WSG interviews: Andrew McInnes

In February, WSG began an occasional series interviewing group members about their research and influences. This month we’re speaking to Andrew McInnes.  The interviewer was Felicity Roberts and the conversation took place over email.

Hi Andy, tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Edge Hill. My research interests include Romantic period women’s writing, the geographies of Gothic fiction, and children’s literature. My first monograph, Wollstonecraft’s Ghost: The Fate of the Female Philosopher in the Romantic Period has recently been published. In a weird way, this combines all of my interests: the book explores Wollstonecraft’s legacy on Romantic period writing; it does so by focusing on the way she seems to haunt women’s writing of the early nineteenth century; and she is a profound thinker about the urgent need to improve the education of children: to prepare boys and girls to be critically thinking citizens – as necessary now as then! 

What’s your current research?

At the moment, I’m dividing my time between two projects: one on how Austen continues to engage with the Gothic, beyond Northanger Abbey, by positioning it in different locations – London, Ireland, the Mediterranean, Antigua, fairy land – away from the geographies of her novels; the other looks at how contemporary children’s literature makes use of the past in ways which move beyond nostalgia.

I haven’t read beyond Austen’s major novels but will you be using any of her juvenilia for instance? I loved Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship last year (an adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan), and wondered why nobody had done it before.

I love that film! It presents such a different vision of Austen from most other adaptations, focusing more on her satirical wit, verging towards cynicism at times. I read an interview with Kate Beckinsale, who plays Lady Susan in the movie, and she felt the character was full of rage, which I think is a new perspective on Austen. We still tend to think of her like Virginia Woolf did, as the cool, stylish one, contrasted with Charlotte Bronte’s anger, but I want to think about an angrier, more awkward Austen, railing against the injustices her heroines face.

Tell me about a formative influence on your work; it could be a person, a book, an exhibition, or a piece of advice.

My PhD supervisors, Jane Spencer and Adeline Johns-Putra (who also supervised my MA on Wollstonecraft’s Letters from Sweden) remain my models of how to be academics: pastorally and personally supportive, intellectually and academically challenging, excellent scholars both.

I know of Jane! She’s written some great stuff on the links between 18thC natural history and natural rights.  I think 18thC women’s studies and ecocriticism have a lot to say to each other.

Yes, Jane was moving into Animal Studies over the course of my PhD – I remember she presented a paper on the orangutan in one of Peacock’s novels! She was a fantastic supervisor, shaping the development of my ideas through patient, scrupulous, and encouraging discussion.

What’s your own personal recipe for researching or writing successfully?

I think I’m yet to discover the perfect recipe but I find writing the first draft of a piece of work the closest I can get to transcendence in this fallen world.

Are there any support networks you’ve found useful?

I’d be a hopeless wreck without my wife, Abbi McInnes, and my writing would be a hopeless wreck without the editing skills of my friend and PhD peer, Rebecca Mills.

(Interviewer’s note – Rebecca researches 20thC poetry and geography – proving you don’t have to be an expert in your friend’s field to be able to critique a friend’s writing. In fact, it often helps not to be)

Finally, what’s the last thing you read or saw – it doesn’t have to be work-related?

I’m writing a lecture on the Romantic Self and have decided to tackle Wordsworth’s The Prelude- and in Andrew Bennett’s Wordsworth in Context, in an essay by Maureen McLane called ‘Wordsworth Now’, I stumbled upon a poem by Bob Perelman called ‘Fake Dreams: The Library’ which captures my divided feelings towards Wordsworth’s undeniable power and awfulness, ending in obscenity.

Obscenity! Do you mean Perelman’s poem ends in obscenity or your feelings towards Wordsworth do?! I know he’s frustrating at times… 

‘Fake Dream: The Library’ begins with a couple trying to have sex in a library, against the collected works of Wordsworth, which allows the speaker to engage in a poetic critique of Wordsworth’s self-representation. It ends in a men’s room with the speaker’s partner pointing out obscene graffiti, which McLane argues in ‘Wordsworth Now’ is Perelman’s surprisingly sympathetic rewriting of Wordsworth’s desire to write in ‘the real language of men’. I remember hating Wordsworth as an undergraduate, but one of the pleasures of growing up is changing your mind about things: now, I find parts of The Prelude – the ‘Crossing the Alps’ episode, for example – extraordinarily powerful poetry: both vertiginous and precisely ordered.

WSG interviews: Tabitha Kenlon

This month WSG is posting the first of an occasional series, interviewing group members about their research, influences, writing tips, and anything else of interest that comes to mind while we’re at it.

In recent years, for students, independent scholars and career academics alike, blogging and social media have become an important way of working up ideas and making friendships.  There are great blogs out there exploring the history of women, gender and sexuality, medicine, work, science and archaeology.  But this online work is always inspired by, and flourishes with, older forms of generosity such as societies, reading groups and conversations.  With these interviews we hope both to trace our shared genealogy and build new forms of community online.

Tabitha KenlonOur first post is with WSG member Tabitha Kenlon, the interviewer was Felicity Roberts and the conversation took place over email.

