Category Archives: c18

Major Women Writers: London, Chawton, Bath


Next week my upper-division writing intensive literature class on women writers before Austen is going to the UK for an extended Spring Break field trip. We’ll be spending the first few days in London, with a day trip to Strawberry Hill (I know, I know… I just couldn’t help myself!); then we’re off to Chawton; and last but by no means least, two days in Bath. Among the many fun things we’re doing are a letterpress and early printing workshop at the St. Bride Foundation, and a visit to the Chawton House Library, both of which I’m particularly eager about. This is a group of non-majors, for the most part, finishing their core requirements, and that is in many ways a boon–we are more beholden to finding interesting ways to engage the material, and one of the things I’ve tried to do is incorporate more elements of material culture, which is perfect for a study abroad opportunity.

By this point in the term, students have discussed coterie manuscript writing (and we’ve learned how to letterlock!), amatory fiction, and the domestic novel, and they’ve also had the chance to see a few 18th century conduct books. Our special collections just received a grant to purchase some more books, and we added Nivelon’s Rudiments of Genteel Behavior and Allestree’s The Lady’s Calling, in addition to a few other wonderful materials. Everyone should have read a few poems, in addition to Behn’s “History of the Nun” and two works by Haywood, “Fantomina” and Love in Excess. We also read excerpts from Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter in conjunction with (substantial!) excerpts from Burney’s Evelina. This week, we’ll be reading Austen’s Lady Susan during our travels! After our return, we’ll have some drama by Burney and Behn as well as some more poetry and a bit of Wollstonecraft and Astell on marriage to round out the term.

@AustenSays twitter bot

With the help of Zach Whalen’s extraordinarily clear instructions, I set up my first twitter bot, @austensays, which tweets out a single sentence (provided it’s 140 or fewer characters) from Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. I was teaching the novel last term, and while this started out as a form of procrastination, it actually turned out to offer some interesting insights about tone, style, and voice.

I procured a copy of Mansfield Park from Project Gutenberg, and then ran some regular expressions to separate it out into individual sentences–I looked for the ends of sentences, as indicated by periods, and then added a line break after each. This I could then copy directly into a google spreadsheet, which was much simpler than I’d anticipated, as each paragraph became its own row in the spreadsheet. The data preparation I did does not register exclamation points or question marks as line breaks–more robust regular expression searches would help me do this, and look for capital letters after such punctuation, but for the time being I chose to simplify this way. If you’re curious about the data, here is the spreadsheet.

What I was surprised by the way that genre of “the twitter post,” with all its restrictions, proved perfect to capture the sense of distance, even isolation, in much of the novel. It also offers an opportunity for readers to see, in a microcosmic way, how Austen’s irony works. For instance:

Many of these tweets, for instance, exemplify the use of passive voice, and the fraught simplicity of the verb “to be.” The broad sparseness of the sentence structure employed injects an element of loneliness in the language, which is embodied in Fanny’s experience. Other patterns we might notice include the use of the comma to balance, in a strangely imbalanced way, sentences like these:

It is as though you can hear the pause of a sigh in each comma. With more refined data, I wonder what else this kind of algorithmic reading can reveal? Ultimately, then, this was not quite as much about procrastination as I might have initially thought. 🙂

Aphra Behn Society 2015: Wikipedia Workshop

I love going to (to me) new conferences–not only do I get to learn about exciting work in the field, but I also get to meet new people and, ideally, expand my collection of “regularly-attended.” What strikes me most about the Aphra Behn Society is its collegiality, its openness to and mentorship of graduate student work, and the palpable sense of feminist solidarity practically oozing from each session. Very happy-making!

Despite the fact that I am in desperate need of sleep and time to catch up on mounds of grading–and as a result not doing the friendly-joining-thing I should be doing–I am excited to be here and am most definitely planning on returning. ABS reminds me a bit of the EC-ASECS regional conference in terms of general tone, though the crowd here is rather different–I don’t see too many overlapping faces. I may have two new conferences to make a habit of!

Tomorrow, I’m co-leading a workshop with Laura Runge on using Wikipedia in the classroom. My EN340 course this term, Major Women Writers, is doing a Wikipedia project for one of the novels I’ve assigned–Charlotte Lennox’s Henrietta. It seems to have proven (surprisingly, for me!) a lot more challenging than expected–students were very confused, in general, by the way the first book is essentially Henrietta telling her story to Miss Woodby. Coupled, of course, with the fact that there is no Wikipedia entry on the novel, and my students are rather struggling!

A bit of background on the class–it’s a LT-2 Liberal Arts Core course (advanced literature), and it’s also Writing Intensive. This means I have at most one major, and this term, none–challenging, but it does free me up to do all sorts of experimental things. My goal is, at root, twofold: 1.) get at least a handful of students excited about reading something from “back in the day” that apparently has absolutely no (right?) relevance for the modern world, and 2.) hopefully instill a sense of curiosity about writing done in public. I’ve designed a project organized around Wikipedia, since I know most of my students use it as a crib-sheet of sorts–I routinely see the pages on Fantomina, “The Reformed Coquet,” and Evelina up on their laptops during discussion, and so many were frustrated by the lack of readily available information on Henrietta. What better way to instill a bit of healthy skepticism about their sources, while encouraging students to help others in their same situation, while modeling the kind of DIY practices that I believe are essential to being a well-rounded citizen of the world, while also engaging students in just the kind of real-world writing that frequently goes unnoticed as writing. Enter: Wikipedia.

