Benjamin Colbert, Co-Director of CTTR, delivered the opening keynote address at the Chawton House Library conference, Reputations, Legacies, Futures: Jane Austen, Germaine de Staël and their Contemporaries, on Thursday, 13 July 2017. Celebrating the bicentenary of the deaths of Austen and Staël – the one who would become one of the most famous novelists in England and the other who enjoyed celebrity status throughout Europe in her own day – the conference took as its theme the cross-channel literary and cultural relationships that flourished in their era and which form a principal context for appreciating their works.
Colbert’s keynote, ‘Lady Morgan’s France en France, 1817-1830: “The book, which one must run to read”‘, took up another landmark work, also 200 years old, namely the controversial best-selling travel book of Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, whose earlier novels had earned her celebrity status in Britain and France. Morgan was sometimes identified as ‘the Irish de Staël’ and referred to Staël herself in France as ‘the most distinguished woman of the age’, but, unlike Staël, Morgan drew fire from critics and reviewers on both sides of the channel for her defence of revolutionary and Napoleonic reforms and for, as a woman, writing on politics at all. Even her own translator cut out ‘objectionable’ passages and carried on a critical dialogue with her through his translator’s notes, following all of this with a book-length refutation and a concerted campaign against her influence in France. Colbert’s keynote considered the larger shape of this cultural reception as well as Morgan’s development of a counter-history in which her travel writings broach ‘truths which history trembles to narrate’.
A second keynote address was delivered by Professor Alison Finch, University of Cambridge, on ‘Staël, Austen and the Politics of the Bildungsroman’, and Deirdre Lynch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University, concluded the conference with ‘The Unwritten History of the Woman of Genius’.