Hi Tabitha, tell me a bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m currently at the American University in Dubai where I’m an Assistant Professor of English (my contract ends in June, though, so….). When I’m not grading student essays or advising the theatre club, I research eighteenth-century English novels, theatre and conduct manuals, with particular attention to women writers and characters.

What’s your current research?

I have two projects. My larger project is a book examining the history of conduct manuals from the beginning to the present. I’ll be focusing on volumes advising women, trying to trace the evolution of the female ideal and evaluate to what extent it has changed over the centuries. I’m also a member of the Women Writers Project’s Intertextual Networks collaboration, and my initial contribution on Shakespeare and Hannah Cowley went up in November.

Are there particular ways in which these two projects link up? Can you tell me a bit more why Hannah Cowley especially?

Excellent question! Both of these projects are continuations of work I started in my dissertation, which focused on eighteenth-century British plays, novels, conduct manuals and the performance of womanhood, how these media participated in a conversation about, and helped shape, appropriate female behaviour. I didn’t have space to cover all the wonderful women playwrights of the eighteenth century, so I chose Hannah Cowley because her comic heroines are so clever and conniving, but they aren’t “bad women”; whenever they flouted convention, such as dressing as a man and seducing a woman, it was for a good reason, like retrieving the wandering husband and mislaid fortune (perhaps another book will reunite these strands..).

Tell me about a formative influence on your work; it could be a person, a book, an exhibition, or a piece of advice.

I can think of quite a few, but I’ll try to limit myself. First would be Dr Priscilla Holmes, who helped me discover feminism in a sociology class at the University of Guam. Another significant moment was seeing Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing on Broadway years ago. Five minutes in, I caught myself thinking, “I can’t wait to read this.” That made me consider the different ways plays function, as words both static and living; Of course my PhD dissertation committee was important. Professor Elizabeth Maddock Dillon introduced me to performance studies, and Professor Nicole Aljoe gave me a comprehensive exam on eighteenth-century novels and theatre that I actually enjoyed taking. I figured if I had fun taking a test, then that must be the thing I should study.

What’s your own personal recipe for researching or writing successfully?

I’m still figuring this out! Since I’ve been teaching four classes a semester and holding ten office hours a week, making time for my own research has been challenging. What I have learned is to put myself first. It might sound selfish, but if I say I’ll do my stuff after I’ve graded these quizzes, responded to these emails, prepped for these classes…there will always be one more thing to do and I’ll never get to my own projects. But if the first thing I do, even if only for an hour or two, is my research or my writing, it gets done and I still have time for all those other things (which tend to take less brain power and energy anyway). I didn’t grade a quiz for six weeks while I was working on my book proposal; the students didn’t even notice. And I got the book deal. Lesson learned.

A book deal! Can you say who it is with?

Yes, with Anthem Press, and the publishing date is probably late 2018/early 2019.

Are there any support networks you’ve found useful?

My current institution is fairly small so we are generally encouraging of each other, and a colleague and I developed a lecture series to allow professors to share their research. Maintaining the contacts I developed during my doctoral studies has been the best way to exchange ideas with other specialists. I’ve been involved with WSG since 2013, when I was staying at Chawton House and Marion Durnin, one of my “fellow fellows,” as we called ourselves, told me to take the train to London and attend a workshop. I did so, I met Angela Escott and other lovely people, and two years later I was part of the WSG panel at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference. Even though it can be tricky from far away, I try to be involved with WSG and BSECS.

Of course I stay in touch with friends I made at Northeastern University, where I studied for the PhD. Sarah Connell, an office-mate and “writing buddy,” is the assistant director of the Women Writers Project; she told me about the Intertextual Networks collaboration, and through that I’ve chatted with other people working on interesting things. In the absence of substantial resources where I am geographically, I’ve been trying to develop a support network using technology. It’s important, with the difficult job market, to have encouragement both professionally and personally. Very few of my friends have the traditional academic career our advisors did, so just knowing how other people are navigating unfamiliar career paths and how scholarship shapes (or doesn’t) their jobs, is helpful and sometimes inspiring.

Finally, what’s the last thing you read or saw – it doesn’t have to be work-related?

I’ve just come back from a short holiday, and I always listen to a new book on the plane. This time it was Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I made a lot of accurate guesses, but I was still holding my breath the last half-hour. Hard not to love a good murder mystery. Of course, like a good academic, now I want to read a biography of Christie and a history of the Orient Express…

Charmian Mansell awarded WSG 30th Anniversary Bursary

The WSG is pleased to announce it has awarded its 30th Anniversary Bursary of £500 to Charmian Mansell for her project ‘A new history of female service in early modern England 1550-1650’, which will give a more accurate picture of everyday life for female servants, how they fitted within their local communities and how their work and sense of place shaped their identities.

Building on her PhD thesis, Charmian is producing a monograph on the history of female service.  The WSG bursary will assist with research costs for this as well as a journal article on female service and space within the rural community in early modern England.

