Posts Tagged ‘Ann Radcliffe’

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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 …


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?


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.

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.


Read Full Post »

Carnarvon 1800 by John Sell Cotman 1782-1842
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.

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.

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.

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

The undermining of false stereotypes of masculinity.

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.

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

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!


Read Full Post »

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


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.


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.

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.

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.



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.

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 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.


Read Full Post »

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.

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)


Read Full Post »

Modern drawing of typical rural vicarage like Deane house, not far from Steventon, from Les Nombreux mondes de Jane Austen, Isabelle Ballester

Dear friends and readers,

Some sad news for me: my proposal to do a paper on Anne Radcliffe in French translation, with the emphasis on Victorine de Chastenay’s Mysteres d’Udolpho was turned down for the coming Chawton (this July) festival of 18th century women writers of Austen’s era. I’ve put the proposal on line: “To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do: Translation as Matching Creative Act”. I’ve at least done myself that much justice.

I’ve decided to rejoin the American Literary Translators Association of the US I belonged to in 1989-1990, and take the proposal in an altered form (not centered on the later 18th century and women writers as it is now) to a conference on translation studies or an 18th century conference which has a panel on how the novel in the 18th century was disseminated. Through translation. In the meantime (tomorrow or this weekend), I’ll put the proposals on line and link them in here. I’ve found one way not to lose sight of my written work meant for perusal by others or publication, is to put it on-line. I get to share it with others and not lose track of it myself.

I had also again become interested in studying Jane Austen in translation and was perplexed about which direction to go in. I find that close study of the same text in two languages where I know one by heart (so to speak), English, and a good French text (where I’m competent to read at any rate) teaches me so much about a text and its culture. I may in the months ahead study Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest against Soules’s La Foret ou l’Abbaye de Saint-Clair or another of the Austen Francophone texts. I’m especially interested in Isabelle de Montolieu’s. I might like to do that and just read Chastenay’s 3 volume memoirs, which I’ve not yet read. The truth is I had gone past Chastenay’s first into her second volume of Udolpho and actually have enough for a paper on comparison of the two texts now. What I was doing was trying to ascertain if as a woman she translated Radcliffe differently than the others who have translated Radcliffe into French which in French have been otherwise all men.

Montolieu was reprinted

In thinking about this I got up a list of books of Austen in French translation readily available and those I own for future use. This is not to be taken as any kind of definitive list, only a list of the earliest translations of Austen into French and the most recent which are readily available. I put it here in the same spirit as my handy list of the year of Austen’s novels first publication (along with the years a first full draft was produced where we know that). It’s a checklist for myself (and now others interested in this area of study):

Sense and Sensibility

Montolieu, Isabelle de, trans. Raison et Sensibilite. 1 volume. typed. Bookss LLC! Classics Series, Memphis, USA 2011. ISBN 981232895411. 1815

Montolieu, Isabelle de, trans. Raison et Sentiments, revue par Helen Seyres. Intro. Helen Seyres. Paris: Archipoche, 1996 ISBN 9782352870173 Originally titled Raison et Sensibilite 1815. It’s almost the same text as above; names back (Maria now Marianne, Emma now Margaret) changed and corrections.

Privat, Jean, trans. Raison et Sentiments. Note biographie de Jacques Roubaud. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1979 IBSN 2264023813 1979

Goubert, Pierre, trans. Le Coeur et La Raison, trad, intro. notes Pierre Goubert. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X 2000

Pride and Prejudice

Perks, Eloise, trans. Orgueil et prevention. 1 volume. typed. Books LLC, Classics Series, Memphis, 2011ISBN 978-123256125 1822

Anonymous, trans. Orgeuil et prejuge. 4 volumes. Geneve: J. J. Paschoud, 1822. In Bibliotheque Nationale de France, all 4 volumes in pdf. 1822.

Leconte V and Ch. Pressoir, trans. Orgueil et prejuges. Preface by Virginia Woolf, trans. Denise Getzler. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1979 IBSN 2264023813. First published Librarie Plon, 1932

Privat, Jean, trans. Orgueil et Prejuges. Paris: Archipoche, 2010. ISBN 9782352871682. n.d. (1970s?)

Pichardi, Jean-Paul. Orgueil et Prejuge, introd. Pierre Goubert, notes Jean-Paul Pichardie. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X 2000

Mansfield Park

Villemain, Henri, trans. Mansfield Park, ou Les Trois Cousines, revu, completed by Helen Seyres. Paris: Archipoche, 2007 ISBN 9782352870227 Originally titled: Le Parc de Mansfield, ou les trois cousines. Paris: JG Dentu, 1814

Getzler, Denise, trans. Mansfield Park. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1982 IBSN 2264024704 1982


Anonymous translator. La Nouvelle Emma, ou Les caracteres anglas du siecle. 3 of 4 tomes, the 1st in print, the others available at the BNF as pdf. Paris: Harchette Livre, n.d. Text from Bibliotheque Nationale de France; one printed volume, two pdf files. 1816.

Salesse-Lavergne, Josette, trans. Emma. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1982 IBSN 9782264023186 1982

Seyres, Helene, trans. Emma. Paris: Archipoch, 2009. ISBN 9782352871224 1997.

Northanger Abbey

Ferrieres, Hyacinthe de Ferrieres, trans. L’Abbaye de Northanger. Paris; Pigoreau, 1824. In Bibliotheque Nationale de France, all 3 volumes in pdf. 1824

Feneon, Felix, trans. Catherine Morland. 1898-99; Paris: Gallimard, 1945. 1898-99

Salesse-Lavergne, Josette, trans. Northanger Abbey. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1996 IBSN 2264023805 1982

Arnaud, Pierre. L’Abbaye de Northanger. introd., notes Pierre Arnaud. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X 2000


Montolieu, Isabelle de. La Famille Elliot; or, L’Ancienne Inclination. Paris: Nabu Press, 2012. ISBN 9781273394805. With original preface, 18th century book xeroxed on larger pages. 1821.

Belamich, Andre, trans. Persuasion. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1980 IBSN 2264023805 1945

Lady Susan

Salesse-Lavergne, Josette, trans. Lady Susan. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1996 IBSN 2264023805 (from Margaret Drabble’s text) 1980

Goubert, Pierre, trans. Lady Susan, introd., notes Pierre Goubert. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X 2000. Reprinted without introd. or notes: Paris: Gallimard Folio, 2000.

Les Watson

Salesse-Lavergne, Josette, trans. Les Watson. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1996 IBSN 2264023805 (from Margaret Drabble’s text) 1980

Pichardie, Jean-Paul, trans. Les Watson. introd., notes Jean-Paul Pichardie. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X 2000


Salesse-Lavergne, Josette, trans Sanditon. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1996 IBSN 2264023805 (from Margaret Drabble’s text) 1980

Amour et Amitie [Love & Friendship]

Goubert, Pierre, trans. Amour at Amitie., introd., notes Pierre Goubert. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X from Chapman I assume) 2000

Histoire de l’Angleterre

Goubert, Pierre, trans. Histoire de l’Angleterre. introd., notes Pierre Goubert. Oeuvres romancesques completes I, Paris: Gallimard Pleiade, 2000 ISBN 207011323X 2000

The essays or books to read about the history of Jane Austen in translation which includes more items are:

Valerie Cossy, Jane Austen in Switzerland [i.e., in Swiss French]: A Study of the Early French Translations. Geneve: Slatkine, 2006.

Bour, Isabelle, “The Reception of Jane Austen in France,” from The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe, edd. Anthony Mandel and Brian Southam. Continuum.



Brief historical perspective:

In a nutshell, for much of the 19th century after the first flurry of intense interest and translation of Austen into French (and as a vehicular language, her spread into Europe), Austen texts did not sustain themselves as popular or as material for elite study. They were seen as “too English,” too much a spinster’s romance, or too much a woman’s novel (George Sand was also excluded from the French curriculum while Balzac was worshipped).

