Review of WSG Seminar: 20th February 2020

Despite the recent cold weather, the atmosphere at the Women’s Studies Group February seminar was as warm and welcoming as ever. We were treated to three very different, but equally fascinating papers, the individual chronologies of which stretched from the mid-seventeenth century to the 1820s and covered subjects as diverse as death and dying, legal and textual subjectivities and observations of nineteenth-century Chilean culture. At the heart of each, though, lay careful analyses of how women in the past constructed themselves and the world around them through the written word. The seminar was conducted via zoom and ably chaired by Trudie Messent.

First to speak was Dr Sarah Ailwood of the University of Wollongong. Sarah lectures in law and has previously authored a book on Jane Austen and masculinities. Her talk for the WSG, however, was entitled ‘In justice to myself’: Legal and Textual Subjectivities in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Memoirs’. Sarah’s central thesis was that by ‘harnessing emerging genres of popular, published life writing’, namely the print memoir, ‘women forged a new form of legal subjectivity.’ She began by outlining the theory developed by Costas Douzinas that those living within a modern liberal democracy will be typically both subjectus and subjectum in relation to the law: that is, simultaneously under the authority of the law and a participant in its creation. In contrast to this, women of the eighteenth century were only subjectus, bound to obey the law without participating in its creation. Sarah also cited the work of Peter Goodrich – that the power of the law rests in its cultural influence, as well as institutions and legal texts. From this theoretical starting point, Sarah explored the idea that the female-authored mid-eighteenth-century legal memoir allowed women to ‘create a new, resistant form of legal subjectivity’ and evidenced this through the work of two eighteenth-century women: Sarah Rippon and Anne Bailey. Rippon published The True State of the Case of Sarah Rippon in 1756 and used the subjectus persona of a poor, vulnerable widow to challenge both the legal system and the men who conspired against her, showcasing her knowledge of the system and her abilities as a litigant as she did so. Bailey constructed a similar subjectus persona through her 1771 text The Memoirs of Mrs Anne Bailey. In this she positioned herself as a victim caught in a cycle of debt, assault and exploitation even though the true purpose of the book was to publicly shame the men who had wronged her. Sarah argued that although both women ostensibly cast themselves as oppressed victims of the legal system, their memoirs speak to their authors’ resistance of that role and their determination to assert agency over the narrative of their life.

The second speaker was Daisy Winter, a PhD student at Northumbria University. She examined the writings of Lady Elizabeth Delaval within the context of seventeenth-century women’s devotional meditations. This was a time when women were expected to examine and reflect upon their behaviours, not least to use written texts to curate a ‘good death’ for themselves when the time came. However, Daisy argued that the motivations for Delaval’s musings were complex and may not have stemmed solely from a fear of judgement in death. Two meditations were considered in detail. The first, written in 1662, was entitled ‘Upon the Singing of a Lark’. In this, Delaval used the ‘Godly’ bird to rebuke her habit of sleeping in late. The second was a cluster of prayers written as a response to a severe bout of toothache. This was allegedly caused by an infestation of more than two hundred worms(!) and inspired Delaval to contemplate her own mortality. Intriguingly, this gory episode may not have had its roots in personal experience. Daisy cited the work of Sara Read, who suggests that Delaval may have appropriated it from a letter originating at the court of Charles 1. As Delaval’s family were Stuart sympathisers, the tale could also function as an indication of political allegiance. Further, Daisy argued that Delaval’s writings also link to wider cultural concerns surrounding disease, death and decay: this was a time when the plague swept across England and Delaval, like so many of her contemporaries, was personally affected by it. Indeed, toothache was also not the inconvenience it is today but a potentially deadly illness, with tooth problems regularly appearing as a cause of death in contemporary bills of mortality. Daisy also explored the temporal disruption between the composition of the texts and their later transcription by an older Delaval into the curated manuscript that exists today, possibly as a precursor for publication. Daisy concluded by saying that although Delaval’s approach to crafting a good death was complicated, it was likely she did experience a fear of her own mortality, when ‘her neglect of her “penitential hours” [came] to haunt her.’

