Archive for the ‘blank’ Category


Mary: “‘Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow.I cannot be dictated to by a watch” (1983 BBC Mansfield Park, scripted Ken Taylor), Fanny, Mary, and Edmund walking into the part, MPII,Ch 9)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve gotten into my project of study towards writing a paper on the curious pattern of “important” or bad Tuesdays I found several years ago in Austen’s novels as I drew out the timelines for her novels.


First, I’m returning to the novels rereading them and am almost through S&S and have confirmed for this first published novel there are three of these Tuesdays, with two named specifically. The day Elinor is humiliated and mortified by Mrs Ferrars in front of the Steeles, Dashwood, Brandon, Mrs Jennings and whoever else was at that dinner party is called “the important Tuesday” and a study of the timeline of S&S bears this out.

Two or three important Tuesdays:

The day Willoughby left his card is referred to by him as “last Tuesday” on the night of the snubbing, and my calendar bears out that the snubbing or the morning after of the terrible letter was a third Tuesday.

Monday or Tuesday 15-16 January 1798. “Nothing occurred during the next three or four days . . . about the end of this time” Dashwoods engaged to attend Lady Middleton to a party. Marianne’s public suffering is at least not prolonged. The meeting occurs soon after the Dashwoods enter the room: “They had not remained in this manner long . . . ” The important statement for the chronologist is Willoughby’s “I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley-street last Tuesday . . . My card was not lost, I hope.” (1:6:175-77; 28:148-49) Tuesday or Wednesday 17 January 1798. The first letter in the novel we get to read; four altogether, one by Willoughby, and three by Marianne. “The next day . . . a cold, gloomy morning in January,” Marianne writes Willoughby last letter which is sent from his lodgings to where he is breakfasting with Sophia Grey at the Ellison’s. During long breakfast she receives the reply (“Bond Street, January“), together with her 3 letters of 4, 11, and 17 January 1798, and the lock of her hair. Around 1 o’clock Elinor is perusing Willoughby’s letter and remains dazed by Marianne’s side until the coming of Mrs. Jennings’s “chariot” to take Mrs. Jennings to Mrs. Palmer’s rouses her to go over the letters with Marianne.

All pivotal moments in the novel. The card produces Marianne’s second letter. The snub needs no explaining. The dinner party leads to Lucy Steele being taken into Fanny and John Dashwood’s house and then her exposure and Edward’s ejection.

“I did myself the honour of calling … last Tuesday … My card was not lost … ?” in S&S (1995 BBC, scripted Emma Thompson): a week later Wednesday dawn after Willoughby turns coldly away Tuesday night, snub/mortification, deep distress; Marianne writing, Elinor sitting by

Tuesday 13 February 1798, “The important Tuesday” dinner party which “introduces” Elinor and Lucy to Mrs. Ferrars who “distinguishes” Lucy in order to spite Elinor. Elinor overtly snubbed. (2:12:231-36; 34:196-99).

“The Important Tuesday” in S&S (1971 BBC, scripted DConstanduros): John and Fanny Dashwood’s dinner party: Mrs Ferrars has done all she can to mortify Elinor; Marianne defends her fiercely; Mrs Jennings to her right


Now I want to add to this an account of those days where we get three indications of time: day, month and if not the exact date (though in some of the novels we do), a indication of precisely which week in the month is meant. For example, when Elinor meets Nancy Steele in Kensington Gardens, we told this occurred on “the second week in March” and on a “Sunday. Since Austen has given us sufficiently precise information on when Easter occurred, the year may be arrived at (1798).

S&S 2008 (Andrew Davies): far shot of September trip to Barton Cottage

What months are mentioned: “very early in September,” a “showery October” “The first week of January” their departure from Barton to London “on the approach of January” “Latter end of January” Lucy to come to London because Edward will be there in “February” “a cold gloomy morning in January” “early in February” the two Miss Steeles present themselves in London. It was “last November” they came to Barton Park; Colonel Brandon remembers “February … almost a twelvemonth back”;and we are told the Dashwoods and Palmers and Mrs Palmer are considering leaving London the “end of March for the Easter holidays” and in the event leave “in the very early days of April.”

I’m looking at the distances and time carefully calculated: Cleveland (we are told) was within a few miles of Bristol, the distance to Barton was not beyond one day, though a long day’s journey (3:3:237) and intense attention paid to time: Marianne “draws up a statement of the hours, that were yet to divide her from Barton, 3:3:237; they’ll be home “in little more than three weeks’ time. Brandon “calculated with exactness the time in which she might look for his return”, 3:7:264. “How slow was the progress of time which yet kept them in ignorance”, 3:7:267. Brandon and Willougbhby’s stories filled with continual time-keeping, time words.

1983 S&S (scripted Alexander Baron): Brandon returning to Delaford; the ’81 film could have used more sense of Eliza Williams waiting there for him: all three men have a backstory to confess

After S&S, I’ll go for Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Lady Susan, The Watsons. Then the Juvenilia and then the letters.

What does this curious pattern mean? where does it come from? it’s an obsession with place as well as time: “What Edward felt on being within four miles … day after day passed off, and brought no letter, no tidings” (S&S III:12, 302-3)

2000 I Have Found It (Raj Menon): Sowmya (Elinor) watches Manohar from afar on TV

Well, in 1998 when I was writing my paper, “A Calendar for Sense and Sensibility,” I was so intent on demonstrating my thesis that the S&S we now have represents a revision of an epistolary novel into an omniscent one, with add-ons of chapters (1-6 for example), insertions of chapters (like Mrs Dennison’s musical party, and new connecting chapters (the trip from London to Cleveland for example, where either the pace of the novel was so different from that of the central sections or its content self-explanatory instead of narrative — that I was ignoring one obvious source. Austen’s obsessive time-keeping. Hardly a paragraph is written in those sections which were epistolary where we are not old so many minutes passed by for this to happen, so such-and-such amount of hours, or days, and occasionally weeks or a fortnight.

I had simply been looking for the instances of humiliation, mortification, loss that occur on Tuesdays, seeing the descriptions and creating a general picture. I wondered if Austen combined some memory of a personal trauma with a way of deflecting it through jokes, and to make a joke of it, Austen just might have used “bad Tuesdays” in Richardson

>Clarissa: Lovelace announces the rape of Clarissa on a Tuesday:  “Tuesday morn, June 13: “And now Belford, I can go no further. The affair is over. Clarissa lives. And I am your humble servant, R. Lovelace (Letter 257)

Clarissa 1991 (scripted by David Nokes): aggravated rape (Clary further humiliated because women there)

Grandison: Charlotte Grandison is married on Tuesday, it’s called “the Important Tuesday” and much attention is paid to coercing her acceptance of Lord G), many letters devoted to this;

whether bogus or not I know it but it’s said that Mary Queen of Scots had a very bad Tuesday night before her execution. Mary had a bad night one Tuesday in 1585 because she was executed the next day, Wednesday.

Now I shall take another trajectory which takes into account the calendars as such. I had not sufficiently considered how central is the keeping of and playing with time in the epistolary mode, especially when you have several central interlocutors, how this relates to the creation of a subjectivity that matters to the person experiencing it.

I’ve begun to read sources here: Norman Holland’s The I (the subject in intimate contact with another subject, self-formation); Janet Altman’s Epistolarity with its long section on temporality in epistolary narratives; and today I’ve been told about Stuart Sherman’s Telling Time: Clocks, Diaries and English Diurnal Form, 1660-1785: A revolution in clock technology in England during the 1660s allowed people to measure time more accurately, attend to it more minutely, and possess it more privately than previously imaginable. In Telling Time, Stuart Sherman argues that innovations in prose emerged simultaneously with this technological breakthrough, enabling authors to recount the new kind of time.

Perhaps worth while is to look into sophisticated writers’ use of time: Margaret Church’s Time and Reality (dealing with the awareness and uses of time in “modern” respected writers (Woolf, James, Proust), but I suspect I’d do better to see how Scott kept time in the portion of Redgauntlet that’s epistolary as opposed to the omniscient part. How much attention Richardson pays within a letter. Seek a few of the mass of epistolary novels of the era Austen knew so well, from the great by LaClos (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), to ordinary uses like de Stael (Delphine), to whatever is the most feeble — to see exactly what happens to time.

On my website I had suggested Austen was using time to imitate the pace of internal and external reality as we experience it in life. Now I want to look at how this keeping of time was also a form of controlled poetic utterance she could handle and shape step-by-step. Her metaphor of herself working on a tiny piece of ivory takes on a new meaning.

Now I need to take that more seriously and relate it to her sense of herself and her life story. That will (I hope) also provide a framework for my A Place of Refuge: The Sense and Sensibility films.

My underlying key idea is that authors who use epistolary narrative originally and with multivalent voices come to this from a life where they have themselves used routs, repetition, holding fast to time as a way of conquering and dealing with stress and depression. They seek control over their environment and shape for their existence this way. I saw Richardson that way, under his carapace Trollope and (from her letters and novels too and her picture and verse), Jane Austen.

I’ve long been fascinated myself as a person who needs routs in writers who make a sophisticated use of epistolary, e.g., Trollope’s Partly Told in Letters.

The Other Boleyn Girl: we never tire of these stories of compensatory victimhood; Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies the latest money-maker. Austen participated in these sorts of displaced emotions too


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1971 BBC S&S: our first shot of Elinor (Joanna David) confronted with John and Fanny Dashwood (Milton Johns and Kay Gallie) at Norland

Dear friends and readers,

She’s in London attending to her “suckling child” (the proofs of S&S): a party upon which much effort was expended,a museum trip, theater, visits with worldly political and cultured French friends of Eliza. An overturned carriage. The hard burlesque poem to Anna reflected in this letter. Austen has not changed much; by the end she seems eager to return to the country.

This is the third letter by Austen from the last phase of her life at Chawton (see Letter 69 and letter 70). It’s the second from London during the trip she took during the printing of Sense and Sensibility. In the previous she did not mention the book or anything about it; here for the first time since her two allusions to First Impressions (Letters 17 and 21), she names one of her books and talks about it in strikingly intimate bodily terms (“her suckling child”).

We again have a much more upbeat relatively cheerful text than we had in the early parts of the correspondence or those at Bath and Southampton, with the writer’s sense of herself now showing confidence and more openness to experience. This letter projects buoyant rhythms and outlook, but it also has a continual undercurrent of the prickly (rebarbative is now too strong a term) and muted sarcasms. Jane Austen may now be more openly be living a different kind of life apart at Chawton: her novel writing is acknowledged and understood; but she is still thwarted in fundamentals (e..g, her desire for a female community of friends at Chawton) and she still dislikes intensely all dishonesty of emotion, even when unconscious.

As in letter 70 I use stills from Sense and Sensibility to remind us this is the book she has been pouring herself into, saved enough money to publish on her own, is the reason why she is in London. There I used opening scenes of the novel in all but the Indian film; here I feature the famous second chapter in all the films, with a few of the heroines in the films.


1981 BBC S&S: in this second version Elinor does not interrupt John and Fanny (Peter Gale and Amanda Boxer) in their famous duo on how little they can get away with giving his sisters in fulfillment of his promise to his father to help them

The first line of the letter shows Austen’s ideas about pleasure were in line with Samuel Johnson and George Sand: the best pleasures are the unexpected unplanned ones; Johnson and Sand go so far as to say that such are the only really felt pleasures:

I can return the compliment by thanking you for the unexpected pleasure of your Letter yesterday, & as I like unexpected pleasure, it made· me very happy; And indeed, You need not apologise for your Letter in any respect, for it is all very fine, but not too fine I hope to be written again, or something like it.

Cassandra had complimented Jane upon her letter and the unexpected pleasure it gave Cassandra. Now this refers to Letter 70 (for there are no missing letters here): this implies Cassandra did not expect pleasure necessarily from Jane’s letters. I take it Cassandra likes cheerful letters and many of Jane’s were not. Now she Jane likes unexpected pleasure as such (a different turn of meaning given this phrase here), so therefore Cassandra’s letter made her happy. Cassandra had apologized but Jane says don’t, but the “it is all very fine” then registers a note of doubt about its sincerity, a sense it’s a performance. It was not that fine though so perhaps Cassandra or she Jane may write another just like it.

Edward again complaining about bodily stuff. We remember that occasioned the trip to Bath:

I think Edward will not suffer much longer from heat; by the look of Things this morning I suspect the weather is rising into the balsamic Northeast. It has been hot here, as you may suppose, since it was so hot with you, but I have not suffered from it at all, nor felt it in such a degree as to make me imagine it would be anything in the Country. Everybody has talked of the heat, but I set it all down to London

Our sceptical Jane; everyone here talks of heat but it’s all exaggeration. The word “balsamic” signals something restorative, curative, also a lovely odor, “a balsamic fragrance.” Far from uncomfortable, it’s ripe with lovely smell and warmth. I don’t understand the connection to the northeast. Was it somewhere northeast in the UK that the herbs for balsamic vinegar came?

The boy baby that Austen celebrated in her verse letter to Frank in 1809 has been mentioned by Cassandra; either he or the new baby boy is said to be a child who will be hanged. This is meant as a joke on the Eric or little by Little) syndrome — or perhaps Jane is serious and it’s a wry comment and in full context (which we cannot know) suggested misbehavior.

I give you joy of our new nephew, & hope if he ever comes to be hanged, it will not be till we are too old to care about it. — It is a great comfort to have it so safely & speedily over. The Miss Curlings must be hard-worked in writing so many Letters, but the novelty of it may recommend it to them; –

It seems that Cassandra has had a letter. Mary has had a third child by this time: yet another little boy. Remember Jane’s poem — that was Francis William born 1809, Mary’s second baby. Two years later it’s Henry Edgar born 1811, a third. Jane says let us not fret if Francis William is hanged (or Henry Edgar), she and Cass will be long dead. This is her vein of humor and reminds me of the dead plants and laughing Mrs Palmer in S&S and in Southampton how Austen wrote Cassandra she hoped Cassandra realized all the plants were dead — as a joke and it did make me laugh. I like morbid humor. But the great comfort is not this coming hanging, but Mary’s childbirth which has happened safely and is over. Another one much easier than that hard hard first with Mary Jane.

But the great comfort is not this coming hanging, but Mary’s childbirth which has happened safely and is over. Another one much easier than that hard hard first with Mary Jane. This dialogue shows Austen and Cassandra were aware of the hideous warning lesson school of children’s literature (Eric or Little by Little was a favorite text of Orwell’s to parody aloud in dramatic way; he’d send people off in stitches of hilarity at this poor little boy who one error led to hanging):

Now we get a preening triumphant over the Miss Curlings. They are writing letters as kin of Henry Edgar. Now I see another reason for this sneer. They are related to Mary Gibson and giving themselves airs. Austen was ever ambivalent about real children, and she’s right about the absurdity of this. They have not gone through the hardship and danger of childbirth. So Jane tosses her head and preens: the novelty of writing so many letters is nothing to her now. Now she is a novelist with her own suckling child. She could not know most of her letters would be destroyed.

Jane has had a letter too:

Mine was from Miss Eliza, & she says that my Brother may arrive today.

The brother in question is Frank. Since Austen is living with Eliza Austen, this Eliza cannot be her, but here LeFaye does not tell us which Eliza wrote.

And then the reference to which we have all be thirsting, the first open mention of her writing and it’s startlingly fleshly, even unexpected — given that for half the letters just about every reference to childbirth is half- mocking and askance, and who would go on to breast-feed if the body has been wracked with pain or dead to start with. One buried metaphor here is of a text living off her, her drained by what feeds off her yet is so precious

.– No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby’s first appearance.

That would be chapter 9 when Willoughby first appears.

Then the first literary criticism of her books we have. First she deprecates the flattery of Mrs Knight. The implication of the line is it’s kindness in Mrs Knight to express her eagerness. Austen thinks it will be another 2 months (it’s now April so not until June). Henry has been at it — and Austen we will later learn felt guilty for taking up his time over this. So we see her real modesty here. And after all why would she be otherwise — after 25 years of rejection (1796, 1803, 1809 are the attempts we know about). She underlines “has.” This implies that Cassandra has been doubting that Henry has been working at it. What is to be sent to Eliza in Henry’s absence? a contract? This brings up the tricky reality that women could not sign contracts; Radcliffe’s husband signed hers. What did a maiden lady do? turn to father or brother so the printer will send the contract to Henry’s wife?

I have read about this comment over incomes. Clearly Austen has been told by her family members something is wrong with the incomes. What could it be? As of what we have everything adds up correctly so perhaps it was the extravagance of 50,000 for Miss Grey. Or could it be Brandon’s income might make someone think Austen had someone they knew in mind. Austen’s family might have worried about that (and publishers do today with the disclaimers they have at the opening of fictions). I have read various speculations about what this correction would have been.

