The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 seminars take place during autumn and winter at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ, on Saturdays (or occasionally on Sundays), 1-4pm.  Doors open at 12.30pm, and there is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session.  Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. There are usually three speakers per seminar, and we start promptly so as to give time for supportive feedback and discussion from members.

The WSG invites 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, be it literature, medicine, art, music, theatre, religion, economics, sexuality, and so on.  Early career and independent scholars are particularly welcome.  We put out a call for papers every February through August on sites like, but if you would like to be considered as a speaker please contact the Seminars Organiser, Carolyn Williams.

Non-member attendees including speakers are strongly encouraged to join WSG, and can do so here.

Current programme: 

SATURDAY September 23, 2017. Chair: Sara Read
Charmian Mansell: Female servants in the early modern community: space, place and identity.
Service was a typical and defining experience for young women in early modern England. Around 60 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds were employed in rural and urban, rich and poor households across the country in exchange for wages and bed and board. The working, social and religious lives of these women and the relationships they established are considered almost exclusively within the domestic context. The ‘separate spheres’ model continues to underpin the way in which female servants are studied. Using depositional evidence from church courts, this paper challenges this framework by exploring the range of spaces that female servants moved between, both within and outside the household. It demonstrates the range of working and social activities that took women in service outside the household as well as the friendships and relationships that they built beyond the home. Neighbours, friends and suitors were among an assortment of people who passed in and out of the home on a regular basis. But female servants also socialised and engaged with the community in streets, fields, churches, fairs and markets. They undertook work that removed them from the home and brought them into contact with a diverse range of people. This paper places servants at the heart of the neighbourhoods in which they lived and the parishes to which they belonged, and in turn, re-evaluates our understanding of the early modern community.

Christina Paine: Crises of Celebrity (on Angelica Catalani and her experience as a highly successful female immigrant singer in London, between 1806 and 1814).
This paper is based on work done for my nearly-to-be submitted PhD on the multiple forms of representation of the internationally celebrated Italian opera star Angelica Catalani and her experience as a highly successful female immigrant singer in London, between 1806 and 1814.  It has considered particularly the exceptional privileges, including financial success, control of career, access to the public sphere, and personal empowerment, which Catalani gained through her prowess and celebrity; and has shown how her status was built on achievement and adaptability within the opera industry.  Important issues in her representation and life concerning her sex, and nationality; and her position and cultural weight as a representative of an upper-class fashion-Italian Opera.  These issues intersect with the growing anxiety about female freedom and power; concern to protect and foster burgeoning English National identity in a period of war with France and major transitions in society; concerns with class and access to theatres; and English philanthropy and the effect of Italian opera on British culture. Catalani, who represents all of these issues, can be considered as a figurehead for them.   It was her very extraordinary celebrity at this time (helped by her marriage to a French army officer) which allowed or pushed her into the forefront of press attention for so many different causes and issues.  Moreover, the publicity these generated through public obsession with her every move, notably with the more controversial aspects of her career management, served to propel her into the mainstream political and cultural arena.  This paper considers two particular crises her actions initiated, in relation to interpretations of her actions as a celebrity, which crystallised in the second half of 1809.  It does so through two case studies: (1) her refusal to sing for an important benefit for the Middlesex Hospital; and her position as a figurehead for the Old Price Riots,  both of which affected each other and threw her celebrity into the mainstream arena.

Emma CleryJane Austen on Money.
This paper will address the aptness and irony of Jane Austen’s appearance on the new £10 note, in the light of her fictional treatment of money issues, her struggles in the literary marketplace and her close knowledge of the banking career of her brother Henry.

SATURDAY 25 November, 2017. Chair: Lois Chaber
Eva-Maria Lauenstein: ‘Within these tombes enclos’d’: delineating Renaissance love in Mary Sidney Herbert’s Antonius.
In Mary Sidney Herbert’s translation of Robert Garnier’s Antonius (1592), the heart-broken and defeated Cleopatra ‘enclosed her selfe […] in a monument she had before caused to be built’. It is from here that Cleopatra begins to verbalize the nature of her love for Antonius, in which the course of both their ‘vnstedfast’ lives defined by sensual passion and lust is reformulated through ‘marble cold’, recasting the Egyptian queen into the role of the pitiable ‘Wife kindhearted’. As the ensuing action unfolds, Cleopatra remains enclosed in her tomb, suggesting that the built and physically delimited environment plays a central role not only in the articulation of Cleopatra’s love for Antonius, but equally her actions in the face of public and private turmoil caused by war, foreign invasion and political breakdown that defines the plot of the play.  Taking the lead from the funeral monument’s prominent role in framing the Queen of Egypt, this paper will argue that the tomb played a central emblematic role as a platform from which Cleopatra negotiates love. Drawing on research into the interrelationships between the built environment and poetics in late medieval ‘micro-architecture’ by such scholars as Ann R. Meyer and Seeta Chaganti, this paper views the monument through the lens of a Renaissance afterlife of the symbolic language of ‘enshrinement’. This approach will shed new light on Mary Sidney’s Antonius as a tool in conveying the role of women in the construction of Elizabethan protestant identity through object alongside text, expressing at once the central role of protestant matrimony in Sidney’s exploration of the female voice, and its role in the construction of narratives of a post-Reformation strive for unity and concord under female rule.

