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The Ladies of Llangollen

Portrait of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, The Ladies of Llangollen

City event to celebrate re-release of historic lesbian love story Chase of the Wild Goose

An iconic love story republished 80 years after falling out of print will be celebrated and discussed at a special public event as part of LGBTQ+ History Month.

Chase of the Wild Goose recreates the lives of Eleanor Butler (1739–1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755–1832), two Irish women who left their families to set up home together in Llangollen, North Wales.

In their lifetimes, Butler and Ponsonby became famous celebrities, known internationally as the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ – but the book itself, originally published in 1936, fell out of print soon after and remained unavailable to generations of readers.

Now, with its reprint by Lurid Editions, Chase of the Wild Goose is poised to reach a contemporary audience for the first time. And this landmark, and the story’s enduring significance, will be the focus of the event in Exeter on 14 February.

Professor Jana Funke, Associate Professor of English and Sexuality Studies, and Dr Daniel Fountain, Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture, both University of Exeter, will host the discussion with artist Sarah-Joy Ford, celebrating the wider themes of the book and spotlighting the important queer histories of the Ladies.

Chase of the Wild Goose is a highly original and deeply moving account of the life and home that the Ladies of Llangollen built together,” said Professor Funke. “It honours the Ladies as queer feminist ancestors whose unequivocal commitment to freedom and bold defiance of social expectations continues to resonate across the ages. And what makes it even more impressive is that, with the pair already having become celebrities in their lifetime, it playfully undermines readerly expectations and allows us to encounter the Ladies again.”

Among the many topics to be discussed will be Manchester-based Sarah-Joy Ford’s own experiences of her residency at Plas Newydd – the home of the Ladies – in which she created an installation of quilted and textile artworks inspired by their lives.

The event will also focus on author Mary Gordon, who was a pioneering late 19th and early 20th century feminist and among the first generation of doctors to be trained at the London School of Medicine for Women. Gordon went on to become the first woman ever to be appointed as a prison inspector, in 1908, and her work with women prisoners informed one of her subsequent books, Penal Discipline (1922), which advocated for prison reform.

“Mary felt an intense spiritual connect with the Ladies of LLangollen, and that was her motivation to write about their story,” adds D-M Withers, Lecturer in Publishing at the University, Publisher at Lurid Editions, and co-organiser of the event. “In so doing, she created a fascinating piece of work that blends genres and styles, and which remains as relevant today as it did when it appeared alongside fellow interwar queer novels Orlando and The Well of Loneliness.”

And Dr Fountain, who is an exhibiting artist and researcher in queer contemporary art and craft, added: “Both endearing and enduring, Chase of the Wild Goose is set to bring joy to a new generation of readers following its re-publication, and we hope this event reflects that sense of excitement while contextualising its significance.”

The event will be held at the Bookbag in McCoys Arcade on 14 February, from 6pm-7.30pm.

Date: 2 February 2023

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