Louis Ducros (Swiss, Moudon, 1748-1810, Lausanne) and Giovanni Volpato (Italian, Angarano di Bassano, 1740-1803, Rome), View of the Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli (watercolor)

Appollo, as lately a Circuit he made,
Throo’ the lands of the Muses, when Kent he survey’d,
And saw there that Poets were not very common,
But most that pretended to Verse, were the Women
Resolv’d, to encourage, the few that he found,
And she that writ best, with a wreath should be crown’d.
A summons sent out, was obey’d but by four,
When Phebus, afflicted, to meet with no more,
And standing, where sadly, he now might descry,
From the banks of the Stoure, the desolate Wye,
He lamented for Behn o’re that place of her birth,
And said amongst Femens was not on the earth,
Her superiour in fancy, in language, or wit,
Yett own’d that a little too loosly she writt . . .
But now to proceed, and their merritts to know,
Before he on any, the Bay’s wou’d bestow,
He order’d them each, in their several way,
To show him their papers, to sing, or to say . . .
— Anne Finch

Dear friends and readers,

A third and last blog report, this one on the two panels and the Clifford lecture I heard on the Saturday (March 21st).

The first session I attended Saturday, “Remembering Critical Pasts” (8:00-9:30 am) mixed well-known older critics and younger people as well as retrospectives and discussions of where the speakers thought we were headed — or ought to be. The presentations were rich, wide-ranging, philosophical and suggestive. I was able to take down only a few points from some of the speakers. I was struck by some of the remarks about Pope and Johnson. Jonathan Kramnick talked of how Pope was committed to form, and people today perform “surface reading.”  Some in the past (Maynard Mack?) have imposed a Wordsworthian outlook on Pope’s Horatian verse. Philip Smallwood suggested that Pope presented a case against taking literary criticism of the era seriously. We can learn a salutary lesson of laughing at ourselves when we read of these disputes; at the same time, we can ask serious questions, like Geoffrey Hartmann’s, what has this art meant to you. We learn to compare unlike works on new grounds. Juliet Shields discussed Samuel Johnson’s work as a spiritual and ethical enterprise akin to F.R. Leavis. Adam Rounce saw Johnson as outspoken, provocative, obsessed with biography; he thought truth was discoverable. Rounce went over Wimsatt’s famous fallacies, and Empson’s idea that new criticism was a kind of sleight of hand.

In the discussion afterward someone brought up the question, if few are reading a work any more, why discuss it? Well, we read these secondary and minor works (even for 18th century scholars) because they register an explicit truth which all need to hear. Another person said that Terry Eagleton suggested how people need to cooperate, to feel they have made some improvement in their culture. Finally the suggestion was made that epistolarity narratives, so common in the era, were used for exploration of all sorts of issues.

Wm Turner (British, London, 1775-1851, Chelsea), View of Crichton Castle, ca 1818

“The Circuit of Apollo: Women’s Tributes to other Women in the Long 18th century” was one of the panels of the second session that day (9:45-11:15 am). Julie Chandler Hayes talked of women’s literary history in France. The category of the woman writer emerged at the end of the century. Genlis appears to have been the most comprehensive, seeing the later 17th century as favorable to women; she was very much against the revolution and sceptical thought (she critiques Madame du Deffand) and this outlook hampered her ability to do justice to her topic. From other French women a chronology of progress emerged. They were all agreed we must educate women. Julie Murray talked of the motives of Mary Hays in writing her obituary of Mary Wollstonecraft. Deborah Weiss began by declaring that Godwin had ruined Wollstonecraft’s reputation, that and Hays did not dare include Wollstonecraft in her Female Biographies. She then turned to Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s short life together and argued this lies behind Amelia Opie’s novel, Adeline Mowbray. Jessica Fripp talked of the relationship between Josephine and Leomonnier’s The first Reading of Voltaire’s tragedy L’Orphelin de la Chine and the salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755. There was an attempt to destroy the picture as inaccurate; fortunately the copy survives. If it is misleading about Geoffrin’s salon, it was meant to honor her in early 19th century terms. Jocelyn Harris suggested that Fanny Burney’s traumatized experiences and relationship with Mrs Cook (whom Jane Austen also knew) are part of the source material for Mansfield Park, and found incestuous feeling at the core of this novel. Katherine Kittredge suggested that the writing that passed between Melissa Trench and Mary Leadbetter were testimonies to intimate friendship rather than meant as public models for women.

The talk afterward was lively, various and brought up other women (Mary Astell) and women’s friendships as a phenomena in general. We talked of trying to take new outlooks on works derived from a playful use of biography. I  agree there is incestuous feeling at the core of MP, but it’s not Francis Burney d’Arblay’s: it’s Austen’s intense attachment to Francis displaced onto cousin love and Fanny’s adoration of her sailor brother, William.

