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annotated-northanger-abbey-cover

In one [room] perhaps there may be a dagger, in another a few drops of blood, and in the third the remains of some instrument of torture; but there being nothing in all this out of the way …

in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies … (NA:2:5, 237 and 2:9, 275)

Dear friends and readers,

In an earlier posting on a plan for a course on the second half of Jane Austen’s publishing career (Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion), I mentioned the publication of a new annotated edition of Northanger Abbey by the Belnap Press (a division of Harvard University Press). Due to the kindness of the editor (a reader of this blog), I now have a copy of my own, have read it, and am happy to declare it’s more than another book in the spirit and done much in the manner and with the expertise of Patricia Meyer Spacks’s edition of Pride and Prejudice, which if the reader clicks on the link she (or he) will find I reviewed on my live-journal Under the Sign of Sylvia blog.

Similarly, its indisputable value and addition to previous editions of Northanger Abbey are its plethora of unusual pictures, all appropriately chosen, numbers of which I’d never seen before — and I am a confirmed lover of this parody-as-gothic novel as well as gothic novels, which are themselves sometimes profusely illustrated. And similarly too, if you are a student and what you are seeking is a text annotated line-by-line where the editor assumes you know very little about the 18th century and offers paraphrases as well as continual basic information, the annotated edition to buy is not this one, but rather David Shapard’s annotated Northanger Abbey for Anchor books. I link in and append a brief history of the recent editions of Northanger Abbey, which, as Wolfson demonstrates, has a more complicated publication history during Austen’s lifetime than the four novels published while she was alive.

Wolfson’s edition differs from Spacks’s edition in that she addresses herself directly and at times aggressively to arguments over how to read Northanger Abbey and its target audience is as much a scholarly and theoretical as it is a popular one. To achieve this scholar’s intervention Wolfson alludes to sophisticated perspectives. Although its first draft is early, since the text we have represents some of Austen’s most mature writing after 30 years of writing and reading as a novels; and since Northanger Abbey is a self-reflexive bookish book about books, Wolfson’s edition has even more extensive annotation than Spacks.

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A typical illustration in this book

Wolfson’s introduction is more than twice as long as Spacks’s and divides into several parts. The first phase (MAD-Woman Jane Austen) describes the as yet small commercial world of novel publishing in which as Susan, Austen attempted to publish Northanger Abbey for the first time (1803). Wolfson reprints Austen’s letter (1809) revealing a thwarted attempt to wrest the manuscript back from a publisher who had held onto the book without publishing it for 6 years. This documented history is significant because it helps situate the book’s early versions in at least 3 eras: the 1790s when it was first drafted, 1798-99 when a full copy was achieved (according to a note by Cassandra, Austen’s sister) and 1803, after the first gothic craze was over and a time of war: Wolfson writes:

the novel is an odd repository, of strange and uneven power … it is the earliest drafted, longest gestated, last published of Austen’s completed novels (10)

The history of Austen’s life that follows is of her reading life and the literary world of the reading and writing Austens, with especial attention paid to the gothic books she imbibed (rather like Austen on Catherine Morland’s early years), especially Anne Radcliffe; and about how Austen’s family’s marriages as well as careers connected directly to the fortunes of the French revolution and Napoleonic wars, and local mutinies and riots too: Eliza de Feuillide’s French husband was guillotined: Henry was an offer at the savage punishment of a mutiny; Francis and Charles saw action at sea.

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Wolfson includes an image of Anne Radcliffe I’ve never seen before: she was highly reclusive and usually all you see is one poorly drawn image — look at the somewhat withdrawn expression on her face, her withdrawn eye contact.

Byron is not forgotten as Wolfson surveys Austen’s letters, with an emphasis on their understandably jaundiced recitations of the endless pregnancies of the worn out (and sometimes dying) married women she knew. Wolfson does omit Austen’s thwarted attempts to create a community of single women for herself and Cassandra once they left Steventon.

Wolfson then surveys the specific world of gothic novels, how they were disregarded, mocked, parodied, moralized at, and yet sold, were avidly read (to pieces many of them) and persisted, and that their political slant was more often sympathetic to Jacobinism than the authors could afford to admit during this repressive time. Wolfson suggests these gothic novels mirrored the violences of the time, real undercurrents picked up in one Monthly Review , which labelled them “The Terrorist System of Novel Writing.” All this is necessary because Wolfson is of the school that sees Northanger Abbey as more gothic than parody, more serious in its critique of the real injustices and tyrannies of social life (especially for women)

The 1790s was, after all, a decade of high political anxiety: the cataclysm of the French revolution just over the channel, and a reactionary alarm that by 1792 was turning Britain into a police state, with a vast network of surveillance and severe prosecutions for dissent and treason. It wasn’t just that gothic novels were haunted by political anxiety; they were prime supporters of its language and metaphors (25)

Then amid citations showing how Northanger Abbey is a text “rife” with [allusions to, discussions of] “books”), Wolfson launches into what is the basic outlook of the edition: most of Wolfson’s extensive annotations across the book (when not about the era, its landscape art and buildings, or about commercial book history), are intended to bring in arguments from elsewhere which demonstrate that Austen’s book is far more a serious gothic than it is a parody of the gothic mode. She does not neglect the Bath sections:

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The ground plan of the lower assembly rooms in Bath

But the emphasis is not there. When she is not contextualizing with references to the commerce in books or landscape, it is the gothic she elaborates upon. A central reader for her is William Galperin in his Historical Austen where he argues that Austen’s narrator is not the author, and suggests the views the narrator takes do not adequately account for the gothic materials in and outside Northanger Abbey. If you then follow the trail of scholarship cited in the notes in the introduction (and later in the text too) you come upon an essay by George Levine (“Translating the Monstrous: Northanger Abbey,” Nineteenth Century Fiction 30:3 [(1975]:335-50) where he makes a persuasive case for seeing the narrator as blind to the implications of her text. This matters because Austen’s narrator may seem to dismiss the gothic, or confine its reach to places other than southern England. There has been a long tradition of disparagement and dismissal of Northanger Abbey (i.e., claims the gothic sections are inferior, the use of Catherine as a naif in a satire interferes with its realism, the two parts jar &c&c): Wolfson is having none of that.

I agree and wrote and delivered and published 2 papers to this effect, one at a conference demonstrating that the two “parts” of novel are beautifully intertwined and held in a kind of equilibrium (“The Gothic Northanger Abbey: a Re-evaluation“); the other published in Persuasions arguing for Madame de Genlis’s tale of female abuse, one of Smith’s novels about sexually transgressive woman and another (relatively unknown) part gothic parody as sources for Northanger Abbey (“People that marry can never part: an Intertextual Study of Northanger Abbey, Persuasions 31:1 [2010]).

Wolfson goes further than this, and seeks to make Northanger Abbey into a kind of post-modern gothic text where strong feminist protests mingle with sceptical acceptances of dark metaphysical realities beyond the natural and probable world (41). Again follow the trail of citations and you find yourself reading Paul Morrison’s “Enclosed in Openness: Northanger Abbey and the Domestic Carceral” (Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 33:1 [1991]:1-23) which makes the (perhaps puzzling to a non-academic reader) that we can find ourselves in a prison when there are no visible walls around us — I’d put it through social restraints and surveillance.

I recommend to common readers Andrew Davies’s film adaptation of Northanger Abbey (Granada, 2007) where through small changes and additions Davies conveys just how unhappy and tyrannized over Eleanor Tilney has been, with no more “distressing” (Catherine’s word) scen than the one in which Eleanor tells Catherine she dare not attempt to keep Catherine at Northanger past the following dawn. Early on Liam Cunningham as General Tilner conveys a threat of some unspeakable sexual punishment he is prepared to wreak on Eleanor. Henry tells Catherine he is grateful to her for visiting Northanger because of his sister’s usual isolation and suffering. When Austen dismisses Eleanor to happiness at the book’s close amid the self-reflexive amusement and witty plays on romantic conventions is this unfunny sentence: the narrator knows “no one” “better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity” (II:16 [31], 234).