The final paper was given by Valentina Aparicio, from the University of Edinburgh. Her paper was entitled ‘Maria Graham’s Journal of a residence in Chile (1824): a transnational community of women’ and forms part of a wider research project concerning Scottish women who travelled to South America at the end of the eighteenth and start of the nineteenth centuries. Her paper for the WSG focussed on Maria Graham, who was born Maria Dundas and later became known as Lady Callcott. Graham travelled to Chile with her husband. However, he died before they arrived and she landed in South America as a widow. Rather than return home, she elected to stay in the town of Valparaiso and, during the year she spent there, Graham mixed with people from a number of different backgrounds, nationalities and classes. Generally, Graham appeared to be more sympathetic towards Chilean women, rather than the expatriate British women she met, whom she likened to Mrs Elton from Austen’s Emma. Valentina examined two of Graham’s encounters in detail. The first featured an elderly neighbour with a large flower garden who used her horticultural knowledge for healing purposes – La Chabelita. The second was with the women of La Rinconada who made the pottery Graham used at home. One of the most striking observations Valentina made was that Graham did not appear to apply her own British, classist, world-view to the Chilean women she encountered. Rather, she was prepared to meet with them in their own contexts and engage with them upon their own terms. For example, when she visited the female potters she was eager to sit down with them and join them in their work. As was later discussed during the questions, this may well have reflected a (post)Romantic ideal of the labouring poor but equally may have been something she would not have felt able to do in her own country where strict notions of class propriety would apply.

It was a stimulating and enjoyable session that provided much food for thought and a number of lively discussions during the questions. Huge thanks to all our speakers and to everyone who made February’s session possible.

Review by Dr Alison Daniell

Reminder: WSG seminar February 2021

The fifth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 20 February 2021.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

February 20, 2021
Sarah Ailwood: ‘In justice to myself’: Legal and Textual Subjectivities in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Memoirs.

Costas Douzinas identifies the modern legal subject as both subjectum – the subject of the law – and subjectus – or subject to the law: simultaneously participating in law’s authorial creation, and obedient to its command.[1] Historically, however, women have occupied a status that is more subjectus than subjectum: as placed under the law’s authority with few opportunities to participate in its creation or authorisation. In this paper, I explore how, from the mid-eighteenth century, women began to contest their status as subjectus to the law through the writing, publication and dissemination of memoirs that interrogated their experience of the substance and process of law. Although women’s memoirs addressing the law and justice questions by the so-called ‘scandalous memoirists’, actresses and celebrities have received some scholarly attention, memoirs by comparatively little-known women that explicitly targeted law have been overlooked. Yet these memoirs offer a rich opportunity to explore relationships between gender and legal and textual subjectivities in the context of burgeoning print culture in eighteenth-century England.

From mid-century, women appropriated the newly emerging genre of the published memoir to publicise their experience of the law and justice system, to contest the subjectivity constructed of them and authorised as ‘fact’ by legal process, and to counter the representation of this subjectivity within the newspaper and periodical press. The published memoir offered women an opportunity to discursively construct an alternative self framed through reference to legal ‘norms’ as well as the emerging conventions of the memoirs genre. In this paper I will particularly focus on two memoirs that reveal women’s discursive negotiation of legal and textual subjectivities: The True State of the Case of Sarah Rippon (1756), by Sarah Rippon, a middle-class widow who published her memoir after a protracted series of law suits triggered by her husband’s death, to contest both the injustice she experienced through the court system and her representation as a litigant within wider public culture; and The Memoirs of Mrs Anne Bailey (1771), in which a woman living on the social margin details the violence inflicted upon her by high-profile men and her experiences of summary justice and the bridewell. If, as is widely argued, legal subjects are produced and imagined through language and law, memoirs by these and later eighteenth-century women reveal the centrality of the published memoir genre not only to women’s construction of textual subjectivity, but also to their conceptualisation of legal subjectivity and its relationship to power.

[1] Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century (Hart Publishing 2000) 216–22.

Daisy Winter: “I who am but dust”: mortal fear in Elizabeth Delaval’s ‘Memoirs and Meditations’.