In the later 20th century the popular mid1990s films prompted a renewed real interest in Austen from a popular audience, and this gave rise to a few academic studies as well as fine translations. Pleiade came out with a beautiful edition of the three supposed “Steventon” or novels first written 1795-99, together with Lady Susan, History of England and Love and Friendship. This was thus a “Steventon” & Bath volume rather than a first three published novels volume (which would have included Mansfield Park, a major challenge).

The flurry and whatever increased respect for Austen resulting from the academic studies didn’t sell enough books, for the Pleiade people did not go on to Volume 2, or at least there’s no sign of it.

During this time and again since the 2007-9 movies there has also been an attempt to reprint the older and first translations. One can see signs this is facing too, such as only one volume of the 1816 Emma, the quick falling of print of the Archipoche set.

What I hope to do in the next few weeks and then months is post a good synopsis of one fine study of Austen: Pierre Goubert’s JA: Etude Psychologique de la Romanciere, which is so good in itself I fully expect his translations to be wondrous. Perhaps others (Ballester cited above, Catherine Bernard’s JA: Pride and Prejudice: Dans l’oeil du paradoxe and the older Jane Austen by Leonie Villard) and emerge with an idea of Austen as found in Francophone readers.

Then I’ll do the same for Austen criticism in Italian (Beatrice Battaglia’s La Zitella Illetterata: Parodia e ironia nei romanzi di Jane Austen) and look at little at a recent translations of each of the six best known novels to see how they reflect a view. I’ve more time to translate Elsa Morante’s Italian poetry to her cat through a French intermediary vehicular language.

Francophone Charlotte to follow. I’ve become aware the published list of French translations of Charlotte Smith’s novels is incomplete: Isabelle de Montolieu did one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer tales so I’ll also put together a list for Smith in French. Smith was herself so influenced by the French, as I hope to suggest in my etext edition of her Ethelinde (even if the influence is seen more in her Emmeline, Desmond, The Banished Man and Montalbert.

The above will be threaded in with my reports from the MLA on eighteenth-century topics, and the usual cultural life-writing, and novels as we imagine them today.

A somewhat misleading map because French is also important as a vehicular language in Africa, the Middle East; it omits Louisiana too (a secondary place).


Read Full Post »

Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), A Young scholar (1777-78) — there is no good authoritative picture of Radcliffe, but she was a reading girl

Dear friends and readers,

As part of my translation study project, I’ve read Pierre Arnaud’s famous study of Radcliffe. I’ve started it several times, but never got past the opening biography and initial reading of Radcliffe’s life. I can now say this reading, for which the book is known, is its weakest place; it’s an insightful and (until Rictor Norton published his Mistress of Udolpho), the most informative original book. It still has a lot to enable the English reader to see that we won’t find elsewhere, partly because he writes out of the French tradition. I thought I’d write a summary-review because the book has not been translated nor is it like to be.

It’s not a reflection on his scholarship that this book has not been translated. He wrote three good articles on Radcliffe, one biographical one on her husband; he translated Austen’s Northanger Abbey with a good introduction and notes) for the recent brilliant Pleiade edited by Pierre Goubert, and recently edited a good translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, Les Mysteres de la foret, translated by Francois Soules (for folio classique) If you can read French, it’s written concisely, lucidly, and in suggestive phrases.


Kenilworth, 1814 illustration (visited by both Radcliffe and Austen — and many others)

The first chapters take the reader through Radcliffe’s life. As what Arnaud as to say is found in Norton’s book I won’t repeat it just confine myself to saying Arnaud was the first to emphasize how Ann Radcliffe spent a couple of formative years in her maternal uncle Thomas Bentley’s home. Ann’s mother was Ann Oates, and Arnaud tells of how Bentley married Ann’s mother’s sister (1754), Hannah, how the aunt and a baby died (1759), and how another aunt, Elizabeth, came to live with the man and acted as a mother-aunt to the frequently visiting niece. Ann Radcliffe seems to have visited Bentley’s fine home (Turnam Green) and shops until 1772 when he remarried, and she rejoined her parents in Bath where her father acted as tradesman for Bentley. We learn of the father’s connections to the famous learned surgeon, Samuel and then Richard Jebb, and Bentley’s close partnership with Wedgewood. We are led to picture an adult home and work-life that’s intellectual, artistic, genteel, aspiring, a milieu of intelligent liberal people — in Bath too where she may have gone to Sophia and Harriet Lee’s school. (There is no proof of this, and Ann does not seem to have been the sort of girl who would thrive in girl groups). At age 23 she married in Bath a rising journalist-translator, William Radcliffe, a strong liberal type, who became editor of the English Chronicle and the young couple lived in London.

All good. He then argues, following some European critics (Marthe Robert, Romans des origines et origines du roman; Roger Caillois, Le coeur du fantastique, aka the heart of the fantastic) that the fantastic comes out of the depths of a personality, and that they lay a personal story bare through their dreams; for Radcliffe he thinks each of the novels constitute a step in a series of ever-expanding confessions. Her characters follow an internal logique she is acting out and provide the lines of trembling force that her novels trace.

But, as many besides Arnaud have demonstrated, the power and texture of Ann Radcliffe’s fiction suggest a deep and lasting trauma of some sort shaped the girl. There are obsessive repeating patterns of sexual violation, anxiety, paradigms of near rape, murder, and yet a deep discomfort with confronting sexuality. Radcliffe is actually unusual for an English female writer for writing more or less openly about family dysfunction, violent and abusive husbands and uncles, at the same time as she offers no direct clue how the implied author might have had any experiences like these as she uses very general archetypes in gothic settings.

Theories abound. The fictions repeatedly show a young girl harassed and near-assaulted by a father-uncle figure, not protected by a jealous mother-aunt. Norton suggests that Radcliffe may have been abused by her father, and sent to live with an uncle and aunt; there does seem to be strong antagonism as well as tender pity for the (sometimes jealous) mother-aunts in her novels. Leona Sherman thinks Radcliffe may have reacted by avoiding sex when she was older and keeping her husband at a distance from her (later in life when she ceased publishing she lived separately in Windsor). Arnaud finds six basic characters throughout the fictions: Uncle&seductor/Mother/aunt-governess/stepmother, harsh/young hero; also a continual doubling. Like others, he suggests the characteristics of the heroine closely resemble those the implied author has. He believes that Radcliffe was molested by her uncle.

I don’t think the theory is crazy. My take is she may have been a victim of sexual or psychological-emotional abuse from her father. It need not have been physical though there is this shattered presence in the books. Then her mother did not protect her — the books show a mother-aunt who is often hostile or helpless. Her uncle (and perhaps aunt) also did not take her side when she tried to tell them (again characters like this recur in the fictions), no one did. Her husband became everything to her and she escaped into her fictions and reading; her way of coping was to lose herself in her calming visions, and to become absorbed in the past, the architecture and customs and then write critically about that, pour her then controlled feelings into that.

Henri Fuseli, The Silence

One of the covers for the many editions of Udolpho over the centuries: wholly appropriate

The problem with this early section of Arnaud’s book is he spends equal time and space on the first slender effort, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne as he does on all the other 4 novels (Sicilian Romance, Romance of the Forest, Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian). Doubtless it’s easier to show on the basis of what is an outline of what’s to come on a simple short pattern, but it’s in the nuances and thorough build-up of imagery and experience in the text that the power of the text calls attention to deep troubling feeling. That’s where her genius comes in, not her plot-design stories.

