Reminder: WSG seminar March 2021

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 20 March 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.

March 20, 2021
Cheryll Duncan: ‘Much want of judgment’?: new evidence concerning the singer Jane Barbier.

The contralto Jane Barbier enjoyed a long and illustrious career on the London stage, performing in Italian and English operas, masques, pantomimes and afterpieces at leading theatres between 1711 and 1740. Her personal life was subject to some colourful contemporary comment, particularly in response to her reported elopement in 1717. This paper presents a number of archival discoveries which significantly expand Barbier’s known biography; these include new information about her family, the man with whom she eloped, her financial activity and details of the contract for her final season at Covent Garden. The findings prompt a reassessment of Barbier’s reputation and allow a more nuanced portrait of the singer to emerge.

Maria Clara Pivate Biajoli: Understanding Current Readers’ Reception of Jane Austen through Fan Fiction.

Over the last two decades, mostly due to the “Austenmania” encouraged by several TV and movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s work during the 1990s, an overwhelming amount of sequels, variations, and modern retellings have been produced by fans who were not satisfied with the six completed novels Austen has left us. They constantly bring their favorite characters back to life by giving them new stories, new settings, new problems to solve, but never missing the chance to relive all the emotions created by their happy ending. Since Pride and Prejudice is, today, Austen’s most popular novel, it should be no surprise that it is also the one with the greatest number of sequels and variations. Fans have taken Elizabeth and Darcy from adventures with pirates to a shelter for the homeless in Canada, always making sure that their love would conquer it all.

Although the happy ending is indeed the destiny of all of Austen’s heroines, it is difficult to say for sure that it was the main purpose of their journey in the novels. On the contrary, many critics have argued that there are complex issues present in Austen’s text that we risk disregarding when we look only at the love story. Although Austen has probably never been more popular than today (a “global brand”, according to Janet Todd), this phenomenon was built on a very specific image of the author – the writer of romantic and naïve novels. Since the love story is exactly what current fan fiction focuses on, it can be said that they are both part of the cause and the consequence of the loss of other “Austens” in the public’s mind, such as her social criticism and acute perception of gender roles in her society.

This paper will address then the paradoxical question of how current fan fiction helps to promote Austen’s long-term popularity and, at the same time, her death. By presenting examples from sequels, variations, and modern adaptations, I will explore how the analysis of fan fiction can further our understanding of the current reception of Austen’s work. My premise is that fan-authors rewrite the novels according to their interpretation of the story, highlighting aspects they like, seeking repetition of the pleasures of the first reading, and changing or excluding aspects they didn’t like. In this sense, fan fiction could be a strategic source of information to answer the famous question “Why Austen”.

Miriam al Jamil: The Grand Duchess of Tuscany’s Birth Days: Weary and Waiting at the Florentine Court.

The late eighteenth-century Court of Leopold II, Arch Duke of Tuscany does not receive much scholarly attention in its own right. Leopold’s wife Maria Luisa attracts even less interest. Described as gentle and kind, she fades into the background of the wider political picture, as she quietly fulfils her duty and produces children destined for strategic dynastic Hapsburg marriages.

However, archival research into the State Papers records between Whitehall and Sir Horace Mann, British Resident in Florence, has enabled an unanticipated focus on Maria Luisa’s life through Mann’s regular reports and observations on the Ducal Court. His presence there for the frequent birth days of Maria Luisa’s children, together with details of her health and birthing practices offer insights which are unavailable elsewhere. His comments also counter the assumption that Maria Luisa did not participate in Court functions and ceremony.

This paper both charts the Ducal couple’s lives together and celebrates the potential for archival material to contribute to a range of hitherto untapped historical inquiry.

Early Modern Women: Lives, Texts, Objects. Edited by Martine van Elk. https://martinevanelk.wordpress.com/ Accessed 11 February 2020.

Martine van Elk’s Early Modern Women: Lives, Texts, Objects is a fascinating blog that offers interdisciplinary and comparative analysis of early modern women authors and artists. The blog emphasizes that authorship, writing, and artistic endeavors were often interlinked as different aspects of self-expression. It has a search function, as well as an archive drop down by month and a category filter with options such as courtesans, biography, marriage, and religious women. Van Elk also accepts guest posts, which seem to represent more than half of the entries.

Its greatest strength is that Van Elk highlights the lives and works of a transnational group of women, typically English and Dutch, which reflects her 2017 monograph on early modern women writers in England and the Dutch Republic. She argues that seventeenth-century women need to be examined from a cross-cultural perspective to more fully understand the collective experience of early modern women as a whole.

