Doran Goodwin as Emma just back from Miss Taylor’s wedding: a tough moment of aloneness (1972 Emma, scripted by Denis Constanduros)

Dear gentle friends and readers,

And you thought I was forgetting Austen’s birthday. Even if, like Samuel Johnson, at least on the day she wrote a poem in honor of her natal day, Jane Austen did not anticipate the day or experience it in a celebratory spirit (one of her close older friends, Anne Lefroy died on Jane’s birthday on 1804, To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday), I’ve tried to remember her gaiety when dancing, as well as other of her poems capturing her sincere moods for her birthdays.


Andrew Davies’s film begins with a comical foreshadowing of the film’s end on desperate stealing of chickens at Harfield, but after a touching tight moment in the carriage of kissing between Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Samantha Bond as Miss Taylor we do get quickly to Emma alone — with Mr Woodhouse to cheer up (1996)

This year I can report that a small group of us on WomenWritersthroughtheAges @ Yahoo, together with joiners-in on Austen-l and Janeites have embarked on yet another reading of Austen’s Emma! Can there be anything left to discuss? We have already found there is, and I have been forced to make a schedule as there are too many people to leave this to be casual: I put this on the blog for the people on these listservs joining in:

Beginning Sunday, December 13th to 20th: Chapters 1-5
From Dec 20th to 27th: Chapters 6-10
Dec 27th to Jan 3rd: 11-15
Jan 3rd to 10th: 16-20
Jan 10th to 17th: 21-25
Jan 17th to 24th: 26-30
Jan 24th to 31st: 31-35
From Jan 31st to Feb 7th: 36-40
Feb 7th to 14th: 41-45
Feb 14th to 21st: 46-50
Feb 21st to 28th: 51-55

This past spring in our small WWTTA and EighteenthCenturyWorlds @ yahoo we read Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire’s The Sylph as a novel exploring rape; that morphed into just a few of us on WTTTA (as I recall the first for short), partly prompted by an essay by Isobel Grundy on Richardsonian novels by women (in a volume of essays on Richardson), going on in the summer to the anonymous Emma; or The Unfortunate Attachment, as a Richardsonian epistolary novel, clearly by a woman, but not by the Duchess; and this fall, wondering about the woman The Sylph has been wrongly attributed to, the Scots sentimental novelist, Sophia Briscoe, we read her 2 volume epistolary The History of Miss Melmoth, where issues beyond the Richardsonian heterosexual ones include a sympathetic account of womens’ need for a friend; a hostile depiction of a woman whose elopement with a rake turns out so badly that she is driven to become a lady’s maid who then betrays her young mistress by marrying her domineering shallow father; a deeply empathetic depiction of a stranded widow; the tenuous security of all women.

So this was we felt a sort of continuation of Emmas and novels by women dialoguing. It seems fitting then that our first debate (as we included more readers) was over on Alison Sulloway’s Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood, and her provocative and (to some of us) refreshing and relevant point of view highly critical of Mr Knightley’s patriarchal stances.

Fast forward to the Hindi appropriation of Emma: Aisha-Emma’s humiliation is made excruciating because it occurs before an audience — Harriet-Shefali is the real heroine of this fashion-mad yet punitive film (2011 Aisha)

Why is Emma’s intelligence as such (what is she to do with it?) a central issue?

Romola Garai as Emma leading a reluctant Louisa Dylan as Harriet to refuse Mr Martin’s offer of marriage

Johnny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley, shocked upon being told of this refusal — for the first time I realize Sandy Welch made him narrator because the book puts Mr Knightley in charge (2009 Emma)

So what can one do more for a woman who died nearly 200 years ago then close read one of her masterpieces.

By way of contrast, the British Library has chosen Northanger Abbey (that “horrid” novel) as the focus of its commemoration.



An illustration to Tam O’Shanter

Dear friends and readers,

A third and final blog on the EC/ASECS conference which I thought I had less to share than I do (1st, 2nd). There really was a wealth of new insights and (for me) new or different information on a variety of 18th century topics, beyond the night of Shakespeare Restored, the Winterthur museum, and a late evening of reading of poetry aloud the first night. All that in itself a pleasure (the conference’s subject, along with leisure and entertainment).


I did go to two panels of the more traditional type, with papers on major figures, major works, using close reading and historical approaches.

Robert Burns (1759-96) by Alexander Nasmyth (1787): best known portrait

My favorite paper was second on a panel on the Scottish enlightenment (Friday, mid-morning) was by Carol McGuirk, a moving autobiographical and thematic exegesis of Burn’s “Tam O’Shanter” (with English transliteration), which is often looked at from the angle of Burns’s use of mock-heroic conventions. Ms McGuirk showed us that Burne=s was revisiting his relationship with his father. It is his first known extended work, a strange intense poem where he looks back to scenes of his early childhood and adolescence. The scene of witch-nanny brings us back to Burns when young, from which there was a long-lasting estrangement between Burns and his father. Burns had gone to a dance when forbidden; this was seen by his father as a solemn breaking of the fourth commandment, and from this instance of rebellion Burns felt his father took a dislike to him, which led to his later rebellions, especially when the paternal dislike developed into a fear for Burns’s soul. The Victorian editor of Burns’s work softened an anecdote Burns’s sister told where the dying father denied he’d see his son in the afterlife. The poem has been misread as about retributive justice, but is rather a deft depiction of an old central psychic wound, about a life-altering conflict. The narrator is caustic but this is not a poem advocating prudent conformity; the thrust of the poem is on the side of tolerance as the poet faces the residual power of memory to hurt again. Ms McGuirk reminded everyone that Burns’s wife Jean was a woman who accepted and tolerated Burns’s flaws and suggested in the poem Kate stands in for Burns’s father. Tom’s experience is a painful memory. Alluded to figures in the poem include Margaret Thompson who Burns said distracted him from his trigonometry studies and whom he remembered with deep affection; he visited her and sent her a copy of this poem.

Arthur Murphy (1727-1805) by Nathaniel Dance (1777)

I slipped off to another panel I had longed to hear too (going on at the same time): Samuel Johnson. Unfortunately I missed the first two papers, and came in only at the middle of the third and a discussion of all three afterward. A. J. Schmidt’s paper (2nd) had been about Johnson’s attitude towards the American colonies and touched on the Hudson river and empire, and as I came in Jane Wessel was talking about how and why although Murphy defended literary property rights (against booksellers) he also defended the right of an author to imitate, adapt, use and said this was not plagiarism. Murphy was arguing for a modern low threshold definition of originality: the expression of the idea is protected not the idea itself. In an essay on the “Genius of Fielding” Murphy had urged that complete invention is a myth, and what was central to the new work was the establishment of an authorial persona. Murphy himself adapted and transferred plots and other elements from other people’s plays to his own, and cited his own name on his later adaptations. John Radner further elaborated on his argument that for Johnson hope is less related to despair than a forward-looking vein of nostalgia; the future is seen with anxiety; morally we need to spend well the present time, not try to escape it. (I remembered how Johnson tormented himself over his waste of his gifts and time.) It was mentioned that Murphy had apparently met Johnson after Murphy had accidentally plagiarized Johnson, and the similarities between one of his own plays and one of Sheridan’s had made him wonder if Sheridan plagiarized him. (So Murphy’s spontaneous thinking belies his theory.) Johnson’s defense of abridgements and his own imitations supported Murphy’s outlook too. Anna Foy talked more about how Johnson praised James Grainger’s Georgic, “Sugar-Cane” as a new original poem though derivative; Grainger brought into poetry new images and refreshed the reader’s mind; Gilmore’s book on Grainger’s poem, The Poetics of Empire was mentioned.


