Reminder: WSG seminar 21 November 2020

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 21 November 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.

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.

When infanta Maria Theresia of Austria was married by proxy to her cousin, king Louis XIV of France, in 1659, she was forced by her father to sign a renunciation to all her rights to the Spanish Throne for herself and her descendants. The Spanish Monarchy’s succession law established that women could inherit the throne if they didn’t have any surviving brothers or if they died without any descendants, so Maria Theresia, as the eldest daughter of king Philip IV of Spain, was the first woman called to her father’s succession if he was to die without any surviving sons. Philip IV only had, at the time of Maria Theresa’s marriage, one son that could separate the soon-to-be queen of France from the Spanish Throne, so this renunciation was designed to avoid the possibility that Louis XIV and the recently wed infanta could become one day the legal heirs of the Spanish Monarchy. Despite the fact that the document itself tried to protect Maria Theresia’s rights, saying that, if she became a widow without having any children and came back to Spain, her rights as the eldest daughter of the monarch would be totally restored, the point of it was to prevent the union of France and the Spanish Monarchy under one crown if the scarce male descendants of king Philip IV of Spain were to die without any legitimate descendants. This renunciation was negotiated with the French court, was included in the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, was considered as a law and treated as such by the Spanish government, and Louis XIV promised his uncle that he would ratify it after the marriage was finished, although he didn’t honour this last promise. In fact, Louis XIV began to protest against the renunciation as soon as the marriage was finished and the new queen was in France. There were numerous legal treaties, diplomatic dispatches and formal documents where the king argued that his wife and, later, his son and grandson, were the rightful heirs to the Spanish Monarchy and that her renunciation was totally invalid from a legal, diplomatic and dynastic point of view. But in this proposal, I want to present a document in which the French king presented more that seventy five reasons why the rights of his wife couldn’t be erased and she was the rightful heiress of the Spanish Monarchy, with the intention of going beyond this specific case and analyse how the royal women’s rights of succession were defended, protected and, ultimately, viewed in the complex scenario of the Early Modern Europe.

Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.

This paper examines the brief interactions between Vathek, the protagonist of William Beckford’s Vathek, and the Giaour, a racialized other who travels to Vathek’s kingdom of Samarah. Vathek is depicted as a monstrous masculine figure with a humongous appetite and an ‘evil eye’ that can shock people into a state of unconsciousness. The failure of Vathek’s ‘evil eye’ to police the Giaour’s identity, and orient the Giaour in relation to himself, to make him apprehensible within the particular space of his kingdom, disrupts Vathek’s monstrous power and the disorienting affect of his “terrible,” Medusa-like gaze (Beckford 3)1. This paper juxtaposes Max Fincher’s analysis of Vathek’s fixation on regulation of bodies and his disorienting, and thus queering (Ahmed) gaze with Homi Bhabha’s theorization of the evil eye as it functions to other racial bodies.

Following this, I will then introduce Sara Ahmed’s concept of disorientation and suggest that averting gaze of the subject gives subjective agency to the object and, consequently, disorients the subject. This paper defines the queer under gaze as refusing to be objectified and instead asserting their own subjectivity by rejecting that gaze and its disorienting affects. This paper investigates Vathek’s failure to interpret the Giaour, the Giaour returning Vathek’s gaze by staring back at him, and its relation to Vathek’s inability to translate the inscriptions on the sabres he bought from the Giaour.

This double-failure to translate the sabres puts Vathek in a disoriented state, resulting in his loss of appetite, a metaphoric and literal indicator of his monstrous masculinity. Without translation, there is no degree of intervention by the subject. In that moment of disjointedness, the Giaour’s unreadability threatens the impact of Vathek’s gaze and power. When Vathek stares at the Giaour, and the Giaour gazes back at him, Vathek loses his appetite and fears his wives being seduced by the Giaour’s appetite. Vathek’s identity and orientation become vulnerable to be affected and shifted without his consent.

1 Beckford, William. Vathek, edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788) is a play which unites two very different worlds. It is a romantic comedy full of fairytale elements, set in exotic India. At the same time, it deals extensively with facts of eighteenth-century life, even those which reflect an uncompromising and often brutal reality – including the marriage market and the slave trade. The play often shifts rapidly between two different tones: the light, entertaining witticisms of eighteenth-century comedy, and incisive political commentary reminiscent of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works.