LLOYD'S COFFEE HOUSE, by George Woodward, 1798, (ref No 111) in the Caricature Room at Calke Abbey
Lloyd’s London Coffee House by George Woodward, 1798

Last for me was the Clifford Lecture, this year given by Ann Bermingham, on “Coffee-House characters and British Visual Humor at the end of the 18th century.” Prof Bermingham talked of the enormous increase in coffee houses in the later 17th century and how over the 18th century different uses of them by different groups of people developed. She then went over how the mood or stance of caricatures changed from the early to the later 18th century. Earlier pictures were sharply satirical, moralizing, severe (e.g., Hogarth). By the end of the 18th century the mood became more innocuous and instead projected mild social satire. Reasons for this beyond the predilictions of the illustrators were severe penalities by the 1790s for seditious libel, gov’t regulations of the press through subsidies, a desire not to offend, to keep in the “mainstream.” There were spies and policing in these coffee houses. In the earlier era, Hogarth would present densely drawn images; Cruickshank and Woodward’s pictures were much simpler, but while Cruikshank kept up the tradition of serious statements to the public, emblematic, and Gillray meant to unmask hypocrisies, Woodward turned to subjects like “the sleeper,” “the monopolizer” (of conversation), the “everlasting peruser” on sparse backgrounds. Prof Bermingham described a few other cartoonists of the later period, but concentrated on G. W. Woodward. She suggested that Woodward was making an “Olio of good breeding;” his idea was a coffeehouse was a place for withdrawal, for mutually respectful neighbors, polite and turning inward. I feel for Woodward as I sit (with others) blogging on my computer. She had began with Woodward’s life; by his last years he was penniless, producing these pictures obsessively. She was producing a sympathetic justification of his art, and saw Woodward as anticipating the kind of cartoons we see in the New Yorker. A discussion about Habermas’s public sphere ensued, and Bermingham ended by asking, given the enormous variety of pictures, circumstances for them, uses, individuals (with women mostly excluded) if Habermas’s idea of a republic of consensual interchange was not a complete fantasy?

Her stress on the inwardness of Woodward’s stance reminded me of some of the inward-turning epistolary, reverie, and romantic art in the era to come, yet my concluding accompanying image of watercolor comes from mid-century.

Jean-Baptiste-Claude Chatelain (British, London, 1710-58). A Classical Landscape


Madame de Genlis, as drawn by her daughter, Caroline

Enfin, songez, mon cher Porphire, qu’il n’est qu’un temps de la vie pour ecrire & pour travailler, & que ce temps s’ecoule avec une extreme rapidite [remember there is only one time in life for writing, for working within, and it flows away oh so swiftly, relentlessly], Adele et Theodore, Felicite de Genlis

Dear friends and readers,

My second blog report from the recent ASECS brings together a group of papers from different panels whose central subject is 18th century women who worked outside their own homes for money, women poets, women artists, educators, the realities of women’s education in France, and gendered architecture and space. As last time I often give only the general gist of the papers I listened to.

Henry Robert Morland, an idealized (genteel) depiction of a laundress

The first session on Thursday, 8:00-9:30 am was to have been 3 papers on women writers who wrote about or were themselves working women. In the event only one person out of the planned three had come, but Sara Tavela’s paper on “The Treatment of Taboo: Elizabeth Hands’s The Death of Amnon” was excellent and we had a small group in a circle who talked of it interestingly afterward. A former servant, Hands wrote of the Biblical story of an incestuous rape, a tabooed subject matter much censored, cause of anxiety, under-reported. In the poem Amnon has to drink wine to force himself to rape his sister and is then driven by remorse and guilt to hate Tamor who in this poem remains blameless. Hands allows Tamor who experiences a loss of agency and security to recover and live on; her mind remains untainted and her singing voice the instrument of her power. It’s not called the rape because that would have been too bold. Ms Tavela read some eloquent passages from the poem. All of the men in the poem are complicit; they are the actors, bad, and it is ostensibly about the men; David cannot reconcile the horror he feels and does not punish his son, but Amnon dies at the poem’s conclusion. In her satirical “A Poem, a Supposition of an Advertisement … of a Volume of Poems, by a Servant-Maid,” the characters discuss her poems, how outrageous it was for a servant woman to write poems. The volume in which both were published has 32 pages of subscribers; it has a poem on her lying-in. I’ve not read “The Death of Amnon,” but know that Hands’s other poems are marvelously deft (she uses rhyming anapests beautifully) and have written a foremother poet blog about her.

