Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘historical novels’ Category


Caspar D. Friedrich (1774-184), Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818-22)

Dear friends and readers,

Paradoxically I’ve not had any books to blog about since I’ve been reading so diligently towards one perhaps two conferences. Tonight I looked and saw that the proposal I was aiming at — for a Chawton conference in summer 1213 — is not due until January 1213. I had thought it was November 1212. From a brief conversation I had with Gillian Dow at the JASNA in Portland, more than two years ago now, I had the impression she’d welcome papers on the French background of 18tn century women writers and as I love reading French novels and am interested in the issues that crop up when one reads translations as well as the interaction of French and English texts, the one I thought I’d try for is for Dow’s panel whose topic is to be women writers and translation.

This blog is about the novels I’m going to deal with (and maybe a memoir) — which cannot be said to anticipate the Brontes so much as be like them fundamentally; the ultimate precursor is Prevost. Another problem with Lucasta Miller’s The Bronte Myth is she apparently does not know of these novels, still very much part of the reading of Victorian women of the first half of the 19th century. I call specific attention to Sophia Lee’s The Recess (which Austen probably had in mind in her NA parody), and Charlotte Smith’s The Young Philosopher. Great and powerful novels — if with the usual flaws of wild romantic novels of the era.

**************************


Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), ‘Woman Wearing a Mantle over her Head and Shoulders’ (detail), c.1718-19.

Starting late last week, I’ve now read Prevost’s Manon Lescaut (1734, revised 1753), a novel that deeply engages me), Charlotte Smith’s translation, Manon Lescaut, or The Fatal Attraction (1786), and am now into her Romance of Real Life (1787), a set of stories she has made out of published long legal cases originally in French, and at the same time reading her very great and last long partly-gothic, Scots novel, The Young Philosopher (1798). Ive not got a specific thesis yet; I seem not to come up with anything precise until I actually sit down and write.

A second novel I’m persuaded is strongly influenced by Prevost is Sophia Lee’s The Recess; Or, A Tale of Other Times (1783), which like Smith’s book is also influenced by Prevost’s Le Philosophe anglais, ou Histoire de Monsieur Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwell, écrite par lui-même, et traduite de l’anglais (1731-39). I once read half way through it in French and now have it from ECCO in both the French and contemporary English translation. The Recess was almost immediately translated into French as was The Young Philosopher. For The Recess I have very good notes which I’ll share here one night later this week.

In all these

the world is filled with people who are having a long and
painful journey, who are exhausted by affliction, who have lost all the ties that meant anything to them, and who have not deserved this! I have thought the central motive for the gothic is a knot of grief: it is a genre compounded of mourning and rage, one in which people are allowed to express what cries out for expression but which they silence — for many reasons. The book is a memoir written in the first-person, sometimes in the present tense and sometimes in the historical present (the past). It is intended to vindicate the writer, to record the unknown truth and is written to pass and to solace the time.

I have two critical books I want to read through or dip into J. R. Foster’s older The Pre-romantic Novel in England which is really a study of Prevost’s influence on the English novel, and April Alliston’s Virtue’s Faults: Correspondences in 18th century French and British Women Writers. I own a copy of Smith’s Etherlinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1786) in both the Elibron reprint of the English text (5 vols!) and my home-made xerox of the contemporary French translation.

Later this week I will write a blog on The Recess (which I have ample notes about from the time I read it on ECW with a friend) by way of re-familiarizing myself and on the weekend The Young Philosopher, in order to come to some conclusions about it.

For now what the English women took from Prevost seems to be his use of wild remote places in which the protagonist is driven to a nadir of loss, grief, despair, madness, suicide; intense sympathy with a younger generation’s rebellion and reactive defiance against the mercenary ambitious on their own and previous generation. Prevost expressed an enduring psychic condition of neurotic passion, he expresses a cri de coeur about the nature of life and both Lee and Smith took these over. With this mood they can take whatever conventions they are using to an extreme and alter our perspective on life.

SONNET.

Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night o’er the ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “strike the bell.”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar, the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim; such the dubious ray
The wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Charlotte Smith as Elisabeth Lisburne

******************


Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), Blindman’s Bluff (1728)

The other conference paper I’m not much more precise on. I began by proposing a panel on actresses which I did not plan to contribute to, but when it seemed only one person was interested in actresses (at least for a panel of mine), I changed its focus to R-e-s-p-e-c-t: For actresses, women playwrights, working women, fictional heroines and even aristocrats respect and favorable reputation matter. In other words, I included all sorts of women and the dangers of their various occupations to their reputations.

Then because I didn’t know what to do (meaning if I should or could just withdraw the sugggestion), and did want to contribute something, I decided I would present a paper at it too, to be titled: Ellen Moody, George Mason University, “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!” paranoia and shame in the writings of George Anne Bellamy, Charlotte Smith, Sophie Cottin and Mary Brunton. The conference program is now up and my panel is Saturday early afternoon.

Looking at it, I begin to worry less about trying to do two things since I’ve read the works of two I mean to cover, am now reading Smith (and have read her before) and have certainly worked on Bellamy. I also see where the topics criss-cross. Brunton and Cottin also use wild remote places, have a knot of grief at the core of their work; the difference is the accent: in the first I want to see how the French work enables this, in the other the effect of it on the writer’s reputation and way we regard the work.

A key link between the two sets of books and emphases or themes could be the fictional poet, Elisabeth Lisburne whom George Delmont hears of in The Young Philosopher. In Delmont’s wanderings in Wales (supposedly after his brother to give up yet more money to him) he comes across wild landscape, remote, rocky, where he is told of a young gentlewoman who drowned herself; she had been intently waiting for letters that never came and we are given a moving poem of lyric despair. My guess is there will be more poetry from her. She is a surrogate for Smith. I’m drawn to the first set of lyrical stanzas that Smith puts in the book as by Elisabeth Lisburne because it reminds me of a translation I did of Veronica Gambara’s similar poem where a refrain deepens into a bleak lack of hope.

When the two heroines, twin-daughters of Mary Queen of Scots by Bothwell wake in the morning in their subterranean cavern their source of light the sun is seen through the glazed thick windows: “The rising of the sun, whose first beams gilt our windows, rouzed us entirely. Methinks, while I expatiate on these trifles, times seems suspended, and the scene still living before me …” Once when they left, they found themselves in a park “with a playful group of fawns and deer, with whom [they] long to frolic.” But another time it was a ruined cloister:

For a long way beyond, the prospect was wild and awful to excess; sometimes vast heaps of stone were fallen from the building, aong which, trees and bushes had sprung up, and half involved the dropping pillars. Tall fragments of it sometimes remained, which seemed to sway about with every blast, and from whose mouldering top hung clusters and spires of of ivy. In other parts, ruined cloisters yet lent a refuge from the weather, and sullenly shut out the day while long echoes wandered through the whole at the touch of the lightest foot; the intricacies of the wood beyond, added to the magnificence of art the variety of nature. We quitted, with regret, our new empire, when the sun left his last rays on the tops of trees.

I think of Manon and know how lack of money drives our hero and heroine into crime, self-degradation, and realize that money too is key to these romances, to Brunton and Smith’s heroines, Bellamy, even Sophie Cottin. Each novelists traces female sexuality as experienced by many women (sometimes disturbingly silenced as someone who has had a child out of wedlock). Each “traces [her] heroine['s] incessantly renewed struggle to keep from being swamped in the tempest of men’s emotional needs. (Manon may be said to have been swamped in the tempest of Des Grieux’s emotional needs.) Most of her sympathetic heroines, central or not, have a “tenuous hold” on “their social position” and we repeatedly see them “displaced” (“common theme” across the novels) “so that women already existing legally as possessions within male-controlled economy, find themselves alienated from its provisions …” They resemble figures from French, “exiles” (Prevost called himself “d’Exiles”) defined by what they cannot have. Nancy Miller makes Prevost’s heroine one of her key heroines’ texts — of the tragic terrain instead of euphoric.

I figure I’ll find enough to make an elegant argument for a proposal and a paper before November with sufficient content to back it up. But to anyone reading this, have you have articles or books on Prevost (beyond Sgard whose work I know well) or Sophia Lee. I know all Labbe’s books on Smith.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Portrait of a woman dressed as a vestal virgin

Dear friends and readers,

A third and last blog on my time at the South Central ASECS (see Panoramas and Ann Radcliffe’s landscapes), again mostly on the papers I heard: Saturday was a long satisfying day, sessions all day long, and I did session-hop. I spent my morning listening to panels on women essayists, novelists & poets; in the afternoon I heard papers connected to Shakespeare in the 18th century (which turned out to be on Sarah Siddons, Anne Hathaway and Mary Lamb). The banquet featured a keynote address on Joanna Baillie’s letters, and if I’m not mistaken, I heard a paper on a Vietnamese woman poet

******************

Frances Reynolds (1729-1807), Self-portrait, with her sister, Mary

The early morning session (Panel 18, 8:30 – 10:00 am) was “Communities of Women.” Kristin Distel (“Mary Astell’s Empirical Feminism: Marriage of Conservatism and Autonomy”) argued Astell sought to reconcile her religious faith with a genuine feminism; basically within the restrictive confines of patriarchy (Astell did not acknowledge women had a right to divorce), she carved out a space for women to study and work independently in proposed academic communities. Samantha Anne Cahill (“Between Moon-shine and Fire-light: Turning, Crossing, and Passing in Jane Barker’s The Lining of the Patchwork Screen“) suggested Barker, a pro-Jacobite Catholic, used Islam as a threat to bring Catholics and Protestants together. Adam Fletcher (“A ‘Proper’ Ending: Pamela v A Simple Story) compared Inchbald’s heroines to Richardson’s Pamela to show that Inchbald creates a strong sexually-desirous independent heroine in Miss Milner and defied gender roles; she is a replacement for Pamela as a norm (however punished).

Kelli MacCartney (“Prospects for Women: Cannon-building Vision in Mary Scott’s The Female Advocate [1774]“) described how this poem asserted a long tradition of women laying claim to education, knowledge, cultural taste. Women should not be prohibited from cultivating the sciences; they have been coerced into obeying values to which they didn’t want to conform. Ms MacCartney named some of the women Scott celebrated: Katherine Parr (Henry VIII’s sixth & learned wife), Anne Killigrew (poet and musician), Rachel Russell (politician, letter-writer), Constantia Grierson (an Irish poet and scholar, apprenticed as a midwife), Anna Barbauld (poet, essayist, editor, teacher).