He’s not alone in over-speaking about Athlin and Dunbayne. The recent Oxford paperback edition by Alisan Milbank’s contains an introduction where were what she says being applied to the Romance of the Forest or Udolpho or her travel life-writing book, A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, it would be appropriate and accurate. Here it’s ove-rspeak for the particular text, giving a false impression of more greatness than was shown originally. This does a real disservice to an author because a reader told this about this novel and then reading it, might not go on for another. (The same kind of over-speak is found in Walter Scott novel criticism.).

As I say the actual biography is worth reading in the way of Aline Grant’s early study for the particular comments he makes as he goes along on this or that aspect of Radcliffe’s life or the people among whom she grew up and where, but once the reader gets past this opening connected reading of the novels, the book becomes pure gold — with one more reservation. Arnaud has not read Radcliffe’s travel book, Talfourd’s long memoir of Radcliffe’s life which prefaces the posthumous romance, Gaston de Blondeville and excerpts from the travel book. Thus Arnaud does not know how many long learned books of architecture and history went into Radcliffe’s creation of her castles and landscapes. He does know she means her history seriously and took anecdotes from Pitaval’s Causes Celebres (not the same as are found in Charlotte Smith’s Romance of Real Life), but does not take her grounding in stories of ravaging injustice particularly to women seriously enough and misses an important dimension of her work. I realize I am sounding a limitation again; alas, this is a common one only recently being overcome (I hope to write a separate blog on some studies of Radcliffe’s Journey book which I didn’t include in my paper, The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes


Furness Abbey, Cumbria (modern photo of ruin described in her 1794 Summer Journey)

So, returning to the sections of the book on The Sicilian Romance, Romance of the Forest, Udolpho and Italian, and the third section of his book, Arnaud shows us that Radcliffe is interested in terrors that have a real basis, not superstition, explores apprehension (rather than anxiety) (p332). Again and again what is terrifying really is happening or really happened in the past. Sometimes while the heroine is in the castle: Montoni’s murder of his wife, her aunt.

In The Romance of the Forest and Udolpho, she traces a process of psychological disintegration of the heroine, brought on by gradually increasing terror (p 338). She has smaller trajectories where we trace this in little for another heroine or inset story or the older woman in the novel.

He concedes that by elucidating what in the original terror was unjustified superstitution, she grates on the reader, makes the reader feel a dupe and then the reader gets back, is unwilling to read another (p 340), but he suggests she does this to put out a false trail, to deflect us from thinking about the real terrors we’ve experienced or our attention from her. He thinks that she understood the source of her anguish and consciously wrote to exorcise her miseries (p. 349) I agree & argued this in my paper on her Nightmare Historical Landscapes. I’m not sure she is conscious of this, for in the famous incident of the wax figure she includes a footnote telling us the historical source for the anecdote. Her worry seems to be not that we will pay attention to her, or to make us pay attention to fantasies but concern we are not getting that she is historical.

I agree with him (and this is Battaglia’s view too), that The Italian disappointing because it makes least use of superstition and unexplained ghosts, the Italian, and is the book going most in the direction of detective-mystery, “Le roman policier” (p 343). This book is particularly is anti-Catholic church in thrust. He acknowledges she is attracted to the beauty of the ritual, but not the obliteration of the will of the individual (seen in the prison scenes).

He grants her that she read enormously, including philosophy (only he is at a loss to cite more than the usual suspects of Burke and Gilpin), points out that at the close of her career in Gaston de Blondeville she admits by logic there is the possibility of spirits appearing to people (p 348). Her tone (he thinks) becomes less didactic in this last book too. But one can see in the other books that she does in part believe in the possibility and dreads the power of her own emotional life (p 349). I wish he had devoted a whole chapter to Gaston.

He does miss the footnotes to some of these explained incidents where she says she got the anecdote from history and that generally these show women victimized egregiously. In this she is showing us another version of victimizing that she didn’t know but was attracted to notice. Arnaud is innocent of all feminism or feminist thought and scholarship. he does not see how violence disturbs her, how aware she is of it as a basis for social order. This she shows in her travel book.


J.M.W. Tuner, Buttermere Lake, with Cromackwater, Cumberland

The last and fourth part of Arnaud’s book is how her books are a hymn to nature. he begins with development of realism in the 18th century and its techniques. Gainsborough is instanced. In the period there was also a development of a beautiful naturalistic poetry — Thomson, Cowper. Readers of Radcliffe did think she had been in the Pyrenees (as Catherine Morland imagines). Perhaps Radcliffe meant to introduce into the novel what beloved poets had done for verse.

Arnaud says that we should answer why she made these landscapes so central. Other novelists include them (e.g., Charlotte Smith) but why go on to make them central. My answer: it’s part of the calming therapy. This exquisitely observed architecture drawn from her reading is hard absorbing work for her. She made such trips, she studied travel books with their engravings; he goes over her extracts from her travel books to show her working up her dream image from what she is seeing and imagining music to go with it (p. 355).

He suggests the enthusiasm she felt for nature and beautiful real landscapes came from evolution of art in this epoque. I’d agree. Again he begins with the problem of a demand for the didactic; genre or everyday scenes were a minor genre; gradually they took over as the most popular. Again the problem here is Arnaud thinks what she studied were simply engravings and he leaps beyond Gilpin to what is often said about Radcliffe because she does cite the names of Claude, Salvador Rosa and a few others. He has gone into what he can find were her sources for her novels; for example her notebook tells of her visiting Belvedere House. Much though is sheer guessing. If he had read her travel books, he’d find she has carefully studied architectural and travel books with their depictions of buildings, their histories, a region, the customs and laws of the place. All he can end up with is quoting the insights of great critics on say Claude; instead if one reads some of these studies, one discovers for example a sharp critique of monastery life which her recreation of the place makes visible, a serious reading in travel culture books.

There is no need to guess. Read the 1794 journey with all its citations, and today since we have the net and ECCO we can follow her. This is beginning to be done. See particularly the Italian journal, La Questione romantica, Viaggio e Paessaggio (many essays are in English — some in Italian and/or French too), Autunno 2003/Primavera 2004.

Catherine (Felicity Jones) is telling Henry and Eleanor Tilney (J. J. Feild and Catherine Walker) this is just like the Pyrenees (2007 Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

She read a lot, she did not socialize at all, not even a little bit it seems. If she had a circle of friends, they were people no one today knows about. And she filled time with these learned tomes. Then when she could she traveled to some comparing her memories and maps with what she saw. The problem was again her anxiety and fear (whatever happened to her when young) and probably she was right to turn back when she saw that her husband and she were searched as if they might be enemies and might have found themselves clapped in prison. So she never got to Italy; she did see a great deal of Germany, of that part of France that abuts, of Holland, Belgium and then traveled where she could locally. She did a great deal with what was available to her.

Arnaud say that Radcliffe took details from Burke and Gilpin and applied them for her own use. For Burke terror an end in itself; for Radcliffe it’s used to prompt sublime feelings. Gilpin insists on the importance of composing your scene. He thinks landscapes not perfect unless they have an abbey or castle. An old one or one in ruins have been integrated into their environment (p. 366) Architecture is so central to her descriptions — and books too (p. 366) Arnaud says she used Gilpin’s commentaries and we see that her pictures are in effect interwoven with commentary.

But he is right to say that her originality is in how she applied what she read (p. 362). He concludes she works with the eye of a painter and poet; writes romances that way. I think it’s more than that: she writes with history in mind, and a political point of view, mildly reformist maybe but real enough for that. And these shape her content.