The Petit Trianon

Turn your kaleidoscope to consider working women’s working space: from 2:30-4:00 pm on the same day, I heard four papers on gendered space and architecture chaired by Leah Price. Kathryn Norberg’s “The House on the rue Saint Fiacre: the Architecture of the Erotic in 18th century France,” was based on notarial and police records and a 500 page manuscript left by a French brothel madam who provided reports for police in return for being left alone. As now milieu, ambiance, the place were is central to the experience of class in prostitution. Between 1749 and 1757 she moved 3 times, to evade the police and escape irate neighbors. Rue St Fiacre was relatively empty, an empty lot with gardens nearby and one neighbor, and the building unremarkable from the outside. When in 1768 a fire broke out an inventory of damages was taken and we discover a fireplace, scarlet damask curtains, a 3 section ottoman; paintings over the doors, upholstery. In 1752 a group of young men broken in and there is a report of swords, silk bedcoverings, gilt bronzeHer landlord played an important role; we learn the names of her middle class clientele and/or positions (a farmer general, magistrate, a junior army clerk, a barrister). They would have supper, they wanted more than sex for their money: the illusion of a wealthy status, gentlemanly masculinity. Debra Bronstein discussed “Representations of the Seraglio.” There are few records of this hidden world, and  Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters are still used where it’s seen as sacred inviolable space for women, children and a few emasculated men. Modern descriptions give lascivious and racialized views, complacent, meant to be tantalizing. Ms Bronstein suggested that to see this place as private is to misunderstand them; they have power structures of their own. The depictions we have are part of the process of what Said described as orientalism, a highly stylized account of our own masquerades. Amelia Worsley’s paper turned out to be on Pope’s anti-Horatian poetry, the poems on his grotto, Eloisa, Sappho. Ms Worsley surveyed the history of criticism of Pope’s Horatian poems; she sees in these poems a feminizing of the Horatian stance. Pope was not able to enclose himself in his Horatian norms and turned to the subjective to withstand loneliness, grief and express a subjective self. Diana Cheng studies the images of and words used about boudoirs in treatises, illustrations and maps to trace hostile attitudes towards women: whent they are represented as places for piety, for etreat they are ridiculed; they are places for prostituition, for deceit, lust. The connotations used of them are found in the antagonistic depictions of Marie Antoinette’s garden worlds (though neither she or any of her ladies used the term).

Thomas Gainsborough, Vauxhall Gardens

Alyson McLamore gave a paper late in the same afternoon as part of the Aphra Behn society panel, 4:15-5:45 pm, “A Public Character: Women Concert Organizers in 18th century London,” where she discussed at least nine women who regularly organized musical concerts. Live music is collaborative, public, costs, and yet without the legal ability to sign or enforce contracts it was more typical for women to organize these mixed media events than men. Ms McLamore said things were done informally, there are few documents, no court cases; it gave the women more freedom to operate. She talked about benefit concerns, quid pro quo deals, specific individual debacles; she found out a lot by what Mrs Ogle (fl 1725-58) published in newspapers in the form of personal complaints against Mr Ogle who defended himself. In the case of Miss Ann Ford (137-1824) her father did all he could to stop her, obtaining a warrant for her arrest, hiring bow street runners to disrupt her performances. Reasonably large sums of money could be made (1500 pounds). Teresa Cornelys (1723-97) started as an Italian singer, had a daughter by Casanova; she managed subscription balls and masquerades using the houses of male aristocrats she was involved with. She specialized in Bach, unfortunately ended up bankrupt and died in Fleet prison. Other women she discussed Miss Robinson (fl 1750-51), Mrs Ogle (fl 1725), the Signora Frasi [Giulia] & Giardini (d. 1772), Mrs Stuart (fl 1775-77), Miss Jane Mary Guest (c. 1762-184), Madame [Gertrude Elisabeth Schmeling] Mara (1749-1833), an opera singer.

The fourth and last panel I’ll report on here occurred on Friday morning, 8:00-9:30 am, “Educating Women in France, 1780-1814,” chaired by Melissa Hyde.

Adelaide Labille Guiard, Portrait with Mlle Marie Gabrielle Capt and Mlle Carreaux de Rosemond (1785)

Mary Trouille’s “Madame de Genlis’s Challenge to Rousseau’s Views on Female Education,” began with Genlis’s life, and how she came to be a governess to Chartres’s children and publish plays for children (see my biography of Genlis on Under the Sign of Sylvia). She was a successful novelist and memoir-writer and published over 140 volumes. She developed a detailed plan in Adele et Theodore in response to Rousseau’s Emile (which owes a lot to Feneon), where Sophie is educated to captivate Emile; she had in effect retired to a kind of convent life to give herself over to her own and her employer’s children, among whom was the boy who became Louis Philippe. Crucial to her book is the relationship between a mother and her daughters. Ms Trouille detailed the subjects studied (e.g., languages, reading), methods (e.g., emulation, comparison). Severino Sofio talked of “Teaching Art to Women During the French Revolution” as a national issue. The art world had accepted women artists during the ancien regime, and it was important that they were not excluded because it was “for the good of the nation” that women be taught art. Ms Sofio discussed a remarkable number of specific women artists, paintings, teachers, writers of treatises, who their patrons were, what schools they attended. The titleof Susan Taylor-Leduc’s paper, “From Servant to Teacher: Madame Campan’s vision for Educating Women,” shows that like Ms Trouille, Taylor-Leduc took us through Campan’s life and career, and then turned to outline her ideas and how, hired to read at court, her camaraderie and behavior made her an important member of Antoinette’s entourage; and how after the court broke up, Campan attempted to run a school. Lindsay Dunn’s paper about about the art education and paintings of Napoleon’s second wife, Marie-Louise of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine: she had something of a public career through her paintings but later in life lived in quiet obscurity.

