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The Variable Body in History


Edited By Chris Mounsey and Stan Booth

The essays in this book explore the different ways the body has been experienced and interpreted in history, from the medieval to the modern period. Challenging the negative perceptions that the term ‘disability’ suggests, the essays together present a mosaic of literary representations of bodies and accounts of real lives lived in their particularity and peculiarity. The book does not attempt to be exhaustive, but rather it celebrates the fact that it is not. By presenting a group of individual cases from different periods in history, the collection demonstrates that any overarching way of describing bodies, or unifying description of the experience of the myriad ways of being in a body, is reductive and unhelpful. The variability of each body in its context is our subject.
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LESS is More: The Mysterious Case of the Invisible Countess of Derby



Lady Elizabeth Smith-Stanley, the first wife of the 12th Earl of Derby, has been eclipsed by her replacement, the actress Eliza Farren. This essay attempts to construct some sort of an account of this elusive woman – unfaithful wife, excluded mother, and paralytic – from the few facts that can be found out about her. As there is so little to go on, the contribution to this collection lies more in its methodological significance than in giving a full account of a woman’s life.


There is a major gap in our knowledge of the life of Lady Elizabeth Smith-Stanley, nee Hamilton (herein known as LESS), the first wife of Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, probably because she was succeeded in that role by an actress, Eliza Farren, who upstaged her in both contemporary and historical interest. What we know of LESS from recent critics and historians is that she played cricket:

… the match reported by the modish Countess of Derby at The Oaks in 1777, between two parties of ladies of distinction … signalizes the rebellion of upper class women, … . ← 127 | 128 → 1

Rizzo is unclear what the rebellion was. The Oaks, Lord Derby’s house in Surrey, Daniel O’Quinn explains had been host to elaborate and expensive marriage celebrations:

On Thursday the 9th of June 1774, General John Burgoyne of Saratoga fame, arranged an elaborate Fête Champêtre at the Oaks, in Surrey, to celebrate...

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