Known as a memoirist and Jacobite, Lady Elizabeth Delaval (1648? -1717) left a manuscript volume of memoirs and meditations that provide a fascinating insight into the often-unhappy life of a devout seventeenth-century gentlewoman. Biographies of Elizabeth have largely focused upon her failed romances and later, loveless marriage. While these real-life events certainly contributed to her unhappiness and induced her to write, this paper will instead consider Elizabeth’s expressions of anxiety in relation to a persistent, psychological trigger: her fear of the passage (and therefore, loss) of time. In the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth centuries, the mode of recording time increasingly “called attention away from endpoints and invested it in middles” (Stuart Sherman, Telling Time, 1996). ‘Memoirs’ responds to this trend for recounting the “middle” of one’s life, and Elizabeth records daily events and actions in detail. However, her fixation with time goes beyond the daily – thanatophobic paranoia often overwhelms her writing. Trying to make sense of her usage of time is, for Elizabeth, as much a reflection of her anxiety over her mortal “endpoint” as an urge to record. In a close reading of two key moments of Elizabeth’s manuscript, the chronophobic poem ‘Upon the singing of a lark’, and a morbid account of parasitic infection, this paper will explore the ways in which Elizabeth’s writing confronts the ephemerality of life and the inevitability of her own mortality.

Valentina Aparicio: Maria Graham’s Journal of a residence in Chile (1824): a transnational community of women.

Maria Graham became a widow in 1822, on her way to Valparaiso as the wife of the captain of HMS Doris. When arriving at Valparaiso, Graham decided to stay in Chile for a year and live by herself in the port in a rented cottage. She spent her time writing her Journal, as she travelled central regions of the newly independent country. In the ‘Preface’ of the journal, she expressed that she hoped to fill a gap in knowledge with her publication.  She considered most of the accounts on Chile to be tainted by political interests. She, on the other hand, wished to show that ‘there is so much of good in that country, so much in the character of the people and the excellence of the soil and climate’ (iv). As a widow, British traveller, artist, and female intellectual, Graham found herself able to socialise with people of different social stations, providing a variety of very complete accounts of Chilean life. Her positive depictions of people in Chile cover from countryside workers to the half-Irish president of the country, Bernardo O’Higgins. Graham’s accounts are particularly interesting regarding other women, their occupations, and education. My paper will focus particularly on this subject. Graham’s Journal provides several sympathetic descriptions of the life of women in the early republic of Chile – a subject ignored by male writers of the period, both European and South American. Graham’s Journal sheds light on the lives of women from creole aristocracy, creole lower classes, and women of indigenous backgrounds. While an inequality of power is inevitably present in these accounts, Graham’s work creates a remarkable sense of a community of women with her Chilean peers – including herself, the female pottery-makers of Pomaire, the high-society creole women of Santiago, the indigenous wife of the cacique of Yupeo, amongst many others. I will argue that the rich accounts of Chilean women found in Graham’s work provide a glimpse into an early nineteenth-century sense of female solidarity and understanding that goes beyond imperial divisions, as Graham places both herself and her peers in one shared space of female-centred dialogue.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar January 2021

The fourth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 23 January 2021.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

January 23, 2021
Megan Shaw: Looking towards a cultural history of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1603-1649).

This paper will explore how Katherine Villiers (neé Manners, 1603 – 1649), Duchess of Buckingham harnessed portraiture – in miniature and in large – and epistolary exchange as devices for affection, commemoration and self-preservation at the Stuart court. Katherine was the wife of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592 – 1628), the royal favourite to both James VI & I and Charles I of England. This paper is contextualised through painted portraits and by analysing the highly emotive, and often distressing, letters which the duchess wrote to her “dear heart” throughout their marriage. The Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in September 1628 which prompted a visual display of grief and a reassertion of loyalty in Katherine’s mourning portraits painted by Anthony van Dyck and Henri Beaubrun. These poignant portraits featured her husbands’ likeness in miniature. Connections will be drawn between the functions of the portrait miniature as devotional objects which could be privately concealed, displayed or activated in public at the will of their owner or wearer. I argue that their presence in the duchess’ mourning portraits conveyed a public message of her loss, and furthermore reinforced the political leverage of remembrance and the renegotiations – and even performance – of power that commemoration offered.

Gillian Beattie-Smith: Catherine Helen Spence: a consideration of her feminist and transnational agency.

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), born in Melrose, Scotland, emigrated to Australia as a girl with her family.  Spence was a novelist, journalist, a leader in the international suffragist movement, a Georgist, and a proponent of proportional representation.  She was a public intellectual, who addressed audiences across Australia, America and Britain, and was a widely-respected social reformer.  Her life is commemorated in a statue, Australian currency, and place names, and memorialised in her extensive body of writing.

