Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn, pregnant by Stafford, preparing bundles for the road-journey from court, POV Jessica Raine as Jane Lady Rochford (Peter Straughan-Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall 2015)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve returned to the Tudor Matter these past couple of days, finally finishing Alison Weir’s biography, Mary Boleyn, having read two more books on Anne Boleyn, and watching several times Phillipa Lowthorpe’s daring and free film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Barring none, including Wolf Hall, Lowthorpe’s film is the most original of the films with Anne Boleyn as stealth or obvious heroine (which began in the 1960s with the no longer tenably watchable Anne of the Thousand Days).

Natasha McElhone as Mary Boleyn, POV Jodhi May as Anne Boleyn (The Other Boleyn Girl, scripted and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, 2003)

Lowthorpe’s film is totally different in feel and angle, deeply inward in its approach. Andrew Davies is listed as one of the film editors; well what happens in this as in other of his films, is that central character address us regularly; the character faces us, the assumed audience, directly and tells us their innermost emotions, is ironic, pleads with us, justifies themselves.

The 2003 Other Boleyn skips most of the outward pageant scenes we are so familiar with; it assumes we know the history, or the broad outlines, ad we hear of what’s going on off-stage, as this person beheaded, that falls from power to poverty, the accusation of Anne, the trial, the outcome. The film zeros in on the inner worlds of the two Boleyn Sisters and partly George. Outstanding performances (as usual) by Jodhi May (an unsung great actress) and Steven Mackintosh (he also doesn’t get his due, he was terrifying in Prime Suspect and perfect in Sandy Welch’s Our Mutual Friend, just the right amount of fearful tyranny for Lady Audley’s Secret). What we see is how twisted is the psychology, how neurotic and desperate and how Anne Boleyn is driven to become amoral early on – the young girl punished for allowing a love affair with Harry Percy to proceed to informal betrothal and bed, and she is exiled to be left utterly solitary, in poverty, and to empty hours at the cold Hever Castle for a long while. She learns her morality and lessons from the like of father and uncle. We have many scenes where either Mary or Anne faces, focuses on what seems to be us, spilling out their reflections and intense agons, resentments, despairs. Mary escapes not only death but a hard life — this is romance history — because Stafford loves her and she learns to love him and when she marries him. It is documented in the histories that this was so at least initially and perhaps for the rest of their lives together. The second time Stafford married, it appears it was also for love! The exile gives Mary space and time because she has Stafford with her, the house they live in, her two children probably by Henry, to become someone different, at peace far more. While at court, when she was coerced into becoming Henry VIII’s mistress and cuckolding the willing but agonized Carey she is going in the direction of Anne’s ruthless amorality, and (this is said to be in enough records, and is dramatized in the 2008 movie and Wolf Hall, then replacing Anne in bed while Anne was pregnant and Henry could not do without a bedmate each night.

Lowrthorne’s sexuality is not focused on genitals, not violent, but affectionate, sensual over skin, very physical — there is few shots on womens breasts, it’s rather sensual, lots arms and hands, and soft focus, the couples’ backs.

Unlike Justin Chadwick and Peter Morgan in their 2008 The Other Boleyn Girl,

Other Boleyn GirlJohannsson
Scarlett Johannsson as Mary Boleyn watching Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford from afar (The Other Boleyn Girl, Morgan and Chadwick, 2008)

Lowthorpe ignored Gregory a lot. She makes Mary the older for example, she takes liberties and cuts out Mary’s first child, a girl (Alison Weir thinks this girl was Henry 8’s) and her boy is said to be Henry 8’s. Lowthorpe turns George Boleyn into a deeply anxious sycophantic hero on foot, he has to be driven into having sex with Anne, his sister, and does, to get her pregnant yet a third time — ended in a nonviable still born male fetus, January 1536. In the depiction of George, Lowthorne defies masculine stereotypes at the same time as she does not make him a homosexual man. Lowthorpe suggests what thus far the biographies I’ve read have not — (except for Mantel from an outside perspective), that Anne was sexually transgressive now and again lightly, and then went to bed with George because after her third miscarriage she felt she must produce a son and Henry was the problem. Court life encouraged this.

When this film eschewed the actual beheading, and instead fast forwarded to 2015 to show us the square plaque commemorating to see bas relief sculptures, I was taught there is a voyeuristic fascination, a kind of sadism being fed by these beheadings. There was no obligatory scene of a women terrified to death. We fast forward to the present and where there is apparently a stone which marks the place where AB was executed and we see people looking at it.

This one won no awards and so has no feature — it’s budget was less than the other and it shows at moments — some minor actors for roles we needed better actresses at (Katharine of Aragon). Lowthorne’s is very much a woman’s film, with the three Boleyn children as in the 2008 movie shown playing games together in the fields as in 2003 the young adults are half making imply if they can stop the king. The season turned and cyclically returns to that.

As in 2003 Boleyn Girl: Anne and Mary in the tower as Anne awaits her execution


I’ve offered three actresses as Mary to emphasize how no one knows at all if any of the portraits said to be of Mary Boleyn are of her; those said to be of Anne are at least less hesitantly so. Also that Gregory’s putting Mary back into the tapestry, the carpet of history is was key step in transforming the way we tended to see the story, and led to this new flowering and new points of view on the old material. What I’ve come away with is how little we know and how we must remain sceptical even as we see this interpretation matters and that needs rectification. So briefly, Bernard’s and Ives’s books on Anne Boleyn and Alison Weir on Mary.

Hever Castle, Kent, became the seat of the Boleyns

While away I read G. W. Bernard’s iconcoclastic (nowadays) Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions where he argues she was guilt of sexually transgressive behavior with the male courtiers surrounding her and Henry, or at least some of them. He makes a strong case for arguing this is as probable as all the insistence she was not at all; the problem is he is so successfully sceptical by the end of the book — like Alison Weir’s on Mary — I am so aware of how little we can know for sure. Thomas Cromwell’s life in comparison is hugely documented: since he wrote and did so much in public. What is so refreshing is how he acts on the kind of scepticism Weir tries to follow. A good deal of his book proves we know nothing about Anne Boleyn and Ives’s too has invented continuously.

Kristin Scott Thomas’s enactment of Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Anne’s mother, seems much closer to Ives’s portrait of Anne than any of the four I’ve seen (2008 Other Boleyn Girl)

Eric Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Like many writers about early modern to mid-18th century women he attributes agency where there is no proof of any. This is a great problem in studies of earlier women. So we are told that Margaret of Austria was Anne Boleyn’s teacher and Ives proceeds to analyze all he knows of Margaret’s accomplishments. Anne was a lady at Margaret’s court — to jump to the idea she was taught as if this were a governness is overdoing this. He doesn’t say this of Claude because the personality of the woman stops him.

Ives is much too partisan. He wants to keep Anne sexually uninvolved wherever possible. As a long reader of Renaissance poetry I know how old are the traditions of insisting much of what was written in verse was posing. Well without arguing this at length here (I can’t) a lot is not. A hellvua lot. Ives wants Anne to be too artful, too manipulative — she was more than Mary. He then in effects disdains Mary as this easy lay. Mantel at least respects her — as do I — for her later choices. He just dismissed Warnke — probably because she’s such an overt feminist.

The archive is anything but forthcoming and unbiased, by a combination of his reasoning, myriad sources to me is convincing: he sees Anne as centrally led out of her own political needs for allies and also her own education, bent, reading, to move into Protestant doctrine, foremost of course is to throw off the pope and allow Henry to be supreme head and thus marry her. He often relies on Chapuys, the Emperor’s spy-ambassador. Ives does go into the sex: he sees the problem of Henry not having an heir a function of Henry’s own sexual anxiety, incompetence, let’s call it repression from childhood. Mantel does not go that far but she does pick up on Henry’s potential hatred for Anne because she so held him off and it was in front of others, and how she did domineer at least until the first miscarriage and it became clear that it was probable that an heir was unlikely. Henry liked Jane Seymour’s passivity and wanted to believe her a virgin.

Most men will not countenance a continuing and especially an exclusive relationship with a woman who cannot or will not fuck, and where I depart from Ives is I wonder how much of Anne’s holding out was her fear of sex — the whole repressive Catholic background, the denigration of sex as lust, evil women doing it outside marriage, of pregnancy and childbirth, and if she did encourage Henry to use anal intercourse that suggests to me that’s a motive (as well as no contraceptives) I wonder if that played a part in how she allured by Henry because she was aggressive. Ives goes over how few women Henry had between Katharine and Anne, how Mary’s two children first appeared after she married Carey. Now Mantel has Henry VIII hating Anne Boleyn for refusing to fuck for so many years until they were near married — and that came out afterwards when no son resulted.

Ives lays out the three ways to take Cromwell that are now common; before Mantel’s book the 3rd was known only to scholars of the era (p. 150): 1) a fixer, hit man for others; 2) bureaucrat, brilliant politician, the archetype staff officer, very strong; 3) “a perceptive statesman, the original mind which reallocated the atomic weights in the periodical table of English politics” (I’d add religion as practiced in churches)

Very interesting is Ives’s account of why Anne was so disliked: yes other women disliked Henry’s dumping his wife, but there was real fear of revolt; Anne was often blamed for what Henry or Cromwell or More did: the brutality of the torture, the executions – and we may exaggerate because Cromwell was so good at gathering evidence so he could head off conspiracies. New taxes on churches, of course all those kicked out hated her; she was the bad adviser before Cromwell took her place. Her real fault was she didn’t have a son because had that happened all would have become silent around her. Ives is good at showing early signs of trouble in the marriage even before the first miscarriage. One must get past the long sections (half-skimming) where we are regaled (it must be) with all the ceremonies, rituals, gifts given and received the are connected to and with Anne. The more revealing objects are the paintings she is said to have caused to be painted – there is a real problem proving agency but some of this is persuasive . Realistic psychological paintings can tell a great deal if they have symbolic images readily interpreted by Ives. She did revel in being queen, in the court life she had garnered for herself.

