Reminder: WSG seminar 19 September 2020

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (BST), 19 September 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm BST/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.

September 19, 2020
Stephen Spiess: Reading Strumpets: Thomas Heywood, Sexual Epistemology, and the Making of English Whoredom

In a decidedly offhand tone, as if sharing an insight so obvious as to barely merit acknowledgement, Thomas Heywood asserts in Gynaikeion (1624), his encyclopaedic catalogue of women historical and mythological, that “almost every boy of fifteen or sixteen years old knows what a strumpet is, better by his own practice than I can illustrate to him by all my reading.” How, we might ask, can he be so sure? Upon what terms, standards, and practices does such sexual knowledge depend? In this paper, I leverage Heywood’s provocation as an invitation to think early modern “whoredom” not simply as an historical practice or literary trope, but a knowledge-relation whose contours and problematics open onto broader questions of sexual epistemology, both in the early modern period and our own. My reading thus unfolds on two levels. First, I situate Heywood’s claim in relation to the broader project in which it appears: a 466-page treatise which aims to distinguish between chaste and illicit women, and whose manifold anecdotes and exempla consistently unsettle the sexual knowability it promises to secure. In this, Gynaikeion exemplifies in strong form what I call the “making of English whoredom”—that is, the immense social, textual, and discursive labor necessary to produce and sustain the fiction of the early modern “whore” as a fixed, transparent object of knowledge. Second, and by detailing this claim, I discuss how my epistemological approach fits within the broader scholarship of early modern sex, as well as how it offers new traction on old problems (archival, hermeneutic, historiographic, etc.) faced by historians and literary critics interested in the structures and meanings of English whoredom.

Sonia Villegas Lopez: Female Libertinism in Gabriel de Brémond’s Transnational Oriental Fictions.

French oriental narratives were both translated and published profusely in England in the 1670s and 1680s. The action of many of these novellas was situated in the exotic territories of Morocco and the Ottoman Empire, though often telling stories about the French and the English nobility under cover. They illustrated sexual scandals, in which women, though primarily the objects of love and gallantry, were also prone to give free rein to their desires. Gabriel de Brémond’s Hattige, or the Amours of the King of Tamaran (1680) and Homais, Queen of Tunis (1681), reproduce Charles II’s sexual affairs, and construe both Hattige, the king of Tamaran’s favourite, and Homais, wife of the King of Tunis, as emblems of female libertinism within the safe boundaries of the seraglio. Tamaran (or England) and Tunis were described as places of gallantry, the perfect environment for stories of intrigue, love and passion. These female rakes followed their ambition and used their sexual authority over kings and nobles, making fools of them to earn political power in return. They behaved as apt manipulators but their downfall was precipitated by their own romantic weaknesses for other men whom they loved, in spite of not being rich or powerful. I argue that, far from being read as models of female exoticism and otherness, as in later Enlightenment oriental novels, these strong women and the love intrigues they spin could be interpreted as examples of what Srinivas Aravamudan has fitly called “transcultural allegories” (2012: 202). I subscribe to Aravamudan’s interpretation of the late seventeenth-century oriental novel as the vehicle to introduce the culturally foreign, which displaces the local and the national in favour of transculturalism. The selected novels suggest a transnational vision of the orient not in either/or exclusive categories, but in inclusive terms, according to which the east is feminised and associated to a glorious and hedonistic past.

Anthony Walker-Cook: Descending into the Underworld with Mary Leapor and Sarah Fielding.

Of women and epic poetry, this paper will explore. Following Alexander Pope’s translations of the Iliad (1715-20) and the Odyssey (1725-26), it was considered by many that Homer had been rendered into English in an edition perfect for women to use. This, alongside Dryden’s 1697 Virgil, meant the essential texts of the epic genre were now available for women to read in acceptable English translations. In the few accounts of the history of the epic genre that consider the presence of women writers of the mode, the eighteenth century is often missed. In 1716, Richard Blackmore thought that epic need not be ‘restrain’d to a Hero; since no Reason […] can be assign’d, why a Heroine may not be the principal person of an Epick.’ To go further, why might a woman not be the writer of an epic poem? This paper suggests that the works of Mary Leapor and Sarah Fielding represents the best claim for women’s work of the period to be classified within the epic genre. Both Leapor and Fielding use the underworld, the classical space par excellence, to explore the status of women in the eighteenth century, but both also register the influence of the mock-heroic, a mode popular throughout the period. Exploring Leapor’s poetry and Sarah Fielding’s The History of the Countess of Dellwyn (1759), it shall be shown how each writer uses the underworld to depict the lives of the serving class and of a woman marked by divorce respectively. This paper will thus overall suggest that the traces of the epic genre that can be detected throughout work of Leapor and Fielding warrant examination as an important part of the broadly-unwritten history that details how women writers engaged with the mode.

