Associate Professor of English and Modern Languages Tonya Moutray, Ph.D., received a prestigious fellowship to conduct research at Chawton House Library in Hampshire, England this past summer; she concluded her trip with several days in Haworth Village, in Yorkshire.
Chawton House belonged to Jane Austen’s brother and is a center for research on women writers. Haworth is home of the Bronte family, “where Charlotte and Emily penned their novels, wandered the moors and dealt with their problem sibling, Branwell,” said Moutray, who is teaching an Authors course on Austen and the Brontes this semester.
“I’ll bring to this particular course a lot more visual imagery from the landscapes and places these writers were familiar with and insight into how their environments impacted the stories they tell,” said Moutray. She described visits to the modest cottages and sprawling estates of Hampshire that characterize class differences in Austen’s fiction, and hiking the tricky and windy moors that provides a backdrop to Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
At the Chawton House Library, Moutray also began researching religious influences on secular women’s fashion trends in the early 1800s. She was inspired by an advertisement – “Nuns’s veils are very popular for women this season” – that she came across while completing her book, Refugee Nuns, the French Revolution, and British Literature and Culture, which examines the portrayal of migrating nuns in English literature during the French Revolution. “I had a hunch that there was a crossover into fashion because of the public’s fascination with nuns reflected in literary works,” she said. “I couldn’t pursue the topic while I was completing the book, but the Chawton House Library fellowship was an amazing opportunity to follow up.” At the library, she found extensive examples of advertising and editorial content in periodicals like The Ladies Pocket Magazine, promoting religious-inspired dress and accessories, such as convent crosses set with precious gems, the popularity of the color “Carmelite brown,” and “veils, veils, veils everywhere.”
Most nuns in England in the early 1800s were escaping the French Revolution, explained Moutray. “It was an uncertain period and refugee religious orders in England were making critical decisions about how much they should stand out or assimilate, not unlike refugees today. Meanwhile, secular women were appropriating religious clothing to attract suitors,” said Moutray. “I am interested in the way the clothes evoke both religious piety and erotic fascination,” she continued. “Convent-influenced fashion was deemed ‘appropriate’ for its modesty but at the same time was being marketed to women as being attractive to the opposite sex.”
Listen to her discuss her research on the Chawton House Library Conversations podcast.