He finds in her a real knowledge of aesthetic treatises and currents in the era and says this is uncommon among her English contemporaries (p. 369). He says that nature and the supernatural occupy a bigger place gradually as she becomes less moralizing in each book (p 369) He feels there is a rhythm that moves from terror to landscape/relief nor are there quick transitions where something is suddenly dropped p 370. She will frame an encounter between characters carefully, such as Elena and her father (p. 371). The landscape is a state of the perceiver’s soul (p 371). That Pierre de la Motte in Romance of the Forest can experience depth of emotion in nature shows he has some good qualities (p. 371)

Radcliffe’s descriptions themselves have a symbolic value. Her Nature permeated with a divinity (p 374). He discerns a pantheism (p 375) carefully put so as to stay within apparent confines of Christianity. For her this also provides a corrective to Catholicism, to punitive ideas and doctrines, to fearfulness. He remarks he says her published books are never set in the UK; he has not read the travel book, one quarter of which is in the lake district, Cumberland and Scotland too (p 377). He sees in her yearning a desire to return to her father but he does not press that (p 378) He is unaware she was interested in geology, goes to look at Druidic stones as realistic remnants of what the earth once was (as this was not estoric as Marjorie Hope Nicholson showed in her Mountain Gloom and Glory).

A contemporary print


To conclude, Arnaud says Radcliffe’s initial appeal was she comes out of the same zeitgeist as Sade, Lewis, romantic poetry: a reaction against but coming out of Enlightenment. For readers profoundly shaken or encouraged by revolution, she offered to 19th century readers a fearful and a usable past, takes them into her urge into oblivion, peace, reverie, a movement into fantasy, which however populated, is not as frigthening as the spectre of the future. I’ve had students who came from Southasia and Asia tell me that the terrified flights of her characters reminded them of experiences they had with their parents fleeing a revolution or fascistic military tyranny. I enter into her Emily’s Udolpho far more fully than I do Austen’s Emma’s Highbury.

For myself I’d like to add that going into Italian as well as French books on both Radcliffe and Austen can give us new ideas, new perspective, a fresh methodolgy or outline distinctive from the Anglo-American and mean to share a few of these (e.g., Pierre Goubert and Beatrice Battaglia on Austen, translation studies of Charlotte Smith, more on Radcliffe) with my reader here in this blog.

From Edith Wharton’s female gothic-ghost story, “Afterward”: the walk on the parapet; Wharton is a daughter of Radcliffe


Read Full Post »

We have drank tea & I have torn through the 3rd vol of the Heroine, & do not think it falls off. — It is a delightful burlesque on the Radcliffe style — Austen, Wed-Thurs, 2-3 March 1814

Emma’s first sight of Harriet (Samantha Morton), innocent country girl (1995 BBC/WBGH Emma)

Emma’s first dream: Harriet, erotically enthralled with Mr Elton (Dominic Rowan) above her in status (due to Emma’s encouragement)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just finished reading a burlesque of romance by Eaton Stannard Barrett, The Heroine, published in 1813. While I’ve seen it identified as a central source for Emma (in Margaret Kirkham’s Jane Austen: Feminism and Fiction), I’ve also noticed that it is not always mentioned in editions of Emma and when it is, kept brief. Since it’s a deeply conservative, nay reactionary text in the tradition of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (as pointed out by Gary Kelly among others), its importance in understanding how Austen meant her text to be read (against what context) needs to reiterated.

Most immediately striking is an incident early in the book which is only resolved at its end when Cherry Wilkinson (our heroine) recognizes how wrong, deluded, and harmful has been her behavior: the story anticipates that of Harriet Smith, down to the use of a letter written by Cherry/Emma in an attempt permanently to part an innocent and poor country girl, Mary, from William, a suitable male in love with her and eager to marry her.

When Cherry encounters the happy a village girl, Mary, anticipating her marriage to a young kind farmer, William, in order to inject the necessary misery & melancholy into Mary’s life — so essential for the lives of heroines and women with any self-respect — Cherry pretends she has a suitor she wants to get rid of, concocts a letter to him, and then with the most transparent of excuses (that her relationship with this man is not approved of), she has Mary copy it out and sign it. The story makes no sense — why would this William accept a letter from Mary dismissing him. Mary would have to be an idiot — and in fact long ago Elizabeth Jenkins recognized that were we to take Harriet really seriously she’d be an imbecile. Mary then sends this to William, devastating William, and leading him (out of jealousy) to break off the match. She teaches Mary to think herself well rid of him, but we know that Mary has lost her best chance at happiness. (pp. 157ff)

Cherry’s behavior is not just malicious, snobbish, callous, it’s a means by which Barrett is enabled to present the miseries of romances as something concocted by silly women or unscrupulous men for silly women. Consistently Barrett reveals he has no understanding of the serious function of such books in the psychological life of women as lived in western patriarchal society.

At the book’s Cherry is awakened to her gross errors, her pride, her wrong idea she can run her life and her desires to be this active heroine doing daring deeds; in moments that are very like (though more crudely written) Emma’s, Elizabeth’s, Marianne’s, she is inwardly harrowed, humiliated, her pride mortified and admits to herself what damage she’s done and was doing — and hands herself over to a worthy heroine who has rescued and protected her, Edward Stuart (very much a Mr Knightley figure). We have a scene like Lennox’s The Female Quixote where a clergyman is dragged in to have her talk like Marianne religiously. Cherry must go back and rejoin Mary and William whose lives she came near ruining. She must admit where is the aslyum where she cruelly deposited her aging father as a manma is and release him from months of suffering. Since this all is done partly parodically it releases us from really blaming Cheery as we only partly believe it. And she did not mean any harm …

As will be seen, the parallels do not stop there. I mentioned Cherry’s aging father, Mr Wilkinson, stashed away with an obtuse jailer whom Cherry tricks into taking in, tying down and (whether mistakenly or not) mistreating him in the way mad people could be in the era. Cherry is now free from whatever control the old man exerted. Gradually her good suitor, Edward Stuart (intended by her father for a wise stable husband) begins to be aware of how Cherry has been perverted by her books, and he spends much of the book turning up in the nick of time rescue her from the results of others preying on her again and again.

Stuart is a version of Mr Knightley. He is sensible and what’s more what happens is we begin to see Cherry likes and respects him. They share the same sense of humor, at times they seem to be on the same wave length. In a rare moment of common sense and prophetic dream Cherry wishes she could marry Stuart and dreams of how pleasant life would be with him (pp. 118, 125). She also sees an old man with another child and half-admits her father is her father (a rare moment) worries over Mr Wilkinson.

Opening of 2009 Emma: Emma (Romola Garai) absorbed with Mr Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller) watching over her

A childlike explanation and his male patience

Here we have Mr Knightley, Emma and Mr Woodhouse. Movies can give us insight into books – -they are forms of reading the books. I can see Johnny Lee Miller in the role of Edward Stuart in just the way he plays Mr Knightley (in the 2009 Emma) and where we are told he can make Cherry laugh and laugh brings to mind how in 1972 Emma that happens (John Carson and Doran Goodwin) — the others don’t show how M K and Emma share a sense of humor: Davies gives his Emma too much intelligence, gravity, and the movie with Gweneth Paltrow turns Emma into a romance heroine. The actress where the conception is closest to Cherry is the way Romola Garai is directed to act as really innocent, sweet, even loving (not the way Emma is presented in 1972 where she’s neurotic or 1995 where she’s arrogant)

His plot-design imitates Cervantes’s Don Quixote from beginning to end. Again and again Cherry meets bad or dire situations and misunderstands them completely in terms of her idealistic romance reading; hence she is often in danger — Like Quixote she tilts at versions of windmills. He shows the real world of London now and again, and has believable enough characters.
Predatory males are after Cherry: continually deluding and trying abduct, rape, marry Cherry to get her inheritance, until she is saved by Stuart.