Spence’s novels have been compared with those of Eliot and Gaskell, and positioned in the development of European realist fiction, and the international tradition of feminist writing.  The body of literary critique and biographical record has grown on Spence in recent years, enabling alternative discourses of settler women writers as cultural agents in Australian foundational history.

This paper reflects on Spence’s feminist and transnational agency in her life and work.

Kate Stephenson: Lawyers, Débardeuses and Pages; Women Masquerading as Men.

Masquerades became popular in Britain in the early-18th century, finding a home at theatres as well as pleasure gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall. These provided the opportunity for attendees to dress up in a huge variety of creative costumes and this tradition continued into the 19th century with fancy dress balls. Contemporary reports suggest that a not insignificant number of women used these events to subvert established gender norms and dress as men. This led to contemporary anxieties regarding the transgression of moral and social boundaries and the suggestion that cross-dressing, as well as fancy dress events more generally, could lead to homosexuality, sexual liaisons (and consequently pregnancy and venereal disease) and the breakdown of established social structures. This work-in-progress paper will examine women’s costume choices at masquerades and masked balls in the long 18th century with a focus on cross-dressing, investigating what kinds of women cross-dressed, what costumes they chose and how their choices changed over time.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar 5 December 2020

The third seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 5 December 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

December 5, 2020

Daniel Beaumont: Melancholy and Despair among Early Modern English Women: A case study of Hannah Allen’s Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683).

In an age where mental health is receiving more attention than ever, it is essential to remember that perceptions of mental health are themselves historical constructions. This paper examines a key part of that historical construction in early modern England, exploring the case of Hannah Allen, who, according to her published narrative Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683), suffered from temptations by the Devil and a “deep melancholy” for much of her life. Allen’s striking and disquieting narrative traces her decline into life-threatening despair, in which she believed herself worthless and a “cursed reprobate”, before describing her gradual recovery and restoration of faith. Amidst a field still largely dominated by research into medical and spiritual treatises and literary works written by men, Allen’s text offers a rich opportunity for exploration into the perceptions and mentalities of melancholy and despair amongst early modern women and their communities.
This paper asks how we might best explore this work, paying attention to the textual structure and context of production as well as the substance of the narrative itself. I present two underexamined lines of inquiry: The first is the cultural and religious lens through which Allen perceived her own state of mind and the ways in which she presents that state to the reader. This interpretive schema exhibits a complex combination of ideas about Allen’s despair and melancholy that is informed by, but not restricted to, contemporary physiological and spiritual theories and authorial customs. The second line of investigation examines the glimpse the text provides into the social and emotional communities surrounding melancholy and mental distress amongst non-aristocratic English women of the seventeenth century at a local and familial level. Crucially, such attitudes seldom appear in the more frequently examined medical or religious treatises on melancholy, and what scholarship there is on Allen’s text has largely refrained from examining this more social aspect of her narrative. However, if we wish to understand the place and conceptualisation of this “affliction” (as Allen describes it) among early modern English women, an investigation into both areas is essential.

Yvonne Noble: Elizabeth Elstob, Mary Delany, and Money.

Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

An analysis of the literature written to celebrate Queen Mary I’s accession makes clear that several genres of writing were used and each seemed to have a different audience in mind. Of course, there were royal proclamations, such as those that announced both Jane and Mary as Queens of England, meant to be read or heard by all. Ballads, which were mass produced “because of people’s interest in the news and because of a genuine mood of celebration.” There were both official and non-official letters shared among Mary, her council, and all of the resident ambassadors, each meant for their specific recipient. Sermons were given and often later printed in Latin, meant for a learned audience, specifically those interested in the religious ramifications of Mary’s accession. And, plays and panegyrics were written and performed at court, meant for an audience of courtiers that surrounded Mary and even for Mary herself.

For the purposes of this essay, I am going to look at the broadsides, ballads, and pamphlets that were produced to celebrate Mary’s accession. These short, often single-sheet, texts were meant for a broad audience and essentially served to spread the news of Mary’s accession, as well as give a brief account of what had happened since the death of Edward. Often, they stressed the treasonous activities of Northumberland, almost never mentioning Jane at all, and they attempted to assuage concerns over possible changes in religious policy. Many were printed in the immediate aftermath of Mary’s proclamation as Queen, and give insight into the most pressing concerns for both Queen and country at that moment. Overwhelmingly, these popular texts concluded that Mary’s hereditary right was of the utmost importance, never questioning that right on the basis of her gender.