Alas (no fault of the four papers), I found myself remembering Anne Oakley’s Subject Women, one of whose central themes is how there is a disconnect between how accomplished women can become, how far they can go in places of learning and the actual jobs and places in professions they are allowed to achieve. Nonetheless, an inspiriting paper.


A cover illustration for an edition of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

It was during the mid-morning session I switched from one session to another. I began in “Making the Book, Meditating the Enlightenment” (Panel 21, 10:15- 11:45 am) and heard most of Adam Miller’s paper on Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest (“The Container and the Gothic: Reading the Abbey”). Mr Miller’s paper was based on Heidegger’s ideas about thingness, and Mr Miller talked of containers people build for themselves as shelter and what can make for progress (inside for comfort) but (in this novel) also slavery and imprisonment. I did not understand the paper very well (because I often find Heidegger a mystifier), but gathered Mr Miller saw the novel as pessimistic and proving some of Foucault’s contentions about the 18th century. The hero-villain of the The Abbey, La Motte, who flees into the forest, almost kills and is almost killed; the characters in the novel seek to be civilized but are surrounded by the darkness and death of history.


Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun (1755-1842), The Princess Belozersky

I returned to “Women in the Eighteenth Century,” this time under the rubric of “Vistas of Virtue and Vanity” (Panel 22, also 10:15 – 11:45 am), to hear the most of Kristen Hague’s paper on Charlotte Lennox’s novel, The Life of Harriot Stuart where she showed the strength of the novel lay in the complexity and intelligence of the central character. Harriot sees life as an adventure; her choices would be subtle but she finds herself in a world where men imprison women. Dawn M. Goode (“Violent Virtue in Burney’s Evelina“) demonstrated that Burney felt women were responsible for the sexual harassment they endure (when they don’t say obey conventions); Madame Duval deserved the abusive cruel treatment inflicted on her; the women authority figures collude with the men. Burney’s is a conservative book. One hear so much special pleading and strained arguments that to hear the problems in Burney’s first novel plainly stated was refreshing.

I really also liked Steven Gores’ paper on Sophia Lee, “Negotiating Literary Celebrity and Ladylike Gentility.” He retold the lives of Sophia and her sister, Harriet Lee, briefly, and argued that the moves Sophia made in her life, the choices of what to write, when to cease writing, when to open a school, how to advertise it, and how later in life to publish again came out of Lee’s conscious creation of a respectable persona and this persona served her and her sister, Harriet very well. There were originally 4 sisters; one married for love and vanishes from records. The father, an unpopular actor, ended in a debtor’s prison. When she had a great stroke of luck in the popularity of her play, A Chapter of Accidents, she took the money and invested it in a school in Bath. Her gothic, The Recess, was presented as a historical novel; a tragedy failed. With her sister, Harriet, she published The Canterbury Tales which was a respectable hit; one of its stories influenced Byron. Friends included Sarah Siddons and Hester Thrale Piozzi. By 1804 she could risk publishing her The Life of a Lover, an autobiographical novel (it reads like a memoir). They had by this time sold the school and retired to Clifton.

********************

Eggplant parmesan

At this point there was a 2 hour and 15 minute break for lunch. Happily, Jim and I went to lunch with an old friend of mine and a friend of hers. We went into Asheville using Jim’s car and ate yummy food in a place called The Cafe Jerusalem. I had some eggplant parmesan and wine and we all enjoyed good talk. Then we returned for the last part of the conference: the afternoon sessions, a brief reception (drinks) and the banquet, together with the last plenary address.

I really meant to go to a session on women’s life-writing to hear a paper on Teresa Constantia Phillips’s “scandal memoir,” but was too late so hurried off to “Shakespeare in the 18th century” (Panel 27, 2:00 – 3:30 pm), which looked and turned out to be more papers on women. Darlene Giraulo (“Monsters and Fairies: Mary Lamb’s Retelling of The Tempest“) described how Lamb had rewritten Shakespeare’s story to marginalize Caliban’s part and write a story about the education of a young girl (Miranda). Hannah Ruehl argued that in Aphra Behn’s Rover she rewrote Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (quite literally as she made parallels between these plays).


Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1784)

Christy Desmet (“Sarah Siddons as an Icon”) discussed central sources during Siddons’ life and immediately afterward for her life and reputation. Reynold’s image of Siddons mattered; James Boaden, Thomas Campbell, and Siddons’ own memoirs, Anna Jameson’s portrait. These combined to reinforce her as a revered passionately engaged actress. She was shown late in life surrounded by her family (not quite true). Katherine Scheil also discussed the image of her subject, rather than the subject herself: “Anne Hathaway in the Eighteenth Century” was about how the image of Shakespeare’s wife has changed over the centuries. At first she was hardly mentioned, and Shakespeare was presented as something of a rake (Davenent half-claimed he was Shakespeare’s illegitimate son). It was Betterton who first named Anne and presented Shakespeare as basically a happily married man. The will with the legacy of the 2nd best bed was early on seen as evidence of a lack of love, but the 19th century preferred to see a couple of young lovers. Wm Ireland contributed by having forged a love letter from Hathaway with a lock of her hair.

The group discussion afterward veered from discussing the latest operatic rewrite of The Tempest (the Met Enchanted Island) to tourism in Stratford, to modern actresses’ attempts to shape their reputation.


One of Blake’s many illustrations to Dante

The last session was on “Overlooked Texts” (Panel 30 3:30 – 4:45 pm). I came in late for Susan Spencer’s paper (“The Risky Business of Being a Poet at the dawn of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty”) on Ho Xuan Huong’s poems: those she read were mostly short, lovely, could be read backwards and through the use of puns several ways at once (they were often quietly sexy). Gloria Eive told us about her adventures in the Mazzolini papers at Faenza, Italy. Martin Lansverk (“Nearly Forgotten Texts in Blake’s Dante Illustrations”) discussed little noticed words Blake supplied under his pictures which turn out to be a guide on how to read Blake’s reaction to Dante’s text in these pictures. James McGinnis’s “Hobbes’s Thucydides” was about how Hobbes found in Thucydides much material consonant with his own pessimistic and conservative philosophy.

*************************

Contemporary illustration of George Anne Bellamy and David Garrick playing Romeo and Juliet

I have but two more papers, these just to mention. I missed a paper I would have loved to hear on George Anne Bellamy. Unfortunately the title was an insufficient signpost for me. Joanne Cordon’s “All the Stage’s a World” was about George Anne Bellamy’s benefit performances: what parts she played, how she drummed up support from influential people to come and bring others, and how much money she made (this was the first paper for Panel 10, “Tricks of the Trade: Stagecraft and Culture, High, Low and Popular”, 8:00 – 9:30 am on Friday). Jim told me about it and brought me the handout, a full list of all the parts Bellamy played that we know about, the parts she did for benefits, and what we know of her receipts (a lot). I didn’t miss but I didn’t take in Judith Bailey Slagle’s “Representations of History, Criticism and Feminism in the Letters of Joanna Baillie,” not because it was not clear and interesting (especially the details of critical reading of other writers), but because I had already dined very well as they say, couldn’t hear that well and was too tired to remember what she said later.

It was that evening we all retired to a beautiful room with glass walls overlooking the green landscape all around the Grove Park Inn. There we had waiting for us a Celtic band, drinks and snacks, tables and chairs to sit at, and a floor to dance on. I did dance as often as I could find someone to dance with me.

And so ended a really rejuvenating, gratifying and instructive time away. We were up early the next morning and drove the 8 hours back where I had much to do to prepare for teaching the next day.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Pilgrimage to Cythera

Dear friends and readers,

It is probably more than time for me to share my notes from this enjoyable conference at Asheville, North Carolina.

The first session I went to was on Thursday afternoon just after lunch (Panel 1, 12:30 – 2:00 pm): Terrifying Prospects and Psychological Landscapes: Visions and Vistas of the Gothic. This was the one where I gave my paper on “The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes”. I give the general gist of the two other enjoyable and concise papers: Robert Kottage (“Coining the Counterfeit: Truth and Artifice in Horace Walpole and his Castle of Otranto“) argued that although Walpole’s famous gothic “first,” is of poor aesthetic quality” (it does not succeed in doing what it sets out to), it’s a highly original work where we find massive pain behind the gothic masks. The characters are surrogates for Walpole, and the book an entirely serious attempt to express Walpole’s unconventional sensitive self; its themes are those of the gothic earnestly meant.


Jan Beerstraten (1622-66), Warmond Castle (1661) (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) — the secular historical landscape begins in mid-17th century

J. David Macey (“Panoramic Vistas and Prospective Deaths: Mary Hamilton, Munster Village and the Gothic Novel”) argued that Mary Hamilton employed unusual strategies in her novel: her characters retire to an estate and create a sort of Arcadia. Her novel is a Rousseauistic (many allusions to Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise) recuperative gothic wehre the characters try out tableaux of historical dreams against the nightmare of history. Prof Macey felt Radcliffe was influenced by Hamilton.

The second session I attended (Panel 7, 2:15 – 3:45 pm), “Animals in the Eighteenth Century.” This time two relatively brief suggestive papers. Killian Quigley (“Seemingly Divested of the Ferocity of His Nature: Dean Mahomet’s Imperial Wild”) discussed The Travels of Dean Mahomet, A Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of The Honourable The East India Company where the author championed the British presence in India. Mr Quigley suggested the presentation of the tiger in this book combined a de-mythologizing impulse with picturesque and 18th century Indian traditions.


This 18th century Royal Tiger Hunt clearly shows little compassion for the tiger (India, Rajasthan, Mewar, Udaipur)

Kathleen Grover (“Sense and Sentiment: Conflicting Views on Animals in the Writings of Descartes, Johnson, and Others”) discussed a shift in attitudes towards animals which encouraged people to empathize with them as having feelings equivalent in strength and quality to human beings; there was a growing anti-vivisection movement. She quoted to great effect some of Johnson’s writing.


Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), Portrait of Scottish violinist and composer Niel Gow (1727-1807)

The first plenary address was on a major theme of the conference beyond picturing: music, especially Scottish music. Professor and fiddler Jane MacMorran gave us a detailed survey of the modes and phases of “18th century Scottish Fiddle Music”. Basically she traced traditional Scottish music, the influence of sophisticated European art music (Italian) and local or regional forms. She or one or both of two of her students (also fine musicians) would play examples of each kind of music after she described its genesis, described it and told where it was popular. I really enjoyed listening to all the pieces, bagpipes, minuets, reels, gigs. The audience was just filled with people.