More problematic is the aligning of this text with the kinds of insights into the gothic Jack Sullivan outlines his his Elegant Nightmares: Kafkaesque experiences which point us to an unknowable perhaps malevolent-feeling universe, caught up in the romantic poetry and art of the era which Wolfson uses Coleridge, Richardson, among other texts to illustrate, ending on (as is common with deconstructive criticism) with what is not there, e.g., the window curtains in Catherine’s room which keep moving.

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Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman at the Window (1882)

The turn here — Wolfson is too clever to go explicitly this far — could take us to guilt, persecutions, torments (which are found in Genlis and Smith’s texts) and metaphysical contemplations (see Sabine Rewald’s Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th century, a text accompanying and explicating an exhibit of pictures seeking peace from such intimations). Instead for the last phase of her introduction, she returns to the text she has put before us, and explains aspects of her freshly-edited text where she returns to a Chapman emendation that captures how the “malicious fun” in some of the scenes in Bath where characters are not “just objects of ridicule,” but become participants in the sport” (49).

There is a problem in all this: Wolfson occasionally over-presses her text, she over-reads and she will puzzle many college-educated readers (say someone who did not go on to graduate school after the 1990s). Who is this book for? As I looked at it I had myself no doubt that had my parents bought me such a book when I was 14-15 and falling in love with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park (see First Encounters), adoration might have been the result. I might not have waited 40 years to get to Bath so that from the top of Beecham Hill I too could reject the scene as unworthy to make part of a picturesque landscape. How I would have been charmed by reproductions of David Cox’s lithographs

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The Royal Crescent in Bath (1820)

Wolfson is deft at intertextual citation, and in the modern academic way of talking about commercialism, weaves pop and arch language into her stories (Austen’s narrator is said “to go rogue,” 226n1). It seems churlish to complain that the way Austen is discussed as a professional author in a networked career marketplace is anachronistic (e.g., 7 where Murray is described as “savvy,” “massaging his network” when he asked Scott to review Emma), but in the service of accuracy and my own vision of her I’d say she had a serious vocation which she followed with a genuinely sincerely-held set of ethical beliefs. And these went counter to much that was popular as well as much of what passed for salon talk among the elite — plus of course she was very much fringe gentry, had lived a life on the margins and edge in Bath for years. Her time out in the “world” apart from her family as she would have mocked it was limited and what it offered had rightly shown her for books her father’s library was preferable:

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Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, The Gatehouse, Reading Abbey (included by Wolfson — an experience that killed Austen had to be rescued from lest she die of a contagious disease badly cared for)

She had to begin by self-publishing even though this is a period where the small number of distributed copies and needs of publishers made them hungry for books from women trying to add to the family income or fulfilling some spirit within them.She lived all her life inside her family group who she remained dependent upon financially; Wolfson points out sadly how little money she made in her lifetime. Nonetheless, she had to be pressured to dedicate Emma to the Prince Regent.

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Cruickshank, another illustration I’ve not seen

This is an edition which offers the beginner in Austen novels plenty of pictures and conversations and hard information too in the form of a coffee table book. It also offers beginning and more serious students readings of the novel that enable us to ask new questions of it. Of course amid all this apparatus, the novel that can delight the heart with comedy is still there and make us bond with the heroine and hero (see my blog on the 3 Northanger Films for “Jane Austen’s World” where I single out Felicity Jones and J. J. Feild for jell as a pair of characters whose mutual kindness, intelligence, and integrity of heart emerges gradually as very precious indeed against the novel and film’s ‘crimes of heart’). The crowded ball room, the real experience of frustration and desolation upon finding oneself a wallflower (unjust as Catherine should have had a partner — showing the dangers of pre-engagement), real anxiety when supposed friends pressure us to do that which we know will hurt us with real friends (and rightly). All the ink spilt in recent essays attempting to persuade me that Henry Tilney is a bully and pedant faze me not: I know such an intelligent, generous-hearted, tactful man is excellent husband material, especially when he comes equipped with a competency and house with lovely sitting rooms such as Catherine is shown on her visit. We do learn to distinguish real evils in life as we learn to feel for the now dead Mrs Tilney (married for her money), why accepting lying can do such harm.

So now we have yet another version of the text Austen left her brother and sister to publish — and perhaps name. I’ll end on a personal preference: I wish these Belknap Press book editors had not made the decision to have these details from nineteeth-century reproductions of upper class young woman as uniformly the cover for the set. We really should have had a modernized abbey. But no matter, Wolfson does provides several illustrations, including this modern photo of Stoneleigh Abbey, a huge pile which Jane Austen visited with her mother when a distant cousin thought he had a chance of inheriting it merely by coming to live there, as a kind of grab.

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Ellen

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Parapet on Afterward (BBC film adaptation of Wharton’s ghost story)

… but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid? — Austen, Northanger Abbey

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve sent and have good reason to think this proposal has been accepted by the OLLI people at GMU for this coming fall 2014. The emphasis is not historical; I’ve chosen short, contemporary and turn of the 19th century texts, and recent powerful films:

The Gothic

This course will explore the gothic mode in fiction and film. It’s an outlook found in a vast terrain of sub-genres, where images, plot-, and character types repeat like a recipe. Take one labyrinthine or partly ruined dwelling, fold inside one murderous incestuous father or chained mother (preferably in a dungeon), heroes and heroines (various kinds, as wanderers, nuns, friars), stir with a tempest; be sure to have on hand blood, night-birds, and supernatural phenomena, with fore-action or back-stories set in the past. We’ll be reading short stories, beginning with ghosts, witches, moving to vampire, werewolf, and then modern socially critical mysteries and the paranormal (stories of possession). We’ll cover terror, horror, male and female gothic. The course culminates in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly; Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963 version) and an excerpt from The Dark Angel (featuring Peter O’Toole). Most texts will be found on-line and include: LeFanu’s “Green Tea” and/or “Carmilla;” Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life;” R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Doyle’s “Adventure of Abbey Grange;” Wharton “Afterward” and/or “Kerfol;” M. R. James’s “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral;” and Suzy Charnas’s “Unicorn Tapestry.”

The course lasts for 8 weeks and begins in early September.

We have on Trollope19thCStudies in the last few months read and discussed Sheridan LeFanu’s Wyvern Mystery and the fine film adaptation of it, read 5 of LeFanu’s ghost stories, and will soon embark on Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Making of the Marchioness which combines with a sequel, was turned into a gothic film adaptation for PBS, The Making of a Lady, and LeFanu’s Uncle Silas (the source for Dark Angel).

I am still typing Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, and have embarked on reading Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine to write an introductory essay — both for Valancourt Press. Recently I wrote a review of Tyler Tichelaar’s The Gothic Wanderer where I also went over an excellent anthology of different ways to teach the gothic too. I will be reviewing Susan Wolfson’s Harvard Press edition of Northanger Abbey too — it has the loveliest of illustrations throughout.

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Fuseli, The Shepherd’s Dream

I seem never to let go of the gothic. I’ve got Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe beat … .

Ellen

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Northanger Abbey, annotated ed. Susan Wolfson (Harvard)

Dear friends and readers,

On the NASSR-l listserv today, this new annotated edition of Northanger Abbey (yes, yet another!) was mentioned, prompting me to mention here that although I will be teaching Anthony Trollope: the first half this coming fall at OLLI at AU, I also submitted a proposal to teach Jane Austen: the second half, which unless the Poldark novels are screened in the US in spring 2015, I’ll teach then. As all my readers of course instantly recall, I’ve been teaching Jane Austen, The first Half, this season — still a joy to myself.