But sometimes Ives rejects documentary evidence because what it says doesn’t suit him. Mary not ejected out of jealousy (from successful sex with Henry, from sheerly having gotten pregnant but because Mary did not try to marry up – the idea here is Anne wanted to present the family as having all these nobles in their midst. Mantel does not discount that in Mary’s tirade in Wolf Hall, but obviously she goes more for the depths of human jealousy and resentment because Mary got pregnant. Mantel opts for the latter. If image creation was Anne’s aim it was counterproductive as jewels and ceremonies just roused more resentment; it did not work to make her queen, something deeper afoot.

But most interesting to me was I suddenly came upon a stretch where Ives was trying to discuss the nature of Anne Boleyn’s religious faith. It was exactly the sort of material I labored for years on in Vittoria Colonna, found in Marguerite de Navarre, and Rene of Ferrra, not to omit Jeanne D’Abret. Anne owned manuscript epistles by Jacques D’Etaples, called Evangelical at the time but we might see this as mystique subjective stuff encouraging self-examination; he finds exchanges of manscripts of poems in this vein (between Colonna and Marguerite it was Colonna’s poems though Marguerite wrote her own more medieval like versions of them). I felt astonished and recognized the same problem Ives faced: how do you attribute this to the woman? What can she have liked this for? To tell the change from good works to faith doesn’t come near it. I suggest the analogy is women reading Rousseau: he thought women mattered and his treatises were taken as attempt to lay claim to their valid subjectivity.

Ives shows that George Boleyn wrote a dedication to his sister of a present of Tyndale to her: in this we see an intense closeness of feeling between them. Maybe they never came to sex, but I can see why Henry might find something disturbing here. Ives suggests the whole Boleyn family were a “hotbed” of Protestantism of this kind – I know from reading elsewhere Cranmore was and Anne was all for his high office, he supported her as far as he dared; he was one of those Mary burned – he was involved in trying to place Jane Grey on the throne.

I have never come across an adequate explication of what these women got out of these kinds of materials. In Colonna’s case mostly men afterwards have talked of her relationship with Pole and gone on to him, and deprecated her flagellations. She did flagellate herself – as did Wolsey
Some insight which translates the religious language into secular psychology is needed. Ives mentions the “fierce passions” that drew Henry and Anne together – their bedrooms were set up across a hall from one another before marriage but we haven’t got an equivalent of Freud to parse these women.

While it is very moving and a consistent portrait of Anne emerges from the book that shows her to have been (to use Cromwell’s words about her quoted as having been said by him shortly after she was executed) a woman of “spirit, intelligence, courage,” I don’t think his explanation of what happened at the end quite holds up. In a nugget, he fails to explain how a woman who in April at least seemed fully in control of her position and loved by the King enough, could by May be executed by him — along with 5 other men, all of them close to Henry. His inability to come to a satisfactory explanation comes from his refusal to see Anne as anything but innocent of all sexual transgression. There are a couple of significant holes in his long book and story. First he does not tell us what Anne said so hysterically when she went to pieces upon being taken to the tower.

Second he does not tell us what Kingston said in a letter about Anne while in the tower — it may be these letters are no longer extent but he does quote the Lisle letters repeatedly otherwise (keepers of the tower) and I’ve discovered another book which has Anne as sexually transgressive with her male courtiers seems to — by G.W. Bernard and I’ve bought that one now. If the letters don’t exist, then there is plenty of hearsay at the time about what the letters said.

He omits (as I’ve said) the accusation of sorcery which is the old accusation of how she betwitched him, but was at the time seen as his reaction to the two miscarriages and the foetus dying which was said to have been male. He does this partly to dismiss Retha Warnke’s book which he repeatedly calls nonsense. He cannot even get himself to talk about her idea that homsexual behavior went on between Anne’s male courtiers which included her brother, George.

The origin of this in the book goes back to his reading of the poetry of the early part of Anne’s time at the Tudor court which he refuses to admit has any sexual reality. He won’t have her having gotten into serious engagement (sex and a vow) with Henry Percy Northumberland. He won’t allow sex to have happened between her and Wyatt.

He will allow that she and her courtiers indulged in ugly and dangerous ridicule of the king’s prowess, that she flirted in the way of courtiers at the time, and got too familiar or too close with the men in her entourage, and that this ignited all Henry’s deep hurt, humiliation, anxiety.

He does suggest that Henry’s desire for a male heir and Henry’s inability to produce one is at the core of all that happened. So it is this humiliated resentful male with lethal power — and it has to be remembered he inflicted dreadful deaths on four of the men, a terrifying one (beheading) on George and Anne Boleyn. Everyone just stands there and let’s Henry’s power do it. One of the reviewers said we have to remember that Henry’s power was so tenuous that’s why he fell to axing people but it does not seem tenuous when he can have people burnt, drawn and quartered and axed to death.

Ives’s explanation has to rest on Cromwell; Cromwell emerges in this book as suddenly turning on the woman he had been serving for years. Ives has Cromwell as serving Anne more than the king in changing the kingdom into protestantism, not credibile really — even if she had a personal religion and books that resemble other queens of the era. Cromwell in a ruthless way concocts out of rumor and nothingness the whole fabric and makes it stick even endlessly denied by all but Smeaton (who was the core of the evidence, admitting to adultery with Anne, saying the others did this too, a miserable role no matter how you see his motives). Ives says people did dislike Brereton who had deliberately hung someone a jury in his district had first declared not guilty (that is in Wolf Hall and in the film). Cromwell killed her lest he be killed; he felt himself in danger but even here, we are left with why? Why did Cromwell suddenly feel so threatened? Ives goes over the politics and uncertainties over the emperor, and the French king, Mantel has it Henry let Cromwell know he wanted to get rid of Anne after she had the second miscarriage and he had started his liaison with Jane Seymour so Cromwell, fearful but reluctant (over Anne and one of the men, Weston), acted

Cromwell is Ives’s great villain of these 6 weeks — loading the jury with people utterly hostile to Anne, with one man dependent on him, but 96 people said guilty and many of them were not Cromwell creatures. Those biographies of Cromwell I’ve read or am reading work hard to counter or explain away this perspective (Tracy Boorman, John Schofield).

The reviewers of Ives’s book most admired his sections where the social construction thesis is strong: how Anne manipulated the court, her image, rose to power this way. Here my objection is these images she manipulated were believed in, she was supposed to be a numinous figure. All collapsed so suddenly that my idea of the phoniness of all this as seen through is plausible (to me). The other version of why it is all collapsed is that no one could accept her in the way they did women coming from regal numinous families. Ives thinks it’s the latter (not that the images were religiously intertwined) and that all her power resided in Henry’s favor if we are talking for real. He says that the courtcraft she rose to power on did her in.

Maybe it’s the sordidness of the sex and motives all round that is so hard for Ives to accept and see as explaining what happened — Mantel infers or insinuates this and her use of fiction (reminding me of the debate on Lolita) allows her to suggest this without making it explicit.


Blickling Hall, Norfolk where Mary, Anne and George Boleyn were probably all born

Two flaws in Alison Weir’s book: first, as with so many of these people writing on earlier sexually transgressive women, like Ives and Warnke, she is adamently opposed to accepting any tenuous evidence of most of Mary Boleyn’s presumed sexual life. When she says there no evidence whatsoever for an affair with Francois I, there is equally no evidence for other of assertions about the Boleyn family’s motives. Having a little expertise in this area in the sense that I spent a few years reading these often lurid gossip kind of material (chronicles, letters, diaries) for Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, I know that often that is what evidence we have for women apart from biological and documentary entries (property changes) and their letters are few and often guarded, or censored. That Mary may have been promiscuous does not mean we have to call her a whore. I don’t. I recognize she’s coerced in part — as I see prostitutes. Second, Weir’s style. Someone said of one of Weir’s long books: a “great puddle of a book.” I’ll say. She will say the same obvious truism over and over,and she repeats evidence in a circle. She hasn’t got a style — I’m relieved there’s none of the different jargons in Ives or Warnke, but that does not make for entertaining reading.

Still Weir is so conscientious and goes over every smidgin of evidence that from her work you can erect a chronology and come up with an probable outline of Mary’s life. It’s interesting to me that four women who recur in these costume dramas provided powerful people after they retreated, were forced out or died: Edward Jane’s son was king for a time and he was important in preventing a total catholic take-over; Mary Tudor became queen but it was too late and she was too bloody, Elizabeth Tudor became queen and the two Lord Hunsdons from Mary Carey Strafford.

There exists a startling long and frank letter from Mary to Cromwell after her pregnancy and marriage to Stafford was found out. She was literally turned out of court with no money; Weir’s hard work and scepticism makes a strong case for the couple going to Calais and living there for some 6 years because Stafford had an appointment as a guard there and is found in records for these years there. But what was so dismaying was how she treated this letter: sheerly from the standpoint that Mary should have written the letter as a manipulative document, not openly showing emotion and realities that are (I know) so rare in letters until the 18th century when there is suddenly a extraordinary break-through and you get whole sets of letters where women (and sometimes) men too open their vulnerable lives up to one another.