Spaghetti

After the two first sessions, there was lively talk, sometimes supplementing what was said (on the development of animal rights and how far we have to go as yet), qualifying, objecting. In the session on the gothic, the political complexion of the mode was debated; in the session on attitudes towards animals we discussed how far we were still away from regarding animals as having an equivalent right to a life of quality. There was not much general talk after the musical lecture, but some specific questions. What was the kind of music heard in Scottish middle class drawing rooms in the later 18th century. What did Prof MacMorran mean to refer to by some of her terms? After the musical lecture, everyone adjoined to a reception area in the corridors overlooking the vast green landscapes around the hotel (appropriate to the theme) and we drank and had snacks and talked. Then Jim and I were fortunate enough to go into town to have dinner (Italian) with an old friend and new acquaintance.

************************

Leicester Square, a Panorama

The next day began early, 8:00 am (Panel 3, to 9:30 am), and I went to a session whose subject was squarely that of the conference: “Anticipating the Long Eighteenth Century: Vistas in Literature and the Arts.” Three papers were accompanied by fold-out panoramas, scientific drawings, and plates commemorating events, city, town, and country places. Martha Lawlor (“As the Story Unfolds”) brought from the library where she is an Assistant to the head librarian the actual rare printed visions from the era. What I noticed most was that these were printed in small numbers and meant for an elite audience; what knowledge they did offer pictorially could not have spread far.


Panorama of the Battle of Sedan, Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Anton von Werner (British Library)

Linda Reesman (“Botanical Places and Poetical Spaces”) showed us images meant to accompany poetry by Coleridge (which idealized family, children, private sociability); she stressed how this poetry is nostalgic and shows his longing for childhood innocence. Kelly Malone (“Microscopic Vision: The Scientific Vision from the Other Side of the Lens”) showed us how people were disquieted (they had to question the validity of what they could see) by the perceived ugliness and totally different scale from the human one of the microscopic world, at the same time as it was influential and began an important useful journey in understanding the full universe (from diseases, to the structure of living things).

There really was not much talk afterwards as the papers were long and it had taken quite a time to get the power-point aspects of the talks to work. What there were were these panoramas from the rare book room of the Noel Collection spread out on desks. And people looked at them.

There was an Austen session, Panel 12 (9:45 – 11:15 am), “All About Austen.” Two excellent papers. Jena Al-Fuhai (“Gothic Letters: Austen and the Remnants of the Epistolary Novel”) demonstrated the Austen carried on using letters centrally in her novels; while parodying she retained, affirmed, re-created in her own idiom many gothic motifs we find in other novels of the era. Austen does not use letters as windows on the self so much as interventions in the stories which give rise to rupture and thus questioning (of the social order.) What was good about hers was the subtlety of her argument and her examples.


Anne Hathaway (who apparently embodies a modern desirable image for Austen) in Becoming Jane (2008)

Robert Dryden (“Knowing Jane: Pleasure, Passion, & Possession in the Jane Austen community”) basically talked about Austen fandom, how her readers are able to intimate narratives of her life that they fervently believe to be true because there is only the briefest suggestive evidence. She becames a portal, a site through which her readers dream of returning to an idyllic past. The audience afterward discussed the problematic questions of why Austen prompts this reaction, when the cult began, and why she appeals so, especially to women.

***********************
At this point there was a break for lunch; then Jim and I and many others went by three buses to the Biltmore mansion where we spent a long (tiring) afternoon. I felt the huge crowds I saw testified to how in the year 2012 the strongly hierarchical class-ridden society this Vanderbilt museum was run on is still central to American life.


A front view of the Biltmore castle (to the back are extension landscaped gardens)

It was telling to see that the rooms for display, the ones the family would have been least likely to use were the first we had to get through. Large with lots of flattering portraits, uncomfortable furniture and the visibilia of wealth and high connections. As we climbed higher, we saw evidence of family life (much idealized). Higher up the guests’ rooms (fancy, done according to color and thematic schemes), then higher yet the narrow corridors and bare rooms of servants. All the way down in the bowels of the building were the places the servants had worked very hard in, and a gym and pool for the wealthy visitors and family to use. In one room there were murals on the wall, evidence of a several day party where obviously the paricipants had gotten quite drunk at times. The prettiest things we saw where the gardens where much money is spent and time to make sure the tulips grow.

It was a mirror of what we were experiencing at Grove Park Inn. Where the 1% were served by those of the 99% docile or desperate enough to be let in. At Grove Park Inn I loved the landscape all around the many huge windows across its walls, and to see the super-expensive luxurious spa set in a vista of rocks; but the place never let one forget one was in this special rare environment only a tiny percentage of people get to enjoy. Jim remarked: “It’s a really glorious setting up in the mountains. People who bet on football refer to $50 bets as “nickels” and $100 bets as “dimes”. In that sense, the hotel nickeled and dimed us.”

I kept wondering where the people who worked in this hotel lived as the bus tours took us only through streets of exquisitely appointed Edwardian mansions. I did glimpse some apartment houses in the distance and hoped for their sakes there were supermarkets, reasonably priced malls, and other amenities (even physicians) to provide for their needs. They all smiled so while they wandered about the hotel, ever eager to help Jim and I (though one person did remind us that the people at the bar no longer had their tips included automatically in the bill — naturally she wanted to make more than $2.13 per hour).


As so often the slave cabins in US plantations now set up for tourists are torn down, so the places where servants must’ve gathered water in mid-century were no longer there (this photo comes from Pamela Horn’s study of the Victorian servant).

We could have done wine tasting and visited an artifcial village and shopping center on the other side of the huge estate; but as it promised to be much hype and was basically a place for the family to make money, we skipped it.

We got back in time to have a light supper with a friend at one of the many bars in the inn. Very pleasant.


Although blurred I show this image as it is from the production we viewed: the dancer has her arms arched to pump them up and down like a rooster

At 8 o’clock went with a group of people to a screening room where Gloria Eive and Colby Kullman played excerpts from a DVD of a production at the Paris Opera house of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes: Gloria and Colby discussed the music and (reactionary) meanings of the opera, and then we saw how in the Euro-trash version these were both delightfully parodied and rendered absurd (as when lead dancers imitated the gestures of chickens, hens, roosters) while wearing the extravagant costumes that are intended to make people numinous figures.

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)

Our long day was done and we returned to our room to read, have some white Riesling wine together, talk and then sleep.


White Riesling

For my third report, see South Central ASECS: Women Writers, poets & actresses and myths.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Claude Gellée, dit le Lorrain (1600-82), Landscape with Psyche, better known as The Enchanted Castle (1664) — it’s not really enchanted but forbidding

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been back from the South Central ASECS at Asheville, North Carolina for two weeks now and not yet begun posting on the good time I had there. It was a holiday. The South Central 18th century people run their conference as partly a mild kind of party. One night there was a wonderful lecture on Irish music across the 18th century; another a celtic band and drinking and dancing to it; a banquet on yet a third; a fourth we watched an opera on DVD (a Rameau from the Paris opera-house). During the day one afternoon we went to the Biltmore Mansion built by the super-rich Vanderbilts, a US equivalent of Downton Abbey and the popularity of this enormous mansion with its rooms for display, servants quarters in the attics and servants’ workrooms and gyms for the rich in the basement told us it mirrored the values of US society today as much as it did then. I have much to report about the papers too.

But this evening as a preliminary I thought I’d put my paper online to make it available generally with its scholarly notes. As presently written it’s too sketchy for publication in an academic journal but I hope to work further on this topic where my ultimte aim is to change the views people have of Ann Radcliffe. Yes I see her as a Girondist, and think we should see the 1794 A Journey Made in the Summer and Mysteries of Udolpho as part of the English Jacobin movement. These ought to be read alongside other 1794 books: Elizabeth Inchbald’s Nature and Art, Wm Godwin’s Things as They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams, not to omit the 1792 Thomas Holcroft’s Anne St Ives, Charlotte Smith’s Desmond. I could keep citing books but this will do.

The topic of the conference was “Panoramas and Vistas” in the 18th century and here is my contribution:

The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes.


John Crome (1768-1821), Yarmouth Harbour, Evening (circa 1817)

For the two blogs about the papers I heard at the conference and more details about Asheville, North Carolina and some of the really pleasurable events and socializing we did:

South Central ASECS Asheville: Panoramas (gothic, animals in, the Biltmore), Scottish fiddling, Rameau and Jane

South Central ASECS Asheville: Women writers, actresses, and landscapes.

See also Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes: Christa Wolf (No Place on Earth) and the Seige of Mainz

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Christian Wilhelm Dietrich, Landscape with Bridge

Dear friends and readers,

I rejoice to report that I’ve finished my Ann Radcliffe paper: “‘What are men to rocks and mountains?'”: The content of Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes” (see proposal). It takes something under 21 minutes to read and if anyone is interested in it, I’d gladly share it (ask me and I’ll send it by attachment). It focuses heavily on Radcliffe’s 1794 Journey Made in Summer book, and I learned a lot in doing it. This blog is on two of the books I read which I could not go into in detail in the paper.

First: Christa Wolf’s No lace on Earth, a historical fiction which imagines the great German writers of the later 18th into 19th century, Karoline von Gunderrode (1780-1806) and Henrich von Kleist (1777-1811), met and walked and talked in a village by the Rhine (they could have but alas didn’t). Both Kliest and Gunderrode killed themselves. Another woman writer of the era (life-writing), Bettine von Armin (I’m not sure the later Elizabeth married into that family) wrote a life of Gunderrode and told why Gunderrode killed herself: forced into a nunnery, when Gunderrode got out (she was as ill as Fanny Burney at court), there was no place for reading intellectual women, and she did away with herself.

Christa Wolf’s essay on this novel and an interview she let someone shed light on Radcliffe for me. It is headlong, no chapters, just an intense rush of two subjectivities. We move back and forth between Kleist and Günderrode with the connectives supplied by the present tense narrator (unnamed, but of course Christa Wolf). It’s all about modern poetry in Germany too, men and women’s relationships, about coping with social life’s demands. About unearthing this pair from the grave. An ironic level is provided by the details of the room, position of the people, and the costumes. Kleist and Gunderrode take a walk together — this reminds me of Jane Austen novels where characters gain a modicum of liberty & peace by leaving the house and going for a walk. As they walk, they express their radical or individual thoughts. Talk of sexuality — or at least think. It’s not clear all the time whether someone is talking or thinking. But what are they wearing? He is in a military uniform, she a nun’s outfit. They are encased, imprisoned, endlessly imprisoned even by their clothes.