Mihoko Suzuki: Political writing beyond borders: Charlotte Stanley and Margaret Cavendish.
Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby, is a familiar figure in the history of English Civil Wars for having heroically defended her husband’s seat, Latham House, from a Parliamentarian siege. Yet what is not as well known is that she was born in France as Charlotte de la Trémoille and in her extensive correspondence with her sister-in-law Marie de la Tour Auvergne she discusses the politics of the civil war. Most scholars  accept the claim of Stanley’s contemporary, Margaret Cavendish, who accompanied Henrietta Mari ain exile in France, that she did not know French, and therefore do not pursue the possible influence of  French writers or the French political situation that she witnessed during her sojourn in France. I will suggest in this paper that attending to the writings of Stanley and Cavendish in the French context opens up new perspectives on women’s political writings during the English civil wars.

Valerie G. Derbyshire: Words and pictures: Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) and the works of the artists of her day.
Can a painting become visible through a novel?  Can a novel manifest itself in a painting? Focusing upon the romances of Charlotte Smith (1749-1806), this paper will highlight Smith’s links with a number of artists of her day and the use she put to their artworks within her romantic novels. Smith was a woman of refined taste.  She had taken drawing lessons from early proponent of the picturesque, George Smith of Chichester (1714-1776) whilst a child. She also had personal relationships with the famous portrait painter, George Romney (1734-1802) and the celebrated printmaker, John Raphael Smith (1751-1812) and his daughter Emma.  This paper will explore these relationships and demonstrate how she used their respective artworks within her novels and why so many paintings feature within her works.  Research surrounding this has yielded surprising results, including revealing a backstory to a print which was previously shrouded in mystery and a previously undiscovered sketch linked to the great portraitist George Romney.

SUNDAY 14 January, 2018. Chair: Angela Escott
Maryann Feola: Aphra Behn and the shaping of an imagined Naples.
Those familiar with studies of cities may recall Walter Benjamin’s assessment that a view of a city’s inhabitants “emerges simultaneously” when the city itself is analyzed. Benjamin’s contention helps frame an understanding of how Neapolitans and Naples, with it long and distinguished history stretching back to antiquity, obtained such a disparaging reputation in literature. By this I mean, that since at least the fifteenth century, the city of Naples, despite the praise for its geographically privileged port has been portrayed as a dangerous city with a population that is ignorant, lazy, and generally flawed. Critic Susan Staves has noted that Spain and Italy were attractive settings for Aphra Behn (1640-1689) to subordinate cultural differences (Staves in CC to AB 18). For example, Behn’s view of the southern Italian character is evident throughout her last play,  Emperor of the Moon, a reimagining of a French farce with figures drawn from the Commedia dell’ Arte. And Taylor Corse has commented that Behn found Naples an apt setting for Killigrew’s Thomaso, which had been set it Madrid. Corse noted that, “Because of…[Naples’] reputation as a volatile and unpredictable city,” and noting there are “more spontaneous fights in these 5 acts than in almost any other Restoration play.” This may be true too for the play’s number of occurrences of attempted rape. Today’s presentation is part of a new project that reexamines the political experience of Naples and literary representations, such as Behn’s, of the Neapolitan character in early modern literature. What follows is an exploration of Benh’s imagining Naples in the context of a view of the city this is rooted in its geographical and colonial past.

Sarah Burdett: From bloodthirsty Amazon to ‘Desp’rate Mother’: Sarah Yates’s re-invention of Queen Margaret of Anjou on the 1790s London stage.
In 1766 British playwright Thomas Francklin produced the historical tragedy The Earl of Warwick (1766). The tragedy dramatises the usurpation of King Henry VI by Edward IV in 1461, and presents as its heroine the medieval warrior Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Closely resembling the portrayal of Margaret popularised in William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Francklin depicts Margaret as a ruthless Amazonian Queen, who raises and leads a powerful army, and brutally murders the eponymous Earl. Despite her textual representation as a savage murderess however, when an unrevised version of Francklin’s tragedy was staged at the Haymarket Theatre in 1797, it was not as a masculine warrior, but as a sentimental mother, that Margaret was interpreted by her audience. This paper hypothesises that the discrepancy formed in 1797 between Francklin’s scripted Margaret, and the Margaret recognised on stage, was determined largely by casting choice. In 1797, Francklin’s Margaret was personated by little known actress Sarah Yates. Just six months before she performed at Haymarket, Sarah’s husband, Thomas Yates, was shot dead at his home in Pimlico. Thomas’s death left Sarah with a number of children to look after, and another on the way. The actress’s domestic circumstances were publicised both prior to, and during her performance in The Earl of Warwick, and can be seen to have played a pivotal role in governing the audience’s perception of Yates as an actress, and Margaret as a character. Paying particular attention to the symbiotic relationship formed between player and role in late eighteenth-century acting theory, my paper proposes that knowledge of Yates’s familial grief served to defend the actress against charges of unwomanly ambition, while concurrently vindicating her character’s military endeavours, by manipulating theatregoers into perceiving Margaret, like Yates herself, as a desperate and devoted mother.