And what is Austen’s critical comment? the usual fondness for the heroine. This is just what we will see beyond her literalism over verisimilitude and probability. “my Elinor.” It is sweet.

Mrs K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till. May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June.­ — Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the Printer, & says he will see him again today. — It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. — The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. — I am very much gratified by Mtr K.s interest in it; & whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on any thing else.

For many Emma Thompson embodied Elinor Dashwood perfectly

Let us give thanks to Cassandra here for becoming restless under her sister’s silence and demanding to know what’s happening with that book production, or nothing would be in this letter about this book.


1995 Miramax S&S: John and Fanny Dashwood (James Fleet, Harriet Walter) discuss the inheritance promise well before coming to Norland.

She moves quickly on to another topic. And we get a long vignette for Austen, not jumping off associatively in the way she usually has.

Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms & vexations beforehand of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers &c, & looked very pretty. — A glass for the Mantlepeice was lent, by the Man who is making their own.-M’ Egerton & M’ Walter came at l/2 past 5, & the festivities began with a pof very fine Soals. Yes, Mr Walter – -for he postponed his leaving London on purpose — which did not give much pleasure at the time, any more than the circumstance from which it rose, his calling on Sunday & being asked by Henry to take the family dinner on that day, which he did, ­but it is all smooth’d over now;-& she likes him very well.-‘

To me it’s telling how even the man doing well at this point (Henry) with his wife with her inherited monies, is still lending a glass mirror for over the mantelpiece. What they ate. Who came. I’m interested here to see also how even these networking gentry types or maybe I should say especially are solicitous of the least relative’s feelings. Mr Walter is related to Henry through Henry’s father’s mother and her first husband. Not that they were eager to have him for real (by which I mean any genuine feeling or friendship) for Mr Walter’s postponing his leaving gave no pleasure at the time nor why (alas we are not told about this). It seems this man’s vanity was ruffled, his amour-propre at a lack of invitation until that Sunday. Was Eliza as the known daughter (on the other side of the blanket) the cause? or the fashionable Hans Place? or just this feeling some people have of tenacious rights & a place to whatever is going however little in reality they might enjoy themselves there? Eliza now says she likes him very well. (What else could she say?) They ate fancy fish.

Then the paid entertainment and deliberately late coming upper class ones — rather like Darcy and his party who appear late in P&P and Lord and Lady Osborne who appear late in The Watsons. Austen notes these musisians come in a hackney coach so she’s bought into these values herself as she described:

At 11 past 7 arrived the Musicians in two Hackney coaches, & by 8 the lordly Company began to appear.

Then Austen’s happy time or what she enjoyed of this party: Mary Cooke was someone she wanted to be friends with we know, to bring back to Chawton. They sit in the connecting passage — reminding me of Emma (LeFaye quotes a book by Winifred Watson, JA in London which describes this Sloane Street apartment). Here she admits to the heat. The place the party was in was a small close area for 66 people.

Among the earliest were George & Mary Cooke, & I spent the greatest part of the evening very pleasantly with them. — The Drawg room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting Passage,’ which was comparatively cool, & gave us all the advantage of the Music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first veiw of every new comer. — I was quite surrounded by acquaintance, especially Gentlemen; & what with Mr Hampson, M’ Seymour, M’ W. Knatchbull, M’ Guillemarde, M’ Cure, a Cap’ Simpson, brother to the Capt Simpson, besides M’ Walter & M’ Egerton, in addition to the Cookes & Miss Beckford & Miss Middleton, I had quite as much upon my hands as I could do. –

Quite the belle of the ball, no? Her description of herself surrounded by gentleman puts me in mind of Scarlett O’Hara surrounded by her beaux at the opening of GWTW.The list of men around her and her evident delight suggests I was not wrong about how she disliked assembly balls early on when she was snubbed. No snubbing now. She is the sister of the man running the party, Henry the banker, ex-military man with all his wife’s French friends: Note they are all either family, or business connections, or relatives and or maiden ladies

Not so keen on this maiden ladies though. Of Miss Beckford we are told

Poor Miss B. has been suffering again from her old complaint, & looks thinner than ever. She certainly goes to Cheltenham the beginning of June. We were all delight & cordiality of course.

Her tone acknowledges the phoniness of the moment:

Then Miss Middleton comes in for her share of the barbs:

Miss M. seems very happy, but has not beauty enough to figure in London.

No indeed.

Including everybody we were 66 — which was considerably more than Eliza had expected, & quite enough to fill the Back Drawg room, & leave a few to be scattered about in the other, & in the passage. –

Two drawing rooms full and one passage. I think Austen mentioned a figure in the 80s so that was really on the outside. Eliza had not expected about a quarter of the people she invited to come. (Interesting to me who has never given such a party and hardly ever gone to any such if at all that I can remember.)

And instead of saying how she fled the music, and was not such a hypocrite to pretend, she enters into it through her play-games with Fanny. If you think I am hard and misrepresenting the tone and undercurrents of this pay attention to those last lines: all the Performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid to do.”

The Music was extremely good. It opened (tell Fanny) with “Prike pe Parp pin praise pof Prapela” -& of the other Glees I remember, “In peace Love tunes,” “Rosabelle,” ‘”The red cross Knight,” & “Poor Insect.” Between the Songs were =-.essons on the Harp, or Harp & Piano Forte together-& the Harp Player was Wiepart, whose name seems famous, tho’ new to me.­- There was one female singer, a short Miss Davis all in blue, bringing up for the Public Line, whose voice was said to be very fine indeed; & all the Performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid for, & giving themselves no airs.-No Amateur could be persuaded to do anything. —

Those who suggest Austen was unqualifiedly after money should read these lines; as in other instances, what was good for the gander is not good for her goose — she can sneer at others working for money but when she works for it it’s just fine. And she does not like airs. I would agree that she would not have in public nor in these letters does she. She was very proud in the way of Elizabeth Bennet. That no one unpaid would sing is brought in. I cannot tell if this is a barb at those who do what they are paid to do with the idea they wouldn’t were they not paid or about the fear people have of performing lest others in their minds think less of them.

She concludes her description of the party which she now accounts for by implying that Cassandra wanted this — because she couldn’t be there:

he House was not clear till after 12. — If you wish to hear are of it, you must put your questions, but I seem rather to have exhausted than spared the subject.

The couple of moments of exhilaration were more than made up for by the weariness she experienced and her intensity of experiencing everything alertly through a disillusioned point of view by its end.


I Have Found It: our first view of Tabu as Sowmya (Elinor): two sisters have been bathing in their mansion-house: she does not know why her body’s obligation as a woman is any less than her intellect’s.

After accounting for the party, Austen turns to naval or political news. What was told her at the party about this is separated off:

This said Capt. Simpson told us, the authority of some other Captn just arrived from Halifax, that Charles was bringing the Cleopatra home, & that she was probably by this time in the Channel — but as Capt. S. was certainly in liquor, we must not quite depend on it. — It must give one a sort of expectation however, & will prevent my writing to him any more.-I would rather he should not reach England till I am at home, & the Steventon party gone.

This has several layers. Jane would rather greet her brother from the security and framework of the Chawton home — the family stronghold, the family grounds and privacy as it were – than outside it. She says she need not write to him anymore. She is not eager to, and it may be noted that whatever she wrote this younger brother has not survived. At this point Charles had been married to Fanny for about 4 years: they were married in 1807. By 1810 they have two children and (possibly) she is pregnant with the third She is at sea with him — it should be noted. (The article to read is by Kaplan, Persuasions 14 (1992):113-21) so it’s a case of her coming back with him. She is not mentioned by Austen at all and Kaplan says everyone understood he did not have the income to pay for living quarters (Later in life Francis lived at Chawton itself — on Edward’s inheritance as did his sisters and mother).

And now for the painful part of this letter.

My Mother & Martha both write with great satisfaction of Anna’s behaviour. She is quite an Anna with variations — but she cannot have reached her last, for that is always the most flourishing & shewey — she is at about her 3d or 4th which are generally simple & pretty. —

The flourishing and shewy Anna. Austen forgets her childhood, her cutting off of her hair in 1808 (age 15, a very hard year) and how the assembly balls Anna went to were nothing to hers. The language here echoes the language of the 2nd poem to Anna. The condescension is strong. Anna of course does not get to go to London (as she did not to Godmersham in 1808) For the poem see Letter 113; for more on the relationship of Anna and Jane, letters 104, 107, 108, and the collaboration of Sir Charles Grandison.

It seems just now Anna is obeying: “great satisfaction. So the couple of sentences are softened by the last two adjectives: Anna’s third and fourth variation are “generally simple and pretty.” Martha appeared as a rigid disciplinarian and older women to Catherine Anne Hubback when Frank married her (see Zoe Klippert’s An Englishwoman in Canada: Letters of Catherine Hubback, 1871-76); neither she or Anna could have any inkling of Martha as the lovely spirited young women whom her aunt’s spirits leapt out to; Martha by then had become older and behaved as a disciplinarian and probably she seemed something of this by 1811.

Your Lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. — The Horse chesnuts are quite out, & the Elms almost. –I had a pleasant walk in Kensington G’ on Sunday with Henry, M’ Smith & M’Tilson — everythingwas fresh & beautiful.­

These are Henry’s friends. Austen is beating her sister out — it seems London is in bloom first. Part Three of Sense and Sensibility has Elinor walking in Kensington Gardens.

Then the lines about the plays and then the museum. The play is Isaac Bickerstaffe adapted from Cibber. Pretty bad. The distance from Moliere by this time huge — Shadwell comes close. These later adaptations were shortened and emasculated. I note that Austen goes to plays with a popular point of view. She does not pay attention to the play but the player. She does admire Siddons who was known for her projection of intensity of emotion (thats the point of the role of Constance in King John).

We did go to the play after all on Saturday, we went to the Lyceum, & saw the Hypocrite, an old play taken from Moliere’s Tartuffe, & were well entertained. Dowton & Mathews were the good actors. Mrs Edwin was the Heroine-& her performance is just what it used to be.-I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons. — She did act on Monday, but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would, the places, & all thought of it, were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance, & could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.

Lefaye notes there were two watercolor societies; the one started in 1808-9 had an exhibition for “the associated artists.” Austen did like landscapes, and among the materials on Sanditon is a comment by her about the man who might have been the source of Mr Parker, Ogle: she says he has no need of panoramas, meaning he need not go look at paintings since he owns so much shipping and spends so much time at seascapes for real – including Worthing. Miss Beaty is the sister or daughter of one of Henry’s friends, a Captain (so known from militia days); Henry’s bank also made a payment of 50 pounds to this captain in 1804.

– Henry has been to the Watercolour Exhibition, which open’d on Monday, & is to meet us there again some morn — If Eliza cannot go –( & she has a cold at present) Miss Beaty will be invited to be my companion. –

Cassandra has been asking what are Henry’s plans, but Austen puts her off. She will not herself be expansive and is aware that she might say offend were she to tell Henry’s plan. The awareness of her place as a guest comes next. She cannot send the muslim unless Cassandra really wants it because she’d have to send it by coach and that would give trouble (cost money)

Henry leaves Town on Sunday afternoon­ but he means to write soon himself to Edward – -& will tell his own plans. — The Tea is this moment setting out.-Do not have your cold muslin unless you really want it, because I am afraid I Could not send it to the Coach without giving trouble here. –

There follows the account of why Eliza is under the weather and the near accident. That she is so reactive reminds us that she did not have long to live. By this time her little son is dead 10 years. He died around the time the Austens left Steventon for Bath. A hard year for all, that.


In I have Found It: Srinivasan and Nalli (the equivalent of John and Fanny Dashwood) discussing how little they can give their mother-in-law and her daughters

The letter ends on two vignettes and enigmatic references to family politics combined with dropped comments on Austen’s plans to leave Sloan Street for Catherine Bigg and then home to Chawton. Muted sarcasm and coolness throughout comes out again and again. A quietly apart, estranged presence. This is what this woman has grown into in maturity — guarded.

Eliza caught her cold on Sunday in our way to the D’Entraigues; — the Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate — a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable Hill to them, & they refused the collar; — I beleive there was a sore shoulder to irritate. — Eliza was frightened, & we got out-& were detained in the Eveng air several minutes.- The cold is in her chest ­but she takes care of herself, & I hope it may not last long.- This engagement prevented M’ Walter’s staying late-he had his coffee & went away. –

Gibbing is pulling back. The details intuitively picked out make us feel the misery of these horses, though Austen’s words about this are not at all necessarily sympathetic. Southey in his Letters from England talks of our horses are made to work on with their skin in terrible state. Austen saw that sore shoulder being whipped or pushed and prodded on. It seems cousin Eliza (now aged what — 50?) was made nervous by this and is said to have caught cold. The relative who had forced himself on them anyway didn’t stay. Had his coffee and went away.

They did get to the D’Entraignes (see LeFaye p 514, the biographical index).

Eliza enjoyed her evening very much & means to cultivate the acquaintance — & I see nothing to dislike in them, but their taking quantities of snuff. — Monsieur the old Count, is a very fine looking man, with quiet manners, good enough for an Englishman — & I beleive is a Man of great Information & Taste. He has some fine Paintings, which delighted Henry as much as the Son’s music gratified Eliza-& among them, a Miniature of Philip 5. of Spain, Louis 14.s Grandson, which exactly suited my capacity. — Count Julien’s performance is very wonderful. We met only Mrs Latouche & Miss East — & we are just now engaged to spend next Sunday Eveng at M” L.s-& to meet the D’Entraigues; — but M. Ie Comte must do without Henry. If he would but speak English, I would take to him.-

When they got there, Eliza enjoyed it very much. She will “cultivate” this acquaintance. Austen not so enthusiastic. (She reminds me of Elinor Dashwood here). She sees nothing to dislike but their taking quantities of snuff. Which makes us aware of how physically smelly they were. Austen disgusted by this. Apparently Henry was with them (yet he’s not mentioned in the vignette of the accident). Austen shows only grudging appreciation of a highly educated man of fine taste with real art and knowledge of the world. This man or his type does not appear in any of her novels. Maybe she didn’t go to that gathering with highly intelligent well-educated people where Henry wanted to take her to meet De Stael for more reasons than she thought she would not fit in (not used to it — “wild beast” that she is). Perhaps intimidated? perhaps she does not see what the man is. What we take to be modesty and self-deprecation (as when she says she is not well read meaning the reality that she has no latin and none of the academic type learning so respected then) here emerges as an instinctive suspicio or the result of years of exclusion.

Only miniatures for her. This though could be is also the result of many years hidden injuries and exclusions. She would never have a miniature. Only Cassandra sketched her.

[Joke digression: Bryne has not picked this passage up! (She has not read the letters with alert attentiveness to what does not flatter her.) Here is Austen looking at a miniature and saying this is just my capacity! (ironic joke alert). Now naive people that we are we think she is simply looking half-resentful; no it was here she hatched that plan to have a miniature made of her in secret.]

She keeps herself apart: it was Henry who delighted in the pictures, Eliza who was gratified with the music. Perhaps Austen saw them as posturing, as not emotionally completely honest here. LeFaye in her notes does not tell us who Count Julien was. She does not single him out (LeFaye seems to think society is families period.) Perhaps one of the performers? perhaps one of the family. They did not get to meet Count Julien it seems but only another relative, Mrs Latouche and her daughter called Miss East (p 543). Why? on account of her marrying a baronet (reminds me of Bleak House and Sir Leicester Dedlock baronet), but then she’d be an honorary Lady or at least Mrs.

Now next Sunday they all will go to the lodgings of the LaTouches, but they will have to do without Henry. (Business).

And then the concession:

If he would but speak English I would take to him.

We see early on in the paragraph that there is xenophobia or anti-French feeling here. The man’s manners were “good enough for an Englishman”! what more can she say? In other passages she describes typical English men as rowdy, aggressive, domineering … I wonder what M. L’Entraignes and his wife thought of Miss Austen. Certainly they did their best to entertain her.


2008 BBC S&S: does anyone surmise this Fanny (Claire Skinner) partakes of something of Austen?

The tone is muted sarcasm. Two sentences later she recurs to the evening and says:

Eliza has just spoken of it again. — The Benefit she has found from it in sleeping, has been very great. (Italics Austen’s)

Underlining she leaves a distance from Austen. “It” presumably refers to not drinking tea, but I’m not sure that “Eliza has spoken of it again” refers to Mrs K’s tea-drinking but rather the whole evening which benefitted Eliza so.