1972 Emma scripted Denis Constanduros): Emma (Doran Goodwin) tells her father (Donald Eccles) she is going to marry Mr Knightley

The book is not the only source for Emma: Kirkham makes the argument that Charles Dibdin’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Reconciliation as The Birth-day is another direct sources for Austen’s Emma and if so, there were possibly early drafts of Emma in the early days of Austen coming to live in Bath or perhaps still at Steventon. The letter all such argument hinge on (Gay seems to accede in her book on JA and Drama as does Paula Byrne) is a letter by Austen written from Bath in 1799, the visit taken because Edward was feeling (psychologically probably) ill; a single line where Austen does not even mention the name of the play, Wed 19 June 1799: “The play on Saturday is I hope to conclude our Gaieties here.” That’s it; if scholars hadn’t studied assiduously what plays were played in the Bath theater that day we’d never have made the connection. Byrne produces a playbill from 1803 and of course the Austens were in Bath then, so (for Byrne) that clinches the connection again.

I’ve read the play and have to admit there are parallels, especially in language — about how the Mr Knightley character (Harry) is prepared to live with the sweet heroine, Emma Bertram (her name is striking) so as to allow her to marry and not desert her weak aging father, one of two elderly brothers who have long feuded over a piece of land. Harry’s benevolence of character is important, one servant’s name is William. I did ask myself though was I looking for parallels because they had been put before me.
It does have the housekeeper who is one of the two brother’s mistress — this seems to have been almost usual, so common as to be assumed. And she has a lover in the live-in-lawyer that advises this other elderly brother.

What’s really of interest is Austen’s attitude towards Kotzebue because if there is an allusion or use (and it’s nowhere as central as Lovers’ Vows to Mansfield Park), what did she think of him. Modern critics are divided, except to say most of his plays are utterly unplayable, filled with sentimental absurdities. Yet in his time he was seen as radical, immoral, a Jacobin. How can this be? Well the plays do expose the miseries and treacheries of family life, and especially in the one that held the English stage for much of the 19th century, The Stranger how blood is not thicker than water, shame and money are. There a woman and man are turned off, turned out for life because they sexually transgressed, the man turning into a misanthrope.

Perhaps it was thought immoral to really reveal how family members treated one anther in intimate life and yet people in Europe went in droves. It was one place where whatever happened to them could be seen, validated, and cured — with the sentimental endings.

Kirkham insists that Austen despised Kotzebue — through Lovers Vows. I disagree; I think the scene in the novel between Edmund and Mary that is played and is about marrying for love is seen by Austen as serious and beautiful. It’s hard to know how she felt about the incestuous love of Frederick and his mother, but presumably like the audience at the time she was prepared to pretend it was not there and instead see the scene as transgressive sex.

Emma reassuring her father, Mr Woodhouse (Michael Gambon) — they are a particularly touching pair in this film

I tried to imagine Austen reading or watching The Reconciliation in 1803 and there I did see something neither Kirkham or Byrne, or Gay brings up: that in that year Mr Austen was probably failing. He was a weak aging man. It seems to me a fantasy element of wish fulfillment in Austen could be to imagine herself as Emma taking care of Mr Austen. Many details about this aging man’s dependence on his family are found in Dibdin and I suspect are presented more movingly in the original German.

Miss Taylor and Mr Weston turned into high school teachers in 1996 Clueless: a permutation which does not lose the paradigm of reconcilation, resignation

On Dibdin and his play itself: it’s a thin piece where the exposure of the wicked cunning housekeeper is so swift and easy, one wonders why it was not done before. It might be the adaptation has eliminated all depth from the original. The change of title signals how transformed the text is. Dibdin’s play emphasizes how the birthday of Emma’s father and his brother leads to their reconciliation. Inchbald coarsened Lovers Vows considerably; I’ve read Benjamin Thompson’s translation and it actually makes of Kotzebue an intelligent play in some ways — with intricate thought and tensions and moving depths at moments. There’s more than one long scholarly analysis of Sheridan’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Pizarro — a play about post-colonialism I suppose — which finds in that matter of interest, these family colonalizers (the Austens were that) who felt forced to be coopted by their needs to aggrandize themselves or just live by working for these powerful in gov’ts taking over other people’s lands and wealth. Smith deals with this in Ethelinde and her hero, like Austens’ Edmund, does not want to serve immorally and himself become degraded that way.


Barrett’s text is of much more interest for itself. At times, especially in the prologue and earlier parts of the book, it’s genuinely funny, at moments post-modern.

We begin with an anonymous writer is a character now living on the moon where all characters in books go from the moment the manuscript is finished until such time as the book is no longer read. Real living people have ghostly representatives there too as long as they are writers and thus appear in books.

So, authors, you need not get your book into print. Austen’s Darcy and Elizabeth were on the moon from at least November 1796 on and are still there. Anonymous people (like Junius) are invisible.

Amanda Price finds Darcy in Austenland (Pemberley) (Lost in Austen, a post-modern adaptation, scripted by Guy Andrews, 2009)

The text is presented as a series of letters from Cherry to an unnamed correspondent and begins as a transparent parody of Pamela. The style is nothing like Radcliffe; the prose is simple and direct. These really could be renamed Chapters as there is little use of epistolarity, but the mode combined with the obvious caricatured presences does has the effect of ironic distance.

Cherry meets two male characters who tell their histories and these are told with feeling: the stories of the poet Higginson and the player Montmorenci are autobiographical depictions of Barrett reading. Barrett includes his own highly romantic verse, and he imitates Milton. We get Miltonic parodies 50 years late. No one was doing this by 1813. He is not just caricaturing women (Horner and Zlosnick in their article want to absolve Barrett from anti-feminism but the book is reactionary in more ways than this), he was repudiating his own love of Georgics, Virgil. He is making fun of what once allured him.

Barrett is enormously well-read in romance; my edition by Sadleir includes pages and pages of allusions from major (Goethe’s Werther) to minor and popular books (Children of the Abbey). If anything Radcliffe is a minor presence in his book; he may be thinking of her when he writes against “impassioned sensibility … exquisite art … depicting the delicate and affecting relations between the beauties of nature and the deep emotions of the soul” that seduce female readers sexually (“voluptuous languor”), but his text is far more like Walpole’s Otranto. Famous characters are brought on stage, from Grandison to Cecilia and no type of romance is exempt, including the more realistic like Austen’s. There’s a torn manuscript, but also battles of villagers very like those in Tom Jones. An exchange of brief billets imitates the opening of Rousseau’s Julie and again lest we miss it the author alludes to Eloise. Marmontel. Douglas’s Norval (the very passage Austen alludes to which was reprinted as bleeding hunks in anthologies), comes in for a mention.

As he proceeds more deeply he hits some central paradigms squarely: deep into the novel we meet the mother figure, of course tied down in a dungeon, but unlike the usual starvation, she has grown fat. The novel hits a surreal level with the grotesque portrait of this woman as a statue and seems to me like other gay-art I’ve seen in the Zombie Austen books (and at times Sondheim’s lyrics). The paradigm of the girl rescued by the young man is so endemic (p. 222 here, and in S&S, Romance of Forest, Ethelinde, Caroline de Lichtfield for starters) and is found in a hilarious central novel whose wackiness is spot on. “It was on a nocturnal night in autumnal October; the wet rain feel in liquid quantities, and the thunder rolled in an awful and Ossianly manner … ” “Wet!” exclaimed the fair unknown, wringing a rivulet of rain from the corner of her robe, “O ye gods, wet!”

It’s all held together by the conceit of Cherry as a Don Quixote half-mad person humored by all around her, partly protected because some believe her an heiress, partly protected by Stuart who (for example) tells the woman at whose house Cherry is staying that she is not well. She reads this inset novel in the room she is put into (rather like Catherine Morland is).

Austen’s books are as much sent up. The central heroine’s young man is Theodore de Willoughby. Theodore from Romance of the Forest or any number of novels, and Willoughby from S&S or Celestina or any number of novels. We have the classic scene of the girl enticed into the shrubbery and then run away with, pp 223- 224. I thought the moral of Clarissa might be: girls do not go into shrubberies, particularly at midnight She is here rescued by Stuart.