A photograph of a contemporary actress as Nell Gwyn delivering one of Dryden’s satiric epilogues sending up he pious character she had just acted

Late on Friday afternoon, the plenary lecture which preceded Shakespeare Restored was appropriately about 18th century audience’s tastes. In “Hamlet with a Hornpipe,” Diana Solomon (who has published a book on 18th century prologues and epilogues), suggested the 18th century general preference was strongly for comedy, and audiences especially seemed to have enjoyed the disruptive effect of mockery interjected into serious texts. Comic scenes may have been controversial or forbidden under strict “rules,” but audiences liked a mixed experience, with comic entracts between acts of tragedy (even), lively comic dances, and ridicule framing or joking parts of plangent and poignant nights. A pantomime might follow an anguished suicide scene in a proto-feminist she-tragedy (say about rape). These were often short disconnected spectacles. She cited many many kinds of disruption and burlesque. Some statistics; after 1750 and 60 plays by dead writers predominated, only 10 were new; out of 371 performances 20% were tragedies, with comic after-pieces a must. She conceded there were those who decried this situation. Addison was one of those who decried these practices, and often they were treated as guilty pleasures (no much discussed). Cibber said he included gross derision (cross-dressing) “againts my conscience.” Perhaps some found graphic distress too hard to take (she instanced Johnson’s response to the dreadful murder scene in Othello, the despair of Lear). Should we look at these entracts as curative, the epilogues as a form of release. The discussion afterward was fun. People talked of how we watch TV today: continually changing channels, having more than one program on the screen at a time; how a row of disconnected commercials is part of most people’s experience of whatever program they are watching, and they don’t seem to object over-strenuously. It is true that certain things were not mocked: nobility or the aristocracy as such; religion.

The last panel and last two papers I heard on late Saturday afternoon into evening questioned the extent of debauchery claimed as experienced by John Wilkes, Charles Churchill and the Hell-fire club. Kevin Knott’s very long paper, “Necessary Lies: Sodomy Hysteria and the Heroic Grotesque in Charles Churchill’s The Times and David Garrick’s The Fribbleriad” opened with Hazlitt’s comment on the pleasure of hating, and how mockery of exaggerated disgusting versions of transgressive behavior were used as to attack and satirize and erase homosexuality. He went through Ned Ward’s writings, Molly-house culture, how Garrick tapped into cultural prejudice against effeminacy (for his own theatrical needs), sought to titillate, encourage violence (at least in emotion), discipline by hostility (turn what was feared into the abject). He went over a number of texts psychoanalytically (the persistent fear, oppositional ideologies), quoting Byrne Fone, Rictor Norton. Churchill used viotriolic discourse to disrupt the social order; a public display of a venomous nature was a mode of outing. He quoted private ugly letters by Wilkes and Churchill which seem to suggest that yes debauchery went on.

Modern photograph of 18th century print of Medenham Abbey

Jack Fruchtman’s presentation, “‘Was it all true or made up? Hell-Fire, Tory Politics,and Aborted Reform in 18th century Britain was a similarly complicated text. He first surveyed a group of aristocratic politicians regarded as radical who were themselves involved in transgressive behaviors with infamous members of Francis Dashwood’s circle (among these Bolingbroke, Frederick Prince of Wales, John Montague, Lord Sandwich, George Bubb Doddington, famed obese man) or very much in opposition to them (Walpole). See the Wikipedia list of people, with Hogarth’s depiction of Francis Dashwood as a parody of St Francis. Mr Fruchtman showed slides of the mansion in which the orgies and uses of prostitutes were said to have occurred (said to have been 12 inner circles in Medmenham Abbey), how much money these people had as income, how they dressed, heir libertine doctrines; he named individuals from several walks of life (archbishops involved), told of their lives, their relationships to kings and princes (Lord Bute). Hogarth hated admiration of such people and his art was effective in characterizing these people for many people. Unfortunately I had to leave because the clock turned 5 (like Cinderella at midnight — I was driving home with a friend) so missed out on specific political legislation some of these people urged (increases in taxes, Wilkes’s famous No 45 North Briton). Mr Fruchtman though was moving towards scepticism: that in his words in an email to me “We will never know for certain whether it was all made up or real. The evidence was destroyed or lost so all we have are second-hand accounts like those of Walpole and Wilkes.”

dashwood gates
the Abbey is now private property and people photograph the Francis Dashwood gate which allows a glimpse of the building

While listening to Mr Knott I thought about modern day uses of snark in newspapers and on the Net. I also wondered and took down scattered notes to the effect that perhaps Wilkes and Walpole’s accounts of the Hell-fire club were fabricated for political and personal reasons. There was a patness in the descriptions of the cells — it all seemed so archetypal. What I had wanted to ask about was a parallel in stories told of Madame du Deffand and the French Prince Regent, Duke of Orleans (to put it in the English form) when she were young and “said to have been his mistress.” I remembered coming across a passage of salacious innuendo which suggested nefarious goings-on in the grass at Sceaux late at night — everyone very drunk and some naked. Now that had a feel of reality,but by the time it reaches the public written down the text has been shaped by a temptation to make it more shapely as well as certain. Some people want to deny such things occur and others want to build them up.

Angora cats were popular subjects for paintings at mid-century: these two were said to be owned by Madame du Deffand, late in life blind, living alone, but bravely writing on (to Walpole, to Voltaire) and holding salons


Next year they meet at West Chester University (Pennsylvania), and the topic is “Networks.” I’ve thought of a topic for a CFP: “Forging Connections among non-elite women:” it is a truth once universally acknowledged that the way societies have organized themselves isolates the average women; they may socialize within the space they find themselves in with their families and friends, but there are enormous pressures and social and economic constraints keeping them from reaching out to people beyond where chance has thrown them. Thus the writing of poetry, novels, plays, and especially memoirs by women become ways for the average woman or women below the gentry, working class women (some wrote poetry, many could read) to dialogue with other women; they also beat time and space by writing and receiving letters; by visits to others; by attempting to travel and write about it; if they had the funds, go to a spa or town where there was a public life they could enter into, someone’s salon they could attend; or perhaps run a shop where they would not be under the monitored control of the house servant class. We can have papers on the elite (married or connected to powerful men, with access to large funds) but how did they address the shared question of being a woman, given that the salon and the “behind the curtains” operator may be said to support the male hegemonic order by not trying for her own position, salary, independence but supporting his and that of hegemonic families. I’ll invite papers on this subject.