The whole of this last occasionally somewhat puzzling paragraph runs:

Have you ever mentioned the leaving off Tea to M” K.? — Eliza has just spoken of it again. — The Benefit she has found from it in sleeping, has been very great. I shall write soon to Catherine to fix my day, which will be Thursday.-We have no engagements but for Sunday. Eliza’s cold makes quiet adviseable. — Her party is mentioned in this morning’s paper. — I am sorry to hear of poor Fanny’s state. – -From that quarter I suppose is to be the alloy of her happiness. — I will have no more to say. —

The beloved (by both sisters, and for her generosity) Mrs Knight is an elderly elderly lady by this time. She had been so ill in a previous letter as they feared she’d die. Austen now writes in response to something Cassandra wrote (we should recall Cassandra destroyed all her own letters but two — the others that survived were out of her control). Then Austen reports she will write to Catherine Bigg to fix her day of arrival. No more engagements but that following Sunday as Eliza has a cold. We may wonder if there was some underlying condition She died two years later (aged 52). She is part of “le monde” — “her party mentioned in the paper.”

And then turning at last to Godmersham news. Fanny not in a good state? Well there must be some alloy in some lives. Austen has a hard comment to make here but refrains: “I _will_ have no more to say …” Perhaps about young men? perhaps about her position in the household — discipline pressed on her?

Austen closes with a pointed conveyance of love to her god-daughter, Louisa Austen Knight, one of Edward’s brood whom Cassandra is now caring for.

The letter is directed to Edward Austen at Godmersham.


Irene Richards as Elinor (1981 BBC S&S): I like her in the role

This letter is another which divides into sections with vignettes that may be excerpted — this is not that common for Austen the way it is for more performative letter-writers. She still does not take the time to make a fully realized dramatic scene the way Burney does and does not work out her thoughts the way say Anne Grant or many another letter-writer does on issues I’ll call them which come up (there are opportunities here to talk of paintings, or acting, or songs). But there is more willingness to expatiate in these vignette sectioned letters. She’s an impatient letter writer as she’s an immanent novel writer.

We see the same continually sceptical frame of mind we’ve seen throughout, with the same reluctance to be pleased, as when she now has met a genuinely interesting informed perceptive man with real taste, a decent collection of paintings, a relative who actually can play, it takes several clauses before she breaks down to say to say “If he would but speak English, I would take to him …” There is also real hardness towards Anna, Eliza, the Miss Curlings. The joke about the baby boy is not pleasant. Austen (as we have before) is her taking a mean family view towards an individual’s hurt and bewilderment (Anna) and reaching out for love relationships; when Austen did this (Tom Lefroy) she would have liked sympathy but in her guarded way pretended to dismiss her emotion. Anna does not. And there’s something pettily triumphant we’ve seen before (with respect to Anna) over the Miss Curlings. She tosses her head and preens: the novelty of writing so many letters is nothing to her.

We do see some real pleasure in the party, in London environs (Kensington “everything fresh and beautiful”), a lively interest in actors, a sense of the reality of the horse, near turn over of her and Eliza’s carriage, Eliza’s anxiety
and fright (you could have a very bad accident even die from an overturn) standing on the pavement. Still in this great moment of her “suckling child” come home to her with her scarce ability to still her intense excitement as the book is in printing I did expect the more or less unqualified cheer of the previous letter to continue.

She is in herself secretive, hidden and does not want (trust) anyone to know for sure where her real allegiances lie.

So, to try a little to get beyond or beneath this: Jane Austen took on board her family’s values of conventionality; she had no other. She never went to a school where she could reach another point of view, was literally not allowed associates who had them. It was from her nature as well as circumstances unthinkable for her to break away — some women did, but often we find their family life was hard, deprived. In her (later) letters to Fanny Austen Knight there is this chilling idea that Anna Austen Lefroy must now spend hours of her existence disciplining one of her children (Jemima) to make her into what the family wants her to be. (There is a similar observation found now and again in Trollope about mothers really punishing girls until these girls are what they want, censoring all that comes near them to
do it.) So I take this presentation of social life as her conventionality (and also how she treated Anna in her poem about her) and find in Letter 71 many barbs at it too, instinctive, irresistible.

A telling aspect of Hubback’s Younger Sister (revealing sequel to The Watsons) is how Hubback combines Austen’s Emma Watson with Anne Elliot to show someone not just tortured by those around her emotionally, absolutely turning from what is in front of her with boredom, but disliking intensely their values in the spirit of Elinor Dashwood. (My next blog will be on two Austen sequels.)

A picture is worth a thousand words. There’s that portrait of Austen by Cassandra – an honest one. A worn-woman, having a bad day, but one which shows she had many bad days and bad nights (there are three poems on headaches, one on her own migraine to be specific just before the publication of Sense and Sensibility” “When stretch’d on one’s bed,” Later Manuscripts, Cambridge ed, 253-54). Tight, arms crossed, grated by the demand she sit there. The other is better because she did not have to show her face she didn’t want to.

Yes in general she is so much more fulfilled in this second half of her letters — partly because she is feeling some respect and a modicum of power at last. Not much, she’s still utterly dependent (has to smooth her way to leaving) and she is still very jealous of those whose work is valued more than her or as much when she feels so strongly her genius. She’s not a very nice person by the way (in the general way we use that word nice), not herself empathizing with others in her predicament, instead she is one of those who inflicts on others what was inflicted on her, partly softened. Maybe she did try to save Anna from the marriage to Ben (in the later comments I quoted in the commentary on the 6 letters) but not on the grounds she could have and then when the girl still sought the only escape route offered (not an escape), Austen did not help her.

The archive for Jane Austen’s letters


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Anna Chancellor as Miss Bingley (the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice by Davies)

Dear friends and readers,

Score another success for our JASNA-DC Janeite-Austenite group. Last spring we enjoyed a good luncheon together at the Holiday Inn Arlington, heard a stimulating talk by Patricia Meyer Spack on and (many of us) bought a beautiful, instructive and picture-laden edition of Pride and Prejudice, and had good company and talk; this year again the last two, this time the lecturer Deborah Kaplan who provided an insightful talk on the images of Austen, especially the Paula Byrne one. She meant not only to to try persuade the more sceptical among us to entertain the idea this new image could be (a poor) one of Austen but talk about why we want an image, what we come to any image armed with (so to speak) in the first place and corollary connected topics.

I’ve outlined the talk and our lively discussion afterward. See what you think.


Spring. Our JASNA-DC luncheo again at the Holiday Inn Arlington, this time featuring Deborah Kaplan, an 18th century and Jane Austen scholar (professor at George Mason University where I teach too). Her talk on authenticated and “pretender” images of Jane Austen brought us all back to the hot/sore topic of this past December: Paula Byrne’s claim that a 1814-1817 miniature painted of a spinster author at the back of whom the name Jane Austen can be seen is indeed Jane Austen.

Izzy was with me and appeared to enjoy the talk as much as I did and has written a succinct assessment of Professor Kaplan’s argument and discussion afterward about who this aspiring Regency authoress was: “Much ado about a picture.” I have blogged about the controversy before; that is, when first it erupted and when I saw the BBC program on YouTube. I wrote then that I thought the portrait was not of Jane Austen. Deborah has persuaded me to think again; her talk’s smaller goal was to demonstrate to us all the plausibility of the attribution. A larger issue was also canvassed: how our individual reactions to the image derive from our personal conjured-up sense of what Austen looked like, what she was like a person within, an identity we invent from reading her novels, letters and imagining her in her world.

Deborah began by handing out a sheaf of xeroxes of images of Austen: the Byrne portrait, Cassandra’s two portraits; the prettied up images commissioned by James Edward Austen-Leigh and the Rice portrait. She asked us to look at Byrne’s find and write next to that “yes [it's Austen] or “no” [it's not] and jot down a few reasons why we feel this way. I wrote “no,” she’s “very expensively dressed and likes stage-y self-projection;” “she’s a spinster and glad to be so;” and “she wants us to see her as an author.”

Deborah then began her talk. She first described and went over the history of the (above) previous images which have claimed authenticity. In 1804 Cassandra drew Jane in a bonnet from the back, gazing at a landscape; and in 1810 drew Jane sitting on a chair, facing really “scowling” at Cassandra, with her arms tightly-crossed, dark shadows under the eyes. In 1869 James Edward Austen-Leigh, her nephew (son of her eldest brother, James) commissioned James Andrew to produce a prettified cheerful version of the 1810 portrait for his memoir. Andrews made adjustments to her face, posture, arms, clothing. This was engraved and again “adjusted by Lizars for the actual printing. The dearth of images was lamented for decades.

Then two more contenders appeared. The first is known as the Rice portrait, a portrait of an adolescent girl, clearly not from the life which ignited a controversy in TLS in 1998. Since I have never put this one on any of my blogs or my website as I do not care for it (to me this image looks like a muscle-less feeble imitation of a Lancret or rococo Frency lady), I’ll put a copy of this one directly on this blog:

and a full account of the controversy.

The second is Paula Byrne’s husband’s find, the miniature which precedes this blog (see above) and presented by Byrne to the public as plausibly of Jane Austen in a TV documentary hosted by Martha Kearney.

Deborah suggested Ms Kearney asked a good question early on in her program: Why are we so desperate to know what Jane Austen looked like? Her program showed why we care about this author. Deborah said th specialists consulted and dialogue made the program into a study of seeing. We watched a curator gasp in excited recognition; we heard Roy Strong grumble at being asked to put rubber gloves on “for [in his words] an amateur crummy piece of drawing that is ridiculous.”

To the program: we first leartn how the portrait has come to the public’s attention. Paula Byrne’s husband, Jonathan Bate, bought it for her for £2000 because it has written on its back “Miss Jane Austen.” Paula had a moment of recognition as soon as she saw the portrait. By going to Kearney and through her husband’s connections, Byrne was able to get quick access to specialists in fashion, costume history, literary history, and experts in forensic facial techniques. Byrne and Kearney claimed we know what most well-known people of the era and in that milieu looked like. Byrne believes this miniature will revolutionize our view of Austen. We then witness on the program how works of art are authenticated.

The program had a plot-design of suspense built in because at the end we were to have a jury of Deirdre LeFaye, Claudia Johnson, and Kathryn Sutherland (three respected Austen scholars) to decide the case. The argument was described throughout as an “uphill struggle.” The experts already mentioned plus people who studied portrait motif & frames could not rule out this image nor what we know of Austen’s later years when she stayed frequently with her brother in London around the area the buildings in the painting are located. The style of dress is 1812-14 and it’s very hard to fake a dress in such paintings. The generic features do not rule out Austen. A telling sequence took this image and overlaid it with images of her brothers For examples, look at the miniatures of Henry:



and finally Charles

Is there not a strong resemblance (only Henry stands out and it’s because the artist is so much better at capturing a living complex mind behind the face). Art historians confirmed the Byrne portrait is poor: the head does not sit properly on the body, her right arm is too long. The noses are especially similar.

There were some thoughtful remarks by scholars interwoven in: Claire Tomalin said “people long to find a portrait of an author or people they admire; there she is at last.” “There” she is speaks to our sense that this person as seen as been in a room, really existed, and this is a relic as well as a record, evidence from the moment. Barthes wrote of how we read books to find the author in them confiding in us; we seek intimacy as we read or enjoy a book.

What the program suggested — that this image could teach us what Austen looked like — is just what it showed us could not be so. The image of Jane Austen her readers have comes from a reading of her texts (novels, letters) and nowadays perhaps what we feel in watching the film adaptations: we seek confirmation of an identity we are conjuring up. We look to see our expectations met. Each of us characterizes “our” Jane Austen. It’s not that we have nothing to go on; the program demonstrated that we have a developed sense of what we are looking for, what she looked like, her inner self shining out.

Jane Austen had no oil painting (£300 the average price) nor even a miniature (£30), which was accorded each of her brothers but Edward, who had a full-length oil painting done of him when young and on tour as a gentleman. Many readers are not happy with the image of Jane scowling, her arms crossed, almost mocking the genre (as it were). Byrne’s theory is that Jane snuck off between 1814 and 1816 when in London and for one time in her life flush with some money paid for an amateur to paint her as an author all dolled up. The problem with this is would not James Edward Austen-Leigh have known or found out about it when he and Anna and Caroline (his sisters, Jane’s nieces) were seeking images for the memoir.

At the end of the program the three famous scholars had their say and it seemed they were reacting to the portrait according to some internalized image inside themselves. LeFaye rejected it adamantly: “too solemn, too sanctimonious, no I could not accept that.” Johnson was glad to move away from both Cassandra’s dark and/or absent images. Sutherland alone did try to distinguish the real Jane Austen from all these images. Deborah presented them as open-minded, not looking through a narrowly personal lens. (Nor Tomalin who offered the idea the woman in the portrait was trying to look official, a lady author.) They all four agreed it lacks skill; what artist could Jane have afforded?

But if we step back a moment we can remember that all images are mediated, be they paintings or modern photographs; all are shaped by contemporary conventions, the media used and all show the relationship between the creator and subject as much as anything else. Cassandra’s image reflects Cassandra’s reaction to her sister and people have suggested its darkness, the tiredness of the sitter (she looks like she has not had a good night’s rest for several days) is the result of poor drawing, blotting the ink. Perhaps this one too does not persuade and is not really like Austen because it too is poor. Deborah thought this might be a portrait of a woman comfortable in her own skin who meant to be triumphant and thrilling but the ineptness of the artist could not put this across.

Deborah herself was falling back on her own book, Jane Austen among Women and her pre-conception. She suggested perhaps Jane was encouraged to have her portrait done by a woman friend; in her women’s circles, the women spoke far more confidently, and this is a product of her woman’s culture. As such, it’s endearing. Apparently Deborah at first liked the citation of Eliza Chute as the go-between who hired the painter, but as Byrne has dropped this idea (having over-emphasized Austen’s closeness to Chute) so has Deborah moved away.

No portrait can tell us what she looked like since we all see each one differently.


Jane Austen’s pelisse?

Deborah then threw the discussion open to all the audience and asked for a show of hands which of us thought this was audience and with a number raising their hands “yes” she looked surprised. She asked who said “no” and there were many more hands. She asked those who were willing to say why to volunteer what they had written down the Byrne portrait image she had handed out as a xerox at the opening.

The discussion was great fun as people were frank. I learned some new facts and about new paraphernalia associated with Austen I had not known about before. For example, there is a pelisse at Chawton cottage which is claimed to have been worn by Austen. But it is so tiny she would have to have been much shorter than 5 five 3 and very thin and all that has been said (and Cassandra’s portraits) show us a chubby and speak of a tall woman (5 five 7); Henry is said to have been tall, and so too Charles. Some people made intriguing observations: why did Cassandra draw Austen as depressed and unhappy even if she was? would not Cassandra have wanted to present a conventional happy image to the world, or simply remember Jane that way herself. One young woman said, oh yes, when she saw that face (in the Paula Byrne miniature) she said, that’s her, I know it. (Recognize her, this confirms my pre-conception.)

My contribution was to congratulate Deborah upon invalidating all of our arguments in the first place by arguing they were all reflecting our previously conceived Austen and whether the Byrne or Cassandra images confirmed that. I also liked her second sceptical reminder: that it may be that the portrait does not look like Jane very much because it’s so poor. But when I (and others) suggested that she was making us begin to entertain seriously the idea Byrne’s miniature was meant to be Jane, Deborah reminded us all that Byrne is an indepedent scholar, holds no position at a university (meaning she probably has no income of her own and is dependent on her husband). It costs to do research (traveling about, money for reproduction). If Bryne convinces people this is Jane Austen, she will not only sell her biography more widely, she will be able to see her miniature for something like 1 million pounds.



Anna Chancellor (played Miss Bingley in the 1995 P&P)

And so I come to an explanation for the presence of Anna Chancellor’s image at the top of this blog.

Over supper in the evening we (Izzy and I) discussed the portrait with Jim for the first time. It quickly emerged that when all has been said that can be, the case for the miniature being Austen still rests on a lack of evidence. Everything generally historical about it places it in Austen’s era but nothing else is known. The narrative of Austen sneaking off and turning to women friends is wholly made up. We can say this because (it’s said) we know little about how she spent all her days in London. But she didn’t have to have her portrait done at all. In Cassandra’s, she seems strongly adverse to having her image taken.

Izzy remembered in her blog the woman who said she thought Byrne’s miniature was Austen because it reminded her of Anna Chancellor, the actress who played Miss Bingley in the 1995 P&P and who is said to be a descendent of the Austens somehow or other. for my part I do see it and apart from Miss Bingley I often like the roles Anna Chancellor plays. I have to say that were a jury to hear the story of this attempt at a dignified image by Austen and her women friends, a judge would tell us the evidence for both theories is nil.

