Excursion Report: CRECS Goes Gothic at Strawberry Hill House, 16 May 2017

Horace Walpole, painted by John Giles Eccardt in 1754.

On 1 March, 2015 the Walpole Trust reopened Strawberry Hill House to the public. As the former home of Horace Walpole, famed (and famously eccentric) author of the first Gothic novel, the house has been a popular tourist destination since it was first built up in 1749.

At noon on 16 May 2017, twenty-three students and scholars from Cardiff University stepped blinking into the parking lot of Strawberry Hill House, out of the darkened bus that had carried them from rainy Wales. The weather in Twickenham was hardly Gothic-appropriate, but since the tour of the house had been arranged for the late afternoon, we had several hours to eat our bag lunches, stretch our legs in Strawberry Hill’s gardens, and snag a leisurely drink along the sunny banks of the Thames. By the time we returned to the House at 4pm, the group was happy, slightly sunburnt and ready to be thrilled, amazed and educated about Walpole’s ‘little Gothic castle’. Continue reading

Report on first Annual CRECS Conference, 17 May 2016

On Tuesday 17 May 2016, Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) opened its doors to welcome the attendees of the first annual CRECS student conference.

After partaking in a welcome hot beverage—at a safe distance from the special collections of course!—the morning was devoted to student papers. These papers were delivered by a wide array of students from second year undergraduates to third year postgraduate researchers. The atmosphere was splendid, everyone delivered fantastically confident and supremely interesting papers on topics from counterfeiting coinage to memory in Wordsworth. For myself, what struck me as a common theme of all the papers was a demonstration of the richness of eighteenth-century language, and the complexities it yields. From the emotive rhetoric of court cases to the poetics of Ann Yearsley, Hannah More and William Wordsworth, from the complex doubleness of gothic rhetoric to the voice of the traveller in Welsh and Scottish tours, the presentations captured the richness and diversity of the period. For many student delegates, it was their first experience delivering a conference paper and you could not have asked for a more supportive and engaged audience. All the students have been invited to publish their papers on this blog so watch this space! Continue reading

Report on Leverhulme Lecture by Tim Stretton: Stepmothers at Law in the Long 18th Century, 29 Feb 2016

CRECS was delighted to welcome Tim Stretton, Professor of History at St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia, for his Leverhulme Lecture on ‘Stepmothers at Law in the Long Eighteenth Century’. The concept of the ‘wicked stepmother’ is one which we cannot help be culturally aware of. Tim’s talk was an opportunity for us to delve into the complexities of family law and how the figure of the step-mother was integrated into such legal practises. Continue reading

Leverhulme Lecture by Tim Stretton: Stepmothers at Law in the Long 18th Century, 29 Feb 2016

Stepmothers at Law in the Long Eighteenth Century

Tim Stretton, St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia

Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor, Cardiff University

A Leverhulme Lecture supported by the Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth-Century Seminar (CRECS) and the School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE)

Monday 29 February 2016, 5.15pm
Room 2.01, John Percival Building, Cardiff University

CRECS is delighted to host a public lecture from Tim Stretton, Professor of History at St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia. Come along on Monday 29 February to hear about his current research on the cultural image and legal status of the stepmother in Britain over the long eighteenth century—a topic that will appeal to all historians and literary scholars interested in intersections between law, gender, and kinship. In Tim’s own words:

The focus of my research is the legal position of married women in the English past, tracing the Common Law idea of ‘coverture’ over many centuries, prior to the dismantling of most of its effects between the 1870s and 1925. Under coverture, most of a wife’s legal autonomy was ‘covered’ by her husband’s, so that she could not independently hold or enjoy property, and without his permission she could not enter into contracts, take part in lawsuits or write a will. This curtailing of a married woman’s legal independence was more severe than under any other comparable legal regime in Europe. And yet in practice a number of women managed to wield power, use equitable devices such as trusts to maintain control of property, and make use of legal exceptions to evade coverture’s worst effects.

Against this backdrop of harsh rules and a more flexible reality, the figure of the stepmother provides an interesting case study for examining female autonomy, male fears, and the cultural (as well as legal and economic) effects of law.

In this paper I will reflect on some of the practical problems stepmothers faced; the fears that they raised in heirs and other family members (seen in the curious English rule excluding ‘half bloods’ from inheriting from their ‘full blood’ siblings) and some of the undercurrents that might help explain (or complicate) broad changes in attitudes to stepmothers over time.

As ever, the lecture will be followed by an opportunity to ask the speaker questions and engage in debate, and also by a wine reception. We hope you can make it!

For more details, please email Dr Sophie Coulombeau (coulombeaus@cardiff.ac.uk).