She-Pirates: Early Eighteenth-Century Fantasy and Reality

John Massey Wright, 1777–1866, British. Pirates (undated). Watercolor with graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

In “The Tryals of Captain John Rackam and Other Pirates” published in 1721, witnesses have testified that when the she-pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny “saw any Vessel, gave Chase, or Attacked, they wore Men’s Cloaths; and, at other Times, they wore Women’s Cloaths” (28).  While this testimony proves that both female criminals were crossdressing on board the pirate sloop, it reveals an interesting characteristic that marked these two women seafarers different from their female cohort in the early eighteenth century:  they were not interested in concealing their feminine identity at all.  If this is true, one cannot help but wonder why Mary Read and Anne Bonny would even consider crossdressing when they had the freedom to choose what they would wear in the first place.  Through analyzing the trial record of the said she-pirates and Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, I argue that the crossdressing she-pirate was not just a literary fantasy but a possible identity that women could choose to adopt because of the unique social understanding of identity in early eighteenth-century society.

To figure out why Mary Read and Anne Bonny would want to cross-dress as pirates, we should begin by knowing that identity was not considered as “naturally” gendered in the early eighteenth century.  Therefore, the she-pirates’ crossdressing might not seem as uncommon an act as it is today.  According to Dror Wahrman, “[a]lthough expectations of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ were generally well defined, contemporaries did not perceive them as necessarily pinning down each and every individual” (40).  That is to say, “delineations of maleness and femaleness [. . .] are perceptual and relational rather than natural or self-generated” (Dugaw “Female Sailors Bold” 44).  In early eighteenth-century society, a biological male could be delicate and sentimental while a biological female did not have to be maternal and caring.  These seemingly “unnatural” identities would be met “with resignation, tolerance, or sometimes even appreciation” (Wahrman 40).  From this perspective, the she-pirates’ crossdressing should not be regarded as a serious transgression because they lived in a society that allowed more freedom in terms of gender and identity.  Although they would be expected to appear more feminine, femininity was by no means the only quality they could use to present themselves.

Yet Mary Read and Anne Bonny’s crossdressing denotes more than gender.  Indeed, the clothes they wore shaped the role they were playing.  As a letter in a 1711 issue of the Spectator notes, “People dress themselves in what they have a Mind to be, and not what they are fit for” (Addison and Steele 45).  Although the author was referring to his experience going to a masquerade, Dianne Dugaw reminds us that the eighteenth century was a period “in which pervasive metaphors of masquerading conditioned the very terms in which people thought and behaved” (Warrior Women 132).  Adopting a different identity was not a privilege for one attending masquerades, acting on the stage, or appearing in literary works—people would don on a different persona even in their daily lives by wearing different clothes.  This prompted Maximillian E. Novak to call the period “The Age of Disguise” (7), for one’s clothes, as Terry Castle indicates, “spoke symbolically of the human being beneath its folds” (55).  Early eighteenth-century society is unique for its belief that clothes are used “to make identity” (Wahrman 178, italics original).  Like going to a masquerade, a contemporary could alter their appearance and begin performing the role that their clothes designated.  There existed the possibility for one to have multiple identities instead of just one fixed persona.  This cultural belief thus provides the ground for women to wear a pirate’s outfit and begin acting as one.

Although the pirate identity was an option for women in the early eighteenth century, the pirate community was, unsurprisingly, not particularly friendly to women.  Captain Bartho Roberts, who was active at the beginning of the eighteenth century, clearly states in his often-quoted pirate code that “[n]o boy or woman [is] to be allowed amongst them [the pirates]” (Johnson 183).  On speculating why women would cross-dress to be soldiers in contemporary ballads, Dugaw also notes that if a single woman is undisguised in the predominantly male environment, she “was subject to harassment and violence” (Dugaw, Warrior Women 130).

Furthermore, Frederick Burwick and Manushag N. Powell have noted that pirates “largely regarded women or indeed any sexual attachments at sea as a perilous distraction” (102); therefore, they avoided having them on board as much as they could.  While Marcus Rediker believes that Captain Roberts was “more straitlaced than most pirate captains” (9), it should be evident that the pirate profession was predominantly masculine and potentially dangerous to women.  Therefore, besides trying to perform the role of a pirate, another possible and practical reason for Mary Read and Anne Bonny to disguise themselves was that crossdressing would carve out a safe space for them to blend in the community that was predominantly masculine.

If we examine the descriptions of the she-pirates in the trial record, we can recognize that crossdressing certainly enabled Mary Read and Anne Bonny to mingle with the masculine pirate community.  According to a captive on the sloop, Mary Read and Ann Bonny “wore Mens Jackets, and long Trouzers, and Handkerchiefs tied about their Heads; and each of them had a Machet and Pistol in their Hands” (“The Tryals” 27).  Their outfits were obviously masculine, and the weapons in their hands enhanced their image as aggressive outlaws.  Additionally, other witnesses also reported that they have heard the she-pirates cursing and swearing, which further distanced them from the delicate feminine identity.  The testimony thus illustrates Dugaw’s observation that a woman disguised as a man “could move about the same world with safety and freedom” (Warrior Women 130).  As the trial record indicates, the female-pirates were “hand[ing] Gun-powder to the Men” and “very ready and willing to do any Thing on Board” (“The Tryals” 28).  While dressing up as pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny were clearly not distractions to the crew but part of the crew that made pirating possible.  They were not particularly different from the rest of the crew.

A General History adds more to the function of crossdressing for the she-pirates by demonstrating that each has successfully dealt with hardships in their lives through crossdressing.  Dugaw suggests that two of the common reasons women would cross-dress in contemporary ballads were pursuing “true love” and “breaking out of custodial confinement” (Warrior Women 130, 135).  Johnson’s account shows much reminiscence of these reasons.  His version of Mary Read, as a newborn baby, was dressed and raised as a boy to pass for her deceased brother so that “the supposed grandmother should allow a crown a week for its maintenance” (Johnson 131).  Similarly, his Anne Bonny, being an illegitimate child, had to be “put into breeches as a boy” before her biological father could take her home to live with him (Johnson 139).  After failing to divorce her husband, Anne Bonny “consented to elope with him [Calico Rackam], and go to sea with Rackam in man’s clothes” (Johnson 140).  With these episodes of the she-pirates’ early lives, A General History further supports the idea that gender identity can be constructed in these ways during the period.

While Johnson’s narrative successfully adds spice to the story, the dramatic depiction inevitably makes the account seem more fanciful than real.  As David Cordingly indicates, a reason that made Mary Read and Anne Bonny so popular is that they “were the only women pirates of the great age of piracy that we know anything about” (59).  However, besides a few brief accounts, our knowledge of them mainly comes from “The Tryals” and A General History.  While most scholars would deem the trial record somewhat credible, there are concerns about Johnson’s work, for its content cannot be cross-checked and the author is still somewhat of a mystery.  A comparison of the two could also reveal gaps in the history.

Indeed, one telling difference is that A General History seems to suggest that a cross-dressed identity only works for a specific occasion, which is conventional in contemporary literary depictions of women crossdressers.  As Dugaw notes, disguised heroines in ballads “do not remain at sea or in camp,” for they “almost always bring about the disclosure of the disguise and a ‘return’ to ‘normal’” (Warrior Women 155).  Thus, in Johnson’s account, we can find that by crossdressing Mary Read lets the comrade she loves “discover her sex,” and she is immediately recognized by him as “a mistress solely to himself” and a woman he would court “for a wife” (Johnson 132).  As soon as the war is over, the two “bought woman’s apparel for her, [. . .] and were publicly married” (Johnson 132).  When she reveals her feminine identity, she abandons the borrowed identity for good.  While it is true that Mary Read crossed-dresses as a soldier later in the narrative, it happens after her husband dies, and she joins a different regiment.  She could not resume her previous persona.