The blog is suitable for both a general and a scholarly audience, as she highlights little know women and topics that could be introductory to students and those interested in the early modern period, yet every entry contains a section with references for further reading and most entries engage with the historiography of the subject. The entries are typically about 2,000 words and take many different foci, from one single object, such as the handkerchief (18 September 2016), to a theme, such as mottos (18 October 2016) or engraving (22 February 2017), to case studies of a specific woman or group of women, such as Celia Fiennes (18 June 2018) and Susanna Teellinck (10 July 2019).

My favorite entry is on female engravers, one written by Van Elk herself. In this post, Van Elk explores to what extent copper engraving was a gendered activity, in that it would have taken place in a male-dominated print shop. She finds print-making to be a collaborative activity between a designer, engraver, and publisher. Seventeenth-century female engravers were rare, but when known, it seems like they also had male relatives who were engravers and they worked within a family business. Magdalena van de Passe (1600–1638) was daughter and sister to male Dutch engravers, and created prints by the time she was 14 years old. Her engravings often were derivative of other engravers, which Van Elk suggests could be understood as translations, in the way that translation of texts was a more suitable activity for women than was original writing.
Sadly, the most recent blog entry is from July 2019, and it was written by a guest. As many of Van Elk’s own posts stemmed from research for her 2017 book, hopefully new posts will arrive as she works on her own new research. She is also a main contributor to the Early Modern Female Book Ownership blog (previously reviewed here), where her newest entries can be found.

Valerie Schutte
Independent Scholar

Valerie Schutte has published widely on royal Tudor women, book dedications, and queenship. Her second monograph, Princesses Mary and Elizabeth Tudor and the Royal Gift Book Exchange, will be published with ARC Humanities Press in 2021.

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

Adventurous wives digital conference: Call for papers

NB: This conference is not run by the WSG. Please get in touch with the organisers directly for more information.

After postponement last year due to the Coronavirus, Chawton House will now be host to an online conference in May 2021, and the conference organisers, Dr Alison Daniell and Dr Kim Simpson have reopened the CfP:

In Charlotte Lennox’s 1752 novel, The Female Quixote, an eighteenth-century Countess is horrified when she is asked by the romance-obsessed heroine to relate her ‘adventures’, professing:

‘The word adventures carries in it so free and licentious a sound in the apprehensions of people at this period of time, that it can hardly with propriety be applied to those few and natural incidents which compose the history of a woman of honour.’

The idea that during the long eighteenth century virtuous wives were increasingly relegated to the domestic/private sphere, their legal and economic identities subsumed into that of their husbands, is a long-standing one. However, recent and ongoing research is challenging the orthodoxy of this narrative and demonstrating that the roles available to married women were more complex, nuanced and dynamic than mainstream assumptions have generally allowed. For example, Elaine Chalus has explored women’s engagement with politics and the electoral process; Joanne Begiato’s examination of the divorce process has shed light on the lived experience of married women; Amy Louise Erikson has interrogated the laws relating to women’s property ownership; and Briony McDonagh has examined inter alia how landowning wives managed the combined duties of married life and estate management.

However, research specifically relating to ‘wives’ is often buried amongst the wider topic of ‘women’, and cross-disciplinary patterns and conclusions relating purely to married women may be lost or go unrecognised.
On Friday 14th and Saturday 15th May, Chawton House will host a two-day digital conference to bring these revisionist narratives together and examine the role(s) of the wife as seen through the fields of literature, social and economic history, law, art history and material culture.

Papers are invited on the following topics:

• The economic and financial autonomy of women following marriage
• Feme sole traders
• The visibility of single versus married women in the literature of the period
• Wives’ involvement in politics and public life
• Working wives
• Women and the divorce process
• Inheritance and the transmission of property through the female line
• Trusts, property ownership and separate estate
• Wives as educators
• Conduct literature and wives
• The married woman as literary heroine
• Quasi-marriages and kept Mistresses
• The married female body
• Material culture, fashion and taste
• Housewifery
• Wives as guardians of morality and social order
• The historiography of the wife: change or continuity?

We would prefer delegates to pre-record their talks, submitting them by 15 April, but if this would be an issue for you then please get in touch. There will be synchronous Q&A sessions following panels. Please submit abstracts of up to 500 words with a short bio (including your time zone) to the conference organisers Kim Simpson & Alison Daniell: adventurousc18wives@gmail.com by 1 March 2021.

For future updates follow @AdventurousWiv1 on Twitter.

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.