Does it matter? Yes. Does it matter to us what our authoress looked like? Deborah’s talk confirmed why a “yes” is not silly. To me Cassandra’s two portraits confirm what I feel is true about Jane Austen: nothing phony, more than a little asocial (understandably, for good reasons); on one day in 1810 she’s worn down, worn out by her marginalized position, tired from her efforts at living and writing against the odds, and as in her poetry, suffering bad headaches. On another six years earlier we see her in better spirits and loving to be absorbed in landscape, in reverie.


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Mrs Smith (Helen Schlesinger) drinking tea with Anne, from the 1995 BBC Persuasion

Dear friends and readers,

The importance of this letter is it gives us glimpses of the woman in Bath that Austen knew who provided a number of the traits of Austen’s solitary (except for Nurse Rooke) Mrs Smith: crippled, poverty-striken, outside the pale of upper class socializing, sews in a small way. WE see Jane buoyant about going to Bath and uncertain; James, her brother, will not take a 2nd church post and the aunt does come forward with 100 pounds to make it up to his (resentful) wife, Mary.

We are missing a number of letters and developments have happened offstage. In Letter 61 there was still a slightly tentative feeling about the Chawton move: Mrs Austen still to be persuaded; Frank’s sudden intervention; there is no firm security of tone. Martha’s uncertainty. Now it’s a done deal and this may be seen in lines like “We want to be settled in Chawton in time for Henry to come to us for some Shooting, in October at least; — but a little earlier, & Edward may visit us …”

Will not Sept 4th do? People did move for Michaelmas (as rent was paid from Michaelmas to Michaelmas) but I am interested to notice that the Dashwoods move into their cottage (by my calendar) “”Very early in September” the Dashwoods arrive Barton Cottage. “The season is fine . . . ” (1:6:28; 6:24) — which I made out to be on or around Sept 2nd.

In the event the Austens moved in by early July, but I noticed something for the first time. Another gap. After the Austens moved in there are no letters for two years. LeFaye would say the sisters were not separated. I don’t believe it. Cassandra went as often to Kent as usual. Did Austen throw herself passionately into writing her books: she had been doing that all along, 4-5 hours a day and it would be expected that she spend much of her time with the family in the house as usual. She says Henry will come, Edward &c

This time I surmise a period of adjustment and it was not easy after all. Frank had not wanted this is my feeling, and Jane’s two well known poems to him are her way of insisting to him this is what she wants. Maybe the first two years of Elizabeth’s death were hard for Edward to cope with and he let everyone know that. Hard for Fanny too.

But I anticipate — as that the two moving in letters are Nos 68 and 69 and then two year silence and then Letter 70.

I was very moved by the close of this letter.


Hester Thrale Piozzi

Jane is really immersed in the diurnal and immanent (as Beauvoir would call it). The first page opens with the usual extravagant insistence on what a great letter writer Cassandra is and gratitude for a letter from her and Mr Deedes. My sense is these compliments were made to insist that Cassandra keep writing. Jane wanted these letters like some people long for email letters from friends. She imagines what Cassandra is doing and in turn pours out what is happening just now to her. She is willing to find kindness in one of the visitors who came to pay a duty call to Mrs F.A. (so the Austens did not announce that Mary no longer lived there): Mrs D is found “a really agreeable woman,” not so Mrs Bertie who Jane says had the merit of not being there when they returned the call.

Many thanks my dear Cassandra, to you & Mr Deedes, for your joint & agreable composition, which took me by surprise this morning. He has certainly great merit as a Writer, he does ample justice to his subject, & without being diffuse, is clear & correct; — & tho’ I do not mean to compare his Epistolary powers with yours, or to give him the same portion of my Gratitude, he certainly has a very pleasing way of winding up a whole, & speeding Truth into the World. — “But all this, as my dear Mrs Piozzi says, is flight & fancy & nonsense — for my Master has his great Casks to mind, & I have my little Children” — It is however in this instance, that have the little Children — & I that have the great cask –, for we are brewing Spruce Beer again; –but my meaning really is, that I am extremely foolish in writing all this unnecessary stuff, when I have so many matters to write about, that my paper will hardly hold it all. Little Matters they are to be sure, but highly important …

Austen quotes Mrs Piozzi’s book almost verbatim; she likens her and Cassandra’s situation to Piozzi’s, than which one might have thought no three were more different. But Cassandra and Jane together make up one Mrs Piozzi; Cassandra and Jane have demur at an invitation. Piozzi married, continually pregnant, surrounded by children, anxious to teach them, with the brewing business never far from minds or heart. Jane focuses ironically on the inconsequentiality of what Piozzi writes and herself. She too is brewing home-made beer.

In the first place, Miss Curling is actually at Portsmouth — which I was always in hopes would not happen. — I wish her no worse however than a long & happy abode there. Here, she would probably be dull, & I am sure she would be troublesome. — The Bracelets’ are in my possession, & everything I could wish them to be. They came with Martha’s pelisse, which likewise gives great satisfaction. –

Miss Curling was a relative of Mary Gibson; Jane finds her one of these people who make themselves a burden to others by demanding company, activity and she Jane is glad Miss Curling is staying far away.

While the bracelets might be a lovely memento from Elizabeth, Jane is ironic about this: They came with … which likewise gives great satisfaction.” Jane doesn’t like favors so she downplays them. Then the visit of people looking to make to Francis’s wife — which suggests that the Austens are not letting on that Mary Gibson has fled them and insisted Francis live with her on their own as far as this is possible. Francis recognized how Jane’s invention and landscape gave her much happiness and was glad of it, but he could so little for her.

Soon after I had closed my last letter to you, we were visited by Mrs Dickens & her Sister-in law Mrs Bertie, the wife of a lately made Admiral; — Mrs F.A. I beleive was their first object-but they put up with us very kindly, & Mrs D-finding in Miss Lloyd a friend of Mrs Dundas had another motive for the acquaintance. She seems a really agreable Woman-that is, her manners are gentle & she knows a great many of our Connections in West Kent.-Mrs Bertie lives in the Polygon, & was out when we returned her visit-which are her two virtues.- :

A controlled dry sort of humor; that the admiral’s wife knows a lot of the Austen’s connections in West Kent. It would no be hard for the wife to see more of them than Austen ever would. And directed at high-fire belief in herself.


2009 BBC Emma: Emma (Romola Garai) buoyant at ball at Crown Inn

There is an unusual tone in the second part of page 2: buoyant. Paragraph 2 has her beginning with her determination to “go to as many Balls as possible”; she is sarcastic ironic about all the usual pretenses: it’s the prettiest village Chawton, everyone will miss them, they know the house. She points out they get it wrong. Then a long piece on a ball she went to — with Martha — and the letter’s gaiety may come from her having enjoyed this ball.

A larger circle of acquaintance & an increase of amusement is quite in character with our approaching removal.- Yes — I mean to go to as many Balls as possible, that I may have a good bargain. Every body is very much concerned at our going away, & every body is acquainted with Chawton & speaks of it as a remarkably pretty village, & every body knows the House we describe — but nobody fixes on the right. — I am very much obliged to Mrs Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me — & she may depend upon it, that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own.-I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice

The hypocrisy of the pretenses to miss them;, of any interest to describe the house they congratulate the audience with.

Yet another joke husband; this is a man willing to marry her,
handsome, not snubbed he returns.

Our Ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, & I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour. — It was past nine before we were sent for, & not twelve when we returned. — The room was tolerably full, & there were perhaps thirty couple of Dancers; — the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, & each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! — It was the same room in which we began– 15 years ago! — I thought it all over –& in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with Thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. — We paid an additional shilling for our Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining, & very comfortable room. — There were only 4 dances, & it went to my heart that the Miss Lances (one of them too named Emma!) should have partners only for two.– You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance — but I was-by the Gentleman whom we met that Sunday? with Capt” D’auvergne. We have always kept up a Bowing acquaintance since, & being pleased with ” black eyes, I spoke to him at the Ball, which brought on me this civility; but I do not know his name, — & he seems so little at home in the English Language that I beleive his black eyes may be the best of him. — Capt. D’auvergne has got a Ship. –

Again this tight recognition of time. Now it’s 15 years ago she and Cassandra danced in this Southampton assembly room. Meaning she was 18 She is thankful she is as happy. Life could be much worse she knows. She goes on about a Captain D’auvergne.

She also went with Martha by ferry back and forth to Chiswell and thinks of Cassandra similarly going to Canterbury in a cool drive with Edward. Again intense enjoyment.

Martha & I made use of the very favourable state of yesterday for walking, to pay our duty at Chiswell-we found Mrs Lance at home & alone, & sat out three other Ladies who soon came in.-We went by the Ferry, & returned by the Bridge, & were scarcely at all fatigued. –

The Lances were a clergyman family who did well by marrying; one of the men built Chiswell.

–Edward must have enjoyed the last two days;-You, I presume had a cool drive to Canterbury. Kitty Foote came on Wednesday, & her Eveng visit began early enough for the last part, the apple pye of our dinner, for we never dine now till five. –

I presume the idea Edward enjoyed the last two days comes from Jane’s sense that he was lucky to have Cassandra with him and go to Canterbury The Footes were a family of the same level as the Austens who married into the Bridges.


1981 S&S: one of the Austen films where servants are given separate presence, noticed by upper class, treated with dignity (script by Alexander Baron)

Then a long piece on the servants. LeFaye’s notes on these people give Austen’s words a severe and condescending tone. Austen thinks they are bad servants the Hilliards. I read the line as unironic and true: “I am sorry that I cannot assist her.”

Yesterday I, or rather You had a letter from Nanny Hilliard, the object of which is that she would be very much obliged to us if we would get Hannah a place.-I am sorry that I cannot assist her;-if you can, let me know, as I shall not answer the letter immediately. Mr Sloper is married again, not much to Nanny’s, or anybody’s satisfaction;-the Lady was Governess to Sir Robert’s natural Children, & seems to have nothing to recommend her. — I do not find however that Nanny is likely to lose her place in consequence. — She says not a word of what service she wishes for Hannah, nor what Hannah can do-but a Nursery I suppose, or something of that kind, must be the Thing

Again I see no condescension or dissatisfaction with Nanny but a simple wish to help when Jane cannot; there is some slight animus, against the lady who was governess to Robert Slope’s illegitimate children and who he has now married. I suppose this is a then common narrow minded disapproval of a governess who marries her master and the master for having illegitimate children. It was common enough. Hannah’s job would be in the nursery caring for these children.

Where there may be an animus is towards the woman who was the governess to Sir Robert’s “natural” children (illegitimate) and is now marrying Mr Slope (whom Nanny wanted). The notes by LeFaye tell us he had 5 illegitimate children (LeFaye bothered to find that out) and married Anne Prade but do not say if Anne Prade was a governess to Sir Robert’s children.


1983 BBC MP: Edmund Bertram (Nicholas Farrell) is given the seriousness, intentness on religion, literary impulses Austen suggests her brother James had

A paragraph about family news: for once Aunt Jane Perrot-Leigh is not mean: she has offered to give James 100 pounds a year to replace the 100 pounds he would have gotten if he had taken a sinecure, a second position. “Nothing could be more affectionate than my Aunt’s language …”

What came over her? I suspect it was partly that James was the eldest son and must not do without. The aunt left her property to JEAL as James’s oldest son. But I wonder about this: in James’s poems we see that his wife was incensed at him for not taking the second position and sticking to his “integrity.” That she despised him for this. Maybe the aunt is smoothing things for him; or triumphing over her niece-in-law, both of them being domineering types

=- Having now cleared away my smaller articles of news, I come to a communication of some weight-no less than that my Uncle & Aunt are going to allow James £100. a year. We hear of it through Steventon; — Mary sent us the other day an extract from my Aunt’s letter on the subject-in which the Donation is made with the greatest kindness, & intended as a Compensation for his loss in the Conscientious refusal of Hampstead Living-£100. a year being all that he had at the time called its’ worth — as I find it was always intended at Steventon to divide the real Income with Kintbury. — Nothing can be more affectionate than my Aunt’s Language in making the present, & likewise in expressing her hope of their being much more together in future, than to her great regret, they have of late years been. — My Expectations for my Mother do not rise with this Event. We will allow a little more time however, before we fly out. — If not prevented by Parish Business, James comes to us on Monday. The Mrs Hulberts & Miss Murden are their Guests at present, & likely to continue such till Christmas. — Anna comes home on y” 19th

In one of his poems James laments how his wife is treating him because he won’t take a sinecure for a pulpit he would not genuinely be able to spend much time at. I did not notice Jane’s comment “We will allow a little more time before we fly out?” — meaning before they openly get indignant. She and her mother intend to protest this giving James 100 — when (probably the comparison) the Leigh-Perrots do nothing for the mother and her daughters Cassandra and Jane who are in much greater need and have much less. The Misses Hulberts are as unmarried ladies as Miss Murden; the Hulberts Bath denizens. Jane and Cassandra are not the only Austens to socialize with marginalized maiden ladies.

This letter has two cut parts, both not about family. The first is about Martha who (it’s suggested) acts up around Christmas. (I grow to like Martha more and more with each letter). Henry and the boys will make Xmas merry for Cassandra, but with Martha “so” … the idea Jane will have a sour Xmas.

The Hundred a year begins next Ladyday. — I am glad you are to have Henry with you again; with him & the Boys, you cannot but have a chearful, & at times even a merry Christmas. — Martha is so … [cut away two lines at bottom of page] “We want to be settled at Chawton in time for Henry to come to us for some Shooting, in October at least; — but a little earlier, & Edward may visit us after taking his boys back to Winchester;­suppose we name the 4th of Septr-will not that do? –

Our first two cut away lines. Martha difficult at Christmas; I sympathize. It’s odd to me that Austen and her mother would not to go Godmersham and be with Henry, Cassandra and Edward at Christmas. Hmmm. For the first time it strikes me that there is something to be explained at Jane and her mother not going to Godmersham. Now that Elizabeth is dead, there is no one to dislike or stop them. I conclude that in fact whatever was professed the mother especially did not like to go to Godmersham and it was felt only one sister need be there. This would give Jane time to write and to read, to follow her one bent. This is not socially allowed so not said aloud. (I make a harmless pun.) Notice the mother and sister (Jane) want to be with Henry and Edward. So it’s that they want control over their own space and time Again the 4th of Sept — S&S and P&P begin their dramatic scenes in September:


2006 ITV Persuasion: Maisie Dimbleby as Mrs Smith

And now the curious story of the Mrs Smith character

– I have but one thing more to tell you. Mrs Hill called on my Mother yesterday while we were gone to Chiswell — & in the course of the visit asked her whether she knew anything of a Clergyman’s family of the name of Alfordwho had resided in our part of Hampshire. — Mrs Hill had been applied to, as likely to give some information of them, on account of their probable vicinity to Dr Hill’s Living –b y a Lady, or for a Lady, who had known Mrs & the two Miss Alfords in Bath, whither they had removed it seems from Hampshire-& who now wishes to convey to the Miss Alfords some work, or trimming, which she has been doing for them-but the Mother & Daughters have left Bath, & the Lady cannot learn where they are gone to.-While my Mother gave us the account, the probability of its being ourselves, occurred to us, and it had previously struck herse1P2 … [two lines cut away at the bottom of p. 4 -text continues below address panel) … likely — & even indispensably to be us, is that she mentioned Mr Hammond as now having the Living or Curacy, which the Father had had.-I cannot think who our kind Lady can be-but I dare say we shall not like the work.-[upside down at top of p. 1

The second refers to a lady who sews for a living and had done some sewing for two Miss Alfords in Bath and would like to sew for them again; this woman had applied to Mrs Hill to see if Mrs Hill had some information about these women. Jane Austen then surmised the name “Alford” is a feint and the woman means to refer to herself and Cassandra who lived in Bath. She wants to send them “some work or trimming.” We might think this odd but only in fiction where people are not as circuitous as they often are in life. The lady knew Mrs Hill was visiting the Austens. Why then pretend to get the name wrong if she sewed for them before? the Austens would knew she knew the name and where they are because she told Mrs Hill about her desire to send them this work. And her mentioning Mr Hammond who replaced Mr Austen (who was not above holding more than one living) is another link and roundabout way of urging her presence on the Austens.

Lines are cut from the bottom of the page. I suggest this: in the last year or so of the Austen’s time in Bath they lived in Trim Street: this was a low street, ugly and the Austens hated it. (I’ve been there, walked it; the thing is it’s self-enclosed and hardly any sun gets in; even today there’s no grass and the houses are close together and dark.) They had really come down to live there. The lady assumes they don’t want to be reminded of their status nor that they used this woman as seamstress. The delicacy with which the woman hints of her presence and that Austen herself does not mention her name suggests the lady was not acceptable in genteel society: remember Mrs Smith, the cripple? she does not go to parties, is not invited anywhere, is anathemized as disgusting by Sir Walter. She sews small things for rich ladies and sends them by Nurse Rooke. The lady might be someone like Mrs Smith, or yet worse maybe socially speaking: living out of wedlock say, a laundress.

