Women’s Writing special issue on Janet Todd launch

In June at Mansfield College, Oxford, Ros Ballaster and Ruth Perry held the launch for their special issue of Women’s Writing, a festschrift in honour of Professor Janet Todd.  WSG member Angela Escott was there to hear Janet reflect on a life in scholarship.

Front cover of Women's Writing
Front cover of Women’s Writing

WSG has had a close association with the journal Women’s Writing since its early days. The Editor, Marie Mulvey-Roberts, was a member of WSG, and she encouraged other members to contribute papers given at our Saturday sessions or annual one-day workshop. In 2010 some of us co-edited a special issue in honour of Mary Waldron, an active committee member. Now current and former WSG members are contributors to a special issue in honour of Professor Janet Todd, the pioneering scholar of Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, and a Founding (now Consultant) Editor of WW. The celebration took the form of an interview by Marie of her distinguished colleague in an imposing hall at Mansfield College, Oxford. Ros Ballaster, co-editor of the issue and fellow WSG member, hosted the event which included a reception and a banquet dinner.

Marie questioned Janet about her life and her extensive travelling both as a child and during her academic career. Janet spoke of the patronising attitudes towards women when she was a student at Cambridge University, and women were confined to three female undergraduate colleges. She told of the impossibility of choosing Mary Wollstonecraft as a PhD subject, so she wrote instead on John Clare. The only feminist theory being studied when she began her career was that of the French feminists, Irigaray, Kristeva and Cixous. Todd bravely defended Anglo-American “socio-historical” feminist criticism and also challenged the jargon of New Historicism. A pioneer in the study of women writers, Todd founded a journal Women and Literature which can be considered a forerunner to Women’s Writing.

She described the pressure under which she published her Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800, the immense and significant project she conceived and researched extensively by herself, and she spoke self-effacingly of the number of times she had read ‘erroneously mentioned by Janet Todd’ in references to the women covered in her Dictionary. In a question about role-models she described sharing a platform with Germaine Greer who towered above her in height and whose confidence she admired. Although female networks were an important part of her own research, and Marilyn Butler was a close friend, no network of women academics existed to provide support for Janet early in her career, particularly as she was working in the USA, Ghana, Bermuda and Puerto Rica. Finally, she spoke of her recent first venture at writing fiction, and of the lack of pressure to publish at the beginning of her career. Marie ended by reminding us of the impressive publication list of this inspiring academic, including the multi-volume editions of the works of Behn, Wollstonecraft and Austen.

Want to read more? The special issue of Women’s Writing is available here, with a subscription.  Ros Ballaster tweets as @BallasterRos.

Gendering the maritime world

James Gillray, Dido in despair, satirical print, 1801, BM P&D 1868,0808.6927 © The Trustees of the British Museum
James Gillray, Dido in despair, satirical print, 1801, BM P&D 1868,0808.6927 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Building on last week’s post linking the study of women to broader issues of gender and sex, the Journal for Maritime Research has published a special issue on ‘Gendering the maritime world‘, in which long-time WSG member Margarette Lincoln has an article on ‘Emma Hamilton, war, and the depiction of femininity in the late eighteenth century‘.  Emma Hamilton, the artist’s model and creator of her famous ‘attitudes’, is today best remembered for her affair with Admiral Horation Nelson. Margarette’s article explores the caricaturist James Gillray’s depiction of Hamilton as Dido, which hints at her pregnancy, Gillray’s more sympathetic uses of the Dido figure to represent other public women, and the particular restrictions on female conduct in wartime.

Maritime history is an evolving field which in recent years has focused on the broader social, economic, political, and cultural trends which link “ship and shore”.  One of the most fertile recent areas of inquiry has been gender, especially during the early modern period and eighteenth century, and some of the articles in this special issue, from sailor’s tears to sodomy, reflect this growing interest.