Monday, January 21, 2008

Blue Stockings Society

The Blue Stockings Society was an informal women's social and educational movement in England in the mid-18th century, created in imitation of the French society of the same name, but emphasizing education and mutual co-operation rather than the individualism which marked the French version.

The Society was founded in the early 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu and others as a women's literary discussion group, a revolutionary step away from traditional non-intellectual women's activities. They invited various people to attend, including botanist, translator and publisher Benjamin Stillingfleet. One story tells that Stillingfleet was not rich enough to have the proper formal dress, which included black silk stockings, so he attended in everyday blue worsted stockings. The term came to refer to the informal quality of the gatherings and the emphasis on conversation over fashion.
(from Wikipedia, Blue Stockings Society)

Mrs. Montagu (see wiki article quoted above) may have been source material for Lady Smatter. (According to Betty Rizzo, Mrs. Montagu gave a rather poor review to Frances Burney's novel.) This women's intellectual society was in theory about the free exchange of ideas -- but of course all exclusive societies have their own "status" rules. Later "Bluestocking" became an insulting term for an intellectual woman (i.e., probably not pretty or marriage material, a nerd, a lesbian, etc.)

Interesting that Cecilia does not see herself as a potential member of the Esprit Party-- she may be playing her own status game by declaring that she is not the sort of woman who would join that sort of club (i.e., pretty and marriage-bound).

-- Erika Iverson


Magis Theatre Company said...


I wanted to remember the discussion that you and I had about the relationship of Lady Smatter and Cecilia in light of this last "marriage-ready" comment. At the Sunday brunch discussion, I mentioned that I had recently seen some "sorority-girl" gone "upper east side ladies" in a meat-packing district restaurant. Bony thin blondes in black dresses with blood red martinis. For some reason, they horrified me but there was also a certain envy -- how does one achieve such a "look"? Such an attitude of belonging and authority? Part of this extreme image we talked of at our meeting as a way to view the Witlings characters in general: that they all literally "wear their identity as well as perform it." In the case of these ladies in black, Erika proposed these might very well be like Cecilia. And Lady Smatter -- though she tries very hard and wears all the "right" things -- is not nearly as petite and delicate. So she stomps about a bit in too big shoes and tall hats -- and frankly detests the little perfect Cecilias of the world. And in this realization, Erika and I were very happy to know that our hatred for each other at the beginning of the play was deeply rooted. And of course Cecilia's rejection of Lady Smatter's invitation to the precious Esprit Party would no easily be forgotten.

Here's to bloody martinis-


Magis Theatre Company said...

Totally. If Lady Smatter's "claim to fame" is the Esprit party and Cecilia turns it down, something must be wrong with one of them... and I suspect that up until her disastrous financial news is announced, Cecilia has no doubt whatsoever about her self-worth. This has great potential for the opening of the second act-- two women, in competition for Beaufort's loyalty, both seething underneath the facade of their smiling faces.