In this paper, I will show how Starke strikes a delicate balance between romance and reality, using the popular conventions of the London stage to comment on life in the British colonies. The outwardly fictional nature of stage comedy enabled Starke and other playwrights to use it as a vehicle for serious discussions about the real world. The Sword of Peace shows particularly clearly that although entertainment and politics were supposedly two separate spheres, eighteenth-century playwrights and theatre audiences were happy to combine both.

By demonstrating the play’s extensive engagement with contemporary and social issues, I will argue that eighteenth-century female playwrights were especially interested in putting politics on the stage – even though contemporary gender roles and theatre regulations officially prevented this.

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

WSG Mentoring Scheme: Get your applications in!

Scheme now open! Deadline 15th January 2021

Academia is becoming an increasingly competitive environment and some may feel at a loss when it comes to developing new research projects, producing publications, building networks and curating knowledge exchange events/resources. All of these activities are an important part of scholarly work and can help build a lucrative research portfolio (no matter the field). Yet, graduates may struggle to find specific support in these areas, especially if they do not belong to an institution.  

The WSG recognise that among its members is a diverse community with a wealth of expertise and experience, as well as those who would benefit from collegial support. With this in mind, we are implementing a mentoring scheme. The scheme hopes to pair mentees and mentors from similar fields to work together on one or more goals. A goal could be a mentee seeking advice on developing a fellowship application or a funding application, or perhaps developing a new research project, writing an article or book proposal or developing a knowledge exchange activity. We also strongly encourage mentees to work with their mentor to develop a WSG bursary application.

For further details, please see our mentoring scheme page.

Reminder: WSG seminar November 2020

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 21 November 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.

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.

When infanta Maria Theresia of Austria was married by proxy to her cousin, king Louis XIV of France, in 1659, she was forced by her father to sign a renunciation to all her rights to the Spanish Throne for herself and her descendants. The Spanish Monarchy’s succession law established that women could inherit the throne if they didn’t have any surviving brothers or if they died without any descendants, so Maria Theresia, as the eldest daughter of king Philip IV of Spain, was the first woman called to her father’s succession if he was to die without any surviving sons. Philip IV only had, at the time of Maria Theresa’s marriage, one son that could separate the soon-to-be queen of France from the Spanish Throne, so this renunciation was designed to avoid the possibility that Louis XIV and the recently wed infanta could become one day the legal heirs of the Spanish Monarchy. Despite the fact that the document itself tried to protect Maria Theresia’s rights, saying that, if she became a widow without having any children and came back to Spain, her rights as the eldest daughter of the monarch would be totally restored, the point of it was to prevent the union of France and the Spanish Monarchy under one crown if the scarce male descendants of king Philip IV of Spain were to die without any legitimate descendants. This renunciation was negotiated with the French court, was included in the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, was considered as a law and treated as such by the Spanish government, and Louis XIV promised his uncle that he would ratify it after the marriage was finished, although he didn’t honour this last promise. In fact, Louis XIV began to protest against the renunciation as soon as the marriage was finished and the new queen was in France. There were numerous legal treaties, diplomatic dispatches and formal documents where the king argued that his wife and, later, his son and grandson, were the rightful heirs to the Spanish Monarchy and that her renunciation was totally invalid from a legal, diplomatic and dynastic point of view. But in this proposal, I want to present a document in which the French king presented more that seventy five reasons why the rights of his wife couldn’t be erased and she was the rightful heiress of the Spanish Monarchy, with the intention of going beyond this specific case and analyse how the royal women’s rights of succession were defended, protected and, ultimately, viewed in the complex scenario of the Early Modern Europe.

Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.

This paper examines the brief interactions between Vathek, the protagonist of William Beckford’s Vathek, and the Giaour, a racialized other who travels to Vathek’s kingdom of Samarah. Vathek is depicted as a monstrous masculine figure with a humongous appetite and an ‘evil eye’ that can shock people into a state of unconsciousness. The failure of Vathek’s ‘evil eye’ to police the Giaour’s identity, and orient the Giaour in relation to himself, to make him apprehensible within the particular space of his kingdom, disrupts Vathek’s monstrous power and the disorienting affect of his “terrible,” Medusa-like gaze (Beckford 3)1. This paper juxtaposes Max Fincher’s analysis of Vathek’s fixation on regulation of bodies and his disorienting, and thus queering (Ahmed) gaze with Homi Bhabha’s theorization of the evil eye as it functions to other racial bodies.