Well this will be the sequel eventually:

Austen II: Chawton, Gothic, French-influenced novels

This study group will read Austen’s last published and two posthumously published novels in the order they were published:  Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. We will contextualize them through her artistic development and life, and their particular literary contexts. To observe the French connection, we will preface Emma with Lady Susan, her letter novella about an adulterous widow, completed just before she moved to Chawton. To understand her central connection to the gothic we will preface Northanger Abbey with Anne Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest. Persuasion will enable us to see her among the romantics Our epilogue will be a text that reveals her traveling years, Sanditon, a fragment she wrote while she was already fatally ill and shortly before she died. We will end on later close followers by viewing excerpts from Andrew Davies’s 2007 BBC films, Northanger Abbey and (from E.M. Forster) A Room with a View.

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Henri Fuseli (1741-1825), Silence (1799-1801) —

Ellen

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Birgit Schossow, from a New Yorker cover: Big City Noir

Dear friends and readers,

Over on WomenWritersAcrosstheAges @Yahoo, quite a number of us have read (or tried to read) some of Jane Smiley’s novels, and two of us have just finished her mystery-crime novel, Duplicate Keys, with three now going on for 13 Ways for looking at the Novel. Having once tried 13 Ways where Smiley defends “the virtuous and good character” (though on what grounds I no longer remember) and remembering the ferocious quarrels that once flared on Austen-l over Fanny Price, I thought those of Smiley’s novels I’ve read thus far a good opportunity for discussing the good or exemplary heroine. All three novels I’ve read have at their center, Private Life, A Thousand Acres, and now Duplicate Keys, have such a presence as their point of view.

Duplicate Keys may be said to be centrally about whether such a heroine is really “good” or is she a fool (cannot see the world in front of her), a “free rider” (she — horrors! — lives off a man or someone else), “dependent” on others, unfairly entangling them with her devotion, idealization (so much emotional blackmail), in reality a “passive-aggressive” (what could be worse than the hypocritical bully in disguise?). It’s also a Radcliffian sort of gothic (heroine terrorized by locks and doors), a woman’s novel re-engineered to look like a crime/mystery book, similar to Hughes’s TV film, Five Full Days, and is reminiscent Jane Elizabeth Howard’s Falling & Winston Graham’s Walking Stick.

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First, about the book: the commentary on it online suffers because people stick to this anti-intellectual and silencing idea we are not supposed to tell the ending (or in some versions anything about the book the person doesn’t know) especially stubbornly when the book is a mystery. If you can’t tell anything or the ending, you can’t discuss its meaning. A book’s meaning includes the whole design. (See What do spoiler warnings spoil?).

Far from being like a Hitchcock story (though why this should be a term of praise is beyond me, Hitchcock being a mean film-maker who loves to do cruel things to women), it’s a woman’s novel re-engineered to be a mystery; or mystery-crime-detective re-engineered to be a woman’s novel. Rather like Gwyneth Hughes’s Five Full Days or Prime Suspect featuring Helen Mirren — with the detective, whose name is Detective Honey (perhaps a joke) marginalized. And I liked it for the reasons I liked her others: a deep-feeling study of a cultural milieu through the eyes of a heroine: the difference is this time we are in a big, no a world city, and the time is contemporary. I long for books to be getting on with, a kind of friend to be dialoguing with someone and I can go for quite a time without finding a new one, but admit I’m now sure Alice, her heroine, was quite someone I could identify with. Bond and care about her, but not love and be intensely anxious for. I had the same problems with her previous two heroines.

It has a story which swirls around the friendship of two women: Alice Ellis and Susan Minehart. Alice comes to Susan’s apartment one day to find murdered in two chairs next to one another Susan’s husband, Denny and his best friend, business partner in a firm making and marketing popular music, and hanger-on, Craig Shellady. Who did it? and why? we slowly hear about a tiny circle of friends, associates and meet Noah Mast and his wife, Rya, whom it seems he bullies, while she clings to him. I realize now that they are a weak parallel for Alice and her ex-husband, Jim Ellis, who left her for a younger woman, Miranda, because he couldn’t stand her idealization of him, her “goodness,” her dependency; at the same time we learn, through the phone calls he sets up, that he continues to encourage this dependence, is himself still sexually jealous of any other suitors. The back story as Alice remembers away in one chapter tells something rather different: Miranda was an idolizing beautiful and much younger student, and Jim preferred her as a rebel, as a romancer, and because Miranda never asserted herself in any way whatsoever, not even achieving the minimum of job and profession.

There is also the homosexual Ray, doing well in his music businessman, big spender in expensive restaurants for all, and a drug dealer, with a cool (nasty-minded) lover, Jeff. The cast of characters is small: the last is Henry Mullett, a man who lives in her apartment house, and whose window faces hers (he has been watching her for an undetermined time) and with whom she commences a sexual affair and friendship. Craig is a domineering abusive type and both Alice and Rya have become his mistress-punching bags for a time.

Did I say Alice is a librarian? but perhaps gentle reader you guessed that. It seems in the cliched universe of popular novels librarians are characters who embody “good girl messages” by their love of books, lack of ambition (librarians are assumed to be without ambition) and typical activities (shelving books, cataloguing, and worse yet, helping other people to find and read books). In a way she reminded me of the heroine of Graham’s The Walking Stick, also a mystery: Deborah Dainton is a kind of cataloguer and librarian for an expensive art-jewellry-antiques shop.

It seems there has been drug dealing and someone murdered Denny and Craig over money and/or drugs — Ray is a suspect; so too Noah who is at one point arrested. Susan has throughout a severe tongue, apparently hating Craig, whom she characterizes as a predator a neurotic abuser. Alice (as ever, traditional good heroine again) tries to understand which means excuse, even justify Craig. Alice also turned to Ray after Jim left her; as a gay man, she was a companionable friend and he a support. This feels sinister feel as Ray is one of those people who took keys from Susan and gave them out. While Susan spent for the funeral, she defied other taboos too: she will not leave the large comfortable apartment and after she and Alice do a ritual cleaning out and throwing out, begins to return to sleep there. Denny who seems to have loved Craig has a Catholic family who insist on an expensive burial and Susan feels she must make a Catholic funeral and has to go yet further into debt to pay for it, about which she is endlessly bitter. Never made explicit after a while the reader realizes Susan has turned to Alice for friendship because her husband, Denny, made Craig his alter ego.

Coverblog

The title refers to how Susan has been in the habit of making duplicate keys and giving them out to everyone who has a relationship with Denny and Craig as a matter of business policy, a way of networking. Those given duplicate keys can of course make more copies. So anyone could have gotten into the apartment and murdered Denny and Craig. Alice has followed suit (she often imitates Susan) and given keys for her apartment to others. The cover illustration to my book show two doors that seem to be at right angles, an old-fashioned glass-looking doorknob on one, the other in shadows, both having reflective light glancing over them.

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What there is of suspense is as Radcliffian as the business of doors that can be opened by others at will, doors Alice cannot lock: it’s the result of Alice hiding from Susan and everyone else her growing relationship with Henry.

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18th century illustration for Radcliffe type novel

Duplicate Keys reminded me of The Walking Stick because of the way Henry Mullett quietly pursued Alice. We see he watches for her from the window; she half realizes this and does not (like Deborah trying to avoid Leigh Hartley) want the man’s company. She is though reading her ex-husband’s poems to his second wife as a substitute for phoning him, which she has not quite got out of the habit of doing still at the crises of her life. Henry insists she come downstairs as a much better way to pass the time. He cannot get her to go to a movie with him as she has to work tomorrow — to to her librarian job her basis for support.