Brianna Robertson-Kirkland: Title TBC

SUNDAY 11 March, 2018 (This is a ‘how-to’ session that also involves a measure of ‘work in progress’: the techniques under discussion are life writing, the use of legal documents, and audio research).   Chair: Angela Escott
Valerie Schutte: Princess, Duchess, Queen: Mary Tudor as represented in the long eighteenth century.
In 1677, French novelist Jean de Préchac published a novel about Mary Tudor, Queen of France. The novel romanticized Mary’s marriage to King Louis XII of France and her love affair that led to marriage with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. In 1678, the novel was translated into English and printed in London in only one edition. This novel perpetuates the stereotypical characterization of Mary as a woman driven by love, the only point of her character that is well-known about Mary. In 1818, James Ford published The Suffolk Garland, a collection of poems and ballads related to Suffolk. In it is a three-page poem about the love affair of Mary and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk that ultimately resulted in the birth and rise of Lady Jane Grey. In light of recent biographies of Mary, I propose to offer an analysis of depictions of Mary in the long eighteenth century, book-ending this analysis with the novel by Préchac and the poem by Ford. I will also include mentions of Mary in eighteenth-century histories, chronicles, and other literary sources. These eighteenth-century depictions of Mary have come to dominate modern understandings of her character, leaving only the memory of a woman who married for love against her brother’s wishes and was the grandmother of Protestant martyr Lady Jane Grey. Exploring Mary’s representation two centuries after her death allows for a fresh perspective on understanding Mary as her own person, not a woman driven only by love or a small player in the political games of her brother and husbands. At least nine novels featuring Mary Tudor have been released since 1898, all of which tell a similar story of love-stricken Mary and her desire to do anything to be with her true love, Charles Brandon. As Préchac’s novel was the first to tell this story, I will analyze Préchac’s version of Mary and how it came to be so influential.

Cheryll Duncan: Music, women and the law: the challenges and rewards of legal documents.
Legal records have been almost totally neglected by musicologists, yet offer a rich  and unique source of new information once the formidable obstacles to their use have been overcome. Documents generated by lawsuits involving a number of eighteenth-century women will provide a context for demonstrating some of the issues involving in accessing and interpreting the material.

Catriona Cooper: Listening to the Commons: the sounds of debate and the experience of women in Parliament c.1800.
Between 1548 and 1834 the House of Commons met in the converted royal chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster. Women had often watched Commons debates from the public galleries, but in 1778 they were ejected following complaints from some MPs. Women responded by occupying the space above the Commons ceiling, accessed by a ladder, where the architecture of the medieval St Stephen’s chapel was still visible. Our project aims to recover the auditory experience of sitting in that space and listening to the debates staged below using acoustic and virtual reality technologies, and in doing so explore the origins of the suffrage movement during this period.

Karen Lipsedge: Reading women and the eighteenth-century home.
This paper will be about women, the home and the eighteenth-century British novel. During the first half of the eighteenth century a new type of domestic interior emerged: a ‘home’ that was not only distinguished more clearly from ‘work’, but also imbued with and defined by a new ‘culture of domesticity’. This culture relates in part to the growing availability and demand for domestic objects. It also relates to the increased associated between women and this new type of home. The new culture of domesticity, it is often argued, not only created women as ‘domestic managers’, but also enabled women to glean a new type of domestic ‘autonomy.’ Accordingly, histories of domestic space and domesticity have tended to focus on women’s consumption of these new domestic objects, thereby creating a seemingly intrinsic link between women, femininity, and the eighteenth-century home. But what do novels of the period reveal about the relationship between women and home? If the 1720s marks the beginning of an important shift in the material culture of the home and the domestic autonomy of women, then it also marks the birth of the novel- a new type of literature that devoted increased attention to the relationship between the individual and their home, particularly the lived experience of the female inhabitant. This paper will bring together literary representation and socio-cultural comment to examine the fictional representation of women and the eighteenth-century home.  By devoting attention to the work of novelists such as Defoe, Richardson and Hays, I will argue that the eighteenth-century novel both reinforces and challenges contemporary debates about women’s domestic autonomy and engagement in the home.