Among other things the letter testifies to the rightness of Mantel’s instinctive positive treatment of Cromwell. It’s clear Mary feels assured the man has a heart. Weir assumes that he didn’t like this letter or disdained it because there is no record that anything was done for her; that does not mean Cromwell didn’t try — he was super-careful when it came to protecting himself in this lethal court. John Schofield’s Cromwell (a recent biographer) is a man who a woman could write such a letter to as Mary Boleyn wrote.

Weir quotes a few other people on this letter: they also disdain it. No one doubts its authenticity. There exists only one short letter by Anne Boleyn; if we had anything like the equivalent for Anne it would be well know and I suggest would made people defend Anne more — paradoxically as writers would probably equally disapprove.

My speculation or inference is that Mary is despised still because she did fail in her court career and because for all Weir’s hard work, people believe she was sexually available to men “too easily.” Weir won’t have her as a “great whore” but she does not respect her. Gregory tries to — and I wonder if some of her inaccuracies are her attempts to tone down the woman’s lack of success as this is understood by most. She did survive and there is enough evidence she was happy in her closing years, made her choice herself and courageously but what her choice was won’t do.

Not only does Weir’s case against Mary having intense sexual involvements with someone in France and again with Henry VIII fall down, but her own appendices seem to me to demonstrate beyond any doubt that Katharine Carey and Henry Carey, Mary Boleyn’s two children were Henry VIII’s — the way they and their children and children’s children were treated seems to me to have no other explanation. Weir admits to the probability of Katharine; what stops her from agreeing to Henry is that for her to have had two children by Henry shows an extended sex life and she wants to say Henry stopped having sex with Mary rather quickly. She will admit only the briefest of sex outside marriage episodes for Mary.

In Mantel Henry keeps Mary as a side-mistress, concubine really for when Anne is pregnant. The accurate phrase for these women who are at court and go to bed with these powerful kings is concubine. They are tantamount to slaves, their bodies endlessly available to men at court whom their families want to aggrandize with.

Henry Carey, later Lord Hunsdon, favored by Elizabeth, Lord Chamberlain (probably Henry VIII’s son, and thus Elizabeth’s half-brother and cousin)

Katherine Carey, later Lady Knollys, lived close to Elizabeth all their lives (Henry VIII’s daughter, and thus Elizabeth’s half-sister and cousin)

If I’m right (and Philippa Gregory has both of Mary’s children Henry’s), then it helps explain Henry’s intense sudden hatred of Anne. She excluded him until he betrothed himself to. Since he can sire children and healthy ones with other women (her sister for one), it must be he has 1) angered God in his choices, and 2) what was wrong with choosing Anne was she was sexually unchaste or not a virgin when he finally had her — and all the while she was refusing him. He looked at he courtiers and Leontes-like went into a crazed rage. Leontes in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale comes partly from Henry VIII as he was known about and Hermione’s speech is a piece with Katharine. That Shakespeare was gripped by the private aspects of the Henry VIII debacles is seen in his repeating it in his Henry VIII in part. Who then was the father of the stillborn baby Anne perhaps produced in summer 1535. Her brother who had aided and abetted her and been given so many financial plums.

Ta Nehisi-Coates writes and says that American black people, especially men walk around with bodily fear; it seems to me that all women until the 19th century and since only a (growing) minority can feel their bodies are their own, safe from invasion.

Chronology and outline of Mary Boleyn’s life (see comments)

As in 2008 Other Boleyn Girl: Wm Stafford freely chosen by and choosing Mary Boleyn, for love, and her two children (above) by Henry


Glastonbury Tor, Sometsetshire

Dear friends and readers,

This is another blog of lecture notes for a course I’m teaching at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at American University. As happened last spring, the second week I was supposed to teach, the first class was cancelled (not the course itself, we will begin meeting next week for 10 weeks), this time because the church the organization rents the space from scheduled a massive funeral for today. Thus once again, I’m putting my lecture notes for the first session on-line in a place where they will be readily available so the course might start this week without a meeting. The aim of the course is to read and to discuss Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together from points of view that bring out its meanings and larger significance accurately so readers might enjoy it, see its relevancy, appreciate it. Nearly three weeks ago I put the syllabus online here at Austen Reveries; anyone not in this class wanting to read this blog can read that as an explanation for this first set of lecture notes.


Fountain Court, Middle Temple — Fielding a law student here in late 1730s

How to get past some of the obstacles of reading Tom Jones:

As we set out together on our journey through the single massive volume that is Tom Jones, I feel I have to preface where I usually start a reading together and class on a book, the author’s life story insofar as we know it, and especially those aspects of that life which fueled the particular book, by talking of the difficulties or barriers this text presents.

A book is after all made up of words and Fielding’s idiolect may be very foreign to today’s readers. It is larded with his reading and memories of not only the Latin classics and contemporary (by which I mean 18th century) writing. Looking things up is tedious, and once you have had to explain a joke, it loses its humor; often an allusion to be deeply understood requires that we’ve read and remember the original text. As either Keymer or Wakeley tells us in the few paragraphs preceding the glossary of Latin tags, Partridge often misapplies or has misunderstood the texts he quotes from; at one point Tom (who we are asked to believe has become well read despite his appalling pair of tutors) grows very irritated over one such misapplication. What’s more Fielding assumes the importance of the classical tradition; in his introductory chapters he will go on about places in Aristotle where he Fielding disagrees with Aristotle. But who today cares about Aristotle? Aristotle’s treatise on tragedy which is really an explication of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex applied to all tragedy was hopelessly inapplicable in Shakespeare’s time.

Determination, diligence, and if you have a respect for intelligence, what has been considered beautiful and thoughtful ideals, can overcome some of this. What cannot be overcome but must be (as it were) eaten (like one of the dishes he opens up with talking about) or read intensely through is his abstract style, his use of general words and formal syntax to convey real psychological experience that is particular to a scene or character. People today might have a tendency when they see an abstract style not to visualize what the author wants us to see; we are so used to “a talking style” where sentences are short, and concrete particular words are used, and especially an emphasis on the pictorial, communicating through images where we are shown emotionalisms, we are in danger of not bonding with characters’ emotions and their situations which despite the slippery ironies within ironies of the text that Fielding does want us to take seriously. It may sound mad but my advice to someone reading this book is to try to treat it each paragraph as a 10 line poem, pay alert attention to what the words signify.

When we are told in general words that Sophia feels anguish, we are endow her with the anguish a 21st century heroine might know although the words would be particular. Wholly at random, I turned to p 320 in my edition, Book 11, Chapter 5, where Harriet Fitzpatrick is telling of a devastating experience she had as a married woman. Men were allowed to lock up their wives; they could beat them; a woman was supposed to obey, and people did marry for money sheerly (it was the only way to become rich if you were not born to it). Harriet tells Sophie her “companions” were “my own racking Thoughts, which plagued and and in a manner haunted me Night and Day. In this situation I passed through a Scene, the Horrors of which cannot be imagined …” – a childbirth alone, and childbirth in this period was a hard ordeal often ending in death.

We are not only to laugh hard, and the laughter in this book is not benevolent, it’s Swiftian – very like Jonathan Swift – but feel hard. Lethal hatred is what swirls everywhere either there already or easily erupted in Paradise Hall. By Book 7 Tom is homeless, without any money (he has been given a considerable sum by Mr Allworthy but in his anguish he did not realize he dropped the pocketbook and the money was taken by Black George), a bastard, despised by all, a vagrant. This is a book about a vagrant. The narrator’s perspective is, philosophical distanced and ethical, I had almost said judicious except that the narrator is often satirized too. So at this crux of poor Tom’s career we get an essay on how people in life are like performers on a stage, p 289, Book 7, chapter 1 – but for all that we are given a situation meant to be taken fully which we are to care about. Feel the rage, the bitterness, and puzzled bewilderment, the hurt, the fear. This is an era where torture (especially of animals) is a form of entertainment.

The narrator is not Fielding. The book as a whole intensely mirrors the particulars of Fielding’s experience of life and like most great novels is a disguised autobiography, but it’s displaced. My sense is from other recent readers is the more you see real history of the era here and Fielding’s real life here the stronger the book becomes for you. The narrator is a cover-up for this, a device that enables Fielding to hide himself. He is continually half-wrong; he’ll give us five views of something and say View 5th is the right one, but I suggest not so, for if we were to dismiss views 1-4 why give them? We need both to believe things he says and dismiss him. In one of his chapters Fielding says something may seem to be irrelevant to have nothing to do with his text but everything in it pertains, it’s designed. It’s nowadays thought the book was long in the making and writing, at least a few years.

First chapter he tells us the content of the book is human nature, pp 35-37, Book 1, Chapter 1. He is not here to present any particular animal but animalness as such. His story is prism. But then he says true nature is very hard to find in authors or books – and for good reason and the difference between authors is how the dish is set out. The second idea contradicts the first. Fielding is never plain though he does loathe “affectation” – in our terms phony self-presentations, a subdivision of hypocrisy (knowing lies people understand they can get away with). By these means he will induce us to read on forever – this is a joke, though in the latter part of the book it’s clear Fielding does want his book to live beyond his time.

So what have I said, what does this amount to? Get past the language, read it as you have other deep feeling dark books written in a modern idiom. The narrator is an ironic device: in Jonathan Swift’s famous treatise, “A Modest Proposal,” his narrator says the way to stop the Irish from starving is for them to kill their babies and eat them. This not only solves the problem of producing food, but will reduce the population. He’s deadly serious; he says it’s what the English want. So much that this narrator says is deadly serious and it’s also a deep expose of outrage and preposterousness.

