Gillian Williamson: British Masculinity in the Gentleman’s Magazine

Gillian Williamson, front cover of British Masculinities (Palgrave, 2015)
Gillian Williamson, front cover of British Masculinities (Palgrave, 2015)

This is a great post with which to kick off 2016, for all readers who believe the history of early modern and 18thC women should be considered (and practised) as part of a broader history of sex and gender.  WSG member Gillian Williamson has published her study British Masculinity in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’, 1731-1815 with Palgrave Macmillan (£63 hardback).  Gillian is an independent historian.  She read classics at the University of Cambridge then worked in corporate finance. She returned to academic study after editing a lottery-funded local history book.

Launched in 1731, the monthly Gentleman’s Magazine was the dominant periodical of the 18thC, drawing its large readership from across the literate population of Great Britain and the English-speaking world. Its readers were highly responsive. By the 1740s their letters, poems and family announcements, especially obituaries, filled at least half its pages, sitting alongside articles by a circle that included Samuel Johnson. It was a Georgian social network as readers engaged in a continuous dialogue with each other, but not all these readers were as comfortably established as gentlemen as the title implied.

Gillian’s study traces how, from launch to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the magazine developed as a vehicle for the creation and national dissemination of a new middling-sort masculine gentlemanliness in a Britain that was increasingly commercial, fluid and open. You can read a sample chapter here.

Update: Women’s Writing in the Nineteenth Century seminars

WSG member Susan Civale’s seminar series hosted by the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers at Canterbury Christ Church University is continuing in 2016.  Entitled “Women’s Writing in the Nineteenth Century”, several of the sessions may be of interest to scholars with interests towards the end of WSG’s time period.

The remaining seminars are:
Dr Felicity James (Leicester) on “Women of dissent: religion life writing, and female identity in the long 19th century”, Thursday 28 January 2016 (Room Nf09)
Dr Matt Rubery (QMUL) on “Human audiobooks: women, reading aloud, and technology”, Thursday 25 February 2016 (Room Prg03)
Dr Andrew Maunder (Hertfordshire) on “Infant phenomena: Victorian child stars and early-victorian celebrity culture”, Tuesday 3 May 2016 (Room Prg03)

The seminars are all open to the public, take place from 5pm, with tea & coffee available from 5 and the talk beginning 5.15.  For more information, please email Susan.

Susan has also been awarded a Visiting Research Fellowship at Chawton House Library this year to pursue her research on the fiction of Mary Robinson (1757-1800).  She will take up her Fellowship in April 2016, and will write about her research for the WSG blog.

Reminder: WSG Seminar Jan 2016

Update: 29 January 2016:

Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, Chrisy Dennis is unable to give her paper at our seminar tomorrow.  The rest of the programme remains unchanged, and we hope to invite Chrisy back to talk on Mary Robinson at a later date.  Apologies for any inconvenience.

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The third WSG seminar of the academic year will take place in just over a week’s time at the Foundling Museum.  Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  Doors open after 12.30pm with the session starting promptly at 1, and tea, coffee and biscuits at about 2.30pm.  Non-members who wish to attend the seminar are very welcome to come but will be asked to make a small donation for refreshments.

For the January session seminars organiser Carolyn Williams has scheduled papers on queens, singers, and writers.  WSG are also very pleased that Chrisy Dennis, who couldn’t make it in November, will present her paper at this session.  As ever, attendees are also encouraged to visit the current Foundling exhibition (free!), which in January is about illustrators of orphans from the eighteenth-century to the present day.

Saturday 30th January 2016,  1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Chair: Lois Chaber

Valerie Schutte, ‘Pre-accession Printed Book Dedications to Mary and Elizabeth Tudor’
This paper will offer a comparison of the printed book dedications received by Mary and Elizabeth Tudor before each woman became queen.  This analysis will demonstrate how each royal sibling was connected to early book culture and how that interplayed with her course of education.

Brianna Elyse Robertson-Kirkland, ‘Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810) and his female operatic students
Venanzio Rauzzini, an Italian castrato, was described by The Monthly Mirror in 1807 as ‘the father of a new style of English singing and a new race of singers’, and lists a number of the most esteemed opera singers of the period as his students, including Nancy Storace and Elizabeth Billington.

Sarah Oliver, ‘From Rape to Desire: Mary Hays’s Revision of the Love Theme and Jane Austen’s “New” Heroines
The discussion argues that fictional representations of female sexual desire were problematic for women writers in the Long Eighteenth Century, until Radical writers including Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays re-worked the theme.

Chrisy Dennis, ‘“We were born to grace society: but not to be its slaves”: Chivalry and Revolution in Mary Robinson’s Hubert de Sevrac, A Romance of the Eighteenth Century (1796)
Mary Robinson’s Romance, written during a period of anti-revolutionary backlash in England, overtly criticises the patriarchal order that pervades Europe.  It offers the reader a new family dynamic – one that is based on equality.

Women’s Studies Group at BSECS 2016

WSG will be at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference in January 2016 presenting the “WSG Panel: Minds, Bodies, and China as Sites of Female Growth, Expansion and Contraction in the Long Eighteenth Century”.