I admire Wolf’s ability to imitate and call to mind the way people talk to one another in social life, the bitter acid underneath the depiction doesn’t corrode me, but rather makes me feel the keen knife of truth. The way Karoline is accused of being arrogant struck me; also (as I wrote on Austen-l) They did have it worse in some ways than the English (and French). I was struck by one phrase Wolf has Gunderrode use of herself: “ignominious loneliness.” Gunderrode lives in fear that her she will be seen as living in this kind of state: she is unmarried and no one wants to marry her; she is given no options she can stand. This state is one she is determined to hide and present another face to the world. I felt that this phrase again could be one that Miller is suggesting Austen lives in and that he has lived in when he found she stretched out her consciousness to him. It’s the state of Miss Bates for while the novel shows her socializing, that’s a tiny percentage of her hours. The 2009 Emma (by a woman, Sandy Welch, and that’s significant) makes a point of showing us the Bates household when alone

Wolf puts thoughts into the minds of Kleist and Gunderrode which I have when faced with analogous strained and alienating situations. It’s validating and comforting to see them there because they are expressed with nobility and as intensely understandable, even right. This is how I feel when I read George Sand in some of her earlier works and her non-fiction.

The thoughts she puts into the minds of Kleist and Gunderrode also express or articulate thoughts I have imagined other contemporary rebellious/romantic or simply highly intelligent people of the age had or which seem to predict, describe patterns of behavior I have recognized but rarely see others acknowledge, much less argue for. This is true for Radcliffe as to her behavior: she stopped publishing at the height of her success and simply fell silent but for one slender publication of poems. She did attempt to publish her pageant romance; that is, she actually put it to the press to set up, but then backed down and withdrew it.

It’s true for Jane Austen (!). I believe Jane Austen had a special relationship with her brother Frank, and do think it went as far as erotic love. I doubt they ever came near to doing anything about it, but I see enough in the letters of Frank’s behavior to feel he knew it (Farrar, Strauss Giroux translation by Jan Van Heurck, p. 94). The section on Kleist and hia sister, Ulricke, and sentences like “This is the thing concerning which they cannot and must not ever, with a single word, with even so much as a single glance, show each other that they understand their own and one another’s feelings [fully I'd add] … Which they tolerate by failing to perceive what their blood is urging deep down in its abysmal muteness. (Alas, incest is in some ways natural.) Frank is said to have carried Austen’s packets of letters to him (they amounted to 3) every where he went; within a few days of his death, a great-great niece or granddaughter is said to have destroyed them. Maybe she was acting on understood orders. Now he’s dead, get rid of them. There are other many such insights: Shelley, Mary Shelley and others.


Christa Wolf when young

In Wolf’s essay on the novella she does not say what she wants to rebel against, what she wants to do, how she feels particularly. She dare not. Well she did it here; it’s an indirect defense of herself — at times not a justification but defense of not so much suicide but chosing the path which is not safe: “freedom falls to our lot who are destined to be destroyed.” (p. 118). I did like the dark ending and wish she had included more imitations 20th century style of intimations of landscape 18th century mode:

Now it is getting dark. The final glow on the river.”
Simply go on, they think.
We know what is coming.

Karoline will soon kill herself, and Kleist when still very young in a few years. See especially “Culture Is What You Experience: An Interview with Christa Wolf,” by Christa Wolf and Jeanette Clausen, New German Critique, 27 (Autumn, 1982):89-100

One of my foremother poet postings was on Gunderrode.

The only one

How all my wits are now enslaved,
To one, to one alone I cleave;
To embrace this only one
Is my sole desire’s aim;
If I this secret wish employ,
Or fool myself in many a dream
And let my longing me consume,
To give birth to what would kill me.

Resistance is no use to me,
I come back even though I flee,
I rage, my conscience to bestir,
But cannot wean myself from her,
Must groan in anguish in my joy.
My drinking cup is filled with tears,
I sink in dreams and crazy fears;
I do not hear the dance’s sound
As it swells aloft, around.

Wave on wave swells in delight,
But I can’t see the colours bright
Streaming from the source of light.
Springtime airs try to caress,
Scents of flowers try to kiss,
But all of that is lost on me,
Is as though unborn to me,
For my spirit is held fast
By one desire above all else
To possess but one, and one alone.

Hungry amid many a guest
I sit at the joyous feast
Which Nature on the earth bestows:
Ask myself:will it soon end?
Can I then escape at last
From the nauseous repast
Which feeds other guests so lavishly,
But brings no sustenance for me?
For I have but one desire,
One longing and consuming fire;
My world is held in captive bond
By one desire, and one alone:
To possess but one, and one alone.

— Karoline von Gunderrode (English translation of “Die Einzige”

**************************


Kostheim, 1793: just before the terrible seige of Mainz began, where a series of fierce sea and land battles were fought.

Radcliffe has a very long section in her Journey book about the seige of Mainz. She journeys to the place, describes the ruins, gets a pamphlet, reads and tells the story and then re-tells what she sees with the insight she’s gained. Her thesis: it’s not over when it’s over by a long shot especially for poor civilians and women and children.

My second book was about the Siege of Mainz by Arthur Chuquet: The Wars of Revolution: VII: The Siege of Mainz and the French Occupation of the Rhineland, 1792-1793, trans and annotated by Wm D. Peterson. Chucquet tells a story uncannily familiar to anyone who has studied failed (many are utter failures) revolutions; those who take over (the French) supposedly wanting to free the oppressed actually don’t pay attention to the middling people who had learned to survive reasonably well under the old corrupt order and fear and don’t want change; they end up themselves domineering and exploiting. The poor and powerless fear all people above them and don’t know how to rule (deliberately left untaught). The old establishment fights back successfully with its priests. I’ve summed up a story told about fascinating individuals. The French who came in and Germans who joined them were the intellectuals, the artisans, the middling sort with real ideals and how their weaknesses come out. A real lesson for today. Goethe who lived in Weimar (not far off) wrote a famous account of this seige and the re-installation of the ancien regime.

The city had been a bye-word for luxury and corruption When the old order was put back much had been destroyed physically and was never rebuilt as it had been. That’s the moment Radcliffe is traveling through.

When the revolution began, and the aristocrats and their flunkies and soldiers fled what happened? A group of people who came to be called the Clubmen (they were part of a differently elite club) took over. They came to an astonishingly tactless and anti-liberty decision to incorporate this part of Germany into France. They could not get the old trade routes back for the bourgeois; the ancien regime types would not deal with them (reminds me of capitalism’s response to communism). I assume the clubman were terrified of the combined forces of Prussia, Austria, England which soon gathered force, but this will not give the people their liberty (pp. 70-72.) Each of these groups is out for specific interest: Prussia wants to expand to take some of Poland for example.

Some people saw how bad all of this was right away: “barbaric, terrible,” others said it was the “tragic necessities of war.” Immediately demanded are loyalty oaths to France. An anti-emigre law. We then get a long series of portraits of people fighting for Mainz, the revolution. The besiegers bring home how militaristic the whole culture, revolutionaries and aristocrats, all male. These are indidividuals who spend their lives making war. If you see this as indicative and widespread, you can understand why Napoleon upon getting into power made and spread continual war. Not just high aristocrats, that’s why middling males were taught to do and be (p 102)

Then a long section on the battles, the sea fights, the ships, the sorties, attempted tricks and betrayals (people disguised and telling lies about Paris), trying to get someone who is Prussian and in prison to negotiate; the failure of a political settlement when Danton falls from power.

Not mentioned by Chuquet: Heinrich von Kleist was there. It was one of his shattering experiences, and became a setting for some of Kleist’s own worst emotional experiences. Kleist was forcibly packed off to follow his family’s century-old military tradition as a 14-year-old and was only 16 when his guards regiment took part in the siege of Mainz (another Kleist, a major general, actually commanded one of the assaults on a further enemy position). Not exactly ideal for any young man and definitely not for such an over-sensitive one as Kleist. Mainz was also where he had his later nervous breakdown in the aftermath of his burning of his uncompleted ‘Robert Guiscard’ manuscript and absurd, first failed suicide bid.

Goethe was an eye-witness and darts in and out here and there. So that’s where he got his (to Germans and 18th century scholars) famous book.

It’s an extraordinary book about a significant siege. I doubt I can do justice to the details of what it reveals happened stage-by-stage during this siege. Each set of events has direct analogies with what happens politically today in reality during wars; the biggest difference of course is modern warfare when contemporary weapons are used does not permit this kind of fighting over a piece of land in this way. Single individuals in combat or leading groups of individuals cannot cope with much modern technology; but in places where this technology is not used (that means outside the purview of the modern US empire, or where it doesn’t reach beyond its bombs and drones) simulacra probably do. It’s the jockeying for position and ways in which treaties are just negotiating stances behind fierce anger and rage and struggle for land, wealth, money, position. I was struck by repeated refusals of groups of men to fight — called cowards but it was their lives — how the powerful once back in power returned immediately to reactionary laws and so the French new ideals and norms were actually missed at first and might have done good had they had some means really to implement them, which it seems they never quite did, as those who had their hands on trade and commerce which were needed to back up these norms, immediately refused to trade. As I say, how reminiscent of what happened after 1945.

One learns what thwarted the French revolution from having the good effect it might have, and why terror so often emerges from such revolutions — atrocities from all sides.


The bombardment of Mainz: burning the cathderal, engraving by Tielker after drawing by Schutz

The book is part of a larger series of such books published by Nafziger, on a plethora of wars and individuals battles or sieges or sites. If each one is as good as this, they immensely valuable. My problem with the books I had on the Peninsula war was they were so fat and about so many others things beyond the battles and wars, and here it’s shown if you just go that thoroughly (extrapolating out to economics or other social arrangements that make for whatever is happening), how much you can learn.