The talk afterward was lively and as informative as the papers had been. We talked of Angelica Kauffman, Marguerite Gerard, various teachers, and the typical themes of these women’s art and treatises (e.g. happy motherhood).

As in my first set of blogs I learned much I had not known before, and regretted conflicts prevented me attending other panels with papers on women writers. On Friday I was especially sorry not to hear papers on Anne Finch, Colette Johnson’s “The Politics of Loss: An Anatomy of Dispossession in Charlotte Smith’s The Emigrants,” Ros Ballaster’s “Elizabeth Griffith and Frances Brooke: Experiments in Epistolarity,” and the two Francis Burney panels.

Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), Le chat angora

‘Real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.’ — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14


Elizabeth Robins playing Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (1891)

Dear friends and readers,

I must interrupt my series of blogs on the ASECS conference to recommend an excellent novel that I read this week: Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert (1907), developed out of her popular play, Votes for Women! When I was told it was a suffragette novel, I expected an overtly didactic text whose central character would be a politically active suffragette, preferably lower middle class; instead I found myself in a subtle realistic novel whose central character is an enigmatic upper middle class woman, Vida Levering, much of whose life (and the action of the novel until its last quarter) takes place in Oscar Wilde like luxurious residences, elite parties, and dinners featuring witty and complex characters. We begin with her visit to a pair of wealthy children, in a lavish nursery whom Vida is visiting and move on to her servant problem: her lady’s maid, gaunt and middle-aged, wants to quit in order to leap at a chance of marriage with a widower, a market gardener she’s never met (who has children for her to care for too). The cover of the first Feminist Press edition conjures up an appropriate image for the heroine:

The image is a reproduction of Cecilia Beaux’s After the Meeting

After a few minutes this did make sense: the leaders of the suffragette movement were often women with connections, money they had some control of, and enough sense of self, of esteem, of their own rights to demand power. If nothing else, who else could find the time to proselytize, organize, work for the vote. Would a poorer woman see the importance of the vote?

We begin seemingly in the world of Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, but as we listen on (the text is strongly dramatically imagined) we discover it’s more George Bernard Shaw whom Elizabeth knew fairly well at one point in her life. Interwoven with the upstairs nursery (and very snobbish stern nursery governess) and Vida’s private bedroom, we find ourselves in a political dinner party, on the surface an infinitely more intelligent, nuanced, detailed depiction of the world of Downton Abbey at a dinner, complete with (so much is missing from DA one does not know where to begin) connected politicians and semi-unacceptable people. Little is overtly explained so our curiosity is aroused. As they talk a subtle feminist and even egalitarian slant emerges. While Vida makes the point to the leading politician, Haycroft (probably intended to stand for a Tory prime minister) that the women at this function are enacting a Geisha form of life, amusing the men, there is also much in the scene that most women would want to be and to do: beautifully dressed, well-educated (Wollstonecraft would say they are mis-educated), admired, conversing, moneyed. Robins begins by bringing out the deep difficulty of reforming any society. These privileged women could not begin to see that anything but wealth and position matters, and if that is threatened in any way, it would be difficult to persuade them of the need for feminism — outside the sexual, there you might get them privately to admit to much misery. Every type of woman is gradually put before us in these first chapters. From hostess to guest, widow to a woman seeking a husband, to women trying to marry off daughters, to women seeking position in social pecking orders.

It’s the morning after and we see the home-life of Vida’s sister, Mrs Fox-Moore who was snubbed at the dinner party ad socially pathetic (acceptable only because she had made this good marriage), whom Vida is living with. They are at breakfast and the husband comes downstairs: he is a corrosive quiet tyrant over his wife and makes her life miserable. The point of the chapter is to dramatize how if someone is given full power over someone else he or she will usually use it and in unkind ways. Mrs F-M has a sickly daughter Doris whom the father dotes on — like last night’s company he despises his wife because she does not know how to manipulate others, and is overtly weak before him. We hear ofMrs F-M’s satisfaction from charity work which Vida objects to as what these poor people want is not sermons or entertainment uplifting or not, but real help: solid money to make their life different and opportunities for decent employment. That’s not said but it’s implied. Quite a difference from Dickens’s mockery of Lady Bountfiuls as bullies.