Frances Abingdon as Prude in Congreve’s Love for Love by Joshua Reynolds

Dear friends and readers,

This is the 2nd of 3 reports on the papers I heard at the Nov 6th – 8th conference of the Eastern Region division of ASECS at the University of Delaware. I hope it won’t seem utterly narcissistic if I concentrate on the two panels whose papers were sent in response to my Call for Papers, or placed on my panel as closely connected; as I went to both, and took good notes on both, if I ignore them I will not have much more to say about the conference’s papers. So, to begin with, here’s the call for papers (and early thinking on this topic). For the record, including my own, 7 proposals were sent in, 6 became papers.


Charlotte Lennox, an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after a portrait by Joshua Reynolds

Charlotte Turner Smith by George Romney

The first panel occurred mid-Friday afternoon. The first paper was Sue Howard’s “Chronicling the Liminal State: Fictional and Non-Fictional Expressions of Married but Separated 18th century Women’s Experience.” Hers was a tale of two Charlottes, Charlotte Lennox and Charlotte Smith, both married, both mothers, both badly treated by domineering husbands (Smith’s a lot worse); they both supported themselves and their children by writing and both separated from these husbands but could not escape the husband’s rights, say in Lennox’s case to determine what schooling her children would have, and in Smith’s, his right to come and take all the earnings she had from her and beat her with impunity. Lennox was 30 years older than Smith. In the 1770s Lennox wanted to live with a friend and was thwarted; she wanted to try for a theatrical career, again thwarted. In the 1790s she wrote begging letters to her husband on behalf of her son. He would not support them; he tyrannized over her and yet took her earnings; they did not sleep together. True, he was not violent and did not intrude himself into her presence without warning her first. Ms Howard felt that Lennox handled her situation well by not allowing this private situation to become widely known; she used her novels to express her happiness and show the the vulnerability of women indirectly. Her last novel, Euphemia, an epistolary one, which takes place partly in the US, is the most open: Euphemia’s husband takes their son into the wilderness and loses him; she gains financial control, a separation from her husband, US laws were more favorable for women. Charlotte Smith’s was a devastating experience: her husband ended in a debtor’s prison where she had (it seems) to join him; he inflicted 12 children on her, had mistresses, threatened her life. She was fiercely frank about the autobiographical sources of of the misery of the older married women in her novels (surrogates for herself), and aggressively angry in her sonnets over the way the courts, the lawyers, and society in general treated her complaints and demands. Smith was criticized severely for her radical political opinions and presentation of a rape in Desmond. Ms Howard suggested that over time Smith was forced to write more indirectly, and that when she became more elusive her novels improved (she instanced Old Manor House, and The Young Philosopher).

Self-portrait of John Flaxman when young

Ann Denman Flaxman, painted by Henry Howard in 1797

Marie McAllister’s subject was the real correspondence between John Flaxman (1755-1826) who became a successful sculptor, draughtsman and painter, and his eventually bethrothed, and later wife, Ann Denman. they left love letters they wrote before marriage, a journal of their tour together. The love letters tell the story of a young couple where the girl’s parents are fiercely opposed to the marriage, because they felt his status was low and he would not make enough money. The letters read like a novel of the era; the lovers see themselves as tormented people; there are incidents of misunderstanding and she breaks off with Flaxman at one point. An uncle and aunt intervene, the couple are permitted to court at a distance, and eventually they do marry. The letters are poignant, melodramatic, show intense reveries; the language used is that of novels partly because they had no other language with which to encompass their emotional extremes. Ms McAllister quoted these letters to great effect. One cannot say this paper was about women living alone but it showed the mores and economic circumstances and social realities of the era.

Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood standing by the window of Barton Cottage (1995 S&S)

I have since revised my paper, “The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in the Jane Austen canon,” and sent it to Persuasions on-line to see if this Jane Austen periodical will publish another more detailed and somewhat differently focused version of the paper. I’ve also been encouraged to write a book proposal on the topic of The Anomaly and call for papers by someone at a well-respected academic press; at that time I will revise my paper so as to fit the topic more closely. What I wrote was a survey of the way widows and widowers are treated in the Austen canon: in her novels, in her letters, and what we see in the contemporary family documents. I have uploaded it to my space in academic.edu for anyone who wants to read it: The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in the Austen canon. A few snippets:

In a recent study of widowhood in the ancien régime, Bardet remarks the obstacle to understanding the condition of widowhood is what we have are sociological studies badly served by sources (7) … The Austen canon, her fiction, letters and contemporary family documents, mirrors these distortions and adds a few, but is valuable because of her strict adherence to social verisimilitude and the successful attempt of some later Austen relatives to save her relatives’ life-writing.4 Thus widowhood is as common as marriage in the novels: at least 19 widows , and nine widowers. …Her particular limitations must be noted. Her fiction depicts the genteel … she often refuses to believe people are ill and confronted with mental suffering she spits out mostly caustic and wry references … There is though a realistically enough rendered depiction of these circumstances and of the social mores and instinctive behavior shaping the reactions of the widowed to make visible probable conditions and their motives from the standpoint of how the afflicted characters cope and the social advantage or damage (and it is mostly damage) they or others close to them bring upon themselves and others. In her female characters, a fear of widowhood pervades the novels … while the widows we remember are well-heeled and menopausal, Austen has three widows in need of security, with children, in tenuous circumstances. Most of her widowers are an even eagerly marrying or marriageable bunch … a saturnine perspective contrasting or and confirming Austen’s unmarried and married women’s anxieties emerges: [three central widowers] are suggestively presented as having contributed to the early deaths of their wives … The fictions include central now widowed people who themselves make unwise remarriages, and the fiction’s plot-design hinges on how a new marriage is ruining the other central character’s lives (or so they feel)… Austen also pays attention to the relationship of the widowed with their children, and how the absence of a moderating parent influences the fate of these children …Several of Jane Austen’s wives and widows’ calamities parallel those of her great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Weller Austen who writes about the calamity she experienced and exposes the injustice of the primogeniture system … The letters of Jane around the time of Henry’s first wife’s death and for a year or so after need a thorough re-seeing to understand what is fully going on …The frequency of death in people’s lives from a young age in Austen’s era is not enough to account for her uses of widowhood or obsession with the deaths of women in childbed .. she delineates and attacks not just those who confront their disasters with strong sensibility to show the high price such people and their involved relatives pay for feeling and/or finding themselves in vulnerable places in the social and economic arrangements of the later 18th century.

See also Bereft: of Widows (in Austen), aging with poem on Jane Kenyon; widows as disabled.

Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) and Anna Howe (Hermione Norris) talking of a single life (1991 Clarissa)

The second or continuing panel occurred on Saturday morning at 9. In her “The Protestant Nunnery: Richardson’s Take on a Proto-Feminist Term,” Dashielle Horn discussed Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (to advance their education, opportunities, improve their lives), mentioned Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall (there was not time to discuss it but its content is relevant), and went closely over Richardson’s proposal for a Protestant nunnery in Sir Charles Grandison. Astell was seeking to help women personally develop themselves; Richardson a solution to the problem of single supposed non-productive women. Astell thought a moral and practical education cold enable women to be fulfilled and useful. Sarah Scott develops a feminist Utopia. Richardson recognizes the plight of women: his Clarissa’s sees marriage bleakly and finds the single life preferable; the harsh severity and exploitation she meets with makes her want a refuge, but the presentation of a nunnery in Grandison seems in the service of controlling women, of serving society; the women are regarded as having failed in life.

Elizabeth Kemble in Southerne’s Oronooko

Elizabeth Keenan Knauss’s paper, “Unbounded: The Many Empowered Women of Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko” presents women characters living outside the traditional roles of wife and daughter, and given ususual positions of power. Marriage, it’s suggested, is a kind of slavery; in this colony where there is a slave rebellion, women experience agency, e.g., the Widow Lackett. Other women characters are hunters rather than hunted; they choose their husbands; they would rather be an anomaly than lose their liberty. She interestingly told how the many female characters broke with passive stereotypes; Imoinda takes control of her situation by killing herself. The fantasy empowerments reveal where in life women have no power.

A young servant girl plucking a chicken (follower of Nicolas Bernard Lepicie, French, 1735-1784)

Lastly, Joanne Myers discussed Jane Barker’s vocation in her prose fiction. Only recently have Baker’s texts become available, and the interest has been her loyalty to the Jacobite cause. Ms Baker’s argument was that Baker achieved autonomy subjectively, from within by her commitment to her religion. The conversion experience is an assertion of selfhood and virginity the center of her strength. There is much ambivalence in the writing, suffering becoming beauty is pathological perhaps. Myers conceded that Toni Bowers has seen in this kind of intangible fidelity to self a pseudo-choice, a painful escape from life.

Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh bullying Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth Bennet (1979 P&P by Fay Weldon)

Before and after both sessions there was much talk about the status of women who were without men. It was suggested that women lived in groups or with another woman or that a lady’s maid was of paramount importance to her as a protection, essential helper, and to give her more status. People thought that there were more women living without men than we realize. The problem of violence (by implication) rape was brought up: a woman without a man was a target for thugs. People were (of course) interested in women who were able to exercise power. Older women and widows were thought to be powerful; but my research suggested the powerful widow was rarer even than widows left a good deal of money. Some did carry on the business they had exercised with or by their husbands, but many sought to remarry. Since there were no papers on actresses, as a group they didn’t come up, but they do fit into the anomaly and they exercised power in building a career, in moving about when they had to, in creating a reputation. The fantasy element in books dramatizing women’s communities was talked about, women dressed up as as men, in breeches’ parts on stage; how in many novels middle class women were represented. Institutions were usually set up to control women, not help the individual “find herself.” There was little talk about the stereotypes of the era which depicted women alone hostilely and cruelly, and hardly any talk about the real emotions of such women living alone (whether widowed, or never married by choice or as a result of the society’s response to her, or separated); we did discuss how women who were beaten terribly were often still expected to carry on living with a husband.


Sad journey, by Raffaele Faccioli (1845-1916).
Italian painting of a widow forced to move with her child

Today I thought I’d read an essay on the legal status of single adult women, and found an essay whose title suggests the author was going to discuss the legal status of married and single women, but after a paragraph stating with that in theory the single woman had the same legal status as a man, and that this was not in practice true as women had no place in public law (they couldn’t hold office, couldn’t be on a jury, &c), the author said since marriage was the goal of the majority and most did marry, she would devote her essay to the legal status of married women. I judge that there were far more single unmarried adult women living alone, spinsters, divorced, separated, and widowed women than has been supposed. It was in their interest to keep themselves invisible: many may have lived quietly with other women; there has been startling little effort to discuss them as a group, which is going to be the start of my book proposal. This is fertile ground which could open up new areas of research and kinds of women’s lives.

Patricia Rutledge as Mrs Peachum (Beggars’ Opera)


Remnants of an 18th century mine in Cornwall

An 18th century Christmas feast — for Trenwith in new adaptation

Dear friends and readers,

One last proposal for this coming spring 2015: I sent it to OLLI at American University and it seems to have been liked, and is now accepted; I was hoping that the new film adaptation of the books would be aired this spring, and have now discovered it will be on BBC:

Angarad Rees and Robin Ellis as Ross and Demelza Poldark the night before his trial (Poldark Season 1, Part 9)

The Poldark novels in context I

In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s first three Poldark novels: Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark. These plus a fourth, Warleggan, were the novels adapted for the first season of televised Poldark (1974-75), and the matter for the coming Poldark mini-series (to be aired in 2015). They represent the first phase of a 12 novel roman fleuve, a regional romance continuing story, deeply researched and imaginatively realized historical novels moving from the time of the French revolution and reform and politically radical movements in England to the end of the Napoleonic era, including the realities of county politics, mining, banking, smuggling (known locally as free trade) and farming in Cornwall. Written 1945-52, the first four mirror issues of the post World-War II world, are proto-feminist, with a deeply appealing group of characters from all classes in suspenseful plot-designs. We will also study the older film adaptation against these novels, and if possible, discuss the new one. It is suggested that students read a novella mystery, Winston Graham’s The Forgotten Story, before the class begins. Graham won awards and praise from the literary establishment for his mysteries, several of which were filmed by Hitchcock (e.g., Marnie); many of his novels were US Book-of-the-Month Club selections. The Forgotten Story was written in tandem with Ross Poldark and became a BBC mini-series in 1984.

The Movie

The old picture plays
Lights across the screen.
Overhead the beam
From the thoughtful booth
Flickers in a kind
Of code that only
The screen can read out.

Lights like memories
Flicker on the screen
of your deep gazing.
My eyes and my hand
are like some part of
The Surrounding dark.

— John Hollander.

The first seven novels of the 12 have never fallen out of print since each was first published (beginning 1945), and there will be a republication (or reprinting) of the most recent editions of first four once again, with the new actors on the covers. For individual discussions of all 12, go to my website (linked in above), or the category, Poldark, Ellen and Jim have a blog, two; or this handy list bringing all Graham’s writing together and discussing it briefly. I would do all four, but this is considered too much reading in 10 weeks. Heigh ho. If the course is liked, I could go on to “do” novels 4, 5 and 6 another season (Warleggan, The Black Moon, The Four Swans), with Black Moon and Four Swans mirroring the conflicts of the 1960s-70s era (e.g., the story of continued marital rape would not have been written in the 1940s, early 50s).

