Reminder: WSG seminar February 2021

The fifth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 20 February 2021.

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.

February 20, 2021
Sarah Ailwood: ‘In justice to myself’: Legal and Textual Subjectivities in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Memoirs.

Costas Douzinas identifies the modern legal subject as both subjectum – the subject of the law – and subjectus – or subject to the law: simultaneously participating in law’s authorial creation, and obedient to its command.[1] Historically, however, women have occupied a status that is more subjectus than subjectum: as placed under the law’s authority with few opportunities to participate in its creation or authorisation. In this paper, I explore how, from the mid-eighteenth century, women began to contest their status as subjectus to the law through the writing, publication and dissemination of memoirs that interrogated their experience of the substance and process of law. Although women’s memoirs addressing the law and justice questions by the so-called ‘scandalous memoirists’, actresses and celebrities have received some scholarly attention, memoirs by comparatively little-known women that explicitly targeted law have been overlooked. Yet these memoirs offer a rich opportunity to explore relationships between gender and legal and textual subjectivities in the context of burgeoning print culture in eighteenth-century England.

From mid-century, women appropriated the newly emerging genre of the published memoir to publicise their experience of the law and justice system, to contest the subjectivity constructed of them and authorised as ‘fact’ by legal process, and to counter the representation of this subjectivity within the newspaper and periodical press. The published memoir offered women an opportunity to discursively construct an alternative self framed through reference to legal ‘norms’ as well as the emerging conventions of the memoirs genre. In this paper I will particularly focus on two memoirs that reveal women’s discursive negotiation of legal and textual subjectivities: The True State of the Case of Sarah Rippon (1756), by Sarah Rippon, a middle-class widow who published her memoir after a protracted series of law suits triggered by her husband’s death, to contest both the injustice she experienced through the court system and her representation as a litigant within wider public culture; and The Memoirs of Mrs Anne Bailey (1771), in which a woman living on the social margin details the violence inflicted upon her by high-profile men and her experiences of summary justice and the bridewell. If, as is widely argued, legal subjects are produced and imagined through language and law, memoirs by these and later eighteenth-century women reveal the centrality of the published memoir genre not only to women’s construction of textual subjectivity, but also to their conceptualisation of legal subjectivity and its relationship to power.

[1] Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century (Hart Publishing 2000) 216–22.

Daisy Winter: “I who am but dust”: mortal fear in Elizabeth Delaval’s ‘Memoirs and Meditations’.

Known as a memoirist and Jacobite, Lady Elizabeth Delaval (1648? -1717) left a manuscript volume of memoirs and meditations that provide a fascinating insight into the often-unhappy life of a devout seventeenth-century gentlewoman. Biographies of Elizabeth have largely focused upon her failed romances and later, loveless marriage. While these real-life events certainly contributed to her unhappiness and induced her to write, this paper will instead consider Elizabeth’s expressions of anxiety in relation to a persistent, psychological trigger: her fear of the passage (and therefore, loss) of time. In the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth centuries, the mode of recording time increasingly “called attention away from endpoints and invested it in middles” (Stuart Sherman, Telling Time, 1996). ‘Memoirs’ responds to this trend for recounting the “middle” of one’s life, and Elizabeth records daily events and actions in detail. However, her fixation with time goes beyond the daily – thanatophobic paranoia often overwhelms her writing. Trying to make sense of her usage of time is, for Elizabeth, as much a reflection of her anxiety over her mortal “endpoint” as an urge to record. In a close reading of two key moments of Elizabeth’s manuscript, the chronophobic poem ‘Upon the singing of a lark’, and a morbid account of parasitic infection, this paper will explore the ways in which Elizabeth’s writing confronts the ephemerality of life and the inevitability of her own mortality.

Valentina Aparicio: Maria Graham’s Journal of a residence in Chile (1824): a transnational community of women.

