Adventurous Wives in the Long Eighteenth Century

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Adventurous Wives in the Long Eighteenth Century
Date / time
14/05/2021 - 15/05/2021, All day


In Charlotte Lennox’s 1752 novel, The Female Quixote, an
eighteenth-century Countess is horrified when she is asked
by the romance-obsessed heroine to relate her ‘adventures’,
‘The word adventures carries in it so free and licentious
a sound in the apprehensions of people at this period of
time, that it can hardly with propriety be applied to those
few and natural incidents which compose the history of a
woman of honour.’
The idea that during the long eighteenth century virtuous
wives were increasingly relegated to the domestic/private
sphere, their legal and economic identities subsumed into that
of their husbands, is a long-standing one. However, recent and
ongoing research is challenging the orthodoxy of this narrative
and demonstrating that the roles available to married women
were more complex, nuanced and dynamic than mainstream
assumptions have generally allowed. For example, Elaine Chalus
has explored women’s engagement with politics and the electoral
process; Joanne Begiato’s examination of the divorce process
has shed light on the lived experience of married women; Amy
Louise Erikson has interrogated the laws relating to women’s
property ownership; and Briony McDonagh has examined inter
alia how landowning wives managed the combined duties of
married life and estate management.
However, research specifically relating to ‘wives’ is often buried
amongst the wider topic of ‘women’, and cross-disciplinary
patterns and conclusions relating purely to married women may
be lost or go unrecognised.
On Friday 14th and Saturday 15th May, Chawton House will
host a two-day digital conference to bring these revisionist
narratives together and examine the role(s) of the wife as seen
through the fields of literature, social and economic history, law,
art history and material culture.
Papers are invited on the following topics:
• The economic and financial autonomy of women following
• Feme sole traders
• The visibility of single versus married women in the
literature of the period
• Wives’ involvement in politics and public life
• Working wives
• Women and the divorce process
• Inheritance and the transmission of property through the
female line
• Trusts, property ownership and separate estate
• Wives as educators
• Conduct literature and wives
• The married woman as literary heroine
• Quasi-marriages and kept Mistresses
• The married female body
• Material culture, fashion and taste
• Housewifery
• Wives as guardians of morality and social order
• The historiography of the wife: change or continuity?
Please submit abstracts of up to 500 words with a short bio
to the conference organisers Kim Simpson & Alison Daniell by 1 March 2021.
For future updates follow @AdventurousWiv1