Elaine Hobby in conversation with Sara Read

Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity (Virago, 1988)

One of the aims of the WSG’s Commonplace Book, was to conduct interviews with some prominent academics who have been closely involved with WSG over the years. Late last year WSG member Sara Read sat down with Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies at Loughborough University, and this half hour audio is the result.

 

As some readers might know Elaine is a long-time associate of WSG who has encouraged her PhD students to join the group and give research papers at their seminars, and who recently gave a keynote on Aphra Behn at WSG’s 2015 workshop.  She is a renowned scholar of seventeenth-century women’s writing, especially autobiographical and lesbian writing, as well as midwifery manuals, whose books include Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing 1649-88 (1988) and an edition of Jane Sharp’s 1671 Midwives Book or the Whole Art of Midwifry Discovered (1999).

She is currently leading a major project to produce an edition of Aphra Behn’s works. Sara spoke with Elaine about her research interests, her experiences of an “embryonic” WSG, her early influences and her latest project.  The conversation helps illustrate just how small a circle of people the feminist study of early modern women involved in the UK in 1987, and the changes that have transformed the field since.

WSG 30th Anniversary Commonplace Book

As regular readers of this blog will know, the WSG is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 (the date is a little bit hazy – it was so long ago! – but it is generally agreed that our panel at BSECS 1987 was our first meaningful action). As part of the celebrations, WSG has not only instituted a bursary, but is in the process of compiling and editing a volume intended to be a reflection of its members’ 30 years of research and activism.  Edited by Carolyn Williams, Sara Read and Louise Duckling and with a working title of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 Commonplace Book, it will comprise a mixture of short research articles, reminiscences, interviews and poems by members past and present.  Those interested in the upcoming book can get a taste of it by listening to Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies at Loughborough University and a long-time associate of WSG, in conversation with Sara Read in a separate blog post later this month.

Commonplacing was a common knowledge-making practice during the early modern period whereby people would write short extracts or digests from their reading into books under topical headings.  These could be poetry, prose, quotations, proverbs, letters and prayers, which the compiler could then reference and recombine.  Books could be kept for pragmatic as well as recreational reasons.  Men such as Francis Bacon and John Locke famously wrote about and kept commonplace books, but women kept them too, and in recent years much work has been done on a closely related genre, the recipe book, to which the whole household might contribute.  Some thought the practice of commonplacing a cause for concern, because it would encourage superficial reading.

The commonplace book as a discursive practice arguably reached its peak during the early modern period but commonplacing is by its very nature also highly personal and has continued in various forms into the Romantic period and the present day.  WSG’s Commonplace Book will be a printed rather than manuscript form, but it will reflect the collaborative, interdisciplinary, unruly, highly mobile forms of interaction and support WSG has encouraged over the years. We hope to see it published in 2018.

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2017

The first of WSG’s 2017-18 seminars takes place in about a fortnight, with three papers on women earning a living during the early modern period and long eighteenth century, including one by WSG’s 2016 bursary winner, Charmian Mansell.

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Saturday September 23, 2017. Chair: TBC
Charmian Mansell: Female servants in the early modern community: space, place and identity.
Christina Paine: Crises of Celebrity (on Angelica Catalani and her experience as a highly successful female immigrant singer in London, between 1806 and 1814).
Emma Clery: Jane Austen on Money.

Cfp WSG Seminars 2017-18

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is a small, informal, multidisciplinary group formed to promote women’s studies in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century.  Since it was established in the 1980s, the group has enabled those interested in women’s and gender studies to keep in touch, to hear about one another’s research and publications, and to meet regularly to discuss relevant topics.

We organize regular weekend seminars and an annual workshop at the Foundling Museum, where members can meet and discuss women’s studies topics. We can also offer advice and opportunities to engage in activities that increase opportunities for publication, or enhance professional profiles in other ways.

For our 2017-18 seminars, we invite papers related to any aspect of women’s studies: not only women writers, but any activity of a woman or women in the period of our concern, or anything that affects or is affected by women in this period, such as the law, religion, etc. Male writers writing about women or male historical figures relevant to the condition of women in this period are also a potential topic. Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome; so are topics from the early part of our period. We would also welcome how-to presentations for discussion: examples of suitable topics would include, but are not limited to, applying for grants, setting up research networks, becoming a curator, co-authorship, and writing about images. The seminar dates are:

  • Saturday 23rd September, 2017, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 18th November, 2017, 1-4pm
  • Sunday 14th January, 2018, 1-4pm
  • Sunday 11th March, 2018 1-4pm (work in progress or how-to presentations particularly welcome at this session).

