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Archive for the ‘historical novels’ Category

acadian-diaspora

Funestes ont été pareilles dispersions et pareil abandon (Emile Lauvrière, Brève histoire tragique du peuple acadien, Paris 1947)

Dear friends and readers,

Every once in a while I read a book, do a review on it, which requires much reading in books I’ve never gone into before, and I come away with a new perspective that enables me to see much that I had been reading before or studying in a new light, from a point of view that I hadn’t considered before and opens up whole new ways of looking at books and art and life too.

Such a book was Christopher Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora, which has had a (mildly) transformative effect on me, not so much for itself, but for the whole outlook it belongs to, the set of books, I had to read to understand it, including the Cambridge Companion to Post-Colonial Studies, ed Neil Lazarus. So you can imagine how chuffed I am to see it in print — it’s just been published in the (18th century periodical) The Intelligencer. From my restatement of one of the many insights of Hodson’s book:

Hodson thoroughly undermines the argument that we can explain what happened to the Acadians before and since 1755 (and by implication that of other peoples so dispersed) by examining their technological know-how (referred to as level of “sophistication” or “civilization”), willingness to work hard, or cultural norms (family values, religion, particulars of an ethnicity). Once people are dispersed, displaced, divided up, we see how easily people’s cultural norms, their local social capital (to use Bourdieu’s term), sentimental ties dissolve, or are bypassed … We see how technological abilities are blocked or made counterproductive … Hodson demonstrates that for individuals and family groups with only small or no property, no connections they can call on to enable them to overcome local exclusionary customs, and no military to support them, the ability to control their circumstances and future is extremely limited (169-71). He shows that “ordinary people’s safeguards” are long-standing and recognized commercial and familial relationships and also known and understood local economic environments that cannot be misrepresented to them ..

If you read the review, you’ll see summaries and references to the central books I read — much worth reading. I particularly enjoyed Marie-Therese Humbert’s epistolary La Montagne des Signaux:

LesMontagnesdeSignaux;

Margaret Saunder’s Rose of Arcadia:

RoseofAcadia
(try to glimpse the lovely later 19th century painting),

and the French history of the Acadian “derangement” by Emile Lauvrière. Very important was an early “straight” history of Trinidad by V. S. Naipaul, The Loss of El Dorado which in context (for me) read like a more imaginative passionate version of Acadian Diaspora. The same motives, the same savagery (barbarity), the same delusions led to analogous disasters and cruel societies on the coast of Latin and South America. Both encompass colonialism across a wide swath of the earth during the long 18th century and then focus in on specific concrete instances (some of these overlap). Naipaul’s begins with Ralegh’s Discovery of Guiana.

I didn’t, though, mention one I will probably continue to cherish, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival and only mentioned in passing his The Loss of El Dorado. I’ve been wanting to write to tell of my new discovery and sudden real love for at least one side of V.S. Naipaul’s writing but have not known quite how to do it. The content of Enigma of Arrival, its subjective outlook made it tangential to my review-essay. That’s why I never mention it, let alone describe it, and and yet it centrally helped cause my new understanding and the use I can make of the post-colonial point of view in my writing and thinking.

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EnigmaofArrival.

The Enigma of Arrival has no central story line that quite makes sense, and its individual anecdotes of the lives going on around our narrator are not individuated, often the people are not named, only the outlines of their fates and some sense of the meaning of these fates told. It’s partly autobiographical, partly fictionalized: a writer brought up in Trinidad, of Indian ancestry, comes to live in a cottage not far from Stonehenge on the English Salisbury plain — where to him it seems cold and to snow a lot. His stories of getting used to England reminded me of my experience: of cold, yukky, pub drinking and music, and how I went from a dreamy reader of English books to a stranger wandering about to being at home in England, finding an identity I was given that I could live with there, in Leeds especially. it was one where I was left alone to join in with others or not, given a lot of individual social liberty.

The Enigma of Arrival is a deeply meditative book which through memory and imagination takes us back to neolithic time in the UK, through to the hardships of Elizabethan and 18th century history in Latin America and India, and fast forwarding to the moment in the mid-20th century when the narrator is taking his walks and interacting with his neighbors (workmen and others in cottages) and landlords. I identified with his quest for an identity different from the one imposed on him, his attempt to read and write and re-form a history he could endure to place himself against. Of course that’s what I did too when I came to England. He is telling us of how he became sort of English, while remaining at-home nowhere like all around him, and yet rootedly local. Funny, poignant (sometimes tragic as people kill themselves) with people half-mad the way they are in life. Writing strengthens him. Me too. I’ve felt the way he does when he’s up in planes and landing here and there on the earth.

In these meditations he made post-colonialism a new vital area of understanding for me, one I now see which relates us all to one another today — as the US gov’t acts out the latest elites’ will.
When do we arrive? when we reach a landscape, how do we become part of it, its past, a part of its people? when we begin to understand what? He says he leaves South Wind unread for a long time: it’s a book of conversations on an island off Italy by ex-pats. Gradually he feels he contains in him the worlds he creates and reads, and it’s not that there is no love between people for real (as Rushdie mistakenly thinks, a sad pastoral); rather that all of the characters and our narrator are seeking love and meaning and he finds it by seeing back in time and across in space to find stories like his (and mine and yours) everywhere.

The calm achieved he talks of is one I’ve found in Trollope. I’d like to think the Mr Harding of the book, a boarding house manager, is an allusion to Trollope. Much more likely Naipaul chose the name for the reason Trollope did: it’s quintessentially English.

