PhD candidate in English wins ASECS Graduate Student Research Essay Prize

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Kelly Plante, a PhD candidate in the Department of English, has won the 2021 Graduate Student Research Essay Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies for her essay entitled "'“Equipped herself in the habit of a man': Exposing Empire in The Female Spectator." Each year, this prestigious award recognizes one pioneering research essay written by an up-and-coming scholar of eighteenth-century studies. To learn more about Kelly's exciting work, read the abstract below!

“Equipped herself in the habit of a man”: Exposing Empire in The Female Spectator

No longer is Eliza Haywood’s work read solely for its amatory pleasures; scholarship such as Kathryn King’s A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood continues to explore connections between Haywood’s domestic fiction and her hard-to-pin-down politics. Furthermore, Haywood’s fiction is no longer (always) favored over her nonfiction. Ever since Pickering & Chatto’s acclaimed edition of The Female Spectator, critical interest has renewed in what is commonly understood as the first modern periodical by a woman for women. However, the increase in scholarship on Haywood and her political views and on The Female Spectator has not fully addressed the politically savvy ways in which The Female Spectator comments upon English colonial expansion. My paper analyzes The Female Spectator’s reappropriation of the dominant rhetoric of war and its concomitant appropriation of the female image in order to encourage empire expansion in the form of the ubiquitous “warrior woman” trope, such as occurs in at least 113 popular broadside ballads, with which, I argue, Haywood certainly was familiar. Haywood reappropriates the warrior woman trope in The Female Spectator in order for it to serve—realistically, not romantically/ideally—her readership. Scholars have identified the ways in which Haywood critiqued conduct-book heroines, but little has been written regarding Haywood’s critique of the warrior woman. My paper analyzes the letter-to-the-editor in which a woman, jilted by her lover, a captain in the British Royal Navy, cross-dresses as a cabin-boy to follow him abroad—but never makes it past the port town. (Unruly sailors grab her breast and uncover her femininity; her family finds out and she retreats to the country unmarried). Not only does this letter and the Female Spectator’s weighing-in on it display a nuanced take on a page-turning tale, but it also sheds new light on Haywood’s subtle, politically savvy engagement with the connections between domestic entanglements and the dominant rhetoric of war. In conclusion, this paper sheds new light on the rarely acknowledged connections between Haywood, gender, sexuality, and empire.

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