Women’s legal testimony

I research women’s published life writing, law and subjectivity in the long eighteenth century. I’m interested in how women quickly seized upon the newly emerging genre of the published memoir to publicise their experiences of the law and justice system.

I use legal archives and published memoirs to explore women’s perspectives on law and justice, the implications of legal experience for the development of literary genres, and how both law and literature framed how women saw themselves in relation to law, justice and citizenship.

This conference paper from ASECS 2021 provides an overview of this research project, exploring women’s legal memoirs as a new genre of eighteenth-century women’s life writing.

In many respects, eighteenth-century women protesting against legal institutions and the processes of justice were the origins of the #MeToo moment – my paper at the David Nicol Smith conference.

Mary Bowes

In this paper, which I presented at the Adventurous Wives conference at Chawton House in 2021, I explore the role of life writing in Mary Bowes’ litigation strategy.

Anne Bailey

Anne Bailey was a lone mother living on the social fringe, in and out of magistrates courts and bridewells, in 1760s London. Her short published memoir, Memoirs the Mrs Anne Bailey, was published in 1771. Bailey’s memoirs shed new light on the everyday experience of justice in the mid-eighteenth century metropolis, as well as how published memoirs can expose relationships between legal and textual subjectivities during the era.

Sarah Ailwood, ‘The true state of my case’ : The Memoirs of Mrs Anne Bailey, 1771, Law Crime and History 6(1) (2016)

Eliza Frances Robertson

Eliza Frances Robertson was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet Prison in the earlier nineteenth century, accused of swindling several tradesmen who contributed goods and labour to the renovation of a house in Blackheath where she intended to establish a school with her partner, Charlotte Sharpe. While imprisoned in the Fleet Robertson published three memoirs, Who are the Swindlers? (1801), Dividends of Immense Value (1801) and The Life and Memoirs (1802), and one autobiographical novel, Destiny (1804).

My research on Robertson was published as ‘Law, Gender and Print Culture in the Life Writing of Eliza Frances Robertson’, The Unsociable Sociability of Women’s Life Writing, ed. Anne Collett and Louise D’Arcens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).