He keeps up a remarkable cleverness. It’s very hard to think up incidents in such a burlesque mode. Lennox has to turn Female Quixote into a courtship novel. The device is the Don Quixote one again and again: many of the people around Cherry are playing along, and she herself is half aware she is play-acting. When she tries to take over Lady Gwyn’s castle (as a comfortable one) and gets Jerry to round up local peasants and dresses them in absurd outfits with sticks and charges at Lady Gwyn, Lady Gwyn calls the local militia (what they were good for) and Cherry immediately decamps. Found back in the ruin with no food, no ceilings, no windows, she falls back on real money Jerry lends her; similarly the two predators, Betterton (rake) and Montmorenci (who turns out to be someone named Abraham Grundy) come to abduct her to somehow wrest the fortune they think she has and Barrett has them fall in and out of the unreal chivalric talk and their own sordid language and motives

There’s an interesting argument about how difficult it is to tell a historical figure from an imaginary one or history itself from romance, again showing a real interest in the topic. He’s at his best when he sees his book and characters as books, “how will it read?” is the important question to authors we are told.

Tory anti-Jacobin politics, a repressive stance on all issues is woven in too. The book is dedicated to Canning, an intelligent pro-war Tory, and Barrett’s other texts probably were also meant to help him find a place. At court Betterton who is the man seeking Cherry for her money and would rape her if he could rages at the judge as someone who “does dark deeds for an usurping oligarchy,” who “minister our vague and sanguinary laws … determines points of law without appeal, imprisons our persons without trial … breaks open our houses with a standing army.”

This is in fact precisely what the establishment was doing in the 1790s and when they had to in the first part of the 19th century and continues to do. Again if Austen did like this book she was liking conservative reactionary Toryism (p. 165) He connects novels of sentiment to then modern politics, to sentiment, to France and “its vicious refinement” Julie is a “criminal book” (p 350) — by speaking sentimentally and acting virtuously in the romance way you end up a victim or corrupt yourself. The tired arguments are trotted forth too: reading romance makes you unfit for real life (the way men want to live it), the woman is fed false ideal notions and needs antidotes like Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife, sermons (p 351) and most of all to follow the wisdom of her elders, fathers, in this book husband.

Again Lost in Austen, Darcy growing indignant at this public exposure of his family and himself: he does not much favor novels

For some complete citations, see comments.


Read Full Post »

I remember this one as a cartoon; I wish it were one; it’s Jane because of the cap & square cut bodice as visibilia

Dear friends and readers,

Women’s graphic novels (comic books, anyone?) have arrived. They’ve a homepage all their own. There are women’s graphic novels festivals. In Leeds a bunch of fairly well-known artists got together and held contests. I’ve written twice before about two of my favorite artists: Posy Simmonds and Audrey Niffenegger, but I’ve not yet written about the species in general or the Jane Austen types. Women favor the gothic. I include a book of poetry by Margaret Atwood.

On Sharp-l (an academic list-serv devoted to book history), there was a long thread on comic books, graphic novels, and pretty quickly (no surprise here) the topic of gender was brought up with a tendency to deny there is a big or any meaningful difference between what boys have read and what girls read, what men draw and what women. It did come out that nonetheless in the last 20 years there has there been a specific effort to appeal to girls and women comic book makers, and for the first time a genuine number of women graphic novelists, comic book creators, artists.


From Niffenegger’s Nightbookmobile: called “Almost there,” the young women is beginning to immerse herself in the books that turn up in the night in a moving library bus

It happened the most recent of issue of Women’s Review of Books (Sept/Oct ’12) had an essay on Alison Bechdel’s Are you my mother? A comic Drama (a graphic novel) by Audrey Bilger where Bilger brought up Hillary L. Chute’s Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (2010), “The Other Shoe Drops.” Chute shows that women’s graphic tales differ centrally from men’s: they tend to center on women’s lives, women’s dreams and they make trauma overcome or not a central part of the story. Bechdel may be the woman who set the Bechdel standard for movies: does it have any women conversing about something together; is the subject of the movie if it’s about women anything other than getting a man; does it have more than 2 women featured? Most movies do not pass this test. Are you My mother? A comic Drama is about a central experience for women: their fraught relationship with their mother, whether love-filled or not. This comic book includes dreams, memories, photographs made into comics, letters, stories of the mother’s girlhood, excerpts from Virginia Woolf, D. W. Winnicott (tells a story of growing up not centered on rivalry with a father).

This fits Simmonds, Niffenegger, the comic books I’ve made adapted from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Northanger Abbey (bound with Udolpho one based on LeFanu’s Carmilla, a female vampire story). Sense and Sensibility adapted by Nancy Butler, illustrations Sonny Liew is based on the 2008 BBC/WBGH movie with Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Janet McTeer, David Morrissey, Dan Stevens, Dominic Cooper (scripted Andrew Davies). The costumes are taken from this movie, the plot-design, the way the characters look.

Hattie as Elinor wears just such a dress as she looks down from a moor on high

Charity as Marianne flees Cleveland house to the grounds and temple in a tempest in just such a dress

An interesting aspect of some of the others (for Pride and Prejudice and Emma (Nan Butler, Julian Totino did the cover), is they are done in a way to appeal to GLBT tastes. The “message” from the cover is on the surface they are absurd schlock, mindless and idiotic. Embarrassing even.

There are film adaptations nowadays too. And wouldn’t you know it: you find one which is about disability. This one by a male team, but now the males are beginning to take advantage of breaking out of the macho-male (super-muscled) and over-sexed earlier cartoons (which simply reinforced the male heterosexual hegemony) to be unsettling yet touching, subversive, questioning. When done for a great novel, I suppose they are great pop art.

For they are pop too. Picturesque in the old sweet way:

The country walk from NA: Catherine is saying this is just like the south of France!

The new name tries to deny this. The term graphic novel is a marketing tool picked up by academic to give more status to their work, and it’s not true that graphic novels are to be separated out because they are not serialized. Some are serialized and some comic books are singletons (rare but it happens). But there is no hard distinction. I still remember that favorite “classic” comic I loved as an adolescent girl was Lorna Doone. How lovely the landscape looked, how wonderfully kind and good John was. I’m sure it influenced my memories of the book read long after. I don’t know the author’s name. I wouldn’t have thought to look for one.

A personal anecdote:

Emily terrified, from Mysteries of Udolpho adapted by Antonella Caputo, illustrations Carlo Vegara, Gothic Classics (Vol 14)

If you believe there has been no significant difference between men’s comics and women’s, I’ve got a bridge I could let you have, dead cheap. Remember the macho-male super-muscled men, the line drawings of conventionally sexy women.

When I was around 8 or 9 an aunt whose husband was a printer prepared 4 huge volumes of comic books, two for two of my boy cousins, two for the two girls, one for me and one for a girl cousin precisely my age. The four of us represented the adolescent age group in our family at Christmas. These were to be our presents. Aunt Helen (her name) had bought and saved comics for over a year and put together 4 sets of a huge number of these to make very fat volumes. Then my Uncle Bill (his name) bound them in brightly colored sturdy boards, and put our individual names on them in gold lettering (no less). My aunt was good with her hands, she was very good at wrapping presents artistically, and added a certain amount of art work inside the books.

These presents were tremendous hits with the four of us and my uncle and she did it again the next year. Then enthusiasm or invention or numbers of comic books gathered gave out. They tired of it. We grew older. Now I know for a fact the two sets of books were distinct. My girl cousin and I had Archie, Nancy, and comics for girls much more (love stories), Wonder Woman, while the boys had these wild and violent action-adventure male centered cartoons like Batman, Superman and other such. I can’t remember as I didn’t have any.