The Acadians were chased all over the Atlantic; they are us too.

I’m happy to put a copy of my review on my website.

Ellen

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Romola Garai as Gwendoleth Harleth in Daniel Deronda (2002 scripted Andrew Davies, directed by Tom Hooper, George Eliot’s 19th century then contempoary masterpiece) — Garai is found in historical films from all sorts of sources

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to report that I’ve written twice more about Winston Graham’s Poldark novels: a new slant and real qualifications about what I said the first time round on his second quartet, or, to put it another way, Upon rereading The Stranger from the Sea and The Miller’s Dance; and then Rereading and Outlining The Loving Cup and The Twisted Sword. I then linked both blogs to my Winston Graham mostly Poldark website.

I’m almost there with a second reading of Graham’s Bella, which I’ve discovered almost makes a central use of history: both about the discoveries and importation into the UK of great apes, the training of singers and the nature of a career on the stage at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century and how the frequent pretense of legitimacy for children born to mothers whose fathers were not their claimed legal fathers and bigamy existed in tension with the family-patronage, private property through primogeniture systems of the era.

I tried to write about the centrality of history in the later Poldark books at their society message board or facebook site said to be about these novels, the first two mini-series. But unhappily have discovered myself thwarted on both sites. There has been no serious talk about these books ever on either it seems (nothing scholarly, nothing academic) and the people are not used to it. I wrote of the hybrid nature of historical fiction (part actual history which can be trusted), of the particularly disquieting use of unconventional transgressive sex in the books. Clowance sustains a bigamous relationship; another how all 12 novels imitate 18th century novels’ plot-designs, type scenes and characters and themes while presenting tactfully realistically psychological support, then adjusting to today’s norms in popular visual media — as 18th century films imitate one another.


Garai as Barbara Spooner Wilberforce’s wife in the (since Mrs Siddon’s portrait in upper class lady’s clothes) signature Gainsborough studio hat, an extravaganza (from 2006 Amazing Grace)

Quickly a petty tenacious bully resentful of my (to her) apparently offensive (I can never figure out what’s offensive) postings on the facebook was able to delete my last posting on the message board on the grounds it was off-topic. Ah, I then realized that the playful pseudonyms which seemed so delightful to me also can allow non-accountability. “Nampara Girl” used the same paragraphs as Karen Knight on facebook so was none other than the woman in the other bit of cyberspace who managed to sneer at me and impugn my character when I said I would no longer post — “what you don’t want to be challenged?” says she in this self-righteous tone. On the facebook page I spoke back forthrightly saying she had written an insinuating (I didn’t use the word snide) remark when I had never said anything about her character and was attacking my honesty and sincerity. So she was getting back. All I could do then on the Literary Board was point out I was on topic, describe the nature of her behavior, motives and power and (so to speak) walk away.

Positions are all in cyberspace communities. Who can control, censor, withhold, delete a message. At core (as can be seen in Austen studies, in various cult groups), it’s virtually impossible to wrench a body of writing out of its popular readership’s use of it. Winston Graham found this when he tried to persuade the larger indifferent public that the 1996 film adaptation of his book was a worthy new start for filming the later books; he writes in his Memoirs of a Private Man that he could not get beyond the vilification of the new film by the cult tenaciously wedded to the 1970s mini-series. An important social lesson about how what one writes is taken from you once you put it out in the social world and encountering intransigent cult readerships.

So the dream of doing a genuinely historical handbook (a la Patrick O’Brien books) is out. If I’m to write about this I must stick to blogs and my website for now, but eventually (or again) look out for panels and groups who study historical fiction and then how how the Poldarks enact and brilliantly transcend the two also. And I can try my historical fiction of Elizabeth’s Story. A third outlet is to try to write something on the novels in the semi-popular essay kind for History Today. Here I know no one (a usual situation for me) and experience in publishing articles shows me the truly “blind article” submitted and chosen is a myth.

I set aside a unit in my library, a shelf all their own for historical fiction and women’s historical fiction. I repeatedly have trouble remembering my books since I often do not recall the author or even the exact title of the book, but simply that it’s on the subject of historical fiction from this or that angle.

Right now these are:

Beasley, Faith. Revising Memory: Womens’ Fiction and Memoirs in Seventeenth Century France.

Bird, Stephanie. Recasting Historical Fiction: Female Identity German Biographical Fiction.

Fleischman, Avrom. The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf.

Groot, Jermone de. The Historical Novel.

Harman, Leah. The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England.

Hughes, Helen. The Historical Romance.

Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archives in Contemporary British Fiction. Also her “The Historical Turn” in James E. English’s Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fictionn.

Looser, Devoney. British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670-1820.

Lukacs, George. The Historical Novel.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel.

Sanders, Andrew. The Victorian Historical Novel, 1840-80.

White, Hayden. The Content of the form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation.

Zlotnick, Susan. Women, Writing, and the Industrial Revolution.

Graham writes about his use of historical fiction in his Poldark’s Cornwall and I’ve discovered that other historical novelists write about theirs. He identifies three types and my friend Nick added a fourth. Graham does not as some woman have write history books as personal travel writing, a subject I’ve never seen treated in any essay. Of possible interest too are studies of historical films: Pam Cook, Fashioning the Nation: Costume and Identity. David Ellis, Hollywood’s History Films, Andrew Higson, English Heritage, English Cinema. History writing is ever sliding off into writing about people in costume, writing political novels (you are looking for a usable past for the present).