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2020

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (BST), 19 September 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm BST/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.

September 19, 2020
Stephen Spiess: Reading Strumpets: Thomas Heywood, Sexual Epistemology, and the Making of English Whoredom

In a decidedly offhand tone, as if sharing an insight so obvious as to barely merit acknowledgement, Thomas Heywood asserts in Gynaikeion (1624), his encyclopaedic catalogue of women historical and mythological, that “almost every boy of fifteen or sixteen years old knows what a strumpet is, better by his own practice than I can illustrate to him by all my reading.” How, we might ask, can he be so sure? Upon what terms, standards, and practices does such sexual knowledge depend? In this paper, I leverage Heywood’s provocation as an invitation to think early modern “whoredom” not simply as an historical practice or literary trope, but a knowledge-relation whose contours and problematics open onto broader questions of sexual epistemology, both in the early modern period and our own. My reading thus unfolds on two levels. First, I situate Heywood’s claim in relation to the broader project in which it appears: a 466-page treatise which aims to distinguish between chaste and illicit women, and whose manifold anecdotes and exempla consistently unsettle the sexual knowability it promises to secure. In this, Gynaikeion exemplifies in strong form what I call the “making of English whoredom”—that is, the immense social, textual, and discursive labor necessary to produce and sustain the fiction of the early modern “whore” as a fixed, transparent object of knowledge. Second, and by detailing this claim, I discuss how my epistemological approach fits within the broader scholarship of early modern sex, as well as how it offers new traction on old problems (archival, hermeneutic, historiographic, etc.) faced by historians and literary critics interested in the structures and meanings of English whoredom.

Sonia Villegas Lopez: Female Libertinism in Gabriel de Brémond’s Transnational Oriental Fictions.

French oriental narratives were both translated and published profusely in England in the 1670s and 1680s. The action of many of these novellas was situated in the exotic territories of Morocco and the Ottoman Empire, though often telling stories about the French and the English nobility under cover. They illustrated sexual scandals, in which women, though primarily the objects of love and gallantry, were also prone to give free rein to their desires. Gabriel de Brémond’s Hattige, or the Amours of the King of Tamaran (1680) and Homais, Queen of Tunis (1681), reproduce Charles II’s sexual affairs, and construe both Hattige, the king of Tamaran’s favourite, and Homais, wife of the King of Tunis, as emblems of female libertinism within the safe boundaries of the seraglio. Tamaran (or England) and Tunis were described as places of gallantry, the perfect environment for stories of intrigue, love and passion. These female rakes followed their ambition and used their sexual authority over kings and nobles, making fools of them to earn political power in return. They behaved as apt manipulators but their downfall was precipitated by their own romantic weaknesses for other men whom they loved, in spite of not being rich or powerful. I argue that, far from being read as models of female exoticism and otherness, as in later Enlightenment oriental novels, these strong women and the love intrigues they spin could be interpreted as examples of what Srinivas Aravamudan has fitly called “transcultural allegories” (2012: 202). I subscribe to Aravamudan’s interpretation of the late seventeenth-century oriental novel as the vehicle to introduce the culturally foreign, which displaces the local and the national in favour of transculturalism. The selected novels suggest a transnational vision of the orient not in either/or exclusive categories, but in inclusive terms, according to which the east is feminised and associated to a glorious and hedonistic past.

Anthony Walker-Cook: Descending into the Underworld with Mary Leapor and Sarah Fielding.

