Sarah Chapone: ‘the ‘championess’ and a student’s work in EMLO

'Pamela teaching her children' (see volume four of Samuel Richardson's 'Pamela'), by Joseph Highmore. 1743–5. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

‘Pamela teaching her children’ (see volume four of Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’), by Joseph Highmore. 1743–5. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Our most recent publication in EMLO is a pioneer of a catalogue. Numbering just thirty records, it is based on metadata that came into the union catalogue in 2010 with one of the inaugural collections and, in the course of the current academic term, this interesting sub-set has been ‘ring-fenced’ for the purposes of teaching and is being released now as a discrete and enriched student-curated catalogue — a first for EMLO.

The cataloguing work that has been carried out on these letters was overseen by Oxford’s Professor Giora Sternberg as part of the undergraduate Further Subject ‘Writing in the Early Modern Period, 1550–1750’. In place of a weekly essay, history student James Harrison selected and worked on this small correspondence that resided already within EMLO as part of the Bodleian card catalogue. The manuscript letters may be found in the Ballard Collection and make up the Bodleian’s portion of the surviving correspondence of Sarah Chapone (1699–1764). It is hoped that similar work in future with and through EMLO will enable students to benefit from invaluable first hand-experience of study with manuscript letters; to engage with and to explore the new research possibilities which emerge as a result; and to learn about the union catalogue of correspondence and related digital projects.

The early modern individual selected on this inaugural occasion, Sarah Chapone, is an interesting figure. A teacher herself, she and her husband, the Reverend John Chapone (d. 1759), ran a boarding school during the first years of their marriage before financial difficulties forced it to close. Sarah was quite the pioneer. Credited widely as author of The Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives (published anonymously in May 1735), she provided an analysis of female subjection and she represents an intriguing link, via Elizabeth Elstob, between the work of the feminist writer Mary Astell (d. 1731) and younger writers of the the Bluestocking circle, in particular her own daughter-in-law, Hester Chapone (1727–1801). An able and diligent student, James spent his week at the archival coalface — sleeves rolled up in the Special Collections at the Bodleian‘s new Weston Library — checking and correcting the card catalogue’s original metadata, recording the paper size, adding and researching the individual people mentioned in the texts, and generating a number of transcriptions, all of which may be found now in Chapone’s catalogue. We hope very much that this will be the first of many such student-curated catalogues, and that metadata from the Bodleian card catalogue will be worked on and augmented in this way. At EMLO we are committed to working with and supporting students at all levels and, should you as a university lecturer or as a student, have suggestions regarding ways such enhancements to our metadata may be made, please be in touch — you will find us more than happy to engage and assist.