BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series 2021 Back

BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series 2021

All sessions take place on the last Thursday of the month between 3-4pm GMT/BST. Registration via


January 28th: Lightning Talks

  1. Amy Wilcockson, University of Nottingham, ‘Good-for-nothing evidence’: The Correspondence of Thomas Campbell’
  1. Helen Dallas, University of Oxford, ‘A Brief Vocabulary of Performing Character in Long Eighteenth-Century Theatre’
  2. Jed Surio, Tulane University, ‘The Jesuit’s Gambit: Chess, Politics, and Astronomy in Eighteenth-Century French Tapestries’
  3. Amelie Derome, Aix-Marseille Universite, ‘The erotic adaptations of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels​: nurturing phantasy through textual ​innutrition​’
  4. Susanna Lahtinen, University of Turku, ‘Experiences of Nocturnal Darkness by the Light of the Aesthetics’
  5. Madeleine Saidenberg, University of Oxford, ‘“I was so yesterday”: Pizarro’s Imperial Spectacle on the Eve of Union in Dublin’
  6. Katie Noble, University of Oxford, ‘Imagining Ephemera: Transient Documents in Priya Parmar’s ​Exit the Actress ​(2011) and ​Bridgerton ​(2020)’
  7. Josh Smith, University of Stirling, ‘Political Readers and the Associational Reading Space in the Age of Reform’
  8. Amy Solomons, University of Liverpool, ‘Voices in the Margins: Eighteenth-Century Female Readers in National Trust Libraries’


February 25th

Lauryn Green, University of Sheffield, ‘Exploring the Gothic (Homo)Romantic Texts of Byron and Coleridge’

In the first comprehensive English-language work on homosexuality, Xavier Mayne (​The Intersexes​, 1909) makes a strong case that in Byron’s poem ​Manfred​, the “burden on the conscience of Manfred”, the “unspeakable sin”, is not incest, as is commonly assumed, but a hidden male relationship. Mayne writes: “Greek in his intellectual and sexual nature, [Byron] was Englishman by birth but Athenian by heart.”

In both Coleridge’s ​Christabel​ and ​Manfred​ by Byron, the sexual and romantic themes within the text can be read as incestuous, with Geraldine being a substitute mother figure for Christabel and Manfred being in love with his sister, Astarte. However, both can be equally-compellingly read as a metaphor for homosexual desire, allegorised due to the statutes of the Labouchere Amendment and sodomy laws of the time. Though critics like Faberman argued that “lesbian sexuality was treated more tolerantly than male homosexuality”, I believe Castle’s argument was more accurate; “the law has traditionally ignored female homosexuality – not out of indifference…but out of morbid paranoia,…an anxiety too severe to allow for direct articulation.” As both homosexual and sapphic desire was deemed ‘indecent’ to write about at the time, I would argue that both Christabel​ and Manfred​ are allegories for same-sex desire shrouded by incest. 

Yingnan Shang, Rutgers University, ‘Identity and Alterity in Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Wether’

The power relations between identity and alterity (or otherness) and their association with the colonizer and the colonized have been intensely discussed in the context of postcolonial studies. However, the status of identity, as well as its relevance to alterity, is also constitutive of the storytelling process and forms an essential element in the study of narration, language, and characterization. In his philosophical work Identity of Persons, Locke rejects the view that personal identity consists in the sameness of material particles or “corporeal spirits” and claims that the individual identity consists in memory and knowledge of one’s past. Through the example of The Sorrows of Young Werther​     ​—an epistolary novel adopting first-person narrative—I intend to analyze the narrator’s “personal identity” in the sense of “self-image,” which refers to one’s beliefs about the sort of person one is and how one differs from others. I argue that in Goethe’s novel, narrative identity is both constituted in the interaction with other characters and contingent on the narrative context and the multiplicity of his/her own social roles. Therefore, the expression of one’s identity is not strictly mimetic—self-construction tends not to do justice to their tellers or the “reality” of life— but it tends to omit and conceal undesirable, or unavailing, facets of the self.


