We present a report by Ruby Hawley-Sibbett from the latest ‘Romantic Novels 1818‘ seminar which took place in July 2018. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich.
You can see details of upcoming seminars in the series here.
Seminar: Andy McInnes on ‘The Death of the Authoress in Susan Ferrier’s Marriage’ by Ruby Hawley-Sibbett
Andy McInnes delivered a thought-provoking seminar which focused on suspicion towards female literary authority in Ferrier’s first novel. McInnes began by considering how we read Marriage in 2018, including the minor revival of interest sparked by bicentenary events and the writer Val McDermid. McDermid’s observation that while Scott considered Ferrier his ‘sister shadow’, she is now overshadowed by him, was juxtaposed with Leah Price’s criticism of the use of Ferrier for national or gender balance in literary historical narratives. As well as Ferrier’s status as a shadow of Scott and of Austen, McInnes also discussed her work as sharing qualities with Edgeworth’s national tales.
McInnes highlighted that Marriage features many potential author figures, but also that Ferrier appears suspicious of the term authoress, leading him to argue that Ferrier begins to marginalise the woman writer, thus undoing the work of the Scottish national tale. McInnes compared Juliet Shields’ position in From Family Roots to the Routes of Empire: National Tales and the Domestication of the Scottish Highlands with that of Ian Duncan in Scott’s Shadow, but he challenged their reading of hybridisation in Ferrier as a potential way of reconciling the British nation, suggesting this view is too idealised.
Close reading of the passage relating to the authoress ‘Mrs Blanque’ in Bath, added by Ferrier to the 1841 text, led McInnes to argue that Ferrier was looking back at the situation of female authorship in 1818 and considering the vogue for anonymity, as an anonymous author herself. Alongside the ‘Mrs Bluemitts’ episode, this led McInnes to the conclusion that Ferrier was antagonistic to the public facing roles of authorship, applying Kowaleski-Wallace’s idea of the ‘scapegoating’ of women. Introducing Barthian ideas, McInnes considered whether Ferrier’s focus on reader relationships also demonstrates suspicion of authorship.
This led to an engaging group discussion which covered national hybridity and potentially Utopian Britishness, suspicion of authorial power in other Romantic novels, and the ways in which our impatience with anonymity remains evident in 2018.