The following is an abstract of her talk:
The finished coquettes of the Regency period were remarkable for their tendency to berate themselves for their unseemly and immodest behavior, to curse their faulty education which ignited flirtatious desires without teaching the essential lessons of self-discipline, and to vow reformation – after this one, last erotic conquest. But while these earlier coquettes might have fretted and regretted their behavior through the voluminous pages of their stories, there was a new coquettish heroine about to take their place, and she would have no such torturous self-doubts. This was a new breed of coquette, soon to be nominated the ‘Flirt” in order to make a distinction between the angst-ridden behavior of her ancestral sisters, and a new species of woman who, far from regretting her coquettish tendencies, revels in her “natural” powers of seduction. This coquette, we are assured, is not a creature of her environment, but rather of evolution and biological necessity. By the late nineteenth-century the flirt has come into her own as the “natural” representative of feminine perfection. The wit of an eighteenth-century’s Lady Susan – a woman who charms with her brilliant conversation — has been replaced by the dimpled, blushing perfections of a Cynthia Kirkpatrick or a Rosamund Vincy. What this talk will show is how, by the Victorian period, the flirtatious “word” has become flesh.
Ghislaine McDayter is a Professor of English at Bucknell University and author of Byromania: Byron and the Birth of Celebrity Culture. She is currently finishing a book length project on 18th and 19th century flirtation and feminism entitled, Licentious Tyrants: Feminism and Flirtation in 18th and 19th Century British Literature, and serving as one of 5 editors on a new digital edition of Byron’s Manfred under the direction of Jerome McGann. She is also completing an essay for inclusion in the Cambridge University Press edition of Byron edited by Clara Tuite.