Norma Steader and Jonathan Newth as Verity Poldark and Captain Blamey dancing at an assembly ball (Poldark, Season 1, Episode 3)


Luckington Court as Longbourn in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice (scripted Andrew Davies)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m not quite as behindhand on reporting on those papers and panels I heard and participated at the recent Eastern Region, American Society for 18th Century Studies, at the University of Delaware as I was completing the Burney/JASNA conferences in Montreal. The EC/ASECS panels and papers show the central focus of study today often become once and still disvalued texts, visibilia and people crowding into valued texts. So not Jane Austen but fan fiction became the preoccupation; learning about her, her texts and her era through fan fiction. I include sections on Death comes to Pemberley (film and book), Baker’s Longbourn, and other Jane Austen-derived texts (Cindy Jones’s My Jane Austen Summer; Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones &c&c). This is the first of 2 or 3 reports on the EC/ASECS conference, and topics beyond Austen include other pre- and post-texts in the new historicism; problems using ECCO (too many unevaluated, unedited texts!), innovative periodicals and studies in 18th century pornography and politics and printers/publishers.


I had spent the previous day at the Winterthur Museum, some of it gazing the costumes worn in the mini-series Downton Abbey, which might be called a sequel to the many Edwardian mini-series adapted from 19th century books on British TV, with pointed allusions to Anthony Trollope; on Friday night the whole conference went to a local church used as a theater to see excerpts from 18th century staged adaptations (changed texts) of some of Shakespeare’s plays. So it seemed fitting that among the first panels of the first of two days was “Jane Austen Fan Fiction.”

See my The Way We Watch TV Now

There were 2 papers, and a 3rd panelist brought 4 of her students to report on their findings in their classes studying P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley and Jo Baker’s Longbourn. In “‘If a book is well-written, I always find it too short': Fan Fiction and Teaching the Novel,” Kathleen Stall said teaching contemporary fan fiction “puts the emphasis on the students’ reaction to the text” instead of the text itself; students have to “read valuable information about the period and they relate to the characters” more readily, so such books are “useful as an instructional tool.” She thought these “escapist” books are part of a “collective narrative” and summarizing Amanda Gilroy’s paper in Persuasions On-Line, “Our Austen: Fan Fiction in the Classroom” by grouping fan fiction together as “post-texts” and going over Henry Jenkins’ work on fan fiction (10 ways of rewriting a text); Ms Stall explained what she saw students learning when she had them write their own fan fiction following a few rules (e.g., it must fit in with the content of the original work, its era, they must dramatize not just recite events). I strongly recommend my reader stop here and read Gilroy’s findings after she read a large body of Austen fan fiction.

The cast of Robin Swicord’s film adaptation of Karen Joyce Fowler’s novel The Jane Austen Book Club (see The Conversations)

Marilyn Francus (“Wanting More: Desire and Fan Fiction”) suggested the urge to read fan fiction derives from Austen readers’ desire to have more texts by Austen herself, faute de mieux (so to speak); the Internet has provided a place to participate in, and reach and belong to this creation of Austen culture; even big sums of money can and have been made. Studying the products of the Derbyshire Writers Guild, Ms Francus came up with a number of assumptions she felt underlie this material: Austen’s texts are universal, can be transposed to any other time, class, genre (though romance is the most common kind of sequel), culture. Some conventions of repetition (things repeated) show readers and writers derive pleasure from the same paradigms and enjoy their kind of analyses of Austen’s texts: they derive a psychic security from repetitions like these. They obey conventions of their communities: codes which bind and regulate the different groups; the people want to interact and each person gains an identity of her own by engaging in this way. Henry Jenkins calls this convergence culture. These works articulate a set of desires: the authors want to be Austen; they use female heterosexual narrators, but they put Darcy and Elizabeth into almost every profession and change Austen’s characters’ status easily. Austen is herself seen as a Guide and use her to resist modern society. A strong dislike of what readers perceive as the modern world is at the center of many Austen fan fiction writers and readers. (I’d say such a dislike actuates many people, scholars and ordinary readers alike, who read Austen over and over.) Elizabeth Bennet (P&P is the central used text) is seen as pretty, but not beautiful, loved for her “strong” character, intellect. Ms Francus concluded on the note that desire is central, giving continuous satisfaction in making works in progress and commenting or just thinking on other people’s writing inside this community.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy and Anna Maxwell Martin do make love as Darcy and Elizabeth in the film adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley

In “Experiments in Austen” Melissa K. Downes introduced her 4 students by telling of the group project she designed in which her students had participated: the students had 15 fan fictions from which to choose; they collected, researched and discussed them. Unfortunately I was not able to pick up her students’ names, and the congenial conversational manner of delivery allowed me only to record a few points. Of Death Comes to Pemberley the the first 2 students agreed that James had used minor and new characters to avoid involving “our favorite” characters (by which she meant Elizabeth and Darcy) in sordid doings; James didn’t want to offend her readers by changing the main characters too much. They said a number of students in their group did not like Death Comes to Pemberley. It later became clear that both of them would have preferred to have Darcy and/or Elizabeth personally involved in the murder. The students who discussed Jo Baker’s Longbourn were taken by the new perspective which made us see what happened in the original novel differently; for example, that when Elizabeth runs across the fields and gets mud all over her dress, the novel’s central long-suffering lowly status housemaid, Sarah, has hours of hand-hurting work to get the stains out. Suddenly it didn’t seem so glorious for Elizabeth to have defied conventions and run athletically. These students seem to assume most readers must dislike Austen’s Mr Bennet, so when Baker has Mr Bennet have an illegimate son by Mrs Hill and does not take responsibility for him, one student offered the idea Baker’s text thus thickens our knowledge of the original character’s potentials (not allowed in Austen’s more repressed text). They said they became aware of a whole world in the original house they had not taken into account. One of the four students said she would never read P&P in the “innocent” (she did not use that word but it’s what she meant) way she had again.

There was much engaged talk from the audience and with the panelists and students afterwards. Here is just a bit of it: Linda Troost said she had heard James speak about Austen once, and she talked worshipfully; that you need to twist and distort the original novels to make them more available. It was agreed by many Austen’s wit was lost in much of these post-texts. Kathleen Stall felt that fan fiction that departed too radically from Austen’s assumptions and characters should not be seen as fan fiction (she cited as examples modern crude sexual attitudes in some of the sequels). Marie McAllister asked if Austen scholarship was at all affected by fandom and post-texts; it was implied that it was not, and yet an emphasis on Austen on romance has become dominant in recent scholarship. I tried to start a dialogue on how we can distinguish fine post-texts which can be categorized as historical novels in their own right as opposed to fictions which remain fan fictions because they are rooted in the limited terrain of the Austen worlds in her texts, and only in minor ways move outside. So Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, which retells R.L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a semi-original historical novel in its own right so full and suggestive of the later 19th century world is it, so successful Martin’s creation of an appropriate style, with ramifications well beyond the original texts. Longbourn reaches out to this with its section on the Peninsula war, but does not achieve it by not realizing that war fully enough; James’s novel, Death Comes to Pemberley remains an often inert retelling of the original novel combined with a disorganized meandering mystery thriller; but the film, scripted by Juliette Towhidi, and much rearranged, developed, and made witty and intellectually interesting in its own right (and unusually based on the assumption we are to empathize with Mr Bennet) comes close, but Towhidi’s lack of real examination of the values of either Austen’s original or James’s intermediary text leaves the film without any serious moral critique of life (I do not reject F.R. Leavis’s criteria; it’s such criteria that led to D. W. Harding’s rightly influential, “Well Regulated Hated” essay on Austen’s fiction).