The narrator and his discourses and introductory chapters are also intended as Fielding’s way of making respectable long prose narratives so that they – his especially – can form another genre than those hitherto respected (tragedy, comedy, satire, romance): the novel. We can’t talk of everything this novel requires to understand it even in one term, much less the first day so I put off describing what passed for novels and romances from the 1st-3rd century AD to the middle 18th century for next week. Another thing this book is doing is inventing a form of novel which was taken up by other great writers of the era (mostly male, this is a very male book, a male’s book and outlook) and then transformed in the 19th century, first by Scott into historical fiction.


Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Brian Blessed as Tom Jones and Sophia and Squire Western (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

A word about the movies: the concentration or emphasis will be on the books. For a start the films distort the books; they present a false common misunderstanding which was prevalent in the mid-20th century and has not gone from us today: that this book is a pastoral erotic romp – Tony Richardson and John Osborne’s movie. That’s certainly on the surface of the book. Or that it upholds common normative values – the BBC movie which comes closer in attempting to bring out the moral devastation now and again, a real rape. Lots of people want their books to validate their worlds and movies which are popular do this. This one does not.

When I think of some 21st century version of the large world it presents I think of the insanity of the way highways are nowadays configured – after all a lot of this book occurs on the road – two lanes for E-Z passes, two for those who won’t pay ahead and don’t want to pay to exit, when if you are going to divide up to make inequality visual you should have 6 lanes for “everyone else.” The result is a hideous traffic jam for one side of the highway and cars speeding through the other. Why does no one protest? There are surveillance cameras everywhere so if you don’t have an E-Z pass you had better not get on E-Z pass lanes. You don’t want to go before a judge and complain. As in Fielding’s book the characters we see justify what is happening and take petty advantages where they can: the dream here is a small percentage of the take.

Hogarth’s depiction of a “laughing audience” in the 18th century theater

The 18th century reader knew this was a book which presented amorality as central to life, that whatever the narrator may profess it’s deeply secular (sex in it is far more often like Sade than National Lampoon). I didn’t want to ignore them as that’s to be an ostrich and I’m nowadays a person who writes on and studies film adaptations. If you are having trouble reading the book, they can function like an explication.


The house at East Stour in Dorsetshire where Fielding grew up

So for the second half of this blog-lecture I’ll present something of Fielding’s life as it relates to Tom Jones. This is mostly taken from Thomas’s and Paulson’s biographies.

A simple pair of metaphors: a book may be regarded as a lamp and a mirror. As a lamp, it is filled with the spirit of the author, his or her feelings, thoughts, memories, imagination as filtered through a genre’s conventions. As a mirror, it cannot but reflect the realities of its era, the issues, laws, customs, mores, furniture, technology, economics, politics of its age and place. This book is a product of southwest England where Fielding was born and spent formative years, and of 18th century London and its environs. Fielding never was a soldier; he lived a t the University of Leiden (17828-29), near death (he died at age 47) he traveled to Portugal thinking the climate would be easier on him in his wretchedly sick state, warmer anyway. Maybe he did want to escape at last, he’s buried there.

Fielding was the first child and son of Sarah Gouge, a woman who in position if not great wealth (still part of the 1% of the era) is very like Sophia Western: the daughter of a squire, Sir Henry Gould and Lady Sarah. He was a justice of the peace and magistrate as were at some point many of these landowners in counties. Fielding may not have had Sharpham Park (near Glastonbury), the Gould seat in mind (it’s more likely to have been Ralph Allen’s house near Bath, Prior Park (which you can now visit as a tourist), but it was certainly an Allworthy type mansion. Sarah had one brother, David Gouge who inherited the house and rents and legacy of money.

At age 24 she married an army officer, Edmund Fielding, in 1706, they said afterward against their wishes. Within a year Henry was born and back living with her parents. Edmund was a spendthrift, gamester, duellist, and libertine but a man of position and rank: he was related to Fieldings who claimed descent from the house of Hapsburg, and certainly a William Fielding was Earl of Denbigh in 1620, with a son who was an ambassador; there were canons, an Archdeacon and a royal Chaplain to Wm and Mary in the family. So there was this prestigious but distant heritage.

If he imagined he’d get money with Sarah, he didn’t. Sir Henry had made a will which left considerable money to his daughter, £3000 but held in trust by her brother, and tied up in leases so that Edmund Fielding should not get his hands on any of it. Edmund Fielding’s first years of manhood were spent as a fighting soldier, in France, Holland (Liege), on the continent, rewarded for being courageous (£30), proud of his time in Marlborough’s armies. While there were a couple of later periods where he fought again (as late as 1740), basically he spent decades on half-pay. He died trying to escape debtors’ prison, within the jurisdiction of Fleet Prison, leaving considerable debts and assets of £5.

Woodspring Priory, Somerset (built before the Reformation in honor of St Thomas of Canterbury)

Henry was not a foundling, but he was not an heir and much of his life was spent working for enough money to live in genteel style, with periods of poverty – not like that of say a Black George, more like a character out of Thackeray. Glastonbury in Somerset is a place associated with Arthurian myths, celtic mythology which was known at the time; people believed in ghosts. A remote country place which Fielding knew very well – it’s what Tom travels through in the first part of his walk (in effect), Monmouth had landed not far from there, in Devonshire, a rebellion which ended in savage reprisals at assizes. James II on the throne at the time was Catholic, so in Fielding’s background is a world of understandable anti-Catholicism. When he was three and his mother pregnant for a fourth time, the father-in-law purchased East Stour, a large stone farmhouse in Dorset, with several hundred areas, brew and malt house, coach, and tenants – providing income. Think of this place as Thomas Hardy country. One of his known sisters, Sarah, later a novelist, was born in 1710. Henry grows up there for another 10 years while his father sinks into debt in London; his mother died in 1718. A year later Edmund married a Roman Catholic widow, Anne Rapha, and brings her to East Stour.

And around that time enrolls Henry at Eton. He was early on recognized as gifted, already studying Latin and Greek at a school in Taunton; much later at Exeter College, Oxford. A brother Edmund preferred dogs, guns, hunting. There was a harsh tutor (beat the boy) named John Oliver whom Parson Trulliber is said to be modeled on – from Joseph Andrews. Meanwhile at East Stour stories of the stepmother’s treatment of her husband’s children by his first wife suggest intense conflict too. Henry saw the idle lives of these military officers up-close; one of Henry’s plays has as subplot how a man cannot get a promotion because he will not allow his wife to go to bed with someone who could advance him. There are stories of swindlers of these officers, of Edmund Fielding’s life in London, of how he went to court: fraud and violence abounded.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Hazard Room

In 1721 the grandmother initiates litigation in the court of chancery to gain control of her grandchildren and their legacy she said her son-in-law was dissipating away. There’s a story of Edmund sending a servant to wrest Henry back from his grandmother and the two barricading themselves in and Henry shouting, but he was also close to his father in his middle or young teen years. For example between 1724 when Henry left Eton for good and 1728 Henry shuttled between London and a house in Upton Grey rented for him by his father; his father had a way of suddenly going up in the world (1727 Edmund promoted to Brigadier general and he gives his son a small allowance). Henry himself resorts to violence to get his way. He was ambivalent about his father, and he really loved the grandmother: when she died in 1733 Fielding the grandson paid to have her body moved to East Stour and buried next to his mother.

One last story of these early years: he fell in love with an heiress, Sarah Andrew, around 1725, said to be attractive but the money mattered too; the match was forbidden: her guardian and brothers did not want Fielding He was assaulted by hired ‘bruisers.” He couldn’t get to her, tried to abduct her, but was thwarted. A repeating theme in his writing is the coerced marriage, and its results.


Frontage of the Little Theater in Haymarket, where Fielding had his greatest triumphs

Fielding as a man of the theater (cont’d in comments).

Fielding’s reading and other works before Tom Jones, more briefly his life up to and beyond the writing of Tom Jones: hack writer, journalist, barrister, magistrate (cont’d in comments)


Ring-a-Ring-o’Roses (charcoal, watercolor, click to enlarge)

Woodland scene (1886, click to enlarge)

Dear friends and readers,

Forbes is the third woman I’ve chosen from this later Victorian into Edwardian/modern period (the other too Paula Modersohn-Becker and Helen Allingham) from out of eight thus far.

This is the first era of the impressionists, and Forbes came under the influence of James McNeill Whistler. Like his her landscapes are psychological projections. In her case her landscapes represent them as a child would see them, or suggestive of a particular story (Great Women Masters of Art, Vigue, 299). The use of children has another origin: like Allingham Forbes was an illustrator and had to come up with a solution to the repressive mores of the era which demanded she have a chaperon: she painted children.

I first came across her work at the National Museum of Women’s Art in DC where she seemed to fit into the Pre-Raphaelite mode: at the time her mural, Will-o’-the Wisp, was on a balcony, next to an ascending stairway:

(click to enlarge)

The painting connects her to Helen Allingham as Forbes is illustrating his symbolic poem, The Faeries, and

depicts the story of Bridget, who was stolen by the ‘wee’ folk and bought up to the mountain for seven years. When Bridget returned to her village, she found that her friends were all gone.
    Set in autumn with bare trees silhouetted against a moonlit sky, the triptych’s dark rocks, swirling mist, and eerie glow in the sky convey a mystical quality to this scene featuring Bridge, the ‘stolen child … dead with sorrow … on a bed of flat leaves.’ In the left panel of the painting, little forest denizens, who in Irish legends often entice young girls with sensory pleasures, troop through the forest.
    Will-o-the-Wisp displays the tenets of the Newlyn Art School in its meticulous portrayal of natural detail … the elaborately hand-wrought oak frame that incorporates sheets of copper embossed with intertwined branches imitat[e] the painted tree limbs … Lines from Allingham’s poem inscribed along the sides and bottom of the frame allude to the centuries old philosophical dialogue between the relative artistic merits of painting versus poetry (JP, Women Artists, Works from the National Museum, p 66)

Like Modersohn-Becker she was influenced by the avante-garde; for Forbes it was the work of Walter Sickert, a print-maker, that struck her.

