Panel 2: Intermedial Objects

Judy Dowling, Keeper of the Town Hutch (shown with her guard stick)
Henry Perlee Parker (1795–1873). Laing Art Gallery.

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Chair: Professor Catriona MacLeod – Frank Curtis Springer and Gertrude Melcher Springer Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago

Frederike Holewik

Dance and Society in Interaction – the Influence of Dance on Women’s Fashion in the 19th Century

My paper explores the influence dance has on women’s fashion in the early 19th century in Western Europe. To understand how this influence I am comparing ballet and waltz as two distinctly different types of dance. The former is mostly experienced as a stage performance and through the despiction of famous dancers, the latter is danced by everyone including the Congress of Vienna and the court by the 1820s. By analyzing paintings, dance teacher books and travelogues mostly found at the Dance Archive in Salzburg, Austria, I argue that even though most research has focused on the influence of performative art, such as the ballet, the 19th century was shaped by other dances as well. During the 18th century the aristocratic stiffness was (partially) given up, which can be seen in the abandonment of hoop skirts and corsets, the classical fashion of the courtly minuet.

Most research on the waltz has tried to explain its origins or its later role as the German national dance. The rise of the waltz is said to have started in the 1750s in (today’s) Southern Germany and Austria among farmers and in rural areas spreading from there all over the continent. This new dance was faster, full of turns and little jumps and danced by the same couple the entire time, a scandal at first. The fun of the dance was nonetheless not lost on the higher classes. It is hard to say which came first: a change in the perception of the body which made it acceptable for women to dance the waltz, or a change in dress that enabled women to dance the waltz. It is clear however that the two heavily influenced each other. As this paper shows clothing can be both an expression and a catalyst of social change.

Freya Gowrley

‘Pledges of an highly-prized friendship’: Anna Seward, Portraiture, and the Poetics of Exchange

This paper unpacks the complex networks of emotional, artistic, and poetic exchange that surrounded a highly emotional portrait-object: a printed version of George Romney’s painting Serena given to Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831)—the so-called ‘Ladies of Llangollen’—by the poet Anna Seward (1742-1809). Seward identified the image as a ‘perfect similitude’ of her deceased step-sister Honora Sneyd, so much so that the print played an active role in Seward’s commemoration of their lost friendship. Like Butler and Ponsonby’s own infamous ‘romantic friendship’, Seward and Sneyd enjoyed an intensely close and deeply affectionate relationship that flouted social norms, with both Sneyd’s marriage to Richard Edgeworth in 1751, and her eventual death in 1780, devastating the poet.

Discussing both Seward’s copy of the print, as well as Butler and Ponsonby’s facsimile, this paper places the image within two contexts: firstly, in relation to Seward’s volume of poetry Llangollen Vale with Other Poems (1796), a sentimentalising series of verses dedicated to Seward’s intimate relationships with Butler, Ponsonby, and Sneyd; and secondly, within an intricate display of gifted portraits at Plas Newydd, Butler and Ponsonby’s home at Llangollen in Wales. Using methodologies from the history of the emotions, material culture studies, queer theory, and literary studies, it will demonstrate the image’s deep embedment within Seward’s emotional and creative consciousness: on the one hand, allowing Seward to actively ruminate and comment upon her close connections with Sneyd, Butler, and Ponsonby; and on the other, functioning within a dynamic web of literary, material, and loving gestures enacted between Seward and her friends. In so doing, the paper will highlight the vibrant intermedial lives of this eighteenth-century print, and the urgency of an interdisciplinary approach to the art of this period.

Anna Myers

Female Agency in eighteenth-century material adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays

William Shakespeare’s rise to the status of English national poet occurred primarily during the long eighteenth century and has received a significant amount of scholarly attention. Contemporary perceptions of women’s roles in this process, a subject recovered in more recent scholarship, often situates their actions within patriarchal structures. For example, an epilogue to George Lillo’s adaptation of Pericles (1738) invokes Elizabeth I’s reign as the site of moral and virtuous virility. It implies that the Shakespeare’s Ladies Club’s (an informal association of women formed towards the end of 1736) determination to revive the poet’s plays stems not from their interest in an historical female figure, but rather from Shakespeare’s link to Elizabeth’s reign, a historical locus of ‘manly genius’. This paper suggests, however, that Shakespeare was used to subvert the perceived British masculinity of the national poet through the use of gendered material culture, namely, printed fans.

As Elaine Chalus has observed, the images on women’s fans were integral to the overall significance of each object and user, serving as ‘effective non-verbal claims to character, fashionable sentiments, and cultured taste, as well as patriotism and political opinion.’ By analysing the relationship between text, object and gender relations in printed fans, an alternate narrative of Shakespeare emerges. These material adaptations featuring scenes from The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest, demonstrate the way in which the playwright and his works not only framed female agency but also facilitated women’s intervention into a broad spectrum of eighteenth century social and cultural discourse.

