By Evan Bourke, Sajed Chowdhury, Marie-Louise Coolahan, Felicity Maxwell, Erin McCarthy, Bronagh McShane and Blanca Vizán Rico
Two weeks ago, we welcomed over 90 conference delegates to Galway. Fifty-five speakers – from Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, the UK, the USA and Ireland – debated the transmission of ideas, texts and reputations from interdisciplinary perspectives that embraced literature, drama, book history, art, music, digital humanities and history, across eight plenary and fourteen parallel sessions.
We’ve compiled a summary of the conference proceedings below; click here for the final programme. The conference was live-tweeted under the hashtag #recirc17 – click here for the storified version of Day 1. Days 2-4 will follow next week; we’ll tweet the links.
Plenary 1: Networks of Circulation
Ruth Ahnert and Sebastian Ahnert kicked off our first plenary with an account of their Tudor Networks of Power project. Using the metadata from State Papers Online, encompassing 132,000 letters and 22,000 individuals, they are using network analysis tools to identify and predict patterns, such as the profiles of spies and intelligencers. Robin Buning discussed the Cultures of Knowledge project, which is developing a prosopographical data model for the Republic of Letters. Buning and the team have been parsing the kinds of biographical metadata that are most useful to prosopography, with its attention to public life and career – and Samuel Hartlib’s circle was the case in point. Julia Flanders rounded off this first session, introducing Women Writers in Review, a new initiative of the Women Writers Project. This foregrounds the networks through which reception and circulation of women writers took place by encoding and tagging reviews published in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century periodicals, revealing what contemporary readers expected of their books as well as the terms by which women’s writing was evaluated.
Parallel session 1A: Nuns, ‘Whores’, and Language
Emilie Murphy looked at language acquisition among the exiled English convents, highlighting the non-monolingual reality of the nuns’ lived experiences. She interrogated levels of linguistic competence, asking how the French language, in particular, was learned and used. Heather Froehlich showed how two digital resources, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary and EEBO’s Text Creation Project, can be mined to create a corpus of linguistic terms relating to ‘whorishness and unchastity’ that expands our understanding of their semantic range and raises new questions about the concepts themselves.
Parallel session 1B: Letters and Ledgers: Routes of Communication
Nina Lamal’s paper analysed letters written home by Italian soliders in the Habsburg army during the Dutch Revolt (1566-1648), showing how they responded to instructions to act as intelligencers. Their letters reported on troop movements, skirmishes and military fortifications. They were copied and printed, serving as supplements to news from official ambassadorial channels. Ingeborg van Vugt presented her study of the epistolary network of Florentine librarian, Antonio Magliabechi (1633-1714), revealed his transcendence of confessional divides through his correspondence with scholars of the Calvinist Dutch Republic. During her paper, van Vugt coined the term ‘disclose reading’ as she juxtaposed a close reading of Magliabechi’s letters with visualisations of his epistlolary network (in which persons and books were represented as nodes).
Plenary 2: Queens
This plenary panel consisted of two rich case studies of how textual attribution and circulation contributed to the authorial reputations of early modern queens. Rosalind Smith shared her conclusions about which of the many poems often attributed to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, are misattributions. She argued that Mary’s reputation as author, woman and queen was shaped largely through the dissemination of misattributed poems, since these circulated more widely in Britain than her genuine, French-language poems, and were used to vilify her. Micheline White traced the unattributed prayer for the monarch in the Book of Common Prayer back to Katherine Parr, revealing that the version still in daily use in the Church of England is a modification by Elizabeth I of her step-mother’s translation of a Latin prayer, originally written for the Holy Roman Emperor. According to White, Elizabeth and other women of the court edited and appropriated Parr’s writings in order to share in her reputation as a devout reformer.
Parallel session 2A: Career Authors and Reputation
Nina Geerdink explored authorising strategies for seventeenth-century Dutch women poets, focusing specifically on Dordrecht-based Maria Margaretha van Akerlaecken’s descriptions of her relationships with patrons in printed dedications. Thomas Colville showed how formal analysis of early modern writing, especially the use of figurative language, reveals how intellectual reputations were constructed in the period, deploying as a case study the theologian and master of Charterhouse, Thomas Burnet. Esther Villegas de la Torre took a transnational approach to the gradual commercialisation of the literary product through print in the seventeenth century. Her comparison of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Aphra Behn revealed how, despite using contrasting authorial postures, their literary successes fitted with contemporary trends across borders.