Maria Graham became a widow in 1822, on her way to Valparaiso as the wife of the captain of HMS Doris. When arriving at Valparaiso, Graham decided to stay in Chile for a year and live by herself in the port in a rented cottage. She spent her time writing her Journal, as she travelled central regions of the newly independent country. In the ‘Preface’ of the journal, she expressed that she hoped to fill a gap in knowledge with her publication.  She considered most of the accounts on Chile to be tainted by political interests. She, on the other hand, wished to show that ‘there is so much of good in that country, so much in the character of the people and the excellence of the soil and climate’ (iv). As a widow, British traveller, artist, and female intellectual, Graham found herself able to socialise with people of different social stations, providing a variety of very complete accounts of Chilean life. Her positive depictions of people in Chile cover from countryside workers to the half-Irish president of the country, Bernardo O’Higgins. Graham’s accounts are particularly interesting regarding other women, their occupations, and education. My paper will focus particularly on this subject. Graham’s Journal provides several sympathetic descriptions of the life of women in the early republic of Chile – a subject ignored by male writers of the period, both European and South American. Graham’s Journal sheds light on the lives of women from creole aristocracy, creole lower classes, and women of indigenous backgrounds. While an inequality of power is inevitably present in these accounts, Graham’s work creates a remarkable sense of a community of women with her Chilean peers – including herself, the female pottery-makers of Pomaire, the high-society creole women of Santiago, the indigenous wife of the cacique of Yupeo, amongst many others. I will argue that the rich accounts of Chilean women found in Graham’s work provide a glimpse into an early nineteenth-century sense of female solidarity and understanding that goes beyond imperial divisions, as Graham places both herself and her peers in one shared space of female-centred dialogue.

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

Reminder: WSG seminar January 2021

The fourth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 23 January 2021.

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.

January 23, 2021
Megan Shaw: Looking towards a cultural history of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1603-1649).

This paper will explore how Katherine Villiers (neé Manners, 1603 – 1649), Duchess of Buckingham harnessed portraiture – in miniature and in large – and epistolary exchange as devices for affection, commemoration and self-preservation at the Stuart court. Katherine was the wife of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592 – 1628), the royal favourite to both James VI & I and Charles I of England. This paper is contextualised through painted portraits and by analysing the highly emotive, and often distressing, letters which the duchess wrote to her “dear heart” throughout their marriage. The Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in September 1628 which prompted a visual display of grief and a reassertion of loyalty in Katherine’s mourning portraits painted by Anthony van Dyck and Henri Beaubrun. These poignant portraits featured her husbands’ likeness in miniature. Connections will be drawn between the functions of the portrait miniature as devotional objects which could be privately concealed, displayed or activated in public at the will of their owner or wearer. I argue that their presence in the duchess’ mourning portraits conveyed a public message of her loss, and furthermore reinforced the political leverage of remembrance and the renegotiations – and even performance – of power that commemoration offered.

Gillian Beattie-Smith: Catherine Helen Spence: a consideration of her feminist and transnational agency.

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), born in Melrose, Scotland, emigrated to Australia as a girl with her family.  Spence was a novelist, journalist, a leader in the international suffragist movement, a Georgist, and a proponent of proportional representation.  She was a public intellectual, who addressed audiences across Australia, America and Britain, and was a widely-respected social reformer.  Her life is commemorated in a statue, Australian currency, and place names, and memorialised in her extensive body of writing.

Spence’s novels have been compared with those of Eliot and Gaskell, and positioned in the development of European realist fiction, and the international tradition of feminist writing.  The body of literary critique and biographical record has grown on Spence in recent years, enabling alternative discourses of settler women writers as cultural agents in Australian foundational history.

This paper reflects on Spence’s feminist and transnational agency in her life and work.

Kate Stephenson: Lawyers, Débardeuses and Pages; Women Masquerading as Men.

Masquerades became popular in Britain in the early-18th century, finding a home at theatres as well as pleasure gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall. These provided the opportunity for attendees to dress up in a huge variety of creative costumes and this tradition continued into the 19th century with fancy dress balls. Contemporary reports suggest that a not insignificant number of women used these events to subvert established gender norms and dress as men. This led to contemporary anxieties regarding the transgression of moral and social boundaries and the suggestion that cross-dressing, as well as fancy dress events more generally, could lead to homosexuality, sexual liaisons (and consequently pregnancy and venereal disease) and the breakdown of established social structures. This work-in-progress paper will examine women’s costume choices at masquerades and masked balls in the long 18th century with a focus on cross-dressing, investigating what kinds of women cross-dressed, what costumes they chose and how their choices changed over time.

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

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.

Reminder: WSG seminar 21 November 2020

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 21 November 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.

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.

