When Lynn Robson tells the tale of a “half-hanging” of a woman found guilty of infanticide in 17th Century England, her McCandless Lecture at Georgetown College will bring to mind infamous headlines of today.
“Shee That Was Hang’d But Afterwards Recovered: Making an Example of Anne Green” is what Dr. Robson, Lecturer in English Literature at Regent’s Park College, has titled her free talk for 11 a.m., March 31 in John L. Hill Chapel. “Partly (this) is about historiography – always relevant. But even more so, how sensational crimes and events are appropriated by the culturally and socially powerful for their own ends,” she wrote in an e-mail from Oxford, England.
Professor Robson continued with a series of questions, showing how she approaches the larger subject of “Female Criminality” (one of the courses she teaches) and her research on prison literature: “Who tells the story…and how do they tell it? And why do they tell it that way? In the process what (or who) is suppressed? Of course the issue of female criminality is still open to question – what about Andrea Yates?” (She’s referring to the case of the wife of a NASA engineer in Houston who admitted to drowning her five children in a bathtub in June 2001 – then in July 2006 was found not guilty by reason of insanity.)
Anne Green’s story – and her surviving the hanging in 1650 – was well-known then, and continues to pop up in documents today (including a Google search that puts it in the “Top 10 Amazing Execution Survival Stories.”)
According to Robson: “(Anne) was executed after being found guilty of infanticide – the child being the result of an illicit relationship between her and her employer’s grandson. From the published accounts it seems she suffered a miscarriage but the law regarding a mother’s responsibility for neo-natal death was very different in 17th century England – hence the guilty verdict.”
“Her body was supposed to be used for anatomical dissection but when it was noticed that she was still breathing then that plan was put on hold and she was revived and then allowed to live – not always the outcome after failed hangings.”
A literary scholar, Dr. Robson was having some fun with her talk’s subtitle. “Making an example of is a phrase that’s often used to evoke ideas of punishment but the lecture is mainly about how she is turned into several different ‘examples’ by different writers and why,” wrote Robson. “I hope (the campus audience) will understand that the stories history has to tell us are fascinating and to think about whether the tale is more important than the teller. I’m always keen to promote a sense of women’s history as well.”
Dr. Robson, who also serves as the Tutor for Visiting Overseas Undergraduates at Regent’s Park, is one professor all Georgetown students get to know at this college in the University of Oxford system.
During her semester of study at Regent’s Park in Fall 2007, Amanda Owens saw her as a “friendly face” and a taskmaster. “As a teacher, Dr. Robson is one of the most thorough individuals I have ever met. She is always striving to push her students as hard as possible,” said the (now) senior English major and History minor from London, KY.
“I learned a great deal from my time with Dr. Robson, but I will also particularly remember her kindness toward me,” continued Owens, who currently is student teaching 7th grade Reading at Georgetown Middle School. “My time at Regent’s was the first time I had been away from home, and Dr. Robson cared as much about me as an individual as she did about my academics.”
Robson’s visit at the end of the month will be her second to Georgetown College. She delivered the McCandless Lecture in 2007 – “Women and Murder in Early Modern England: The Ratsbane in the Oatcakes.”
The McCandless Lecture was started when Georgetown College and Regent’s Park College in the University of Oxford formed a partnership in 1999. Each year, the schools exchange lecturers. The lecture series was started with a donation from Mrs. June McCandless in memory of her husband O. Carlysle McCandless. Both are alumni of Georgetown College.