Dr. Beth Savage, assistant professor of English, has received a Chawton House Library Fellowship in conjunction with the University of Southampton (England) for October 2014.
Both the Chawton House Library — which is housed in Jane Austen’s brother’s residence — and the University of Southampton have special strengths in the eighteenth-century and women’s writing. Dr. Savage will also attend and present at seminars and events.
About 12-27 Fellows are accepted each year from all over the world. Past US schools that have been represented include the University of Virginia, Boston College, and the University of California and international universities in Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, France, Spain, Australia, India, and Italy.
“Needless to say, I am very proud to add University of Lynchburg to this list,” Dr. Savage said.
Her work involves analysis of a 1788 play by Elizabeth Inchbald called Animal Magnetism, the earliest literary engagement with the pseudo-medical practice of Mesmerism that she and her co-author Dr. Catherine Waitinas of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo have found. The play takes a farcical look at Mesmerism, the belief that humans have a magnetic fluid that can be manipulated to improve health.
The play, which was influential in galvanizing public opinion against Mesmerism, followed it across the Atlantic; it was initially performed in France, then in England, and then a few years later in Philadelphia as Mesmerism caught hold and then was discredited in those countries. About 50 years later, Charles Dickens also revived the play and acted in it.
“So the play itself is important in how it engaged with this hotly contested medical practice, but also in how it used that practice to comment on contemporary relationships of gender and power,” Dr. Savage said.
“I am also researching its lead actress from the first English performances, Becky Wells, who was one of the first actresses to write an autobiography and who became infamous for living a quite scandalous lifestyle. As an actress she also made money doing imitations of other, more successful, actresses at private events, so she is a fascinating case study for how to read layers of performance and the female body.”
Dr. Savage said she hopes to learn more about the practice of Mesmerism in England during the eighteenth century.