But she needs money and she needs work and hopes the Austens’ memory will be prompted out of their old association will take pity on her now they are secure and going to live in the rich man’s cottage. Maybe not for Jane says she “cannot think who our kind Lady may be — but I dare say we shall not like the work.”

Jane feels compunction for the servant but not this woman who they knew casually — and perhaps also she remembers the work the woman did then and thought it bad.

Cassandra cuts the two lines to eliminate how low they got and what Jane said about a woman they knew in Bath who corresponded and why they knew her.

I feel for this unknown woman more than anyone else thus far in Austen’s letters.

Anne Elliot (Ann Firbank) finding Mrs Smith’s block (1971 BBC Persuasion)


1979 BBC P&P: Charlotte Lucas (Irene Richards) and Elizabeth Bennet (Elizabeth Garvie) at the window as the movie-story begins

And then the final affectionate salutation:

Distribute the affectionate Love of a Heart not so tired as the right hand belonging to it. —

I like the feel of reality there. Her hand is tired. She has been writing a lot.


2005 P&P: Claudie Blakely as Charlotte saying goodbye to Elizabeth and her previous world

Back to general assessment: I wrote in too academic a spirit: placing the letters against two main types of letter collections that were published and have come down to us from the 18th century: the one where someone creates an interior self, a life, an identity reaching out to us; and the other where she (mostly this kind was written by women, though Southey does it in his Letters from London): the philosophical, political. Women were not supposed to and did not write political treatises (Wollstonecraft was a rare darer) and they did turn to letters to express themselves this way.

LeFaye in her introduction to her new edition of the letters sneers at this as if it’s fake, a put-on to impress. That is a crude response to language and the way academics take taking the product for the process. She’d probably see language like “performing whatever” in the same light.

What I’m impressed by in this letter (62) and increasingly throughout the Southampton ones and until Jane starts writing is the welter of minutiae Austen pours at us. It is tedious to go through. I suggest there’s a been a real growth in this since the letters started up again. It’s hard to put this into words but what I take away from Miller (whose words and sentences are often not parsable; you can’t parse them at all) is Austen’s intense turn away. I have said and maintain she turned away from social life; didn’t like it, shows real Aspergers traits. I see them in this letter. She rejoices when she visits people if they’re not there. A great merit. Whew. She abides our gaze Auden or someone else said. Anne Grant, Elizabeth Grant Smith, Julie de Lespinasse, Madame de Deffand are not faking for others when they make an identity we can revel in — nor Rousseau, but reveling in the zeitgeist of their age which encourages this new individuality and exploring themselves to us, and for us, and with us.

Similarly, Grant again, Helena Maria Williams, Shelley (Mary Wollstonecraft), Hester Thrale Piozzi (whose book Austen can quote nearly by heart — so I must read that one next) are not delving the political world to show off, but because they know it’s intensely important to what’s allowed them to live and experience in life.

Austen has little impulse for life-writing in these ways at all. At the end of her life Elizabeth Inchbald wrote a 3 volume memoir. Alas under the cruel repression and warnings of a priest, she burnt it. Lady Mary Montagu wrote and burnt as she went. Burney is all life-writing when she’s writing living prose. These are social acts, make no mistake about it.

It’s noteworthy that in the novels the heroines rarely write letters; when they do they are for news. What we have are letters which expose someone satirically (Lucy, Mary Crawford, Mary Musgrove) or in a spirit of showing more somberly what they lack (Edward Bertram’s obtuseness and pain). This intense hiding had only the outlet of these
more than half-repressed compromising books. D. A. Miller (JA and Secrets of Style) is hiding too only he hides knowingly and she does not.

I am not sure how aware she was of her lesbian impulses; it’s hard to say. Edgeworth seems unaware and yet they are so vivid in her Belinda. In S&S Austen is not sympathetic to transgressive sex; she shows Willoughby to have wanted to hurt Marianne and that he would have dumped her had she had clandestine sex with him fully the way Miss Williams did. Austen’s literary criticism is naive.

Letters 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 & 59, 60. 61.


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Alice Meynell, around 30 by Tristram Ellis, etching (1879) after water-color portrait by Adrian Stokes

Dear Friends and readers,

Let me spend this night remembering Alice Meynell, how I “met” her: I found a book of her poems in a used bookshop, and then in another bout of looking and buying, a memoir of her by her daughter, and my knowledge of her since coming on line.

I like her longer blank verse and triple rhyme poems best. This is my favorite. It’s an experience I often re-enact, especially in the bleak dark days of winter. It’s the opening of a long three-parter:

A Study

In three monologues, with interruptions

Before Light

Among the first to wake. What wakes with me?
A blind wind and a few birds and a star.
With tremor of darkened flowers and whisper of birds,
Oh, with a tremor, with a tremor of heart –
Begins the day i’ the dark. I, newly waked,
Grope backwards for my dreams, thinking to slide
Back unawares to dreams, in vain, in vain.
There is sorrow for me in this day,
It watched me from afar the livelong night,
And now draws near, but has not touched me yet.
In from my garden flits the secret wind –
My garden — This great day with all its hours
(Its hours, my soul!) will be like other days
Among my flowers. The morning will awake,
Like to the lonely waking of a child …

It’s really very beautiful and deeply uneasy verse with a lot of repetition in rhythms, imagery. A rich lush description of the garden follows with the disquieted child in it, whose mother “had come and wept and gone …”

One of the latter:

A Letter from a Girl to her own Old Age

Listen, and when the hand this paper presses,
O time-worn woman, think of her who blesses
What thy thin fingers touch, with her caresses.

O mother, for the weight of years that break thee!
O daughter, for slow time must yet awake thee,
And from the changes of my heart must make thee!

O fainting traveller, morn is grey in heaven.
Dost thou remember how the clouds were driven?
And are they calm about the fall of even?

Pause near the ending of thy long migration,
For this one sudden hour of desolation
Appeals to one hour of thy meditation …

Listen: — the mountain winds with rain were fretting
And sudden gleams the mountain-tops besetting
I cannot let thee fade to death, forgetting.

What part of this wild heart of mine I know not
Will follow with thee whre the great winds blow not
And where the young flowers of the mountain grow not ..;

Oh, in some hour of thine my thoughts shall guide thee.
Suddenly, though time, darkness, silence, hide thee,
This wind from thy lost country flits beside thee, –

Telling thee …

And we, so altered in our shifting phases,
Track one another ‘mid the many mazes,
By the eternal child-breath of the daisies.

I have not writ this letter of divining
To make a glory of thy silent pining,
A triumph of thy mute and strange declining …

O hush, O hush! Thy tears my words are steeping.
O hush, hush, hush! So full, the fount of weeping?
Poor eyes, so quickly moved, so near to sleeping?

Pardon the girl, with strange desires beset her.
Poor woman, lay aside the mournful letter
That breaks thy heart, the one who wrote, forget her.

The one who now thy faded features guesses,
With filial fingers thy grey hair caresses,
With morning tears thy mournful twilight blesses

Yes, this is another foremother poet blog, this one linking to last week’s of Adelaide Anne Proctor: they linked by era, by the importance of Catholicism to them and by the lyrical nature of their poems and their social idealism.

Meynell’s most famous poem reprinted poem:


I must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong,
          I shun the thought that lurks in all delight –
          The thought of thee — and in the blue Heaven’s height,
And in the sweetest passage of a song.
Oh, just beyond the fairest thoughts that throng
          The breast, the thought of thee waits hidden yer bright;
          But it must never, never come in sight;
I must stop short of thee the whole long day.

But when sleep comes to close each difficult day,
          When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,
          And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,
Must doff my will as raiment laid away, –
          With the first dream that comes with the first sleep
          I run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart.


John Singer Sargeant, a sketch of Alice

I first came across Alice Meynell in Alice Meynell: Prose and Poetry: Centenary volume, edd. F.P, F.M., O.S., F.Ma. (London: Cape, 1947), a book of selections from her work in a secondhand book shop in Alexandria, Va (the kind that in the US where I live has been killed by the Internet). F.P, F.M., O.S., F.Ma are her hostile non-legatees, family members who turn up at funerals and not otherwise. The book contains also a biographical sketch and critical introduction by Vita Sackville-West.

I was drawn much more to her prose, which is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s: sketches of literary and artistic people, belletristic descriptions with philosophical and literary critical undercurrent, with an accent on women (Johnson’s wife, Christina Rossetti, the Brontes, Joanne Baillie, Elizabeth Inchbald, Arbella Stuart), but also the famous poets of her day (whom she knew and who read and praised her work, including Tennyson, Browning) and
depictions of places: Walls, Wells, the Colour of Life. I like all the above very much, especially the ones on “minor” unknown or outcast women, and places.

Here is a poem showing her doing justice to her foremothers, combining memories of a court 17th century poet with hatred of war:

A Father of Women

Ad Sororem E.B.

“Thy father was infused into thy blood..”
          Dryden: Ode to Mrs. Anne Killigrew

          Ou father works in us,
The daughters of his manhood. Not undone
Is he, not wasted, though transmuted thus,
          And though he left no son.

          Therefore on him I cry
To arm me: “For my delicate mind a casque,
A breastplate for my heart, courage to die,
          Of thee, captain, I ask.

          “Nor strengthen only; press
A finger on this violent blood and pale,
Over this rash will let thy tenderness
          A while pause, and prevail.

          “And shepherd-father, thou
Whose staff folded my thoughts before my birth,
Control them now I am of earth, and now
          Thou art no more of earth.”

          “O liberal, constant, dear,
Crush in my nature the ungenerous art
Of the inferior; set me high, and here,
          Here garner up thy heart!”

          Like to him now are they,
The million living fathers of the War–
Mourning the crippled world, the bitter day–
          Whose striplings are no more.

          The crippled world! Come then,
Fathers of women with your honor in trust;
Approve, accept, know them daughters of men,
          Now that your sons are dust.

As an essayist and biographer she’s interested in childhood private lives and especially women. (Meynell’s relatives watched her on the shore from the safety of their houses. Her world seems very like that of the Stephens family, Mary Ward, the Stracheys.

She is presented as marrying at age 30, having had a pack of children (8) who, together with her disciplined adherence to journalism, engulfed her days until the last twenty when she was at last free and had some money and went to Italy. I feel this sonnet reflects her Italian studies of Renaissance poetry:

To One Poem in a Silent Time

Who looked for thee, thou little song of mine?
This winter of a silent poet’s heart
Is suddenly sweet with thee. But what thou art,
Mid-winter flower, I would I could divine.
Art though a last one, orphan of they line?
Did the dead summer’s last warmth foster thee?
Or is Spring folded up unguessed in me,
And stirring out of sight,–and thou the sign?

Where shall I look–backwards or to the morrow
For others of thy fragrance, secret child?
Who knows if last things or if first things claim thee?
— Whether thou be the last smile of my sorrow,
Or else a joy too sweet, a joy too wild.
How, my December violet, shall I name thee?

She apparently had a way of addressing them all indiscriminately as “child.” From the book I originally found (and which was all I had) I learned how much she loved Italy late in life. There are quite a number of poems which show how much the experience meant to her, how fulfilling she found it. As someone at the time embarked on a project to translate Italian women’s poetry this attracted me too.

In those days (early 1980s), for me to find anything like this
was a tremendous treat.

Years later, the early days of my time on the Internet I leapt onto a life of Meynell, A Memoir written by her daughter, Viola Meynell. There is nothing compares without seeing people in their milieu.

Drawing Room, Granville Place, where she lived later in life


Alice Meynell, a portrait photograph

Now with the Net and finding circles of people like myself I realize much more about her beyond her family, famous friends and conversion to Catholicism and supporting of the religious Catholic poet, Francis Thomson. For example, she was politically active, a staunch supporter of non-militant suffragists. However, although she detested war, as far as I can see from her poetry, when it came to a particular one (WW1), she supported it in public and print. There’s one poem encouraging the “conscript” among those I have in my book.

Her poetry remains mostly personal and lyrical. She treats motherhood as oppressive, and children with unsentimental control: Leighton and Reynolds in Victorian Women Poets say her poems about family life “bring to the topic a notably modern sense of uncertainty and foreboding.” (They include a small well-chosen selection.) She has Victorian currents: guilt, shame, meditation about God, Doubts, a poem on the theme of the sexually “fallen” woman. This one is unusual though because she shows a relationship between a mother and son. Her interest in childhood moves away from the older treatment of neglected, outcast, over-disciplined, miserable traumatized children we find in the Victorian books. The loss of childhood is a loss to be regretted and she bathes her memories in a Woolfian way. The real problem with her poetry is she uses clichéd language. That last poem, “A letter from a Girl to her own Old Age” to think with (!), seems to me like Swinburne, and while others sound like the imagery of the fin-de-siecle, “The Study” is more like Caroline Bowles Southey.

There has been a biography: June Badeni’s The Slender Tree: A Life of Alice Meynell, with a publisher which suggests it’s a sort of semi-private or vanity publication.

My life on the Net has enabled me to go to conferences, and at an MLA conference I heard a paper about Meynell: Stephanie Johnson’s paper on her poetry; Meynell was said to look upon her poems as her children, to connect women’s poetry to domesticity, to regard poems as creating an order of beauty (reflecting the “divine” world?). Johnson rehearsed religious ideals she found in Meynell’s life and poetry. I connect her adherence to Catholicism with her depressions which are central to her poetic mood, e.g.

To Sleep

          Dear fool, be true to me!
I know the poets speak thee fair, and I
          Hail thee uncivilly.
O but I call with a more urgent cry!

          I do not prize thee less,
I need thee more, that thou dost love to teach—
          Father of foolishness—
The imbecile dreams clear out of wisdom’s reach.

          Come and release me; bring
My irresponsible mind; come in thy hours;
          Draw from my soul the sting
Of wit that trembles, consciousness that cowers.

          For if night comes without thee
She is more cruel than day. But thou, fulfil
          Thy work, thy gifts about thee—
Liberty, liberty, from this weight of will.

          My day-mind can endure
Upright, in hope, all it must undergo.
          But O afraid, unsure,
My night-mind waking lies too low, too low.

          Dear fool, be true to me!
The night is thine, man yields it, it beseems
          Thy ironic dignity.
Make me all night the innocent fool that dreams.

To the Body

          Thou inmost, ultimate
Council of judgement, palace of decrees,
Where the high sense hold their spiritual state,
          Sued by earth’s embassies,
And sign, approve, accept, conceive, create;

          Create–thy senses close
With the world’s pleas. The random odours reach
Their sweetness in the place of thy repose,
          Upon thy tongue the peach,
And in thy nostrils breathes the breathing rose.

          To thee, secluded one,
The dark vibrations of the sightless skies,
The lovely inexplicit colours, run;
The light gropes for those eyes.
O thou august! thou doest command the sun.

          Music, all dumb, hath trod
Into thine ear her one effectual way;
And fire and cold approach to gain thy nod,
          Where thou call’st up the day,
Where thou awaitest the appeal of God.

Here is an edition of her poems online. See also Beverly Ann Schlack, “The Poetess of Poets: Alice Meynell rediscovered: Women’s Studies 7 (180):111-126.

See also foremother poetry.


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Luke Fildes (1843-1918), Applicants for Admission to a Casualty Ward (1874)

Dear friends and readers,

I write this foremother poet blog to be able to present a poem (by Proctor) because yesterday morning it came to mind upon my reading and watching on DemocracyNow.Org the early dawn destructions of the Occupy encampments at San Francisco and Cleveland:


It is cold dark midnight, yet listen
          To that patter of tiny feet!
Is it one of your dogs, fair lady,
          Who whines in the bleak cold street? –
Is it one of your silken spaniels
          Shut out in the snow and the sleet?

My dogs sleep warm in their baskets,
          Safe from the darkness and sow;
Al the beasts in our Christian England,
          Find pity wherever they go –
(Those are only the homeless children
          Who are wandering to and fro.)

Look out in the gusty darkness –
          I have seen it again and again,
That shadow, that flits so slowly
          Up and down past the window pane: –
It is surely some criminal lurking
          Out there in the frozen rain?

Nay, our Criminals all are sheltered,
          They are pitied and taught and fed;
That is only a sister-woman
          Who has got neither food nor bed –
And the Night cries ‘sin to be living,’
          And the River cries ‘sin to be dead.’

Look out at that farthest corner
          Where the wall stands blank and bare: –
Can that be a pack which a Pedlar
          Has left and forgotten there?
His gods lying out unsheltered
          Will be spoilt by the damp night air.

