WSG at BSECS 2019

WSG member Miriam al Jamil reports from the recent BSECS conference.

WSG members make an increasingly strong showing at BSECS conferences, both as participants in our own panel and as speakers on others. This year’s conference took place in Oxford 4-6 Jan 2019 and the theme was ‘Islands and Isolation’, which inspired a broad and eclectic range of papers across a range of disciplines. Our panel was titled ‘Fallen Women, Missionary Wives and Castaways: Exploring Women’s Isolation in the Long Eighteenth Century’. It was organised by Carolyn Williams and chaired by Yvonne Noble.

Tabitha Kenlon’s paper was ‘Scold, Punish, Pity or Seduce? The Confused Rhetoric of Advice to Unmarried Women (1791)’. Readers of our book Exploring the Lives of Women, 1558-1837 will be aware of Tabitha’s work on conduct manuals and her paper explored contradictions in an anonymous advice manual of 1791. Description of the process of seduction is combined with moralistic counselling of the young women at risk, characterised as victims who succumb to temptation. The language borders on the salacious as the reader is addressed directly as a fallen woman, her shame a ‘chronicle of male triumph’. The writer exhorts reform but is not convinced that a woman will ever be exonerated for her failure to anticipate the actions of her seducer. Tabitha interpreted ‘isolation’ as the social and moral wilderness into which the fallen woman was propelled.

Trudie Messent presenting at BSECS 2019

Trudie Messent presented on a WSG panel for the first time. Her paper was titled ‘Yesterday I left my native land and have now gazed upon it for the last time’: Isolation viewed through the life writing of Missionary wives in the Sandwich Islands and New Zealand, 1819-1832’. Trudie examined both the harsh physical journey and the emotional one which young newly-married wives experienced as they adjusted to life on the other side of the globe. She suggested that the letters and descriptions written by her subjects had a cathartic effect in the absence of social contact that their new lives entailed. Trudie’s paper was accompanied by some beautiful slides, showing routes taken, portraits and scenes which enriched the descriptions and quotations in her paper.

Carolyn Williams’ paper ‘Ladies unus’d to such hardships: Women on Desert Islands in two Eighteenth-century Novels’ began with a witty admonition for the incompetence shown by such desert island dwellers as Ben Gunn and Robinson Crusoe who were unable to recognise the potential resources available to them on their islands, such as the fermenting grapes or sea salt which could be put to good use to supply yeast or enable cheese-making. The delicate languishing ladies in Penelope Aubin’s The Strange Adventures of the Count de Vinevil and his Family (1721) were given short shrift in Carolyn’s discussion which highlighted the shortcomings of an upper-class life as preparation for survival on an island. Their practical working-class counterpoint was identified in Charles Dibdin’s Hannah Hewit; or, The Female Crusoe (1792) whose scientific and mechanical facility rendered her desert island sojourn a period of comfort and creative energy.

Other WSG members who gave papers at the conference included Gillian Williamson, Miriam Al Jamil, Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, our bursary winner Madeleine Pelling, and Judith Hawley who contributed her insights at a round table discussion on ‘#MeToo’. I am sure there were other members and friends at the conference. There were many familiar faces. Speakers Olivette Otele and Cynthia Wall mined their academic experience for thoughtful keynote talks, and a delightful concert of eighteenth-century songs by soprano Valeria Mignaco and guitarist Jelma van Amersfoort put us in a convivial mood for the conference dinner. Plans are already underway for next year’s conference which will be ‘Natural, Unnatural and Supernatural’ and we are sure WSG will have a strong presence again in 2020.

Cfp WSG Seminars 2019-20

Established in the 1980s, the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is an informal, multidisciplinary group which promotes in the study of women and gender in the early modern period and long eighteenth century.  The group enables members to keep in touch, to hear about one another’s research and publications, and to meet regularly to discuss relevant topics, including at regular weekend seminars and an annual workshop at the Foundling Museum. We can offer advice and opportunities to engage in activities that increase opportunities for publication, or enhance professional profiles in other ways.

For our 2019-20 seminars, we invite papers related to any aspect of women’s and gender 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. Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome. 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, using specialised data, and writing about images.  Papers should be about 20-25 minutes. The closing date for applications is 20 May 2019.

The seminar dates are:

  • Saturday 21 September, 2019, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 23 November, 2019, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 18 January, 2020, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 21 March, 2020, 1-4pm

The full address for the Foundling Museum is 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ. It is a wheelchair accessible venue and there are further access directions including directions for partially-sighted visitors here.  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 women, men and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join our group and to give papers.