Parallel session 2B: Reputations Lost and Found
Ramona Wray explored how early modern women fashioned their lives and their families’ reputations through textual and material forms of production by centring on the case of Elizabeth Cary (1585-1639), whose legacy was imbricated with the memorialising endeavours of her close female relatives – especially Her Life produced by daughter Lucy, and the Tanfield monument in Burford Church in Oxfordshire, commissioned by her mother, Elizabeth. Natasha Simonova focused on how Sidney’s Arcadia, one of the most popular, admired and imitated prose narratives of its own time, was published, refashioned, and read in the eighteenth century. Violetta Trofimova explored Henriette de la Suze’s reputation as an exemplary poet and author of elegies, circulated in Russia, France and England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Plenary 3: Reception and Orality
Katherine Larson explored the phenomenon of song in print, manuscript and performance, beginning with early modern theories of the acoustic medium of breath, expounded in a range of sources including physiological treatises, singing handbooks, and print and manuscript scores. Towards the end of the paper we heard recordings of two early modern songs sung by Larson: the first, ‘My Father fain would make me take a man that hath a beard’, was printed in Robert Jones’s The Muses Gardin for Delights (1610, dedicated to the musician and writer, Lady Mary Wroth); the second, Lemnia’s song, was taken from Wroth’s own printed prose romance, Urania (1621), and set to music by John Wilson. Larson used Wroth in order to analyse the culturally fraught situations of women’s song performance.
Parallel session 3A: Receptions in Drama and Music
Xuege Wu explored how Elizabeth Cary’s reading of Seneca’s Epistles influenced the portrayal of friendship in The Tragedy of Mariam, opening up questions about the Renaissance transmission of classical friendship ideals. Lindsay Ann Reid examined two seventeenth-century ballads on Isabel of Dunsmore, arguing that the pre-existing musical settings served as allusive commentary for contemporary audiences, directing their interpretation of Isabel’s complicity in her reputed sexual liaison with her social superior, Lord Wigmore.
Parallel session 3B: Paratexts, Translation, Networks: Receptions of Spanish Writing
Nieves Baranda Leturio’s paper was based on research conducted in developing the open-access bibliography of Spanish women writers, BIESES. Baranda explored how the study of paratexts can illuminate reception and reputation, focusing on two case studies: Isabel de Liaño’s Historia de la vida, muerte y milagros de Santa Catalina de Sena (1604), which contains the first known printed image of a Spanish woman author, and the seventeenth-century popular writer, María de Zayas y Sotomayor (d. 1660). Jessie Labadie also discussed María de Zayas y Sotomayor; this paper examined seventeenth-century French translations of de Zayas’s two-part work, Las novelas amorosas (1637) and Los desengaños amorosos (1647) and, in particular, that of François le Métel de Boisrobert, which erased her authorial identity and adapted de her style to suit the conventions of French fiction.
Plenary 4: Cross-Cultural and Cross-Temporal Encounters I
Gillian Dow compared the translation and reception of French fiction writers in Britain and of British writers in France across the long eighteenth century, interrogating translators’ attitudes to their work and published reviews of women’s writing. Her discussion showed how French writing acquired negative associations (of immorality and danger) on one side of the channel, by contrast with the relatively egalitarian reception of writers such as Aphra Behn in eighteenth-century France. Jerome de Groot explored how to avoid linear models of historical knowledge and narrative while engaging with popular memory and genealogy. A plethora of ideas about time and narrative included the vernacular, multi-polar approaches practised by artist Jeremy Deller through to Deleuze and Guattari, this discussion all the while rooted in commemorations down the centuries of the emblematic ‘royal oak’, the tree in which Charles Stuart escaped capture at the 1651 Battle of Worcester.
Parallel session 4A: Reputations on the Move: Vitae of Nuns and Saints
Jennifer Hillman discussed three spiritual biographies of Mère Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement, showing how each female biographer interweaved her own autobiography with the life of Mectilde. Danielle Clarke considered seventeenth-century English translations of Teresa de Avila’s autobiography in relation to the emergence of autobiography as a genre; her paper challenged the view that this genre is most closely related to Protestant (rather than Catholic) forms of introspection. John McCafferty explored how the life of St Brigid of Kildare was revised for the seventeenth century, arguing that her quasi-episcopal standing in the church required ‘a holy facelift’, the removal of her more controversial miracles, and movement toward enclosure in a process of ‘nunnification’.
Parallel session 4B: Brits and Books: The British Book Trade at Home and Abroad
Michael Durrant examined the persona of ‘turncoat, religious hypocrite, and opportunist’ printer Henry Hills, official printer to both Charles II and James II, via the legal claims and counterclaims generated by his last will and testament. Rachel Schnepper presented suggestive visualizations of the English book trade in the 1640s, in order to uncover the relationships between printers, publishers and booksellers of the revolutionary era. Daniela Giosuè explored representations of the continental book market and the fashion for book collecting as evident from the diaries and letters of seventeenth-century British travellers.