Brighton Pierrots by Sickert (click to enlarge)

Julian Treuherz (Victorian Painting, pp 187-96) valuably reprints a number of late Victorian landscape and country painters unfamiliar to many people today, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Frank Bramley, Elizabeth’s husband, Stanhope Forbes, Clausen, Wm McTaggart, Atkinson Grimshaw), but she assimilates to these only in the naturalistic and seeming social-criticism phases of her work.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Pauvre Fauvette (1881)

William McTaggart, The Storm (1890)

And of course her husband’s work influenced hers as hers did his:

A characteristic fisherman’s wife scene (click to enlarge)

Martin Hopkinson’s review of a recent biography of Forbes, Singing from the Walls: The Life and Art of Elizabeth Forbes by Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie and Christina Paine, suggests the wide range of influences and center of art Forbes attended (see The British Art Journal 2:3 (Spring/Summer 2001):108. It’s true that what’s depicted may seem insular English as in The Edge of the Wood (1894), a “love tryst” (Christopher Wood’s term, from Paradise Lost: Paintings of English Country Life and Landscape, 1850-1914, p 199) something from a Hardy novel


or ideas for a new BBC film adaptation of elegant rich Edwardians

The Minuet (1892)

but note the rich coloration of her Forbes’s art, her use of animals, the leaves, the wood; the second picture’s center is the child’s yellow dress, with triangular shades of light and three women watching over her while a fourth works near a window.

She is included in a few of my surveys of women painters, mentioned in others. Greer places her alongside Mary Cassatt and Laura Knight because she worked in “the fragile” (and demanding) “medium of watercolor, leaving grander genre and history compositions in oils to her better-known husband. Often the simplicity of her work seems slack and spurious, but occasionally, as in her pastel, The Kiss, some greater intensity swells the small statement” (Obstacle Race, p 113). What a put-down.

Those women who write about her art sympathetically say forget the fashionable masculine schools of the era (impressionism, Pre-Raphaelitism); to align Forbes with these or the anecdotal Victorian naturalistic depictions gets you nowhere. You have to stake out a terrain of femininity for her as much as her you do for Allingham and Modersohn-Becker. This seems to me right: like the woman authors of the 1930s who are marginalized (see Alison Light, Forever England) in favor of say Graham Greene or George Orwell because these women don’t fit in the political movements of the day, the marginalization of Allingham and Forbes is the result of looking for what the women don’t want to be there.

For myself I am deeply attracted to women artists of this era, and in Forbes’s case the melancholy and in her illustrations overt poetic feel. As a girl I learned to love Arthurian stories because of the illustrations that accompanied them in Edwardian books.


Elizabeth in 1882 by her husband, Stanhope Forbes

Born December 29, 1859, in Kingston, a suburb of Ottawa, Canada, daughter of a government official. At age 16, 1875, she went to the South Kensington School of Art to study; she returned home when her father died (presumably she lack funds to stay on). Two years later we find her in NYC under American influence while studying at the Art Students League, and then going on Munich (encouraged by William Merrit Chase). In 1882 she moved to Pont Aven (France) where she met leading “plein-air” painters, people working in smocks out-of-doors. Decisive, though. was the autumn she spent in Newlyn, Cornwall, with her mother, both for choice of subject and execution:

A Zandvoort Fishergirl (1884) (click to enlarge)

and because she met her husband, Stanford Alexander Forbes there. A yet stronger luminous quality and use color and light, respect for a humble occupation, and expressiveness has lead to critics regarding her Boy with the Hoe as one of her outstanding paintings:

Elizabeth Adela Forbes - Boy with a Hoe
(click to enlarge)

The couple married in 1891; she had a son in 1892. She wrote and illustrated a children’s book, King Arthur’s Wood, and edited a magazine called The Paper Chase. She had been doing etchings from a time in St Ives, but gave this form up. She also could no longer keep up the French connections directly. To support themselves she and her husband opened a school of art in Newlyn (1899), but her predilection for presenting her modernity as the working teacher began before that, as seen in her fine School is Out(1889):

(click to enlarge)

Deborah Cherry (Painting Women, pp 183-6) argues that Forbes’s images take issue with masculine definitions of what is modern art, she (in effect) refuses to imitate paintings focusing on “the commodification of [sexually available] women’s bodies.”

Blackberry gatherers

Pleasure has other sources too, like in this Christmas Scene

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes (Canadian artist, 1859–1912)  Christmas Tree

Here is her husband reading a very thick book:

Stanhope Alexander Forbes

Her first individual exhibit was held in 1900 at the Fine Arts Society of London; she was elected a member of the watercolor society; 1904 she had another individual exhibit at Leicester Gallery in London. She died at the relatively young age of 53 in 1912.



She is known for her depiction of children. Alone:

A street in Brittany


The Half-Holiday

Grouped in scenes:

Looking over a wall

In a wood

But there is equal adept depth and individual use of different painting techniques for adults:

A Fisherman (she seems usually to avoid the stereotype Cornish fishing and fishing equipment scenes

An Old Man

She did many and varied illustrations: Another Arthurian:


Some consciously sexy:


Take oh take those lips away (!)

She did sheer fairy tale:

The Pied Piper

Probably today she would be more admired for landscapes and simpler expressionism:

Across Mount Bay

A Holland scene: Volendam, from the Zuicende

[A] balanced, typically Dutch landscape … The spatial conceptions lends he work a homogeneous image constructed around the strong verticality of the canal and its banks… striking for its sense of depth, and the harmony of light and color, with a strong colorist atmosphere far removed from somber English landscapes. The force of light increases through the use of color, with luminous effects concentrated on the water in he canal, represented as a mirror reflecting the sky .. Vigue, p 304)

But she could be very Henry-Jamesian:


And some of her compositions defy allegoresis or ready comparisons as this of a country girl stroking a goat who is eating wildflowers from her flower-laden wheel barrow

Jean, Jeanne, Jeannette (1880) (click to enlarge)


She seems to love water-imagery and when not painting working women and children at play, she is a poet of painterly reverie.

Two self-portraits

In her studio, from the early phase of her career with her husband

Later in life


Wm Hogarth, The March to Finley, a scene from the ’45’ Rebellion (1749) (click to enlarge)

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Ten Monday afternoons, 1:00 to 2:50 pm
St Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 2815 36th Street, Northwest, Washington DC
Dates: Classes start Sept 28th; last class Nov 30th, 2015.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

For ten weeks the class will read Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together. When Fielding died relatively young, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, his cousin quipped ironically, “It is a pity he was not immortal, he was so formed for happiness.” All the many obstacles to the pursuit of happiness comprise what this big book is about. We will read a few essays on Fielding in the context of his age and several careers (dramatist, attorney-magistrate, journalist, novelist). Why was it was called “immoral” then and how does it emerge from and today belong to strong satiric and erotic schools of art (from Swift and Hogarth to Richardson and Sade). Why in the 20th century it was adapted into oddly innocent films first filled with wild hilarity and sexual salaciousness, then subversive ironies and bizarre theatricality. We’ll focus on the slippery narrator and discuss his concerns like where power comes from; hypocrisy and charity, and the masks of social and psychological life. Can you imagine a world without novels? This is one of the books that established the genre

Required Text: Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, ed., introd., notes Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. London: Penguin, 2005 (975 pages). An alternative recommended edition: The History of Tom Jones, ed. R. P. C. Mutter. NY: Penguin, 1983 (911 pages)

Tom’s Journey Across England (click for clear comprehension)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 21: No class but it’s asked that everyone start the book, and read for the first week: TJ, Bk 1, Ch 1 though Bk 3, Ch 4 (pp. 35-119). If possible, please also watch on your own one of the films and have come to the ending of either by Oct 5th.
Sept 28: First class: An introduction: Fielding’s life, learning & plays. Read for next time: Bk 3, Ch 5 through Bk 5, Ch 4 (pp. 119-201).
Oct 5: In class: the narrator, book as a novel; class watches clip from MGM Tom Jones (Osborne/Richardson). Read for next time: Bk 4, Ch 5 through Bk 7, Ch 2 (pp. 201-294) & Stevenson’s “Black George and the Gaming Laws.”
Oct 12: In class: the mid-century pastoral movie; crime (poaching, game laws), punishment, injustice, class in Tom Jones. Read for next time: Bk 7, Ch 3 through Bk 8, Ch 8 (pp. 295-383) & Simpson’s Popular Perceptions of Rape in 18th Century England.”
Oct 19: In class: Ethics & sex in 18th century life and art & TJ; class watches clip from BBC/A&E Tom Jones (Burke/Harrison). For next time read Bk 8, Ch 9 through Bk 10, Ch 2 (pp. 383-466).
Oct 26: In class: historic-costume serials; the journey, sentimentality, gyspy kings in TJ. Read for next time Bk 10, Ch 3 through Bk 12, Ch 2 (pp. 466-550) & Stevenson’s “Stuart Ghosts.”
Nov 2: In class: history, politics, war in TJ; read for next time Bk 12, Ch 3 through Bk 13, Ch 8 (pp. 551-634) & Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.”
Nov 9: In class: Where is Fielding in Tom Jones? funny, nihilistic? Read for next time: Bk 13, Ch 9 through Bk 15, Ch 8 (pp. 634-719).
Nov 16: In class: The masquerade, the theater in TJ: class watch clip from BBC T J. Read for next time: Bk 15, Ch 9 through Bk 17, Ch 8 (pp. 720-801).
Nov 23: In class: other 18th century films; class watches clip from Scola’s La Nuit de Varennes; Horsfield’s Poldark. Read for next time Bk 17, Ch 9 through Bk 18, Chapter the Last (pp. 801-875) and Willaputte on Fielding’s Modern Husband & “Women Buried” TJ.
Nov 30: How does the book speak to us today? Late Fielding (Amelia and “Anne Boleyn”), magistrate and journalist.