Our three papers consider women in confrontation with the great and the little, and their movements between them, whether mentally, physically, or through material objects. Dr Tabitha Kenlon begins by considering the engagement between gothic novels and other literature of the time, particularly conduct manuals, whose functions they often perform, both extending and restricting women’s boundaries by presenting heroines who defy
and embody social conventions. Just as conduct manuals provided guidelines for young ladies to be recognized as proper women, the gothic novel often features heroines searching for their appropriate place in society. Understanding the connections between
gothic novels and conduct manuals provides a more nuanced and complete picture of the ways texts worked together to construct ideals of female identity in the eighteenth century.

Carolyn D. Williams discusses textual representations of physical size and its bearings on female sexuality. Expansion and contraction are seen both as creating characters who are bigger and smaller than the normal run of human beings, and as the process of changing physical size. Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book (1671) and the anonymous Aristotle’s Master-Piece (first published c. 1680) are cited in a discussion of controversy over the proper size of women’s generative organs. Swift’s Travels (1726), Parts I and II of Thomas

Killigrew’s  Thomaso, or, The Wanderer (1663) and Part II of Aphra Behn’s The Rover (1681) are brought to bear on the question whether people of non-standard size are ordinary humans on a different scale, or are monstrous, evil, and bestial. The plays combine both senses of expansion and contraction by introducing two Jewish sisters from Mexico, one a giant and one a dwarf, who wish to be transformed to normal size. Killigrew’s work in particular, where characters undergo magical sex changes that are
accompanied by transformations into giants, reveals a close and complex relationship between size and sexuality requiring further exploration.

When Alexander Pope, in his Epistle to a Lady (1735), described his ideal woman as ‘mistress of herself, though China fall’, he was both punning and reflecting a common eighteenth-century assumption that the passion for porcelain was a major threat to women’s sense of proportion. It is therefore appropriate that Dr Emma Newport’s paper, which concludes this panel, should explore the complex relationship between china the
substance and China the nation in British cultural consciousness. The focus of her research is Lady Banks’s porcelain dairy and the complementary text of her ‘Dairy Book’.
Her achievements re-imagined the aristocratic porcelain dairy as a site of research, of social arts and as a synthesis of male and female collecting practices. They engender both expansion and contraction: as gateway to wider narratives, technologies and aesthetics, but also contracting as the porcelain metonymises these wider representations.

Go to the BSECS website for the full conference programme.

Teaching Hannah Cowley in Dubai

WSG member Tabitha Kenlon, Assistant Professor of English at the American University in Dubai, reflects on a recent teaching experience…

In an attempt to integrate my personal research into my Introduction to Literature course, I assigned my students selections from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and Dr John Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters, as well as Hannah Cowley’s play A Bold Stroke for a Husband in its entirety.

Our initial discussion of the play focused primarily on clarifying the plot and some eighteenth-century terminology (we had a debate on the true meaning of “making love”). By Act 2, though, the battle lines were being drawn. Most of the male students didn’t understand how Victoria’s male disguise could possibly be convincing and thought her scheme was “psychopathic,” while most of the women admired her decision to take action to get back her husband and the family fortune.

All the students seemed to recognize quickly the rules guiding eighteenth-century conduct. They knew that Olivia was supposed to obey her father when he told her who to marry. The women were particularly amused by her behaviour to the suitor Don Vincentio, when she followed her father’s guidelines so exactly that she parroted back some of his suggested topics of conversation word for word.

But many of the discussions split on gender lines. When a male student joked about Olivia’s passion for Don Julio, which was based on just a glimpse of him at a party, a young woman pointed out that the men in the play judge the women by their physical appearance and asked why the women couldn’t do that too. By Act 3, the same male student was willing to concede that the male characters only seemed interested in “physical stuff” with women.

I was curious about the reception the play would receive among students living in a predominantly Muslim society, at a school in which some female students have been rumoured to fail classes so they can stay longer in Dubai, a comparatively relaxed environment. One of my students last semester told me that her husband made fun of her when he caught her reading or doing homework.

Unsurprisingly, the students never made explicit links between the material and their own lives. Some of them made passing comments that even in the twenty-first century marriages were sometimes arranged and took place when women were young. Most of these observations came from female students. When students consulted me about their essays analysing the play, they often did make more direct connections. One young woman explained that she wanted to write about how parents who arranged marriages for their children only had their best interests in mind and that children should trust their parents since they had more knowledge and experience. I asked her how she would feel if her parents arranged a marriage for her. She hesitated and then said she wouldn’t mind, but her parents wouldn’t do that – hers, she said, was not a “typical” Muslim family.

I am now toying with the idea of staging the play here, set in twenty-first century Dubai. One of my students (for fun!) created a poster and explained how the veiled women’s eyes revealed their characters. The idea of women in veils is not new to these students; that was one plot device they accepted with ease, and they seemed intrigued that their culture did not have a monopoly on the concept.

Overall, it was a good experience, and I will certainly assign the play again in the coming semester. Students said the play is still relevant today because, as they put it, society doesn’t really change – we still deal with sex, cheating, arranged marriages, social networks, gossip, and responsibility.