Reminder: WSG seminar 5 December 2020

The third seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 5 December 2020.

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

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).

In an age where mental health is receiving more attention than ever, it is essential to remember that perceptions of mental health are themselves historical constructions. This paper examines a key part of that historical construction in early modern England, exploring the case of Hannah Allen, who, according to her published narrative Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683), suffered from temptations by the Devil and a “deep melancholy” for much of her life. Allen’s striking and disquieting narrative traces her decline into life-threatening despair, in which she believed herself worthless and a “cursed reprobate”, before describing her gradual recovery and restoration of faith. Amidst a field still largely dominated by research into medical and spiritual treatises and literary works written by men, Allen’s text offers a rich opportunity for exploration into the perceptions and mentalities of melancholy and despair amongst early modern women and their communities.
This paper asks how we might best explore this work, paying attention to the textual structure and context of production as well as the substance of the narrative itself. I present two underexamined lines of inquiry: The first is the cultural and religious lens through which Allen perceived her own state of mind and the ways in which she presents that state to the reader. This interpretive schema exhibits a complex combination of ideas about Allen’s despair and melancholy that is informed by, but not restricted to, contemporary physiological and spiritual theories and authorial customs. The second line of investigation examines the glimpse the text provides into the social and emotional communities surrounding melancholy and mental distress amongst non-aristocratic English women of the seventeenth century at a local and familial level. Crucially, such attitudes seldom appear in the more frequently examined medical or religious treatises on melancholy, and what scholarship there is on Allen’s text has largely refrained from examining this more social aspect of her narrative. However, if we wish to understand the place and conceptualisation of this “affliction” (as Allen describes it) among early modern English women, an investigation into both areas is essential.

Yvonne Noble: Elizabeth Elstob, Mary Delany, and Money.

Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

An analysis of the literature written to celebrate Queen Mary I’s accession makes clear that several genres of writing were used and each seemed to have a different audience in mind. Of course, there were royal proclamations, such as those that announced both Jane and Mary as Queens of England, meant to be read or heard by all. Ballads, which were mass produced “because of people’s interest in the news and because of a genuine mood of celebration.” There were both official and non-official letters shared among Mary, her council, and all of the resident ambassadors, each meant for their specific recipient. Sermons were given and often later printed in Latin, meant for a learned audience, specifically those interested in the religious ramifications of Mary’s accession. And, plays and panegyrics were written and performed at court, meant for an audience of courtiers that surrounded Mary and even for Mary herself.

For the purposes of this essay, I am going to look at the broadsides, ballads, and pamphlets that were produced to celebrate Mary’s accession. These short, often single-sheet, texts were meant for a broad audience and essentially served to spread the news of Mary’s accession, as well as give a brief account of what had happened since the death of Edward. Often, they stressed the treasonous activities of Northumberland, almost never mentioning Jane at all, and they attempted to assuage concerns over possible changes in religious policy. Many were printed in the immediate aftermath of Mary’s proclamation as Queen, and give insight into the most pressing concerns for both Queen and country at that moment. Overwhelmingly, these popular texts concluded that Mary’s hereditary right was of the utmost importance, never questioning that right on the basis of her gender.

These ballads, broadsides, and pamphlets were what spread the news of Mary’s accession and both reinforced and guided the popular reaction to it. I will pull out the themes and commonalities of these popular sources, which are predominantly accepting of Mary as Queen. I suggest that popular sources produced at Mary’s accession were all generally positive about and accepting of Mary as Queen, based on dynastic tradition and her lineage. Any anti-government tracts produced at Mary’s accession were not against Mary’s accession per se, but were often Protestant works that tended to be anti-Catholic and not Mary-centric.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar December 2020

The third seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 5 December 2020.

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

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).

