One of the things I enjoy the most about ASECS is learning about texts, events, and images that I previously did not know about. I’d like to share some of these images with you, dear readers, for your delight and edification.
1. “The Muff”, 1787 (London)
Kelly Fleming gave a wonderful talk on the first session on “Bodies as Objects,” on Thursday morning, March 30th. She discussed Sophia Western’s muff in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, and how the eighteenth-century muff did, in fact, have the connotation that you think it does. More interestingly, though, Fleming discussed how the muff “conflated the materiality of the female body with the materiality of female sexuality.” Further, muff jokes in the novel often refer to legal issues of property transfer, according to Fleming, suggesting that a muff is never just an article of outerwear.
2. The panel I presented on, “Disability in Austen,” did not contain very many images—although there was a lot of great conversation and the inimitable Devoney Looser and her Mondrianesque outfit deserve to be immortalized in these pages. There was one image, however, presented by Emily Stanback, that deserves mention—it was an image of Jane Austen’s family tree. While the image below is not exactly the one that Stanback used (from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath), it represents the same issue that Stanback discussed in her paper on disability in Jane Austen’s family life. The family tree includes Austen’s brother George, though he is represented not with his own portrait, because, as Stanback discussed, there were no portraits taken of George during his life, probably because he was intellectually disabled. Some biographies do not even discuss George at all, but by putting George back on the family tree, such images acknowledge his humanity, and his probable impact on Austen and her “sympathetic capacities” as a writer.
3. Friday morning I made my way to a round table based on a collection of essays entitled “Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture.” Laura Engel discussed how actresses, princesses, and queens were often represented in miniatures printed in eighteenth-century magazines and the ways in which these images equated the lowly actress with her royal betters. The image of Susanna Highmore, painted by Joseph Highmore, depicts the lady holding a miniature next to a book that looks like a scrapbook or magazine. Engel theorized that perhaps such miniatures in magazines were cut out and preserved by readers as eighteenth-century “celebrity pinups.”
5. Later in the day on Friday, I attended the Gay and Lesbian caucus (of which I am the co-chair with the ever dapper and dashing Declan Gilmore-Kavanagh—check out his new book Effeminate Years!) session on “Queer Animals.” Jeremy Chow presented on monkeys in the eighteenth century and referenced the image of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, with a monkey. The monkey, Chow explained, was connected to ideas of sexual excess, lechery, and lasciviousness in the Restoration and eighteenth century. In Rochester’s portrait, the monkey, appearing as it does below a laurel wreath dangled by Rochester, may in fact symbolize and satirize the feud between Rochester and the then-poet laureate, John Dryden.