Find out more about us at https://womensstudiesgroup.org

Check the Book section for progress on Exploring the Lives of Women

Please reply to WSG seminars organiser Carolyn D. Williams at cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

Robin Runia, The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery

The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery. Edited by Robin Runia. New York and London: Routledge. 2018. Pp. 185. £110.00 (hardback), ISBN 9781138571372.

Robin Runia’s edited collection The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery makes both a fascinating and timely historiographical intervention within eighteenth-century literary studies. This is a discipline that for some time has enacted important acts of recovery, particularly by recentring into the forefront of critical discussion, women writers, editors, and critics who have traditionally fallen outside of literary canons,. As Rounia’s ‘Introduction’ sets out, the collection represents an attempt to argue for the continued necessity of such feminist scholarship of eighteenth-century literature in the face of perceptions that this important work has now been ‘done’. Yet, in the age of the digital humanities, in which a huge number of eighteenth-century texts have been made available through digitisation projects, the recovery of forgotten texts by women writers is easier than ever. At the same time, the important shifts that have characterised feminist movements in the last few years, such as #MeToo and the rise of intersectional approaches, mean that a critical reassessment of this feminist scholarship, including the politics and methodologies that underpin ‘recovery’, has never been more necessary.

Collectively, the various essays included in this volume highlight the continued vibrancy of feminist scholarship of eighteenth-century literature. Together the chapters represent a broad range of approaches to the idea of recovery, with some authors actively considering recovery as a framework for their scholarship, and others passively employing the methodologies associated with it (such as reassessing existing accounts, and bringing new attention to overlooked women authors) as part of their analyses. Of the latter, Karen Bloom Gevirtz’s chapter, ‘Philosophy and/in Verse: Jane Barker’s “Farewell to Poetry” and the Anatomy of Verse’, offers a compelling reassessment of Jane Barker’s use of rhetoric and structure in the ‘investigation and explication of the experience of feeling’ (55) within the experimental philosophy of the New Science. Likewise, Jennifer L. Avery’s chapter, ‘The “English Sappho’s” Daughter: Reading the Works of Maria Elizabeth Robinson’, argues for the necessity of a critical reassessment of Robinson’s works, particularly her gothic novel, The Shrine of Bertha.

However, the volume is most successful when it tackles issues of recovery head on. Kate Parker’s essay ‘Recovery and Translation in Cross-Channel Eighteenth-Century Women’s Writing’, for example, makes an important argument about the nature of the texts that feminist scholarship has previously favoured for recovery, that is, the privileging of ‘original’ and ‘creative’ writing over the intellectual work associated with the production of translated texts. As such, Parker’s chapter demonstrates how recovery, normally viewed as an act which disrupts traditional notions of value as ascribed to canonical texts, in fact reproduces, albeit in a different form, this hierarchical approach to literary culture.

Beyond this theoretical emphasis, the volume is also concerned with contemporary relevance of historic texts, with a number of essays asking how the reading and recovery of these eighteenth-century narratives might shed light on current attitudes, ideas, and issues. For example, Shawn Lisa Maurer’s chapter, ‘Lydia Still: Adolescent Wildness in Pride and Prejudice,’ asks how our reading of Lydia Bennet shifts when we read her through a contemporary lens, as a stereotypical ‘teenager’. Likewise, Brittany Pladek’s chapter ‘Beyond the Poet-Physician: Letitia Landon’s Reader-Centred Therapy,’ attempts to redefine and bring nuance to the stock figure of the poet-physician by integrating Landon’s reader-oriented model. In so doing, she asks how recovering ‘alternate traditions of literary medicine’ might offer ‘a historical resource for present and future approaches to humanistic healing’ (72).

Perhaps the most useful consideration of the relationship between past text and literary present, however, is Cynthia Richards’s contribution to the collection. This chapter attempts to square what Richards refers to as ‘the transhistorical nature of trauma studies’ (15) with historicist accounts of the eighteenth-century, reading the rape of Richardson’s Clarissa in relation to DSM-IV and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, she highlights the lack of trauma studies within eighteenth-century studies, enacting her own kind of productive recovery by bringing these two fields into conversation. Although the type of retrospective diagnosis intimated by this approach is often bemoaned by historicists, the chapter highlights how these readings resonate with current readers of the text, specifically students. Richards’s account provocatively draws out the unavoidable contemporary resonances of books like Clarissa in an age of #MeToo, thereby offering a compelling exploration of the dynamic potential of using the lens of trauma studies to interrogate these historic documents.