It is also interesting to note that the crossdressing patterns for Mary Read and Anne Bonny are highly similar and formulaic in A General History.  They were both illegitimate baby girls who were raised as little boys.  As they grew up, they resumed their feminine identities to get married.  Upon facing a critical challenge in life, both cross-dressed again to become pirates who eventually pleaded after being sentenced to die.  An identity is never recycled—at least not in the same context.  Johnson’s account thus seems to be following the contemporary literary convention that favored the “return” of the crossdressers, which seems to imply that a she-pirate would eventually return to “normal.”

However, this “return” motif is nowhere to be found in the trial records.  As the witnesses clearly stated, Mary Read and Anne Bonny were able to don and shed their pirate identities in order to suit their needs.  When they were performing their pirate duties, they wore men’s clothes; when they were off duty, they had the option of wearing women’s clothes.  This not only reflects the ideas that the pirate as an identity can be borrowed by changing clothing but also demonstrates that it is an identity that women could assume and resume without creating much fuss.  The fact that Calico Rackham’s crew knew that Mary Read and Anne Bonny were women and continued to work with them as their comrade suggests that the she-pirate was not a mere literary construction—it was something like an acceptable persona for women in the early eighteenth century.  Mary Read and Anne Bonny pleaded their respective cases not because their pirate identity was incompatible with reality reality but because it was a practical decision that would prolong their lives.

It is true that we do not have many records of she-pirates and that the case of Mary Read and Anne Bonny does not represent the whole picture of she-pirates in the early eighteenth century.  Yet the fact that they were rarely mentioned does not mean that they were not an option.  As both “The Tryals” and A General History demonstrate, women could cross-dress to present and perform different identities.  “The Age of Disguise” thus allowed women like Mary Read and Anne Bonny the freedom to become pirates not only in the realm of imagination but also on board Calico Rackam’s pirate sloop.  Thus, she-pirates should not be regarded as a female fantasy—at least not in the early eighteenth century when Mary Read and Anne Bonny were freely expressing themselves while sailing under the black flag.

Works Cited

Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele.  The Spectator.  Edited by Gregory Smith.  J. M. Dent, 1907.  Hathi Trust, hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015050175952.

Burwick, Frederick, and Manushag N. Powell.  British Pirates in Print and Performance.  Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Castle, Terry.  Masquerade and Civilization:  The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction.  Stanford:  Stanford UP, 1986.

Cordingly, David.  Under the Black Flag:  The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates.  New York:  Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Dugaw, Dianne.  “Female Sailors Bold:  Transvestite Heroines and the Markers of Gender and Class.”  Iron Men, Wooden Women:  Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700- 1920.  Ed. Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.  34-54.

—.  Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850.  Chicago:  U of Chicago P, 1996.

Johnson, Charles.  A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates.  Ed. by Arthur L. Hayward, 1926.  New York:  Routledge, 1955.

Novak, Maximillian E.  “Introduction.”  English Literature in the Age of Disguise.  Ed. Maximillian E. Novak.  Berkeley:  U of California P, 1977.  1-14.

Rediker, Marcus.  “Liberty beneath the Jolly Roger:  The Lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Pirates.”  Iron Men, Wooden Women:  Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700- 1920.  Ed.  Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.  1- 33.

“The Tryals of Captain John Rackam, and Other Pirates (1721).”  British Piracy in the Golden Age:  History and Interpretation, 1660-1730.  Ed. Joel H. Baer.  Vol. 3.  London:  Pickering & Chatto, 2007.  1-66.

Wahrman, Dror.  The Making of the Modern Self.  New Haven:  Yale UP, 2004.

“No less than High Treason”: Libel and Sensationalism in the Careers of Jacobite Periodicalists George Flint and Isaac Dalton

Unknown artist after Thomas Malton the Younger, 1748–1804, British. Newgate (1799). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The early eighteenth-century British press was a hotbed for propaganda wars:  in the midst of the Succession Crisis, both Whig and Tory writers in London kept their fingers on the pulse of foreign affairs, war, and national politics.  Renowned writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele published on local goings-on, religion, and literature in their notably Whig periodicals, The Spectator and The Tatler.  Henry Fielding satirized Jacobites after the Rebellion of 1745 in The Jacobite’s Journal.  Though far less popular, the pro-Tory and pro-Jacobite press was booming, as well.  One pair of British periodicalists that quietly rose to notoriety was duo George Flint and Isaac Dalton, who published a series of treasonous Jacobite journals from 1715 to 1717.  Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick ran from 1715 to 1716 and landed Flint, its author, in Newgate Prison after he was arrested in July, 1716 for seditious libel.  He continued to write and have his periodicals published, though, and produced Robin’s Last Shift in 1716, which became The Shift Shifted later that year, and Shift’s Last Shift in 1717 as it attempted to outrun further government censorship.  Dalton, his printer, was arrested and imprisoned four separate times for offences to the crown.  Though their individual timelines are fascinating by definition, it is also worth investigating Flint and Dalton’s popularity and skill as periodicalists.  After the first arrests, Flint began to keep a log of their prison experiences, as well as the subsequent involvement and arrests of their family members, which proved quite popular with readers.  Through their persistence and command of pathos, Dalton and Flint’s periodicals provided both strength and exposure to the Jacobite movement in a time of unmatched government suppression.

Flint first published Weekly Remarks on December 3, 1715—just months after the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland and northern England, and only days before the Pretender himself would land on Scottish soil.  For years, tensions had been brewing between the Whigs, who supported the Hanoverian ascendancy to the British throne, and the Jacobites, who supported the Stuart line of succession and were planning to take immediate action.  With James II still in France, the Earl of Mar called a war meeting in Braemar, Scotland, to discuss plans for the rebellion.  In the fall of 1715, the Jacobites failed to capture Edinburgh Castle, but were successful in taking Inverness, Castle Gordon, Dundee, and Perth—“virtually the whole of Scotland” (Sinclair-Stevenson 96).  However, both the Scottish and English Jacobite forces failed to make an impact against the government armies in October when they fell in both the battles of Sheriffmuir and of Preston.  Shortly after, James sailed from France to Scotland; the December 24 edition of Weekly Remarks reports “this Day or Two, That the Pretender is Landed,” and that a number of Londoners were heard singing Jacobite ballads in the streets (Weekly Remarks, 4: 23-24).  Not long after arriving, however, James escaped from Scotland before the government began to severely persecute the Jacobites.

In his introduction to the first installment of Weekly Remarks, Flint claims the publication would be the source of “a pretty clear and impartial Judgement” (Weekly Remarks, 1: 1).  Each Saturday, the journal printed the news of a number of countries (like Spain, Italy, Germany, and Great Britain) and paired entries with a “Remarks” section, in which the author editorialized on that week’s foreign affairs.  For this Flint was arrested and tried in the summer of 1716:  the Old Bailey criminal court record states he “confess’d he was concern’d in writing the said Libel with another Person, which was to be of a different Nature from any yet publish’d:  That the Prisoner was seen to write some Part of the said Paper.  That it came from his own Hands to the Press.  And that he had own’d to my Lord Townshend and others, he wrote it for his Bread” (“Trial of George Flint”).  Though he had been arrested and imprisoned earlier that year for printing Robin’s Last Shift,I Dalton was again indicted and imprisoned alongside Flint; he was found guilty of cursing King George and attempting to pay prison guards to drink to the Pretender’s health.  He was also charged with seditious libel for printing Weekly Remarks, but “the Evidence failing in fixing that particularly, for which he was cried, upon the Prisoner, he was acquitted” (“Trial of Isaac Dalton” July, 1716).