Parallel session 5A: Managing One’s Reputation: Manuscript vs. Print Circulation
Jessica Maratsos surveyed Vittoria Colonna’s friendships and exchanges with male humanists such as Pietro Bembo and Michelangelo, arguing that her established reputation of chastity and piety meant that print publication of her work without her consent did not diminish her reputation but rather added to it. Magdaléna Jánošíková presented the dramatic career of Eliezer Eilburg, an itinerant, impecunious, and occasionally imprisoned sixteenth-century Polish Jew, whose manuscript compilation of his deliverance narratives, prayers, and visions, Jánošíková argued, was used by Eilburg to promote himself as a non-rabbinic teacher of practical mysticism. Yvonne Noble exposed the myth that Anne Finch was a coterie poet, arguing that this misperception is owing to her reluctance to be named in the many publications of her works, for fear of public ridicule; print anonymity has caused literary critics to overlook the importance of print publication in the dissemination of Finch’s poems.
Parallel session 5B: Literary Interchanges: France and the Four Kingdoms (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland)
Peter Auger analysed the Scottish and English reception and circulation of French poet Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas, arguing that Du Bartas became the poet laureate of international Protestantism, read and imitated by writers such as James VI/I, Philip Sidney, Anne Bradstreet, Lucy Hutchinson and John Milton. Mary Chadwick’s paper focused on the manuscript magazines compiled in January 1783 by anonymous members and guests of the Williams-Wynn family of Wynnstay in north Wales. Combining gossip, accounts of theatrical performances and satires, these manuscript magazines are both a window into the reception of canonical Anglophone printed texts in Wales and the construction of eighteenth-century national identity. Wes Hamrick provided a close reading of Evan Evans’s The Love of Our Country (1772), contrasting his construction of literary tradition to that of his contemporaries, Alexander Pope and Thomas Gray, and assessing Evans’s reputation in eighteenth-century Welsh-lanugage circles.
Plenary 5: Matter, Materiality and Circulation
Juliet Fleming’s discussion of the supports for writing claimed Derrida as a book historian, using Of Grammatology, ‘Paper or Me’ and Archive Fever to illuminate the centrality of paper to his thinking and explore how we, and early moderns, conceptualise the receptive surfaces of writing: stone, wax, plaster and paper. Derrida’s thoughts were set alongside practices of découpage and ideas about surface articulated by Hannah Woolley, Erasmus and George Herbert, ultimately arriving at the view that writing becomes part of the material that supports it. Helen Smith, in her discussion of the materiality of women’s miscellany compilation, paid particular attention to the processes of folding, shuffling, pinning of papers, blank pages and watermarks in the miscellanies of Anne Southwell and Anne Bowyer and, in so doing, refused the temptation to make the miscellany whole, rather emphasising coincidence and chance.
Parallel session 6A: Irish Women’s Correspondence: Reception and Connections
Ann-Maria Walsh concentrated on a 1659 letter from Elizabeth (née Feilding) Boyle to Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, as an illustration of her determination to forge a female alliance in order to gain a prominent position within the family’s power structure. Michelle DiMeo’s paper explored Ranelagh’s correspondence when she lived in Ireland, between 1656 and 1659, arguing that this period deepened her explorations in natural philosophy, mathematics and medicine. Naomi McAreavey, who is editing over 300 letters by Elizabeth Butler, duchess of Ormonde, demonstrated how Butler’s political agency operated, discussing how she built up and exploited a network of elite women who helped her during the political turmoil of the 1650s.
Parallel session 6B: Visual Representations and Reception
Karen Lloyd tracked the reception and circulation in Italy of images of the Peruvian Madonna of Copacabana, from its original conception by the amateur sculptor Francisco Tito Yupanqui through its ‘transatlantic travels’ and subsequent repurposing as an icon and sign of the newly global Catholic world. Michele Osherow examined the dissemination of the biblical tale of Susanna (in the Book of Daniel) via seventeenth-century women’s needlework, arguing that these embroidered scenes aimed to counter lusty accussations against Susanna and restore her female potency. Leah Knight explored the representation of Anne Clifford’s reading and genealogy in the Great Picture, arguing that Clifford’s choice to be depicted as a reader rather than writer should not be understood as a concession to modesty but as projecting the image of a Renaissance woman at the centre of social networks.