Garai as Sugar in Crimson Petal and White (from Michael Faber’s 20th century neo-Victorian novel) – this one I note has that strange thing done to it, bits pulled out and re-strung to highly romantic music which sentimentalizes the mood & degrades the film’s meaning

As you can see, I am especially interested in how women writing historical fiction has changed its nature, downgraded its respectability — by the injection of romance and feminist thought in which Graham participates by the way and also various mystery-suspense motifs and formula. In rewritten novels as projecting the history of a previous era. Again these later are seen far more heavily in the last 5 novels (almost not at all in the first 7). I am also interested in the serious use of film for history and how its costume aspects make it relevant to us today, speak to us today. I’ve this past months been steadily watching first all 26 hour long episodes of the 1967 Forsyte Saga and now I’ve just finished Part 8 of 13 parts of the 2002 version. For each one making summaries and saving stills.

So that’s where I am tonight. Tomorrow we are going off to the annual East Central 18th century conference, our 11th, this one in Baltimore, the Inner Harbor and I hope to come back with much to tell of what I heard and learned.


Garai, the much (unfairly) punished & poignant Briony in Ian McEwan’s 2007 Atonement (anti-Clarissa rewrite of Richardson’s Clarissa)

Ellen

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Richard Glover, Cattle Watering

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve some happy news. I’ve agreed with the publisher of Valancourt books to produce an edition of Charlotte Smith’s second original novel, Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1789). There is no standard scholarly 20th century edition of this novel available for an affordable cost. The novel has been reprinted by Elibron in a 5 volume facsimile of the 2nd edition of 1790 (corrected by Smith) and as part of the horrendously expensive 20+ volume set produced by Chatto and Windus. You cannot buy the volumes separately. I have the Elibron reprint, have downloaded from ECCO a second copy of the same edition text printed in 3 volumes. I’m told I can google and put together an e-text that way. It would save me typing and I could correct against the other three copies I have, for I do have the volume in the Chatto and Windus set out from a university library.

It’s a startlingly good book, strong, despite its languors the result of over-the-top emotionalisms, especially when a character is deprived of some treasured project (that can be marriage too). Thus far all the friends I’ve told about it, they come back grateful for now knowing a new author to turn to. This is the fourth text by Smith I’ve read in the last few months. The others; translation and adaptation of Prevost’s Manan Lescaut, of Francois Gayot Pitaval’s and Francois Richer’s, published court cases, Celebres et Interessants (1735-44), and her late long Rousseau-supporting novel, The Young Philosopher)

What follows is a summary, evaluation account of the novel as I read it in the context of the politics of the era, its economics, Smith’s own life, and the aesthetics of the novel. In the comments are an explanation of one way of reading it as a picturesque novel. Landscape is central to the text morally as well as aesthetically.

I know my deep abiding interest in this book comes from its tone: one of corrosive reflections (a phrase which echoes throughout). I don’t deal directly with this aspect of the book here.

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Volume 1 & 2:


Richard Westall, Harvest Storm

It opens with impressive beautiful descriptions of Cumberland — using a technique of glimpsing visibility and intertwining eyes seeing something and movement in a landscape that has been attributed to Radcliffe:

At length they came within view of Grasmere Water, and passing between two enormous fells — one of which descended, clothed with wood, almost perpendicularly to the lake; while the other hung over it, in bold masses of staring rock — they turned round a sharp point formed by the root of the latter; and entering a lawn, the abbey, embosomed among the hills, and half-concealed by old elms which seemed coeval with the building, appeared with its gothic windows, and long pointed roof of a pale grey stone, bearing every where the marks of great antiquity. The great projecting buttresses were covered with old fruit trees, which from their knotted trunks seemed to have been planted by the first inhabitants of the mansion. In some of the windows, the heavy stone work still remained, and they were totally darkened at the top by stained glass: in others, the sashes had been substituted; and the windows had been contracted by brick work, to make them appear square within; but, even in these, the stained glass had been replaced, which generally represented the arms of Newenden with those of Brandon.

Smith’s hero, Sir Edward Newenden is unhappily married to a narrow cold shallow society type (think of a cross between Fanny Dashwood and Lady Middleton), and slowly falls in love with her cousin, Etheline Chesterville. It’s a story of adulterous love. Etheline is innocent of such feelings, but she is their cynosure. Desmond tells a similar story but in the case of Desmond the married woman with children loves a man she is not married to (Desmond, the hero).

Smith is very good at depicting uncongeniality, misery, hurt — no one does mismarriage better than she, though she does not develop the outlines quite inwardly enough in the way of a 19th century novel. Then again respectable 19th century novels don’t tell this tale.

The recluse of the lake, Mrs Montgomery, the mother of the hero who appears suddenly and saves the heroine in much the manner of Willoughby in S&S, though she is saved as was Jane Fairfax from drowning; the moment resembles the first meeting with dozens of heroines saved o the brink of disaster (see Caroline with hers in Caroline de Lichtfield). This is utter archetype.

Mrs Caroline Montgomery has had a chequered history. Her mother had been married to a wealthy nobleman killed fighting on behalf of Charles Edward in 1745; she was cast off and ignored by her husband’s family and could not get them to pay her jointure nor did she have means to force them. This is reality in the period. In London she meets a man who had been forcibly married to someone else; they fall in love and she goes to live with him — as a financial support and protector and has two further children by him.