Heny’s slow moving into Alice’s life is worrying — because of the way he is insistent, from the time he got her to pick him up (and we realize now that he was aware they lived near one another so he was watching her go in and out of the apartment house), and from her dropping the remark that she did not know why she had not told Susan about him.

This feels like a Hitchcock motif and to be sure he uses it, but I’d like to suggest it’s more endemic of women’s books. A very powerful one I read a couple of years ago, Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard has another Henry insidiously take over a woman’s life to the point she is in mortal danger from him; it was made into a chilling film by Andrew Davies. The man can take advantage of this divorced woman now in the country, partly retired. At the core of Graham’s Walking Stick: the lame or crippled heroine discovers that she has been a target for the man whom she regarded as so beautiful and the rare friend; we don’t learn of this quiet stalking and plan all along to use her to steal jewels form the firm she works for until the very end.

Tricky this business of caring about, being anxious about characters. On Trollope19thCStudies we talked about how this is central to our love of particular books or authors …. Remember when we read A.S Byatt’s Imagining Characters where Byatt and Sodres talked about how filmed characters can get in the way of people’s memories or they can be very disappointed in the choice of an actor as he or she interferes with a previous conception. What happens to me sometimes is the actor almost replaces the preconception or character as I’ve felt it before I saw the movie.

Alice is carrying on a genuine affair with Henry (going to bed with him) and hiding this from her friends. This spells disaster: how will they know to help her or where to find her if he should spirit her away? Smiley accounts for her hiding where she’s been by her fear of a new failure or rejection. Alice fears Mullett will desert or hurt her as have all the others. The heroine of Falling is saved because her friends know of her Henry (hmmn the same name) and find out about him and are there to help her if she should phone.

This hiding reminds me of how Ginny in A Thousand Acres kept getting herself pregnant by not using contraceptives – and telling Tyler she was – and when she’d miscarry hiding this. Come to think of it this is a bit improbable. But Margaret also kept secrets in this way.

Remember the trio of lies, secrecy, silence as the way women get through life — and also the pathologies that result – this begins with Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, it’s central to Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and many a woman’s novel. In the 2002 film adaptation of Forsyte Saga we see that after sex with Soames, Irene goes to take a bath, and uses a syringe to push up into her vagina vinegar (and whatever else she can think of) to stop any conception.

She’s learn of more adulteries and betrayals among her group of friends. Rya was having an affair with Craig (he got around, so did Alice, so did Denny now dead and murdered too) and her deriding husband, Noah knew. And suddenly Ray shows up and asks to stay with her.

The novel held me mostly through the my fear for Alice over Henry … What I liked about the one Susan Hill mystery, The Various Haunts of Man (a Simon Serailler novel) I read – which made me very anxious — was there too a woman was threatened who was alone. I have liked mysteries when they are comedies of manners too (Sayers) and romances (Byatt); this is combining female gothic justifiable paranoia …

Ray and his slinky boyfriend Jeff now somehow force their way into Alice’s apartment and while she sleeps they take her key. I feel for her because I know that I could be pressures this way. The screws are turned as Henry Mullett is also pressing himself on her but then suddenly vanishes from the narrative and Alice wonders where he is.

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Semi-comic image of gothic library — libraries are replacing labyrithine castles (e.g., The Name of the Rose, Charnas’s Vampire Tapestry)

But our Alice takes satisfaction in her job as a librarian; what a release to escape to one’s job. (I knew the feeling even as an adjunct, when I would turn to what I was doing with books and writing and for my students). J. L. Carr has a wonderful line in Month in the Country about escaping into the mask of one’s job to meet others through. But as she works into the night she finds herself downstairs among the stacks. The light seems to go out after she has put it in and suddenly for a sequence we get this uncanny nervous fear that such books usually have on offer. From Radcliffe to Susan Hill this is part of what we are to feel; in Falling once the heroine lets Henry live with her in the house we have it continually.

But then Alice calms down. To me this calming down is a sign that Smiley’s real talent is not in the gothic area as she really is at play unseriously when she does it.

I should say it’s very easy reading and if you get lost on the subway (as I did yesterday on the DC metro) it is a good companion. There is Alice having her hard time and there are you lost. There is Alice unable to hold onto her keys. There are you unable to make the machine add $10 to your “smart” card (proving of course you are not worthy a smart card as you are not smart enough). Both incompetent before life’s demands. You feel not so alone …

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And then it happened, I was 23/s the way through and got to what Margaret Forster called in Smiley’s Blind Horses and A Thousand Acres “the sudden pull, the shocking jerk as the point of it all pushed home …” The brutal reality that was staring me in the face all along. Alice comes to the conclusion Susan did it. And we realize how Susan has been managing Alice’s life: Susan does all the cooking when she is there, takes over Alice easily.

At first when Alice come to the conclusion suddenly that Susan did the murders we are not sure. It might be all in her mind and Smiley wisely keeps up the uncanniness at the same time as we cannot be sure Alice is right. If Susan did it, that is the sudden pull though: so now we have a picture of private life in the city as lived by people making it through the arts (or not making it as the case is), and then we get the proof. It’s also about what constitutes success and what failure and how the lack of admired success can destroy people, and when it destroys an individual it can poison the circles he’s in.

It seems that what Susan loathed was Denny and Craig’s continual “whining” over their lack of success. They had one success with one hit and never made another, and they have spent the rest of their lives trying to make another hit, to become stars or businessmen like Ray. She has had to listen to them talk about this for years, plan this networking, that strategy, watched them fail, vow to do something else, but come back to the dream all over again. And take drugs in the meantime, sell them, deal, get into worse and worse debt.

A bit improbable: Alice twice sends away a locksmith, once after Detective Honey urges her to change her locks, and again after Ray and Jeff get in and leave without permission. After the first time she is left without a door. Could Susan have engineered a “difficult” locksmith? At any rate, after the second attempt she has no locked door again — we are in Radcliffe country now. Susan thinks she again hears that same sound she did before and escapes — out the window.

Great movie cliff-hanger as she literally hangs 4 floors up form a ledge; as she improbably rounds the bend, she sees Susan looking out the window gun in hand, looking for Alice.

Things fall into place: all the bitter conversations, Susan’s disgust (for that’s what it is) with Alice’s way of coping with life and men — Susan scorns the way Alice lived with Jim and blamed Alice for Jim having left her and we are asked to take this seriously.

Alice has so dithered and insulted Henry by this time — for example at one point letting him buy an expensive set of food from Zabar’s to bring back, and then when Susan shows up on the sidewalk hurrying off with her without telling Henry. He slams the door in her face the next time she comes to his apartment. We are to see she mishandled a relationship that would have been satisfying — though at the beginning we distrusted him too (Hitchcock-like looking at her from his window). The romance is weak because Henry disappears and at the close of the book is apparently suddenly happy to start up again — to furnish us with a supposed happy ending?

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A excellent thoughtful posting by Anna on our listserv awakened me to the function of this book as a woman’s novel. Anna said she was ambivalent about the book and heroine, and had a friend who disliked it — presumably because she disliked the heroine. I know I did dislike Ginny at times, not because she was good but because she was conventionally good, because she bought into the mores of her community, many of which were awful, and she hid the incest inflicted on her by her father and kept on justifying him to the end. The way for example, at the close of Persuasion Anne Elliot justifies Lady Russell.

