Bloody Histories: A Productive and Thought-Provoking Discussion

This Wednesday saw the second Gendered Lives research seminar, with talks from Dr Tim Reinke-Williams (Senior Lecturer in History, Northampton) and Dr Sara Read (Lecturer in English, Loughborough). Tim’s talk took as its starting point the way that the wounded male body has been theorised as porous or leaky, and thus, by implication, as in some way feminised by the experience of wounding or blood-letting. To complicate this model, the paper drew our attention to the fact that such theories of the body rest largely on representations of wounding in seventeenth-century drama, whereas more personal texts such as letters (particularly of the civil war period), tend to present wounds and scarring as denoting exceptional bravery, thus proving, rather than problematising, the injured man’s masculinity. Religious poetry written by women after miscarrying was the subject of Sara’s discussion; in it, she drew a fascinating comparison between the experience of bodily suffering and devotional practice in seventeenth-century life writing. Arguing that their faith gave these women a way of understanding their physical pain as a form of divine love, Sara suggested that many of the writers under discussion believed that ‘the more bodily suffering she experienced the more enlightened she would become’. Both talks drew on a wide range of sources, from legal documents and private letters through to devotional poetry, to explore how gendered bodily ordeals were understood as speaking to larger social and religious concerns in the period. Pairing two speakers from different disciplines (History and English) made for a fascinating Q and A session, in which the differing analytic frameworks used by the speakers engaged in a productive and thought-provoking way. After a lively discussion, we also had the pleasure of an even livelier dinner. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion and made the evening such a convivial event!


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