A contemporary print of Ralph Allen’s Prior Park just outside Bath (click to enlarge)

Photograph of the grounds open to tourists (2002)

The films, a website & selection of books (the articles all sent by attachment):

Bertelsen, Lance. Henry Fielding At Work: Magistrate, Business and Writer. NY: Palgave Macmillan, 2000. Full of interest: the real life legal cases Fielding worked on.
Campbell, Jill. Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding’s Plays and Novels. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. Heavy-going (too judicious?) but persuasive on Fielding’s sympathetic attitudes towards women across his work and life.
Mayer, Robert, ed. Eighteenth-Century Fiction on Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Dated but good for the era and films covered.
Thomas, Donald. Henry Fielding. NY: St Martin’s Press, 1990. Much better on the life and Fielding’s basic attitudes than the reviews have been willing to concede. Very readable.
Paulson, Ronald. The Life of Henry Fielding. NY: Wiley/Blackwell, 2000. Superb.
Smallwood, Angela. Fielding and the Woman Question: the Novels of Henry Fielding and the Feminist Debate. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. Makes Fielding into an advanced feminist (!).
Stevenson, John Allen. The Real History of Tom Jones. London: Macmillan Palgrave, 2008 All the articles by him are chapters in this book; there is too much academic jargon but he’s rich in insight and information.
Tom Jones. Dr. Tony Richardson. Writer John Osborne. Perf. Albert Finney, Susannah York, Edith Evans. MGM/1963.
Tom Jones. Dr. Meteyin Husein. Writer Simon Burke. Perf. John Sessions, Max Besley, Samantha Morton, Ron Cook, Brian Blessed, Frances de la Tour, Benjamin Whitgrow, BBC/A&E/1997.
Wikipedia: life and works of Fielding, with links

A bust of Fielding carved after his death (click to see beauty of the piece)

Relevant blogs on movies:

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon & Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones: compared
Affectionately Dedicated to Mr Fielding: the 1997 BBC/A&E Tom Jones
Poldark books and films: Handy list (some on subjects found in TJ)
La Nuit de Varennes: serendipitous life, 18th century style

Partridge kisses and hugs Tom upon learning who the stranger is (one of my favorite moments from the 1997 TJ)

Rosa Brett, The Hayloft, 1858

Dear friends and readers,

Another woman artist who gets only minimal mention in surveys of women artists: Germaine Greer says of her and Antonietta Bandies they were “so sickened by the double standard [demanding ‘womanly qualities’ in their paintings] that they signed some works as men:” Rosa Brett (“Rosarius”). I was taken by and remembered ever after the effective photographic accuracy of her snug cat in a brick and wooden The Hayloft (above) in Caroline Bugler’s The Cat: 3500 Years of the Cat in Art (part of a history of growing knowledge and accuracy in portrayal): enigmatic symbolism is found at the bottom.

Brett painted in the closely scientifically observed mode of the Pre-Raphaelites; closely associated in art and life with her younger brother, John, many of his more numerous pictures and two of hers were reprinted in a brilliant a catalogue of an exhibition about an aspect of the Pre-Raphaelite Vision (by Allen Staley and Christopher Newall, subtitled Truth to Nature), which I was lucky enough to see in the National Gallery in DC. There we learned how much photography, especially of the landscape, had influenced the movement: it began with showing how photography itself began by imitating picturesque and sublime landscapes, but then as its techniques improved (to reproduce light, effects of shade and darkness), it began to enable people to see things in the landscape they couldn’t before, study the landscape in minute ways and thus captured the attention of artists (see my Boxing Day at the National Gallery).

Rosa and John Brett belong to this school, only with her there is a strong sense of order and pattern, a seeking for peacefulness and enclosure:

The Artist’s Garden

The leaves and flowers of the chestnut form a dense pattern across the composition’s upper register. Beneath the branches a view is given over beds and mown grass, across which is cast the shadow of the chestnut trunk, and beyond a dappled ring at the foot of a shrub. The wider landscape is hardly indicated: an enclosing wall appears to be suggested at the lawn’s far margin … [it all] speaks of the artist’s controlled but nonetheless emotional response to the beauty of familiar scenery at a particular time of year … Newall, p 50)

Not that Brett never traveled from the UK: she painted Lake Geneva during a 4 month stay in Belgium in 1855 (also described as “a trip to the Continent from April to July 1855”):

Lake Geneva

Of the few good images I’ve been able to locate, though, the one which best showed her meticulous mode is her

Study of a Turnip Field


Rosa Brett by her brother, John (oil on board)

Her life is told briefly by Deborah Cherry (Painting Women, p 31); Pamela Gerrish Nunn at least twice (in Victorian Women Artists [London: Women’s Press, 1987], pp 188-94; “Rosa Brett, Pre-Raphaelite,” The Burlington Magazine, 126:979 (Oct 1984):630-634); Charlotte Yeldham (an ODNB entry); and fleetingly by Alastair Grieve (“Pre-Raphaelite Vision, London and Berlin,” The Burlington Magazine, 146:1214, British Art [May, 2004]:341-342), and Newall and Staley (above). She is one of the many women artists in history who was able to develop, and yet hindered from fulfilling her talent, because of her family relation to an active, respected male artist and her immersion in what was the family business. The eldest of 5 children, born 7 December 1829, all boys but her. Her father a veterinary surgeon, with her mother, led a peripatetic from 1833-46, moving from Surrey, to Manchester, the English southcoast, to Ireland, Nottingham, Coventry and finally within the northeast outskirts by Maidstone, Kent, where her mother had been born, and whose place names appear in some of her paintings, viz., Pendenen Heath and

Detling Church (note the patterns in the gravestones)

Cherry says her “diaries and letters reveal an arduous routine” of housework and “art with domestic and familial responsibilities:” she would sit by musical brother Arthur, managed the home for her mother. She “helped her brother [John] with his pupils, packed his pictures, worked on his canvasses, her paintings being passed off as his.” Meanwhile she was never so happy as when she was out-of-doors drawing, sketching, painting in oil or watercolor “from nature.” While she eventually became chronically ill, she established a separate identity from John Brett’s and her work was exhibited (Royal Academy, Liverpool, Society of Lady Artists); she belonged to a watercolor society too. She is described as “frail” and died relatively young, 53 (1882). Her brother grieved strongly and missed her for herself; he described her as “ardent, impulsive and unbendable,” and died unmarried. The sources repeat that she didn’t mix outside her family much, did not become involved with individuals from the Pre-Raphaelite circles, was shy, self-effacing. So there is a lot more to say about the lives of Elizabeth Siddal (1829-62) and other Pre-Raphaelite women artists. Nunn quotes Rosa’s first diary entry:

John went again to Lushington’s for his portfolio, they bought none of his drawings but chose one of mine, a view of York copied from one of Mr. Booty’s(?) done in pencil on coloured card, with Chinese white on the highlights, they of course thought it was John’s it having no name to it. They gave a guinea for it. I was very much surprised to hear they had chosen one of mine this being the first I ever sold… Burlington Magazine, 31)

After she had not put her name on her The Hayloft, her brother John wrote:

You must reconsider your determination about secrecy … Woolner to whom I spoke of a wonderful picture by an unknown PRB was agonising in his enquiries — as to how old you are — and whether you were a swell — no suspicion that you were a she (Newall, quoting Nunn, p 52)


Helen Nina Taylor describes how hard it was to break out of prescriptive ideals for mood, subject, images for women who wanted to, who worked in the Pre-Raphaelite school (“‘Too individual an artist to be a mere echo’: Female Pre-Raphaelite Artists as Independent Professionals,” The British Art Journal 12:33 [2011-12]:52-59). Choosing the landscape and nature mode, which obviously was her brother’s too, and not the literature and religious one, helped her be unsentimental, avoid impositions on herself of repressive controversy. In her landscapes and buildings there is a strong impression of passionate mood and rich color:

From Bluebell Hill

(memorializing, celebrating an) Old House at Farleigh

She liked painting small animals — Isobel Armstrong and Margaret Doody are among those who have suggested in their poetry women show an affinity for small animals:

A Mouse (among colorful leaves, underbrush and snails)

Rosa Brett - Study of Two Rabbits
A Study of Two Rabbits


Trees were a favorite subject and here is a softly beautiful shaded drawing from among her notes:


Some have such alluring titles: A Thrush in a Horse Chestnut Tree, The Field Mice at Home. Nothing was too home-y or humble. Rosa aroused animosity when she submitted as as a second piece at the Royal Academy Thistles:


In the conservative Art Journal it was remarked she “showed only thistles … and no means within the domain of art will magnify the down into importance, even though ever fibre were as fully represented as in nature” (Newall, p 51)

Rosa does seem to have detached herself, loved the familiar, and here she dedicates herself so to wayside flowers and plants, they seem aggressively entangling rather than sheltering her in the manner that her Hayloft shelters her cat.