March 25th

Paige Oliver, Vanderbilt University, ‘Precarity, Performance, and the “Liberty of Choice” in Centlivre’s The Busybody and A Bold Stroke for a Wife’

It takes limited imagination to see Susanna Centlivre’s two most successful plays—The Busybody (1709) and A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1718)—as performances of precarity. Both of these plays depict orphan heiresses whose unfit guardians block them from gaining either their rightful inheritance or their preferred husbands, leaving them financially vulnerable. Recent scholarship admirably demonstrates how Centlivre’s Whig politics inform her treatment of women and their generative relationship to marriage contracts; in this paper I build upon and complicate these analyses by applying Butler’s theory of precarity as well as Arendt’s phenomenological understanding of human rights to explore how Centlivre’s characters—regardless of gender—are able to outmaneuver precarity by performing their right to “liberty of choice.” 1 Though past scholarship has understandably centered Centlivre’s female characters, in this paper I seek to nuance these studies by contextualizing the legal precarity of women alongside that disadvantaged class of men oft seen in Centlivre’s plays–men whose order of birth places them at the mercy of the mercantile marriage market and under the control of patriarchal fathers. I argue that acknowledgement of this shared precarity, in both The Busybody and A Bold Stroke for a Wife, reveals in Centlivre’s plays a previously unexplored commentary on gender as well as a more egalitarian model of marriage.

Jelma van Amersfoort, University of Southampton, ‘Have Guitar Will Travel: Foreign guitar players in the Netherlands 1750-1800’

Dutch musical life in the 18th century has been described as a microcosm of European musical culture, and most music making in the Netherlands involved foreign musicians as performers and teachers. I will present two cases of guitar playing musicians working in the Netherlands, in order to explore the nature and development of musical performance between 1750 and 1800, how it transformed within that timeframe, and how it can be seen as a medium for cultural transfer.

The Italian Giacomo Merchi (1726-ca.1790), from a large artistic family in Brescia, performed in the Dutch towns of Utrecht, The Hague, and Amsterdam between 1759 and 1764, amid other concert trips to Britain, France, Germany, and the West Indies. Merchi played guitars, citterns, mandolins, and instruments of his own invention. Merchi and his brother Giuseppe composed and published songs and guitar music, and expressed their ideas on guitar playing in several innovative method books. Wherever they performed they collaborated with local musicians. The locations of their performances varied from courts, to inns, to theatres. Alexandre Stiévenard (1769-1855), son of a fabric merchant from Cambrai, fled France at the start of the Revolution and made his way working as a musician in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, teaching, singing, and performing on violin and guitar. His extensive personal memoirs survive in manuscript form. Stiévenard performed in the Concerthuis in the town of Groningen between 1794 and 1801, together with pupils and local musicians. The full programmes of these concerts have survived. Later in life Stiévenard moved to Germany and worked at the court in Schwerin.

April 29th

Holly Robbins, Converse College, ‘Charmed by One “So Unhackneyed in the World”: The Rousseauvianesque Language of Evelina​          

In Evelina​​, Fanny Burney shines a critical light on the shallow nature of high society, demonstrating the farcical aspect of societal constructs. As such, Burney disrupts the relationship between high station and “good-breeding,” emphasizing the morally destructive power of society itself. In particular, Evelina’s observations highlight the shallowness of social graces in an environment far removed from the perfection of an “artless” existence. This “artless” existence, as extolled in Burney’s text, evokes the political philosophy and moral psychology of Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the most noted philosophical minds of Burney’s time. Margaret Doody and other scholars have noted Burney’s knowledge of Rousseau’s works, and obviously, we are aware of her respect for Rousseau from the Preface of ​Evelina​. While some scholars have recognized a contrarian attitude toward Rousseau in Burney’s other works, specifically ​Camilla​, very little attention has been placed on (what I argue) is the very visible Rousseauvian influence on ​Evelina​. And while the personal connection between Burney’s father, Dr. Charles Burney, and Rousseau has been well documented, Fanny’s association, or, more specifically for the purposes of this paper, veneration, of Rousseau has remained largely unaddressed. This assertion stems largely from a little-observed anecdote from Fanny’s own extensive journal that points to her deeply held respect and adoration for Rousseau, leading one to postulate a more personal connection between the two. And, as this paper will demonstrate, Burney’s remarkably subtle societal criticisms, and, most significantly, the Rousseauvianesque language of her characters, indicate that ​Evelina​ is a work strongly influenced by the themes and philosophies of Rousseau.