To conclude on Radcliffe: in almost 50 pages she depicted the same siege that Chuquet did from the same humane and insightful stance (about politics) with the significant difference she continually emphasizes the effect on the civilian population (hardly mentioned by Chuquet), she details the destruction of buildings and art (only in passing), and imagines how it felt to endure these war conditions. She names the same people in charge; she sees how important the clubmen were who took over Mainz and how badly they handled the bourgeoise. She notices how few people vote. She notices and talks of people thrown out of the city, fleeing who were terrified when no one would take them back. How the people were surveyed and monitored and forced to produce such and such food and such and such water. The sick.

She differs from Chuquet and he comes out better in this in blaming Custine, the head of the French forces for the defeat. He was executed. Not that she wants the place to have been totally destroyed, but she does not see that Custine was a brave man for refusing to take the situation to this. On the other hand, she describes the quay size, traffic, burgesses and concludes *it was not an important city commercially* Aristocratic cities are good for aristocrats; it seemed prosperous because it was admired as an icon and all the impoverished parts of the city, the real lives of ordinary people ignored. And now the destruction of property as the result of war will not be remedied easily or any time soon she says because in the first place its reputation was skewed and the city’s real basis and economy never truly described. Radcliffe’s husband had a hand in this book and she says so but I’m loathe to say everytime she has a remarkable insight it’s just him.


Wm Turner’s Buttermere Lake, with part of Cromackwater, Cumberland (a near contemporary painting)

Non-sequitor: Ive found an Italian article which says the beautiful, lyrical part of Radcliffe’s book about her time in the Lake District — a suspiciously over-long autumn — may have been written earlier and is the product of more than one trip. That makes sense to me and the writer seems to be sound on this.
Sanna, V. “La datazione del libro di viaggi di Ann Radcliffe.” Critical Dimensions: English, Germand and Comparative Literature Essays in Honour of Aurelio Zanco, edd. Mario Currelli and Alberto Martino. Cuneo, Italy: Saste, 1978. 291-312.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Jane (Olivia Williams) greeted by Edward Austen Knight at Godmersham (he is now a widower) in Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

Dear friends and readers,

We have not reached the half-way point of Austen’s extant or the remnant of her letters that we have: that will be Letter 80 (4 Feb 1813, Jane from Chawton Cottage to Cassandra at Godmersham) out of the 161 left. By that letter and date Austen will have published S&S and P&P and be overtly working on her “ordination novel,” MP. Like many another writer who was nobody during her lifetime, a non-entity and for whom respect and fame grew well after her death, most of her letters come from the period when she was a successful writer. On top of this she’s a woman, relatively poor and powerless, and writes of this and why; she dies without having published these (like other women) and her direct relatives whose interest was not to let these letters get into public destroy most of them, at least those which told of things they had done which might conceivably hurt their reputation.

So half of the letters by Austen we have come from the last 4-5 years of her life. The length of some of the earlier ones provide some bulk for the first half, but these lack the kind of details about her novels and writing that those interested in her art seek to read.

But we have had an important turning point (Letter 60). Austen and her mother, sister and possibly Martha Lloyd are to move to Chawton Cottage. Austen has by now evolved a modus vivendi and knows how she wants to live — and that does not include marriage. She wanted to set up a life with her sister, and her beloved friend, Martha, but no provision was allowed for them; she had to remain dependent on and with her mother. Martha eventually decided it was not in her monetary interest or good for her security to live with the Austens but looked to be a partly paid companion. Miss Sharpe always knew it was a dream. So that is over and now there is this compromise: a stable place, dead cheap, in the country (which apparently Austen did love). By this time too she was writing steadily once again — 4 to 5 hours a day in the morning. She was repeating a pattern she had had in Steventon, one she had not managed again until they landed in Southampton — thanks to her brother, Francis. This has broken up: Francis’s wife was not comfortable with his female relatives; and perhaps Martha was uncomfortable because she had wanted Francis to marry her (perhaps Mrs F.A. saw this). I suggest Chawton looked even better even though it was so close to Edward and would keep them (the Austen women) involved with the family very close. Her mother in a previous letter, this one and 61 is still strongly reluctant and has to be persuaded.

We can now try to see the letters whole, as a bundle with an over-arching arc, real actions, themes, conflicts. As I’ve kept on saying (and repeat above), this is a remnant, a rump of letters, a sad left-over.

So how can we see, and then value and evaluate this censored remnant? On Austen-l the suggestion has been made that Austen continued to want to opt out from the larger political world (she would not have any influence in). That Austen retreated from having sex the way dominant heterosexual people in her era did it — marriage to someone with an income enough (Edward Bridges) is understandable always and was therefore living a truncated or maimed life. (See comments for debate between Diane Reynolds and I.)

I disagree. This is to read these letters as if they represented the whole Jane Austen. Rather let us look to see if they fit into recognized feminine forms of genres; I think if we can look to see how Austen regarded letters we will see at least why we find them disappointing. She makes several comments on letters herself, mostly each of these are that she regards herself as talking spontaneously and without guard. I think that is how she wrote, remarkably directly. The two qualifications (important) are that she is writing to her sister who is often unsympathetic, and wants to censor her; does not want her to write openly of her sadness or bitterness and (in the early letters) scolds a lot. Sided with the familiy about Lefroy. Gradually we see as Cassandra herself grew old, an old maid, and the two women endured those hard mean years in Bath, they come together. Austen on the other hand does became less angry: far fewer intensely defesnive and passionately felt comments about marriage for women in this period as enslavement to pregnancy and death and/or babies; now she is content simply to point out the hypocrisies of why people marry whom they do and their shallowness of feeling as she sees it, but is willing to do justice to those whose feelings are variously hurt or involved (like Moore’s unfortunately bullied wife).

To some readers what follows may not be seem germane as it is not meant to be directly about Austen’s life, but to try to understand the letters as art in this era. This is an era where life-writing as genre for women is emerging as a kind. It took quite a while again and is not yet respected fully today.

I’ve been reading Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountains, and like the French women memoir writers, she creates a self-, an identity and a world (in her case the Highlands) and critiques is through her letters. She was accused of writing fiction, of making a novel, and she re-published her letters with the names of friends and herself and the real places to counter that. She did revise her
letters for publication and they were apparently written with
publication in mind.

Burney wrote hers similarly: create an identity, live through it, make a critique of her world, but she never fully admitted to herself she wanted them published. She did. Both these women and quite a number more were creating a kind of self for themselves to enjoy. Letters for women function the way poetry did. Other women who did this include Elizabeth Grant Smith (The Highland Lady), and quite a number of French women. Madame du Deffand. Carla Hesse writes of these letter and memoir writers in her The Other Enlightenment: How French Women Became Modern.

Austen’s might have been intended this way, especially the three packets of letters to Frank that were destroyed. We cannot know. Grace Dalrymple Elliot’s revolution journals (made into a film by Rohmer) help us here, as they too were savagely censored, the majority destroyed. She was a fallen woman and her book published by a granddaughter first. I suggest what when Dalrymple began to save her letters in earnest, and meant her book to be one of the many memoirs by women about the revolution (Blood Sisters is the book on this) but like Roland hers is unusual in being pro-revolution. Grace Dalrymple Eliot’s journal can still be seen to be a “blood sister” revolutionary type, unusual for like Roland, she sympathized.

Jane Austen did not think this way; she was not part of the newly re-awakened feminist movie-moment. Her remarks on letters do not show any sense of creation of a self apart from the world. Of loving self-justification, of dramatic vignettes carefully got up. On the contrary. She cannot divest her mind of the world impinging on her nor does she want to perform.

A second type of book which Austen’s probably does not fall into is the aesthetic philosophical: Radcliffe’s 1794 Journey, Helena Maria Williams, letters from the revolution (an eye witness account supposedly), Wollstonecraft’s Residence in Sweden, and Dorothy Wordswoth’s journals all are part of this. A good book on it is Elizabeth Bohls’s Women’s Travel writings and the language of aesthetics. She treats Wollstonecraft, Williams, Wordsworth, Janet Schaw (Antigua book – which Austen could have read). Bohls’s thesis is that women were relegated away from writing philosophically as well as social criticism of a larger type. One place they could do it was through the travel book, its use of picturesqueness and delineation of the history of a place though evoking the past and present.

That’s just what Radcliffe is doing; Bohls includes Janet Schaw, Helen Maria Williams (revolutionary landscapes) Dorothy Wordsworth, very poetic.

I’d say Anne Grant’s travel books, letters are not of this type. She means to make a personal story and invent a drummer personality, character and world through herself in intimate relationship with her interlocutors. This is what Lespinasse, Madame du Deffand and other French women writers do.

Nineteenth century women’s travel books and those of the 20th century often encompass both types. Austen’s letters as we have them now belong to neither. If they did, the remnant no longer shows it. If her letters to her brother were of the philosophical or critical or political type, we’ll never know. She does critique the world through landscape: her gothic book, Northanger Abbey and I suppose that could be included in Bohls’s trajectory ,but as with her literary criticism it’s not thought out in the way say of Radcliffe, Wollstonecraft, Williams. . Austen’s just savaged and destroyed away Wollescraft

My sense is it might have been the Anne Grant type if we had the collection. A curious connection is Charlotte Smith. Her letters too disappoint and they too do not belong to these evolving genres. Instead what we have of her worth real reading is her novels (where she richly creates and critiques like Austen) and her poetry. She too writes directly only in her case it’s to her publishers. Her letters like Austen’s are not performances but a self struggling in the world contingently.

The disappointment we experience is that for over 200 years we’ve had experience of women’s travel writings, and memoirs and letters where they do fall into these types. I suppose I’ve come down to a truism others have seen before me. The interest here is simply as an adjunct to the novels: they more about her life truthfully than anywhere else, they reveal her aesthetic doctrines (such as they are), we can glean little of what she read and her views of larger topics.