I think it important to distinguish the good and occasionally perhaps great books which are post-texts (before the 19th century use of copyright and theories of originality, such texts themselves are regarded as masterpieces in their own right, like Malory’s Arthurian Tales, a translation, adaptation, redaction of earlier medieval French texts). To see them as just teaching us about Austen, and demand that they stay within Austen’s point of view (let’s admit a limited one in a number of ways) is to dismiss them as non-serious. Alison Light in her Forever England, a book on neglected and good women writers of the 1930s, discusses Mrs Miniver (a pseudonym for Jan Struther) as an important sign or site for a working journalist and poet in her own right; Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones diaries descends from this kind of writing for and about women; and then there are worthwhile sequels, books with a genuine feeling about our contemporary world, something to say about it, which contribute to new subgenres of romance, such as Cindy Jones’s My Jane Austen Summer. It’s one of the jobs of the literary scholar to evaluate the texts we read and write about. See my blog on Cleland and Andrew Davies’s Fanny Hill.


A typical reprint from ECCO (on sale at Amazon)

On Saturday, the 10:30 session, Jim May’s panel on “Research in Progress” offered a series of papers on the kinds of scholarship people are doing today. Tonya Howe discussed “Corpse Humor On and Off the 18th century Stage:” corpses had become a commodity in the era; they were everywhere and farces provide a perspective on wide-spread death practices, beliefs in ghosts, anxieties, confusions and class hierarchy in undertaking/burial practices which included communal “rejoicing” in festivities at death ceremonies. Melissa Wehler has returned to a research project she began many years ago on Charles Macklin, which centered on a tragic play (a flop?) on Henry VII; the context contested by scholarship includes the question of Macklin’s Irishness, his use of a Scots identity (the Scottish Peg Woffington was in a production); the 1745 rebellion. Macklin himself made himself disliked. One has to ask what were the actualities of the time, stage, production, a more sophisticated historicism is needed. Rodney Mahler is another professor who brought a student doing research for and with him to discuss their efforts to decipher the bad handwriting of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson (the standard biography by Anne Ousterhout and Graeme’s work as an American writer was described); Kasey Stewart, the student, showed how he used computer software to create a code. (It was later remarked if you had never learned cursive writing, you would not be able to begin to make a code.) (See Graeme Park the Encyclopedia Britannica on-line article); Matthew Vickless put before the audience and panelists the problem of having too many texts available to us through ECCO and other on-line sites: working on George Dyer, a scholarly highly learned polemical writer and poet (gently satirized by Charles Lamb; see online Dyer’s Disquisitions on Poetry; enotes); Mr Vickless found himself moving to texts within texts, and asking the question, if he was studying underappreciated important or good texts or “going down rabbit holes” of intertexuality. What does one do about all these available ancillary and auxiliary texts? His conclusion was paradoxically we need scholarly evaluative tools and edited texts more than ever.

The Athenian Mercury, February 28, 193

The perspectives of this session and the Jane Austen fan fiction panel were continued (in effect) using other texts in two papers on Eleanor Shevlin’s “book history” panel after the business lunch and presidential address. Peter Briggs seems to have discovered a version of writers interacting with audiences (analogous to people commenting on texts on websites and then on another another’s comments) in John Dunton’s Athenian Mercury. Dunton’s periodical was radical, an innovative experiment in which questions sent in by readers formed the central focus; he felt Dunton and his associates were surrrendering editorial control at least to some extent (they choose what questions to print). Readers’ questions poured in and Mr Briggs discussed the specifics that one can find in this magazine’s run. Beyond entertainment value, one learns what was on many individual’s minds (bothered by apparitions, dreams); what they had questions about (animal behavior; earthquakes); what they saw as significant (does gunpowder or printing cause greater mischief?); we see real people’s lives in process (conventions of marriage, courtship). Readers were fooled by the pretense of a panel of “12 worthies.” Perhaps Charles Gildon overpraised its value, but it is true you cannot predict what could be the results of these conversations in print. Mr Briggs conceded that the tone of the medium was calm reasoning, and the intent often to reassure and make the readers feel they were co-participants in knowledge. The Athenian Mercury provided a public space for them to experience intelligent conversation.

Mr Brickner mentioned the above text in his talk

The other paper that delved what goes on in readerships and human behavior behind and surrounding texts was Andrew Bricker’s “Title Pages, Imprints and Other Deceptions in the 18th century English book trade.” As today, 18th century gov’ts and their agents employed people to stop and control what was printed; ijn reaction about subversive texts printers published, they would claim I didn’t read or understand the text, just printed it. Libel laws were unclear and hard to use against writers and printers; nonetheless, printers were dragged into trials, pilloried, and the trade self-censored itself a good deal. Pseudonyms and anonymous were ways of protecting authors (Junius an example); certain kinds of buzz phrases would alert readers to subtexts; pornography was mostly disguised as art or comedy, e.g., the “Curious Maid” was a bestseller — she tries to see her gentilia in a mirror and finally succeeds; Mr Bricker discussed a fictionalized author calling himself Roger Fuckwell. (See 18th century pornographic verse; erotic fiction; where wikipedia assumes writings by prostitutes are by prostitutes; a book review of one of Robert Darnton’s books and a NYRB review by Darnton himself). He also discussed sycophantic texts: a fake identities like Roger Moore writing fulsomely about Walpole; and Michael Currey who was blacklisted by fellow stationers for giving information away that it was understood one would not. Woodcuts offers a way to understand what a printer intended. Mr Bricker routinely comes across entries in the ESTC that are wrong, or offer misinformation, so difficult and complex is this area.

In the discussion afterwards Mr Briggs later said of the Athenian Mercury that “social visibility” is what we are talking about here, ordinary people becoming visible. These later panels seemed to me to bring up pre-computer attempts for those left out of hierarchies of access to become socially visible and reach other people as well as the post-texts surrounding valued texts and coming out of unacknowledged disvalued communities.

For myself as a woman scholar I know that women memoirists have been denigrated and dismissed as “whores” and their books misrepresented in slurring ways as erotic, pornographic (or just stupid); and I wonder what is the relationship between older pornographic texts (which I often find distasteful) and 20th and 21st century ones (violent, intensely misogynistic); then as now men are the main readers of such books; what is the difference between salacious kitsch and biting political writing and images (e.g., Nelson’s Naked Truth for the images)? See finally Julie Peakman’s essay in History Today.

A telling cover illustration; see a review of Peakman’s now classic work (deserves to be as widely known as Darnton’s).