He dies, and now her daughter and sons have no resources or connections without begging and harassing his family; a male friend of her now dead companion takes them in, a Mr Montgomery. The woman’s husband’s brother attempts to seduce the daughter, Caroline (the woman who tells the story) as the daughter of someone who fell from rectitude can demand no respect. Montgomery succours them and helps them, and Caroline falls in love with him'; he is the father of her son — and they marry. Montgomery is Catholic so he cannot hold an office and has little money. When we meet this second generation of gentlewomen, her beloved husband is dead and she too has been refused succour and endured insults by someone who offered to keep her in a relationship which would subordinate and humiliate her (“Pretty affectation in a girl who has been brought up on the wages of prostitution”).

I admire Smith’s analysis of family as well as social life. She delves more deeply than Austen in the way she takes account of sexual motivations and the clarity of the class and money clashes underlying her characters behavior. I really do feel her working with a sense of ideal hope that this book will be good and meaningful and speak to people — after her two successes. Not yet at this point is she beginning to pretend she doesn’t care about her novels and writing them but for money. In this sense of giving it her all I’m reminded of Mansfield Park. Desmond would correspond to Emma as attempts to do something new or other from the previous three.

The novel moves slowly and gravely — she worked hard on it. There is an equal weight given to interior life that I miss in her later novels and the transitions are carefully done. She is especially good at developing the sort of thing Austen only implies: how bad someone feels when someone else hits at them in teasing or quizzing: so Ethelinde (like Elinor) has to endure teasing, and it’s not good-natured over her love for the impoverished but handsome Montgomery: “uttered in a sort of malicious raillery, as they frequently uttered it, gave her the most unpleasant sensations of impatience and sometimes resentment. She is very daring to enter into Edward’s mind and his love for Ethelinde as a married man.

Montolieu’s remark that Austen’s curious pattern of having a heroine in love forbiddenly, tabooed against utterance for a variety of reasons stops love scenes comes to mind. Smith falls down when it comes to these; the way the characters talk is unreal, something that happens only occasionally and at the close of Austen’s novels when the lovers come together as when Darcy says “by you have I been properly humbled.” Montolieu was aware how hard a love scene is to do — Trollope is unusually good at it.

Smith has set up a pattern of intense marital disappointment and temptations to adultery as well as much else destructive in society; we find ourselves in a world of gambling, drinking, parties which is not at all extravagant (or a vortex of dissipation) but reads as a probable imitation of how the gentry and upper class spent their lives. The very quietness with which Smith traces agons and losses makes them more intense. Once you have read her other novels you realize there is not more variety of patterns (like Austen the patterns obsessively repeat themselves and can be linked to Smith’s life), but the patterns are more active and they bring to the fore genuinely risky behaviors that are part of everyday life and how these continually impinge on women in particular — as well as vulnerable males.

The volume closes with Edward’s misery. He has done the right thing: he has insisted that Danesforth leave the house and said if Lady Neweden follows him, she will not be allowed into his house again. He asks her if she thinks about what will happen to her children by him. She appears not to care a jot about them. This is a misogynistic portrait in part: she is made too bad, too one-sided, but her quarrels with her father who is horrified at her indifference to scandal and then her children are powerful.

Montgomery as we know has not yet gone to India; he comes back to the house and leaves with Mr Chesterville and Ethelinde whom rumours about (with Edward) have made it impossible for her to say. Her father continues playing for high stakes (he cannot resist for every once in a while he makes badly needed money even if on the whole he’s losing) and we hear her brother has is a financial burden.

This is a strong book, highly original really, exposing the realities of this world before any reforms that mattered (social programs, redistribution of income) or changes in patriarchal, militaristic hierarchical norms had taken place, even a little. It’s power is in the analysis of the psychology though in these last scenes which are not idealized emotions, Smith rises to the challenge and writes believable enough dialogue.

******************
Volume 3


Canaletto, Lord and Lady (detail)

I’m beginning to wonder why the novel is called “the recluse of the lake.” As far as I can tell the only character who fits that description is the hero’s mother, and although she told a moving story of her life in Volume 1, she has not been seen since; all we’ve had is the occasional letter to her son now in London.

The heroine’s brother is now in debtor’s prison and there have been some remarkable persuasive pictures of his confinement — and his hysteria. The depiction is overtly presented as an argument against imprisonment for debt.
It looks forward to 19th century fiction in this.

There is a troubling anti-feminism in the book despite it’s being a heroine’s text by a woman. Most of the men in the book are good to very good; most of the women except for the heroine and the hero’s mother are variously awful. The heroine’s cousin has committed adultery and the cousin’s husband left her cousin; he is in love with the heroine and very deeply. This adultery theme recurs in Desmond and is deeply felt. The husband is dissatisfied; the wife is
frivolous, mean, cares little about their children. It’s done with intense emotion and is persuasive, but this cousin and other females we meet are used to mock women as such. When a male in the book is a gambler or rake or mean, somehow the criticism seems directed at him individually; when an erring female is presented, we get shaping comments which direct the invective at females as such.

Smith’s Bath is a different place in this book: one which includes high gambling, drinking, sex too. Austen’s heroines never have any such overtly vivid active experiences as Ethelinde or the cousin’s husband, Sir Edward, who is the second most dominating character in the book. The ostensible “lead male,” Montgomery who loves Ethelinde and whose mother lives deep in Scotland (and is thus far the only recluse of the lake in sight) are really far more marginalized in the action and scenes and emotion. Ethelinde’s family is made of gamblers and they bring her to debtor’s prison. Sir Edward’s family which includes the adulterous wife accounts for the other half of the vivid sharply satiric scenes of social life. I find this interesting too. There is a pull in an unusual direction for Smith.