Cathleen Mair, Queen Mary, University of London, ‘Religion of the Heart and Mind: The Protestant Roots of Feeling in the Thought of Mary Wollstonecraft and Germaine de Staël’

In the last two decades, scholars have paid increasing attention to the religious foundations of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and Germaine de Staël’s (1766-1817) thought. Indeed, Staël and Wollstonecraft often drew connections between piety and devotion on the one hand, and politics and morality on the other. Revisiting the Protestant contexts of their works can thus shed new light on their political and moral thought. In this vein, Barbara Taylor has highlighted the religious basis of Wollstonecraft’s feminism, while Helena Rosenblatt has recovered the links between Protestantism and private judgement in Staël’s liberalism.

Building on such scholarship, this paper suggests that religion, rather than sentimentalism, constitutes a key framework for understanding Wollstonecraft and Staël’s conceptualisations of emotion. The British radical educator and Swiss ​salonnière​ might seem an unlikely pairing but, as Protestant thinkers who spent time in revolutionary Paris in the 1790s, Wollstonecraft and Staël offer crucial insight into late-eighteenth-century debates about passions and politics in Britain and France – this paper seeks to restore the theological dimension of those debates.

The paper first considers the writers’ religious education and the Protestant milieus that shaped their theological views. Then, through a comparative analysis of their engagement with Jacques Necker’s ​De l’Importance des Opinions Religieuses​ (1788), a text written by Staël’s father and translated and reviewed by Wollstonecraft, this paper explores how religion and faith intersect with emotional language and concepts in their work and what this might reveal about wider cultural and philosophical understandings of emotion in the late eighteenth century.

May 27th

Salvatore B. Gianino, Washington University, ‘Intellectual Property in Defence of Liberty’

The American conception of intellectual property was in its infancy at the onset of the American Revolution. Under the influence of Enlightenment philosophy and English law, many colonists entered the revolutionary era with an understanding that the fruits of the human intellect were valuable and worthy of protection, and colonial governments had made significant progress toward adequately protecting intellectual things as property under the law. However, the colonial momentum toward a comprehensive legal framework for intellectual property slowed due to disruptions that accompanied the Revolutionary War.

Despite this slowdown and the resulting lack of a comprehensive framework for protecting intellectual things under colonial law, the American conception of intellectual property was somewhat reframed in pursuit of independence, and the creativity and ingenuity of the colonists marched on throughout the war. Indeed, the American intellect was on full display in support of the war effort, as the Continental Army was constantly and cleverly reacting to their circumstance of being overmatched in military might. Practically speaking, the colonists banded together in a collective effort to generate embodiments of the intellect — such as writings, maps, processes, tools, and weapons — that would propel the Continental Army to victory.

This paper takes a fresh look at how intellectual property, at a conceptual level and a practical level, fueled the development of the American military in the latter half of the 18th century. In this manner, the paper highlights the role of intellectual property in the defense of liberty.

Raku Nagamine, University of Leicester, ‘The personal networks of civic leaders in the urbanisation of Chester: c1750-1860’

This paper aims to explore the structure of networks between individual members of urban elite who had a share in the governance of Chester between the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, through a prosopographical analysis based mainly on probate records and parish registers. In this period, like other provincial towns, Chester boasted a patchwork of administrative and associational institutions to improve public infrastructure and foster the literary and intellectual environment, in response to increased challenges of urbanisation and the growing aspiration on the part of the elites to cultural refinement in line with Enlightenment principles. Most studies of other towns have been influenced by the seminal work of R. J. Morris, and have highlighted the roles played by the industrialist and professional middle classes who took a leading part in establishing associations in pursuit of a public life. Few works, however, have focused on the relationships of the new elites with longer-established families within a particular city. In order to fill the historiographical lacuna, this paper will offer a quantitative analysis and visualisation mainly of executorial links among Chester’s leading citizens. Following Shani de Cruze’s analysis of community brokers in Colchester, it will show how these connections underpinned business and reputation in public life. It will also clarify the extent to which the elite networks transcended institutional boundaries between governing bodies including the corporation, in response to wider changes in urban society before the mid-nineteenth century.