Aidan Turner as Ross at the close of the 8th episode (2015)

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, opening of 8th episode (2015)

Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander)

Dear friends and readers,

I had thought to make one more blog for this year comparing the 1975 to the 2015 Poldark mini-series, this one in response to Anibundel on the male hats and wigs and women’s hats, wigs, hair ribbons of another survey of the earlier series.

Demelza first seen is in a boy child hairdo, circa 1970s,

Angharad Rees as Demelza grown up, Gainsborough subdued, before becoming Ross’s lover

But I’ve discovered true to its origin in the progressive earlier seventies, hats are often eschewed or most often “simply historical accurate” in the plainest of ways. When the actors have hats on, they are tricornes


Francis and Ross meeting Nicholas Warleggan

Male wigs are the expected historically accurate ones for older males in the series, and they wear their own hair (or wigs made to look like their own), modified for the younger “hero” leads, except for Francis when gambling, and on the prowl for women (something of a rake and not to be wholly admired). Brief ponytails with ribbons holding the hair tight at the nape of the neck or just curled tight natural hair around their heads.



Frank Middlemas as Charles Poldark and Clive Francis as Francis at home, at his best

This is the convention of historical costume drama until recently: the older and less than admirable males wear wigs, the rest natural hair approximating a compromise between the era dramatized and what is admired, popular, fashionable, in the year the film was made.

As to women’s wigs, the model is the 1940s Gainsborough costume dramas, subdued by attention to the poverty of Cornwall and its distance from London, and modified by local realistic Edwardian painting of Cornwall in the 1890s. This combines with we might call “big” hair for four of the women (Demelza grown up, Elizabeth, Verity at parties and Keren). We see alluring cascades of hair, except for Elizabeth whose wig is helmet-like and is a miniature modest version of the piled-up tight curl on the shoulder bone fashion seen in London.


Angharad Rees and Sheila White as Demelza and Keren wear headscarves but are often bare-headed and boast the curly abundant sexualized flourish of the 1940s minus hats (remember the movie Kitty with Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland; and still influential as in Keira Knightley’s wigs in The Duchess), though Keren can be found to have braided and ornamented hers:


Not that the 2015 movie has altogether eschewed the 1940s Gainsborough model: it’s the origin for one of Margaret’s most pleasing extravaganzas:

Crystal Leaity carries it off pitch perfect

So I take this last opportunity and fallow time of late summer (no new brilliant costume dramas or film adaptations on the US PBS channels) to offer a handy list of the Poldark blogs I’ve done this season comparing the two mini-series with Graham’s historical fictions set in the later 18th century in the context of 21st century norms for historical fiction and film.


Verityhappy (1)
My favorite hat and male hair from the 2015 series: Verity (Ruby Bentall) in lovely hat with pink flowers and Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington in his own hair or wig to look like his own, with naval hat and ribbon too) upon marrying (Episode 7)

I have a right to choose my own life … Verity, (Ross Poldark, Bk 1, Ch 13)


A Winston Graham Reader: links to other sites

Poldark: studying the novels, the new film adaptation, upon re-reading

The Poldark novels in context: a syllabus

Winston Graham: the writer and his A Forgotten Story

Historical Fiction: Graham’s Poldark, the first phase

Ross Poldark: Ends restoratively; concluding notes

Demelza, the novel: Developing an Eighteenth Century World

Graham’s fiction: haunting gothics and a Che Guevara slant

Consuming costume historical adaptations: Poldark and Wolf Hall

2015: one of countless mining shots


Mining and smuggling in Cornwall, with especial reference to the Poldark novels

The Poldark novels: Doctors and poachers, scavengers & elections aka property wars

Rape in the Poldark narratives: from Upstairs and Downstairs, British Costume Drama, Forsyte to Downton

The new incarnation:

Eleanor Tomlinson as Ross’s wife, Demelza, supplying food and drink to the miners (Episode 4)

” …. to give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil-minded … It would be a mistake for you to give life to the story by taking notice of it …” Ross to Jinny, Bk 1, Chapter 14, p 118 in Sourcebook ed

Poldark 1: 2015, 1975 and Graham’s Post WW2 novel

Poldark 2: novel reconceived as mining and proto-feminist story

Poldark 3: 2015, 1975 and Graham’s novel: recasting class & injustice

Poldark 4: lyric (2105 and 1945) and theatric (1975): the problem in evaluating a beloved vision

Poldark 5: back to mediocrity, repetition & contradictory characterization

Poldark 6: between book (Graham’s Demelza) & films (1975 & 2015): the audiences and screenplay writers

Poldark 7: Betrayal of the group; or A Higher Fidelity of the Heart, 3 versions

Poldark 8: how to make new mythic matter, Poldark re-booted 40 years on

Jeux d’esprit: the state of the millinery, 1975 Poldark.


I will be teaching Ross Poldark and Demelza in the fall term of the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at George Mason University this coming semester, and hope to deal with more 18th century historical topics and watch and blog on the new 10 episodes (again scripted by Debbie Horsfield), and to top it all off, have sent off a proposal to a coming 18th century conference on the 18th century on film:


Harvesting pilchards

A proposal for a paper for the panel, Eighteenth Century on Film, at the coming ASECS meeting, March 31-April 3, 2016

Poldark re-booted, 40 years on

The new Poldark mini-series (2015-2016) is being watched as an entertainment and historical construction of an on-going national British culture and past. Its surging popularity suggests it has overcome its status as a sequel to the previous immensely popular Poldark (filmed 1975-76, 1977-78), watched yet again (re-digitalized and selling) as a regional Cornish romance adaptation of a specific set of seven historical-regional novels by Winston Graham (written 1945-53,1973-77). Since this first Poldark TV series aired, Graham concluded his cycle of historical fiction with five more books (written 1981-84, 1990, 2003), so the new film-makers have twelve novels, four dramatizing the reactionary and colonialist politics of the 1980s into the 1990s, and a twelfth, recent concerns with animal rights, and disability. They may also take advantage of a transformation of TV dramaturgy and screenplay writing in the last 40 years, and audience tolerance for film intertextuality and self-reflexivity.

Using just the first two books, Ross Poldark and Demelza, I will follow one actuating line of argument. We will contrast dramas meant to be historically accurate and novelistic (1975, eight episodes), with pictorial cinematic montages meant to display a new mythic British matter (2015, a comparable eight). We will see how Graham’s novels’ recreation of a progressive and proto-feminist usable past (for an economically depressed and conflicted post World War Two world and a 1970s generation), fit the perspective and art of the previous film adaption, a typical product of in the mid-1970s era of progressive BBC films. Then we will turn to the present films, products of a complacent sensibility catering to anger and distress in a reactionary era, within the confines of a Thatcherized BBC film industry where ratings and profits are incessantly monitored. By contrast we will observe head-on clashes with the materials of the same two books, often kept to more literally but overturned or reversed when it comes to underlying message.

There is no one reason for the last couple of years’ re-booting of quite a number of 40 year old BBC series. But in this case we can see one reason has been an important change in the way film-makers see their films functioning and we can observe different problematic aporia in each kind (romantic film as history, romantic film as myth)

On the beach, Aidan Turner as Ross waiting for George (Jack Farthing) who has been watching, gathering false evidence (Episode 8)

Finale (2)
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, hurrying from beach (Episode 8)

I’ve only followed the devices and desires of my own heart …. Demelza, Bk 2, Ch 14, p 341


Beside the Old Church Gate Farm, Smarden, Kent

Coming Events — a hand holds out a knife to the back …


Dear friends and readers,

As for this brief survey of the life and art of Helen Allingham (she excelled in watercolor, oil, illustration, drawing) is (unlike the previous woman artists I’ve covered), I’ve too many pictures to share, I start with a characteristic one, women at work, where line and color and stance make for a sense of vital life; Coming Events, her alert capturing of everyday life; and Torcello, her paintings from Italy, unhappily not well-known. (If you click on some of the images, they enlarge beautifully. Just try.)

Helen Allingham may be distinguished from the seven women artists not because she made a lot of money or was successful (several of them were), but because of the seven I’ve covered thus far, Allingham is the only one not included in any of my basic surveys, though mentioned once by Germaine Greer as a type of “the wrong women singled out for praise” (p. 87) by her contemporaries and “the masculine establishment.” Not much by the latter as she’s singularly absent from most surveys (those dubbed general when they are mostly by and about men), except those specializing in Victorian/Edwardian genre (e.g., Christopher Wood). She is apparently sometimes likened to Fred Walker who painted and drew socially realistic pictures, but I suggest her vein is much richer, more varied, women-centered (a visual equivalent of l’écriture-femme).

Justice is done to Allingham by Deborah Cherry, in her full, informative, insightful Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists (8 straight pages and many single and double-page entries); a concise, reproduction-laden informative study by Ina Taylor, Helen Allingham’s England: An Idyllic View of Rural Life (Devon: Webb and Brower, 1990) more than compensates. The pictures are what matter.

