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"Romantic Biographies": Writing Lives and Afterlives, c.1770-1835.

The Early Careers and Postgraduate Conference for The British Association for Romantic Studies.

8 May 2009

Research Institute for the Humanities, Keele University

"As little more than an infant, he was walking through a graveyard with his sister, Mary, ten years his senior, and reading the epitaphs on the universally belauded dead – for he was a precocious reader, who, it is said, 'knew his letters before he could talk'. As he came away, he turned to his sister and asked: 'Mary, where are the naughty people buried?' This, we may be sure, though a joke to the reader, was not uttered as a joke by the small child" – Robert Lynd on Charles Lamb.

My Paper:

Title:  Sex Lives of Women Writers in the Late Eighteenth Century

Abstract:  The paper will briefly examine the complex attitude surrounding the female body and female sexuality, which reached a crisis point during the late eighteenth century, as notions of the female body were thrown into doubt following a number of medical discoveries.  It will explore the sex lives of two significant female writers from this period: Charlotte Smith- a “knowing” mother of twelve children (nine of whom survived infancy) with highly regarded ties to the domestic; and Mary Robinson- actress and highly sexualized public woman, who was infamous for her affairs with prestigious men.  The sex lives of these women will then be contrasted with the representation of the female body and female sexuality in a number of their novels.  Their ideas will be compared, revealing a similar attitude to sex and desire- one that confronts and challenges the growing crisis surrounding female sexuality and offers a means by which women can live a full and healthy life: both sexual and virtuous.  The paper will be concluded with a brief review of contemporary representations of female sexuality (by female writers) in order to gauge whether Smith’s and Robinson’s attitude was unique- or part of a wider movement to defend female sexuality.  

'North-West Long Nineteenth-Century Seminar Series'


Council Chamber of Manchester’s Central Library

1st July 2009


Jan Golinski (University of New Hampshire) ‘Revolution in the Public Mind: The Irish Science of Richard Kirwan’

Amber Regis (Keele University) ‘Erasing Digression from the Memoirs of John Addington Symonds’

Brian Maidment (University of Salford) ‘The Morphology of Mishap - London “Miseries” 1810-1850’

Francesca Scott (University of Warwick), ‘'Mary Robinson, Charlotte Smith and the Sexual Female Body'’

My Paper:


Title:  Mary Robinson, Charlotte Smith and the Sexual Female Body