‘Questions of gender: femininity and effeminacy in Victorian culture’ was the theme of the tenth international conference organised by the Fondazione Michel de Montaigne under the aegis of Marcello Cherubini last week-end at Bagni di Lucca’s library.
The conferences organised by the foundation always have interesting speakers in them and it is a great pity that they are not attended by more people. On the first day, for example, it seemed there were more lecturers and staff than audience. The second day was slightly better. It’s a pity, however, that more of the worthy inhabitants of Bagni di Lucca do not take the chance to avail themselves of these valuable resources.
Part of the problem may be that the lecture are given either in Italian or English so one has to be fully fluent in both languages to fully appreciate what’s on offer. The précis given in the booklet does help, however, as do the PowerPoint presentations.
What stood out in the two mornings of lectures?
Roberta Ferrari’s talk on lady Blessington (no doubt familiar to many through her ravishing portrait by Thomas Lawrence in the Wallace collection) prompted me to start reading her travel books especially ‘the Idler in Italy’. I realised how Lady Blessington hosted a large coterie of famous (and infamous) people like Byron, Landor and even Disraeli (who wrote his novel ‘Venetia’ at her house in London).
Gigliola Mariani’s talk on the women in ‘Daniel Deronda’ and Shirley Foster’s on the Brontes, in particular Emily, had their points of interest but I was missing any direct connection with Bagni di Lucca which should be a guiding thread to the talks.
I failed to attend the afternoon commemoration of Mario Curreli, the former very personable and efficient chair of the event, who sadly passed away last February. A tomb has been restored in his memory in the old protestant cemetery of Bagni di Lucca.
On the second day, Tony Bareham’s talk on women in BdL visitor Charles Lever’s novels prompted me to begin reading this quirky author. Laura Giovanelli’s presentation on Bosie and Wilde was delivered at break-neck speed in Italian and, frankly, could have been shorter.
Eta Madden’s talk introduced a Victorian American journalist as yet unknown to most of us: Anne Hampton Brewster. Beautifully presented, it directly linked to our area through Brewster’s visit to the Lucchesia and her knowledge of Carina’s book on the Valle di Lima and Bagni itself.
Tommaso Rossi concluded the lectures with his meticulous work on the archive of Ian Greenlees’ correspondence of almost 14,000 letters illustrating the vanished aesthete’s connections with so many literary and artistic figures of his age. It also connected up with the last series of lectures based on Greenlees himself (which I have written about at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/an-aesthete-in-bagni-di-lucca/)
At the end of the conference I was left with the impression that there were many more feisty women in the Victorian era than males would normally like to acknowledge: women who dared to contravene conventions, including marriage, religion and social etiquette, to assert themselves and their independence in an age where they were considered, even by evolutionists, to have less intelligence than men.
Thanks to all those who helped organise and who contributed to the conference. We look forwards to the one for next year – suggestions, if preferred, may be garnered from the Greenlees archive volume, now published and available from the BdL Library.