Dalton would be found guilty of two more crimes related to his Jacobitical printing activities:  in November of 1716, he was charged with seditious libel for printing The Shift Shifted.  In May of 1717, he was again found guilty of libel—this time for printing a pamphlet (titled “Advise to the Freeholders of England”) a number of years previous to his work with Flint.II  This resulted in two additional imprisonments to be served following his July sentence of one year at Newgate, as well as fines to be paid and a day spent in the pillory.  In the article “Liberty and Libel:  Government and the Press during the Succession Crisis in Britain, 1712-1716,” P. B. J. Hyland describes this punishment as “a symbol of the ministry’s triumph, and perhaps to avenge its earlier humiliation” (Hyland 881).  But the Weekly Remarks would not be put down so quietly, no matter the efforts the government took to silence Flint and Dalton.  Through their own writing (before that privilege was taken away) and the interference run by family members, they continued to publish their periodicals, condemning the treatment of prisoners at Newgate and the overall actions of the government with a renewed passion.  One excerpt from the August 18, 1716, edition of The Shift Shifted describes Flint’s imprisonment as unthinkable and cruel.  As they starved and endured overly cramped quarters, the inmates were punished for attempting to share their rations with one another.  Flint himself “contracted another cruel Sickness,” and his wife was soon also sent to prison for helping publish The Shift Shifted (The Shift Shifted, 16:94).  The account, a dramatic exercise in pity and shock, reads,

“Yet his Wife for endeavouring to help her Husband, (which most think to be a Wive’s Duty) and in a way which she could not think unlawful, is also close imprison’d, and cannot be let out upon Bail, tho’ the Husband (beside the Bail) offers to take upon himself whatsoever his Wife can be charg’d with.  Now one would think her Crime could be no less than High Treason, and at the same time it is alledged to be no more than Ordering the Carriage of a few News-Papers.”  (The Shift Shifted, 16:94)

Neither man was stranger to this kind of rhetorical appeal.  In remarking on the Battle of Sheriffmuir in the December 3, 1715, edition of Weekly Remarks, Flint describes the horrors seen by the Jacobite soldiers on the battlefield:  they stood “like Motionless Statues, seeing their Friends cut to pieces by one third of their Number” (Weekly Remarks 1:5).  But perhaps the most provocative account Dalton and Flint provide is another entry in the August 18 edition of The Shift Shifted, following Dalton’s July arrest.  In an sensationally dramatized fashion, it details the subsequent arrest of Dalton’s sister, Mary, for continuing to print the treasonous periodicals after Flint and Dalton were arrested:

To do Good and Suffer Evil, is to act a Royal Part; and therefore I am not a little pleas’d that it is faln to my Share, to undergo so much Evil for endeavouring to do good to my Country … However, to imprison a Man for a Fancy, tho’ he be thereby ruin’d, we wave that as a Trifle, a Nothing to Moloch.  But to take his young Maiden Sister only for happening to receive a little Money for him; for this, I say, to cram her into a Messenger’s, and thence bring her directly to the Bar, all overwhelm’d with Tears and Confusion, without a Moment’s Preparation for her Tryal, and there after a Fine of 30 Marks, appoint the beautiful young modest Maiden to remain confin’d for a Twelvemonth in a loathsome Gaol, conversing with the Strums of Newgate.  Suppose she have innocently assisted her Brother in his Distress, does that (call it a crime) come up to this Punishment?  Was ever such a Virgin ever so unmercifully expos’d for such a Crime.”  (The Shift Shifted, 16:94)

As McDowell asserts in The Women of Grub Street:  Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730, Dalton was clearly crafting his words in an entirely gendered way to gain sympathy from the public for his and his sister’s situation:  “Isaac Dalton represented [Mary] as a sentimental heroine in the merciless clutches of an oppressive ministry … as a genteel young lady” who ultimately “became a martyr to the government” (McDowell 108-109).  And it worked.  Randall McGowen notes that the pillory “inflicted humiliation and brought notoriety to an offender, at least as much as physical suffering” (McGowen 123).  But the crowd that assembled the day Dalton was pilloried at Newgate did not curse at him or throw rotten tomatoes his way; they cheered him on and collected money for him to pay his fines instead (Hyland 881-882).

Flint and Dalton’s powerful publications accomplished what the English government wanted to avoid at all costs.  As Kathleen Wilson argues in “Inventing Revolution:  1688 and Eighteenth-Century Popular Politics,” they and other Jacobite journalists had become successful critics of Whig ideology, penning vivid editorials on the party’s corruption and abuse of power.  They believed “the government was a trust, based on popular consent, in which people of all ranks had residual rights separate from those of their representatives.  These included the rights to a free press, to lawful assembly, and to canvass public affairs and protest against bad governments and bad laws” (Wilson 372).  When those rights were infringed upon, Flint and Dalton were quick to remark on it in their writing, and their subsequent arrests only bolstered the frenzied reports featured in their periodicals.  They had amassed a following—both among fellow Jacobites, and among the pro-government Whig newspapers that continuously reported on their misdeeds and run-ins with the law.  What started out as an underground effort to undermine the politics of their enemies quickly became an intense and public battle that gave the Jacobite movement new exposure in London.  In using descriptive storytelling, interrogating moral and ethical norms, and appealing to the sympathies of their audience, Flint and Dalton brought the Jacobite movement to the forefront of English politics by changing the government’s own game.

Notes

I.  See both the March 17 and 31, 1716 editions of James Read’s The Weekly Journal, Or, British Gazetteer, Being the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick for briefs on Dalton’s original arrest.

II.  See both the November, 1716 and May, 1717 trials of Isaac Dalton on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online.

Works Cited

Flint, George.  “Great Britain.”  The Shift Shifted, Or, Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick.  August 18, 1716.

—.  “Great Britain.”  Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick.  December 24, 1715.

—.  “Introduction.”  Weekly Remarks and Political Reflections, Upon the Most Material News Foreign and Domestick.  December 3, 1715.

Hyland, P. B. J. “Liberty and Libel:  Government and the Press during the Succession Crisis in Britain, 1712-1716.”  The English Historical Review 101.401 (1986):  863-888.  JSTOR.

McDowell, Paula.  “‘To Run Oneself Into Danger’:  Women and the Politics of Opposition in the London Book Trade.”  The Women of Grub Street:  Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1998.  1-120.

McGowan, Randall.  “From Pillory to Gallows:  The Punishment of Forgery in the Age of the Financial Revolution.”  Past & Present 165 (1999):  107-140.  JSTOR.

Read, James. “Great Britain.”  The Weekly Journal, Or, British Gazetteer, Being the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick.  March 17, 1716.

—.  “Great Britain.”  The Weekly Journal, Or, British Gazetteer, Being the Freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick.  March 31, 1716.

Sinclair-Stevenson, Christopher.  Inglorious Rebellion:  The Jacobite Risings of 1708, 1715, and 1719.  New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1971.

“Trial of George Flint, July 1716 (t17160712-5).” Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed May 1, 2019.  https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“Trial of Isaac Dalton, July 1716 (t17160712-4).”  Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed May 1, 2019. https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“Trial of Isaac Dalton, November 1716 (t17161105-81).”  Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed 1 May, 2019.  https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“Trial of Isaac Dalton, May 1717, (t17170501-54).”  Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  Accessed May 1, 2019. https://www.oldbaileyonline.org.

“My Poor Nerves”: Women of a Certain Age on the Page

Portrait of a Lady (1768), John Russell, 1745–1806, British. Oil on Canvas. Yale Center for British Art, Bequest of John N. and Dorothy C. Estabrook.

When Mrs. Bennet complains of her “poor nerves” and her husband sardonically replies that he is long acquainted with them, we as readers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are to laugh.  The laughter may die into an awkward chuckle when the reader is a 40ish-year-old woman and realizes that most likely Mrs. Bennet is as well.  While her daughters come of age and dance at balls and flirt with officers, Mrs. Bennet is perhaps experiencing perimenopause or menopause and the end of one stage of a woman’s life.

When women’s lives are divided into maid, mother, crone, it is easy to overlook the moment between early motherhood and old age.  How did (and how do) women deal with life in their forties when their children are entering that “most interesting” and “most trying” times of their lives while they themselves are in “the most dangerous”?  Are they objects of ridicule?  Paragons of wisdom?  Are they even visible at all?