The real hero is Edward Newenden who is in love with his wife’s cousin. He endures as humiliation his wife’s taking a lover (a cavalier servente in public) so Smith explodes the idea that’s enjoyable. It’s he who can be reasoned against not duelling (again important in the era). It’s his strength and heart and ethics that are at the core compass of the book — and yet how he longs to leave the wife that withers his soul, ignores his children and go take up life with Ethy.

An extraordinary energy emerges when Smith flowers in smaller stories, plots within plots, lyrically and simply told. Chesterville, the brother has a wife, and Victorine’s story again includes a mother who had sex outside marriage. I see this as a pattern in Smith. She does not have the courage to have her heroine have sex outside marriage, or a present living women, but one just dead, a mother, and she’s free. (This is also the pattern of Montalbert.) The full story of Victorine’s mother taking place on Jamaica is moving.

We also get a multiple adulterous pattern too – with unhappiness in marriage and the inability to separate underlying what is protested against here. Now in French novels this inference is made explicit — Madame de Stael comes to mind (Delphine especially which Napoleon singled out for particular hate): during the 1790s a more liberal divorce law was put in place by the Parlement than has been in France until the last 20 years and a huge percentage of women (it was mostly women) filed.

Ethelinde is absurdly virtuous to us when she refuses to marry Montgomery because he has no money even after her father recognizes marriage to Montgomery is her only safety. but we might remember how many of us will give up our lives to 5 day a week jobs we might detest or not respect at all at any time in order to make money.

I did not go over the life of Victorine’s mother: yet another woman who defies the sexual prohibition before marriage. Mrs Royston, but rather like Lady Newenden, she is presented as amoral, aggressive, and just awful in her adulterous behavior. She seeks Montgomery as a lover and when he refuses her, she is angry.

Most novels that are artful will have a core of repeating patterns or some set of interrelated themes: this one is about the sexual angle of dysfunctional social and familial life as experienced under the inhumane and unjust conditions of the time and our own time insofar as it mirrors then. Again and again we are shown sexual transgression in all its forms, sometimes moral and understandable, sometimes amoral and cruel.

Money is so central too: when Mr Chesterville dies, his brother at long last shows remorse, but when he attempts or thinks to go to the corpse to give it decent burial and perhaps take his niece and nephew in — he had refused this in life when Montgomery approached him — very like Chapter 2 of S&S his wife argues him out of it (pp. 236-43). I think the scene is actually stronger than Austen’s because the terms of what she is saying are made more explicit, the underlying vicious impulses and overt social norms brought out. But Austen’s lives because her dialogue is more dynamic and ironical, less obvious and it opens a book of concise art, while this is lost in the back of Volume 3 after a series of impossibly neurotic (over-the-top) sentimental scenes few but 18th century specialists will endure.

Smith carries on this delving into the inner lives of people driven by these sexual mores that destroy their very fibre: we get a sense of why characters are so often presented as sickening in novels. Here we see the process. The ending includes: Sir Edward finding that the Chesterville brother-lord type is willing to misrepresent all that has happened — the adulterous wife, the woman who abandoned her children (and the tenderness there is Smith remembering how she couldn’t live her children) and accuses the impossibly virtuous Ethelinde — this is so appalling to him hat he can hardly contain himself from murderous anger. Edward wants to murder the man who is now exploiting the sexuality of his vicious wife.

Before I get too over-the-top irritated at Ethelinde for refusing to marry Montgomery out of stupendously virtuous concern for what will happen to his finances — I have to remember how I allow the norms of other people to drive me wild and make me feel bad about myself. These are not about sex for me but money and position, but the insecurity and self-obsessive thoughts are the same. Luckily I live with someone who tells me to ignore them and myself know I should. Ethy does not.

I also like how Smith exposes the whole patronage system. We are expected to remember the young Chesterville cannot save himself and Victorine by going to India because he hasn’t begun to have it in him to exert the self-control necessary to rob all the people he comes across through the means the company provides.

*********************
Volume 4: the powerlessness of women.


Caspar Friedrich, Woman at a Window (1822)

Ethelinde’s father dies and since he gambled leaves her nothing a reflection of Smith’s father). Her brother, another inveterate gambler ends up in debtor’s prison and is freed because the hero, Sir Edward, pays his debt; Sir Edward also helps the brother find a post in India. The story is presented as Sir Edward’s love for Ethelinde when his vicious wife commits adultery, but the way the action of the plot works out is the reader is worried about Ethelinde succumbing to Sir Edward’s love because she has nowhere else to turn to because of her gambling father and brother.

Smith’s secondary hero, Montgomery, the young man who is justifiably in love with Ethelinde and to whom she is in effect engaged, must travel to India to make his fortune. The hardship of this kind of thing comes out. This is colonialism
from the point of view of those who do the work. Austen’s brothers had to go to sea; reading about Rosalie de Constant, a French woman artist of the very early 19th century, you will find a story of her brother who went to India several times and suffered much from loneliness and boredom and the social conditions in India. He came back more than once; he never made anything more than enough to support himself. In Ethelinde our young man doesn’t want to go any more than Rosalie de Constant’s brother did.

So Montgomery, is being driven by everyone he knows to leave England, sail for India and attempt to make his fortune there. Every instinct in him finds this course of action repellent, from his knowledge of what making money from India means. to his fear for what will happen to Ethelinde when he leaves her without any source of income or shelter but what Sir Edward can offer.

