoth’s novel, The Tower of London (1840). In this novel, Ainsworth emphasizes Underhill’s zealous religious convictions. He is an outspoke supporter of Jane Grey, who eventually gets burnt at the stake on Tower Green for his beliefs. Five years later, the Strickland sisters mention Underhill in their Lives of the Queens of England.

In this presentation, I will offer a textual transmission of Underhill’s memoir from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as well as analyze the memoir for Underhill’s service to the crown. I will focus my time on the anachronisms employed by Ainsworth in his presentation of Underhill. Ainsworth describes Underhill as an “enthusiast,” which would have held distinct meaning for his Victorian audience, suggesting an extravagance applied to dissenting religion. Ainsworth carefully crafted Underhill’s character through religious anachronism to show his disapproval of religious fanaticism, for both Protestant extremism, as well as Mary’s Catholicism. In Ainsworth’s depiction, Underhill is the first victim of religious persecution in Mary’s reign and is a symbol of all that was to come.

 Hampton Court Conference 1604

 First, The Church of England since the abolishing of Popery hath ever held and taught, and so doth hold and teach still, That the Sign of the Cross used in Baptism, is no Part of the Substance of that Sacrament: For when the Minister dipping the Infant in Water, or laying Water upon the Face of it (as the manner also is) hath pronounced these Words, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the Infant is fully and perfectly Baptized: So as the Sign of the Cross being afterwards used, doth neither add any thing to the Vertue or Perfection of Baptism, nor being omitted, doth detract any thing from the Effect and Substance of it.

Secondly, It is apparent in the Communion Book, that the Infant Baptized is by Vertue of Baptism, before it be signed with the Sign of the Cross, received into the Congregation of Christ’s Flock as a perfect Member thereof, and not by any Power ascribed unto the Sign of the Cross. So that for the very remembrance of the Cross, which is very precious to all them that rightly believe in Jesu Christ, and in the other respects mentioned, the Church of England hath retained still the Sign of it in Baptism: following therein the Primitive and Apostolical Churches, and accounting it a lawful outward Ceremony and honourable Badge, whereby the Infant is dedicated to the Service of him that died upon the Cross, as by the words used in the Book of Common Prayer it may appear.

Lastly, The use of the Sign of the Cross in Baptism, being thus purged from all Popish Superstition and Error, and reduced in the Church of England to the primary Institution of it, upon those true Rules of Doctrine concerning things indifferent, which are consonant to the Word of God, and the Judgments of all the ancient Fathers: We hold it the part of every private Man, both Minister and other, reverently to retain the true use of it prescribed by publick Authority, considering that things of themselves indifferent, do in some sort alter their Natures, when they are either commanded or forbidden by a lawful Magistrate; and may not be omitted at every Man’s pleasure contrary to the Law, when they be commanded, nor used when they are prohibited.

Helen Leighton-Rose

Women’s  Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

My quantitative and qualitative analysis of eighteenth century Scottish Kirk Sessions had shed light on Scottish women’s subversive and consistent challenges to patriarchal control. Numerous women argued against the judgement of these sessions and petitioned the Presbytery courts. The paper will highlight some illuminating examples of women’s subversion including the subversion of the Scottish Kirk by Isabel Clinckscales who irregularly married Thomas Lyon, unknown to her to be a thrice bigamist. Over eighteen months Isabel was called before the Kirk Sessions and ordered to perform penance as an adulteress which she consistently refused. She subverted the kirk authority to such a degree she was placed under the penalty of lesser excommunication. There is no record of Thomas Lyon receiving any rebuke. On the 25th January 1722 Elders of Duns Kirk deem


‘..after all the serious dealings with Isabel Clinkscales she still persisted in her obstinacie, he therefor this day according to the recommendation did lay the said Isabel Clinkscales under the sentence of the Lesser excommunication’.

My paper will raise the profile of the richness of archival material for Scottish border towns.

Matthew Reznicek

Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

The National Tale, a literary attempt to understand and reconcile the 1800 Act of Union, was dominated by early nineteenth-century women writers, including Maria Edgeworth, Sydney  Owenson, and Germaine deStaël; using gendered embodiments of various national identities, the National Tale imagined socio-political union through the union of individuals. For roughly the past thirty years, scholars the Romantic period have understood the National Tale in terms of marriage, whether a shotgun marriage, an arranged marriage, or a forced marriage. What this focus on marriage has overlooked is the repeated pattern in which National Tales alsodepend upon an act of healing before the marriage can take place. Surprisingly, this medical aspect of the National Tale and its narrative of social cohesion has been ignored and unrecognized. By exploring the role of illness and healing in the National Tale, the medical metaphors not only help diagnose and mark as different the foreign body,  but the act of healing fundamentally restores the newly formed body politic to its new and healthy condition. This analysis reveals a pattern in which women perform the medical care that heals these diseased populations, allowing them to achieve full membership in the social body. Despite the long-eighteenth-century belief that men and medicine were responsible for  national well-being, the National Tales of Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Sydney  Owenson undermine this medical and political narrative by having a diseased or unwell male body stand in for the nation and a female physician or healer work to heal and restore the national body to health. Thus, the medical role of women in the National Tale reveals the interconnections between illness, healing, and the narrative form of the National Tale. To provide a small iteration of this pattern, I will attend to the moments of medical anxiety and fever in Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui (1809),  and briefly Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) to render visible the political and social role that healing women play in the National Tale.

Norena Shopland

Women Dressed as Men

Much of women’s history has been dominated by exclusion – but where exclusion exists there will always be those who challenge that state. A History of Women in Men’s Clothes sets out to show how women utilised clothes banned to them to escape domestic violence; to earn money when the man had died or left the family and women’s wages were not enough to live on; to find a man who had deserted them; to avoid being sexually accosted when travelling; so those we would today recognise as lesbian and trans could live freely; and many more.

During the late 18th-early 19th centuries so many women had become female sailors and soldiers that newspapers were complaining there would be no room for men. While books exist on both groups they are placed in an ‘other’ category of sexual orientation and/or gender identity when in truth it was common among all women. Similarly, in the theatre, actresses were being forced to sign contracts that they would appear ‘in male attire’ as managers sought to exploit this highly lucrative market. Leaving the odd situation of men forcing women to appear as men for the heterosexual male gaze.

Research for the book realised around 4,000 worldwide articles, most of them unpublished outside their original source and only 10% was used for the book. As this research was conducted in English and stopped when enough material had been gathered it can be imagined how much more there is to discover. But one thing is clear, thousands upon thousands of women across the world refused to be constricted by what clothes they were told they could wear – and women’s history now needs to recognise this.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

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.

Speakers:

Valerie Schutte. Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Helen Leighton-Rose. Women’s Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

Matthew Reznicek. Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

Norena Shopland. Women Dressed as Men

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