Following this, I will then introduce Sara Ahmed’s concept of disorientation and suggest that averting gaze of the subject gives subjective agency to the object and, consequently, disorients the subject. This paper defines the queer under gaze as refusing to be objectified and instead asserting their own subjectivity by rejecting that gaze and its disorienting affects. This paper investigates Vathek’s failure to interpret the Giaour, the Giaour returning Vathek’s gaze by staring back at him, and its relation to Vathek’s inability to translate the inscriptions on the sabres he bought from the Giaour.

This double-failure to translate the sabres puts Vathek in a disoriented state, resulting in his loss of appetite, a metaphoric and literal indicator of his monstrous masculinity. Without translation, there is no degree of intervention by the subject. In that moment of disjointedness, the Giaour’s unreadability threatens the impact of Vathek’s gaze and power. When Vathek stares at the Giaour, and the Giaour gazes back at him, Vathek loses his appetite and fears his wives being seduced by the Giaour’s appetite. Vathek’s identity and orientation become vulnerable to be affected and shifted without his consent.

1 Beckford, William. Vathek, edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788) is a play which unites two very different worlds. It is a romantic comedy full of fairytale elements, set in exotic India. At the same time, it deals extensively with facts of eighteenth-century life, even those which reflect an uncompromising and often brutal reality – including the marriage market and the slave trade. The play often shifts rapidly between two different tones: the light, entertaining witticisms of eighteenth-century comedy, and incisive political commentary reminiscent of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works.

In this paper, I will show how Starke strikes a delicate balance between romance and reality, using the popular conventions of the London stage to comment on life in the British colonies. The outwardly fictional nature of stage comedy enabled Starke and other playwrights to use it as a vehicle for serious discussions about the real world. The Sword of Peace shows particularly clearly that although entertainment and politics were supposedly two separate spheres, eighteenth-century playwrights and theatre audiences were happy to combine both.

By demonstrating the play’s extensive engagement with contemporary and social issues, I will argue that eighteenth-century female playwrights were especially interested in putting politics on the stage – even though contemporary gender roles and theatre regulations officially prevented this.

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

Review of WSG Seminar, 19 September 2020 by Miriam Al Jamil

The first seminar of our 2020-2021 programme took place via zoom on 19th September. It was an inspiring start, with papers from Stephen Spiess, Sonia Villegas Lopez and Anthony Walker-Cook (see programme) and our usual lively discussion to follow. The papers represented research into the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which covers most of the period with which the group is concerned. There were many interesting connections between them through their discourses on shaping narratives of power and chastity by monarchs and mistresses, and their sensual evocations of the beguiling incense of the seraglio and the grease and smoke of the country house kitchen.

Stephen Spiess presented an intriguing discussion of the ‘sexual conversion narrative’, the manipulation of female chastity as a status which could be regained and rewritten. He used the example of Anne Boleyn who was executed as a ‘harlot’ but was quietly reinstated as a chaste wife at the time of her daughter Elizabeth I’s coronation. Ecclesiastical records reveal at the other end of the social scale, the 1589 case of Ursula Shepherd who publicly repented her ‘whoredom’ and vowed ‘hereafter to lead a chaste life’. Spiess asked how this renewed ‘chastity’ might have been accepted by the community and effected in practice. He is interested in the social formation that constructed the ‘epistemology of the whore’ in early modern England as part of an ongoing project. Questions after his paper focussed on the continual making and remaking of sexual representation, the traditions of whore narratives such as that of Mary Magdalen and on the patriarchal institutions which formulated the narratives and why. Legal and religious structures, but also the fact that
women themselves were often the loudest accusatory voices were discussed, and the flexibility of spousal contracts which might condone pre-marital sex if formal marriage then took place. Chastity was clearly a fluid idea, composed of complex socially agreed and reinterpreted meanings.

The beautiful oil paintings which accompanied Spiess’ presentation deserve a mention. Sonia Villegas Lopez examined the idea of libertinism in the seventeenth century which was seen as primarily a male transgression but one which female writers such as Behn and Haywood increasingly redefined (see Laura Linker, Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730). Lopez based her argument on two ‘Oriental’ or as Lopez prefers
‘transnational’ texts by Sébastien Brémond, Hattige, or the Amours of the King of Tamaran (1680) and Homais, Queen of Tunis (1681) which were thinly veiled critiques of Charles II’s court and the power of royal mistresses. Though at the boundaries of society, the women used their bodies to shape the opportunities which their confined lives presented, and to exploit the fallibilities of the
monarchs who ostensibly control them. The novels play with cross-dressing and multiple identities and show sexuality and politics as almost interchangeable. Ideas raised in discussions after the paper included the possibility that class was more important than gender in novels which featured
kings who raised lower status women to positions of power. This female power could safely be discussed in settings of ‘far-away places’. It was pointed out that Behn’s work demonstrates many of the prejudices against women, not least in terms of age and power. For example, Onahal, the old
wife of the king in Oroonoka, retains much of her power though relegated to second place and communicates with Oroonoko on behalf of Imoinda.

