WSG’s next, “works in progress” seminar takes place in a fortnight, with papers on collecting, dance and epic poetry.
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 for free before or after.
Saturday 18th March, 2017 (works in progress). Chair: Gillian Williamson Madeleine Pelling: “That Noble Possessor”: The Pursuit of Virtuous Knowledge and its Materials in the Collection of Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-1785). Erica Buurman: Almack’s ballroom and the introduction of European dances.
Angela Escott: Hannah Cowley’s “dramatic talents” employed in her epic poem of the Napoleonic Wars, The Siege of Acre (1801)
This year the WSG’s annual outing was to the Geffrye Museum. WSG member Miriam Al Jamil writes about the day:
“This year our group visit was to the Geffrye Museum, coming close on the heels of our workshop. So from discussions centring on the public voice increasingly claimed by women we turned to the traditional private sphere of domestic spaces. The museum occupies a modest almshouse building which opened for pensioners of the Ironmongers Company in 1714. It was built by the wealthy merchant Sir Robert Geffrye, and rooms in a side wing of the museum have been restored to display the accommodation offered to pensioners until the early twentieth-century. The emphasis was on cleanliness, godliness (regular attendance at the small chapel was compulsory), but also on a degree of comfort and stability. As a ‘Museum of the Home’ there is an emphasis on the variety and development of material culture from the seventeenth century onwards. The personal items included in the reconstructed pensioners’ rooms are the first examples we saw of the carefully displayed objects that characterise the Geffrye’s approach to historical engagement.
The main gallery conducts us through an enfilade series of period room settings beginning with 1630 and concluding in 1998. Although our visit mirrors the experience of progressing through the rooms in stately homes the emphasis is specifically on middle class life and culture. Informative displays of materials and construction, the trades and markets supplying necessities and luxuries are well presented introductions to each room. We are encouraged to imagine that the residents have just slipped out and we are thus voyeurs encountering the possessions that defined a family’s status and interests at particular points in time.
Arrangements and contacts made by WSG members Angela Escott and Marion Durnin meant that archivists had prepared a selection of books, documents and objects from the archive as part of our visit. This was certainly a highlight and I am sure will encourage further exploration by WSG researchers. The archive focuses on domestic material, mainly from London, and with an inevitable accent on women’s history. There is a fine collection of cookery and medical recipe books, household accounts and diaries, prints and manuals. A small chest of drawers with a pencilled note indicating that it was made for a woman in 1728 has rare provenance, as does a japanned corner cupboard of around 1750 with the japanner’s stamp inscribed. The museum keeps a selection of shipwreck porcelain tea ware, complete with barnacles, to demonstrate what might have been kept in the cupboard. These pieces could be handled, and are among resources available for a variety of educational programmes.
Our trip concluded with WSG member Helen Draper’s fascinating insight into the life and work of her research subject, the artist Mary Beale. Beale’s self-portrait with her husband and son of about 1660 is her first known painting and it was a treat to have the opportunity to examine and discuss it. The possibility that the artist had depicted herself in late pregnancy was of particular interest. Helen showed us sketches related to the work, and placed it within the context of Beale’s career. Our trip provided much food for thought as I am sure everyone who attended would agree. Many thanks are due to the organisers for such a pleasant and stimulating day!”
WSG member Helen Draper will be writing more about the artist Mary Beale in a forthcoming blog post.
“The BSECS annual conference has been the site of encounters that have played a significant role in the formation of the WSG itself, so we feel we have a special relationship with it. We have always fielded speakers there, and since the organisers declared they welcome panels, these are what we have offered. Now there is an annual theme we also like to adhere to that, but we don’t let it cramp our creativity: the enlightened mood of the conference encourages broad interpretations.
The 2016 theme was ‘Growth, Expansion and Contraction’, and we called our panel ‘Minds, Bodies, and China as Sites of Female Growth, Expansion and Contraction in the Long Eighteenth Century’. This year BSECS kindly provided a chair, Dr Penny Pritchard, to look after us. We tried to be good, to stick to time limits, and to sort out our technology before the panel was due to start: particularly heroic because we were on at 9 am!
Dr Tabitha Kenlon flew in from the American University in Dubai to read a paper on ‘The Virtues of the Gothic: Lessons in Female Comportment from the Gothic Novel’. She examined the relationship between Gothic novels and conduct manuals, showing they both extended and restricted boundaries by presenting heroines who defied and embodied social conventions. Her argument took its rise from Eliza Parsons’ novel The Castle of Wolfenbach, where the heroine, on encountering a mysterious woman dwelling in secret at the castle, asks her for guidance, saying, “I shall think myself particularly fortunate if you will condescend to instruct me, for… more attention has been paid to external accomplishments than to the cultivation of my mind, or any information respecting those principles of virtue a young woman ought early to be acquainted with”.
As panel organiser, I put myself in the middle, the position which usually attracts fewest questions, and I used no technology: everybody has different skills and my speciality is distracting the audience’s attention while people behind me do clever things with computers. I took the theme literally and applied it to the human body, in a paper entitled ‘“Marry a Monster? Who would have them?”: Size and Female Sexuality’. My inspiration was the 2015 workshop, headed by Elaine Hobby, who had discussed her forthcoming edition of Aphra Behn, and particularly some episodes in The Rover Part II (1681) where men of average size pay court to a giant and a dwarf. Examining the language applied to them in this play, and also its sources, Parts I and II of Thomas Killigrew’s Thomaso, or, The Wanderer (1663), I found that the ladies’ difference from the average was often seen as a matter of quality rather than simple quantity, and that, though size did not mean everything, it could, in certain circumstances, mean anything.