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Leonora Carrington, The House Opposite (a depiction of women’s worlds, women’s relationships)

Women’s friendship is central to this book, to me unexpectedly,
and also the good heroine. Alice is good and her goodness is
presented in this novel as under attack and somehow false — at least I suggest we are to believe Susan that Jim left Alice because Alice was”‘too dependent,” “loved him too much.” Susan shows a great deal of hostility towards Alice while dominating her, being the lead in the relationship. Susan resents this while taking advantage — as if somehow Alice were lacking and
irritating by not being aggressive and competitive. It’s false Susan thinks, a coverup for what? laziness? not seeing the truths of life. Alice is accused of not seeing the truths of life.

Ginny is similarly a good heroine and she gets some hard knocks because of it but her genuine helpfulness, cooperativeness, love and the rest are not turned into Freudian “passive-aggressive” nonsense (partly because her sister does not have the language for this kind of charge). This phrase is a badmouthing out of resentment and even jealousy. Many readers nowadays are perfectly comfortable with their more ugly and cruel impulses, told these are fine (such is the rhetoric of our time which supports unqualified competition, capitalism in the very corners of our souls). Ginny married Tyler out of her relationship with her father. He is NOT-her father, not a bully, not aggressive, not hurtful (and does get hurt for this is not a good reason to have married him just alone) Margaret is also good and has her life sluiced from her, but she is at the same time very strong and her husband lived off her.

Susan is also the bad heroine and fascinates Alice. Alice thrills to imagine Susan’s crime and for a while does not want to tell Honey what she saw. She admires Susan too. Only when she realizes that if she does not tell what she knows, Susan will kill her does she go to Honey.

The problem in Duplicate Keys for me is Smiley never defends Alice. We can see her goodness as real; how kind she is at the end to Noah, how she does the right thing to Rya. That she’s a good librarian Goodness ought to be defended more. I’ve had students write explicitly out of an assumption they’ve been taught: we are not to allow our human sympathies to decide our moral judgements. The best of judges know that this sympathy is what guides them in their determination. Yes there are pious books which teach women to hurt themselves centrally (good girl messages). And where I didn’t like Ginny was where she was this sort of good girl.

I believe the attack on the traditional heroine mostly comes out of resentment and jealousy when such a character is supported by loving people. Alice is acceptable to Susan because Jim left her. Susan then stepped in; she’d hate it if she saw Alice succeed by her goodness and it be accepted at face value — as well as having ambiguities.

People who want to be bullies and to win out at all cost want us to define the victims they make (as they often do make them) as “passive-aggressive,” and really wanting to do the same only too cowardly. Not so.

I liked Walking Stick so much better because Graham did not blame the victim. It’s true that Elizabeth Jane Howard is content to allow the villain to be simply pathological (Graham is not) while the portrait of Susan is sympathetic to her. Only it must be admitted Susan does not herself question success, she only wants Denny to get into another business, and drop Craig.

This is an important quarrel among women today. Many women just hate Austen’s Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) and call her every name they can think of including “creep mouse.” I suppose Ginny is a creep mouse, so too Alice – Esther Summerson has phases like that. This point of view hurts feminism, is anti-feminist, comes out of pride unwilling to admit women are victims, oppressed, and their goodness taken advantage of — if you want it to be socialistic, caring, supportive, a group effort for us all. I’m sure my readers have seen this “I hate the good heroine” syndrome; the good heroine is the traditional heroine from 18th century on to today. Nabokov openly despised this “type” and made her the mother of Lolita and had his Humbert Humbert kill her off.

A crime novel is a perfect place to bring out this debate as many womens’ enjoyment of these seems to be an enjoyment of femmes fatales, bad women, and the aggressive hard kind of heroine we see in Susan. There are (mistaken here) women justify violent revenge movies as feminist (these are serving the misogynist vicarious thrills of men viewers and movie-makers).

I’d like to read 13 Ways now to see if Smiley goes into this matter with insight and explicitly. I gather Smiley does what I call avoid the issues her own women’s novels sets up. She seems to treat “the novel” as if novels by men and women are seamlessly one. Myself I’ll guess it gives us more than insight into her books, but also insight into her Americanness and strong tendency as central heroines to justify (if in Private Life especially) undermine “good girl messages: Maybe though in the details she does not treat of novels and values as if they were universal and not continually gendered. Her own fiction is deeply gendered.

Ellen

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John Sell Cotman (1782-182), Carnarvon — one vision of her poetry, geologic cataclysmic time

To Hope

Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
    How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
    And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
    Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
    Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
    Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
    ‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.

Dear friends and readers,

A milestone on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake for Valancourt: I’ve typed two volumes and have begun the third. I’m slowly accumulating material for an introduction and notes. It ought to have been titled Newenden (the way d’Epinay titled hers Montbrillant).

I cannot say my reading of the novel has changed much. It’s more a matter of emphasis. I had not realized quite how central & dominant to the novel are the slow devolution into a bitter loneliness on the part of Sir Edward and adultery on the part of Lady Newenden. I find the depiction more true to life on the part of both people and their slow interaction with others than anything in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Smith gives us the how and why, the real feel of such a drift. Ethelinde a study in adulterous longing from a genuinely woman’s point of view: sexual fulfillment and companionship ached for.

She is Sir Edward and in later novels he as a figure will be given her poems. Her rotten marriage transposed sexually. I’m puzzled why Sir Edward does not kill himself. Outflanked by the social hypocrisies of his wife’s parents, the vicious rumors of Lord Danesforte about him and Ethelinde; a clever man the wife’s apparent lover, his misery because she is such a bitch (Lady Newenden), his relationship with Ethy a ruin, Ethy’s father taking the money loaned him and gambling and giving it to Lady Newenden’s lover. In other novels Smith’s greatest poetry is often attributed to such a male figure.

There is ever a male who is obsessively after the heroine. Whether his general behavior otherwise be reprehensible (Delamare in Emmeline) or noble & self-sacrificing (Montgomery), it’s this obsessive pursuit of the heroine that makes for the discomfort and misery of the story. In Emmeline, the heroine is not openly willing to reject him but rather flees; in Ethelinde we get these emotionally twisted scenes of her not being able to say yes or no. Could this be a version of her relationship with her husband? of what he was? these have an individuality beyond the typical portrait of the upper class male educated to be a vicious bully and amoral and yet think very well of himself — as we see in Stael’s and Epinay’s fictions — how Smith read the French! In the light of French women’s more explicit fiction, when we place Ethelinde’s wastrel selfish gambling brother and the father’s original behavior, the novel becomes feminist in the 18th century way.

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Cotman: Normandy fantasy

I would have much preferred for Sir Edward to end up with Ethelinde: I almost believe in their relationship as much as any marriage. Her Manon is deeply transgressive in its sympathy for the lovers and Manon herself, The Romance of Real Life reveals families as they are and this book fits right into this trajectory too.

The recluse would have been left out at the end, but she would then have been a more tragic figure had the son drowned as we thought — a sixth volume had been in the works. I hope she had not planned to kill off Sir Edward after marrying Ethy and Edward; then a Martin Guerre story in the offing.

I was blaming Smith for marginalizing transgressive heroines, female characters led to live with men outside wedlock, for making her heroine super-chaste, but after reading Wollstonecraft’s really stinging attack on Adeline in that novel, and realizing how much time and space and sympathy Smith gives such heroines across her oeuvre (here Caroline’s unnamed mother, Montgomery’s grandmother) and the thoughts she gives her — in this novel several female figures have lovers and children outside marriage — to have some joy, they take a risk and pay.