Menopause in Early Modern England (and Now)

As a 43 -year-old woman, I am finding that perimenopause, like greatness, is something that one finds thrust upon you.  It is also something that people do not discuss much even in 2019.

When Deanna Raybourn pronounced herself a “crone” on Twitter and welcomed questions about her newly menopausal state, numerous women responded.  Here at last was someone opening up in a public way about what has been considered a private milestone and offering to give advice to others in the process.  It was an act of bravery and of generosity and a welcome opening for people to talk more publicly about their bodies.

Menopause was a rarely spoken and private subject in the eighteenth century as well.  In the late eighteenth century (that conduct book loving age), the “first popular guidebooks for the menopausal woman appeared, some of which were reportedly sold out in a few months” (Stolberg 412).  Laura Gowing finds that “[i]t is still hard to recover women’s knowledge and interpretations of the body” (10), and most discussions of menopause are to be found in medical journals but not in women’s diaries or letters.

Then, as now, menopause generally arrived at age 50 but a woman was not considered old until 60 when it was certain she could no longer conceive.  Menopause was called “the cessation of terms” or “flowers” or “courses” (Read 37).  As Gowing notes, “Much vernacular printed discussion of the female body was specifically aimed at helping women conceive.  Sexual difference was discussed not in abstract terms but as the basis for heterosexual sex and conception” (19).  This means that when women are no longer fertile, their bodies are no longer objects of medical interest.

However, some historians see menopause as a “socially induced set of symptoms” and suggest that “modern physicians may have created a problem of personal identity” (Crawford 25).  Women most likely experienced actual symptoms–medical records show complaints of “flashings”–but those symptoms were subsumed in general ideas of old age.  Michael Stolberg explains that “[a]round 1740, an anonymous English practitioner marketed his secret purgatives and uterine drops against the disorders ‘that most women labor under, when being between forty and fifty years’” (422).  With no medical cure for the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, some women relied on quack cures for help.  Even now in the twenty-first century no real relief exists and women are told to take herbal supplements, exercise, do yoga, and eat right.  Turning to doctors for symptom alleviation was and is a fruitless endeavor.

Mrs. Bennet

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have been married for 23 years (Austen 5) when the novel opens.  Even if she married at 25, she’d be 48 at the oldest.  Most likely she was married at a younger age–Mr. Bennet, “captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour,–that youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to real affection for her” (152).  This implies a younger woman, perhaps in her teens.  If she married at 18, she is 41 at the novel’s open.

Austen tells us that the Bennets expected an heir for “many years after Lydia’s birth” (197), but if “marital fertility had frequently concluded by age 40” (Botelho 53), this explains the lack of a pregnancy even in a youngish woman.  “Reproduction was a public business and women’s bodies a public domain” (Botelho 57), and Mrs. Bennet, who is unable to produce an heir to end the entail, finds her body’s failure to be public indeed.  For women who have exchange value as marriagable virgins and use value as fertile wives, their value and their identities had to be in flux in the time between motherhood and grandparenthood.  As Patricia Crawford notes, “After her child bearing was over, a woman was no longer powerful and less feared” (32).  Mrs. Bennet simply becomes ridiculous.

Her public and ridiculous body becomes symbolic of her failures as a mother.  “The female body was a public affair, the target of official regulation, informal surveillance, and regular, intimate touch by women and men,” writes Laura Gowing (16).  After Lydia elopes with Wickham, the spectacle of Mrs. Bennet’s hysterical but non-sexual body replaces the spectacle of Lydia’s sexualized body in her home.  The family is afraid of Mrs. Bennet’s loud cries and talk with Hill, but Hill and the other servants would know the bodies of all the women in the household well.  Women’s bodies may be considered private but “most houses were built around shared space” (Gowing 23), and five menstruating daughters produced a lot of linen.  What is happening in Mrs. Bennet’s body and, by proxy, the public sexualization of Lydia’s body, has been old news with any of the women scrubbing sheets.

The focus of Pride and Prejudice is on young women’s bodies, on “the most trying age” and “most interesting time” of their lives.  Lois Banner quotes one woman’s description of menopause as “the dangerous age”:  “between 40 and 50” “‘we are all more or less mad’” (Banner 273).  The Bennet household is in a dangerous age–the daughters must be married before their father dies and the entail takes effect, and Mrs. Bennet feels this necessity both in a financial and biological sense.  There is no heir.  Time has run out.  “You do not know what I suffer” (4) and “nobody can tell what I suffer” (76), Mrs. Bennet tells her family.

She also practices old age.  “At our time of life”(6), she often says of herself and Mr. Bennet.  “It was so pleasant at her time of life to consign her single daughters to the care of their sister, that she might not be obliged to go into company more than she liked,” writes Austen (67).  She is trying on cronehood, but in true middle-age fashion, she cannot help but see herself as still young.  Mr. Bennet tells her she is as handsome as her daughters, and she does not deny it.  She “still loves a red coat in [her] heart” (21).  Despite these occasional forays into youth, she seems very aware that menopausal women should shift into being grandmothers which, with the entail, could illuminate her desperation to make five single daughters into five married mothers.

Film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice tend to portray Mrs. Bennet as an older woman even if the actress portraying her is in her 40s.  Allison Steadman was 49 when she played Mrs. Bennet in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice.  Brenda Blethyn was 59 in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice.  Sally Phillips is the closest in age to the novel version of Mrs. Bennet at 46 in the 2016 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (IMDB).  Movie shorthand for a mother of grown daughters is a woman in her 50s or 60s, which is how Mrs. Bennet is visually constructed.  The liminal age of the young women between parents and husbands that is the subject of the films is easily rendered visual:  the Bennet sisters are young and beautiful and capless.  The liminal age of perimenopause is invisible and elided.

Lady Susan

We often to look to Austen for the romcom pattern, for stories about young people growing up, learning about life, and finding love.  However, her middle-aged women are just as fascinating.  Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bates, Lady Catherine, Lady Russell–and Lady Susan.  In Lady Susan, Austen’s 1794 (?) novel, we see an almost middle-aged woman attempting to seduce a younger man who could be her daughter’s suitor.  Lady Susan is 35-years-old and a widow but not past childbearing age which makes her both marriageable and dangerous, for as Gowing explains, “Sexually experienced and past the age of child-bearing, imagined as both lustful and undesirable, their [middle-aged women’s] ventures into sexual talk, still less sexual acts, could scarcely be contemplated with equanimity” (22).

“I have seldom seen so lovely a woman as Lady Susan,” writes one character, “and from her appearance one would not suppose her more than five and twenty, though she must be in fact ten years older” (143).  Lady Susan flirts with Reginald, a young heir loved by her daughter, and he falls in love with her.  When his father hears of a potential marriage with Lady Susan, he writes a warning to Reginald, saying her age is a “material objection,” but her conduct is so egregious that “the difference of even twelve years becomes in comparison of small account” (152).  Lady Susan is fleeing a friend’s home after she seduced her friend’s husband, and she takes full advantage of her relatively free position as a widow to indulge her sexual desires.  She could be the cliche of the lusty widow but is drawn so well by Austen that the reader can’t help but fall in love with her as well.  Lady Susan is a complicated character, a villain as well as a likable protagonist.  Her age is made clear in the novel and is a factor within the plot.  It is interesting that Austen made a middle-aged women between husbands the main character of a novel in her juvenilia but did not again dwell so closely on older women in her later novels.  The adult Austen chose to write about women who were marketable.

Conclusion

As women now talk more about menopause and about the transitions of the 40s, perhaps we can extend those conversations to the middle-aged women on the pages of the novels we read and teach and study.  Instead of seeing these women as “old,” we need to recognize that they are in flux and, like their marriageable daughters, their identities are shifting.  This dangerous time can be just as interesting as the trying time.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  New York:  Norton, 1993.  Print.