Turni Chakrabarti, George Washington University, ‘The Poetics of Nationhood and Empire: An Analysis of Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’ and Anna Letitia Barbauld’s ‘Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’

This paper will argue that Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes” and Anna Letitia Barbauld’s “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” show two distinct ways in which anxieties about British empire-building were articulated in the long eighteenth century. The rise of two-party politics in the seventeenth century had a tremendous impact on the lives and careers of British poets. Party affiliations could shape or destroy literary careers. It was not surprising, therefore, to see poets beginning to increasingly participate in contemporary political debates. The intensity of political commentary and engagement only increased in the eighteenth century, when the poets began to grapple with ideas of national identity and empire. In “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes,” Gray uses the image of the vain, narcissistic, and luxury-obsessed woman in order to domesticate the imperial ideal and deflect the responsibility of the growth of mercantile capitalism. Barbauld, on the other hand, also uses gendered formulations in “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven”, but to show how the eventual fall and ruinous end of all nations, empires, and civilizations cannot be averted. She situates the feminine as life-giving and bountiful rather as being the cause of moral decay and degeneration. Reading these poems together allows us to interrogate the ways in which the feminine has been portrayed in British poetry, and how these gendered notions affected the rhetoric around nation and empire-building.

June 24th

Kerry Love, University of Northampton, ‘Material Culture and Tokenising the 1794 Treason Trials’

In 1794 over 30 British radicals were arrested, largely associated with the London Corresponding Society and the Society for Constitutional Information, with three put on trial for High Treason: J.H Tooke, John Thelwall and Thomas Hardy. All three men were acquitted with separate not guilty verdicts later in the year, after being held in the Tower of London and Newgate prison. Habeas Corpus was suspended, allowing their detention. Token coinage had become a popular solution to a lack of low denomination currency in circulation and was largely unregulated and in private production. However, by 1793, it had become popular to collect the tokens, and a number were printed with designs unrelated to commerce. The increase in collectors coincided with an increase in non-commercial designs, as well as the use of coins, tokens and medals to commemorate events. The tokens commemorating the 1794 trials evidence how during a period of press regulation, the creation and circulation of small, discreet objects made possible the celebration of a radical event. They could be personal and private, worn close to the body around the neck, holding emotional significance, or easily and openly circulated and passed between persons in public. Some designs were borrowed from print, to suggest that studying objects can add a layer of nuance to understanding the circulation of political material during the 1790s.

Giulia Iannuzzi, University of Florence-University of Trieste, ‘“to turn their own Cannon against them & ridicule them”: Samuel Madden, Robert Walpole and anti-Craftsman satire’

There is something mysterious in the history of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, an early speculative fiction novel published anonymously in London in 1733. Thanks to a testimony by the publisher William Bowyer, it is known that out of one thousand copies commissioned by the author, some nine hundred were eliminated fresh out of print. Written by Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies, the novel consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. A fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action, the novel’s logical extrapolation is informed by a variety of underlying rationales, ranging from utopian achievements to the satiric mocking of the writer’s present.

Madden had discussed with Robert Walpole the advisability of using satire against the government’s opposition, around about the same time as the idea for the Memoirs was presumably taking shape. In a letter to the de facto prime minister, he had proposed launching a satirical counterattack against the Tories united around The Craftsman. Drawing on limited but eloquent documentary evidence available, and locating Madden’s political reflections in its original context – British political debate in the late 1720s – this paper will discuss the mystery surrounding the destruction of the Memoir’s print run.