The novel has little specific politics of Desmond and the later books. The wide landscape there, but here acid satire on the hypocrisies and snobberies of social life is central to her purpose too. I just love it. It connects her to Thackeray. Long obsessive conversations between Ethelinde and Montgomery about how they cannot afford to marry, how this will “ruin” their chances in life (the word “ruin” recently in the newspapers and on line) go round and round. I can only think there is a personal element here, she must have been herself subjected to this morbid nagging. When she is pictured sitting on the stairs as her father and Montgomery talk, the scene feels like a memory — maybe when she was sold to Benjamin Smith. Austen’s Persuasion with its thrust to trust at the close, and several stories by Crabbe are aimed at just this kind of inhibition — which in Crabbe ruins lives all the more, as the people haven’t got a chance of growing rich anyway. Whatever happiness they can have is in personal fulfillment.

Still typing this, still studying this rich text. I probably enjoy the novel most when it approaches from a frank and caustic point of view the kind of satire we find in Austen towards say Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mrs Norris. For example, the hypocrisy and insolence (Smith’s narrator calls it) when Mrs Ludford, Ethelinde’s rich aunt pretends to forget her siblings ages and says how good it was Ethy’s mother’s other children except for the one brother did die (p 186 in 1790 ed, p 40 in my edition),. Mrs Norris expresses the same idea only it’s presented more indirectly. (The line is later in MPl than I thought). These intersections they bring out Austen for me where I could be exhilarated in a twisted kind of way as we both dig the imaginary knife in and so doing expose the pettiness meanness of the world — there is more truth in Smith’s opener version: paradoxically it’s true that Colonel Chesterville has not put his son to the right path; maybe he would have been better off apprenticed (p 187) than brought up in idleness and self-indulgence. But this establishment view is presented against a backdrop that makes us see the ugly nature of Mrs Ludford’s motives for saying this (unlike Trollope say where such establishment comments are not undercut in this way).

There are long similar stretches in Celestina.

It’s remarkable how many scenes in Austen occur in variation in other novels by women of the era The difference between Austen and Smith includes Smith lets us feel the full bitterness of these. I’m struck by how the tone of the plangent section of Volume 2 when Montgomery comes to London, Edward is in love with Ethelinde and she more in love with Edward than she realizes, is close the mood and atmosphere of the 1983 S&S mini-series by Alexander Baron. The 1980s darker mini-series were more like these novels than any films before or since.

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Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood, Bosco Hogan as Edward — conversing over her drawings, the landscape, sitting together — perfect image for Smith’s Edward and Ethelinde (1981 BBC S&S by Alexander Baron)

What emerges in the latter part of Volume 2 is that Chesterville is a stand-in for Charlotte Smith’s own father who failed her so abysmally, who sold her, betrayed her. The acid in the soul of his novelist is Colonel Chesterville’s not caring for his daughter, and when Ethelinde’s aunt (it was an aunt who suggested to the father to marry Charlotte off and married Charlotte’s farther herself), Mrs Ludford, suggests Ethelinde needs another situation and her father would be glad to get rid of her (by implication) this touches upon how the orignal sin in her life was her father’s deserting her for a nasty woman and giving her up to an awful boy. If Charlotte was too young to know, Mr Turner was not (Elibon, Vol 2,, p 203, p 44 my typescript)

The novel’s scenery is all great prose poetry wants but it remains a framing.

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Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Temple of Winds, Blackdown, Sussex — another, botanic, allusive, southern England

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The undermining of false stereotypes of masculinity.

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Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in 1935 A Tale of Two Cities — perfect for Sir Edward

Sir Edward refuses to duel. after reading your defense of Carton’s sexuality and courtship of Lucie Manette I began to see Sir Edward is in this new light.

Sir Edward’s wife, Maria, is a cold tempered socialite, presented as nasty-tongued, nervy, bored with anything but her vanity, loving gambling, despising anyone who likes to read or walk in the landscape and mocking the depression marriage with her is causing Sir Edward. He married her for her money but also to be her husband, and she wanted his title, but now she is clever enough to throw this up to him and when he forbids her to see or be with Lord Danesforte any more — on the score of gambling debts too – she turns on him and accuses him of adultery with her cousin, Ethelinde. There is no adultery (both too virtuous) but he loves Ethelinde intensely and now feels he must cut himself off from her and her improvident father (a gambler) and brother (yet worse)

A long meditation of Sir Edward as he contemplates Ethelinde’s future as the wife of a man without any adequate monetary support and connections — his desire to help alleviate any of her difficulties at any cost to himself reminds me of Sydney Carton. We might historicize Carton too: this is a time when there is no state or gov’t or any kind of safety net. Reading the brilliant analysis of Charlotte Smith’s depiction of Edward’s selfless yet deeply selfish (she is so deeply congenial a spirit, so good) and sexual (she is beautiful ohim) love for Ethelinde, and how persuasive their relationship, teaches me that the problem we have in reading Dickens’s Carton and many other heroes of “sensibility” and depression, is that the time is indeed more than 160 years ago when women also had no means of getting decent support on their own either. I find Volume 2, chapter 10, pp 239-44, the long inward delving into this man astonishing still.

Smith provides the psychological underpinning that Dickens & other male authnors omit to understand this kind of male temperament — they are too embarrassed. Who would admit desperation at their class background in this way (except for Godwin). To call them men of sensibility is to use a label to erase what the text does: undermine masculine stereotypes.

It’s ridiculous to get too worked up over a novel but as I’m typing it I do bond with it, and did find myself intensely hurt when at the ASECS someone ridiculed Sir Edward and read the book as if we were to empathize genuinely with Lady Newenden when she is the cruel pernicious presence of the piece from her outward conduct.

Smith gives Edward a good phrase for his attitude towards Ethelinde: she has a sanctity of character. So much better than purity which brings in this baggage of asexuality no no sexuality in this woman for real. She’s not corrupted or corruptible because of her background and asocial-ability. Sanctity of character is a phrase I’d use for Esther Summerson as well as Jarndyce as played by Denholm Elliot (the 1988 Bleak House like the 1989 ATOTC written by Arthur Hopcroft).

How Edward feels about Ethelinde:

that her whole life might be exposed to trials, he could not soften, to difficulties he could not alleviate; all his sense, his morality, his resolution, hardly supported him when he considered it; and he sometimes fancied he could rather bear to destroy her, and then himself, than endure the certainty of that, the very idea of which inflicted anguish so acute

When she writes so moving and ably and subtly we have to see that she did value her fiction and talked denigratingly of it because others didn’t value it or wouldn’t admit they saw it what is there (p 241-43 of Elibron, pp 52-53 of my new edition)

Again the lone figure against time and nature.

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John Sell Cotman, from a Dulwich exhibit of his Normandy watercolors

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From her poetry: the autobiographical background: Her terrors for her children, several of whom predeceased her and did know hardship. I’ve no doubt she saw a version of this woman who lies at several removes behind this novel; Sir Edward’s terrors for Ethelinde’s future

The Female Exile.
WRITTEN AT BRIGHTHELMSTONE IN NOV. 1792. [from Elegiac sonnets (1797-1800)]

November’s chill blast on the rough beach is howling,
   The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the shore,
Dark clouds o’er the sea gather heavy and scowling,
   And the white cliffs re-echo the wild wintry roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger reclining
   Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely seat;
Her eyes fill’d with tears, and her heart with repining,
   She starts at the billows that burst at her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart heaving,
   She watches the waves where they mingle with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes deceiving,
   May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing tresses,
   Once woven with garlands of gay Summer flowers;
Her dress unregarded, bespeaks her distresses,
   And beauty is blighted by grief’s heavy hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
   To seek the gloss’d shell, or the crimson weed stray;
Amused with the present, they heed not to-morrow,
   Nor think of the storm that is gathering to day.

