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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
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.
‘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.
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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