Daphne DuMaurier walking with her children in front of Menabilly (fictionalized into Manderley)

Dear friends and readers,

As this is a blog not just on Austen and her contemporaries and the long 18th century, but also on women’s art, I thought I’d record a proposal to explore with a group of retired and adult learners the life and work of Daphne DuMaurier; if accepted, this would be for a 5 weeks this summera the OLLI at Mason:

The worlds of Daphne DuMaurier

Daphne DuMaurier is far more than the writer of a single powerful Manderley novel, Rebecca, and not just a writer of women’s romances (and thus underrated) and material for Hitchcock to make movies from. She wrote gothic and Cornish romances; historical and regional novels; travel books, including time-travellers;  insightful biographies (of her father, the great actor, Gerald DuMaurier, of Branwell Bronte) and autobiographical books; family sagas; eerie and terrifying short stories, and transgressive murder mysteries; and realistic novels too. I propose to explore her marvelous oeuvre with those who’d want to do this. For summer we’d read, to begin with, one of her historical Manderley novels, The King’s General, and one of her haunting travel books, Vanishing Cornwall. It is suggested that students see the 2007 biographical film, Daphne, the screenplay by her biographer, Margaret Forster, featuring Geraldine Somerville as DuMaurier.

If rejected, I’ll save this for another time at the OLLI at AU. if it were for a fall semester, I’d do a third book, probably her biography of her father.

The great biography of DuMaurier is by Margaret Forster. I should say I’ve never read a book by Forster I didn’t like. You could call DuMaurier bisexual but the marriage to Browning was something of a veneer even if she had 3 children: her long-time relationships were with Ellen Doubleday (played by Elizabeth McGovern in the film) and Gertrude Lawrence (Janet McTeer). (She was also a friend of Noel Coward’s.)



She had a good deal of the chatelaine English type in her outward social life, but in her books she loves to cross-dress. She’s a powerful biographer and romancer, Menabilly meant a lot, but it would be going against all I am to give a falsifying dumbed wn course on this woman, perpetuating stereotypes which reverse some of her significance, erase it. There is evidence to suggest that far from identifying with the second Mrs DeWinter, she bonded with Rebecca and meant us to see Max as a tyrant. In The King’s General, which takes place in the 17th century, during the English civil war, the heroine is crippled very early on (badly, she must stay in a wheelchair) so she has a central disabled character. She identifies with heroes and transgressive characters.

Nina Auerbach (who also writes transgressively on Austen) has a perceptive informative literary biography of DuMaurier, Haunted Heiress, and Avril Horner with Sue Zlosnik on DuMaurier as a gothic and Cornish regional and historical woman novelist. I’d love a chance to read more of her novels, memoirs, life-writing, letters, and other essays on her and the films made from her books.

It’s unfortunate that most of the films from her work that are famous were made by Hitchcock, which turned her work into his usual nasty school of cruelty and misogyny. It’s their fame which has partly framed her work popularly. I did like the take on DuMaurier in the movie Daphne as brooding often solitary writer embedded in her a chosen landscape.


I’ve 33 books altogether, some on Cornwall and linked to the writing and life of Winston Graham.

A Cornish Seascape

How I’ve loved her books and would love to read more of them and more books on her and the film adaptations.

Ellen dreaming perhaps

Flirting amid piles of plays (Maria and Henry with Tom and Yates in the background, the 1983 MP by Ken Taylor)

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith my second blog report on the gist of the individual papers delivered on Saturday, October 10th, at the JASNA AGM in Montreal. Looking over the 7 to 8 break-out sessions on against the one I chose, I again regret that so many papers were on against one another.


I went to hear Br. Paul Byrd’s paper comparing Mansfield Park with Margaret Oliphant’s Perpetual Curate because I’m a reader of Oliphant’s fiction, and know she was influenced by and wrote a perceptive essay on Austen’s fiction and Austen’s nephew’s memoir of his aunt. He brought the two novels together as by two Anglican women who saw the need for reform in the church with clerical heroes who suffer repeated attacks. Mansfield Park: Edmund is distracted by his personal involvement from his vocation; his religion though more often discussed than portrayed; pluralism and absenteeism condemned. He is contrasted to Dr Grant. Mary argues priests have little influence on people, represents a segment of society that no longer believes thoroughly in the Christian religion; mercenary considerations strongly influence her judgement; Henry Crawford is sensual, self-indulgent. Edmund’s relationship to Fanny shows him thoughtful, meaning to be reflective though he fails to be an accurate observer. The Perpetual Curate: Frank Wentworth presents a Victorian ideal and knows what a clergyman ought to be; but is his own worst enemy, not politic, handles a scandal foolishly, yet remains true to himself; Br Byrd brought in each author’s male relatives who were clergymen, and seemed to believe that Austen assumed her readers believed that Anglicanism could be an effective force in the world while Oliphant delivers a blistering critique of Anglican church of her day: Br Bryd thought Oliphant was showing a cultural shift from a gentleman who is a clergyman to clergyman who have a calling; he also read Mansfield Park as seriously about religion and religious failings in Austen’s characters and the cultural world they belonged to.


I went to hear Kathryn Davis’s “Charles Pasley’s Essay and the ‘Governing Winds of Mansfield Park,” because during the long course of reading and analyzing Austen’s letters (see my blog analysis of Letter 78) I became aware of how she admired the ruthless imperialism of Pasley through what she said in a letter and Southam’s analysis of Pasley’s career and writing (in his book on Austen’s brothers) and how narrowly partisan Austen could be when it came to what she thought were her brothers’ interests. Ms Davis talked of Austen’s admiration for this man, and of his life as retold in the ODNB, and then presented Pasley’s writing in terms of his patriotic ideals and worry about the navy weakening; how he reminds his audience of the commercial good (profit, well ordered places) the military could lay the grounds for in conquest and expansion; she quoted eloquent passages (duty is service); he recognizes there is a loss of social and economic liberty but such bonds as are formed are a deterrent to war. I had not realized Pasley wrote specifically about the West Indies (e.g., Antigua must be held onto). I was much relieved when Robert Clark who had given a paper in the previous break-out session on the British empire at the time of and as reflected in MP (I heard a version of his excellent papers at the ASECS in Williamsburg last spring), when Mr Clark brought out the murder and destruction of societies found in these colonial places, the suffering inflicted on these native peoples; that Pasley’s is a ruthless militarist deeply anti-liberal argument, where the East India Company’s doings are an exemplary norm. Southam shows how he disobeyed orders to aggrandize himself. Mr Clark remarked that it’s telling that Pasley was republished around the time of WW1.

Fanny Price and Henry Crawford dancing foreground, Mary and Edmund just behind them, at the Mansfield ball (1999 MP by Rozema)

I went to hear Nora Stovel Forster’s paper because it was about film, specifically “dancing as a blueprint for marriage in Rozema’s MP.” Ms Forster argued that Rozema modernized MP by politicizing its themes to push her own agenda. Austen’s MP is relentlessly about money as intertwined with love (Mary sees everything in terms of money; Maria marries to gain the use of a great deal of money). Ms Stovel spent a lot of time on the Portsmouth episode in the movie where (Ms Stovel felt) the poverty of the Prices is exaggerated, and drives Fanny to accept Henry Crawford’s proposal momentarily. Slavery is brought in as Fanny journeys around England; through the horrors illustrated in Tom’s sketches of his father’s plantation in Antigua; the sexuality made explicit for us to see the corruption of the hollow characters. Fanny’s character is much changed and she is (in effect) made the author of the movie. I liked how Ms Stovel showed us some of her stills in slow motion. It was hard to tell but I thought the audience this time was more pleased by Ms Stovel’s talk about Rozema’s movie than they had by Sorbo’s presentation because it could be taken as implicitly criticizing the movie for not being faithful (but that is not why they dislike it so as other movies as unfaithful, say Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s S&S is very popular among such people).