Anthony Walker-Cook took us into the eighteenth century and on a journey to the Underworld and the Mock-heroic as a way of writing in the epic mode through the work of Sarah Fielding and Mary Leapor. He analysed their use of Classical references, particularly from Homer and Virgil. We looked at Fielding’s The History of the Countess of Dellwyn (1759) which uses the references to frame commentary on her contemporary world, one which mirrors the chthonic confusion and dark recesses of myth and its powerful stories. Mary Leapor employs the tradition of ‘katabasis’ (descent)
in her poem Crumble-Hall to take us into the lower levels, the domain of the lower classes, workers and domestics who labour unseen like so many hideous mythological figures. She constructed ‘female narratives within a classical space’, where Sophronia kneads her dough and

‘thro’ her Fingers squeeze
Ambrosial Butter with the temper’d Cheese:
Sweet Tarts and Pudden. Too, her Skill declare;
And the soft Jellies, hid from baneful Air’

(in A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry, ed. Christine Gerard, 2006, p.209).

Who could resist those tarts and ‘puddens’?! During the discussion, the tone of the poem was compared to Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s Washing Day (1797). The translations of Classical work, particularly Horatian Odes by Bluestocking women and the lesser known Mary Goddard were mentioned.

The particularly harrowing image of Hector’s dead body dragged behind a chariot in The Iliad sparked several examples in womens’ writing, notably Mary Wortley Montagu in her poem Saturday (1747) which conjures up the horror in a meditation on the effects of smallpox:

‘A glass in her right hand she bore,
For now she shunned the face she sought before.
‘How am I changed! Alas! How am I grown
A frightful spectre, to myself unknown!’ (line 1-6)

Thanks are due to all the speakers and to the host and chair of our first zoom meeting as a group. If this was a taste of what is to come, we can expect an exceptionally erudite and stimulating season of papers!

In memory of Deirdre Gillian Gina Le Faye 26 October 1933-16 August 2020 By Gillian Dow (University of Southampton)

In this post, Gillian Dow reflects on the life of Deirdre Le Faye (1933-2020).

The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.

Northanger Abbey, Volume 1, Chapter 14.

I can’t remember exactly when I talked about this passage with Deirdre Le Faye, who has died age 86. It must have been after the publication of the Cambridge University Press edition of Northanger Abbey, which she co-edited with Barbara Benedict, and which appeared in 2006, because we were talking about her work on that. It was certainly before her honorary doctorate, awarded at the University of Southampton in 2011. No matter: I remember our discussion vividly. We were sitting in the Great Hall at Chawton House, and I was quizzing Deirdre about her rejection of what she always called ‘lit crit’ (she could load the phrase with a great deal of disdain). Surely, I said, there’s a great deal of invention in biography, and perhaps even in editing? Leaving aside the destruction of Austen’s letters, and the necessary account that must be made of what’s missing, what’s there still needs to be interpreted. What of the gaps, the omissions, what of providing a reading of tone and style? “I deal in facts”, Deirdre said. And that was the end of that. The phrase ‘facts as crisp as lettuce leaves’ was one she herself used, on many occasions. It was cited in the conferment speech made at the graduation ceremony for her honorary Doctorate, which can be read here.

I knew not how to reconcile Deirdre’s very different account of what she did to what I felt was the work of biography. But on this, as on many, many other things, she and I agreed to differ.

I first met Deirdre in 2005, when I took up my position as postdoctoral research fellow at Chawton House and the University of Southampton. I got to know her well because of her constant devotion to the Chawton House Library project, and support of me, personally, in a variety of my roles there. She was thrilled that the house had been saved for the benefit of the public, and that it was a centre for the study of women’s writing, and she was delighted to be a Patron. She gave many talks at conferences and study days at Chawton House over the years, frequently causing some anxiety to the Chair of her panel because of her relaxed approach to keeping to her allotted time. When she launched her book Jane Austen’s Country Life at Chawton House in 2014, she spoke entirely without notes, and insisted on taking her watch off for the evening: I managed to coax her into finishing, but only so that we had time for questions.