—.  Lady SusanSanditon and Other Stories.  Ed. Peter Washington.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.  Print.

Banner, Lois.  In Full Flower:  Aging Women, Power, and Sexuality.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.  Print.

Botelho, Lynn.  “Old Age and Menopause in Rural Women of Early Modern Suffolk.”  Women and Ageing in British Society Since 1500.  Ed. Lynn Botelho and Pat Thane.  London:  Pearson, 2001.  43-65.  Print.

Crawford, Patricia.  Blood, Bodies, and Families in Early Modern England.  London:  Pearson, 2004.  Print.

Gowing, Laura.  Common Bodies:  Women, Touch, and Power in Seventeenth-Century England.  New Haven:  Yale UP, 2003.  Print.

Read, Sara.  Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England.  Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.  Print.

Shail, Andrew and Gillian Howle.  Menstruation:  A Cultural History.  Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.  Print.

Stolberg, Michael.  “A Woman’s Hell?:  Medical Perceptions of Menopause in Preindustrial Europe.”  Bulletin of the History of Medicine 73.3 (1999):  404-428.  Print.

 

A visual version of this paper is available here. 

Digital Paxton: Digital Collection, Critical Edition, and Teaching Platform

 

Massacre of the Conestogas. Illustrated with eight fine engravings. Lancaster: G. Hills, 1841. James Wimer. Digital image from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Digital Paxton is a digital collection, scholarly edition, and teaching platform devoted to Pennsylvania’s first major pamphlet war.  The “Paxton” in Digital Paxton refers to a little-known massacre in colonial Pennsylvania that unfolded in December 1763, when a mob of settlers from Paxtang Township murdered 20 unarmed Susquehannock Indians in Lancaster County.  A month later, hundreds of “Paxton Boys” marched toward Philadelphia to menace refugee Indians who sought the protection of the Pennsylvania government.  While Benjamin Franklin halted the march just outside of Philadelphia in Germantown, supporters of the Paxton Boys and their critics spent the next year battling in print.  The pamphlet war that followed in 1764 was not so different from the Twitter wars of today.  Pamphleteers waged battle using pseudonyms, slandering opponents as failed elites and racial traitors.  At stake was much more than the conduct of the Paxton men.  Pamphleteers staked claims about colonization, peace and war, race and ethnicity, masculinity and civility, and religious association in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania.

To support interdisciplinary study of this formative print debate, Digital Paxton makes freely available more than 2,500 pages of print-quality scans from eighteen different archives, research libraries, and cultural heritage institutions; contextualizes materials with twelve essays from leading historians and literary scholars; and scaffolds the collection with six lessons from secondary and post-secondary educators.

Jane Austen Summer Program 2019

Jane Austen Summer Program 2019

The award-winning Jane Austen Summer Program is excited to announce its 2019 symposium, “Pride and Prejudice and Its Afterlives!” The seventh annual event will take place this June 20-23 in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Participants will have the opportunity to hear expert speakers and participate in discussion groups each day, as well as join in a Regency-style ball, attend Austen-inspired theatricals, partake in an English tea, and visit special exhibits tailored to the conference. The discussions will consider Pride and Prejudice in its historical context as well as its afterlives in fiction, film, and digital media. The Jane Austen Summer Program is designed to appeal to established scholars, high school teachers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and Austen fans—anyone with a passion for all things Austen is welcome and encouraged to attend! For more program information, to see comments and photos from previous programs, or to register, please visit the program’s website https://janeaustensummer.org.

(Original post provided by Carlie Wetzel, Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Student, Department of English and Comparative Literature, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

Remembering the Unbearable Present: Colonial Biowarfare, Indigeneity, and the Challenge for Anthropocene Historiographies

“Anthropocene Word Cloud from Wikipedia.”  Notably, the words colonial, imperial, indigenous, violence, and their derivatives do not appear.

 

“It is hard for us to examine our connection with unbearable pasts with which we might reckon better, our implication in impossibly complex presents through which we might craft different modes of response, and our aspirations for different futures toward which we might shape different worlds-yet-to-come[.]” —Alexis Shotwell, Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times

Anthropocene:  A blanket term

Anglocene, Anthrobcene, Capitalocene, Cthulcene, Eurocene, Manthropocene, Misanthropocene, Neganthropocene, and Plantationocene:  this is the current slate of monikers for the Anthropocene, a proposed geological epoch with historical debates over its start-date as deeply entrenched as those over its name.  This ever-expanding catalogue of inspiring neologisms, however, suggests more than the schizoid nature of the Anthropocene and reveals more than simply an embryonic idea still in the process of being worked out, although its very existence is not unanimously acknowledged, as the surprise announcement of the Meghalayan Age by the International Union of Geological Sciences reveals [1].

The blur of proposed names for this new geological epoch is the symptom of a deeper unease that we have with the progenitur term “Anthropocene,” an unease that deepens with its disciplining, that is, in a Foucauldian vein, in the way this term is becoming sedimented and accepted as a disciplined body of knowledge [2].  Think, for instance, about the coalition of the Anthropocene Working Group, the task-force that determines the key parameters of this new epoch, a group that, as Oxford economist Kate Raworth shrewdly observes, is overwhelmingly made up of white, European men [3].  This raises the important question of who is the Anthropocene for?  Who speaks for it?  Who does it represent, and who does it erase?  The question we must ask is this:  In what ways is a certain structural violence, a colonial violence, smuggled in under the covers of this definition?

To think about this dark side of the Anthropocene requires attention to the erasure inherent in this definition of the anthropos (by its Greek roots, a white, universal, European subject).  Recent work by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, among others, helps to shed light on the ontopolitics of this new epoch, as they rightly identify colonial violence as an inherent factor within the process of humans becoming a dominant force on the earth.  Although Lewis and Maslin (2015) date this violence to the late fifteenth century in what they call the “New-Old World collision,” when Europeans arrived in the Americas, the long eighteenth century—the period that many consider to be the dawn of the Anthropocene, or at least the initialization of a new phase in its development [4]—continued to be a hotbed for settler violence twinned with destructive means of terraforming, particularly in North America.  In what follows, I offer one particular eighteenth-century event—the British military’s bio-weaponization of smallpox against North American Indigenous peoples—as a touchstone for thinking about this structural violence, an event that might also serve as a metaphor for some of the dangers we continue to face in our conceptualization of the Anthropocene today.  We can read this bio-weaponization forward into our own contemporary moment where the Anthropocene turns toward indigeneity as its model for resiliency while still problematically failing to account for the legacy and ongoing structural violence against Indigenous peoples.

Blanket Stories:  Seven Generations, Adawe, and Hearth (2013) by Marie Watt.

Eighteenth-Century Biowarfare

Letters and journals prove that high-ranking British military leaders during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) conspired to weaponize smallpox against North American Indigenous populations as a way of exterminating them and gaining access to their lands and resources [5].  In a letter (16 July 1763), just one of many that disclose this sentiment, British General Jeffery Amherst, commander-in-chief of the British Army in North America during the Seven Years’ War, writes to Colonel Henry Bouquet:

You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.  I should be very glad your scheme for hunting them down by dogs could take effect, but England is at too great a distance to think of that at present.  [6]

Blankets were to be infected with smallpox and given as gifts to Indigenous groups, since the use of dogs would prove impractical.  Moreover, the bioweaponized blankets were a far more insidious form of violence, and rise to match the colonial fears over the enmeshment of Indigenous bodies and the untamed landscape.  Clearly, Amherst’s desired “Total Extirpation of those Indian Nations,” [7] as he elsewhere writes, was intimately bound up with the project of controlling the land [8].  In fact, the colonial biopolitical association of the wild Indigenous body with the land is poignantly captured in an anxious comment by Bouquet in a letter to Amherst (29 June 1763):  “every Tree is become an Indian” [9].  The conflation of these bodies bears the scars of Lockean property theory, which conceptually underpinned colonial expansion and the violent treatment and dispossession of Indigenous peoples [10].

