Dissolving the Pearl: Female Agency in the Age of Casanova
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Jean-Marc Nattier, "Thalia, Muse of Comedy," 1739. Oil on canvas, 53 1⁄2 x 49 in. (135.9 x 124.5 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection, 1954.59
John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Theater
Kitty Fisher was the original celebrity and It-girl, famous for being famous. She wielded flair and charm as a power in 18th-century London and became a darling of the media. According to lore, and as a nod to Cleopatra, who supposedly drank a pearl in vinegar “just because,” Kitty ate a 100-pound note on bread and butter after Casanova refused to pay her 10 guineas for her courtesan services. Sir Joshua Reynolds captured this image of Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl.
An advocate of women’s rights, author, and philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft advanced the feminist movement at the turn of the 19th century. She purported the revolutionary ideas that women are equal to men, rallied for educational reform and access for women, and asserted that women possessed sexual desires. Her writing inspired feminist critique of the 1960s and 70s.
Charlotte Gordon and Fara Dabhoiwala engage in a conversation about these two women during Casanova’s time and how they turned feminine ideals on their heads.
Fara Dabhoiwala, professor at Princeton University, teaches and writes about the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the English-speaking world from the middle ages to the present. He is the author of The Origins of Sex, which examines one of the great turning points in western history: the origin of our modern attitudes to sex.
Charlotte Gordon is the author of Romantic Outlaws, the dual biography of pioneering English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. Dabhoiwala and Gordon will talk about the historical narrative and attitudes toward feminism/agency and sex in the time of Casanova.
This lecture is free and open to the public.
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