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Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Visual Representations of Charlote Lennox’s Diadactic Women
Charlotte Lennox published her didactic periodical, The Lady’s Museum (1760) as an experiment to garner more readers for her new novel, The History of Harriot and Sophia. The overall periodical gave women a diverse curriculum with articles on the proto-disciplinary topics of natural philosophy, geography and history; she critiqued the eighteenth-century notion that they were masculine topics. In my dissertation I argue Harriot and Sophia is the backbone of that curriculum with the subsequent articles as paratext, to help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the dichotomy between two starkly different educated sisters. In my presentation, I show how the images of the sisters help bring to life the didactic lessons of the periodical. I argue that Lennox uses the images as an integral part of her lessons on the differences between middle-class girls learning a polite and a practical education.
In 1762 the novel was published on its own as Sophia. As a monograph the novel comes off as flat, but it is rich as part of the curriculum in the didactic periodical. I agree with Jennie Batchelor’s assertion, “[w]e should read the narrative in its original context to unlock its full range of meaning” otherwise the novel is “a simple allegory in eighteenth-century form” because without the images and paratextual articles, it is a straightforward story of good behaviour triumphing over bad behaviour.  I examine how images and text work together to provide a stronger correlation between the sisters, how they visualize the distinct differences between a polite education that encouraged women to focus on the maintenance of their appearance, and a practical education that taught women proto-disciplines in order to become competent educators to their children.
Framing the Subject: Felicia Hemans’ ‘Properzia Rossi’ and the Sister Arts of Poetry and Sculpture
This paper will explore the intermedial nature of Felicia Hemans’ poetry through a close reading of ‘Properzia Rossi’ (1828). This ekphrastic poem takes Louis Ducis’ painting ‘Properzia de Rossi finishing her last bas-relief’ (1822) as its starting point, as signalled to the reader through Hemans’ practice of attaching prose prefatory content to her work.
In this case, an introductory biographical note provides the context for the poem, like a display card placed alongside a painting in a gallery. Presenting the basic ‘facts’ of Rossi’s life through reference to Ducis’ painting, this paratextual framing device is not simply a helpful supplement. Although the preface inevitably shapes how the reader views the ensuing narrative, it will be argued that it serves to function as a critique upon the legacy of women artists in the hands of men. Whilst Ducis’ painting may have shaped Rossi’s legacy as an abandoned woman, here it merely provides the pre-existing context for Hemans to step in and reclaim the narrative by switching to a first person poetic account, given in Rossi’s voice as she sculpts her bas-relief of Ariadne.
The poem in fact blends the stories of a series of abandoned women, so that as Hemans writes of Rossi carving an Ariadne, it creates a mise en abyme with each story serving to frame the next. Rather than simply present an ever-repeating scenario, the similarities and the differences between each artist and their chosen art form enable each narrative to build upon the one it contains. Whilst on the surface ‘Properzia Rossi’ is a poem about unrequited love, it more importantly works to raise the status of women’s work through engagement with the sister arts of poetry and sculpture. The reciprocal relationship effectively works to raise the status of each form: when the poet carves with their mind, sculpture is raised to a liberal art, whilst the poet’s words gain civic importance for posterity.
Edinburgh’s Theatre Royal: Performance, Gender and Space in Late Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh
Despite Presbyterian aversion to theatrical performance in eighteenth-century Scotland, theatre thrived in Edinburgh during the latter half of the century. Engravings, literary sources and architecture reveal the theatre as both a popular site of entertainment in Edinburgh as well as an important hub of protest and transgressive behaviour. Public theatrical performances were illegal in Scotland till the patent for the Theatre Royal was awarded in 1767, and both playwrights and attendees were prosecuted by the Kirk during the mid-eighteenth century. This provokes questions as to why and when did the theatrical scene in Edinburgh take-off to pave the way for today’s Festival city intrinsically linked to the performing arts.
In this paper, John Kay’s engravings will act as a starting point to explore the intersection of gender, sexuality and social behaviour in eighteenth-century performative spaces. His distinct portraiture is now most commonly associated with caricatures of Scottish politicians. Kay’s engravings depicting theatre, however, have been largely overlooked and provide rare snapshots of the Edinburgh stage. Importantly his work exposes the vibrant theatrical scene in eighteenth-century Edinburgh. This paper will examine the theatre as a performative and physically segregated space for both actors and patrons, to offer insight into why the theatre became so popular and significant in late eighteenth-century Edinburgh. From the perspectives detailed in the diaries of Elizabeth Grant and Mary Somerville, theatre allowed new freedom and economic power for elite women; whilst periodicals reveal the grittier side of the theatre as a site of protest and subversive behaviour for young men and sex workers. The writings of James Boswell, alongside Kay’s engravings, illustrated how the popularity of theatre partly stemmed from the praise and demand for London’s performers. This study hopes to further assess the extent of cultural exchange between London and Edinburgh through the lens of theatre.
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