Deirdre’s theme, in her talks, never really changed, and could be summed up by the keynote that she gave at the New Directions in Austen Studies conference hosted at Chawton House in 2009, the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s move to the village. Although she was saddened that new Austen letters would almost certainly never come to light, she felt convinced that new evidence about the lives of the Austen family could be found via the papers of neighbours and relations in Steventon, Chawton, Godmersham, Southampton and Bath. The conclusion to that paper – a version can be found online – was in effect a call to arms for other researchers to pick up in the archives where she had left off.

I’m certain that one of the reasons that Deirdre made this call to arms was because she had thoroughly enjoyed her own research trips over the years, and wanted others to have that same thrill of the chase. She was a committed archival researcher, hunting down information about the extended Austen family and their acquaintances in local record offices, and in the homes of Austen-family descendants, many of whom she befriended. One of her descriptions of a research trip to a family archive in the 1980s that she sent me gave a hilariously Gothic account of the visit: encountering green mould on the flag stones, and ‘lavatory paper so damp it might almost have been previously used’. She certainly relished locating her visit in the steps of Catherine Morland, as well as Austen herself.

Even after her travelling days were over, and Deirdre called on the next generation to take up the reins, one of the things that always impressed me about her was her enormous appetite for work and research from her own home. She was always working on some new article, or note, or helping another scholar with their own endeavours. Indeed, her generosity to other scholars could be remarkable – she was a great one for sending little cards and relevant anecdotes, unprompted, and she was always quick to reply to direct pleas for her assistance. But one disagreed with her at ones peril. She was extremely stern, if, for example, one raised any questions about a certain Austen portrait. That, for Deirdre, was an unmentionable topic, and it shall go unmentioned here. In my years editing the Chawton House Library newsletter The Female Spectator, I was on the receiving end of many emails which began ‘Gillian! No! It is quite incorrect to…’ Nor did I ever manage to convince her that the French women writers I was interested in myself were worth reading, although she had – in the interests of completeness, and with a grim sense of duty – read a great many that the Austen women themselves would have read.

Deirdre’s industry put most of us to shame. She was a true independent scholar, in the best sense of the words. She amused me with her accounts of her idleness too. In April 2015 – when she was, it must be remembered, already in her eighties – she wrote that it was so sunny that

I have lolled in the back garden doing nothing except read and think, instead of sitting at my desk and working!   This morning so far is rather overcast, hence dolce far niente must be put aside and stern Puritan work ethic return. 

We had very different ideas about what leisure was! I valued Deirdre’s friendship, and especially her correspondence, which could be full of gossip, scandal, and not-to-be-repeated comments about Austenian scholarship and Janeite devotees. She frequently had me laughing out loud at her descriptions of mutual acquaintances, and indeed her doctors in her final years. She rejoiced in being a ‘Puzzling Case’ for her medical team, turning accounts of what must have been extremely wearing and worrying appointments into amusing and carefully-crafted emails.  She took being a correspondent seriously, and never forgot what my own family had been, or were due to be, doing. She never met my son, but she never failed to ask after him, or to send advice for books he might enjoy.

Deirdre’s exhaustive approach to Jane Austen’s life and work, and her devotion to those she met through her scholarship, meant that she was industrious to the very end. Although frustrated that motor neurone disease had robbed her of the power of speech, and what she called ‘the ability to appear in polite society’, she was typing until the last days of her life. Her last email to me expressed frustration with her computer system, and she turned it off to ‘let the wretched thing regain some degree of normality’. Her ‘more anon’, and ‘Love and Freindship’ are left hanging in my inbox. Cassandra-like, I censor Deirdre’s missives, whilst knowing that the Le Faye correspondence – scattered around her friends and colleagues across the world, in drawers and computers – must be prolific and contain a great many gems. It is, however, something of a comfort that her own books and papers – with their extensive marginalia, notes and ‘corrections’ – are to be held at Chawton House for the scholars of the future to deduce their own ‘facts’. Deirdre made this donation with a strong sense of her own legacy, and an even stronger wish to further the Austenian scholarship of the future. I hope that many will travel to Chawton House in her steps, and, in doing so remember a scholar whose ‘Love and Freindship’ for the library were generous to the end.

_______________________________________________

With many thanks to Dr Gillian Dow for writing this very personal obituary for the Women’s Studies Group. Gillian was also featured on a BBC Radio 4 episode of ‘Last Word’ where she spoke about Deirdre Le Faye. A link to the episode can be found here. Deirdre was very dedicated to Chawton House and donations made to them in her memory would be much appreciated.