There is only one known self-depiction (and I’ve not got a good copy, so Borzello ignoring Helen in her Seeing Ourselves has some justification), but she painted others:

Thomas Carlyle, a close friend to her husband

Willam Allingham



and his favorite dog:


Then there are the riots of delicate watercolor:

Tig Bridge

Chase Cottage Ponds

She loved blue:

Girls on a Beach

Purple Bluebells

Cow Parsley

There is much that is not idyllic:

Digging Potatoes

The Governess and the Ayah on the beach — most of Allingham’s women are embedded among children

Or with farm animals, domestic pets (here cats), standing among ruins or by buildings they never choose:

Venetian Fruit Stall —

Another — we have the stains on the buildings, the fruits and vegetables real, how wretched she looks

She was a popular illustrator.

for her husband’s play, Ashby Manor (never produced)

and another of her brother, Henry Paterson, who died at 39 in an aslyum


Famously, she illustrated Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (includes detailed discussions of some of the illustrations), and Hardy, then very unhappy with his wife, appears to have found in her a kindred soul. In 1874, He, she and Annie Thackeray dined together (1874) and he wrote this poem 40 years later on what he dreamed they might have known in marriage:

The Opportunity (For H.P)

Forty Springs back, I recall,
We met at this phase of the Maytime:
We might have clung close through all,
But we parted when died that daytime.

We parted with smallest regret;
Perhaps should have cared but slightly,
Just then, if we never met:
Strange, strange that we lived so lightly!

Had we mused a little space
At that critical date in the Maytime,
One life had been ours, one place,
Perhaps, till our long cold daytime.

— This is a better thing For thee,
O man! what ails it?
The tide of chance may bring Its offer;
but nought avails it!

The line “strange, strange that we live so lightly” deeply suggestive about the nature of life

Helen Allingham, in her later years, widowed

There are many online biographies, from art galleries, to an official society website

What to say in brief? She was born into a comfortable middle-class family, her father a physician, and a mother with talent for art (shelved to provide a dowry for her husband to start his practice, to have 7 children), but part of the Unitarian dissenting world (so her father had hard times building a practice), with an aunt, Laura Hertford, a successful professional painter whom she emulated. Her father died relatively young (diphtheria , a harrowing time), and Helen experienced the necessity of making money. Her talent was cultivated: her Paterson aunts sent her to the Birmingham School of Design (studying drawing, painting, perspective, practical geometry, costume, and art-teaching).

By age 18 she is living in London, with a place at the Royal Female School of Art (learning anatomy), and supporting herself by jobs as an engraver, illustrator for Once a Week (among other magazines) where she learned to produce quickly:

Pencil Sketch for a woodcut

A transformative event was her meeting with William Allingham (1874), originally from Ireland, had worked for Irish Customs and Excise for 20 years (he was 24 years older), wrote poetry and journalism, friends with Leigh Hunt, Tennyson, Browning, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood; he especially venerated Carlyle; they may have met at the theater and when he was hired as editor of Fraser’s (for 400£ a year), they married (1874). She worked at her career (remained convinced he had the superior talent, just not recognized), had children:

Her daughter, Margaret

They went to Margate and Surrey for holidays, but when Carlyle died, they moved to Surrey for a country life, of work for her — she loved to go and paint the seaside:

the Allinghams’ Surrey home

A Seaside study

At the shore

1889 they lived in London some of the time, and had set up another home in Hampstead, with new and old friends (next to the Martineaus), more memberships in art societies, before he died in 1889. She was a widow for 37 years, filling her life with intense activity. She had to support her household, but she also returned to her husband’s home in Ireland (acting out what she conceived was her husband’s desire he never got to do) where she painted dozens of watercolors for once capturing the poverty and bleakness of what she saw in the houses themselves.

Ballyshannon, 1891

These years see her moving into more large landscapes

Hindhead, Surrey

She traveled to Venice in 1901 and 1902 as part of attempts to break away from her usual subjects. Later in life she moved into landscape painting.

A study of Aire, St Maclou, in Rouen, done on the way to Venice — brilliance of line design, perspectives

A different color palette for Italy — gorgeous marble, cascading flowers, notice the woman and child with basketed flowers — are they transferring these to a husband/father to use with his customers or selling them or is that another woman selling flowers?

Hers was not a life of tragedy, but hard work, in a changing world; she was on the side of preservation, and there seems no doubt that her exclusion of the ubiquitious abysmal poverty and miseries of the era did not allow her work to be part of needed economic, social, political reform. She had a close friendship with Gertrude Jekyll (a career in photography, studying vernacular buildings and celebrating crafts), and Kate Greenaway, and after 1890 enabled one another (by going together) to paint more subjects, in more places, though her times painting alongside Greenaway didn’t last (their work was to unalike):

‘it was in the spring of 1888 that we went out painting together in the copses near Witley and became really friends …. One day in the autumn of 1889 [when they were neighbours in Hampstead] we went to Pinner [where from the cancelled manuscript of Persuasion we know Jane Austen meant Anne Elliot] together on an exploring expedition for subjects and were delighted with some of the old cottages we saw there. I had been pressing her ever since our spring time together at Witley to share with me some of the joys of painting out of doors. Another day we went farther afield – to Chesham and Amersham . . . . In the spring of 1890 I took my children to Freshwater, Isle of Wight and found ms for us near Kate. She and I went out painting together daily, either to some of the pretty old thatched cottages around Farringford or to the old dairy in the grounds …. During the summer of that year (1890) we continued our outdoor work together, generally taking an early train from Finchley Road to Pinner, for the day. She was always scrupulously thoughtful for the convenience and feelings of the owners of the farm or cottage we wished to paint, with the consequence that we were made welcome to sit in the garden or orchard where others were refused admittance.
    Though we often sat side by side, painting the same object (generally silently – for she was a very earnest, hard worker – and perhaps I was, too), it seemed to me that there was little likeness between our drawings — specially after the completion in the studio. But she was one of the most sensitive of creatures and I think she felt it might be wiser for both of us to discontinue the practice of working from the same subjects …. (Cherry, p 177)

So what is this world of women in rural and eastern England:

An earlier picture: a version of her cradling her son, Henry


Women also hung out the wash in Verona

This is a woman gathering sticks and wood for the fire for winter

A dreaming young girl

Worn old woman

Valleywood Farm — lost in the middle distance

Buildings inside and out:

The Interior of Cheyne House (Carlyle’s)

Stanfield House, Hampstead — stodgy and respectable

Aldworth — covered in flowery ivy, this mansion of the wealthy

A fantasia of St Mark’s Cathedal, Venice, or as pastoral, Santa Maria:


More typically:


A big and old tree: Old Beech Tree

She loved gardening and has many still lifes of flowers and gardens, hills and meadows:


Blackdown, Sussex (I use this as my computer wallpaper)


Allingham’s best known book is The Cottage Homes of England; she saw herself as recording a vanishing way of life, and Christopher Wood suggests we should see her art as the visual equivalent of Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford. Deborah Cherry argues that Helen Allingham’s pictures present female sexuality centrally in discreet (coded) ways, and were an influence for good from the respect they showed for women’s ordering, work, and past places and ties too.

I’ll end on a poem by Amy Clampitt, which while intended to characterize “George Eliot Country” and written for Eliot’s first magisterial biographer, Gordon Haight (1901-1985) seems to me to capture the same world as Allingham:

From this Midland scene – glum slagheaps,
barge canals, gray sheep, the vivid overlap
of wheatfield and mustard hillside like
out-of-season sunshine, the crabbed silhouette
of oak trees (each joint a knot, each knot
a principled demurral – tough, arthritic, stubborn
as the character of her own father) – fame,
the accretion of a Pyrrhic happiness, had
exiled her to London, with its carriages
and calling cards, its screaming headaches.

Griff House – dear old Griff, she wistfuly
apostrophized it – in those days still intact,
its secrets kept, has now been grafted to a
motel-cum-parking-lot beside the trunk road,
whose raw, ungainly seam of noise cuts through
the rainy solace of Griff Lane: birdsong,
coal smoke, the silvered powderings of
blackthorn, a flowering cherry tree’s
chaste flare; the sludge-born, apoplectic
screech of jet aircraft tilting overhead.

The unmapped sources that still fed nostalgia
for a rural childhood survive the witherings
of retrospect: the look of brickyards,
stench of silk mills, scar of coal mines,

the knife of class distinction: wall-enclosed,
parkland-embosomed, green-lawned Arbury Hall,
fan-vaulting’s stately fakeries, the jewel-
stomachered, authentic shock of Mary Fitton and
her ilk portrayed, the view of fishponds – school
and role model of landed-proprietary England.

Born in the year of Peterloo, George Eliot
had no illusions as to the expense of such
emoluments. Good society (she wrote) floated
on gossamer wings of light irony, required no less
than an entire, arduous national existence,
condensed into unfragrant, deafening factories,
cramped into mines, sweating at furnaces, or
scattered in lonely houses on the clayey or chalky
cornland… where Maggie Tulliver, despairing
of gentility, ran off to join the gypsies.

Violets still bloom beside the square-towered
parish church where Mary Anne was christened;
the gnashed nave of Coventry fills up with rain
(another howling doodlebug of fright hurls itself
over); the church from which, refusing to commit
the fiction of a lost belief in One True Body,
she stayed away, upholds the fabric in which her
fictions, perdurable now, cohere like fact: Lydgate
still broods, Grandcourt still threatens, and
in Mrs Transome disappointment turns to stone.

One last connection, back to Charlotte Smith with Near Beachy Head:


Allingham’s is a world of women at work, women surrounded by children, and their work. She seeks them out, she records them and celebrates their creations, adds to these:

A Side Canal in Venice (notice the woman high up behind the arch banging out the wet or dirt from a pink cloth of some type

Mrs Eden’s Garden, Venice



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