At the climax of Volume 4, Montgomery turns to Ethelinde and makes an impassioned argument on behalf of dropping out of their caste, of taking a job which requires manual labour which will leave him dependent on a wage (but free of a patron), which will require them to return to Scotland to live very modestly. She is just about yielding, when she is pulled away by his mother who through her experience, her own tiny income (which is inadequate for her own needs and would be pulled upon by these two young people) and her knowledge of what can happen (visions of too many children hover over the text), counsels Ethelinde to urge her Montgomery to go to India. But before she is pulled away, Montgomery erupts into French and quotes a long passage from a text by Rousseau (which I don’t recognize) but which argues for breaking from their caste:

Soyons heureux et pauvres; ah! quel tresor nous aurons acquis! J’ai des bras, je suis robuste; le pain gagné par mon travail te paroitra plus delicieux que les mets des festins. Un repas appreté par l’amour, peut — il jamais, être insipide?

This scene between the hero and heroine is followed by one between Montgomery and Sir Edward in which Montgomery tries to enlist Sir Edward to argue Ethelinde into at least marrying him before he goes to India. This climax is to me slightly astonishing because as the emotion between the two men becomes overwrough, Sir Edward confesses to Montgomery his intense love for Ethelinde. This is the equivalent of the Princess de Cleves’s confession of her longing for Nemours to her husband. The Princess’s confession has often been called improbable, but my experience tells me this is not true. It is probable for a certain kind of sensitive sincere person who wants to live a life of candour.

I have come across more modern variants of the Princess’s confession to her husband, e.g., Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?where Lady Glencora Palliser confesses her love for Burgo to her husband. Trollope solves the crisis by having Plantagenet, her husband behave as ideally as Lady Glen: he forgives and blames himself; as narrator, Trollope also suggests to the reader who may doubt this scene an out: the husband is not taking his wife seriously; she does not really want to commit adultery; this enables readers who would get upset at their favorite heroine wanting to commit adultery to dismiss the scene as trivial or non-serious.

I have never before come across it between two men. Mrs Smith, as narrator, is well aware the reader will expect an explosion from Montgomery much worse than the Prince de Cleves inflicted on the Princess. Montgomery almost does this, but he controls himself when he is told by Sir Edward that he will leave Ethelinde with his sister, return to his wife and travel with his wife to Europe. He feels deeply sorry for this man and appreciates his candour. The scene of course enables Smith to pour out what a person who longed to marry another and couldn’t might feel when stuck with someone who is betraying and treating them awfully — and is simply uncongenial.

In Ethelinde, after the scene where Edward Newenden confesses his love for Ethelinde, Montgomery does not know what to do. Certainly it’s an ambiguous gesture; again in La Princesse de Cleves the heroine confesses her adulterous longings to her husband and by so doing destroys his peace; he cannot forgive and understand. She is innocent and means well and perhaps Edward does this to control himself; it also keeps Montgomery’s suspicions at bay.

Mrs Montgomery is at risk of losing all her money and thus Montgomery must go to India. Smith means to expose the intense hardship and loss the global colonial system inflicts on ordinary people — it only comes out indirectly in Austen say. I keep likening Ethelinde to MP and then Persuasion, only Austen is apparently comfortable with such demands on men. She protests against the forced marriage (sale) of women in India (Catherine or the Bower), but that’s all.

Edward is an ambiguous figure. As I say, we can’t really feel for his wife since she is presented so negatively but were that not the case and she allowed to speak for herself (we never see into her mind), we might see her as having been sold by her parents for this man with a title. Smith’s Sir Edward anticipates the males which begin to inhabit the books as of Desmond: the selfless older man who does everything for the heroine, loves her and asks nothing. One I remember well in Montalbert was very moving. But they are kept at a distance; this first time she is allowing us to see inside the figure to understand why she is so sympathetic to him.

When we get to Volume 5 we realize that Montgomery was not wrong, for what has happened is Ethelinde has gone to live with Sir Edward’s sister who is indifferent to her. In her house are living her ruthless amoral husband and a man who attempts to seduce and then brutally to force Ethelinde to
have sex with him and become his mistress. The scenes here read as what could easily happen

Then we have the astonishing shake-down savage talk between Sir Edward Neweden and Lady Newenden’s parents, the Maltravers': the frank needling accusatory conversation over who brought what money to the marriage and who owes who what, the open lying of the mother and father are utterly modern. The thought that comes to mind is we don’t experience this so directly in marriage since we have — through our norm of marrying for love — to some extent freed the marital relationship of such viciousness.

I found myself also moved by the over-sentimentalization in a way of Montgomery and Ethelinde and Mrs Montgomery’s goodbye where they think they may never met again. In a way it’s better than Austen’s almost automatic mockery of emotional goodbyes. Why should people not mourn and deeply at such forced emigrations, trips, ejections. It’s Austen who should justify her refusal to acknowledge these destructive wrenches.

Less interesting is the attack on Ethelinde by Davenent and his salacious friend at Ellen Newenden’s. Ellen is Edward’s sister. Ellen’s portrait, as horsewoman of a lesbian tendency is one that carries on through the 19th century into our own time. In the last quarter of the Poldark novels, the villain-protagonist, George Warleggan marries such a woman, Harriet, and we see how Harriet’s cold carelessness can destroy a semi-vicious man, Stephen Carrington because he is someone who buys into the class and hierarchical values.