There were some deemed appropriate for both: Dennis the Menace, Charlie Brown, cat and mouse cartoons. Bugs Bunny. Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Daffy and Daisy Duck. The second year my cousin Pat and I had “classics,” “great books” turned into comics as did Richard and Bobby. I don’t remember these as well as do the other parts of the books; there were Lorna Doone, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist. Neither uncle or aunt were reading people particularly and they didn’t think out the default line (and they didn’t include better strips like Pogo); they did intuitively (as it were) choose what they thought appropriate.

The 8 books were read to pieces.

So, maybe I should end on Audrey Niffenegger’s Three Incestuous Sisters and Margaret Atwood’s art book of her beautiful poem sequence, The Journals of Susanna Moodie (with Charles Pachter her collaborator):

I did not have any particular expectations, but was slightly startled to have in my hands two over-size books. Three Sisters was a huge folio size (where will I put it?) hard-back book with very large pictures, so large I can’t scan them in without distortion. I could do individual figures but without the vast space proportionate to them, they would lose something. They’re also raw, very sexy.

As you open and go through: on the one side (left, is this recto?) a tiny bit of text and on the other (right, verso? or facing) a huge picture. The texts are of the slightest, a sort of naming (“Being cruel to Bettine,” “Paris Intercedes,” “Ophile, miserable, small, and alone”), which are a testimony to how little you really need to say to get across a story if you somehow suggest archetypal ones. Drenched in melancholy. I mean this is desperate, suicidal stuff.

Yet the paradigm for the figures is Gorey. The book is a kind of Gorey book writ large — without the streak of black humor, devilish.

Here is one of the sisters finding comic together in sleep:

This is from early in the sequence by Atwood:

Further Arrivals

After we had crossed the long illness
that was the ocean, we sailed up-river

On the first island
the immigrants threw off their clothes
and danced like sandflies

We left behind one by one
the cities rotting with cholera,
one by one our civilized

and entered a large darkness.

It was our own
ignorance we entered.

I have not come out yet

My brain gropes nervous
tentacles in the night, sends out
fears hairy as bears,
demands lamps; or waiting

for my shadowy husband, hears
malice in the trees’ whispers.

I need wolf’s eyes to see
the truth.

I refuse to look in a mirror.

Whether the wilderness is
real or not
depends on who lives here.

And in one of the later poems (emblematic and intertwined so impossible to pick out) the pictures inclde an old woman among her children in the poem; how they see her; how she feels at the moment. Towards the end of Atwood’s poem when Moodie now old says her mind “in its old burrows/little guess how/maybe” she will “prowl and slink,” Atwood is writing of how Moodie slithers through the bedrock of Canadian culture and has come to terms with its roots.

A green background might signal spring. Her spirit ever rejuvenates the literature and spirit of the culture. “gold and/fiery green.” The old woman’s fingers are “curving and scaled,” but they did the writing. Her eye is an “opal” and no has “no/eyes glowing.” After all the real women is gone, dead, and now she’s old in the poem and wrinkled. The grandchildren cannot begin to know what she felt at the height of her living life, when, for example, she waited for her husband to come home and she wrote a marvelous love poem, “Sleigh Bells.” What does Canada have more of than snow?

Atwood does not try to overcome, erase, compete with Susannah Moodie, but collaborates with her, re-lives the experience and brings it back to us. Her Alias Grace (I just love it, a favorite book, Jane Eyre type) came out of an experience Moodie had when she went to an asylum so Moodie’s famous 19th century memoir meant a lot to Atwood.


Read Full Post »

How good Mrs West could have written such books and collected such hard words, with all her family cares, is a matter of astonishment (Jane Austen, Letter 145, 8-9 Sept 1816)

John Glover (1767-1849), country landscape (typical illustration in books of this era)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a continuation of my blog on Austen’s letter 108, 28 September 1814, where Austen wrote:

-– Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair — He has Fame & Profit enough as Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but I fear I must. — I am quite determined however not to be pleased with Ms West’s Alicia de Lacy, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not. — I think I can be stout against any thing written by Mrs West. – I have made up my mind to like novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, Yours & my own. –

To which I add:

Uncle Henry writes very superior Sermons. — You & I must try to get hold of one or two, & put them in our Novels: — it would be a fine help to a volume; & we could make our Heroine read it aloud of a Sunday Evening, just as well as Isabella Wardour in the [Scott's] Antiquary, is made to read the History of the Hartz Demon in the ruins of St Ruth — Jane Austen, to James-Edward Austen-Leigh, Mon-Tues, 16-17 Dec 1816, Chawton

19th century Spanish illustration of just this scene in Scott’s Antiquary

Austen’s determination not to be pleased with West’s novel in the same paragraph as her mention of reading Scott’s Waverley suggests she is referring to Jane West as imitating Scott. If she must like Scott, or he must write these kinds of best-sellers, she can still be stout against Mrs West. It’s a self-reflexive joke. But how like Scott did West become. Were they feeble imitations. I had read some of A Gossip’s Story and knew it was domestic romance, didactic, obvious (see J. M. S. Tompkins, “Elinor and Marianne: A note on Jane Austen,” Review of English Studies, 16 (1940):33-343).

I searched in my own scholar’s library of handbooks and companions and books on Scott and/or 18th century women writers, and failed to find a plot-summary of West’s Alicia de Lacy, a historical romance. It was published too late to be in ECCO and I’ve no time just now to go over to the Library of Congress to see if they have it. They might not. (Memo to self & reader I’ll go this summer.)

So (the meantime) I read some brief biographies of West (in the ODNB too), summaries in literary histories of other of her novels and (to my surprise) discovered her poetry is reprinted in Lonsdale’s 18th Century Women Poets with a longish potted biography, and in Backscheider and Ingrassia’s enormously fat book of British women poets of the long 18th century. While I was not surprised at the latter (Backscheider & Ingrassia omit satire [!], ironic poems, burlesques, where the most radical voices can be found, prefer the conservative), I was surprised to discover a couple by West were not only readable but somewhat moving and read autobiographically could provide some explanation for this woman’s obsessive once popular texts.

Jane West was a better poet than she was a novel writer because in her poetry she managed to present more of her authentic story. I share two poems here:

Poems to women friends are a sub-genre of women’s poems. They often pour themselves into these, create an alternate world for the two friends This holds true for contemporary poets (like Elizabeth Bishop or Adrienne Rich); some of the most famous of 17th and 18th century poems by women (and occasionally by men) are friendship poems. The “matchless” Orinda (Katherine Philips) wrote matchless ones. “To Laura” is not a masterpiece but it is sincere and filled with loss and regret (which is not the common way, the common way is to celebrate, to pretend the two are together); she turns to death, a Christian death, but still a form of oblivion

Elegy III. To Laura

How long, how well, we’ve lov’d; Oh Laura, say!
          Bid recollection trace the distant hour
When first we met in life’s delightful May,
          And our warm hearts confess’d fair Friendship’s power.

Recall the portrait of the ingenuous mind,
          Which from experience no stern precepts drew:
When gay, impetuous, innocent, and kind,
          From taste congenial love spontaneous grew.

Deep had we quaff’d the cup of childish joy;
          The simple sweet our nicer taste disdain’d.
We thought youth’s promis’d feast would never cloy,
          And of the future fairy prospects feign’d.

Time lifts the curtain of expected years;
          Eager we rush the imagin’d good to find.
Say, if the blessing, when possess’d, appears
          Fair, as the phantom that allur’d thy mind.

Doth the stern world those faultless friends disclose,
          Thy guileless candour imag’d to thy soul?
Doth virtue guard thee from insidious blows,
          Or sense the shafts of calumny controul?

For me! I thought the golden wreath of fame
          Still in my reach, and like a trifler play’d:
But when I turn’d the glorious prize to claim,
          My hopes had faded in oblivion’s shade.

The dear associates, we in youth rever’d,
          The world’s rude changes from our arms have drove:
Some in the grave’s dark cells, have disappear’d;
          Some lost by distance; some estrang’d in love.

