The Fair Intellectual Club

Research by the School of English’s Professor Robert Crawford into the first of the great city rivalries of the English-speaking world – that of Edinburgh and Glasgow – has inspired a play by the comedian Lucy Porter.

The Fair Intellectual Club produced by Stellar Quines and directed by Marilyn Imrie, was received to critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival 2014, is currently touring the UK and will play at the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre.

Lucy Porter began reading Professor Crawford’s On Glasgow and Edinburgh with the intention of getting some insights into the rivalry between the two cities but ended up being inspired to write her play on reading about The Fair Intellectual Club, founded in 1718. Porter was alerted to the significance of events of the 18th century’s intellectual revolution for women, and began imagining in detail what contemporary women would have made of the philosophical innovations of their time.

Professor Crawford’s book revises familiar histories of the Scottish Enlightenment that are exclusively about men, exploring women’s stories such as those represented in the records of the Fair Intellectual Club, and it is this aspect of the history of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s famous standoff that inspired Lucy Porter to write her play.

Professor Crawford said, ‘whereas clubs such as the Cape Club or the Select Society where philosophers including Adam Smith and David Hume met Edinburgh lawyers, poets and thinkers – were men-only adult drinking clubs, the Fair Intellectual Club was determinedly different. In Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland university students were teenagers of the same age as the Fair Intellectuals — but they were all male. The Fair Intellectuals would have known local students, but couldn’t have joined their university classes. It’s tempting to hear the word ‘Fair’ in the title of The Fair Intellectual Club not just as a reference to the ‘fair’ sex, but also as a reproach to the unfairness of intellectual life in Edinburgh and elsewhere. [Stellar Quines Theatre Company]

The Fair Intellectual Club has further inspired researchers, artists, comedians and thinkers to reflect on their work and performances in light of Lucy Porter’s play (see: the Stellar Quines’ blog post from 17 Feb. 2015 and from 18 Feb. 2015) as the place of plays by women themselves continues to be debated in 2015, 303 years after the Fair Intellectual Club was founded. [A stage of their own: why female playwrights are still marginalised]