For Locke, the difference between merely living off the lands (hunting and fishing like animals do) and cultivating the lands in efforts of improvements is the difference in who has the right to claim ownership of that land.  In his Two Treatises on Government, especially The Second Treatise, Locke writes:  “As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property.  He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common” [11].  Put otherwise, it is labour in the service of improvement that grants the right to the earth [12].  From a Lockean perspective, then, unimproved or cultivated lands used by Indigenous peoples were still part of the common, a wasted or missed opportunity for development.  Indeed, the same language and colonial logic continues to be used, over two centuries later, in discussions about the Canadian tar sands.  As Rick George, former president and CEO of Suncor, the Alberta-based energy company writes, “The most appealing feature of the oil sands was the fact that they were there to be taken” [13].

Yet British efforts at terraforming were simultaneously and intentionally a project of Indigenous genocide, as Amherst’s letters betray.  Such an example dovetails with Lewis and Maslin’s “Orbis hypothesis,” their claim that “colonialism, global trade and coal brought about the Anthropocene” [14].  Indeed, their proposed date of 1610 for the onset of the Anthropocene, the Global Stratotype Section and Point [15] or specific date that marks a significant CO2/carbon decline (that they dub “The Orbis Spike”), is directly the result of drastic population decline due to war, enslavement and disease, with the Americas going from 54 million people in 1492 to only 6 million people by 1650 [16].  In short:  less people, less carbon.  Colonial violence thus registers itself in the carbon footprint of the Earth.  The British efforts to bioweaponize smallpox against the Indigenous peoples in the eighteenth century complement Lewis and Maslin’s theory and furnishes it with a specific event to greater texturize this Anthropocene historiography.

“Orbis Spike” in Lewis and Maslin (2015).

Bearing the unbearable past in our impossibly complex present

But what does this specific case study in eighteenth-century British bioweaponization mean for us in the Anthropocene today?  Anecdotally, it might remind us about the dangers that can lay await in the folds of a blanket or blanket term, a reminder to be weary of what is “gifted” by this ghostly anthropos, this new ungainly spectre haunting thought today [17].  The case study should also remind us of the biopolitics of controlling the Indigenous populations and their lands, and the violent means that these settler nations called Canada and the United States, or Turtle Island, have deployed since the eighteenth century.  But more importantly, as the Anthropocene increasingly dominates scholarly discourse, such that we might speak of the “Anthropocene turn” in academe, the case of the smallpox-infested blankets helps reframe discussions of the Anthropocene that otherwise continue overwhelmingly to exclude Indigenous groups and considerations of colonial violence.  We must consider more than the (white) anthropos and fossil fuels.  For as Zoe Todd insightfully suggests, the Anthropocene discourse is a variation of “white public space,” that is a space that is not only predominantly made up of the white heteropatriarchy but also a space wherein “Indigenous ideas and experiences are appropriated, or obscured, by non-Indigenous practitioners” [18].  The Anthropocene needs decolonizing and indigenizing, though this move is not without wrinkles.

The Bentwood Box (2009) by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston.

One of the best examples of this is the simultaneous turn that is occurring alongside the Anthropocene:  the “Indigenous Turn” in theory and politics, which on first glance appears inspired by governmental calls for reconciliation.  However, while the “Anthropocene Turn” and the “Indigenous Turn” would benefit from greater turning toward each other, we have reason to be wary of the ways that indigeneity is currently being looked to as a new promissory radical model for ontology, which can be understood as a form of neoliberal governmentality’s delusory strategy for survival and self-replication rather than profound change, such as the indigenization of its internal structure.  Indeed, as David Chandler and Julian Reid argue, the interest in new models of indigenous subjectivity is frequently marked by the rhetoric of resiliency.  While this may initially seem like a celebration of indigeneity, Chandler and Reid argue that the real attraction to indigenous resiliency is for the way it might help Western cultures cope with how to live within the eco-crises of the Anthropocene:  “While the modern subject is encouraged to ‘become indigenous,’ the attention to indigeneity . . . does not extend to the suffering and struggles of indigenous peoples who are held to have failed to become more-than-human exemplars of resilience” [19].  At the edge of extinction, Western culture hopes to learn how to survive.  The “radical promise” of indigeneity as a new model for being in the world, Chandler and Reid continue,

is that a different world already exists in potentia and that moderns can choose to make it by learning to world in the ways indigenous peoples already do . . .  Access to this alternate world is a question of ontology—of being differently—being in being rather than thinking, acting and world-making as if we were transcendent or possessive subjects.  [20]

Now, in the Anthropocene, we no longer have the security in thinking of nature as something “over there,” as an object capable of being fully understood, and the collapse of the nature/culture divide.  Now, the “indigenous are the anthropocene-alogists of nonmodern ontology:  they can teach us how to see the nonhuman differently” [21].  If Indigenous subjectivity is now a resource to be mined, what becomes visible in this extraction process is the difference between attending to indigeneity and the actual suffering of indigenous peoples.  We need to mind the gap between theory and practice.  In the turn to indigeneity as the way to navigate the Anthropocene, what dangers are unknowingly accepted as gifts?

Harper Eyes (2014) by Métis scholar and artist Warren Cariou. The eyes belong to Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister of Canada, who passed major reforms for the oil industry during his tenure and who also infamously said, at the 2009 G20 meeting, that “Canada has no history of colonialism.”

Like those infected blankets in Amherst’s letters, we would do well to remember to ask what violence gets insidiously smuggled in under the white covers of the Anthropocene, which one might be tempted to call (if yet another neologism were allowed) “The White MANthropocene,” for the way it extends the legacy of this problematic figure, including the tendency of this discourse parasitically to see indigeneity as its new resilient ontopolitical host.  Not unlike the eighteenth-century British view of North America as a waste to be mined, contemporary Western discourses including the Anthropocene commit an uncanny act of violence in the turn toward indigenous subjectivity as a new resource to be plundered.  The Western question it seems, now as then, remains one of manipulation and self-preservation:  How can we use indigenous subjects or knowledges to save ourselves, our ways of life, our institutions, and ultimately our world?  We need to recognize, as Alexis Shotwell suggests, the “complex entanglement of practices and habits of ignorance, repression, and active disavowal that constitute an active settler process of not telling, not seeing, and not understanding the truth of the matter” [22].  This is especially true as we wade through a new cold white discourse that still largely ignores a decolonized approach.

Retrieving and bearing the anthropogenic ugliness of our eighteenth-century history, those disastrous events, such as the smallpox conspiracy that I have here discussed, will be an important strategy in how we write the history of the Anthropocene, a historiography that although it already includes the eighteenth century and grants a significant place to Britain in this narrative is nevertheless marked by blindspots.  It is time to move past the now all too familiar citation of James Watt’s improved steam engine and the Industrial Revolution as the eighteenth century’s claim to the Anthropocene and consider the more furtive forms of anthropogenic violence from this period.  Simultaneously, it is also important to recognize the ways in which these forms of violence remain with us today.  To do this is to see colonialism, as Patrick Wolfe does, as “a structure rather than an event,” whereby colonial practices of the past grow to become the backbone of the present [23].  Indeed, the pressing task for the historiographies of the Anthropocene will be to consider the minor rather than molar, and increasingly to include in the stories that we tell about this epoch the shameful policies devised and violence committed in the projects and name of colonial terraforming.  By insisting on these historiographies that foreground the “complicated, often ugly, and humbling,” to borrow a phrase by Anna Tsing [24], we might stop perpetuating the structural violence that has defined the Anthropocene.

Notes

[1] The IUGS announced in July 2018 that we are not in the Anthropocene; we are living in a late phase of the Holocene period that they call the Meghalayan Age, which began 4,250 years ago.  It is defined by a catastrophic drought that destroyed ancient civilizations in Egypt, China, India, and the Middle East.  As Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis write:  “it seems like a small group of scientists [at the IUGS]—40 at most—have pulled off a strange coup to downplay humans’ impact on the environment.”  Maslin, Mark, and Simon Lewis.  “Anthropocene vs Meghalayan—Why Geologists are Fighting over whether Humans are a Force of Nature.”  The Conversation, 8 Aug. 2018.

[2] Working groups, conferences, academic journals, courses, and programs are all examples of this disciplining.

[3] Raworth, Kate.  “Must the Anthropocene be a Manthropocene?”  The Guardian.  20 October 2014.  Web.

[4] Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer initially proposed James Watt’s improved steam engine in 1784 and the Industrial Revolution as the starting point for the Anthropocene.  Similarly, others take 1800 as the starting date, such as Steffen et al. (2011) and Zalasiewicz et al. (2011).  Steffen, Will, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen, and John McNeill.  “The Anthropocene:  Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.”  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.  A 369 (2011):  842-867.  DOI:  10.1098/rsta.2010.0327.  Zalasiewicz, Jan, Mark Williams, Richard Fortey, Alan Smith, Tiffany L. Barry, Angela L. Coe, Paul R. Bown, Peter F. Rawson, Andrew Gale, Philip Gibbard, F. John Gregory, Mark W. Hounslow, Andrew C. Kerr, Paul Pearson, Robert Knox, John Powell, Colin Waters, John Marshall, Michael Oates, and Philip Stone.  “Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene.”  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Lon.  A 369 (2011):  1036-1055.  DOI:  10.1098/rsta.2010.0315.

[5] Peter d’Errico’s archival research was key in finding proof of Britain’s smallpox plans and Amherst’s culpability.  For a detailed account of the pertinent letters, see d’Errico, Peter.  “Jeffery Amherst and Smallpox Blankets.”  Web.  2017.

[6] Amherst to Bouquet, 16 July 1763, BL Add MSS 21634, f.323.  See also The Journals of Jeffery Amherst, 1757-1763.  Ed. Robert J. Andrews.  Michigan State University Press, 2015.  Vol. 15.  322.

[7] Amherst to Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of the Northern Indian Department.  9 July 1763.  Amherst, Jeffrey.  The Journals of Jeffery Amherst, 1757-1763.  Ed. Robert J. Andrews.  Michigan State University Press, 2015.

[8] This tension over the land plays out in another register today. Amherst is a figure still embarrassingly celebrated by Parks Canada today.  The name of the Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site in Prince Edward Island was recently challenged by Mi’kmaq elders and the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.  Yet despite these calls for the national historic site to have Amherst’s name removed, Parks Canada decided to leave it and simply add a Mi’kmaq name:  Skmaqn, which means “the waiting place.”  Ironically, we still wait for reclamation.

[9] Colonel Henry Bouquet to General Amherst, 29 June 1763.

[10] Nick Allred’s contribution to this collection also attends to Locke’s theory of property, but it does not address the key role of labour in Lockean property theory and its relation to colonial violence.  Katherine Binhammer’s contribution, drawing on Adam Smith rather than Locke, acknowledges the colonial violence that comes with the addiction to economic growth.

[11] Locke, John.  Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration.  Ed. Ian Shapiro.  Yale University Press, 2003.  §32; Two Treatises 113.

[12] Also in the Second Treatise, Locke grants that Indigenous hunters claim property over their goods, such as the deer they have killed (his example) because they have “bestowed [their] labour upon it” but does not extend to them a property claim of the land as, per his definition, no labour has been exerted (Second Treatise §30; Two Treatises 112).

[13] Helbig, Louis.  Beautiful Destruction.  Rocky Mountain Books, 2014, 57.

[14] Lewis, Simon, and Mark Maslin.  “Defining the Anthropocene.”  Nature 519 (12 March 2015), 177.

[15] GSSP is a Global Stratotype Section and Point, a specific date and primary marker (aka, “golden spike”) for any significant change in the Earth system.

[16] “The accompanying near-cessation of farming and reduction in fire use resulted in the regeneration of over 50 million hectares of forest, woody savanna and grassland” (Lewis and Maslin [2015] 175).

[17] J. R. McNeill claims the Anthropocene is the “specter . . . haunting academia” (117).  Neill, J. R.  “Introductory Remarks:  The Anthropocene and the Eighteenth Century.”  Eighteenth-Century Studies 49.2 (2016): 117-128.

[18] Todd, Zoe.  “Indigenizing the Anthropocene” in Art in the Anthropocene:  Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies.  Ed. Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin.  London:  Open Humanities Press, 2015, 243.

[19] Chandler, David and Julian Reid.  “‘Being in Being’:  Contesting the Ontopolitics of Indigeneity.”  The European Legacy 23.3 (2018):  254.  DOI:  10.1080/10848770.2017.1420284

[20] Chandler and Reid, “‘Being in Being,'” 257.

[21] Chandler and Reid, “‘Being in Being,'” 259.

[22] Shotwell, Alexis.  Against Purity:  Living in Ethically Compromised Times.  University of Minnesota Press, 2016, 38.

[23] Quoted in Shotwell, 36.

[24] Tsing, Anna.  The Mushroom at the End of the World:  On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.  Princeton University Press, 2015, 33.

Theory of Mind, Cognitive Cultural Studies, and Eighteenth-Century Literature

Henry Robert Morland, Woman Reading by a Paper-Bell Shade (1766), Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

In 2012, literary scholar Natalie Phillips and a team of scientists at Stanford published the results of a study in which they used fMRI to track brain activity in subjects reading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) in either a leisurely or a critical, attentive manner.  Their innovative research, which prompted a flurry of provocative “This is Your Brain on Jane Austen” headlines, demonstrated that close, attentive reading activates different regions of the brain than leisurely reading and engages parts of the brain far beyond those responsible for executive function.  These findings, in turn, led Phillips to conclude both that “paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions” and that “teaching close, critical reading could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.” [1]

Phillips’s multi-disciplinary research grew out of her study of Enlightenment writers who address theories of attention and distraction and who explore what neuroscientists call “cognitive control,” the ability to control and order attention in responsive, context-dependent ways in order to meet specific goals or draw logical conclusions.  In Distraction:  Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature (2016), Phillips analyzes the eighteenth-century cultural preoccupation with distraction and attentiveness and challenges our assumption that distraction is a uniquely twenty-first-century problem.  She also suggests that the eighteenth century’s “competing theories of attention . . . transformed the shape of eighteenth-century literature” and require a modified and more complex understanding of the genesis of the novel genre (9). [2]  Phillips employs a cognitive cultural approach to literary texts, an interpretive method that applies findings from the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to explain how readers interpret literary texts and to understand how literature can provide valuable insight into human cognition, emotion, and social behavior.

My own research examining literature in light of recent findings in cognitive psychology and neuroscience arose out of my persistent sense that eighteenth-century writers seem stubbornly preoccupied with describing and representing the human brain in the process of interpreting, understanding, and evaluating its own thoughts and the thoughts of others.  Eighteenth-century writers’ attention to literary texts’ emotional and moral effects on readers; awareness of the “embodied brain”; exploration of psychological interiority; and preoccupation with what cognitive psychologists call “Theory of Mind,” or the ability to “explain observable behavior in terms of underlying thoughts, feelings, desires, and intentions” (Zunshine 195) all attest to the relevance of cognitive cultural studies in analyzing eighteenth-century literary texts. [3]  Indeed, I would argue that eighteenth-century literature cannot be fully understood or appreciated without a consideration of shifting Enlightenment concepts of cognition, consciousness, self-fashioning, and social awareness.

Phillips’s research, part of a growing body of scholarship that examines eighteenth-century literary texts through the lens of cognitive neuroscience, reflects the fact that, roughly around the publication of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), literary texts began to display and represent layered, complex depictions of Theory of Mind and to rely on the assumption that readers must interpret both written texts and physical bodies for information about “underlying thoughts, feelings, desire, and intentions” (Zunshine 64). [4]  I argue that eighteenth-century literature is a particularly rich and fertile field to explore for information about how the human brain interprets itself and the behavior of others, and offer here four characteristics of the period that intersect with or require the concepts, aims, and practices of cognitive cultural studies:

(1.)  The period’s awareness of and deliberate focus on the written word’s cognitive, emotional, and moral effects on the reader.