The Harp arrives (1999 MP)

I did not know that the session where Jeanice Brooks and Gillian Dow were listed was actually an attempt to present two papers in the 60 minutes. Ms Brooks’s paper was on French culture and music in Paris and as sold and mirrored in London and the provinces of England around the time of MP. I hope hers is one of those papers published in Persuasions for she presented much valuable information in a perceptive way applicable to Austen’s novel and life too (Austen played the pianoforte; Eliza, her cousin, the harp). She told of the invention and history of the harp in the 18th century, the music books in Austen’s household, and went over two volumes of selections from 18th century periodicals which only Eliza de Feuillide could have supplied. She gave a brief resume of Eliza’s movements in France and England from 1780 to 1813 when she died (1780 in Paris with harp; 1781 married, lived in Paris; 178-86 lives on husband’s estates; 1786-87 visits Steventon; Sept 1788 returns to Paris, back in 1789; death of Feuillide, of her mother, her marriage to Henry, the musical party Austen records in April 1811; Fanny Knight’s note on Eliza’s cancer); she then played a lovely piece of music to which one of the songs in the book was set at the time. I regret not having a copy of the text to share with others. I was unable to take it down in sten quickly enough.

Edmund reading to Fanny as children (he made her books meaningful to her, 1983 MP)

I was not able to stay for much of Gillian Dow’s paper which had to be fitted in to the tail end of the session. Ms. Dow attempted a speculative answer to the question, from what books did Fanny Price learn French? She talked of what we know of Austen’s interactions with Grandison (reading, alluding, the playlet) and how she uses Lovers’ Vows in MP, to show Austen’s interest in plays, and she suggested Austen may have meant us to think the Fanny learned French by reading the plays Madame de Genlis wrote for children. While I agree that Adele et Theodore is an important source in two of Austen’s novels (Emma and NA) and Austen seems to have been an avid reader of Genlis’s fiction (which we can see from her reading with her sister in her letters), but at the time I left the session I had heard no evidence Austen read these plays or meant us to feel Miss Lee would be a person who would teach from them. Sir Thomas seems to have instructed his sons through having them declaim plays but there is no sign his daughters or niece were encouraged in such self-displays (even if the texts were impeccably moral).

My daughter, Izzy, may have chosen more wisely than me.

Everyone reading and rehearsing playscript (2007 MP by Maggie Wadey)

On Saturday she listened to Nancy Yee outline how Shakespeare’s Henry VIII relates to MP (she had a sheet of passages from Henry VIII); she was amused by Arnie Perlstein’s paper on subtexts in the allusions to plays in Mansfield Park; she said she understood Susan Allen Ford’s paper on Hester Chapone’s Letters and their relationship to Mansfield Park (was persuaded there really was one), and she positively enjoyed Sara Bowen’s “Fanny’s future, Mary’s Nightmare, on Jane Austen’s understanding of a clergyman’s wife’s life in the context of all the clergyman’s wives that she knew, from her mother, to her sisters-in-law, her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy and many other kin, friends and acquaintances.

From 1982 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater (the clerical families dining, Mr Harding and his daughter, Archdeacon and Mrs Grantley and Mr Arabin, adapted from Trollope’s Barchester Towers)

Izzy talked of (I imagine from this paper) Trollope’s presentation of the life of Archdeacon Grantly’s wife in Barchester Towers, Mrs Proudie across the Barsetshire series, and what we see of clergymen’s wives in his mid- to later 19th century books, and said Ms Bowen argued that the demands on a woman’s life as a clergyman’s wife were changing and are reflected in Austen’s books: we see little expectation of religious doings or doctrine in Elinor Dashwood; we seem never to see Henry Tilney do or think about religion or doctrine (even if he does not neglect his parish and preaches there of a Sunday); in Mansfield Park things are changing, expectations growing. Izzy was amused to try to count up all the female characters in Austen’s fiction who either might have or do become clergyman’s wives.

Mrs Norris humiliating Fanny over her refusal to play (1983 MP)

The most fun she and I had together while at the JASNA conference was when she downloaded all of MP onto my ipad (there is a library APP which permits this, offering free books out of copyright and books you must buy) and we read together parts of MP found suggestive hints in the first three chapters of the book tending to prove McMaster’s thesis that Mrs Norris loathed Fanny because she had wanted to have her as a vicarious child through Sir Thomas and found her personality one a vindictive, selfish, aggressive, competitive and greedy personality would bitterly resent.

I know I reported that my proposal to present a paper on the relationship of the four Mansfield Park films with the novel was rejected, though happily I wrote a brief elaboration of what I would have said and it was published on-line by BSECS, but I believe I never wrote about how I had had an idea to compare Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake with Mansfield Park. A well-meaning friend suggested to me my idea was too dry or scholarly or narrow (who reads Ethelinde?) and the MP proposal was more likely to find acceptance. I’ll end on this proposal I never sent: “Empire, Marriage, and Epistolarity in Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.”

I propose to give a talk on revealing parallels between Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake, and Austen’s Mansfield Park. First, the novels both use visual space, be it a country, rural, town or city, a prison or a great house, to project the inner psychic and moral state of a character in the context of a larger exploration of empire. Characters in both value male work which is part of a professional career to gain money and rank; whether they travel widely or spend their days in a local parish, the two novelists justify and/or critique the means by which the characters succeed or fail. Second, the novels contain slowly evolving love stories which end in an unexpectedly welcome misalliance for one couple and adultery for another, destroying the destined hopes of some of the characters, all seen in the context of arranged, mercenary, and far-flung marriage, further career moves. Last, the development of the novels’ plot-design relies on epistolary situations, characters who reach others only through letters, and reading with all the tension, misunderstanding and critique from afar distance creates and facilitates.
In other words, I’ll be discussing these novels from a post-colonial standpoint. Smith’s central characters are openly driven by economic need, caught up in wars, bad marriages and illegitimate yet loving liaisons, exile and painful and distant correspondences; while most of Austen’s characters’ circumstances are economically comfortable, and adultery is only adumbrated; nonetheless, her characters go through the same paradigms of need, war, mismatch and have to force themselves to write and read their letters Whether it’s a question of intertextuality or influence, a comparison of the way Smith’s and Austen’s characters discuss, dramatize and solve their career, marital and social or moral needs, will shed light on these novels and contemporary attitudes towards the demands of the local mercenary and rank-based and global commercial worlds as these intersect with the people’s private needs and desires.

After Harvest Storm, Richard Westnall by R.M. Meadows (early 19th century)



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