These ballads, broadsides, and pamphlets were what spread the news of Mary’s accession and both reinforced and guided the popular reaction to it. I will pull out the themes and commonalities of these popular sources, which are predominantly accepting of Mary as Queen. I suggest that popular sources produced at Mary’s accession were all generally positive about and accepting of Mary as Queen, based on dynastic tradition and her lineage. Any anti-government tracts produced at Mary’s accession were not against Mary’s accession per se, but were often Protestant works that tended to be anti-Catholic and not Mary-centric.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar December 2020

The third seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 5 December 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

December 5, 2020
Daniel Beaumont: Melancholy and Despair among Early Modern English Women: A case study of Hannah Allen’s Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683).

In an age where mental health is receiving more attention than ever, it is essential to remember that perceptions of mental health are themselves historical constructions. This paper examines a key part of that historical construction in early modern England, exploring the case of Hannah Allen, who, according to her published narrative Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683), suffered from temptations by the Devil and a “deep melancholy” for much of her life. Allen’s striking and disquieting narrative traces her decline into life-threatening despair, in which she believed herself worthless and a “cursed reprobate”, before describing her gradual recovery and restoration of faith. Amidst a field still largely dominated by research into medical and spiritual treatises and literary works written by men, Allen’s text offers a rich opportunity for exploration into the perceptions and mentalities of melancholy and despair amongst early modern women and their communities.
This paper asks how we might best explore this work, paying attention to the textual structure and context of production as well as the substance of the narrative itself. I present two underexamined lines of inquiry: The first is the cultural and religious lens through which Allen perceived her own state of mind and the ways in which she presents that state to the reader. This interpretive schema exhibits a complex combination of ideas about Allen’s despair and melancholy that is informed by, but not restricted to, contemporary physiological and spiritual theories and authorial customs. The second line of investigation examines the glimpse the text provides into the social and emotional communities surrounding melancholy and mental distress amongst non-aristocratic English women of the seventeenth century at a local and familial level. Crucially, such attitudes seldom appear in the more frequently examined medical or religious treatises on melancholy, and what scholarship there is on Allen’s text has largely refrained from examining this more social aspect of her narrative. However, if we wish to understand the place and conceptualisation of this “affliction” (as Allen describes it) among early modern English women, an investigation into both areas is essential.

Yvonne Noble: Elizabeth Elstob, Mary Delany, and Money.

Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

An analysis of the literature written to celebrate Queen Mary I’s accession makes clear that several genres of writing were used and each seemed to have a different audience in mind. Of course, there were royal proclamations, such as those that announced both Jane and Mary as Queens of England, meant to be read or heard by all. Ballads, which were mass produced “because of people’s interest in the news and because of a genuine mood of celebration.” There were both official and non-official letters shared among Mary, her council, and all of the resident ambassadors, each meant for their specific recipient. Sermons were given and often later printed in Latin, meant for a learned audience, specifically those interested in the religious ramifications of Mary’s accession. And, plays and panegyrics were written and performed at court, meant for an audience of courtiers that surrounded Mary and even for Mary herself.

For the purposes of this essay, I am going to look at the broadsides, ballads, and pamphlets that were produced to celebrate Mary’s accession. These short, often single-sheet, texts were meant for a broad audience and essentially served to spread the news of Mary’s accession, as well as give a brief account of what had happened since the death of Edward. Often, they stressed the treasonous activities of Northumberland, almost never mentioning Jane at all, and they attempted to assuage concerns over possible changes in religious policy. Many were printed in the immediate aftermath of Mary’s proclamation as Queen, and give insight into the most pressing concerns for both Queen and country at that moment. Overwhelmingly, these popular texts concluded that Mary’s hereditary right was of the utmost importance, never questioning that right on the basis of her gender.

These ballads, broadsides, and pamphlets were what spread the news of Mary’s accession and both reinforced and guided the popular reaction to it. I will pull out the themes and commonalities of these popular sources, which are predominantly accepting of Mary as Queen. I suggest that popular sources produced at Mary’s accession were all generally positive about and accepting of Mary as Queen, based on dynastic tradition and her lineage. Any anti-government tracts produced at Mary’s accession were not against Mary’s accession per se, but were often Protestant works that tended to be anti-Catholic and not Mary-centric.

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