Seminar: Ancient and modern love, 31 January 2019

by | Dec 19, 2018 | Blog, Seminar 18/19 | 0 comments

Please join us for our first seminar of the semester, featuring two twenty-minute presentations and discussion. All welcome!

Thursday, 31 January 2019, 5pm – 6.30pm

Christie Room, The John Rylands Library

‘Love letters and erotic letter: Antiquity and beyond’

Dr Owen Hodkinson (Leeds, Classics)

In this talk I will outline the new interdisciplinary Research Network project ‘Love Letters and Erotic Letter: Antiquity and Beyond’ (Co-Investigators: Owen Hodkinson, Leeds; Anna Tiziana Drago, Bari). The ancient love letter and erotic letter genre(s) are the focus of increasing attention in recent years, but this research tends to be concentrated on a few texts among many, and the researchers are widely dispersed, both geographically and sometimes in their disciplinary ‘homes’. This research project aims to consolidate and build upon developing work, and to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations, both within the subdisciplines of Classics (including but not limited to philology, ancient history, and papyrology) and beyond (modern and Renaissance literatures, classical reception studies and comparative literature, history of sexuality).

‘”I am not on the footing of kept women”: Non-marital relationships in eighteenth-century England’

Dr Kate Gibson (Manchester, History)

This paper examines the 27 letters of one woman, known only by her initials ‘E.B.’ Now preserved in Northumberland County Record Office, the letters indicate the experience of a woman engaged in a non-marital sexual relationship in eighteenth-century England. Women like E.B. and their relationships are often hidden in a historical record that prioritises the remembrance of women through their marital status. Most existing studies of non-marital relationships use poor law and church court material, which emphasise exploitation, social ostracism and economic precariousness. The use of love letters for evidence prioritises the voices of women who were actually in non-marital relationships, rather than those who sought to police them. I emphasise how women constructed their own identities as women who were not wives, how they negotiated the association of non-marital sex with sin and lack of feeling, and their exercise of agency. I suggest that some women consciously chose non-marital relationships, considering them to be economically and emotionally fulfilling, and not at all shameful. The paper will delineate the extent to which the legal obligations and restrictions of marriage were the main influence on women’s status and relationships with men, reassessing historiographical emphasis on marriage as key to women’s social and economic status, as well as the operation of patriarchy. I suggest that women did not always present chastity as a significant aspect of their gendered identity, and that they could appropriate and manipulate mainstream ideals of marriage and family life within non-marital contexts.


For more information, please contact Dr Alice Marples (




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