I’m presenting tomorrow at 1:45. Hope you can make it! The project details–from assignment to homework to groupwork–are all available in PDF, here. But, for simplicity’s sake, I’m also posting below an overview of how I structure the project from pre-writing to submission:

Charlotte Lennox’s novel Henrietta does not have a Wikipedia page, by which I’m sure you’re all distressed! So, let’s help out future students by creating one. This is a full-class project. See the entire assignment sheet on Canvas.

Pre-project work:

  1. Homework: Complete the Wikipedia Training for Students tutorial:
    1. Create your account
    2. Explore your sandbox
    3. Create your user information page / biographical sketch
    4. Submit your User Contributions URL via Canvas
  2. In-class: Team Wikipedia Quiz / Go over assignment
    1. In-class: (Activity A) How to recognize original research, point of view problems
    2. In-class: Structure/content: Look at “Fantomina” and Evelina pages–what is included?
  3. Homework: Write 1 paragraph for each part of our hypothetical page, upload to Canvas
    1. summary
    2. key characters
    3. theme
    4. style
    5. overview
  4. Homework: Canvas discussion board research post: Find 1 scholarly or biographical source (no overlaps!), download it to your computer. Read it, and post to Canvas discussion board:
    1. bibliographic entry
    2. upload the source
    3. write 1 paragraph overview/summary of the source
  5. In-class: Wikipedia Workshop/Activity B
  6. Homework: Revise in groups
  7. In-class: Lab revision time; add a source; add an image; add a template note
  8. Homework: Revise in (different) groups; sources, content, and writing
  9. In-class: Lab revision time
  10. Homework: Revise
  11. Due: Your user contributions page URL to Canvas

The Pomp and Farce of Death: PCA 2013 Abstract

“The Pomp and Farce of Death: Funeral Humor on the Popular 18th Century English Stage”

This paper examines the presence of funereal humor on the popular British stage during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Throughout the seventeenth and early eighteenth-centuries, English funereal practices once reserved for the nobility began to become available—though not without resistance—to the growing middle classes. As Paul Fritz has documented, a trade in undertaking and coffin-making had become firmly established by the end of the 17th century, making funereal pomp available to any who could pay for the services. Anxiety about the undertaker’s availability to all arose in part because of the potential it offered for confusions in social hierarchy. No longer were extravagant funereal and mourning practices the province of the nobility alone. Funerals began to signify wealth, rather than rank, and the elaborate funerals provided by undertakers offered surviving family members an opportunity to demonstrate—or construct—an image of their social status (Gittings 96). The undertaker’s rates rode the high tide of what the market would bear, and so booming was business that by 1720 undertakers sought incorporation in a joint stock company to extend the trade and its profitability (Fritz 247).

This association of death with trade and “stock-jobbery” brought the undertaker’s work into contact with the satirical discourses on projecting during the first decades of the eighteenth century, also a result of the swelling concerns surrounding class mobility. Indeed, this is the subject of William Hogarth’s satirical print, The Company of Undertakers (1736), which represents the company of “upholders” or undertakers as a troupe of popular comedians, harlequin-like:

William Hogarth, The Company of Undertakers (1736)

To assess the relationship between the changing trade in of death and its treatment on the popular stage, I will take up a variety of less-well-known plays including Edward Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist; or, The Sham Doctor (1696), Richard Steele’s The Funeral; or, Grief a la Mode (1701),  Susanna Centlivre’s A Bickerstaff’s Burying; or, Work for the Upholders (1710), and Benjamin Griffin’s The Humours of Purgatory (1716).  Particularly, I look at the farcical treatment of coffins, burial, fears of live burial, embalming, and funeral pomp in entertainments that were themselves signifiers of the anxieties surrounding class mobility and the changing tastes associated with consumer culture.
Works Referenced:

Fritz, Paul. “The Undertaking Trade in England: Its Origins and Early Development, 1660-1830.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 28 (1994-5): 241-53. JSTOR. Web. 12 Oct. 2012.

Gittings, Clare. Death, Burial, and the Individual in Early Modern England. London: Croom Help, 1984.

Publicity and the Public Sphere (Digital Humanities Caucus)

The ASECS Digital Humanities Caucus is seeking panelists for a 2013 conference session on digital humanities, publicity, and the public sphere.

“[D]igital humanities is . . . a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years.”

–Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What Is Digital humanities and What‘s It Doing in English Departments?”

The “social undertaking” of the digital humanities is, in some ways, a remarkably eighteenth-century set of practices. The intersection between print, modernity, publicity, and democratic engagement has long been of interest to scholars of the eighteenth century. What can digital humanities help us learn about the eighteenth-century public sphere and publicity? What can the digital humanities—its methodologies, its tools, its ethics, its politics—bring to the study of the eighteenth century? How does understanding eighteenth-century modes of publication and publicity help us analyze our own digital culture? This panel seeks theoretical, critical, and/or pedagogical responses to these
broad questions broadly defined.

Please submit proposals or inquiries to the following address: Tonya Howe, Marymount U., Dept. of Literature and Languages, 2807 North Glebe Road, Arlington VA 22207; Tel: (703) 284-5762; Fax: (703) 284-3859; E-mail: Proposals are appreciated by September 1, 2012.