In an age where mental health is receiving more attention than ever, it is essential to remember that perceptions of mental health are themselves historical constructions. This paper examines a key part of that historical construction in early modern England, exploring the case of Hannah Allen, who, according to her published narrative Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683), suffered from temptations by the Devil and a “deep melancholy” for much of her life. Allen’s striking and disquieting narrative traces her decline into life-threatening despair, in which she believed herself worthless and a “cursed reprobate”, before describing her gradual recovery and restoration of faith. Amidst a field still largely dominated by research into medical and spiritual treatises and literary works written by men, Allen’s text offers a rich opportunity for exploration into the perceptions and mentalities of melancholy and despair amongst early modern women and their communities.
This paper asks how we might best explore this work, paying attention to the textual structure and context of production as well as the substance of the narrative itself. I present two underexamined lines of inquiry: The first is the cultural and religious lens through which Allen perceived her own state of mind and the ways in which she presents that state to the reader. This interpretive schema exhibits a complex combination of ideas about Allen’s despair and melancholy that is informed by, but not restricted to, contemporary physiological and spiritual theories and authorial customs. The second line of investigation examines the glimpse the text provides into the social and emotional communities surrounding melancholy and mental distress amongst non-aristocratic English women of the seventeenth century at a local and familial level. Crucially, such attitudes seldom appear in the more frequently examined medical or religious treatises on melancholy, and what scholarship there is on Allen’s text has largely refrained from examining this more social aspect of her narrative. However, if we wish to understand the place and conceptualisation of this “affliction” (as Allen describes it) among early modern English women, an investigation into both areas is essential.

Yvonne Noble: Elizabeth Elstob, Mary Delany, and Money.

Valerie Schutte: Popular Literature at the Accession of Queen Mary.

An analysis of the literature written to celebrate Queen Mary I’s accession makes clear that several genres of writing were used and each seemed to have a different audience in mind. Of course, there were royal proclamations, such as those that announced both Jane and Mary as Queens of England, meant to be read or heard by all. Ballads, which were mass produced “because of people’s interest in the news and because of a genuine mood of celebration.” There were both official and non-official letters shared among Mary, her council, and all of the resident ambassadors, each meant for their specific recipient. Sermons were given and often later printed in Latin, meant for a learned audience, specifically those interested in the religious ramifications of Mary’s accession. And, plays and panegyrics were written and performed at court, meant for an audience of courtiers that surrounded Mary and even for Mary herself.

For the purposes of this essay, I am going to look at the broadsides, ballads, and pamphlets that were produced to celebrate Mary’s accession. These short, often single-sheet, texts were meant for a broad audience and essentially served to spread the news of Mary’s accession, as well as give a brief account of what had happened since the death of Edward. Often, they stressed the treasonous activities of Northumberland, almost never mentioning Jane at all, and they attempted to assuage concerns over possible changes in religious policy. Many were printed in the immediate aftermath of Mary’s proclamation as Queen, and give insight into the most pressing concerns for both Queen and country at that moment. Overwhelmingly, these popular texts concluded that Mary’s hereditary right was of the utmost importance, never questioning that right on the basis of her gender.

These ballads, broadsides, and pamphlets were what spread the news of Mary’s accession and both reinforced and guided the popular reaction to it. I will pull out the themes and commonalities of these popular sources, which are predominantly accepting of Mary as Queen. I suggest that popular sources produced at Mary’s accession were all generally positive about and accepting of Mary as Queen, based on dynastic tradition and her lineage. Any anti-government tracts produced at Mary’s accession were not against Mary’s accession per se, but were often Protestant works that tended to be anti-Catholic and not Mary-centric.

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page.  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.

BSECS 2020: Heroines, Hoops, Heels, Witches & Ghosts: Femininity & the Natural, Unnatural & Supernatural. Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 Panel

This year at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference, the Women’s Studies Group were represented by three fantastic panellists: Tabitha Kenlon, Alison Daniell and Carolyn D. Williams. The session was chaired by Yvonne Noble. This panel was well attended and allowed for a lively discussion, closely linked to the papers. Below is the panel proposal, which provides a little more detail with regards to the overall idea for the panel and the individual papers.