In awarding Charmian the bursary, the WSG panel highlighted her thoughtful application, its social interest, and the fact that her dataset will be deposited with the UK Data Service at the end of the project, making these records open access. They thanked the other applicants for their applications, many of which were of very high quality.

Charmian, of the University of Exeter, recently gained her PhD for research examining the experiences of female servants in the south west of England from 1550-1650.  She is the current EHS Power Fellow at the IHR and tweets as @charmianmansell.

Susan Civale: Chawton House fellowship

WSG member Susan Civale, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University, just finished a month at Chawton House Library researching the poet and actress Mary Robinson (1757-1800). She reflects on her experience below.

Chawton House Library
Chawton House Library

I spent the month of April on a Visiting Fellowship at Chawton House Library, the one-time home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, and now a research centre specialising in women’s writing 1600-1830. For the entire month, the three other Visiting Fellows and I had free rein over the library’s collection and reading rooms, its 275-acre grounds (which include a Walled Garden and a ‘Wilderness’!), and its ‘Stables’, the modest 7-bedroom ‘cottage’ which was our place of residence for the month. We had at our disposal the expertise and support of the Chawton House Head Librarian and the exclusive use of the upper reading room. We were also invited to attend evening lectures, to join the Chawton monthly reading group, and to give presentations on our own research topics. Needless to say, the collection, location, and research culture at Chawton House Library made for a period of study marked by productivity, creativity, and sociability.

Susan in front of the Mary Robinson portrait at Chawton House
Susan in front of the Mary Robinson portrait at Chawton House

My research at Chawton was focused on one of Jane Austen’s more scandalous contemporaries: the poet, actress, and royal mistress, Mary Darby Robinson, whose stunning 1782 portrait beamed out at me from the wall of the Library’s Great Hall on a daily basis. I was devoting my time at Chawton to a chapter of my monograph that examines the impact of Robinson’s life writing on her posthumous reputation. My argument is based around the idea that Robinson’s Victorian readers found her Memoirs seductive, perplexing, and sympathetic, a contradictory mix that is often borne out in complex affective nineteenth-century responses to her. I found exciting evidence for this argument in the archive at Chawton, where I discovered an original subscription copy of Mary Robinson’s Poems (1791), which had been bound and inscribed with the personal insignia of Victorian poet and memoirist Violet Fane, the pseudonym of Mary, Baroness Currie (1843-1905). Apparently, there are only three other books known to feature this same personalised design of the gold violet: Lady Currie’s own Collected Verses (1880) and the two volumes of her Poems (1892). However, the bound copy of Robinson’s Poems is unique in bearing the inscription of her pen name, ‘Violet Fane,’ on the front and back covers.

That Lady Currie took such pains to personalise her copy of Robinson’s Poems in this way suggests she felt an affinity with her eighteenth-century predecessor. The similarities in their private lives are certainly striking. Both writers were known for their loveless marriages, affairs, and scandalous reputations. Lady Currie, like Robinson before her, was nicknamed ‘Sappho’ by her contemporaries, and the thinly veiled satire of her marriage, Edwin and Angelina (1878), may be a gesture toward Robinson’s 1796 novel Angelina. Finally, Lady Currie’s unfinished manuscript memoir was written on the reverse sides of menus and other cards retained from social visits, a choice of writing material that recalls Robinson’s decision to draft her Memoirs on the backs of envelopes, many of which had enclosed letters from subscribers to her Poems (1791). Lady Currie seems to have been styling herself as a late-Victorian Robinson, a strain of self-fashioning that speaks to Robinson’s own highly skilled self-construction and her enduring literary afterlife.

Besides offering such exceptional opportunities for research, Chawton also fostered a scholarly camaraderie among the ‘Fellows.’ As we traipsed into the reading room every morning, chatted about our work over lunch, and walked to a country pub in the evening, we settled into a routine of research and leisure that was productive, enjoyable, and empowering. One of the nicest aspects of the Fellowship was engaging with three other academics who shared so many of my own research interests, but who each had her own unique area of expertise. With so much to talk about, and so many opportunities to discuss questions big and small, we got to know each other both academically and personally. By the end of my stay at Chawton I felt I had gained not only three new colleagues but three new friends.

Although it was sad to say goodbye to this idyllic Hampshire home at the end of April, I left Chawton inspired. In a letter written to her friend and fellow writer Jane Porter in 1800, Mary Robinson had articulated a particular wish:

“Oh! Heavens! If a Select Society could be formed, – a little Colony of Mental Powers, a world of Talents, drawn into a small but brilliant circle, – what a splendid sunshine would it display.”

I couldn’t help thinking, as I left the light-filled conservatory of the ‘Stables’ on my final morning there, that at Chawton House Library I had participated in just the kind of “small but brilliant circle” of inquiring minds and lively discussion that Robinson had imagined 200 years ago. The trick, now, would be to take that “splendid sunshine” back to Canterbury with me, and amidst the paperwork and exam boards, find time for the illuminating conversations with colleagues and students that are the heart and soul of every university campus.

The deadline each year for applying for a Chawton House Visiting Fellowship is usually April.  You can learn more about Chawton’s Fellowships here.   Susan tweets as @susancivale.