Yet there are views, which never will deceive,
          In one sure prospect no false colours blend:
Death on our brows will press his cypress wreath,
          And all our wishes in the dust will end.

Perchance, ere yet, yon zenith’d sun shall lave
          In the salt deep, my conflict will be o’er.
Then, Laura, bending o’er my turf-clad grave,
          Shall shed the tear, which I shall feel no more.

Or, if allotted many lengthened years,
          We walk consociate through the tedious gloom,
‘Till each lov’d object gradual disappears,
          And our dim vision but discerns the tomb:

Still our try’d faith shall shame the fickle herd,
          Whose civil forms are cold and unendear’d:
Nor shall a casual flight, or dubious word,
          Efface the kindness we have long rever’d.

Friendship’s sweet pleasures bless’d our early hours
          With tender fellowship of hopes and fears:
Our ripen’d age shall feel its nobler powers;
          Its calm endearments sooth our drooping years.

Then, when the levities of mirth offend,
          When passion ceases its tormenting strife;
How sweet in converse with an aged friend,
          To trace th’ eventful history of life.

From present sorrow, lassitude, and pains,
          To lift the soul to glory’s promis’d sphere:
There may we meet, and where love ever reigns,
          Perfect the union which we cherished here.

The second is franker. It’s about some really painful sexual experience she had as a girl. The poetic diction gets in the way as do the disguises, but the core matter can be discerned. He (the young man) behaved very badly to her it seems. In Rochester’s language it seems they had sex and then he had his joke and walked away, and then married someone much richer than she.

Pastoral 1. Celadon.

Oh! Celadon, did not the hours
Appear to glide rapid away,
When with me ‘mid fresh blossoming flowers
You carold the beauties of May.
When spring, with its infantine green,
Lightly ting’d the tall elms of the grove;
Ah! Celadon, sweet was the scene,
Its beauty was heighten’d by love.

Of all you then sang, not a strain
But I still can distinctly repeat;
Ah! youth, but reproaches are vain,
Can you say your behaviour is meet?
Is it just to abandon with scorn
The heart you so hardly subdu’d,
And to leave the poor virgin forlorn,
Whom late you so fervently woo’d?

When you gave me the eglantine wreath,
You embellished the gift with your praise;
You only design’d to deceive,
Yet you spake to the heart in your lays.
My beauty was then all your theme,
In beauty I never took pride;
I thought it procur’d your esteem,
I knew not its value beside.

You promis’d your passion should last
Till by death’s icy rigour represt,
Yet now all your ardour is past,
And you live at that passion to jest.
Was the fetter that bound you too weak;
Oh! why is my Celadon strange?
‘Till sorrow had faded my cheek,
I saw in the fountain no change.

Can you say my behaviour was light,
Was it easy my favour to gain,
When I promis’d your love to requite,
Could others attention obtain?
To a test all my words may be brought,
Let my life by suspicion be try’d;
You, Celadon, knew every thought,
I had none that I studied to hide.

You sure must remember the day
You wounded your hand with the hook;
Again how I fainted away
When you rescu’d my lamb from the brook.
Oh! how my heart flutters; e’en yet
I think of your danger with tears,
Yet Celadon strives to forget,
At once, both my love and my fears.

Fond fool! do I utter my grief
To the man from whose falsehood it sprung;
Shall the nest plunder’d dove seek relief
From the stripling that ravished her young?
Yet shepherds are free from deceit,
Their manners are simple and plain;
From all kind compassion I meet,
And all thy injustice disdain.

My mother has often times read,
While I reel’d off my spindle at night,
That lions and tygers have bled;
All vanquish’d by shepherds in fight.
‘Tis right for such deeds to exult,
For virtue and courage they prove;
But,oh! it is base to insult
The girl you have injur’d in love.

Your bride she is lovely, I fear,
I’ve heard she is richer than me;
The lot of the poor is severe,
Ev’n lovers from poverty flee.
Yet my father, I’ve often been told,
Had once a large portion of sheep,
But the winter flood broke down his fold,
And buried them all in the deep.

My mother, alas! she is dead; .
My sorrow she now cannot feel;
To earn her a morsel of bread
I work’d very hard at my wheel.
She said, for my duty and love,
A blessing I surely should know;
I trust I shall find it above,
For grief is my portion below.

I have heard our good curate oft tell
Many things about Angels of light,
That in virtue and truth they excel;
Such Celadon seem’d in my sight.
Oh! break thou too credulous heart,
I am sick of thy passionate strife;
The victim of Celadon’s art
I s weary of him and of life.

Yet the curses of vengeance to frame
Is a sin that I dare not commit;
This heart, which still throbs at his name,
Will never the outrage permit.
My wrongs, oh! they all are forgiven,
And my last dying wish it shall be;
May he never be question’d by heaven,
For vows he has broken to me.

Go fetch home thy new wedded fair,
Thy joys I will never molest;
I have found out a cure for despair;
My heart shall be quickly at rest.
No more shall the night’s peaceful air
Be vex’d by my clamorous breath
I have found out a cure for despair,
‘Tis silence-the silence of death.

George Lambert, A Pastoral Landscape with Shepherds and Their Flocks (1744): Mrs West would have seen this picture as appropriate to her poem


A third very long poem done in the Miltonic-Thompson style fashionable then, but few will like now — so I won’t bother reprint it (as I doubt anyone at all who comes even to read one of my blogs will even try it), — is a rich seasonal Spring: An Ode, but it shows an intense originality of imagery, rich and wildly strange in particulars. Another pindaric poem, Independence, shows how much she yearned for liberty despite herself.

These are not Scott-like at all, but neither are they feeble or strident didacticism. They represent phases of a young woman growing up.


I invite my reader to piece together a biography by reading Lonsdale’s life (or quickly here the wikipedia article which is accurate enough), the briefer life in Backscheider, Jane Spencer’s (alas too) few valuable words in The Rise of the Woman Novelist (pp. 145-6). West’s Advantages of Education is re-told to bring out the mentor (say Mr Knightley) and faulty heroine (say Emma) with the girl’s teacher (say Mrs Weston) taking a more central dominant role to enable the heroine to reject an attractive but unworthy and cruel rake.

These come down to (what we remember)

Self-educated, as the persona Prudentia Homespun she wrote when she was early left a farmer’s widow with 3 sons. She did support herself by networking from there her overt Tory and anti-romanticism agenda; naturally her books found distributors. So here we have a professional woman of letters (which say Anne Finch was not). What some today are calling career risks (her children) became the cause of her career. Her works did speak to women’s experiences, and she found out what was fashionable or this year’s agenda now and again and imitated it. What I would call an enemy of promise (an experience that shatters us, dulls us, turns us into another issuing a warning lesson) turned out to provide the bread for the table, the pewter to eat off of. That’s what I suspect Alicia de Lacy represents. I too could be stout against it.

We make a mistake to pay attention to outward outlines: underneath lie individual stories and Jane West’s was different from Austen’s who seems to have rather had yearnings for the women rather than the men. Marilyn Butler, JA and War of Ideas gives several plot-summaries (but not Alicia) but her analysis is rigidly contained in her political polemics and goes not near the living core of the conservative books — as she does for some of the radical ones (not her relative, Maria Edgeworth’s whose ripe lesbianism she deliberately ignores).

For references and plainness the best is the biography in British Women Writers: A critical reference guide, ed Todd, but the writer of that two-page life (Nicola Watson) has not realized the poetry tells the tale we need to hear …

Mid-18th century sack dress, back and side view

A straw hat (slightly later, not to be worn with sack)


Read Full Post »

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

Dear friends and readers,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Eggplant parmesan

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

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

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

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

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

One of Blake’s many illustrations to Dante

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


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

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

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

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


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers