Review: Early Modern Female Book Ownership. Edited by Mark Empey, Sarah Lindenbaum, Tara Lyons, Erin McCarthy, Micheline White, Georgianna Ziegler, and Martine van Elk. Reviewed by Valerie Schutte

Early Modern Female Book Ownership is a website dedicated to individual books that can be traced to female owners from 1500 to 1750. On the home page, immediately under the blog title, is the hashtag #HerBook, which the editors want site visitors to use when discussing or mentioning the blog. They often refer blog users to their Twitter page for up-to-date information about their project or to reach out with suggestions.

The main menu for the website has four tabs: Home, About this Blog, Resources, and Finding Aid. The home page is where all of the blog posts appear, one after the next, making the home page incredibly long, as the earliest blog post dates to 3 December 2018. According to this first blog post, which serves as a welcome to the website, the project is designed to showcase short posts of books owned by early modern women featuring an inscription by that woman. The blog features mostly English entries, but would like to include others. Blog posts are typically short, no more than 1,000 words, and are accompanied by pictures of the title page of the book owned by a woman and of her inscription or signature. The pictures appear to have been taken by those writing the blog post, not stock images from the internet or Creative Commons.

On the right side of the home page is both a search tool and a list of categories. In selecting a category, only the books tied to that category are shown on the home page, such as sixteenth century, seventeenth century, Dutch, and drama. There are 24 categories to choose from. However, even when you select a category, the blog posts still appear in the order in which they were posted to the blog and one right after the next on the home page. There is no way for further filtering, unless you only use the search function to look for a specific book or female book owner.

Under the About this Blog tab, the blog editors explain the purpose of the blog and welcome guest posts from scholars, collectors, and students. They hope to contribute to the study of female book ownership by offering examples of female owned books and how women showcased their ownership.

Under the Resources tab, there is a brief bibliography of books, articles, websites, and other blogs that are about women book owners and readers, which is incredibly helpful for further research on the subject. This list is far from inclusive and many of the books and articles mentioned are those by the blog editors.

Under the Finding Aid tab, they offer a list of the books and female book owners for which they have blog posts. They suggest researchers scan this list for patterns and to find specific blog posts quickly, as within the list all of the book titles are hyperlinked to the relevant blog post. This page should perhaps be the home page, in that it is much easier to scan for a specific female book owner or book, while the home page is overwhelming with information and pictures.

Overall, the blog is very useful and offers researchers and people interested in early modern books with short posts of information that they can follow up on for themselves. Most useful are the photos of the inscriptions, which are often not included in book and journal essays on the subject and allow for inscription comparison over time, and as the blog develops, across borders.

Valerie Schutte

Independent Scholar

Valerie Schutte is author or editor of several books on Tudor monarchs and their books, Shakespeare, and Queen Mary I. She is currently writing the first academic biography of Anne of Cleves.

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Early Modern Female Book Ownership. Edited by Mark Empey, Sarah Lindenbaum, Tara Lyons, Erin McCarthy, Micheline White, Georgianna Ziegler, and Martine van Elk. https://earlymodernfemalebookownership.wordpress.com/. Accessed 15 July 2020.

WSG seminar series 2020-21

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is pleased to announce the speakers for their seminar series 2020-21. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm BST/GMT* (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm.

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 2020-2021 season.

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September 19, 2020*
Stephen Spiess: Reading Strumpets: Thomas Heywood, Sexual Epistemology, and the Making of English Whoredom
Sonia Villegas Lopez: Female Libertinism in Gabriel de Brémond’s Transnational Oriental Fictions.
Anthony Walker-Cook: Descending into the Underworld with Mary Leapor and Sarah Fielding.

November 21, 2020
Rocio Martinez: To defend a princess’s rights to her father’s throne: Maria Theresia of Austria and the protestations against her renunciation of the inheritance of the Spanish Monarchy.
Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.
Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

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).
Julie Vig: Women and martiality in the Sikh literature of early modern Punjab.
Micheline White: Queen Katherine Parr’s Gift Books and the Exercise of Royal Power.
Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

January 23, 2021
Megan Shaw: Looking towards a cultural history of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1603-1649).
Gillian Beattie-Smith: Catherine Helen Spence: a consideration of her feminist and transnational agency.
Kate Stephenson: Lawyers, Débardeuses and Pages; Women Masquerading as Men.

February 20, 2021
Sarah Ailwood: ‘In justice to myself’: Legal and Textual Subjectivities in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Memoirs.
Daisy Winter: “I who am but dust”: mortal fear in Elizabeth Delaval’s ‘Memoirs and Meditations’.
Valentina Aparicio: Maria Graham’s Journal of a residence in Chile (1824): a transnational community of women.

March 20, 2021
Cheryll Duncan: ‘Much want of judgment’: new evidence concerning the singer Jane Barbier.
Maria Clara Pivate Biajoli: Understanding Current Readers’ Reception of Jane Austen through Fan Fiction.
Francesca Saggini: Frances Burney, Dramatis Persona.

April 17, 2021*

Yvonne Noble: The Poetry of Anne Finch.
Tabitha Kenlon: Find Yourself in a Book: Reading Heroines in Eighteenth-Century Gothic Novels.
Miriam al Jamil: The Grand Duchess of Tuscany’s Birth Days: Weary and Waiting at the Florentine Court.

Anna Jamieson: “Comforts in her Calamity”: Dorothea Fellowes’s Shopping and Spending in the late Eighteenth-Century Private Madhouse.

*Please note that the September and April meetings are BST, and the rest are GMT.

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page, or contact the organiser Carolyn D. Williams.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

The Women’s Studies Group (1558-1837) CALL FOR PAPERS 2020-2021 SEASON

The Women’s Studies Group (1558-1837) are please to announce our call for papers for the 2020-21 season is now live. Please consider presenting at one of the WSG seminars. Further details are below and on our website:

The WSG is open to men, women and non-binary people, students, faculty and independent scholars. We invite members old and new to offer papers formal and informal, as well as works-in-progress, on any topic related to early modern and long eighteenth-century women’s and gender studies, including (but not restricted to) history, literature, art, medicine, music, theatre, religion, economics, and sexuality.  Early career and independent scholars are particularly welcome. Since we usually have 3 or 4 papers in a session, papers should be restricted to a maximum of 20-25 minutes, to allow plenty of time for general discussion afterwards.

All meetings for the 2020-2021 season 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.

The dates are as follows:

Saturday 19 September 2020*

Saturday 5 December 2020

Saturday 23 January 2021

Saturday 20 March 2021

*Please note that the September meeting is British Summer Time, and the rest are GMT.

Our seminars usually take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ. For the 2020-2021 season, however, the first two sessions, in September and December 2020, will be delivered on Zoom. Zoom will also be used for the last two sessions, in January and March 2021, though these may also be accompanied by meetings at the Foundling.

For more information about the society and its activities, including how to join, please see our website at https://womensstudiesgroup.org

Please reply by 17/7/2020 to Carolyn D. Williams at cdwilliamslyle@aol.com 

Great explorations: a fictional midwife and fictions of ideal women by Louise Duckling

Following on from the arrival of WSG’s anniversary volume in paperback format, Louise Duckling introduces new books launched by two of its contributors: Sara Read and Tabitha Kenlon.

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On an autumnal evening last September, a small crowd gathered at Harris & Harris Books in Clare, Suffolk, for one of its popular Author on the Stairs events. Gillian Williamson and I had been invited to talk about WSG’s anniversary book, Exploring the Lives of Women, 1558–1837, which had recently been released in paperback format.

As one of the book’s editors, I wanted to convey the scope and originality of our authors’ contributions in my talk. Therefore, I chose to address the question: why had so many of the women featured in the book been left out of the historical record? I considered how women’s history was constructed (and gendered) in Victorian biographical dictionaries, using our ‘bookend’ queens Elizabeth I and Victoria as opening case studies, before introducing some of the women whose lives are explored in our anniversary volume.

This approach led neatly into Gillian’s talk about her chapter on the Gentleman’s Magazine. Gillian eloquently described how the magazine constructed ideas of gender in the eighteenth century, specifically referencing the emergence of obituaries in its pages. The obituaries were used by Gillian (with some brilliant flashes of humour) to show how femininity was framed in the Gentleman’s Magazine, while also providing glimpses of a less-neatly gendered society.

There was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and handle some of our original source material – an 1866 edition of a female biographical dictionary and an early volume of the Gentleman’s Magazine­. We enjoyed lively discussion and hospitality, in the perfect setting of an independent bookshop. Reflecting on this evening, in such an intimate and sociable environment, it is clear we were very fortunate. For anyone releasing a book right now, any ‘in-person’ events or celebrations will have to wait. This is exactly the case for two of our book’s contributors, whose latest work has been published during the lockdown.

The first of these new books is by Dr Sara Read, who specialises in cultural and literary representations of women, reproduction and medicine in the early modern period. Sara played a pivotal role in the WSG book, serving as both co-editor and contributor, with her chapter focusing on The Countesse of Lincolnes Nurserie (1622) by Elizabeth Clinton and highlighting views around childcare and breastfeeding. In her latest work, Sara continues to draw upon this rich subject knowledge, while venturing into new territory: the genre of historical fiction.

In her excellent debut novel, The Gossips’ Choice, Sara has created an atmospheric world for her protagonist, the midwife Lucie Smith. The book has been described as a seventeenth-century version of ‘Call the Midwife’, as we follow Lucie’s cases during the plague year of 1665. It is a beautifully crafted and impeccably researched novel, drawing upon a wide range of historical sources. For example, some of the events in the book are inspired by A Complete Practice of Midwifery (1737), the memoir of midwife Sarah Stone. This approach provides authentic detail to a vividly imagined and compelling story.

The second new book release is by Dr Tabitha Kenlon. Tabitha’s research concentrates on eighteenth-century British novels, theatre, and conduct manuals. In Exploring the Lives of Women, Tabitha’s chapter provides a close reading of a single text, exposing the confused rhetoric in the cautionary pamphlet Advice to Unmarried Women (1791) written by an anonymous clergyman. Tabitha also contributed one of the two poems in our book, ‘Gretchen’s Answer’, which follows similar themes by exploring the consequences of “when society tells women how to think, how to act, how to feel” (Exploring, p. 98).

Tabitha’s first monograph continues this investigation. In Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman, Tabitha shows how the longest-running war is the battle over how women should behave. This is an exceptional study, being the first of its kind to provide a trans-historical approach: expanding upon previous period-specific studies, Tabitha considers the persistence (or alteration) of the female ideal over six centuries. Tabitha’s brilliant close readings of a wide range of texts are superbly executed and entertaining, making the book highly accessible to the specialist or general reader. It is a powerful book, written with compassion and flashes of anger, in an elegant and witty prose.

Until we can all meet to celebrate, congratulations to Sara and Tabitha for producing two great books. Full reviews of both publications will appear on this website in the coming months: watch this space!

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The Gossips’ Choice by Sara Read is published by Wild Pressed Books for £12.

Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman by Tabitha Kenlon is published by Anthem Press for £80 (hardback) and £25 (ebook). Please ask your institutional library to buy a copy. A 20% discount is available to WSG members.

Exploring the Lives of Women, 1558–1837, the anniversary book by WSG, is published by Pen & Sword Books for £19.99 (hardback), £12.99 (paperback) and £5.20 (ebook).

Please support your local independent booksellers if you can. Harris & Harris Books is currently offering a delivery service.

Summer Online Seminar, 1230-1530, Saturday, 20 June 2020

We have rescheduled the previously cancelled March seminar. The session will now take place via Zoom. If you would like to join the session, please consider becoming a WSG member. Full details and abstracts can be found here.

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1230-1530, Saturday, 20 June 2020

(via Zoom – the link is only available to WSG members)

Lindy Moore: The Scottish Schoolmistress in the Eighteenth Century

Alexis Wolf: Women and Mentoring in the Late Eighteenth Century: Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret King and Mary Shelley

Rachel Eckersley: Female benefactors to dissenting academies in England

Catriona Wilson: “Some attention to those female members”: Feminised monarchy in the first exhibition of Kensington Palace’s State Apartments, 1899

Chair: Gillian Williamson
Assistant Chair: Angela Escott
Zoom Host: Brianna Robertson-Kirkland