When infanta Maria Theresia of Austria was married by proxy to her cousin, king Louis XIV of France, in 1659, she was forced by her father to sign a renunciation to all her rights to the Spanish Throne for herself and her descendants. The Spanish Monarchy’s succession law established that women could inherit the throne if they didn’t have any surviving brothers or if they died without any descendants, so Maria Theresia, as the eldest daughter of king Philip IV of Spain, was the first woman called to her father’s succession if he was to die without any surviving sons. Philip IV only had, at the time of Maria Theresa’s marriage, one son that could separate the soon-to-be queen of France from the Spanish Throne, so this renunciation was designed to avoid the possibility that Louis XIV and the recently wed infanta could become one day the legal heirs of the Spanish Monarchy. Despite the fact that the document itself tried to protect Maria Theresia’s rights, saying that, if she became a widow without having any children and came back to Spain, her rights as the eldest daughter of the monarch would be totally restored, the point of it was to prevent the union of France and the Spanish Monarchy under one crown if the scarce male descendants of king Philip IV of Spain were to die without any legitimate descendants. This renunciation was negotiated with the French court, was included in the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, was considered as a law and treated as such by the Spanish government, and Louis XIV promised his uncle that he would ratify it after the marriage was finished, although he didn’t honour this last promise. In fact, Louis XIV began to protest against the renunciation as soon as the marriage was finished and the new queen was in France. There were numerous legal treaties, diplomatic dispatches and formal documents where the king argued that his wife and, later, his son and grandson, were the rightful heirs to the Spanish Monarchy and that her renunciation was totally invalid from a legal, diplomatic and dynastic point of view. But in this proposal, I want to present a document in which the French king presented more that seventy five reasons why the rights of his wife couldn’t be erased and she was the rightful heiress of the Spanish Monarchy, with the intention of going beyond this specific case and analyse how the royal women’s rights of succession were defended, protected and, ultimately, viewed in the complex scenario of the Early Modern Europe.

Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.

This paper examines the brief interactions between Vathek, the protagonist of William Beckford’s Vathek, and the Giaour, a racialized other who travels to Vathek’s kingdom of Samarah. Vathek is depicted as a monstrous masculine figure with a humongous appetite and an ‘evil eye’ that can shock people into a state of unconsciousness. The failure of Vathek’s ‘evil eye’ to police the Giaour’s identity, and orient the Giaour in relation to himself, to make him apprehensible within the particular space of his kingdom, disrupts Vathek’s monstrous power and the disorienting affect of his “terrible,” Medusa-like gaze (Beckford 3)1. This paper juxtaposes Max Fincher’s analysis of Vathek’s fixation on regulation of bodies and his disorienting, and thus queering (Ahmed) gaze with Homi Bhabha’s theorization of the evil eye as it functions to other racial bodies.

Following this, I will then introduce Sara Ahmed’s concept of disorientation and suggest that averting gaze of the subject gives subjective agency to the object and, consequently, disorients the subject. This paper defines the queer under gaze as refusing to be objectified and instead asserting their own subjectivity by rejecting that gaze and its disorienting affects. This paper investigates Vathek’s failure to interpret the Giaour, the Giaour returning Vathek’s gaze by staring back at him, and its relation to Vathek’s inability to translate the inscriptions on the sabres he bought from the Giaour.

This double-failure to translate the sabres puts Vathek in a disoriented state, resulting in his loss of appetite, a metaphoric and literal indicator of his monstrous masculinity. Without translation, there is no degree of intervention by the subject. In that moment of disjointedness, the Giaour’s unreadability threatens the impact of Vathek’s gaze and power. When Vathek stares at the Giaour, and the Giaour gazes back at him, Vathek loses his appetite and fears his wives being seduced by the Giaour’s appetite. Vathek’s identity and orientation become vulnerable to be affected and shifted without his consent.

1 Beckford, William. Vathek, edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788) is a play which unites two very different worlds. It is a romantic comedy full of fairytale elements, set in exotic India. At the same time, it deals extensively with facts of eighteenth-century life, even those which reflect an uncompromising and often brutal reality – including the marriage market and the slave trade. The play often shifts rapidly between two different tones: the light, entertaining witticisms of eighteenth-century comedy, and incisive political commentary reminiscent of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works.

In this paper, I will show how Starke strikes a delicate balance between romance and reality, using the popular conventions of the London stage to comment on life in the British colonies. The outwardly fictional nature of stage comedy enabled Starke and other playwrights to use it as a vehicle for serious discussions about the real world. The Sword of Peace shows particularly clearly that although entertainment and politics were supposedly two separate spheres, eighteenth-century playwrights and theatre audiences were happy to combine both.

By demonstrating the play’s extensive engagement with contemporary and social issues, I will argue that eighteenth-century female playwrights were especially interested in putting politics on the stage – even though contemporary gender roles and theatre regulations officially prevented this.

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