Anne Elliot as ignored old maid: in this scene she is not only abject but her feelings are hurt by insensitive allusions to Wentworth (1995 BBC Persuasion, screenplay Nick Dear)

Perhaps a great wrong was done to Austen. A major part of her oeuvre, the life-writing destroyed. I have suggested her there is a pattern of emergent lesbian spinsterhood in the letters which was cut off by the family. Diane has suggested the D. A. Miller finds underlying the muted apolitical character of the novels is an abject old maid. That may be. If so, no one today will talk much of this either. Miller puts it in enigmatic language. Again it’s in no one’s interest and it does not flatter anyone to tell the realities of Jane Austen’s short life.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Verity (Norma Streader) and Captain Blamey (Jonathan Newt) falling in love (1975-76 Poldark I)

Dear Friends,

I’m sometimes torn over where to put a blog. I’ve been putting my conference reports on Ellen and Jim have a blog, two for several years now and so thought it best to report on the recent EC/ASECS I went to over there; but the full truth is much in these sessions belongs here with Austen Reveries. The first report is about actresses’ memoirs, attitudes towards marriage in the era (from Dryden’s Marriage a La Mode), and historical fiction. So I’m writing this short blog to apprise my friends and readers here of this first report. I like to put my personal events and dreams on Sylvia so what I’m hoping for over my Liberty in the Poldark novels I’ve put there.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


All the various covers of Slammerkin feature a satin red ribbon

Dear friends and readers,

In this novel I re-visited matter that first riveted me at age 12 to 13. The ultimate rebel heroine. I read the book about 3 years ago and recognized this but had the same response (almost, really) as age 12-13. Not this time. At long last not. It has taken 51 years to see the full pathos of Mary, what it means for real, not just for the character, by my own identification and bonding. I cannot speak it in this blog as it must be spoken personally, so I will talk of this another day on Sylvia. Below I do the conventional performance, but before that let me say, poor poor Mary. So impossibly without hope of adequate choice, understanding of what to do and how to do it, such an obscene liberty as she is confronted by.

*****************


Sack dress, side and back, mid 18th century

I finished Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin for the second time yesterday and was even more impressed by it than I had been the first. Donoghue takes the bare outlines of the life of a young servant girl hanged and then burnt for killing her mistress and creates a vividly moving tale which brings home to the reader how vulnerable to destruction poor young women were before the mid-20th century just about everywhere and in many places on the earth still are if they succumb to male sexual aggression — and become (as is probable they will) pregnant.

I did not chose this novel as the one by a woman, a heroine’s text set in the 18th century by a later 20th century novel to fit into my interest in the theme of liberty, but it turned out a central ironic chapter is entitled “liberty” and one of its central themes is indeed how women are answerable with their bodies to survive. Many allusions to other 18th century novels (Richardson’s Grandison, Lennox’s Henrietta), to plays (Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance), contemporary historically real women (the Metyards, Queen Charlotte, Kitty Fisher). The scenes are emphatically not imitations of scenes in 18th century novels; they differ radically – that’s part of the point I suppose, but there are numerous novels alluded to. Mary read “the story Pamela Andrews” (for example) and does not see why she should not achieve the same. We are taught why she could not.

********************

The initiating story: The book opens (Prologue) with the execution of Mary’s father, Cob Saunders, whom we are told rebelled against the loss of 11 days when the calendar shifted in the 18th century. In Chapter One, called Ribbon Red, Mary is then inescapably despised as the daughter of an utterly failed man; her mother, Susan, remarries, has children by the second husband, a Mr Digot, a boy much more valued than she. She is beaten, half-starved, given wretched rags to wear and told the best she can expect is what “respectability” she will seem to receive if she is utterly obedient to all repressive norms; she is taught (barely) to write and read and sew. At age 13 returning from her school to the hovel she lives with these parents in (a coal cellar in London), she is dazed and unsure what a man is after when he holds out the reward of a red ribbon to her; she is in effect raped before she realizes what has happened, and when her hard harsh mother discovers Mary is pregnant, Susan Digot throws her out with a tiny bundle of clothe ostensibly because Mary will not tell a tale of remorse and shame.

This incident is deeply poignant. Mary cries out in her heart, aloud, and later unconsciously “mother why did you desert me?”. This betrayal of daughter by mother is as key an event as the rape for a ribbon.


An early cover

There follows a brief stretch of narrative (about a third of the first half of the book) where Mary soars with wild delight as she plays the role of a fantastically desperate Magdalen (Chapter Two) with a kindly young woman in her 20s, Doll Higgins, who takes Mary under her “wings” and gives her a happy time — despite the freezing cold, living in a filthy vile room (furniture-less, vermin-filled). She is like a girl with her first best friend who she loves and who seems to love her. Doll is the first person to be kind to Mary, and the only person in the novel (except for Daffy, the young man who offers to marry her and is potentially we can see a benevolent man) who treats her as an equal as well as supporting her emotionally and socially. They support themselves in the only way women could in 18th century England: by selling their bodies, only outside acceptable custom, as prostitutes for so many pence or shilling a time. They are exhilarated with youth and their deep congeniality, seemingly perversely thrilled to be outside any respect, safety net as they drop in (so to speak) to masquerades, plays, dances, large social crowd events.

Alas, Mary becomes ill from the cold, poor food, bad living conditions, and, not discouraged by her friend who appears not to want to get sick herself, inveigles her way into the Magdalen Foundling Hospital where she has to live like a prisoner (though supposed voluntarily), in a strongly regimented day and night in return for which she gets regularly good food, warm clothes, a clean warm bed and room, and the hope of a “good” future as a placed servant as long as she carries on obedient.

As in many novels, we have already learned that our heroine has many gifts (intelligence, capability with her hands as a seamstress, beauty enough) and is quietly appreciated by the head mistress, but (anticipating what is to come at the end of the book) after a while as her health improves, she begins to long to enjoy herself, to be herself, for freedom, and insists on being allowed to leave — and as with her mother, will not pretend to the morality which upholds the order that condemns her to servitude to men and more powerful women on their terms. She tells a lie that she has a place waiting for her with a friend of her mother’s in Monmouth: her mother had told her of this friend. The matron calls this an egregious lie and (in effect) harshly ejects with Mary after Mary refuses to listen to her advice, with Mary’s bundle once again (this time it has the flimsy sexy things she had gathered as a prostitute) to (the ironically titled) third chapter, Liberty.

We know she longs to be with Doll again and seeks Doll out, only to discover Doll somehow froze to death in an alley behind the hovel they shared. We have been told enough of the gay Doll to know Doll was herself depressed, self-despising, bitter, and proud. Mary realizes she should not have deserted Doll, that she did desert Doll and Doll had grown to need her as much as she needed Doll. She has lost her ability she thinks to live so squalidly — actually she had it only because she had Doll. She can only survive by selling herself.

Making a strong contrast to Cleland’s Fanny Hill, Mary Saunders never appears to enjoy sex with the men she sells herself to, only to feel a sort of triumph over them. Donoghue is a superb enough novelist to project sexual pleasure or thrills in the narrative, but they are only registered through the indirect third person discourse, never what Mary feels. Mary does register that Doll was in love with one man and did enjoy sex with him (but only him), but Mary never feels even this. It’s a straight cold transaction — this makes a lot more sense than the erotica Cleland dreams up. Without Doll’s social manipulative abilities and cool, Mary quickly gets herself in trouble with a brothel madam and is in danger of a knife attack (punishment) from a wild black man the brothel madam uses to keep the girls in place. Rather than carry on this horrible life under terror, she boards a wagon to Monmouth.


Mary travels in a wagon something like this 1767 Harvest Wagon by Gainsborough

We are now into Part Two, much the longer part of the narrative, really 2/3s of it. Unfortunately, Mary has to sell herself once more to earn the 14 shillings she needs to pay the wagoner to get to Monmouth whose smallness, bareness, nothingness astonishes her. We are to believe she finds her mother’s friend and the friend (due to the letter Mary has written) takes Mary in as the orphaned daughter of her once best friend. We now read a long story of Mary’s gradual adjustment to the household and those in it to her: the master, Mr Thomas Jones (surely an ironic allusion to Fielding’s hero) a one-legged man; the child, Hetta (named after a “Mrs Lennox’s Henrietta), the black servant ex-slave Mary sleeps with, Abi (given the name Abigail); the ex-wet-nurse now semi-governess, deserted by her husband after the child she had by him was crushed by him in his sleep, Mrs Nance Ash, an embittered frustrated older woman, the apprentice, Daffy, and most importantly the mistress, her mother’s ex-friend, Mrs Jane Jones, who runs the shop as chief seamstress and businesswoman. The life is at first hard and monotonous (Chapter Four, The Whole Duty of Woman) and it is always strongly disciplined but as time goes on (Chapter Five, Thaw), her mistress becomes her friend, she is accepted and even receives a secret proposal of marriage from Daffy which she at first accepts.

I say unfortunately for the customer is Joseph Cadwaladyr who turns out to be the local curate and tavern-owner who at first failed to threaten Mary to work for him as a whore, but who she then (not altogether understandably at all) turns to when she suddenly sickens of her life and decides (wholly unrealistically) her ambition is to be rich, return to London, become admired and the center of admiration, so she must gather money to travel back. The only way to do this is sell her body. And she has Cadwaladry to turn to (Chapter Six, Bloom Fall). This sickening with her lot is brought on in an immediate way after she allows Daffy to have sex with her and hates it — or both him for being a virgin and herself for having been a whore.

The center of this sudden utter alienation from her life with these people is that Mary can only escape the complete loss of status (like a slave has) if she agrees to live a life of total self-repression and hide from those she works for afterwards what she “was.” If she fits in as wife to Daffy, possible mother to his children, lives a life like that of Jane Jones. This she can not get herself to do either; she seems to take into her self-image the scorn for herself others demonstrate and self-destructs by returning to this trade in an attempt to accumulate money. Of course gradually what she is doing becomes known (Chapter Seven, Punishment). She pretends to be getting cider or ale for her mistress nightly when she is selling herself fifteen minutes at a time by a wall. The first great risk comes when her master catches her and himself succumbs to sex with her — and hates himself afterwards.

She becomes a quietly half-mad presence in the house disturbing everyone, for she does not want to flee. She does like the comfort, the respect, the peace. Daffy grows to hate her as she rejects him harshly and without explanation. She insinuates rebellion into Abi’s mind: Abi tires of her endless work schedule with no friend and no pleasure beyond existing safely and in peace. Mary is a rival to Mrs Ash. Most of all she is somehow enabling Mrs Jones to rebel too: Mrs Jones begins to become Mary’s best friend (Jane and Mary), a confidante she chooses over her husband, a fellow maker of stays and gorgeous clothes (include beautifully embroidered and furred slammerkins for the wealthier women of the town). Mrs Jones says she is a new mother, and ironically turns out to be one just like Susan Digot. At first Mrs Jones herself psychologically refuses to read all the signs that accumulate and will not guess at the probable source of Mary’s money when it’s found. She does intuitively know it was meant for an escape and, telling Mary she would otherwise have to turn Mary in as a criminal (to be hung or transported as a thief), herself gives it away to Cadwaladyr’s charity box.