July 29th – N.B.: 2PM-3PM BST

Emer O’Hanlon, Trinity College Dublin, ‘“I wish I had the gumption to write a journal”: The Greco-Roman Past in the Writings of the Wilmot Sisters and Eleanor Cavanagh’

The Wilmots were a middle-class, Anglo-Irish family based in Co. Cork. Katherine and Martha both travelled widely in Europe and wrote about their experiences in the form of diaries and letters home. As these were never intended for publication, they have an engaging immediacy and frankness. Katherine travelled to France and Italy in 1801-1803, and later spent two years in Russia. Martha lived in Russia from 1803-1808 as a guest of the Princess Dashkova. In her writings, Katherine emphasises the importance of in-person experience of antiquity, omitting descriptions of artwork in favour of the more dramatic ruins (eg. Pompeii and Sperlonga). Conversely, Martha prefers describing art objects in great detail, focusing on their material qualities. The Wilmot archive at the Royal Irish Academy includes two letters from Katherine’s maid, Eleanor Cavanagh, who describes the art at the Princess’ estate vividly.

Similar research often focuses on upper-class women who travelled widely and collected art and antiquities. The Wilmot archive provides a fascinating insight into the way antiquity was received by three intelligent, but very different, women who spanned diverse social classes.

Seohyon Jung, Seoul National University, ‘Maria Edgeworth and the Infectious Irish Bull’

This paper examines the historic-cultural implications of the idea of “infection” in the context of the 1800 Irish Union through a reading of Maria Edgeworth’s An Essay on Irish Bulls (1802). This parodic work—co-written with her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth—addresses the widespread English suspicion of Irish fortune-hunters in the narrative of Phelim O’Mooney, who travels to England in search of a rich wife. The tale unravels the absurdity of English anxiety of Irish “intruders” who take advantage of English wealth, while it also reminds the readers of the incompleteness of and the tension generated by the 1800 Union between England and Ireland. Edgeworth’s ambiguous nationalist sympathy, or her imperialist thinking implicit in her historical narratives, has received much critical attention.

This paper contends that a complex spatial reading that pays attention to the organic and amorphous—the formal characteristics commonly associated with a disease or infection—consequences of the Union, as opposed to a reading that advocates nation as an unambiguous geographical entity, can bring to light new historical insights on Edgeworth’s political satire as well as her fiction. By closely tracing what and who gets transferred, exchanged, or lost in the narrative presented in An Essay on Irish Bulls, I aim to articulate Edgeworth’s responses to the economic inequity and consequent cultural hierarchy prompted by the cultural conservatism that ironically emerges as the British empire expands its boundaries.

August 26th

Fahimeh Q. Berenji, Middle East Technical University, ‘Transgressions in Motherhood and Moral Injury in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders’

Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders is an eighteenth-century novel of morality, which portrays its female narrator as a victim of child abandonment and perpetrator of childcare displacement. Based on traditional and patriarchal familial codes, some scholars have criticized Moll for her transgressions in motherhood and called her a ‘failed’ or ‘monstrous’ mother. Moll also has strong reflections on motherhood and childcare; however, she does not see herself as a failed or monstrous mother. I will approach this topic of transgressive motherhood through the perspectives of the moral injury model, which is a sub-section of trauma studies focusing on the sense of guilt and shame as the symptoms of trauma experienced by perpetrators for defying a moral code. This model explains why Moll does not see herself as a perpetrator despite defying familial codes of motherhood and how her one-time sense of guilt for childcare abandonment is under the direct impact of her mother’s transgressive maternity. Based on this moral injury model and an understanding of narrative structures in trauma fiction, I argue that Defoe expertly manipulates time structures to represent the impact her mother has on Moll’s being conscious of defying moral codes and developing a sense of guilt. In applying this model to a temporal representation of shame and guilt in Defoe’s Moll Flanders, this paper also shows that the application of the moral injury modal to a literary analysis can provide a sound basis for discussion of broader issues of perpetration, shame, and guilt in other eighteenth-century novels.