This panel considers different ways in which ideas about the natural, unnatural and supernatural on the one hand, and the characteristics and capabilities of women on the other, can become ambiguous and complicated when brought into contact with each other.

Dr Tabitha Kenlon, in ‘A Handbook for Heroines: Acting the Part in Northanger Abbey’, invokes performance theory to argue that Jane Austen’s heroine, by refusing to adhere to all the rules presented to her by conduct manuals, draws attention to the performative elements of ‘nature’. Although conduct manuals assured readers that women were naturally disposed to certain activities and temperaments, writers nonetheless felt obliged to remind women to behave in ways that, if truly natural, should have required little effort. In this respect they were not so different from the Gothic novels that Catherine found so delightful, and whose popularity gave concern to anxious moralists. She must adjust her own actions to fit the story she is really in, while learning to distinguish between malicious deception and required social performance.

Alison Daniell’s ‘Of False Hair, Bolstered Hips and Witchcraft: The Regulation of Women’s Bodies and an Act of Parliament that Never Was’ discusses the Matrimonial Act 1770 (or, as it is more commonly known, The Hoops and Heels Act 1770), which ostensibly permitted husbands to divorce wives who had seduced and betrayed them into matrimony by using perfume, make-up, heels and other commonplace beauty aids; the wives were also to ‘incur the penalty of the laws now in force against witchcraft, sorcery, and suchlike misdemeanours’. It is a fake: it was never passed, or even debated, by Parliament and its provisions do not exist anywhere in law. Yet it is referenced in a number of academic publications and has been quoted, re-quoted and published in newspapers across the globe for over 175 years. This paper analyses possible legal sources for its provisions and discuss some of the cultural factors associating women’s power over men with witchcraft and a mutable female body. It will also suggest a more prosaic origin for the myth than the emotive combination of witchcraft and divorce we know today.

In ‘”Overcome by the horror of the piece”: Women and Ghosts on the Eighteenth-Century Stage’, Carolyn D. Williams considers some cultural, gendered and theatrical implications of Sarah Siddons’ belief that in Macbeth, Act III, scene iv, when Banquo’s ghost twice appears to Macbeth at a banquet, Lady Macbeth sees it too. Critical opinion has generally opposed her view of this episode, despite contemporary evidence that she made it work on stage. The presentation will conclude with some brief workshopping of a few key moments in the banquet scene, and of one line in Act V, scene i, the sleepwalking scene, once offered as self-evident proof that Siddons’ views were untenable, but which could take on additional, and powerful, resonance if these views are respected.

Charlotte Young and Hannah Jeans awarded WSG bursaries

The WSG is extremely pleased to announce it has awarded bursaries to Dr Charlotte Young, an early career scholar who gained her PhD in History at Royal Holloway, and Hannah Jeans, a PhD candidate in History at the University of York.

Charlotte will use the bursary to research her project on women’s involvement in the Canterbury sequestrations, 1643-50. She tweets as @charlie_l_y. Hannah will use hers to take up a Kanner Fellowship in British Studies at the Willam Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles where she will research the Pole family newsletter collection, c.1680-1710, which will inform her thesis ‘Women’s Reading Habits and Gendered Genres, c.1600-1700’. She tweets as @HannahJeans1.

The WSG bursaries are intended to support early career researchers, PhD students and independent scholars research “any aspect of women’s studies in the period 1558-1837”.  Previous winners have worked on topics from the experience of early modern female service to friendship, and pregnancy. Bursaries can be awarded for new or continuing, single or multidisciplinary projects.  They can be used to subsidise any costs incurred by the project.  To be eligible, applicants must be a member of the WSG.  The WSG bursary panel wish to thank all of this year’s applicants for their applications, and encourage those who have been unsuccessful to consider re-applying the following year.