Please note the first two are Saturday and the last two Sunday sessions.  The full address for the Foundling Museum is 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ. We are allowed into the room at 12.30pm to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1-4pm. So please arrive a little early if you can. The WSG is open to men, women, and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join our group and to give papers.

Please reply to WSG seminars organiser Carolyn D. Williams at cdwilliamslyle@aol.com
Find out more about us at https://womensstudiesgroup.org

 

Helen Draper: Mary Beale’s self-portraits

During the WSG’s recent trip to the Geffrye Museum, member Helen Draper gave a talk about the seventeenth-century artist Mary Beale.  She writes more below.

As already described so beautifully by Miriam Al Jamil, members of the WSG met for this year’s annual outing at East London’s Geffrye Museum, an institution devoted mainly to the study and representation of England’s middle classes from 1600 the present day. A particularly interesting example of a middling family of the mid- to late-seventeenth century, that of artist Mary Beale, is represented in the collection by a very novel object. Beale’s Self-portrait with her husband and son (c.1660, oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.2 cm) is the earliest of her firmly attributed works, and in it she put a daring new slant on a well established male genre – that of the artist’s self-portrait with his family. At first glance this slightly sombre yet affecting portrait appears too small and unassuming to be of revolutionary importance in the canon of British art history, yet in it Mary very purposefully placed herself, a virtuous Christian wife and mother, in the role of creator, the author of her own and her family’s painted biography.

Mary Cradock (1633-99), born the daughter of a clergyman in the hamlet of Barrow in Suffolk, married Charles Beale (1632-1705) in 1652 just days before her father’s untimely death left her an orphan. By 1654 the couple and their newborn son, Bartholomew ‘Batt’ Beale, were living in Covent Garden, the centre of metropolitan art production and patronage during the Interregnum. Mary’s near neighbours included fellow artists Peter Lely (d.1680), who prospered and went on to become Court Painter to Charles II, and the innovative Joan Carlile (d.1679) who was engaged in what proved to be an abortive strategy to earn a ‘fortune’ as a society portraitist. In 1658, when Charles Beale was appointed Deputy Patents Clerk, the family moved eastwards to occupy the Patents Office house in Hind Court, a narrow alley off Fleet St and just ‘Without’ the London Wall. It was in that house – full of family, lodgers and servants – that Mary made her way upstairs to her top floor studio to paint the triple, perhaps quadruple, portrait now at the Geffrye Museum. I have suggested elsewhere that it is entirely possible that the artist was pregnant with her son Charles at the time, and that the space in the portrait between her, her husband and young Batt alludes to the other member of the family who was at once absent and present.

When, in 1665, plague spread through the city the Beales swapped their cramped little street for five years on a smallholding in Allbrook, Hampshire. Although we know little of Mary’s painterly activities in the countryside, brief references confirm that she continued to work, while Charles prepared her canvases. During their sojourn Mary Beale painted her second surviving Self-portrait (c.1666, oil on canvas, 109.2 x 87.6 cm, NPG), this time openly in the guise of an artist with her palette hanging on the wall nearby, and as mother to two young children who appear as the subjects of a small double portrait held at her side. Here Beale is again gently subversive, playing with the concept of likeness and asserting her power to create progeny in paint as well as flesh – an undeniable advantage over her male colleagues, and one shared by many women artists through the centuries.

In 1670/1 the family left their rural idyll and returned to London, this time as householders in a newly built terrace of well-to-do middling homes on the north side of Pall Mall. It was there, a stone’s throw from the mansions of St James’s Square and Charles II’s palace, that Mary Beale established the fully professional portrait studio in which she created fashionable likenesses of patrons who were stalwarts of Court, County and the City. Mary also found time to paint several other self-portraits, and dozens of gradually ageing studies of her husband Charles. Her last known ‘selfie’ (c.1681, oil on bed ticking, 121.9 x 104.1 cm, private collection) painted when she was almost fifty, shows a self-possessed woman, well, but not opulently dressed, a pet spaniel by her side. Echoing the still, interrogative gaze of the earlier images, her expression in this portrait is again characteristic of the inner three-way visual conversation being conducted between Beale the creator, subject and viewer of her own likeness.

Helen is a conservator and is currently completing a PhD thesis on Mary Beale part-time at the Courtauld Institute and IHR. You can read more about her work on her very elegant website, www.draperconservation.com.