Nay; — goods in our thrifty England
          Are not left to lie and grow rotten,
For each man knows the market value
          Of silk or woollen or cotton …
But in counting the riches of England
I think our Poor are forgotten.

Our Beasts and our Thieves and our Chattels
          Have weight for good or for ill;
But the Poor are only His image,
          His Presence, His word, His will –
And so Lazarus lies at our doorstep
          And Dives neglects him still.

Charles Dickens who was one of her mainstay publishers, wrote a touching obituary upon Proctor’s death, that has been placed on the Internet as part ofan excellent website about Proctor as a social reformer in the context of the harsh lives of her era. In a session at a January 2008 MLA meeting, I went to a Victorian women’s religious poetry session, and discovered that Cheri Lin Larsen Hoeckley spoke about Adelaide Proctor’s use of devotional sentimental poetry to focus on poverty, exile, homelessness, female communities; Proctor used the profit she made from Chaplet of VersesM to benefit women. Proctor saw women’s lives were a target for exploitation, & she attacked the way respectability became a way of excluding women from social help ruthlessly. Her philanthropic activities probably led to her early death: she contracted TB. Proctor’s best poem seems to be the dramatic narrative, “A Legend of Provence”

I can also respond to the thoughts and feelings of her poetry of sensibility:

My Journal.

IT is a dreary evening;
          The shadows rise and fall:
With strange and ghostly changes,
          They flicker on the wall.

Make the charred logs burn brighter;
          I will show you, by their blaze,
The half-forgotten record
          Of bygone things and days.

Bring here the ancient volume;
          The clasp is old and worn,
The gold is dim and tarnished,
          And the faded leaves are torn.

The dust has gathered on it—
          There are so few who care
To read what Time has written
          Of joy and sorrow there.

Look at the first fair pages;
          Yes—I remember all:
The joys now seem so trivial,
          The griefs so poor and small.

Let us read the dreams of glory
          That childish fancy made;
Turn to the next few pages,
          And see how soon they fade.

Here, where still waiting, dreaming,
          For some ideal Life,
The young heart all unconscious
          Had entered on the strife.

See how this page is blotted:
          What—could those tears be mine?
How coolly I can read you,
          Each blurred and trembling line.

Now I can reason calmly,
          And, looking back again,
Can see divinest meaning
          Threading each separate pain.

Here strong resolve—how broken;
          Rash hope, and foolish fear,
And prayers, which God in pity
          Refused to grant or hear.

Nay—I will turn the pages
          To where the tale is told
Of how a dawn diviner
          Flushed the dark clouds with gold.

And see, that light has gilded
          The story—nor shall set;
And, though in mist and shadow,
          You know I see it yet.

Here—well, it does not matter,
          I promised to read all;
I know not why I falter,
          Or why my tears should fall;

You see each grief is noted;
          Yet it was better so—
I can rejoice to-day—the pain
          Was over, long ago.

I read—my voice is failing,
          But you can understand
How the heart beat that guided
          This weak and trembling hand.

Pass over that long struggle,
          Read where the comfort came,
Where the first time is written
          Within the book your name.

Again it comes, and oftener,
          Linked, as it now must be,
With all the joy or sorrow
          That Life may bring to me.

So all the rest—you know it:
          Now shut the clasp again,
And put aside the record
          Of bygone hours of pain.

The dust shall gather on it,
          I will not read it more:
Give me your hand—what was it
          We were talking of before?

I know not why—but tell me
          Of something gay and bright.
It is strange—my heart is heavy,
          And my eyes are dim to-night

See the much longer feminist “Three Evenings in a Life”

She was wildly popular, Queen Victoria’s favorite poet it was said; I have de-emphasized her Catholicism so should say a good deal is to be found out about her when her name is linked to Catholicism and Catholic causes: see wikipedia, which also has a large and rich bibliography. Of the cited anthologies, I recommend Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds’s (edd.) Victorian Women Poets, An Anthology. She exchanged letters with Elizabeth Barrett Browning. These two seem worthwhile: Gregory, Gill. The Life and Work of Adelaide Procter: Poetry, Feminism and Fathers. Aldershot, Hants., England: Ashgate, 1998; Gray, F. Elizabeth. “Review of The Life and Work of Adelaide Procter: Poetry, Feminism and Fathers”. Victorian Studies 42 (1999): 682–684, and “Adelaide Procter’s ‘A Legend of Provence': The Struggle for a Place”. In Victorian Women Poets: A Critical Reader. Ed. Angela Leighton. New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.


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Gmail trouble

Dear friends and readers,

My google mail disappeared for number of hours and that has given me quite a scare. I got a frozen message for many hours which claimed to be fixing an error in my mail storage. So anyone who wants to contact me, please remember that I have two other addresses available on two further site: beyond ellen.moody@gmail, there’s Ellen2@JimandEllen.org or emoody@gmu.edu.
I’m also on facebook (Ellen Moody) and twitter (Miss Sylvia Drake)

Thank you for staying in contact with me,


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Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Aitre, St Maclou, Rouen (1890s, a French girls’ school)

A colorized version of an 18th century French rococo print of Madame d’Epinay visiting Voltaire on his Swiss country estate

Dear friends and readers,

Earlier this year (February to be exact), a very few of us on Eighteenth Century Worlds at Yahoo, read and posted together on Sarah Fielding’s David Simple and then her The Governess; or Little Female Academy. I’ve been meaning to blog at least about The Governess and am now prompted to as it appears one evening at Godmersham, Jane and Cassandra and a few friends (with Anne Sharpe looking on) acted some version or playlet taken from this text out. Imagine that. Wouldn’t we love to have that fragment? (I’ll write about this in a separate blog and if I have time also about our group read on Eighteenth Century Worlds of Sarah Fielding’s David Simple.)

Mary Cadogan’s preface sets the book in the context of stories of girls’ schools, and says it’s among the first, perhaps the first to offer a realistic account of the experiences of children everyday — and here i School. So it’s the great-great…. grandmother of Katy Did books. Fielding shows us the world of girls’s peer groups. The first book for boys in this vein was also by a woman, Harriet Martineau The Crofton Boys. Fielding entertains with little biographies, stories, fables (her preface has two of these).

Fielding’s dedication and preface has the same strong austere stance we felt in David Simple and there is even towards the end of the preface a rather darker comment which brings us into DS’s world when she warns you against certain behaviors of people who say they are your friends but are “not your real Friend,” and if you don’t have “resolution enough” to break from them “in the end will fling you to death.”

The plot-design: as the extended title says it’s book about girls’ schooldays: at the center is Mrs Teachum; each of the chapters is named after the day of the week on which each of the girls tells a story, sometimes autobiographical, sometimes about characters given type names and sometimes fairy tales. The book opens with a dedication, preface and opening: we are told how Mrs Teachum came to have a school, how it’s small and exclusive, the nine young ladies are presented and we learn of them each through their fight over the apples.

The book’s problem is Fielding thinks she has to produce good girl messages. Children’s literature when seriously considered is a problematic genre because of who writes the books, what they are sold for. They are said to be “children’s books,” but they are written by adults with adult interests in mind. It emerges as a popular genre in the 18th century: see Defining her Life: Conduct and Courtesy.

Another variant of the type; so too Swiss Family Robinson

The one thing that made be said for good girl messages as delineated by Fielding is at heart it’s a quietist view — resignation and compromise for peace of mind (common in women’s books in a way):”Remember,” Mrs. Teachum warns, “that Innocence of Mind, and Integrity of Heart, adorn the Female Character; and can alone produce your own Happiness, and diffuse it to all around you.” This is how Jane Eyre ends; her innocence of mind and integrity of heart are now going to strengthen and rejuvenate her “master’s,” Rochester’s, bringing him back from his brink of bitterness and despair. “Le repos” at the end of French 17th century romances like LaFayette’s La Princess de Cleves takes us along the same route.

See also my blog, Felicite de Genlis, writer, educator, mother.


From The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969): her girls

Dedication and preface:

The dedication and preface appealed to me for their high-minded tone. Yes our “true Interest is concerned in cherishing and improving those amiable dispositions into Habits.” On the fray over the apples: I’d like to suggest Fielding begins with an insuperable problem in education, one Felicite Genlis confronted quickly too — and it’s the one I pointed out that engaged me. What do we do about how people have bad natures? Today it might be put as the problem of bullies and society’s acceptance of this. I don’t know how better to put it. Fielding goes into the minds of the girls and shows that the moral teachings and appeals that Jenny Peace make have no echo in the minds of the girls; they just feel more resentment.

Each time Jenny seems to make a dent in the girls, it emerges that the girl is just thinking another version of resentment, ago, aggression and how to get back, about her pride and so on. Genlis presents herself as overcoming this in the individual case by moral blackmail, absolute repression, punishment and reward but (as I said) I didn’t believe it and when Genlis’s real daughter (upon whom Adele is modelled) grew up if you read her letters you find she seethes with resentment, alienation &c&c

I can see how Sarah Fielding would regard marrying for survival (not just money, but house, food, everything that came with it) is a form of prostitution. It’s a good analogy as in this period women had few options but marriage to maintain themselves in safety and decency; many did resort to prostitution and then they were treated terribly. This was enough to drive women into marriage — despite the loss of their control over property, that a man could beat, eject, basically do with his wife as he wished if he was prepared to abuse and threaten her. We see women’s lack of control or custody of their children (after 7).

I and a friend, Diana, were upset by the story of the wanton killing of Jenny’s cat. Here’s the passage:

When I was about Eleven Years old, I had a Cat that I had bred up from a little Kitten, that used to play round me, till I had indulged for the poor Animal a Fondness that made me delight to have it continually with me where-ever I went; and, in return for my Indulgence, the Cat seemed to have changed its Nature, and assumed the Manner that more properly belongs to Dogs than Cats; for it would follow me about the House and Gardens, mourn for my absence, and rejoice at my Presence: And, what was very remarkable, the poor Animal would, when fed by my Hand, lose that Caution many Cats are known to be possessed of, and take whatever I gave it, as if it could reflect, that I meant only its Good, and no Harm could come from me.

I was at last so accustomed to see this little Frisk (for so I called it) play round me, that I seemed to miss Part of myself in its But one Day the poor little Creature followed me to the door; when a Parcel of School-boys coming by, one of them catched her up in his arms, and ran away with her. All my Cries were to no Purpose for he was out of Sight with her in a Moment, and there was no method to trace his Steps. The cruel Wretches, for Sport, as as they called it, hunted it the next Day from one to the other, in the most barbarous manner; till at last it took Shelter in that House that used to be its Protection, and came and expired at my Feet. I was so struck with the Sight of the little Animal’s dying in that manner, that the great Grief of my Heart overflowed at my Eyes, and I was for some time inconsolable.

What bothers me in the cat story is the mother of Jenny then uses it as a lesson to teach Jenny to accept misery and cruelty in existence — without so much as admitting the foundation of her preaching is that the creature is just a cat. And all Jenny tells us she learnt to control her grief and accept, nothing about the cat. This erasing of the particulars of the incident is fatal.

A dialogue about Monday:

Shot from Cocteau’s La Belle et la bete

Caroline wrote:

Since I teach fairy tales, I was delighted to reach the “Monday” chapter, with “The Story of the cruel Giant BARBARICO, and the good Giant BENEFICO, and the pretty little Dwarf MIGNON.” This is a fascinating fairy tale and certainly illustrates how Sarah Fielding influenced Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in her imitation, Magasin des Enfans, which includes “Beauty and the Beast”

For this list, however, what really interests me is the way in which this tale revises the first two volumes of _David Simple_ in the genre of the fairy tale. One clue to this revision is Mrs. Teachum’s explanation of how to read the tale
symbolically: “For a Giant is called so only to express a Man of great Power; and the magic Fillet round the Statue was intended only to shew you, that by Patience you will overcome all Difficulties.”

Here we have another tale of the powerful abusing the weak. Barbarico hoards his wealth and torments the more vulnerable (little) people. He snatches Fidus. However, we also see the power of friendship: Fidus is befriended by Mignon, while elsewhere the kind and wealthy Benefico befriends Amata, who is betrothed to Fidus. The patience of Mignon and others frees them; and the giant Benefico slays Barbarico, takes the wealth, and redistributes it among Barbarico’s
victims. He also (like David) takes the key characters into his castle. Lovers and siblings are reunited. The little community lives happily ever after

What struck me about Monday is how adult the emotions are that Sarah Fielding attributes to the fairy tale figures. This is not general language, but filled with subtle psychological motivation and a desire to torment and inflict pain and power I’d expect to find much more in say a Kafka short story. The fairy tales I’ve read — or remember reading — do not delve one figure’s love of tormenting another. As a consequence of this depth of psychological acuity and particulars, I felt the “burden” of the experience went far beyond what Sarah Fielding consciously presented as the moral.

Tuesday into Wednesday:

This day opens with the girls learning much better lessons from the fable they heard than talk about what they liked best. I was amused by the characterization of their dialogue as simply seeking for pre-eminence and how Fielding saw going down to particulars and keeping talking about them will eventually end in quarrels. She would have not been surprised as quarrels on listservs.

We have two girls described and a brief resume of each one’s life by her. The concision of the treatment a little disguises how this is novel matter put into didactic form. Sukey Jennet’s life also shows us how a child can be brought up to be a domineering heartless person if she is taught repeatedly others are not equal to her as human beings — and she is to have her own way in everything.

I was troubled in Sukey’s story where they see the woman beating her daughter for lying. I know that maybe Fielding felt she was showing this is not the way to stop someone from lying but it seemed to me the text half-supported the woman doing the beating. It’s suggested in a way that for some only beating will stop lying. That may be so — for a while. When the person grows up, they have no reason not to revert; worse, they have been taught to beat others this way, that it’s acceptable.

We see how authority is based on physical size; I’m not sure that Fielding meant me to see it this way but I do.

Not that I’m keen on lying; it is a real problem in life — Fielding has focused on a second insoluble problem in trying to educate someone to be moral. The first was the intransigence of “bad” elements in our nature; the second is this resort to lying to cover up, manipulate, defend one’s pride &c


Maggie Smith as the less than truthful Miss Jean Brodie

Wednesday and Thursday

I found myself really troubled by the moral lesson drawn from the story of Chloe and Caelia. Sarah Fielding does not appear to recognize the treacherous character who causes the mischief is Sempronius. If someone thinks that Sarah Fielding does see it’s he who nearly breaks this family up permanently, please to argue this point with me because it’s important. In the early phase of David Simple, it may be remembered that David does not marry a young woman who he falls in love with but whom her father first pressures to marry someone else, and when that falls through, partly because she does not want to marry simply for money, David still walks away from her as someone horrible. He cannot allow that she could be tempted or pressured.

Sempronius lies to Chloe. He pretends he is thinking of marry Caelia and coming to her for advice; he implies if she will tell him Caelia is no good, he won’t want her and will want Chloe.

This is a strong temptation. We are told these girls are broke; they need to marry; the aunt won’t live forever, plus unmarried women even with an income were at all sorts of disadvantages in the communities of 18th century England. So she lies and says Caelia is artful and envious.

Then what does he do? he goes to Caelia to try the same trick on her. Caelia is self-sacrificing and presented as abject, and goes out of her way to overpraise the sister. So he decides he’ll take Caelia. But he doesn’t right away. Instead he lets them all stew and be miserable and wretched. Chloe who is humane feels bad already and confesses.

Then what happens. He gets to marry Caelia. We are told the moral of this is “the miserable effects of deceit and treachery” where the line is aimed at Chloe. The deceitful and treacherous person was Sempronius.

Why did Caelia marry him? We are not told it was that she needed financial support in a way that brings that motive out clearly. Rather we are left to think she likes this guy.

Fielding is telling a story which shows us the desperation of women and how men can play ugly tricks on them. She does not see this — or if she does, she doesn’t register this in the text.

Then we get two stories where the lesson is how wretched and miserable comparing yourself with others makes you. Dison dies of her envy. We are told that Patty Lockit didn’t feel this way when brought up in a large group and so much younger; but when she went to live with a Cousin who was smarter, she learned to hate her. The villain in this piece is the maid Betsy who sets Patty on.
To be sure Betsy is no friend to Patty; but the solution that going to live in this house filled with girls seems to me to ignore what has happened.

Is Fielding showing us the reality that social structuring such as we have in society and competition as a leading value is insidious and poisons our lives. No. She is blaming the victims — victims of their own weakness to be sure. What then is her solution? Living among all these girls. We have no reason to believe in their hearts the same kind of invidiouis feelings will not emerge — in the first story she did not at all convince me that Jenny Pearce’s preachings changed the nature of the girls she presented, and in these two tales we have enough to show us that people tenaciously hold on to their egoistic passions.