The crazed self inside Mary leaps forth in the scene that ensues. Mary steals Mrs Jones’s secret smaller hoard, packs the clothes she and Mrs Jones had created, and puts one on (a totally inappropriate act).


A sack dress or slammerkin from 1729 (the novel is set 1763-65)

When Mrs Jones demands an explanation, tells of her whoredom; Mrs Jones explains she has given Mary’s money away and this act so incenses Mary (it was hers, painfully earned as the values of her society taught her, over many months of wretched sex acts) that she murders the woman with an axe.

The book is not over quickly. The last chapter, As the Crow Flies, gives us a full account of her wild attempt to flee, her imprisonment, the court trial (a mockery). We see Mr Jones’s adjustment and proposal to a rival seamstress in Monmouth, and Mrs Ashe’s humiliation (she hoped he’d chose her). Abi’s flight to London: the white people gave Mary the chance to blame Abi, and even if they didn’t, she knows instinctively with Mrs Jones gone she is again at risk for slavery (the cruelties of concubinage). And Daffy we see him once again take up with a girl, Gwynn, whose parents had seemed to reject him after they were engaged. Daffy is the one living person who seems to feel for Mary, (by contrast Gwynn scorns her) seems to suspect that she had potential to live within the norms of the community with him, and projects forgiveness in his mind. We have Mary’s weeks waiting to die, and then the terrifically powerful death scene. She has seen people hung, and remembers back to the Metyards (a historically real mother and daughter) and imitates the daughter by leaping to her death when the rope is placed about her neck just before she is to be turned off.

The saving grace is the greatest horror of all. She is sentenced to be burnt afterwards as a treacherous rebel to someone above her. But we are told without this her body would have been snatched by the doctors (Donoghue has read Albion’s Fatal Tree), so better to turn into ashes than be answerable with her body in this final degraded way.

The ending with its final moment of defiance and death by leaping reminded me of Lewis’s The Monk; the murder story of a half-mad seamstress servant accused of killing her mistress of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace

**********************************

So what is this about as it’s most fundamental? That a woman is answerable with her body and has no liberty, can find none because of this. She could not escape it in the 18th century and the mirror held up here insinuates she will not escape it now, only this demand comes in softened qualified forms if she obeys the new norms and rules. It exemplifies what I have been thinking about when it comes to women and liberty: Mary to live must sell her body either indirectly or directly; to be free of bodily punishment at brothels (low class are the only kind that will take her in), not a chattel she must do it on the streets. The poignancy of the moment when her mother turns her out is extraordinary as well as the underlying exposure of how a mother can do this to a daughter, cut her off utterly and be supported in this by the community. IN this novel women succour and they betray women. How can they not? Like men, when so powerless, so exposed to punishment at the slightest rebellion, they prey on those closest to them. Her behavior threatens her mother’s marriage with the second husband and status. I admit I was put off by Mary’s ambition (see comment for this perspective).

Doll’s many sayings voice Mary’s rebellion under the conditions of the time and now: Never give up your liberty (don’t go into an old people’s home when old; don’t give someone else power of attorney). Clothes make the woman. Clothes are the greatest lie ever told (see pp. 62-63).


Mid-18th century sack dresses

It’s superior to the two novels by Donoghue I’ve read thus far: The Room uses a child narrator whose perspective distances us from the horrific events of the book; Life Mask, also set in the 18th century, is too thoroughly constructed with research from well-known documented lives to come alive. It’s another on the same subject or perspective as her superb non-fiction literary critical Passions Between Women, and several other of her fictions, either set in an earlier era, The Sealed Letter (set in the 19th century), Kissing the Witch (a retelling of fairy tales which brings out their typical misogyny by recasting them from the woman’s point of view with sympathy).

When we read this novel on Eighteenth Century Worlds, I remember Judy asking if I knew of any 18th century novel where a girl began as virtuous and slid into prostitution. I now can answer that one: yes, Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Fanny ends in triumph, as the real and this fictional Mary Saunders does not, but last summer’s reading in Therese Philosophe and other erotica novels revealed other heroines who begin as “poor but honest” and survive as prostitutes for a time, but only a time.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


George Austen (1731-1805)

Dear friends and readers,

There needs no subtle interpretation as to why 4 months later (see letter 39, Sept 1804) this and the next two letters were saved and printed: Austen’s father died, and Austen was deputed the writer. If we were not before, we are now in a position to feel how centrally this common act (dying of old age and/or disease) presented disaster to the Austen women. Not just financially, but socially (since they had not married, both girls were continually at risk of losing whatever status they had as genteel spinsters — allow me this word) and by extension emotionally.

Jane Austen had kept some of her negative liberty: she had escaped being answerable with her body (had been brave enough to go back on her promise to marry Harris Bigg-Wither), had turned to writing and books first, bonded with women friends, but as her heroine, Emma pointed out single women have a “dreadful propensity to be poor,” and Emma’s sidekick, Harriet, felt despised too. But in this letter the immediacy and exigency of coping with the death trumps a little what is to come so we find simply a straight emotional account, tinged with a sense of vulnerability and foreboding. The women had to hope (as did Austen’s Dashwoods) the brothers, the uncle and his wife, would be generous.
out

So, the first two letters are descriptions of how he died, the first apparently was thought not to reach Frank, but that she wrote twice gives us twice as much matter to understand her reaction, and probably was a release. It’s in the second contains we find one of those resonant lines which recur with more frequency in the later letters: “It has been very sudden” puts me in mind of one in 1816 about the wind or rain beating on the window: she’s fatally ill, knows she is, and the bankruptcy has occurred, she’s back in Chawton and aware that Emma was found boring and MP not the over popular hit she longed for another time.

The third letter disposes of a few practically useful things George Austen left: the paucity, personal quality and care with which this effect is taken care of reminds me of women’s wills of this era and that of the 19th century. They too had little to leave; all the more do they solemnly give these few symbols of their identities away.

***************************

The dying Mr Austen (Tom Wilkinson) attempts to extract firm reassurance from his son, John, that he will provide for his step-mother and step-sisters as they have only a tiny income and nothing for dowries (1995 Miramax S&S)

The letters may be usefully read together. All are to Frank. These escaped the vigilance of the grand-daughter who burned the three packets from Austen to Frank which he is said to have kept with him all his life; maybe they were in Cassandra’s position. All to Frank — I adhere to the idea Jane was very close to Frank partly on the basis of the three packets of letters she wrote him and partly from the novels (the importance of that letter “F”, the use of a sailor brother or lover and Frank as Jane’s lover in Emma). There are a number of places in Letter 41 where we see Austen reformulating or repeating as far as she can remember what she said in Letter 40, only the utterance comes out slightly differently. In neither is there any irony, nor the kind of elaborately re-directed guarded half-fantasy witticisms that are a cover-up for an emotion or feeling she apparently did not dare to Cassandra or get herself to express openly.

She is operating under a sudden shock and and the writing of the letter is helping her to contain herself. It’s really important to see how quickly she sat down to write the first. It is in fact nearly the first thing she must have done upon the man dying — and if we do not have letters to Henry and Charles and James that does not mean they were not written, perhaps by her too.

The sequence is this: the father is taken very ill as he has been before: “with a return of the feverish complaint, which he had been subject to for the three last years” (letter 41). Since they left Steventon 4 years ago, that means these bradycardia or mild heart-attacks (if that is what is involved and my guess is yes) started a year after they came to Bath. But he had survived these.

That was Saturday. The seizure was very violent and they resorted to violent counteractions: cupping (awful, painful; if it helped it was because it was so bad this procedure it wiped out the body natural pain from your mind). It seemed he was better, and the the next morning, Sunday, he was amended so that the family fooled themselves (as did the physician) when Mr Austen was walking with his stick (at Lyme her recording her father walking back was a sign that this was a kind of difficulty for him) Bowen (an apothecary) “felt sure of his [Mr Austen's] doing perfectly well.” But as day advanced, he got worse to the point that by 10 it was alarming to look at him.

Then Monday at 9 in the morning Bowen comes and requests a physician, Dr Gibbs, by which time “it was then absolulely a lost case”. Dr Gibs said “nothing but a Miracle could save him” and at 10:20 he died. The first letter is written almost immediately after the death, in ordinary language, a little while after that. No delay and then letters to Godmersham (Edward) and Brompton (Henry & Eliza). James is sent “an express” to come, and does — he may be closer in distance, closer in feeling, is the eldest son.

When the next day a letter from Frank to Cassandra arrives, she seems immediately to have sat down again with the same system: she regrets to not to be able to prepare him for the shock, tells of the father’s death frankly, simply.

The differences between the letters are there, but they are minor. The first seems more distanced in tone; there is less detail. Yet in the first she gives a blow-by-blow account of Mr Austen’s last 3 days upon being taken ill In the second she precedes this with an account of the past three years’ complaints, but then she is more graphic and up close with the death and her feelings about it than the first: like Henry Tilney on his mother: “everything I trust & beleive [sic] was done for him that was possible! — It has been very sudden — within twenty four hours of his death he was walking with only the help of a stick, was even reading!” In both letters Jane moves to comfort her audience, trying to find something to say which offsets the devastating feelings they are now enduring.


Janet McTeer as the desolate Mrs Dashwood (2008 BBC S&S).

The Austens are also comforting themselves by thinking of the father’s worth; the father was “spared of all the pain of separation” because “quite insensible of his own state … he went off almost in his Sleep. The second says the family did have some hours of preparation and then prayed he would die quickly so as to prevent dreadful agons. The insistence he was “spared from knowing he was about to quit” such cherished objects as wife and children. In all this is the intense consciousness in Jane and by implication her father how they desperately need him for money, if not just now, eventually. In the first the mother is bearing the shock, was quite prepared for it, feels blessing of his avoiding long illness. In the second the mother is “tolerably well,” bearing up with “great fortitude, but her health must suffer from this great shock. We have to remember here that she is writing for effect, to comfort and is not necessarily expressing her own deepest feelings which seem to be on the side of life for her father most of all. Both letters express Mr Austen’s “tenderness as a father” (letter 41), “who can do justice to?” “The loss of such a parent must be felt, or we should be brutes (Letter 40).