A visit to a Brideshead kind of house: Uland house and its mistress, Lady John — a full description of one of these rich houses and the people in them — some the same individuals we met at the dinner party. I could quite see Diana Quick as Lady Julia as one of these characters (from the 1981 film), as well as Jane Asher, the actress who played the upper class woman Charles Ryder marries, and Jeremy Sinden who played her brother though he is a caricature as Charles Keating, Rex, Julia’s philistine politician husband is not (and could be a characer in The Convert). Robins’s feminism continues by showing us Hermione Heriot who hides the least conventional thought, Lady Sophia who reminds me of Trollope’s Miss Dunstable but not a caricature, there’s a dog Joey, a Lord Borrodaile and Paul Filey presented as unusual and perhaps interesting. When all gather over tea we see Filey is absurd, flattering himself he is not conventional, he has written a useless book defending aesthetics as the basis of life. could this be Robins on Wilde? Filey does not seem Wilde like and is likened to Shelley. What happens is there erupts a discussion of the suffragettes which grates on Vida. Suffragettes are mocked as absurd lunatic disgusting and so on. Vida’s resistant reaction brings out a side of her publicly she had not before: she tells of a scene she saw of unemployed people protesting and a working man who was dragging a rich child on a toy horse on a string; he was the horse for the child. She escapes before she says any more to a garden and then hearing her cousin, Mary, very dull, is not well, hurries off on this excuse to get out of this luxurious set of self-indulgent people who conversation is deliberately mindless. The tone inimitable rich, ironic, it reminds me of Henry James (whom Robins also knew). Robins has one of her characters mention Rhoda Broughton whose I’ve not read but know Trollope recommended and others have. This is the kind of Victorian novel that academic critics sometimes try to turn earlier Victorian women’s novels into.

Well by the center of the novel our two heroines have shown they have social consciences, and their curiosity aroused, they attend a suffragette meeting. Mrs Fox-Moore does not return a second time, but allured and fascinated despite misgivings, Vida does — with her new lady’s maid. Apparently women of the upper or middling classes did not walk alone in the streets if they were conventional. The lead-in to the first meeting showed the police becoming belligerent, derisory, obstructionist to our heroines — who never experienced anything like this before.

The meetings seemed to me to function two ways. Directly the words the suffragettes speak are ways of speaking to the audience of the book. They make the suffragette argument: how miserable are most women’s lives (working long hours, for little pay, endless children) with no power to alter this, while they have to listen to absurd rhetoric about being on pedestals and the like. There are a strong socialist admixture: the speakers all bring out the poverty and abysmal conditions of the working and lower middle class and make the analogy with chartism and men’s movements to gain the vote, and say these were efficacious. There’s now a labor party. The strongest speaker is probably intended to be a mirror of a real women: Emmeline Blunt she’s called.

We are also to experience how hostile crowds were. Most of the time I’ve gone to any political rally the people attending were people for the party. The last time I went to rally with hostile people about were demonstrations against Vietnam. Robins does justice to the kind of withering and abusive rhetoric women were subjected to, how they were mortified by a complete lack of respect. We see how odd their dress: one woman speaking is a widow with four children. She points out when a set of children lose their father they are left with the mother to try to care for them, usually in desperate circumstances and the children have no opportunities. When they lose their mother, they are unless taken in by a family, put to workhouses. Men don’t take their responsibility, will not mother. Most effective is how the women strain, what an emotional strain it is to talk above and against such a crowd. That the women get some respect, are listened to some of the time is remarkable. You see that ridicule was tried against the suffragettes, but the cause, the misery and needs of half the population (and their children suffering with them) was too important so it didn’t work

The first part of the novel was a perspective which showed her ironic realization of the circumstances and realities of her powerless life against men’s desires, wants, needs, demands; children are just fitted in as what men want too. She is now being converted. Amusingly she shows the little daily routines that kept upper class family members in their place. I noticed in Downton Abbey that everyone obeyed the dinner gong. You had to give up so many hours a day to eat and dress for it too. The servants had to cook and serve the meal. The gong in emerges as a technique for repressing and controlling the behavior of the whole household.

A photo of a suffragette demonstration (ca. 1910)

The emphasis in this central and to near the end of the novel is on demonstrations — of course such scenes make for drama but you could have scenes of suffragettes talking together. There is one between a Miss Claxton and Vida Levering, but when it comes time for the woman to tell the story of her life, Robins punts. We get very few details about the misery of ordinary working women’s lives; what she does tell is how when in prison women were somehow treated in a sexually disgraceful, humiliating or mortifying manner. Probably made to endure public overt harassment — it does not sound like rape. They were kicked and heads banged — that’s mentioned. Women did not get the vote until after WW1 in 1918 and in 1828 universal suffrage included women. I know there was no other way to show and try to make your desire felt. Mass demonstrations of men in Ireland and again in London and around England indirectly led to the extension of the franchise — women can’t threaten implicitly in the same way. It’s indirect: men hated to be bothered by women demonstrating, being violent, starving themselves and/or felt embarrassed by the exposure of their own power? But it was not enough: the whole experience of WW1, the breakdown of so many conventions, the death of so many men, had to intervene.

Slowly Vera begins to helping Blunt at demonstrations; coming in with her carriage and helping Blunt or others to flee. She’s followed about by Lord Borrodaile who appears to worry for her physical safety. These scenes are used to make it an astute politically aware novel. The depictions of the speeches include dialogues between Vida and Ernestine Blunt where you see how Robins understood what makes people respond to a political figure and what brings out an effective active response and what people just don’t care about, or refuse to recognize can be changed. Especially good is the mockery of the men — what they say, how what they care about women is their looks and little else. One woman who presents a real intelligent case of how women workers suffer from lethal conditions fails to get any attention as she’s hitting emotions of indifference; another intuitively seeks political power in her speeches and appeals more; a third in ordinary life is fine but up on a bench and she’s perceived intuitively as a weak target and humiliated.

