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Open Digital Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies 4: Wednesday 15th July 2020

Open Digital Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies 4: Wednesday 15th July 2020

4pm BST; 11am EDT; 8am PDT

Sign-up closes on Monday 13th July

Freya Gowrley, University of Derby

Dr Freya Gowrley is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in History at the University of Derby. Her monograph, Domestic Space in Britain, c.1750-1840: Materiality, Sociability & Emotion is forthcoming from Bloomsbury Academic, and she has published articles in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Journal 18, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction.

Anna Seward and the Poetics of Exchange: Portraiture, Poetry and Gift Culture

This paper unpacks the complex networks of emotional, artistic, and poetic exchange that surrounded a highly emotional portrait-object: a printed version of George Romney’s painting Serena given to Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831)—the so-called ‘Ladies of Llangollen’—by the poet Anna Seward (1742-1809). Seward identified the image as a ‘perfect similitude’ of her deceased step-sister Honora Sneyd, so much so that the print played an active role in Seward’s commemoration of their lost friendship. Like Butler and Ponsonby’s own infamous ‘romantic friendship’, Seward and Sneyd enjoyed an intensely close and deeply affectionate relationship that flouted social norms, with both Sneyd’s marriage to Richard Edgeworth in 1751, and her eventual death in 1780, devastating the poet.

Discussing both Seward’s copy of the print, as well as Butler and Ponsonby’s facsimile, this paper places the image within two contexts: firstly, in relation to Seward’s volume of poetry, Llangollen Vale with Other Poems (1796), a sentimentalising series of verses dedicated to Seward’s intimate relationships with Butler, Ponsonby, and Sneyd; and secondly, within an intricate display of gifted portraits at Plas Newydd, Butler and Ponsonby’s home at Llangollen in Wales. Using methodologies from the history of the emotions, material culture and literary studies, and art history it will demonstrate the image’s deep embedment within Seward’s emotional and creative consciousness: on the one hand, allowing Seward to actively ruminate and comment upon her close connections with Sneyd, Butler, and Ponsonby; and on the other, functioning within a dynamic web of literary, material, and loving gestures enacted between Seward and her friends. In so doing, the paper will highlight the vibrant intermedial lives of this eighteenth-century print, and the urgency of an interdisciplinary approach to the art of this period.

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