Of women and epic poetry, this paper will explore. Following Alexander Pope’s translations of the Iliad (1715-20) and the Odyssey (1725-26), it was considered by many that Homer had been rendered into English in an edition perfect for women to use. This, alongside Dryden’s 1697 Virgil, meant the essential texts of the epic genre were now available for women to read in acceptable English translations. In the few accounts of the history of the epic genre that consider the presence of women writers of the mode, the eighteenth century is often missed. In 1716, Richard Blackmore thought that epic need not be ‘restrain’d to a Hero; since no Reason […] can be assign’d, why a Heroine may not be the principal person of an Epick.’ To go further, why might a woman not be the writer of an epic poem? This paper suggests that the works of Mary Leapor and Sarah Fielding represents the best claim for women’s work of the period to be classified within the epic genre. Both Leapor and Fielding use the underworld, the classical space par excellence, to explore the status of women in the eighteenth century, but both also register the influence of the mock-heroic, a mode popular throughout the period. Exploring Leapor’s poetry and Sarah Fielding’s The History of the Countess of Dellwyn (1759), it shall be shown how each writer uses the underworld to depict the lives of the serving class and of a woman marked by divorce respectively. This paper will thus overall suggest that the traces of the epic genre that can be detected throughout work of Leapor and Fielding warrant examination as an important part of the broadly-unwritten history that details how women writers engaged with the mode.

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

WSG seminar series 2020-21

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is pleased to announce the speakers for their seminar series 2020-21. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm BST/GMT* (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm.

Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2020-2021 season.

***

September 19, 2020*
Stephen Spiess: Reading Strumpets: Thomas Heywood, Sexual Epistemology, and the Making of English Whoredom
Sonia Villegas Lopez: Female Libertinism in Gabriel de Brémond’s Transnational Oriental Fictions.
Anthony Walker-Cook: Descending into the Underworld with Mary Leapor and Sarah Fielding.

November 21, 2020
Rocio Martinez: To defend a princess’s rights to her father’s throne: Maria Theresia of Austria and the protestations against her renunciation of the inheritance of the Spanish Monarchy.
Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.
Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

December 5, 2020
Daniel Beaumont: Melancholy and Despair among Early Modern English Women: A case study of Hannah Allen’s Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683).
Julie Vig: Women and martiality in the Sikh literature of early modern Punjab.
Micheline White: Queen Katherine Parr’s Gift Books and the Exercise of Royal Power.
Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

January 23, 2021
Megan Shaw: Looking towards a cultural history of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1603-1649).
Gillian Beattie-Smith: Catherine Helen Spence: a consideration of her feminist and transnational agency.
Kate Stephenson: Lawyers, Débardeuses and Pages; Women Masquerading as Men.

February 20, 2021
Sarah Ailwood: ‘In justice to myself’: Legal and Textual Subjectivities in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Memoirs.
Daisy Winter: “I who am but dust”: mortal fear in Elizabeth Delaval’s ‘Memoirs and Meditations’.
Valentina Aparicio: Maria Graham’s Journal of a residence in Chile (1824): a transnational community of women.

March 20, 2021
Cheryll Duncan: ‘Much want of judgment’: new evidence concerning the singer Jane Barbier.
Maria Clara Pivate Biajoli: Understanding Current Readers’ Reception of Jane Austen through Fan Fiction.
Francesca Saggini: Frances Burney, Dramatis Persona.

April 17, 2021*

Yvonne Noble: The Poetry of Anne Finch.
Tabitha Kenlon: Find Yourself in a Book: Reading Heroines in Eighteenth-Century Gothic Novels.
Miriam al Jamil: The Grand Duchess of Tuscany’s Birth Days: Weary and Waiting at the Florentine Court.

Anna Jamieson: “Comforts in her Calamity”: Dorothea Fellowes’s Shopping and Spending in the late Eighteenth-Century Private Madhouse.

*Please note that the September and April meetings are BST, and the rest are GMT.

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page, or contact the organiser Carolyn D. Williams.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Great explorations: a fictional midwife and fictions of ideal women by Louise Duckling

Following on from the arrival of WSG’s anniversary volume in paperback format, Louise Duckling introduces new books launched by two of its contributors: Sara Read and Tabitha Kenlon.

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On an autumnal evening last September, a small crowd gathered at Harris & Harris Books in Clare, Suffolk, for one of its popular Author on the Stairs events. Gillian Williamson and I had been invited to talk about WSG’s anniversary book, Exploring the Lives of Women, 1558–1837, which had recently been released in paperback format.

As one of the book’s editors, I wanted to convey the scope and originality of our authors’ contributions in my talk. Therefore, I chose to address the question: why had so many of the women featured in the book been left out of the historical record? I considered how women’s history was constructed (and gendered) in Victorian biographical dictionaries, using our ‘bookend’ queens Elizabeth I and Victoria as opening case studies, before introducing some of the women whose lives are explored in our anniversary volume.