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If you would like to ask our speakers a question, or make a comment, please ‘Leave a Reply’ in the comment panel below. Our speakers and chair will be checking this at regular intervals and will respond to you shortly. Please indicate if you are happy for your question to be addressed during the corresponding live session on Wed/Thurs (see Programme) and the chair will hope to call on you then.

9 thoughts on “Panel 2: Intermedial Objects”

  1. Hi Anna, I appreciate your provocative interpretation of the Shakespeare fans. I was particularly interested in your discussion of the fans’ gendered symbology, as well as their maniputable, unpredictable, even threatening qualities. Could you explain further if the fans could fit into an “ephemeral” category as well? Inexpensive and somewhat delicate, perhaps their disposability speaks to the larger anxieties surrounding female agency? Thank you for a terrific talk and beautiful fan images!

    1. Hi Jolene,
      You make an excellent point and this is something which deserves some further thought! There are, I think, several ways in which the material adaptations may be considered ‘ephemeral’. This is perhaps most evident, as you say, in the delicate nature of fan leaves, and also because of the short-lived social exchanges which these objects facilitate. This material and physical experience does speak to the more transient nature of female agency. Yet there are certain aspects of the material adaptations’ objecthood which complicate this when broken down into parts. For instance, the sticks of fans were often reused once the leaves became worn-out. As such the fan as a whole was never entirely lost, continually regenerating. Additionally, the images of Shakespeare’s plays which decorated the fan leaves were often derived from sources that had a physical link to Shakespeare’s text, performance or cultural institution (eg. Boydell Shakespeare Gallery). It could be argued that this invested the object with a kind of weight or authority that cannot be dismissed as it draws on Shakespeare’s cultural currency. Perhaps a little bit of a ramble – there is much more to be thought through here. It would be great to discuss in the live Q&A panel and hear your thoughts!

  2. Dear Anna, I very much enjoyed your paper, which presents some fascinating material. My question – which I’m happy to be addressed in the live session – is about other “material adaptations” of Shakespeare: ceramics and china, for instance, or snuff boxes. How do fans compare or relate to these objects? And might it be possible to speak of an “ecology” of material adaptations in the period, an ecology that might even extend to the printed book (e.g. Bell’s Shakespeare), the painting (e.g. Boydell’s Gallery), and scenography?

    1. Hi Anna and David,
      Very much struck by the connections between both your papers – that of the way in which an ability to ‘read’ political caricature and the fans correctly (in the gendered ways Anna suggests) is predicated on a close knowledge of Shakespearean narrative. So the fans, like much political caricature, are not perhaps as democratic as their relatively inexpensive cost might suggest?
      Thanks both!

      1. Hi Claudine,

        David’s paper and the conference discussion so far have provided so much food for thought! You’ve made such a great observation about textual, visual and indeed material literacy. While a knowledge of Shakespearean narrative undoubtedly facilitated a precise reading of the Shakespeare fans (like caricature) I think perhaps these objects existence is also indicative of a collective appreciation of Shakespeare and how that could be used to pictorialise/engender female agency.

    2. Hi David,

      Thanks for your question. I’ll give a quick reply here, but I look forward to getting into this further in the live session. My thesis is looking at various Shakespeare material adaptations – from fans and ceramics to the so called Shakespeare ‘mulberry relics’ and how these fit within broader English social and cultural contexts. The variety in these objects and their decoration means I’m able to explore a range of topics from female agency (the fans), to luxury, morality and Englishness (Chinese export porcelain tea service decorated with Hogarth’s David Garrick as Richard III, for example). There is I think a definite possibility to speak of an ‘ecology’ of material adaptations as they are by nature the product of a play’s migration across media and circulation through various social and cultural spaces.

  3. Thanks Freya – really enjoyed your paper. I’m guessing Powys’s ‘lunar landscape’ is one of the lost response works you describe? Would love to see that!
    We’ve talked about this before briefly, but so interesting to see how knowledge of a single work (Seward’s ‘Llangollen Vale’ or Romney’s ‘Serena’) can be transformed through attention to now lost response works/gifts, recoverable only as textual traces through letters and other documents. As you suggest, a challenge to the methodologies with which we approach artistic works, canonical or not, is very necessary. Disciplinarity has really prevented us from seeing the myriad intermedial connections between objects as you ably show here.

    1. Hi Claudine, thanks for this comment! Sadly it is one of the lost works – as you know I’m so often dealing with these snatched descriptions of no-longer surviving things. I really love your point about intermedial recovery too – food for thought.

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