Plenary 6: Irish Book History
Marc Caball revealed the range, diversity and resourcefulness of book owners in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland, insisting on the centrality of Gaelic manuscript culture to any comprehensive understanding of Irish book history. Comparing the familial collections and acquisition practices of Edmund Sexton (d.1637) and John Perceval (d.1686) firstly, the discussion then moved to consider the book culture of Gaelic Ireland via the book lists of John Fergus (d.1761), Muiris Ó Gormáin (d. c.1794) and Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin, and concluded with an analysis of book purchases made in 1780s Paris by Thomas Fitzmaurice (d. 1818), earl of Kerry, and his Galway wife Anastasia Daly (d.1799). Jason McElligott’s discussion of book theft was even more wide-ranging, beginning with modern bookshops, ducking back to investigate the records of books stolen from Marsh’s Library in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and returning us to the present day with a consideration of the ethical and economic issues around re-patriation of books that were lost and are now found. The majority of readers registered with Marsh’s Library prior to the twentieth century were clergymen, potentially a factor in McElligott’s finding that theological books and sermons rarely went missing, but travel, maps, English translations of the classics and French fiction were sitting-duck targets.
Plenary 7: Confessional Networks
Liesbeth Corens directed our attention to an unprecedented surge in collecting and compiling records among dispersed English Catholic communities, in England and on the Continent, from the eighteenth century. Corens argued that the practice of compiling records was not simply passive; the generation and preservation of textual evidence was fundamental to creating and sustaining English Catholic identity among dispersed communities, and religious houses were central to this record-keeping process. Jaime Goodrich focused on the English Benedictine community at Pontoise, where between 1686 and 1688 Abbess Anne Neville (1605-89) composed an English-language history of the English Benedictine convents on the Continent, based on a 1672 French account, written by the Benedictine antiquarian, Claude Estiennot de la Serrée. Comparing these texts, Goodrich found recurring narrative motifs and structures, proposing that these encourage an approach to reading history that centres not on events described but rather on the networks within which events happen.
Parallel session 7A: Annotation, Commemoration and Misattribution: Receptions of Herbert and Donne
Joel Swann showed how seventeenth-century annotators of George Herbert’s The Temple responded as carefully to the printed book as an artefact as they did to the poems themselves. Jenna Townend then showed how the texts of Herbert’s poems were used, reused and, arguably, misused by subsequent readers and writers. Charles Green traced the development of John Donne’s authorial reputation in commemorative elegies and portraits, arguing that such memorials established tropes that would define the author’s afterlife.
Parallel session 7B: Aphra Behn: Literary Sources and Acts of Reception
This session presented research produced by the forthcoming Works of Aphra Behn project (to be published by Cambridge University Press). Gillian Wright, who is editing ‘Voyage to the Island of Love’, discussed Behn’s sources and influences, in particular her use of Lucretius, Tallemont, and Edmund Spenser. Claire Bowditch argued for a re-evaluation of Behn’s friendship circles and her connections with the Inns of Court, specifically as a result of the influence on her Sir Patient Fancy of templar James Wright’s translation of Molière. Finally, Elaine Hobby outlined the processes by which she has revised her thinking about Behn’s most famous play, The Rover, in light of the range of changes made to the play for Restoration audiences and its allusions to the exploits of James, duke of York in later iterations.
Plenary 8: Cross-Cultural and Cross-Temporal Encounters II
Alexander Samson surveyed the complexity of the circulation of Spanish books in early modern England. Examining English engagements with Spanish culture through translations, dedications and book acquisition, this presentation explored the totemic circulation of books such as El Lazarillo de Tormes, the works of Cervantes and Luis de Granada, and considered the motives of cultural agents such as ambassador to Spain, Walter Aston, his secretary Richard Fanshawe, and lawyer-bibliophile Robert Ashley. Eleanor Rycroft discussed the challenges of engaging twenty-first-century audiences with early modern plays, from the perspective of various performance practices. The tension between preserving the original, in the spirit of ‘authenticity’, and the urge to make theatre fresh, new and contemporary was explored via Rycroft’s experiences with the ‘Staging the Henrician Court’ and ‘Staging and Representing the Scottish Renaissance Court’ projects, and debates surrounding the Globe Theatre.
The conference closed after four stimulating, energising days. Talks were recorded and podcasts will be uploaded soon – keep an eye on our twitter handle (@recirc_) for notifications. Heartfelt thanks to all our speakers and delegates for thought-provoking and enlightening discussions and conversations!
Our final images are of the accompanying exhibition of early modern printed books held at the Hardiman Library, organised by Marie Boran, Felicity Maxwell and Bronagh McShane.