Now the life of Lucy Sly intervenes as a story where a girl learns of the misery of a life of lying which leads to hatred of those around her. Now I agree with the thrust of this one — partly because it’s so short Fielding does not go on to make inferences. Yes the person who lies in this way often does it out of intense envy and when they can’t break out of it, and see how they are fooling you, they can see how inferior and hypocritical they are, and hate the person lied to all the more, despise him or her as someone easily fooled. The emotions here the person is habituated to are probably part of why our society is such a seething place. But I cannot help but point out, Fielding does not reform Lucy. If anything this parable undermines all the others about the schools’ efficacy.

Lying by the way is a way of getting through life for many as long as the lie is superficial (student with a late paper, student who cut a class, contractor who pretends he will start work earlier than he means to) or in business (ah ha) where it’s a matter of money and property and vying for position. When it comes to the private lives Fielding depicts here people are found out when it goes on for any time especially when it concerns something important They stay together as a ritual or convention to keep the peace but are not fooled after a while. And lying is a pain: you have to keep your stories straight and after a while will contradict yourself.

From Caroline, a rejoinder:

“I also find “The Story of Caelia and Chloe” troubling. This tale insists that Chloe’s envy and lies are wrong not just in themselves but because they upset the community: Caelia is unhappy, Sempronius is angry, and Amanda is bewildered by the confusion in the household. In other words, it’s important to be a good girl not just because it’s the moral thing to do but because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do.

This point again reflects Sarah Fielding’s position–the genteel woman dependent
on a community for support–and she takes it to a disturbing level by showing the potential consequences: death. Chloe’s deceit nearly brings her to the grave, and the near-death is not just an excess of sensibility but a sense that she no longer belongs: “For she thought within herself, I shall now make my dear Cousin happy, by removing out of her Way an Object that must imbitter all her Joy.” This is the ultimate good-girl lesson. Behave, or you won’t be wanted any more.

This lesson does seem harsh for children because it’s presented in a realistic tale.

For more on this tale, see comments.
Friday through Saturday:

I’ve now read Hebe’s — or Sybella the fairy’s — tale too. In fact there are at least three mothers and several different natured daughters. I agree that the women are made all powerful in this story, but what struck me — perhaps from memories of Genlis’s book (which this one is perpetually bringing to mind — is the moral: a daughter must obey her mother. As Caroline says, these morals that are derived from these tales cannot begin to control the details and probably Fielding knew it, but to me this disconnection or forced connection is both funny and important. The larger “submit” Before authorities is in Genlis too.

Again Caroline:

It seems to me that Fielding continues with these conservative messages in Mrs. Teachum’s “The Assembly of the Birds. A Fable.” The fable focuses on a contest to see which bird is happiest. The first bird, a Parrot who lives in a golden cage as the pet of a fine lady, replays the moral of David Simple: dependence on the elite leads to misery. The second bird, a daw, is exposed for its borrowed plumes, while the gorgeous peacock nearly expires from envy of the nightingale’s beautiful voice. The nightingale is vain and therefore prey to the hawk, etc. True happiness, we discover, is exhibited by the dove. While these morals do not warm my very modern soul, I do like the way that Fielding teaches another valuable lesson: how to read. Again and again, her characters model reading, summary, analysis, and reflection. So while the book PREACHES some conservative messages, it DOES a very progressive thing: it takes seriously the life of a girl’s mind. It insists on true understanding and application of readings, and to demonstrate those points, it shows the girls relating their life-stories. Simply telling those (fictional) life-stories affirms their value, which could be seen as empowering to girls. You, [insert reader's name], matter.

Sunday and Monday again:

From 2oth century production of Steele’s The conscious Lovers

Fielding offers two characters who come to visit the school, girls recently raised to the peerage as daughters: Lady Caroline who has turned into an utter snob, and Lady Fanny who paradoxically ugly prides herself ridiculously on her beauty. They are matched by descriptions and life stories of girls similarly making themselves ridiculous — and miserable — due to their overvaluation of status and non-existent beauty (Nancy Spruce and Betty Ford)

I think again Fielding is reaching out to something fundamental she thinks gets in the way of genuinely ethical development of girls: the focus on their physical appearannce, and (I’d put it) in the light of the disvaluation of girls/women as such an egregious over-emphasis on social class and rank status. I am bothered by her presenting Lady Fanny and Betty Ford as ugly and not attacking the overvaluation of beauty in the first place and why it’s there. Maybe that’s asking too much, but Madame Genlis does go this far in her Adele and Theodore regularly.

Monday is more interesting. The girls do not play-act Steele’s Funeral; instead they produce moral readings of it. I’m struck by a kind of transvaluation of values I came across when I read Catherine Trotter on The man of Mode. Far from amusement, Trotter saw in the central male a figure who spelt misery for women, a man bad to women and not just getting away with it, but of high status because of this. The girls do not read Steele to laugh or say they laugh but as a psychologial inner history. The reading is misogynistic — blaming Lady Brumpton. As I recall Anne Oldfield played Lady Harriot, and recently this play and Steele’s work in general has been praised as sentimental and sentimental comedy seen as bringing in a pro-woman’s point of view, but that was for The Tender Husband and Conscious Lovers. Still I’m struck by how if Fielding reacted with adverse dislike to the cruelties of the play, as I recently did to Murphy’s The Way to Keep Him, and Trotter to The man of Mode why or if she missed totally this vein of feminism.

To conclude: Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, perhaps as a result of having read other of these books supposedly just on education, but I see it as a serious book meant for adults beyond literal advice on how to teach children. For example, the first phase showed us the girls’s bad nature and how hard it was to improve, even to reach. Tuesday brought in lying, another serious obstacle if you are intent on teaching girls how to live ethically, grow up to be decent happy people, indeed what is the good life. Then there is corporal punishment — and I still think Sarah is not against it. The fairy tale itself had a burden of adult perception: for example the enjoyment of tormenting of one person by another. I don’t remember that being analysed and brought out in any thing like this way by any fairy tales I read when young.

It is true that unlike Locke’s treatise or Rousseau’s Emile, Fielding’s book is obviously meant for children to read too, but Genlis’s Adele and Theodore can be read by adolescents at any rate and Epinay’s dialogue had it been published and disseminated (I’m not sure it was) are dialogues children could read. Genlis’s resembles Fielding’s in the austerity and disciplinary approach it takes. Epinay is much kinder, more aware of the necessity of following individual needs rather than repressing them

Women wrote these sorts of books. Charlotte Smith’s is relieved because it’s about the natural world, stories of animals, botany, nature at the same time, filled with poetry. Genlis’s is at its most powerful when she inserts novels. Mostly though the books are didactic morality on the surface. Later famous ones include Hester Chapone’s letters. I’m not sure how many children really read such books but they are readable by younger people. And it’s true that this one is situated in a school so you could say we have the first glimmerings in this book of What Katy Did.

What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge

And Austen’s own novels, with their emphasis on education, and direct allusions (at least in Emma) to some of this previous literature are another kind of legacy.


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Said to be a woman strike leader

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of days ago, as a result of thinking about Austen’s lack of power in her letters (she can’t travel anywhere, she can’t say where she’ll live) and because I had been reading some superb papers on liberty in connection with the paper I’m working on for the coming EC/ASECS conference: “‘I have the right to choose my own life:’ Liberty in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels,” I’ve been thinking about the concept of liberty as connected to women.

I noticed most of the literature, older and classic (Benjamin Constant, John Stuart
Mill) and more recent (Isaiah Berlin and Quentin Skinner) treat the concept as if it’s experienced exactly the same for women as for men. This is not quite fair to Mill because he does have a separate treatise On the Subjection of Women where he argues that women are not at all what they might possibly be because they have been so pre-shaped by norms and values hostile to them.

Still when Mill writes of liberty, he writes of “mankind” as if women were to be understood understood under the same rubric in the same terms. What I’ve been thinking about is how one central difference when it comes to liberty is that women have lacked it because they are made directly answerable with their bodies in ways not enforced on men.

Again in Jane Austen’s letters (which I’ve been reading) one repeatedly comes across her inability to travel anywhere beyond where her feet will take her (walking). She is obstructed by her brothers and father who will not permit her to travel alone — without a man or chaperon; she acquiesces in this and agrees it’s necessary that she not travel in conveyances which carry people beneath their gentry class. So she lacks negative freedom to travel. But she writhes as she waits until it suits the convenience of a brother to come pick her up and take her to where she wants to go. She has no area where she can act unobstructed to get onto a carriage to travel. But if they didn’t forbid, could she go where she wanted? No. She lacks the money. She is not free in a positive sense since all the arrangements around her have been set up to prevent her from earning enough; she has no self-mastery, she lacks the wherewithal.

Now both her lack of negative and positive liberty are connected to another aspect of our experience of liberty discussed by Berlin: our status. Just as one might expect he never brings in gender among the things that affect status: religion, race, ethnicity, class, but gender, no. It’s her gender that forbids the traveling alone and her gender that the society has refused to provide a way of earning a real living for. It’s that inflection of negative and positive liberty that totally hems her in and makes it impossible for her to travel. A modern instance is Saudi Arabia where it’s forbidden to women to drive.

To cut to the quick, all of this swirls around the demand a woman be chaste (or a virgin), be pushed into marriage, motherhood. The key problem for women and liberty is they are still answerable with their bodies centrally. It is okay to rape a woman — we’ve seen that this summer and seen how rules of evidence demands work against her, how her reputation is everything; if she’s not an angel, then she wanted rape and the man had a right to (I speak of several women who were raped and whose cases were dismissed; the men did it with impunity and the women were treated with suspicion and derision). This summer we’ve seen hatred of a young woman who did not conform to angel prescriptions for motherhood (I speak of Casey Anthony who a jury acquitted). Women are continually pressured to get pregnant, be mothers, breast-feed. I came across two cases in my research for a book on child murder which shows the suspicion women want to kill their fetuses or babies is still given play by permitting people who represent agencies (institutions, communities) to invade the pregnant girl’s body and if she hides her pregnancy, it’s evidence against her. If she’s pregnant she is to care for this fetus in her more than herself. The demand a woman look a certain way to attract a man — that came up in my use of the term spinsterhood and its negative connotations on my blog.

I know many societies have enforced conscription for military service for men, but this is a limited time frame and not sexual. I know many societies have practiced chattel slavery, which includes men. But few (a very few in Africa) have done so in more than a century. Women are today trafficked in Slavish Europe and Africa with impunity.

I was wondering if there is a book which treats of these issues directly. I
know that indirectly one might say that Carol Pateman’s Sexual Contract
and Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight assume this enforced servitude is the
center of women’s problems but they do not treat directly of the issue of liberty, of freedom of action and independence. Catherine MacKinnon’s books that I’ve read are centered on rape. You could say indirectly (way back) Mary Wollstonecraft centers her discussion “The Rights of Woman” when she gets to it to how women are sexualized, but she does not deal with the concept of liberty. I am wondering if someone can direct me to essays or books which treat of women’s liberty in the way say the classic studies treat of men’s.

For a summary of Mill’s argument in Subjection of Women, see comments.


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Mrs Jones (Ruth Sheen) to Fanny Hill (Rebecca Knight): If she does not take Mr H as a keeper, and ends up on the streets, “It doesn’t bear thinking about” (2007 Sally Head Fanny Hill)

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I finished reading John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748/49), which has come to be commonly know as Fanny Hill; I read partly to understand the 2007 mini-series scripted by Andrew Davies, directed by James Hawes (credits as respectable as Davies), produced by Nigel Marchant. I was also curious to see what the text really is like and how it fits into the “heroine’s text” type of novel prevalent in the 18th century from novels of males in drag (La Vie de Marianne, Clarissa, La Nouvelle Heloise) to women-centered texts by women (from La Princess de Cleves to Austen’s famous six).

I find it a book which starts off very lively and meaningful in the heroine’s text pattern (as outlined by Nancy Miller), even highly original in what it dared to present to a middle class reader, and meaning to be humane, enlightened (anti- religious repressions and lies), but marred badly by a its cliched language, thought (sentimental and genteel) and finally in the second half losing all sense of plot-design and deliquescing from a delicate form of erotica into clinically detached pornography.

Its importance though is not derived simply from its content or aesthetic value: since it was prosecuted early on, and had a lingering reputation ever after (was kept in print) and was in the 20th century linked with Lady Chatterley’s Lover as unacceptable porn, it has a sociological importance other books of this type (erotic, porn) do not have (see Hal Gladfelder, “Obscenity, censorship, and the eighteenth-century novel: the case of John Cleland,” Wordsworth Circle, 35.3 (Summer 2004):134ff.)

By contrast, Davies’s rendition is a strongly plotted throughout, ironic fairy tale which concentrates on the importance of female relationships, how they are ambivalent (as two women teaming up together despite any dislike), necessary and what rare true empathies (Mrs Cole with Fanny — in Ruby in Paradise a similar pair) can do. The importance of Davies’s film is that of costume drama: that this kind of material should be included (however restrained) and that the actors who appear here can also appear in Austen films and the plot- and character parallels between an Austen film and this semi-pornographic one (we see women performing fellatio on men in positions that show they have no agency whatsoever).

What follows is a journal report of my reading experience, section by section where I compare book to recent movie as I go along.


Esther Davies (Emily Stanfield) telling the orphan Fanny that she can survive by supporting herself in London; she need only travel there (Esther is a minor character, mentioned once or twice in Cleland’s novels; Davies turns her into a major character across the mini-series)

I began this novel this morning and it reads like a parody of novels in the mode of Richardson’s Pamela; perhaps it’s more like Marivaux’s Marianne with a specific allusion to Pamela (the use of the spelling “vartue” and a comic retelling of Pamela’s story as if it really happened). I find it more persuasive than Marianne who is immediately picked up by a protector. Fanny comes to London because after the death of her parents from small pox she receives only cold and minimal charity and a friend, Esther Davis, offers to take her to London — all the while using Fanny’s money (but minimally Esther’s vice is not expensiveness). Esther tells her where an “intelligence” office (=employment bureau is) and after crying a while, but putting her act together (as she had still several guineas and 17 shillings from the sale of all her parents’ things), she does take a lodging for the night and shows up at this haughty place.

Mrs Brown (Alison Steadman) choosing Fanny at the unemployment office — Steadman’s archeype includes Mrs Bennet)

I thoroughly believe it and am “into the book.” If I had time, I’d return to Therese Philosophe (some say by Diderot) for the flaw in FH is the narrator buys into the false values of her society and reiterates them. Not Therese, she is wittily subversive, more fun. The obviously French context of Cleland’s work reminds me of how much I like French materials in this era.

I’m having an experience similar to that I had last summer reading Sade’s novels — what is said about FH utterly distorts the reality of this novel — or overplays it. The next phase of the book is found precisely in the film adaption: Mrs Brown turns out to be a brothel keeper, Phoebe her chief aid, initiates FH into sexual experience and the two conspire to sell her to the aging brutal Mr Crofts. I’m just not finding anything shocking. I’ve read online — would anyone like to see this — the contemporary bookseller, Griffith’s defense of this book as hardly different from dozens others — and he’s right.

Phoebe (Carli Norris) selling the innocent Fanny: Davies’s movie emphasizes the sexual initiation of Fanny by a bisexual woman, Phoebe (a proto-typical shepherdess name)

Why did the authorities get so excited? Yes there have been a couple of passages more explicit than most things I’ve read but done in language that eschews all verboten words. I cannot believe they couldn’t stand the proto-feminist point of view — for that’s there too, played up to be sure by Davies:

In the film early after arriving at the brothel Fanny is sexually attacked by Mr Croft (Philip Jackson) with the collusion of Mrs Brown and Phoebe and remains a virgin

As with Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Prevost’s Manon Lescaut (and quite a number of works of the earlier 18th century), there are no chapter divisions in this book. It is set up as two letters, one ending p 126 of my Penguin edition by Wagner, and the other ending p 224. Each was printed as a volume.

As I read on, Fanny moved on to fall in love with the beautiful good young man, Charles (as in Davies’s film) and they flee the brothel together. At this point love-making does start and I have to say that it is arousing. The style is part of the success because it’s not crude. Now I see why it must’ve shocked for it’s on the face of it marketed for a middle class reader; it’s literate and implicitly a critique of the ancien regime’s customs, laws. The book supports Darnton’s thesis as do Sade’s and Diderot’s.