Until reading this novel I had the impression it was filled with beautiful landscape and high sensibility. It’s famous for its descriptions of Scotland. In fact while these are good, they are very few and far between. Most of the book takes place in London or in houses in countryside comparable to the ones Austen uses.

It is every bit as realistic as Burney’s Cecilia. For example, as part of the threads in Volume 4 and 5 Montgomery’s mother goes to Lyons when she hears that her income in an investment is threatened by a bankruptcy. A letter comes in which she reports this is what happened. A hard cash mentality is what lies behind most novel-stories and at one point Mrs Montgomery puts to Montgomery what is the problem: can he and Ethelinde live on £70 a year with her and what income he could get given that he has no education to do anything under his caste? It is this sort of hard detail that characterizes numbers of the scenes in Ethelinde and helps make it the strong serious book it is.

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Volume 5:


Bifrons Park, Kent (1695-1700), artist unknown

It ends in a mood or atmosphere that is reminiscent of Austen: a few close good people make a small circle of friends, the center of which is a wedded couple. The central male of the book, Sir Edward, goes to Europe with his wife, but she finally leaves him for the rake-villain of the novel.

Ethelinde endures a realistic near rape. She flees Ellen Newenden’s house with the help of servants and we see her take lodgings where she pays small amounts of money. We get the sense of what a gentlewoman walking alone in the 18th century might fear. She is driven to take residence in an unpleasant aunt’s (Lady Ludford, see below) where she is despised (this is in the vein of Austen’s books). The whole adventure of escape, including the servants’ fear of the master who wants to help his friend get at Ethelinde is persuasive.

I find this a painful book to read. I end up dreading what’s to come, at the same time as it’s moving, I find grasting the endless passages of mixed distress, and that the characters do what’s expected of them by the society (however vicious it may be). This makes for this pain. So Edward goes abroad ostensibly with his wife (she never appears again on the stage of the novel) but it’s all misery the ugly scenes with her parents he endures. Mrs Montgomery loses all her money so Montgomery must go abroad.

Then what I expected to happen happens. The near rape. Why does no one in the book think of it? who is to protect Ethelinde? she seems incapable of a job. The book turns to a Clarissa mode where Ellen Newdenden having made the mistake of marrying Woolaston allows Davenant to prey on Ethelinde. Ethelinde of course is as cagey as Clary and she has no problem in rejecting a man she has never felt any attraction to.

This is a bit of improbability surely: given how realistic Smith has tried to be it doesn’t make sense that no one foresees this determined pursuit. I realize Smith wanted it to occur to keep interest up and involve flight with landscape.

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Henry Fuseli, Romeo and Juliet

I found some of this novel so painful in the last parts of Volume 4 to read, I really hesitated in going on with Volume 5. Once Ethelinde was safe outside the compound which contained Davenant, I was relieved and somehow don’t find the scorn that she receives from Lady Ludford and aroused jealousy from the daughter, another cousin, Clarinthia Ludford, hard to take. I am driven to wonder why. I know there is an analogy with the Clarissa story in that the men at Brackwood (Ellen Newenden, now Mrs Woolaston’s house — or should I say her husband’s) were planning to abduct and one had tried to rape Ethelinde — at least that’s what is implied. But I don’t think that’s it so much (though I was apprehensive lest she should change her mind and not flee). I can read other very painful kinds of stories (recently Doris Lessing’s Grassing is Singing) I don’t feel this.

It’s the peculiar form of feeling in Ethelinde that the humiliation wrests that is probably so hard to take. Her pride so seared by these sexual-social attacks. Her erstwhile protector, Ellen Newendon now become Mrs Woolaston, comes in and asks how dare she be so choosy? What does it matter who she fucks with? or marries for that matter? individually? Partly also that she is so obedient; I can’t stand how she buys into some of the norms used to control and destroy her.

The book has a transcendent beauty in the fifth volume too — that kept me going. When Ethelinde goes walking along the beaches by herself, into the wilds, Smith writes prose akin to her poetry (see the 2nd edition, 1790, Vol 5, Ch 3, one sequence on pp. 75-76).

Unfortunately when she meets up with an interesting ethical looking man who likes solitude like herself, he turns out to be not another Edward Neweden type (the kind of male heroines meet in the other novels seen from outside) but we are back to the more sentimental improbable tripe: the older man is a long-forgotten uncle, Mr Harcourt seeking out his long lost daughter, Victorine, now in the East Indies with Ethelinde’s brother.

Smith does not seem aware that in the West Indies money is made based on slavery as she is that in India it’s made by wresting it corruptly from the natives (not paying taxes for example). Victorine and Ethelinde’s brother have gone to the West Indies to recoup their fortunes.

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An illustration of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon, 18th century: a prison

The deus ex machina of the novel is money — which has lain at the center of the action all along. Not only does Sir Edward return with his, but so does this long-lost uncle, Mr Harcourt, who turns out to be brother to the widowed mother, Mrs Montgomery of the young secondary hero, Montgomery. Mr Harcourt has grown very rich in the West Indies. This is not a novel where the source of this wealth — slavery — has reached the novelist’s consciousness. So two males with money solve most of the problems of the family.