The gilt, fairy ship, with its ribbon-sail spreading,
   They launch on the salt pool the tide left behind;
Ah! victims—for whom their sad mother is dreading
   The multiplied miseries that wait on mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them with anguish,
   Now wanderers with her on a once hostile soil,
Perhaps doom’d for life in chill penury to languish,
   Or abject dependance, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors renewing,
   O’er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin
   All breathless with haste, half expiring with fears.

Poor mourner!—I would that my fortune had left me
   The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But like thine my hard fate has of affluence bereft me,
   I can warm the cold heart of the wretched no more!

Ellen

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Sir, the biographical part of writing is what I like best — Johnson as quoted by Boswell

Writingadiary

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written about the social life and place of this year’s ASECS meeting in Cleveland; now I’ll turn to some notes on the sessions and papers. I discover that I have rather more notes than usual on three related sessions: Biographies, travel-writing, and “Frances Burney at court” (this combines life-, travel and fiction writing). So I’ll begin by transcribing my notes from just two of these three panels and on another day go on to Frances D’Arblay (once again).

I’m with Johnson: there’s nothing I enjoy reading more than a superb literary biography or someone’s life-writing when well done; and I think the author or artist remains central to how we understand their art. All the forms of life-writing as an art first emerged in the long 18th century. . I bring together two really marvelous and informative sessions on writing biography and 18th century women travelers.

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Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700-77)

Eight in the morning on Thursday and after pouring myself a coffee in the central meeting area, I went off to a room on the side to listen to five people tell of their experience in writing a biography. Reed Benhamou was the chair and began: how does one write a biography? She wanted to learn things about the authors she was devoting her life to and for herself she felt she had to like her subject. So she chose Charles-Joseph Natoire, a French painter and director of the French academy in Rome. She wanted to re-insert him among his peers, and she examined known cases where he was accused of unfairness, bigotry, expelling a student unfairly.

Vin Carretta who wrote a life of Olauda Equiano (using the autobiography) and edited the poems of and wrote a biography of Phillis Wheatley. He soon found he needed a methodology: “trust but verify.” One of his subjects had written an autobiography and so he had to re-construct the puzzle where pieces are missing using this text. You have to cope with problematic and contradictory evidence. What do you do with critics today? Prof Carretta felt the best biographies move straightforwardly, and the problem is you can be tempted to fill your narrative too strongly with reception history or allow yourself to spend too much time answering literary critics. He mentioned that people had looked at Equiano as a precursor of Frederick Douglas; he wanted to show how Equiano had dealt with previous biography. As to Phillis Wheatley, With enslaved women their identity is reached through property papers; married, their existence can be buried. You must turn to her poetry.

Gene Hammond wanted to write about Swift as a humanist. His problems included what do you do with a series of letters widely apart in time. Where is it best to cover something? Where is it best to cover something? Swift is said to have been deserted by his mother between the ages 6 and 18; he looked at shipping records to see if she ever visited him; he found Swift’s grandmother did. Esther was illegitimate and thought Swift would marry her; they probably had an affair, and when he didn’t marry her, she threatened blackmail or to kill herself. When Swift later in life tells of his young years, you must put the information in the young years, yet the writing reflects the time it’s written in. How seriously do you take letters? His most powerful influential years were 1710-14 and later he tried to help those women who wanted to to flee the noxious town. Biography is also a story of several characters.

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Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz (1772–1816

Kathryn Libin told a story about how after the communist party lost control (1989), she was hired to come to Czechoslovakia to inventory the private music papers of the wealthy Lobkowicz family. She asks us to imagine her sitting on the floor of the local large library surrounded by the papers of a Prince Lobkowicz of the Habsburg empire who had been Beethoven’s patron. The family had collected thousands of sheets of music. There had been no archivist. The archive is rich beyond belief and she has been formulating a chronology. Her difficulties included access, the ancientness of some of the materials. Her talk centered on the actual circumstances in which a research project is carried out and how that affects what the biographer can write.

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Anastasia Robinson (1692-1755)

Kathryn Lowere’s subject is the 18th century soprano and actress, Anastasia Robinson. There is a story Robinson was born in Italy, her father died, and she had gone into a theater for first time in a long time. Lowere found fashion to be helpful chronological evidence. Anastasia was involved in Queen Anne’s court as a vocalist-musician and when the planes went down she broadened her appeal by learning to sing Italian opera too. This to carry on earning a living. She knew a lot of people (Mary Delany, Italian diplomats), lived in an English nunnery; her Catholicism is often marginalized in biographical sketches of her. Her letters are scattered everywhere (she is known to have asked Handel to rewrite her letters).

There was then general discussion among the panelists, and ideas thrown out: epigraphs can help you start a chapter; when a person’s life has gaps, you have to decide how much context outside to give. Who do you think your core readership is going to be controls what you write. Every biographer has to deal with a series of specific issues. Leave no stone unturned. You have the right to take control of your narrative. You can treat something as a mystery as long as you are forthright about it. When and where people are born limits their life’s choices. You can write a biography of someone from different people’s points of view.

The audience did join in: a few people told of their projects and the art of biography was defended as the basis of understanding a writer or his or her text in fundamental common sense ways. I told of my work on later 17th century women’s life-writing, Anne Finch, and how I had to have a story of a life in my mind to annotate Anne Murray Halkett’s remnant autobiography and the poems I have translated by Colonna and Gambara.

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Travel-Writingblog

Later that day (11:30) I went to a marvelously informative session on a form of writing related to biography and autobiography: travel-writing is a special form of memoir. This particular set were by women, where 3 were seen as offering knowledge of “exotic” places (Fay, Clive, Falconbridge), 1 seemed wildly adventurous (Ashbridge) and a last by someone thought to be a poetic genius and is filled with intelligent political thought (Radcliffe). They are all joined by the reality that what influences them most on their journey is the male closest to them. Abusive male sexuality, a domineering presence, or (in the case of the lucky Radcliffe), a kindly husband who is equally intellectual but just as cautious. This relationship remains what counts most — unless the woman goes out on her own.

Melissa Antonucci spoke about Elizabeth Ashbridge’s (1713-55) conversion narrative as moving into “self-authorship.” Ms Antonucci felt that women who move away from home to another place, usually stay, and develop for themselves a new world and life. When a girl Ashbridge had a love affair that made her resolve to elope with him; he died young, and what was left were painful memories. She found herself financially destitute, homeless, and relied on neighbors until she left for Ireland for the first time. She seems to have remarried a stocking weaver, and had a conversion experience into Quakerism. She went to the US through indentured servitude, and when she got there was sold illegally by a man called Sullivan whom she did not love. They moved to Rhode Island, and again she joins with someone who is not good for her. She and her husband kept moving, partly because the husband wanted to jolt her out of her religious piety. They go from Boston to Pennsylvania. A story is told of how her husband tried to get her to dance at an inn and she refused. They went on to Freehold as teachers, again among Quakers, and he threatens to kill her. They moved again and she genuinely tries to reform him, but he gets drunk, enlists, moves to Cuba. He died. She returned to Ireland and became an itinerent Quaker preacher. Ms. Antonucci suggested an early exclusion from the dominant community had led to Ashbridge choosing quakerism and here she could “share the light” with like-minded people.

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Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823)

JoEllen Delucia discussed Ann Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794. Ms Delucia suggested this text feels anomalous after her gothics, but that this text has gothic, picturesque and sublime description. Radcliffe availed herself of antiquarian sources and history, and held onto her native tongue. Mr Delucia felt this book was written to change the way people were regarding Radcliffe who wanted to present herself as British foremost. In her journeys Radcliffe comes close to genuine want, hunger, and does not seek to be picturesque. She goes through zones of war and sieges and suggests that as a nation we are an artificial construct, easily dismantled bit by bit. She also knew fear: she and her husband were stopped at the Switzerland boundaries, and the roughness with which they were treated made both of them fear imprisonment in a place where the individual has no or few rights. So they turned round and went home. As far as she gets Switzerland is described sublimely. In the later journal (it’s not clear when she went) through English lake district she was seen to anticipate Wordsworth and looks at her books once again and seeks history and place. Ms Delucia’s insight was to notice how the aesthetic categories of Radcliffe’s usual modes dissolve away once she moves into an imaginative passionate encounter with experience, history, past people.