Fanny and Charles initiating one another

An autobiographical verisimilar component

I continue to read this novel with real interest in it. I’m surprised at myself for this; that is, that it continues to hold me. Now that Fanny is in love genuinely and with a kind decent man — Charles (played in the film by the handsome sweet looking Alex Robertson, a kind of Tom Jones) whose last name we have not yet been told (again very like Moll Flanders and the fictions from the early part of the century) has a real history of his own which rings true. We are told that he was an only son whose father refused to spend any money on him beyond necessities in the house; paid for hardly any education and planned to purchase him an ensign’s commission (provided he could procure it with interest and not too much money). This is the only plan the man had; he kept a mistress. He did reprimand the boy when he got in his way. Luckily there was a grandmother who took a fancy to the boy and provided him with money. It’s money from her he uses to keep his and Fanny’s lifestyle up in Mrs Jones’s house.

It strikes me this is a real story, and if not Cleland’s one he saw or one he could identify his own rejected life with. This is not the only story of this type that suddenly emerges. The depiction of Mrs Jones, the quiet landlady cum-procuress is just such another as Anthony Trollope is more discreet language describes running a “boarding house” in a less salubrious part of London in Miss Mackenzie in the second half of the 19th century. Women have ever been desperate to stay solvent, in houses, with food and clothes and in days before jobs, what could they sell if the found themselves (as they probably did with frequency) outside some family system or could not endure what punishment was wreaked on them in return for being kept.

Mr H is a glamorous idealization of himself in conventional heterosexual terms — well, every author but has his weaknesses. Hugo Speer plays the part with real panache (he was super as Sergeant George in Davies’s rendition of Bleak House and I’ve loved him ever since he was so fiercely loyal to Phil, his homeless friend).

Mr H (Hugo Speer) enjoying Fanny’s candid company, proposes to teach her from books he knows, to make a lady of her

This part of the novel has veins of reality as striking as any in an 18th century novel, memoir, or tale. And in effect Davies picks up in this when he has his Charles’s father be a miser and tyrant and bigot, thought kidnapping and pressing might be too strong for most people (who knows, in French fictions families are ever throwing disobedient adult children into the Bastille or other prisons by lettres de cachet). He also depicts Mrs Jones more in the way of a Fielding caricature but this rock-bottom solid motivation (not in Fielding) is there in the film: Davies’s Mrs Jones tells Fanny what might happen to her (in the streets) if she refuses to accept Mr H as her keeper “doeesn’t bear thinking about.”

No it doesn’t.

The one strong contrivance and intertwining together that does not occur in the book that Davies uses is Davies he has Mr Croft who Mrs Brown (played by Alison Steadman, Mrs Bennet is here revealed in her archetype as desperate procuress) would have sold Fanny to (see above) no matter how old and vicious he is, turn out to be Charles’s father. That coincidence is too pat, but then less actors needed to be paid and the recognition scene is striking. Also the hypocrisy of the old man who would rape Fanny now utterly rejects her with vile words as appropriate for her!

Fanny miscarries the pregnancy by Charles, and accepts Mr H as her lover. Although she does not love him, he is capable of awakening her sexually even more than Charles. These passages in the book are strongly arousing and at the heart of what made this book prosecuted. Here we have a heroine who while depicted a literally unchaste (from her living with Charles) is nonetheless presented as a middle class avatar, reasonable, reasoning, acting in her own best interests. To show her as experiencing sexual pleasure without love (the demand for which is still used to bind women by women themselves) was as subversive of the social order as Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover’s depiction of sexuality itself (as in its buggery). Probably too I’ve been underestimating how original this text is — it is not a mad rant like Sade’s, not hectically lurid like so many of the English tansgressive fictions (say by Haywood or Behn or Manly Delaviere or The Nun on her Smock) I’ve read.


The movie sweetens the mixture by keeping the sex tasteful and emphasizing how Mr H is teaching Fanny important text: here they are doing Shakespeare’s great sonnet 94 (“They that have power to hurt and will do none”)

The long descriptions of Mr H making love to Fanny, arousing her against her conscious will are remarkable. They are (as far as I can tell) just about wholly original in the manner of Richardson’s Pamela. There were novels before Richardson’s of types like Pamela, there were epistolary novels, but no one put these two together for quite this story at this length with a persuasive presence. So there may have been erotica (a good term for this part book) before FH, but nothing as plain yet elegantly styled, thorough, frank, emotional in this direct way with just such a persuasive presence as this narrator. (Aretino is cold muscular stuff; Crebillon fils is indirect and prurient, much of the English stuff I’ve glanced at crude, silly, hectic).

The fiction is also again fuelled by autobiography. When to take a (foolish as she says) revenge on Mr H for his casual infidelity with her maid, she seduces a young man from the country, the long sequence is obviously a male in drag (Cleland) seducing a male. Fanny’s descriptions of the handsome body and beauty of Mr H is clearly the same sort of release for the author.

I wish I had time to read Therese Philosophe to see if it is done there or Diderot’s Bijoux Indiscrets. It cannot be a matter of influence since both were published in the same year: 1748. Therese Philosophe is (as I’ve said) superior in outlook in the sense that the discourse of Fanny contradictory will be ever so pious and moral now and again and she is quite a snob. She scorns her maid as hypocritical and coarse when Mr H goes after her. Fanny’s strictures against Mrs Jones, presented as corrupt and awful (beneath her) are absurd in this context. Davies (needless to say?) drops all this and picks up only on the more intelligent stream of comment where Fanny argues that her behavior is what she had to do under the circumstances: indeed this line from this section of the book is moved by Davies to the end of his film adaptation to be its moral lesson: “our virtues and our vices depend too much on our circumstances … (p. 98)


In the film Mr H discovers Fanny and her country bumpkin lover: it’s not really a comic scene as Mr H becomes passionately upset, jealous, out of male pride ejects Fanny (though it’s quite all right for him to be unfaithful is the point of the movie)

I said that in Cleland’s book Fanny’s affair with the young country servant, an act of revenge on Mr H for his infidelity to her is a different kind of release for the author than his descriptions of Fanny’s physical encounters with Mr H. It is clearly a long homosexual series of passages. The alert button here is that Cleland knows it is unrealistic for Fanny to take such chances — that is, to have more than one encounter with the young man. Also Fanny is presented as not particularly promiscuous and even moralistic. Now Cleland must change her character to reckless and not so much promiscuous as self-indulgent, sybaritic. But it’s clear that Cleland wants to write these passages. Now they are as innovative (so to speak) as the heterosexual encounters, probably as erotic (though not to me). He breaks with verisimilitude and what’s more makes his book tedious (at least to me).

I mentioned that there is a certain interest and humor in reading all the different euphemisms Cleland comes up with to describe people’s body parts and what is happening. IN this section what is striking is the cool objectivity with which he’s determined to describe these body parts, really exactly. This too is new to the novel and I suggest this too led to the book being prosecuted.

It is prison literature too. It was first written as a draft a number of years (Cleland claimed) before he was put in prison, but it was while he was in prison, he perfected and extended his draft and made this publishable (well at least it adheres to aesthetic criteria of coherence and the conventions of these young-girl-from-county-enters-the-world transgressive fictions.

By contrast, in the film Davies allows only one encounter between Fanny and the servant, and that one Mr H interrupts — probably not probable but then there is not the problem of the improbability of Fanny taking so many chances and he does not have to present Fanny as promiscuous except when driven by a need to survive).

Book 1 of the novel ends not (as I thought it would) on the downfall of Fanny when Mr H catches her and her lover-country male servant in the act, but after she has secured a place at Mrs Coles’s millinery shop.

There is a real drive to keep this novel euphoric, upbeat. In the feature to the DVD of the film adaptation, the director, screenplay writer, some of the actors and production designer were all asked what they thought was the moral lesson of the novel. Did it have one? Only Samantha Morton who played Mrs Cole denied any. Most emphasized (especially Davies and the actress Rebecca Knight) that it was you, women too, do what they have to do to survive and (Davies) much moralizing is unreal. But the production designer was given the last word; he said it’s a fairy tale because it ends so happily and is continually moving into gaiety. I think that’s so. By contrast, Davies made part 1 end on Fanny losing her beloved Charles and being threatened with destitution with Mrs Jones telling her she must do something or will be ejected from her lodging place.


Mrs Cole (Samantha Bond), a cool businesswoman in the film (her archetype, which is also the warm compromiser, includes Mrs Weston)

In Cleland’s Book 2 we have Fanny developing a real relationship with Mrs Coles. This is what Wagner in his introduction and Nancy Miller in her essay on the novel stress; the womens’ relationship. Mrs Coles is a kindly mother figure cum businesswoman. Fanny our narrator is sceptical of Mrs C’s professed motives (which Davies cuts from the film), that Mrs Cole lost a daughter and Fanny is a substitute, but it’s their talk, a genuine self-conscious novitiate (so to speak), with the nunnery analogy being meant (remember Diderot’s La Religieuse‘s more sexualized sections) that brings the text alive again.

The millinery shop is a front for a brothel, and again we have the obvious vulnerability of women before men, their need to serve men sexually, and the presentation of Mrs Cole is relevant to this: when unlike the landlady (Mrs Jones) Mrs Coles identifies with Fanny, the story becomes a sort of parable of the necessity of female friendship in this 18th century world.

This relationship does remind one of Moll Flanders where Moll has a governess-brothel keeper and chief theft who helps her (rather like Dickens imagines a Fagin does, minus the anti-semitism). Defoe’s character is vaguer and does not present these amoral arguments at all, but the implicit realities are the same. Davies did both films and has Rebecca Knight as Fanny interrogate the audience the way Alex Kingston as Moll did. The contrast is Moll is direct, angry at us, accusing with her hard life; Fanny writes from her standpoint at the end of the book as mistress of a lovely house, and rich and married to Charles so she is looking back and happy.

Nonetheless, like many critics say, Fanny Hill, the book, falls off sharply in Part 2. Fanny is now with Mrs Cole and the narrative stops for the different prostitutes to tell their stories. Things get still and if the separate stories were well-written or original or vivid, it’d be like say Millenium Hall or a number of popular novels from the era which I recall: Fielding’s The Governess is filled with story telling of this type; one about I recall: “The Histories of the Penitents in the Magdalen-House (1760) (anonymous).

But it’s not so. It’s the same story repeatedly: girl seduced, abandoned, probably a common story doubtless but this is art not life. Johnson’s two famous Ramblers about Misella are unforgettable. The point of several stories is to display and enact sex. In this second part the rationale of showing women’s lives (each one is taken advantage of in a different way, or ejected from poverty of parents) is a transparent excuse for long erotic descriptions, each of which presents different facets of sex (one centers on masturbation for example). It is here that Cleland’s book begins to become pornographic. If not openly violent, not openly rendering the women powerless (as in Reage’s Story of O), they are that because this is how they must make a living.

The real flaw in the book is an undistinguished style. Finally good books come alive because the language is not a string of cliched phrases, flung together and that’s what’s happening here. I began to doze

Davies cuts all this, and he inserts a new character: Esther is dragged forward from Volume 1 (she was the one who Fanny came to London with) and has incurred Davies’s Fanny’s suspicion and dislike as the woman who misled when she introduced her to Mrs Brown and then deserted her. Davies’s Esther is the person who hates someone precisely because she wronged her. So they are emotional enemies and the narrative line has antagonism as part of the suspense. Later Esther will bring back Mr H to the brothel … All this is Davies’s addition.


Mrs Cole and Esther greeting Fanny

In this section I can see why I’ve reading postings by women on listservs and blogs where they described having to read this book in a classroom and discuss it as shaming and humiliating, one of the unpleasantness and most unfair experiences they can remember in a classroom. Three girls emerge (Harriet, Emily, and Louise) as the storytellers and then in accordance with their original stories they participate in an orgy — described by Fanny which she then participates in. The rationale is they must get rid of their modesty but to a female reader this is also an ordeal in humiliation which is presented as enjoyable to the woman. There is no sense of the physical reality in Cleland: he really does write like a distanced cold clinically detached male here enjoying power over a woman who gives up all her agency.

So the text does devolute, deliquesce (though that’s not the right word for it either) into long vignettes of sexual encounters of porn. Each is justified by some slender story line, which Andrew Davies has picked up. At first Mrs Cole sells Fanny as a virgin and we see Fanny’s efforts in the hypocrisy line — this may be meant as an exposure of false manners and manipulation. Mr Norbert, in the film a sweet young man, dying, impotent, has a version in the book, not so sweet, not impotent, but someone who submits, is not dominated, and as in the film, in the book Fanny first meets him in the marketplace and brings him home and they develop a genuine relationship.

One story is so precisely like that which caused such a sexual tremor (or was supposed to have) among women viewers of the 1995 P&P that it was imitated by several more Austen films (Lost in Austen, I have found it) and is referred to still: when Colin Firth stripped to his underclothes and dived in a lake to swim. The second story told by Harriet is strikingly like this story — the great lord of the mansion returns unexpectedly on a hot day, strips nearly all his clothes off and dives in a lake while Harriet (the narrator) is in a summer house. The pavillion or summer house is an important motif in women’s erotic literature — it’s a place apart where a girl escapes surveillance. what happens is she is drawn to watch him — but then he sees her and he rushes out and rapes her. Twice. We are asked to believe that after the first onslaught she likes it.

I find it telling that a rape is in this original scene (if it is the text that gave Davies the idea) and has been erased. The original Sleeping Beauty tales are rape stories, telling that it’s been inserted into a woman’s film and then asserted to be just what women want. A joke is now mercifully made of it. Origins tell us something surely?

Colin Firth as Mr Darcy about to plunge in

Cleland’s tone is as happy and cheerful and playful as it is during long sequences in Volume I (Fanny’s falling in love with Charles, the time with Mr H) so this is indeed very ambiguous stuff and anyone who does not admit this upfront so to speak is misrepresenting what’s here. Who is Cleland in this text? who does he stand for? well the powerful male who insists on this as okay and his right and refuses to see or imagine the complicated real life response of people paid to do this sort of thing. It’s an attitude of mind that would not see rape as rape.

Not that it’s moral or judgmental — as in the early parts of volume I. Cleland has forgotten all the moral lessons he wove in early on. Just shed them. No religion in sight either.


Mr Norbert among the women

In the middle section of Volume II (and the first one two) Cleland is really inventing stories that enable him to write long sexually graphic scenes. Mr Norbert is introduced as feeble and seducible so we can get this long presentation of Fanny as utterly hypocritical in how she fools him into thinking she’s a virgin. Step-by step. By contrast Davies divides the “types” so in the film Fanny and Mrs Cole first fool the father of a young virginal man and the emphasis is not on the sexual scene but the delusions of these males and their false pride. Fanny remains Mr Norbert’s mistress for quite a time (we are told) so gets her reward in money and support. Alas, he dies without leaving her anything (just her ill-gotten gains so to speak) and she has to lend herself out again.

In the book she takes on a Mr Balville and we get two long scenes of fetishistic sex where the idea is she is to whip him and whip her. I wondered if this was the first time in a middle class novel (prose style) this kind of scene was ever written, especially the details of the pain. We are to admire Fanny for standing to her bargain and are invited to enjoy these scenes. I didn’t; I had to skim. These are pure porn, but I suppose they have the merit of perhaps being first in the middle class novel? if we think originality a virtue, and I presume we do.

We are now going to get scenes of further permutations of sexual experience. It seems that is Cleland’s aim in Volume II: from the opening swimming rape and other scenes to these.

Davies didn’t quite skip these; he has no Mr Balville but he does has a montage of sexual orgies going on, but he presents it as distasteful after a while — the girls have to keep at it, rather like someone in a factory, and after you’ve stamped one object you really don’t want to stamp another, much less keep going for hours on end — in other words it’s brought home all this is for money. There is enjoyment when there is dancing, exhilaration: there the director of the film brought out how the well-bred dancing is a kind of simulacrum, a controlled version of these more drunken rollicking scenes. There are no such dancing scenes in Cleland’s book. But the overall feel veers between the sordid and girls’ serving men and luxurious salacious moments.

This is a more tasteful shot for the blog (everyone is near naked in many of the scenes of Davies’s movie at this point)

In the film Davies then provides a strong plot-device by bringing back Mr H, involving him with Fanny’s arch-rival, Esther Davies (who is built up as a character across the films). Mr H cannot stand to watch Fanny with other men and there is an explosion of jealousy; he tells the magistrates on Mrs Cole and the house is broke up.

Hugo Speer as the angry hurt Mr H — I find him an attractive man in this film (his role as Sergeant George in Davies’s Bleak House aligns him with other characters who protect and in their perspective help the vulnerable — he teaches Fanny in the film)

In the film we see how helpless the 18th century women are against the men. Mr H is a magistrate himself; he need only complain and the house is destroyed. The women can do nothing. (This is not what happen in Cleland’s book, mind.)

Fanny is left to the streets, and very like Waters’s & Davies’s Tipping the Velvet (book and movie) soon falls to street prostitution and being raped and even beaten.

For the conclusion and some final remarks, see the comment.


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