1. Radclyffe Hall / Jana Funke
Radclyffe Hall‘s 1928 novel about lesbianism, The Well of Loneliness, was the subject of articles in the tabloid Daily Express, then tried and found obscene in a London court. Its scandalous public life ensured the novel’s prominent place in queer literary history. But Hall’s writing and life speak to us, today, for many reasons. With Jana Funke of Exeter University, who has spoken about queer writing and history on BBC Radio and elsewhere, we focus on the relationships among Hall’s life and writing, fiction, print culture, and queer culture of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
Colour cover of Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness, Penguin Modern Classics edition, 2015
2. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu / Isobel Grundy
How do we identify the development of feminist writing before the beginnings of the formal movement? This episode’s subject is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). She declared “I am a woman” in her first volume of poetry, written when she was 14, and later and forged her ideas about women’s agency via poems, a romance, and her own periodical. Montagu also played a key role in bringing smallpox inoculation practices to London from women medical practitioners in Istanbul (then Constantinople). We’re joined by Isobel Grundy, University of Alberta, who recently spoke about Montagu on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Colour painting, “Portrait of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,” by Charles Jervas after 1716, photographed by the Yorck Project
3. Bola Agbaje / Kanika Batra
Beginning with her breakout play Gone Too Far! (2007), Bola Agbaje has used her writing to explore themes of pressure and belonging in British-Nigerian communities, partly via collaborations with mainstream and experimental theatre groups including the Royal Court Theatre, Talawa Theatre Company, and Young Vic Theatre. In this episode we speak with Kanika Batra of Texas Tech University, who identifies how Agbaje’s plays illuminates intersections of the local and global along with various manifestations of Blackness in contemporary British culture, and tells us why Detaining Justice (2009) is a standout text in Agbaje’s body of work.
Colour portrait of Bola Agbaje, shot by Dujonna
4. Lady Hester Pulter / Alice Eardley
In this episode we explore archival writing of the seventeenth century, a time marked by the political turmoil of the English Civil Wars, radical developments in scientific enquiry, and changes to the social status of women. With Alice Eardley of Activate Learning, we discuss the life and poetry of Lady Hester Pulter, who leveraged her confessional style and manuscript texts to address some of the most pressing issues confronting early modern Britain.
Colour cover of Pulter’s Poems, Emblems, and The Unfortunate Florinda, volume edited by Alice Eardley for Iter Press, 2014
5. Margaret Paston / Diane Watt
Margaret Paston was a prolific letter writer during the War of the Roses. The Paston Letters, currently held in the British Library, were written by four generations of this well-off Norfolk family, and span almost the whole fifteenth century. In this time of conflict, the land-owning family may have kept close track of their papers in part for legal reasons. We talk with Diane Watt of the University of Surrey about Margaret Paston’s life within her family along with her epistolary writing, which caught the attention of Virginia Woolf and many others over time.
Colour cover of The Paston Women: Selected Letters, volume edited by Diane Watt for Boydell and Brewer, 2004
6. Phillis Wheatley / Tara Bynum
Tara Bynum (University of Iowa) joins us for an exploration of the writing and life of Phillis Wheatley, who also chose to be known as Phillis Peters, in this episode.
Wheatley is best known as a poet, and it is easy to see her as the first point in a lineage of black American women poets stretching on to Amanda Gorman in the twenty-first century. But Bynum makes a compelling case for a fuller portrait of Wheatley, seeing her also as a letter writer in multiple currents of late- eighteenth-century history.
Colour cover of Wheatley’s Complete Writings, published by Penguin Classics, 2001
7. Mary Seacole / Alisha Walters
A Jamaican-British nurse and writer , Mary Seacole used her medical skills to help the soldiers whom she called “her sons” during the Crimean War. She wrote her story in the Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1858).
Seacole was well-known in the nineteenth century but has only re-emerged recently as an important historical figure and writer. We talk with Alisha Walters of the Pennsylvania State University about the reception of Seacole’s writing and what intrigues her about Seacole and her work.
Photograph of Mary Seacole portrait, painted by Albert Charles Challen c. 1869, photographer unknown
8. Jane and Anna Maria Porter / Devoney Looser
In this episode we talk to Devoney Looser (Arizona State University) about Jane and Anna Maria Porter, two phenomenally successful sister novelists who were better known than their contemporary, Jane Austen, in their day. Between them, the Porter sisters wrote more more than two dozen books. Many of them were early instances of the historical novel, in settings ranging from fourteenth century Scotland to seventeenth century Norway. We discuss Looser’s forthcoming monograph on the Porters, Sister Novelists (Bloomsbury, Fall 2022) and the place of Orlando in her research.
Cover of Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës, to be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2022