She begins to accompanied by younger upper class women who are idealistic (reminding me of Lady Sybil Crawley): one, Jean, comes with her protective suitor who she is eager not to offend by her behavior, but wants there as a protector as well as for moral support.

As Vida leaves her upper class life, people become willing to talk about her, and fissures open up so the enigmatic feel of the character is explained. It seems that as a young woman Vida “left her father’s house” (the language so reminiscent of Richardson’s Clarissa): was it an attempt at incest? did her father take a mistress openly? it matters. We are not told. A male friend who knew the family and had been kind, seduces and then takes her to live with him. The novel uses coincidence: it was Stonor himself. It seems he pushed her into having an abortion, and it is made plain that she didn’t want the abortion, she regrets it even now. I was surprised to discover that in the turn of the century a woman would talk about a fetus as a baby. I thought that was the result of recent anti-abortion rhetoric, Catholic beliefs that life and a soul start at conception; from the few mentions (but real enough) I have come across in the Renaissance (Veronica Gambara’s letters where she had miscarriages) and later 17th through 18th century, until quickening the pregnancy (not called that) was not thought to be a baby; after quickening few aborted, very dangerous. As I said, these 1890s novels bring out thoughts one never heard at the time (and often do not now). Vida think had she had a child, she’d have more to live for today.

In Daphne Phillips’s Women’s Fiction, 1945-2005 she describes a 1960s type of women’s novel as the single mother novel. These are books where the heroine becomes pregnant outside marriage; in just about all the heroine chooses to have the child and the novel is about the burden and complications and rewards that ensue. Philips says an American survey in 1959 of documentable (middle-class) women who got pregnant outside marriage showed only 2% chose to carry the pregnancy through to birth. Novels described include Lynne Reid Banks’s The L-Shaped Room (filmed 1962), Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone (filmed 1969 as A Touch of Love), Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction (filmed 1967 as Poor Cow).

Well the crown or denouement of the book has Vida getting on the bench herself and speaking publicly. She holds her own. Not that she achieves much that we can see — but it’s an addition, however small; she is a lady getting up there. But its climax, final scene reverses the emphasis back to private life. The last chapter shows the novel’s origin in a play. It reads like some final confrontation in an Ibsen play or Shaw — Vida and Stonor engaged in ahn impassioned debate over their shared past. He feels guilty about what happened, but to him she has become an unacceptable woman; he wants the young woman, Jean, whom he is engaged to be as sheltered as possible and we see while at the demonstration, how she is by training and disposition heeding all he says and will obey him. Unlike Trollope, Stonor does not go on about purity and the “beauty of innocence;” that is the underlying demand, but the overt thing he wants is a dependent woman who does not know how to cope with hard realities alone. We have been told by some of the other upper class women how Vida’s sister made a good marriage; we have seen how she is bullied so the future before Jean may not be any different. Here is our Shavian happy ending. A remarkable book,


George Moore’s Esther Waters edited by David Skilton

I’ve read only few novels from this era about or by “new women” (emancipated in some way, women who worked for money outside the home) or presenting the realities of the time in new reformist ways: George Moore’s very great Esther Waters (and novella, Albert Nobbs); Anna Lombard by Victoria Cross, a pseudonym used by Anna Sophie Cory, sister to “Laurence Hope,” aka Adela Cory who married and lived in India (where she and Vivian and another sister were born) and wrote popular poetry depicting female sexuality, sensual desire through pseudo-Indian imagery. As I recall in Anna Lombard the heroine pressured into either having an abortion or giving up the baby to caretakers knowing that the baby may be let die — by the husband or man who deigns to marry her; the book seems to endorse the idea that a man is right to refuse to be father to another man’s child and it is somehow unmanly for him to have been involved with her while she was pregnant by another man. What is shameful is he thinks of her as owned by him and orders her to kill a child. Esther Waters in Moore’s novel saves her baby from this at great sacrifice to herself; the pressure is economic and socially; she is regarded as a social outcast. These are books that should be better known. Hence this blog.

These “new woman” novels bring out into the discussably open for the first time realities not discussed even today — or skewed when discussed. So the first time out you can see attitudes blurted out which the person has not learned to hide.