This approach led neatly into Gillian’s talk about her chapter on the Gentleman’s Magazine. Gillian eloquently described how the magazine constructed ideas of gender in the eighteenth century, specifically referencing the emergence of obituaries in its pages. The obituaries were used by Gillian (with some brilliant flashes of humour) to show how femininity was framed in the Gentleman’s Magazine, while also providing glimpses of a less-neatly gendered society.

There was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and handle some of our original source material – an 1866 edition of a female biographical dictionary and an early volume of the Gentleman’s Magazine­. We enjoyed lively discussion and hospitality, in the perfect setting of an independent bookshop. Reflecting on this evening, in such an intimate and sociable environment, it is clear we were very fortunate. For anyone releasing a book right now, any ‘in-person’ events or celebrations will have to wait. This is exactly the case for two of our book’s contributors, whose latest work has been published during the lockdown.

The first of these new books is by Dr Sara Read, who specialises in cultural and literary representations of women, reproduction and medicine in the early modern period. Sara played a pivotal role in the WSG book, serving as both co-editor and contributor, with her chapter focusing on The Countesse of Lincolnes Nurserie (1622) by Elizabeth Clinton and highlighting views around childcare and breastfeeding. In her latest work, Sara continues to draw upon this rich subject knowledge, while venturing into new territory: the genre of historical fiction.

In her excellent debut novel, The Gossips’ Choice, Sara has created an atmospheric world for her protagonist, the midwife Lucie Smith. The book has been described as a seventeenth-century version of ‘Call the Midwife’, as we follow Lucie’s cases during the plague year of 1665. It is a beautifully crafted and impeccably researched novel, drawing upon a wide range of historical sources. For example, some of the events in the book are inspired by A Complete Practice of Midwifery (1737), the memoir of midwife Sarah Stone. This approach provides authentic detail to a vividly imagined and compelling story.

The second new book release is by Dr Tabitha Kenlon. Tabitha’s research concentrates on eighteenth-century British novels, theatre, and conduct manuals. In Exploring the Lives of Women, Tabitha’s chapter provides a close reading of a single text, exposing the confused rhetoric in the cautionary pamphlet Advice to Unmarried Women (1791) written by an anonymous clergyman. Tabitha also contributed one of the two poems in our book, ‘Gretchen’s Answer’, which follows similar themes by exploring the consequences of “when society tells women how to think, how to act, how to feel” (Exploring, p. 98).

Tabitha’s first monograph continues this investigation. In Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman, Tabitha shows how the longest-running war is the battle over how women should behave. This is an exceptional study, being the first of its kind to provide a trans-historical approach: expanding upon previous period-specific studies, Tabitha considers the persistence (or alteration) of the female ideal over six centuries. Tabitha’s brilliant close readings of a wide range of texts are superbly executed and entertaining, making the book highly accessible to the specialist or general reader. It is a powerful book, written with compassion and flashes of anger, in an elegant and witty prose.

Until we can all meet to celebrate, congratulations to Sara and Tabitha for producing two great books. Full reviews of both publications will appear on this website in the coming months: watch this space!

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The Gossips’ Choice by Sara Read is published by Wild Pressed Books for £12.

Conduct Books and the History of the Ideal Woman by Tabitha Kenlon is published by Anthem Press for £80 (hardback) and £25 (ebook). Please ask your institutional library to buy a copy. A 20% discount is available to WSG members.

Exploring the Lives of Women, 1558–1837, the anniversary book by WSG, is published by Pen & Sword Books for £19.99 (hardback), £12.99 (paperback) and £5.20 (ebook).

Please support your local independent booksellers if you can. Harris & Harris Books is currently offering a delivery service.

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2020

***EDIT: Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have cancelled this event.***

The third seminar of the year takes place on Saturday 21 March. 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 21 March, 2020. Chairs Carolyn D. Williams and Angela Escott
Lindy Moore: The Scottish Schoolmistress in the Eighteenth Century
Alexis Wolf: Women and Mentoring in the Late Eighteenth Century: Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret King and Mary Shelley
Rachel Eckersley: Female benefactors to dissenting academies in England
Catriona Wilson: “Some attention to those female members”: Feminised monarchy in the first exhibition of Kensington Palace’s State Apartments, 1899

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.