This dual emphasis on history and present day is also echoed in the volume’s attention to the figure of the reader, who appears in both contemporaneous and current forms throughout. In her modern manifestations in the volume, a critically-aware author-reader emerges who rethinks eighteenth-century texts through multiple layers of historiography, the current cultural and political climate, and personal experience. Indeed, both Runia’s introduction and Richards’s piece reflect on their own experiences from panels at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference, framing these discussions in relation to the acts of recovery their own scholarship enacts. The eighteenth-century author-reader is also given attention through Stacey L. Kikendall’s account, ‘(Imprudent Travel): The Politics of Locations and the Gendered Experience in Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Mary Shelley’s Travel Writing’. In this essay, Kikendall skilfully reads the women’s travel writing in terms of a dialogue of included versus excluded detail, wherein the prudent author anticipates the aspects of a text that might be judged as imprudent by its potential readers and edits accordingly. Like Runia and Richards’s contributions, Kikendall’s essay is dependent on a dense historiography around both women and their writing, including edited private letters and biographical texts, which serve to sharpen Kikendall’s reading of Wollstonecraft’s and Shelley’s authorial prudence, resulting in a complex analysis of authorship that functions on multiple levels and through different timeframes.

As such, each of these chapters offers a refreshing analysis or use of recovery as a strategy for writing about eighteenth-century literature, as inflected by previous scholarship, present debates, and digital technologies. Yet ‘recovery’ as feminist praxis is not simply a literary concern, particularly within eighteenth-century studies. Indeed, important work has been done on once obscure women artists such as Anne Seymour Damer and Mary Linwood, while the field examining women’s material and craft productions during this period is flourishing. Due to the hierarchical divisions between art and craft that have previously characterised canonical art historical scholarship on the period, such work has reflected deeply on the utility and limitations of feminist recovery as a methodology. As such, I feel that the broader implications of this study could be more successfully teased out through an interdisciplinary volume, one that reflects the multitudinous approaches to recovery that characterise research undertaken by a wide range of scholars working in the highly interdisciplinary field of eighteenth-century studies. Emily M. N. Kugler’s essay, ‘Fantasies of Emancipation: Collaborations and Contestations in The History of Mary Prince’, is one of the few essays in this volume to take advantage of such an approach, using a compelling analysis of surviving material objects against the texts which are part of her discussion, which together work to show how new digital approaches can bring material and textual cultures into fascinating dialogue.

Overall however,The Future of Feminist Eighteenth-Century Scholarship: Beyond Recovery represents a welcome addition to the reflexive historiographical conversations that have long characterised eighteenth-century studies. Just as Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown’s The New Eighteenth-Century: Theory, Politics and English Literature asked vital questions about the discipline’s use of (and then resistance to) theory in 1988, so too does Runia’s edited volume offer an important reassessment of those concerns and methodologies in light of the current scholarly and cultural climate.

FREYA GOWRLEY
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2019

The final WSG seminar of the year takes place on Saturday 30th March, with three papers on women’s poetry, familial negotiation, and sports in the eighteenth century.

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.  The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including those for the visually impaired.  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 30 March, 2019. Chair: Angela Escott and Miriam al Jamil
Mary Chadwick: ‘Thy work appears unnotic’d or unknown’: Elizabeth Harcourt (1746-1826)
Caitlin Kitchener: ‘The Mania of Amending the Constitution’: Female Reformers in 1819
Valeria Viola: ‘…They would surpass men by far’: Maria Anna Alliata and her Agonal Spaces in Eighteenth-century Palermo
Peter Radford: Women as Team Players in the Long Eighteenth Century

Reminder: Booking still open for WSG seminar and book launch 8 December

A reminder that the special Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 seminar takes place 8 December, when WSG launches its 30th anniversary collection, Exploring the Lives of Women 1558-1837 (Pen & Sword Books, 2018) at the Foundling Museum, London. Reserve your place now to hear a special set of papers, ‘Women’s and Gender Studies in 2018 and Beyond’, drink a glass of wine (or soft drink), and get a copy of the book.

Speakers are:

Louise Duckling: Exploring the Lives of Women, 1558-1837: A Journey in Images
Bernadette Andrea: ‘English Daughters’ in Eighteenth-Century Morocco: Abjection and Assimilation in the Narratives of Thomas Pellow and Elizabeth Marsh
Felicity Roberts: The Academic Precariat: Writing Women’s History Now

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm (doors open 12.30pm) and finishing at 4pm. The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. This seminar will be a parent and baby-friendly event.