The cover photo for Suffragette Sally (ca. 1910 photo)

Elizabeth Robins’s book is a cross-over between novels which focus on the private sexual lives of women and novels retelling the public world and activities of the suffragettes. A good Broadview edition (with an introduction about the suffragette movement, explaining why they had to resort to violence), Gertrude Colmore’s Suffragette Sally, edited by Alison Lee. One that sounded interesting is “by Lillie Devereux Blake, an American suffragist who wrote a novel, Fettered for life or Lord and Master. Blake wrote this to educate– [as in Mary Wollstonecraft] the emphasis on education — women in how greatly the law was stacked against them in marriage. Blake worried that young women were woefully uninformed about the lack of rights of married women, even in the 1870s. Blake worried that young women were woefully uninformed about the lack of rights of married women, even in the 1870s. Domestic abuse was exerted economically and legally. Blake wanted to show women that they were in great danger from husbands because the law worked from the premise that a husband would protect a wife — therefore, whatever a husband did, even hurting her physically, was seen through the lens of protecting her, keeping her line. Laws protected abuse, so there was no real justice. Also, men could easily circumvent laws as women didn’t know the law and lack finances to sue. To the 19th century suffragist movement, the vote equalled protection from domestic violence and hence from death’ (quoted from a posting by Diane Reynolds to WWTTA).

I’ve sent away (bought through Bookfinder.com) Blake’s novel. To be honest, I am more drawn to the novel of the era which focuses on women’s sexual exploitation.

From the cover of Harman’s Feminine Political Novel: upper class women caged upstairs watching Parliament: Trollope’s Madame Max refuses to go because she is locked out and in

One good book by a single author that studies women’s political novels as such, The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England by Barbara Leah Harman includes Gaskell’s North and South, Robins’s The Convert as well as Bronte’s Shirley. It bothers me that Harman choses to cover Gissing’s The Year of the Jubilee and Meredith’s Diana of the Crossroads — were there no other women’s political novels in the 19th century? What about Henrietta Stanndard’s A Blameless Woman (about a women tricked into bigamy)? Harman with Susan Meyer has edited a collection called The New Nineteenth-Century: Feminist Reading of Underread Victorian Novels: this has good essays on Bronte’s Agnes Grey (a wonderfully bitter book), Geraldine Jewsbury’s The Half-Sister, Oliphant’s Miss Majoribanks, Eliza Lynn Lynton’s The Rebel of the Family, Sarah Grand’s Heavenly Twins, Mary (Mrs Humphry) Ward’s Marcella (about a home-visiting nurse) and Sir George Tressady, and Flora Anne Steele’s On The face of the Waters (Anglo-Indian, about rape). There is another essay on Elizabeth Robins’s fiction (she wrote 14 novels altogether, as well as plays), Angela John’s “Radical Reflections: Elizabeth Robins’s “The Making of Suffragette History and the Representation of working Class Women,” and on “Henrietta Stanndard and the Emancipation of Women, 190-1910″ by Owen Ashton in The Duty of Discontent: Essays for Dorothy Thompson (wife of E.J., she wrote The Outsiders), Robert Fyson and Stephen Roberts. The volume includes “Who wrote The Northern Star?, essays on the experience of the workplace by women, on lunatic asylums (what class person was put in there?), rural resistence, poverty and the poor law, chartism (all suffragette topics).

A familiar photo of Robins at the height of her career and beauty

There are two biographies of Elizabeth Robins: one, Angela V. John, Elizabeth Robins: Staging a Life, takes her long life into her later obscure years.

Elizabeth Robins in later life

The other by Joanne E. Gates, Elizabeth Robins, 1862-1852 which appears to center on her central active years as socialite, actress and woman of letters and the theater (her pseudonym was Claire Raymond), suffragette. See comments for Nina Auerbach’s review.

We are on Women Writers through the Ages@ Yahoo (WWTTA) embarked on reading Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women. These are Wollstonecraft’s great-great-granddaughters.


Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Bennet seeking relief by washing her face in a basin (2013 Death comes to Pemberley, scripted Juliette Towhidi)

Dear friends and readers,

It will come as no surprise that the most common or repeated topic at the ASECS in Los Angeles (not far from Hollywood) were film or media studies, or (perhaps) those were the ones I noticed and was told about. It might surprise to discover that a number of those papers (including mine) used as their texts Jane Austen films. It was the zeitgeist topic. A young male Austen scholar told me he went to a panel expecting to hear a paper on Jane Austen’s novels and discovered it focused on a couple of Jane Austen films. Gothic too, Jane Austen as gothic was an element in this.

I confess I did not go to all of these. To my regret I was not able to attend “Appropriating the Restoration and Eighteenth Century: Fictionalized Place and Time on Film and Television,” which hosted papers on “Blackadder: Satirizing the Century of Satire” (by Sarah Stein), “Filming ‘The Fanny Wars:’ Mansfield Park, Literary Fandom and Contemporary Critical Practice (by Fiona Brideoake),” and (especially hard to miss), “Crossbones, Piracy, and the British Empire” (by Sirvidihya Swaminathan). It was on against another on film session I felt I had to go to, as some people there would be attending the panel my paper on film was to be given. I regretted missing “Jane Austen and Multimedia” on Saturday morning, which included a paper that includes The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (it had been heavily advertised & I thought it might be over-crowded). My friend told me a panel on “what we learned teaching Jane Austen” was often about the films. I especially wanted to hear Andrew McInnes, “‘It wants shade:” Pride and Prejudice and the Gothic” but had to leave the conference early to spend time with friends.