Self-reflective and self-referencing prologues, epilogues, dedications, periodical essays, treatises, and letters from the period reveal a persistent eighteenth-century assumption that literature can induce powerful cognitive and moral effects on readers.  In addition, many writers from the period display a remarkably sophisticated understanding of the cognitive process of the act of reading, a common area of inquiry within the field of cognitive literary and linguistic studies.  For instance, Joseph Addison’s thoughtful investigation of the intricate relationship between pre-existing cognitive constructs (“Ideas”), linguistic signs (“Words”), and mental images (“Scenes”), closely parallels the research of cognitive linguists such as Joseph Grady, Gillis Fauconnier and Mark Turner, and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, who assert that the mind creates meaning through systems of conceptual and analogical mapping or blending. [5]

(2.)  The period’s growing awareness of the reality of the “embodied brain,” or the close association between mental and physical states.

In their text Brain, Mind and Medicine:  Essays in Eighteenth-Century Neuroscience (2007), Harry Whitaker, C. U. M. Smith, and Stanley Finger delineate the gradual shift from the simple “clockwork,” “animal spirits,” and “hollow conduit” models of brain and nerve function to more sophisticated models, first posited by Thomas Willis in 1672, which locate “spirit” in “matter” (17 – 18). [6]  One of the most striking features of the late-eighteenth-century preoccupation with sensibility is its underlying assumption that the physical body directly, immediately, and intimately reflects states of mind, including emotions, thoughts, and levels of consciousness, an assumption shared by cognitive cultural critics who accept the concept of the embodied brain.

(3.)  The period’s cultural and literary shift toward the exploration and representation of psychological interiority.

In Before Novels:  The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (1990), J. Paul Hunter asserts, “The crucial difference between individuals in romances and novels involves the degree and quality of self-consciousness in novels, a strikingly different awareness of the processes of thought and feeling that affect individuals in relation to their world and their experiences in it” (24). [7]  This highly-refined sense of subjectivity and self-conscious awareness, frequently noted by readers and critics of eighteenth-century novels, depends upon and reflects an increasing interest in psychological interiority, or an awareness both of one’s own private, embodied, cognitive space and one’s reflection in the minds of others.

(4.)  Finally, the period’s preoccupation with what cognitive literary and cultural critics call “Theory of Mind.”

The concept of Theory of Mind seems particularly relevant to analyses of eighteenth-century novels.  Indeed, most cognitive literary critics accept that the period represents what Blakey Vermeule calls “the beginnings of . . . the high mind-reading tradition in the English novel” (129). [8]  Eighteenth-century readers accepted fictional characters as realistic representations of human thought and behavior, revealing their willingness to draw conclusions about the psychological interiority of fictional characters and practice and refine their own Theory of Mind, a set of interpretive skills equally useful in both real and literary contexts.

If recent publication history provides any insight into future trends, the marriage between cognitive cultural studies and eighteenth-century literary scholarship will not only persist but will thrive and prompt further innovative literary exploration.  For instance, Karin Kukkonen’s A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics (2017) uncovers and examines a neoclassical equivalent of cognitive poetics and demonstrates how eighteenth-century writers constructed a “principled, multi-faceted account of how literature entangles and delights the mind” (xi). [9]  And Wendy Jones’s Jane on the Brain:  Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen (2017), written for a popular audience, offers an engaging and accessible exploration of Austen’s novels through the lenses of cognitive, social, and evolutionary psychology. [10]  Ultimately, scholars of eighteenth-century literature are drawn to the discipline of cognitive cultural studies not simply because it offers innovative approaches literary analysis but because the period’s writers themselves are preoccupied with and fascinated by the way the human mind interprets and makes sense of the world.  Eighteenth-century authors depict in explicit and complex ways the cognitive processes by which we strive to understand others and ourselves.

[1] Corrie Goldman, “This is Your Brain on Jane Austen, and Researchers are Taking Notes,” The Humanities at Stanford, September 7, 2012.

[2] Natalie M. Phillips, Distraction:  Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature.  Baltimore:  John Hopkins University Press, 2016.

[3] Lisa Zunshine, “Theories of Mind and Experimental Representations of Fictional Consciousness.”  Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies.  Ed. Lisa Zunshine.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010:  193 – 213.

[4] Lisa Zunshine, “Theory of Mind and Fictions of Embodied Transparency.”  Theory of Mind and Literature.  Ed. Paula Leverage, Howard Mancing, Richard Schweickert, and Jennifer Marston William.  West Lafayette, IN:  Purdue University Press, 2011:  63 – 92.

[5] Joseph Addison, The Spectator.  No. 411 and No. 412.  “The Pleasures of the Imagination.”  The Commerce of Everyday Life:  Selections from the Tatler and The Spectator.  Ed. Erin Mackie.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 1998:  387 – 393.

[6] Harry Whitaker, C. U. M. Smith, and Stanley Finger, eds.  Brain, Mind and Medicine:  Essays in Eighteenth-Century Neuroscience.  New York:  Springer Press, 2007.

[7] J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels:  The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 1990.

[8] Blakey Vermeule, Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

[9] Karen Kukkonen, A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics:  Neoclassicism and the Novel.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2017.

[10] Wendy Jones, Jane on the Brain:  Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen.  New York: Pegasus, 2017.

Jane Austen Summer Program Presents “Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein: 200 Years of Horror”

This summer more than 100 people, from readers to writers to scholars, will gather at the sixth-annual Jane Austen Summer Program to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Attendees of “Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein:  200 Years of Horror” will have the opportunity to hear expert speakers and participate in discussion groups on the gothic-inspired novels.  They also will partake in an English tea, dance at a Regency-style masquerade ball, attend Austen-inspired theatricals, and visit special exhibits tailored to the conference.

Hosted by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and JASNA-NC, the events will take place from June 14 to 17, 2018 at the Hampton Inn in Carrboro and at various locations on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC.  The program discussions will consider the two classic novels in their historical contexts as well as their afterlives in fiction and film.  Program Director Inger Brodey notes, “both Austen in Northanger Abbey and Shelley in Frankenstein react eloquently to the gothic taste in literature and have similar commentary on the frightening results of the French Revolution.  Bringing the authors’ works together will allow us to explore their revolutionary legacy, both in terms of literary innovation and social change.”

Participants old and new praise the program’s educational mission, along with its innovation and focus on community-building.  “The conference on Mansfield Park was my first experience of JASP—and now I’m hooked!,” says Vicky Brandt.  “It’s a wonderful idea to open up an academic conference to the interested public:  everyone should be able to experience the loving inquiry that is the heart of scholarship.  All the presentations were enlightening; the small group discussions lively and insightful; the Saturday evening Regency ball almost as beautiful to watch as the ones we see on film.  In short, I can think of no better way to describe it than with Austen’s own words:  ‘the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.’”  Pamela Martin, a recipient of the program’s teacher scholarship, adds, “I found the Jane Austen Summer Program to be one of the most inspirational events I have ever attended.  It was refreshing and rewarding to be a part of an academic exchange of ideas for a bit, and bask in the glory of just learning for learning sake!”

For more program information, to see comments and photos from previous programs, or to register, please visit the program’s website janeaustensummer.org or follow the program at facebook.com/janeaustensummer or via twitter, @JASPhotline.  You may also contact us at [email protected]

Middle- and high-school teachers are encouraged to visit the website for information on available scholarships and continuing education credits.

Media interested in attending the program and interviewing the participants should reach out to Suzanna Geiser at [email protected] or (919) 848-3454.

(Original piece provided by Carlie Wetzel, SITES Lab, UNC-CH).