Some individual bravery and moral decisions come into play. Montgomery himself returns on his own from India after he discovers that the kind of work and behavior he will have to enact in order to become rich is beyond his reach. It’s not put morally but rather in terms of his character. His return occasions some of the suspense of the action. His ship becomes lost and he is thought dead for a while. Ethelinde almost marries Sir Edward. There are several paragraphs which make it clear that the moral of this is the young man and young woman should have married without money. They had something worth taking a risk for and what they thought was out there was not except at terrible moral cost. Further, their concern was over “false” ideas of status. This then takes the theme of Persuasion up (one finds it also in Crabbe, the young couple advised to be prudent who destroy their happiness in life for nothing) very strongly and does not qualify it in the manner of Austen’s novel. The only character to come near this in Austen is Edward Bertram when in Mansfield Park he tells Mary that it will cost him a price he doesn’t want to pay to become rich. And the conversation is buried and all we are really asked to pay attention to is Mary’s deflating and mockery of him to see how her moral character is wanting.

The introduction of Mr Harcourt with his huge wealth produces a series of turns and twists in the plot-design which allow Smith to show us how each of her characters reacts to the presence of great money. Her real strength is in just this sort of exposure of the greed and manipulation and hypocrisies of social life.

The Ludfords: Mr becomes obsequious, Mrs intensely envious and raw with resentment, Clarinthia only glad that the money will remove Ethelinde from Southampton where she attracts suitors. Clarinthia rejected a nice man, Southcote, because he was decent, yet when she sees him turning to Ethelinde, she is livid.

They return to London and meet Mrs Montgomery who is presented as unable to lift herself above anxiety; whatever happens in the letters from her son, it’s a new reason to dread the future. Had Smith represented this attitude of mind as what’s engendered by her history and circumstance it would have been effective, but it’s just represented as innate (as kind of typical universal characteristic). Montgomery writes he is well but not making money as he can’t do what’s asked; she worries he is unhappy; he writes to Ethelinde he is and she worries he will sicken, and then he will drown on the way back.

Ethelinde’s brother, Chesterville, resumes his selfish profligate ways and his wife is a vain creature. Another dialogue emerges about sharing the money with their uncle’s half-sister’s son — so Ehtelinde’s brother and his wife become just like John and Fanny Dashwood, only much bitterer and more is explained. Ethelinde’s brother does not want to share any of the uncle’s wealth with anyone and he talks in language strongly reminiscent of Chapter 2 of Austen’s S&S. What could his sister and her widowed friend possibly need more than a tiny income? This suggests Austen need not have heard what her brother wrote in a letter after their father died. This dismissive callous way of talking was commonplace. The brother does gamble and his wife is frivolous: the gambling is a behavior we don’t find in Austen, but an attempt on the part of other relatives to ensnare Mr Harcourt into marriage recalls the marriage manipulations of Austen’s novels. (The analogue in life is again Smith’s father.)

While some of Volume 4 takes place in a countryside and among houses very like what we find in Austen’s P&P, a good deal now takes place in Scotland. This includes a sequence out in the landscape which has some brooding lovely poetry, and two near visions one of which takes place in a church burial ground. These visions are not ghosts but are projections of Ethelinde’s loneliness and distress. She almost sees her dead father and has a sense of Montgomery’s presence. These two sequences are very well done.

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Wm Turner, Abingdon

The qualified happy ending at last. Montgomery miraculously survives and returns to marry Ethelinde; they get enough money from Mr Harcourt, Mrs Montgomery’s fantastically rich half-brother, and Sir Edward Newenden whose wife has died. We are not told of the hinted terrible circumstances: miscarriage, abortion (?) childbirth, Danescourt beating the hell out of her, or tossing her into the streets to survive as a prostitute. Even Ethelinde’s brother begins to behave when he sees that Mr Harcourt might marry a cold-hearted gold-digger, conveniently part of the Ludford group. Woolaston has spent all Ellen Newenden’s money and fled so again Sir Edward comes forward to do the right thing for his sister.

It’s in some of the realistic working out of the stories that the novel manages to hold this reader. I had remembered Ethelinde’s visit to her father’s tomb. That is a gothic-picturesque scene – and is found in other women’s novels of the era, to my memory close is a scene in Sophie Cottin’s Amelia Mansfield. Again Austen skirts this (her NA).

I was most moved by Sir Edward who when he thinks that Montgomery is dead offers his hand in marriage to Ethelinde. Of course she refuses: her reason is not unsound: Montgomery has become ‘interwoven” in her existence,” Vol 5, Ch 13, p 294. She is so aware of his moral nature and goodness and pressure is about to consent to stay by him as friend and semi-sister. They also have the one believable love dialogue: for a moment she almost yields and says “Sir Edward, my dear Sir Edward — ” and he “Dear! …” (p. 296) One of the few believable erotic love gestures is that of Ethelinde and Edward as they say goodbye after Montgomery has returned. She does respond at last: “almost involuntarily she lifted his hand to her lips …” (and then a paragraph follows of their quiet gestures and his departure) (Vol 5, ch 13, p 305).

So much better than all the verbiage the novel subjects us to. Real feeling for a moment. He is the presence in the novel that most moves me — a variant on Smith herself who seems ever to have dreamed of finding some mate in marriage when it was closed off forever by her terrible marriage. It’s been suggested that Smith did have a chance to have a partner after she left her husband, but refused this because it would hurt her children’s future.

I was involved enough to hope that Montgomery was dead and Ethelinde and Edward would marry. But I knew it was hopeless. Smith would not permit it — as she knew that this would be unacceptable. I don’t know that people would see it was her, but she just couldn’t let herself go.

And so it ends with the same sort of language of quiet resignation and happiness with a qualifying note that one finds at the close of several of Smith’s and Austen’s mature books.

Ellen

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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