J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

“Adventurous Wives” Conference via Chawton House

Chawton House is an Elizabethan manor once owned by Jane Austen’s brother. It houses the research library of the Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600–1830.

In that capacity, Chawton House will host an online conference on 14-15 May 2021 on the theme of “Adventurous Wives in the Long Eighteenth Century: or, Virtue Reconsidered.”

While some of this program was planned for last year and postponed, organizers Alison Daniell and Kim Simpson have reopened the call for papers. This call also gives a sense of what one might expect at the conference:
In Charlotte Lennox’s 1752 novel, The Female Quixote, an eighteenth-century Countess is horrified when she is asked by the romance-obsessed heroine to relate her ‘adventures’, professing:
‘The word adventures carries in it so free and licentious a sound in the apprehensions of people at this period of time, that it can hardly with propriety be applied to those few and natural incidents which compose the history of a woman of honour.’
The idea that during the long eighteenth century virtuous wives were increasingly relegated to the domestic/private sphere, their legal and economic identities subsumed into that of their husbands, is a long-standing one. However, recent and ongoing research is challenging the orthodoxy of this narrative and demonstrating that the roles available to married women were more complex, nuanced and dynamic than mainstream assumptions have generally allowed.

For example, Elaine Chalus has explored women’s engagement with politics and the electoral process; Joanne Begiato’s examination of the divorce process has shed light on the lived experience of married women; Amy Louise Erikson has interrogated the laws relating to women’s property ownership; and Briony McDonagh has examined inter alia how landowning wives managed the combined duties of married life and estate management.

However, research specifically relating to ‘wives’ is often buried amongst the wider topic of ‘women’, and cross-disciplinary patterns and conclusions relating purely to married women may be lost or go unrecognised.
Drs. Daniell and Sampson therefore invite papers that ”bring these revisionist narratives together and examine the role(s) of the wife as seen through the fields of literature, social and economic history, law, art history and material culture.” In particular, they note these topics:
  • The economic and financial autonomy of women following marriage
  • Feme sole traders
  • The visibility of single versus married women in the literature of the period
  • Wives’ involvement in politics and public life
  • Working wives
  • Women and the divorce process
  • Inheritance and the transmission of property through the female line
  • Trusts, property ownership and separate estate
  • Wives as educators
  • Conduct literature and wives
  • The married woman as literary heroine
  • Quasi-marriages and kept Mistresses
  • The married female body
  • Material culture, fashion and taste
  • Housewifery
  • Wives as guardians of morality and social order
  • The historiography of the wife: change or continuity?
Interested scholars should submit abstracts of up to 500 words with a short bio (including one’s time zone) to the conference organizers at adventurousc18wives@gmail.com by 1 March 2021.

Drs. Daniell and Sampson hope people will “pre-record their talks, submitting them by 15 April.” At each session, those presentations will be played, followed by live questions and answers and discussion. (That’s one way of ensuring presenters remain within their allotted time.) Conference updates will come through @AdventurousWiv1 on Twitter.

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