Laura Earls, University of Delaware, ‘“their Affections are alienated from the Mothers who bore them, and their Minds are ill turned”: Monstrosity and the Materiality of Maternity in the Atlantic World’

The 1775 edition of The Ladies Physical Directory implored its readers to breastfeed their own children, since infants brought up by wet nurses would “become irremediably diseased as they grow up; hence their Affections are alienated from the Mothers who bore them, and their Minds are ill turned; hence in the Son of a Gentleman is often found the sordid Soul of a Porter or a Clown.” In the pages that follow, the author offers a recipe for a wax-based nipple balm.

This paper centers the materiality of wax to reconstruct embodied maternal experiences of pregnancy and breastfeeding in England and the broader Atlantic world. While European physicians advocated for breastfeeding in the eighteenth century, published and manuscript recipes offer a glimpse into the experiences of the women implicated in these conversations – ointments soothed chapped nipples and plasters unclogged milk ducts. English beliefs that maternal imaginations could cause monstrous births, or phenomena in which newborns fell outside early modern bodily norms or resembled people other than their biological parents, contributed to the idea that lower-class wet nurses could negatively affect children’s development. Wax ointments may have eased the pain that would have otherwise encouraged a mother to employ a wet nurse. While historians of science such as Londa Schiebinger center the politics of breastfeeding as part of the professionalization of the medical field and state formation in Europe, this paper utilizes monstrosity to frame the materiality of wax-based ointments as mediators of women’s embodied maternal experiences in the eighteenth century.

September 30th

James Peate, University of Bristol, ‘Richard Brinsley Sheridan & Opposition Press Management in the Late Eighteenth Century’

This paper argues that in the late eighteenth century, Richard Brinsley Sheridan played a unique and significant role in the development of the opposition press, giving the opposition its first truly organised press representation at a time where the growth of newspapers had led to their increasing importance on shaping public opinion. It will argue against historians such as Lucyle Werkmeister, Victoria E. M. Gardner and Arthur Aspinall that newspapers allegiances were defined by the highest bidder and will show, more in line with Hannah Barker’s arguments, that influence over eighteenth-century newspapers was more nuanced and influence was asserted in more ways than just by money. Using the newspapers themselves as well as letters and journals from contemporaries, this paper will explore how Sheridan created an organised opposition press, showing how he obtained and grew support in the press for the opposition, at one point even gaining parity of coverage with the government which had the benefit of more funding and being able to use the courts to its advantage in its press management strategy. Whereas this paper will build on the current historiography around eighteenth century newspapers and how they operated, it will also argue that the role that Sheridan played in shaping how the opposition press operated and existed has been overlooked; while exploring how the government’s control of the courts and libel laws were at least as significant as its larger budgets in the eventual defeat of Sheridan’s press management organisation in the 1790’s.

Francesca Killoran, University of York, ‘“A whole skin of parchment”: Genre of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies’

Bawdy pamphlets had existed in different formats since the restoration including London’s The Wandering Whore (1660-1661), and Scotland’s Ranger’s Impartial List of the Ladies of Pleasure in Edinburgh (1775) to name just a few. However, Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies; or a Man of Pleasure’s Kalendar was a bestseller that was published annually at Christmas for the 35 years between 1760 and 1795. For just two shillings and sixpence readers could have access to a small guide book that listed different prostitutes around London. It gives a description of the woman and any specialities that she is able to provide.

It also identifies exactly where sex buyers would be able to find her. These biographies and descriptions vary from flattering to vitriolic. In 1780 a different pamphlet was published by M. James titled Characters of the Present Most Celebrated Courtezans. Interspersed with a Variety of Secret Anecdotes Never Before Published and this provided theatrical sketches of their lives in a way that was directly inspired by Harris’ List but provides a much more detailed account of the lives of each woman and who they were as individuals, not just commodities. Following from this publication, the bawdy pamphlets of 1790s London become increasingly literary with greater emphasis put on the women’s entrance into the trade. This shifting emphasis upon narrative instead of location moves Harris’ List away from the tropes of bawdy pamphlets which had resembled walking guides, and begins to engage with the new emerging genre of whore biographies.