The grieving trio, Elinor (Joanna David), Marianne (Ciaran Madden) and Mrs Dashwood (Isabel Dean) (1971 BBC S&S)

By the time of the second letter funeral arrangements are made for Saturday. The parents married in Walcot church; now the father will be buried there.


Walcot Church, Bath, contemporary print

I agree with Diane R about the relative lack of religion in these letters: the concern is here and now with the living left, the house something has to be cone ith, with the corpse. Indeed it might be considered astonishing. On the other hand, I find the assertion of the “serenity” of the corpse creepy but know Austen’s era is a half-way or transitional moment from real belief in afterlife (and thus ghosts not far off, the body is dwelt upon) to secular concern with how someone died, his being spared knowledge that they didn’t get before. They don’t care about religion enough even to need an explanation. The trouble there is in this era the people are nowhere near knowing the causes and therefore the salient symptoms of an illness.

Money is still to the fore. It is intertwined as a possible shattering experience and on Austen’s mind as that of the mother and aunt and Uncle (“shewn every imaginable kindness”) is the now unfunded state of these people. We see it most obviously in these immediate arrangements: where will they stay? Steventon? Is that an invitation from James. Since Austen does not mention Mary I assume she was not there even if the pronoun is a “they.” It could be James and aunt and uncle. But Austen women “must have this house for three months longer.” The verb is “must.” They have expended the money for a lease that long and will lose the money if they leave earlier. So they will “probably stay till the end of that time.” But what then? The “uniting in love” comes from those there being there and reassuring the Austen women that way.

The third letter brings us back to a world of subsidence where objects are hard come by and treasured. You did not throw out things. So the sending Frank Mr Austen’s personal property (the kind of thing one finds in women’s wills as the whole of what they leave) is not so or just sentimental but practical too: for the sailor “a small astronomical Instrument: (compass and sun-dial) in black chagreen case. Expensive. Which “direction” shall they send it? This question shows Frank now knows, wrote back. Also “a pair of Scissors”. They will be useful and “valuable” to him. It was Frank who walked about with Mr Austen’s Polonius-like letter in Frank’s pocket for years and years.


I Have Found It: the Indian analogous adaptation of S&S: the women cut out of the grandfather’s will, take their things and go to Madras

All three letters are from Green Park buildings; these are quite a step down from Sydney place if not as “low” as Trim Street. Frank was in the HMS Leopard at Portsmouth.

See Letters 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 and 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Dear friends and readers,

The third and last blog on this remarkable, unfortunately unreprinted mini-series, the 1984 Diana adapted by Andrew Davies, directors Richard Tucker and David Stroud, produced by Ken Riddington. Parts 1 through 5 and some of 6 dramatized R. E. Delderfield’s There Was a Fair Maid Dwelling (the first two thirds of the present single volume Diana), in a strongly elegiac romance mode, mixed with much social drama, much of the story of Jan wholly invented or filled with much more plausibilty and coherence than found in the novel.  Some of Parts 6 through 9 dramatize The Unjust Skies (the present last third of the single volume Diana), this one again combines romance (mixed modes), social drama with a spy-anti-war thriller melodrama. This last blog is Part 10 which has a central sequence set up to remind us of The Bridge on the River Kwai ending on a brief reprise of the Paul et Virginie.

What has emerged from this careful journey through a 10 part mini-series is that we have been given at one step’s remove a complex portrait of a heroine type usually dismissed as frivolous, a destructive femme fatale and here found to be a courageous spirit living a richly rewarded inward and outward life. John Leigh, or Jan (the character is aligned allusively with Jan Ridd of Lorna Doone) has grown up, but not changed in essentials; it’s not a movie about the education of Jan Leigh, but rather how his continuing enthralment with Diana Gaylorde-Sutton shaped and will continue to shape (even after she has died) his experience. The two paratexts which dominate the film pictorially, the Folly where the couple have met and had central trysts and talk and the two buzzards endlessly twirling about one another are an emblem of Davies’ film’s struggle against conforming to their world’s unjust irrational restrictions.  This is a central theme in all Davies’s romances.

This last segment from Delderfield’s book is dominated by darkness,


Opens on fierce quarrel scene before Jan is forced into duty as a saboteur, him accusing and mistrusting her

and war scenes, with the only relief the French countryside during the day and dream of Sennacharib that ends the story.


From tracking shot of Jan walking down the hill from her grave

As with the two first blogs, this takes the form of summary, notes and dialogues from scenes.

First segment: the pair in the cottage before he leaves.  Fall into primal quarreling; he does not mind her abortion and inability to have a child but her sexual promiscuity and her deserting him; how will he know she will be there when he returns (vastly improved version of pp. 562-77). The defense is the love; she goes upstairs, he follows, they make up, and she promises not to have operation because of her weak heart until he returns.

The head shot of her on pillow has become a repeating motif of Davies’s films: it’s as if it’s a shorthand in say the 2008 S&S

Second long central piece: war in France.  This is based on myths of French resistance, improbable idea that one man would be sent this way, and just this woman to find the right contacts to save him, that Jan could fool anyone as a "killer" type.  The first use of trains to be anonymous, frightening, the modern world (becomes ubiquitous in TWWLN, HKHWR), a French sky; the central segment of him as saboteur with dangerous men who (we see) use the war to murder those they just don’t like.  another of these tight dialogues with Raoul, Jan left with French communist, Simon (Philip McGough).  Davies enjoyed writing their debates (not in book):

Grim Simon:  He was seaman, before the war, Cardiff Liverpool.  Both in Spain ( all added by Davies) Jan calls himself a journalist and Simon calls that a tourist. "Fair enough" says Jan.  Simon quotes English poets — Auden, Spender, love one another or die … they talk about necessary murder  then they go home"  Jan: "I’ve done the necessary murder" Simon: "yah… yeah… me too plenty …"  They are becoming friends. simon;  "Funny first I work for French aristocrats, then I work for English gentlemen… " Jan: "I’m not a gentleman"  Simon: "All English officers are gentlemen"

Simon clearly hostile. Jan has his gun under his pillow loaded. Next morning, tthe first shot we see a hand with a gun, we see Jan awaken and look under his pillow, no gun, across the way Simon says:   "English officer sleep very well" and throws the gun across.

Point made how people kill one another under cover of war.  Man (or Simon) heard whistling tune from movie Bridge on River Kwai

Outside they climb and survey in lovely pastoral green countryside, they are setting up bombs to hit track and station house with Nazis in it. Simon now respects Jan as leader, they return and more nighttime table talk: Simon wants to go to America, wear big hat, drink in a whiskey bar just like Auden. "I thought that you were a communist …" "I am communist" and "America’s a capitalist country" "when this bloody war is over every country will be socialist country …" "the land [then] belong to everyone my friend."  Jan: "Right"  Simon: "Right. You think I’m a fool, I’m not a fool I know these things will never happen …"

Child on bike riding to town; in town Simon and Jan, Jan to furniture shop, goes around back, and lo and behold he finds Diana with dark hair wig, looking like French bourgeois escapee from WW2 French film; she justifies herself that she knows people, she is useful (right), she will get him out (romancing).

Cut to high climactic blowing up of bridge; Simon too eager and stands with machine gun to kill and is killed: 


Climbing down by rope


Bomb all ready, waiting for train to appear


Simon eager, but nervous


Unfortunate human being fleeing tunnel, Jan shoots to kill

Jan escapes, seen on bike, then into town where Diana’s hugging a wall with a machine gun under her skirt


Diana in purple with machine gun at the ready

They grab a jeep and careen through bullied town, past checkpoint where she takes off her dark wig, then they are running through countryside. Now night falls and we are back in Paul and Virginie territory. We are returned to Nun’s Island kind of scene.  She says "This reminds me of nun’s island …all we need now is the gramophone and records … " A flute starts up again. She invites him to enjoy themselevs. We are to imagine them makng love. …  Later Diana:  "God I’m starving again … never mind Lance is supposed to be a wonderful cook… even he smiles …"  She is enjoying this.  A car of Nazis seen; they flee, she stands shooting and he jumps in the water; she is taken, he goes unconscious, rescued by doctor.

Then he decides to stay; revenge motif of him killing Germans.  A montage of death and killing; real footage intermixed; over-voice of time passing, Raoul comes to find him, make him sane, a scheme to save Diana as a prisoner of war in a convoy. 

We see Jan in hard light silent heading men through a wood … waiting along a road for cars and trucks to come through. Again bombing and shooting scene. These must cost … turning and crashing cars .. different kinds of footage intermixed:

someone’s face destroyed — war seen as hideous Nazi officer shooting everyone in tented truck. Jan attacks him hand to hand. He fears he sees her dead

He finally reaches her at back of truck, set up is parallel to his reaching Alison.  He is crying, lights on film now bleached. Raoul: "hold her gently you fool. She’s alive"


Her face made up to look like Alison’s in death.

Dissolve black, back to green world, soft returning music, we are before stables cottage with Jan shaking someone’s hand and car outside. Has black bag so doctor.  Cut to her laid against pillow in lovely soft acqua blue gown, hair lovely of course. She’s dying, spinal chord has been destroyed, her heart can’t last.

A last loving conversation; they’ve had what they’ve had, she’s glad she’s not the one left; one last request to take one more ride to Sennacharib (see above).  Last words: She:  "Look Jan the buzzards.’  He:  "Come, I’ll take you home."

Then the scene of him before the grave and walking away.

***********************************
Just one last comment:  Alison Light’s Forever England:  Femininity, literature and conservatism between the wars treats of a group of women writers ignored by high culture literature (Compton Burnett, Murdoch, Christy, DuMaurier) as creating a myth of a green idyllic England whose values were to be cherished and could sustain good life between individuals (pictured often in retreat, as refuge). I’ve become persuaded that Alison Light’s book on women authors ought equally to have included so-called middle brow men, some of whom wrote great books (Angus Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes).  These Davies turns to like a homing pigeon, not that he thinks the UK perfect. In 1984 it’s not been ruined by Thatcherism which (after 1990s) he attacks but he does have this vision of somewhere wholesome, a visionary England (we see it in the 2008 S&S), or maybe it’s just the natural world that Diana in this mini-series turned mythic (we find in the 2007 Room with A View).  Critics don’t want to contextualize these men with women, but certainly Angus Wilson knew his predecessor was Ivy Compton-Burnett.  Trollope belongs here for Davies too, and George Eliot’s English countryside.  Dickens shows the 19th century world cruel and anonymous already

Ellen

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers