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Lives in Relation:
An interdisciplinary conference on life writing

30 October 2009, University of Lincoln

This conference responds to the burgeoning critical interest in life writing over a range of disciplines. Life writing has recently been considered not only as a literary form but also as a historical source, a cinematic genre, and a key site for identity formation. Within this discourse, there has been a shift away from the traditional emphasis on the autonomous individual who stands out of his or her milieu. Lives are considered in relation in order to explore the communal function of self-representations, the impact of group affiliations on personal identity, and life writing's status as a social, political, or religious practice. In light of this development, this conference seeks to address the relationship between personal expression and representative selfhood, individualism and social being, private histories and collective memories in a range of both textual and visual modes.

My Paper:

Title: 'Virginal Lives:  Elizabeth I and Eighteenth Century Women Writers'


The paper will examine the self-representation and romantic representation of Elizabeth I, and the ways in which unmarried women writers in the late eighteenth century allied themselves to one or the other of these representations.  It will first investigate the differences between these two "versions" of Elizabeth I.  Her own self-projection as a 'Prince' of masculine heart and mind, but with feminine charms and alluring sexuality (as evident in her speeches, letters and poems), which will be contrasted with the Romantic portrayal of the Queen, which was often quite critical and over-emphasised and elaborated her femininity, domestic inclinations and passion.  It will also survey the various pastoral settings and erotic aspects of this later representation.  The paper will then explore the impact of both these representations on women writers, such as Joanna Baillie.  I will suggest that these writers may have felt drawn to either of these representations of the Queen, as they could directly identify with her virginal, yet public, status.  It will further argue that they, like Elizabeth I, may have portrayed themselves as sexually available, and certainly did not shy away from erotic subjects, in spite of their virginity.  In so doing, I will examine references of sexuality, domesticity and masculinity in the poems, plays and letters of these women.