Dr Emma Newport, from King’s College London, concluded the panel with ‘Interplay and Interpretation: Lady Banks’s “Dairy Book” and the collection and collation of Chinese Porcelain.’ Her paper brought to light an unpublished, hand-written account of Lady Sarah Sophia Banks’s Chinese porcelain collection, the ‘Dairy Book‘, as an example of how networks of exchange were created and complicated by the influx of Chinese goods, materials and ideas. She argued that the porcelain collection and the ‘Dairy Book’ engendered both expansion and contraction: as gateway to wider narratives, technologies and aesthetics, but also contracting as the porcelain metonymized these wider representations.
Question time was enthusiastic. As well as casting new light on Gothic fiction in general, Tabitha Kenlon attracted new readers to Eliza Parsons. Jane Austen, who included this book among the ‘horrid’ novels in Northanger Abbey, and who became notoriously ‘sick and wicked’ at the prospect of perfection in fictitious characters, must have really enjoyed it. A great deal of interest was expressed in Sarah Sophia Banks: her porcelain dairy opened up a new world for the audience. Dr Matthew McCormack, whose own paper, earlier in the conference, had expressed an interest in the relationship between humoral theory and masculine size, took my own subject in a new direction by asking whether there was any evidence of an interest in humours in depictions of giants and dwarves that I had come across. I could not provide any, but Emma Newport could: she has been conducting research into dwarves on the eighteenth-century stage, which she has generously offered for my perusal. I can’t wait!”
Do you have any further information about depictions of size on the early modern stage? Get in touch with Carolyn here.
After the seminar the WSG blog had a chance to catch up with Valerie about her various projects:
“I have several projects I am working on that are of interest to the WSG, and I can’t wait to come to another seminar to talk about them. Many still relate to Queen Mary I. I actually mentioned these at the WSG meeting and got lots of positive feedback. I plan on writing an article titled “Mary in Miniature.” I frequently get asked if any images are connected to the book dedications to Mary. Generally the answer is no. Mary’s books and manuscripts tend not to be illuminated or have gorgeous decoration. In “Mary in Miniature,” I am going to address this lack of images as well as address the few manuscript images of Mary that do actually exist. For my other project on Mary I am planning an essay on her relationship with Hampton Court Palace. This is a palace that she chose to use and visit for the most important personal occasions in her reign, such as her honeymoon and her first childbirth. I am going to address why she chose this palace and how she used it as Queen.
My next major project is one that I mentioned at the WSG meeting and was highly encouraged to pursue. In my first monograph, I spent a chapter recreating the personal library of Queen Mary I. It was some of my most rewarding and enjoyable research. Rather than undertaking a monograph on only one woman’s library and books dedicated to her, I have decided to write one where each chapter is about one woman related to or connected with Queen Mary I, such as Jane Dormer. Each chapter will cover a different woman and her books. Once I have around five or seven women and have recovered their literary history, I will put them together in a monograph along with an introduction and conclusion that tie the patterns of their libraries, book collections, and dedications together. This will allow me to draw conclusions about Mary’s literary influence at court.”
We’re looking forward to hearing further details of Valerie’s work as these projects progress. You can see Valerie’s webpage for further details and relevant cfps. Along with her Unexpected Heirs in Modern Europe and Shakespeare’s Queens (co-edited with Kavita Mudan Finn) collections, it looks like Valerie is going to be extremely busy in 2016.
The first WSG seminar of the new academic year will take place in just over a week’s time. This will be the first in WSG’s new home, 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-WSG members who wish to attend the seminar are welcome to come but will be asked to make a donation for refreshments.
For the September session seminars organiser Carolyn Williams has serendipitously gathered together a number of papers with musical and collecting themes, which chimes well with the Foundling’s own history. The Museum was founded to tell the story of the Foundling Hospital, the first charity for children in Britain. One of its first major supporters was the composer George Frideric Handel, and today the Museum holds an important archive related to his life and works, and holds a regular music programme.
Saturday 26th September 2015, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Chair: Angela Escott
Diana Ambache, ‘Women composers of the late 18th century’
This paper presents two Enlightenment composers. Sophia Dussek (1775-1830) was part of the lively musical scene in London. Marianne Martinez (1744-1812) wrote the 1st classical Symphony by a woman.
Paula Higgins, ‘Suppressing the Suppression of Fanny Hensel: Textual Ellipsis and Other Signs of Biographical Censorship’
A tell-tale sign of the longstanding gender politics in which Fanny Hensel (1805-1847) and her quest for musical authorship have become enmeshed are repeated attempts on the part of biographers to shield her brother, Felix Mendelssohn from accusations of thwarting his sister’s ambitions.
Elizabeth Weinfield, ‘Isabella d’Este: Patronage, Performance, and the Viola da Gamba’ This paper will explore Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) and her role as a major patron of music in Renaissance Italy.
Arlene Leis, ‘Sarah Sophia Banks as a Collector’
This talk will focus on the rich paper collections amassed by Sarah Sophia Banks (1744-1818), now housed in the British Museum and British Library.