I suggested afterward that the Journey book is not anomalous but rather another way of presenting the same violent and disquieting matter. Even in the lake district she visits dungeons and shows how rituals are forms of tyranny. Ms Delucia agreed that the Journey book is another face of the same gothic artist.

Henrietta_Clive,_Countess_of_Powissmaller
Henrietta Clive, Countess of Powis (1758-1830)

Mona Narain told us about two women British travel-writers who went to India: first, Eliza Fay. Fay’s book was published posthumously. Fay was alone, a daughter of a sailor; she had married “up”, a lawyer who hoped to prosper with her. The marriage was unhappy; he had an Indian mistress and child. She conveys her personal feelings. When she and her husband were imprisoned for a short time, she seemingly couldn’t believe treatment could be this bad. Later she finds her husband cannot make a living as a colonist, most cope with his intemperate behavior, and slowly return home (England). She discovers she is more at risk from her husband’s failures than from Indian people about them. Henrietta Clive published more than her travel book; at the time of her arrest by her husband she was reading Birds of Passage. Gender is but one valence by which we understand a travel book: class position, reasons for travel, stance in writing all affect and shape the process and thus product. She shows us the national pleasures, cultural aspirations, and argues for spontaneity and heterogeneity. Her aspiration is everywhere. Seh married Edward, Lord Clive’s oldest son who was appointed governor of Madras; they travelled richly with a huge retinue to impress the Nawab. Nonetheless Lady Clive wanted to return home but they had to stay to recover costs and get out of debt. She learns material circumstances are not enough as a basis for existence and that she was fooled by Mary Montagu’s Turkish Letters. Her framework with her husband fell apart too. For both women male sexuality was central to their experience, and they find they can activate their own agency only by travelling alone.

Elizabeth Zold’s topic was Anna Marie Falconbridge’s (1769-1816?) 2 voyages to Sierrra Leone. For the rest of this summary see comments.

Ellen

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ClaireBloomJulieHarrisBlog
Claire Bloom and Julie Harris conveying frightened terror as they simply listen to incessant sounds coming from a house (The Haunting, 1963 from Shirley Jackson’s equally famous tale)

Dear friends and readers,

Although I’m no longer teaching gothics and ghost stories regularly, I have by no means given up reading and studying and writing about them. We read two on Trollope19thCStudies and three by Edith Wharton on WWTTA this winter solstice, and I was delighted to review Tyler Tichelaar’s Gothic Wanderer in the context of Teaching The Gothic (an MLA anthology of essays) this past fall.

A stimulating query was put on Victoria (a list-serv run by Patrick Leary) by Judith Flanders. Is it true as she just read that ghost occurrences in 19th century ghost stories tend to occur on bridges and marketplaces and in the 18th century in private houses? It seemed to me the most befuddled sociological-metaphysical “theorizing” must have given rise to such a notion, plus the person could not have read many ghost stories. So I answered the query in order to bring the subject back to accurate mapping.

Ghost stories are inward stories of terror, most often written by women and when not by women using heroes who are vulnerable, male victims in the position of the typical gothic heroine. The aesthetic techniques of many are those found in what’s called l’ecriture-femme, or women’s writing. One of the most famous where the ghost occurs in the streets (so marketplaces and perhaps bridges) is the mid-19th century Gogol’s “Overcoat.” Scrooge’s ghosts take him all over the streets, bridges, and marketplaces, as do all of Oliphant’s: “The Open Door” has them in the wood, so does Gaskell’s “Nurses Story” (out in the snow). Snow is deadly, stands for death in ghost stories.

There are few 18th century artful ghost stories until the later 18th century; those most famous are paradoxically at the same time strongly sceptical and the person who has the experience is lower-class, a servant. In Tom Jones Fielding has Partridge experience a ghost in a theater while he watches Hamlet. Later 17th and before and very early 18th century tend to see ghosts as manifestations of sin, an eruption from hell: the brilliance of one of the first artful narratives, Defoe’s “Appariton of Mrs Veal” is the question, has she gone mad? It does not matter where she is, the action occurs in her mind.

By artful I mean crafted by someone who is writing the story down or inventing a poem and at a distance from his or her material; not someone gripped by religious panic, fanaticism and ready to burn people (usually women) as evil. Ghost stories are not a joke; they come out of atavistic dangerous areas of the human mind.

I taught ghost stories for years. The artiful ones teach very well; they really tend to fall into a group of repeating patterns (evil, guilt, injustice/justice), lend themselves to precise definitions (a ghost is the soul/presence of someone who was once alive), and provide just the right amount of reading matter to give students for a presentation.

I like them for more reasons than I might care to say publicly here, but one I can is that they have a metaphysical dimension that’s central to them. The best single book on them since they became artful is Jack Sullivan’s Elegant Nightmares where he shows they are a sort of popular form of Kafkaesque. I can’t overpraise it or his Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural which has definitions of ghost stories and examples. I find introductions to good anthologies often have the best information and insight into them: Michael Cox for the Oxford sets, J. A Cuddon for an out-of-print excellent set, The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, What Did Miss Darrington (where the introduction used to be online somewhere). They do tend to be written by women (another anthology beyond the Victorian ones by Dalby is Restless Spirits), and a good book on the gothic which really tends to discuss the ghost story is Eugene Delamotte’s Perils of the Night.

The useful fault-line that is arguable, even demonstrable is between the ghost as really there, not just a psychological project, the ghost as both, and the ghost as sheer psychological projection. The three options make for different meanings. Some ghost stories continue to be all three but in modern ones (starting with 20th century, post WW1) there’s a strong tendency to opt for the last.

DeborahFindlaySarahblog
Sherlock Holmes violent labyrinth: The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (Sarah Findlay and Ciarhan Hinds as sister and brother-in-law)

Another is less easy to use, much more blurry but there as recognized by Radcliffe is horror versus terror. The ghost story hits the inward being and thus terrifies our inward being; the vampire breaks bodily taboos and is more a horror story, physical brutality and breaking of taboos a mark (stories of body snatching say belong here, especially from graves). The ghost story unnerves us, the horror tale disgusts. The Cardboard Box really moves into horror (ears are cut off the victim) as do many of Conan Doyle’s: his are more masculine gothic (see The Gothic Wanderer). It is true that the wild action takes place in the marketplaces of the world, but the ears are delivered to the women in their home Christmas time.

I offered a bibliography with The Gothic Wanderer; to that I’d like to add just for ghost stories:

Owen Davies, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (Palgrave)

Shane McCorristine, Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750-1920

Owen Davies’ five volume set: Ghosts: A Social History (Pickering & Chatto)–primary texts plus commentary, Reformation through the twentieth century.

Sasha Handley, Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007.

Gaslight on line is a wonderful place to explore; the original list-serv which was opened when the site was first built and then active and lively was a place for reading ghost stories from the 1880s to 1910s.

I don’t deny that in older anonymous folk and faery tales different kinds of criteria might be needed to understand and enjoy (if you do) them, and very recently feminist and post-modern re-vamping of police procedural and detective stories are evolving new psychological and sociological insights into what ghosts and gothics have to tell us.

Jane TennisonSmokingblog
One change is in the attitudes of the detached watchful figure (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison)

Ellen

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