The gravatar for this blog: Jennifer Ehle as a deeply meditative Elizabeth Bennet (1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies)

Plus my stenography is not what it once was. So this does not begin to cover even part of what was said on film or Jane Austen films. I offer the gist of a few papers and some of the conversation about them afterwards.


Caroline Lennox (Serena Gordon) meeting Henry Fox (Alun Armstrong) in secret (1999 Aristocrats, scripted Harriet O’Carroll)

I began with a double panel, “The Eighteenth Century in Hollywood:” two sessions in a row. Thursday 9:45 am to 1 pm. Paula Byrne had been expected to talk on Belle, but couldn’t make it. Stella Tillyard, author of many books, historian, the source of a number of films, spoke first on “Aristocrats, Tides of War, and A Royal Affair.” She began by asking, What makes for a successful historical drama? Outside the university there has been an immense growth of interest in history, to see a non-fiction past depicted. There is also a desire to get at the interiority of the experience. To adapt these for the screen (as in the John Adams mini-series) one must have strong plot-design, tension, and to exploit the medium of film. These films are based on some sort of vision, tell about the future; the books are disguised autobiographies often. Her book, Aristocrats was written with a general audience in mind as a 5 act play, with entre-acts; it was history as an argument about this group of women in their context and novelized. The mini-series was framed by a narrator (the voice of Emily when older, Sian Phillips) to convey information; all kinds of compromises continually, including spun out at length pageantry and love and dressing scenes. There is an urgent commercial desire in films women go to for heroines: few 18th century women had any agency for real; the much-touted Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire is a tragic figure. People want to see sites of power, courts, theatrical moments. O’Carroll and her film-crew kept in mind the Reithian imperatives of inform, educate, entertain. They filmed in Ireland for the tax breaks, and part of the story takes place there. The mini-series is marvelous at bringing to us the materiality of the past. She went over some scenes (the fireworks) to show what effects were sought and how. There was a kind of thrill to filming in the real Carlton House where the Duchess of Leinster lived, with an original picture really there. (Today it is a tasteless hotel.) So film records the time at which it’s filmed too.

The doctor, the king and his wife (from A Royal Affair)

The shorter format film has advantages; it usually has a stronger sense of tension, sense of mystery as we chose epitomizing moments. Tillyard was especially proud of the 2006 Danish film, A Royal Affair; not a commercial success, an art film. It is a family romance seen through a historical lens, a poignant story about friendship, sexuality, Caroline Matilda’s affair with the German doctor, Johann Frederick Struensee;the king is presented as melancholic rather than mad, and finds in the doctor someone he can tell about his condition to. In 2012 Denmark was willing to tell more truths about the lack of egalitarianism in earlier Denmark. It is one of the recent Scandanavian noir films. Tillyard showed a few clips where we saw a quiet austerity of approach and intelligent use of sound and image.

Marital sex scene between the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) and Duchess (Keira Knightley) (from The Duchess, scripted Jeffrey Hatcher. directed by Saul Dibb)

Jeffrey Hatcher, author of many screenplays, told of how he got into 18th century films. He said as a screenplay writer you are fictionalizing with all the realities of a film in mind; you want enough information to fill out concrete circumstances. For Stage Beauty, he had just the right amount. He kept in mind what he read about Edward Kynaston, the last male actor to portray women on the 17th century stage. For The Duchess, he had the problem of a book (Amanda Foreman’s) which took the character from cradle to grave. You want to tell the story from the character’s crucial and best moments; so he was a bit at odds with the producer. He tried to focus in on particular political moments: she was good at campaigning, became a symbol of radical chic, understood the ways of her world and sold an image. In her private life she knew much trouble, with Elizabeth Foster a kind of succubus, the Duke’s mistress, perhaps Georgiana’s dominating lover too. Georgiana had a long-time affair with Charles Grey, later prime minister, so he took the giving up of this affair for the sake of his career as a turning point in all their intertwined lives. Ralph Fiennes was able to make the Duke far more appealing than he is written up for in the script or was in real life — for example in the scene where he is seen teaching Bess Foster’s sons to use a gun. Hatcher sees Fiennes as a kind of Jean Gabin. Amanda Foreman felt some of the depiction of Georgiana was unsympathetic towards her, and Hatcher conceded she was not a heroine for him. Like Tillyard, he felt the Duchess a tragic woman who lived a terrible life however glamorized. He ended on the intransigence of what happens to story matter in popular film genres, maintaining you cannot make an anti-war war film.

In the talk afterward it was said that adaptation to film must be an act of betrayal in which you try to hold onto some essential truth of the life or time or the book. Talk was of Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and BullStory from Tristram Shandy (starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Gillian Anderson and Keeley Hawes ) as excellent. Now I would like to see it .How central film-editing is when it comes to the final product. The writer of a book has to accept that someone else (a team) has taken possession of your idea.

Johnny Depp as Rochester (The Libertine, scripted Stephen Jeffreys, produced John Malkovitch)

The second session was made up of the responders. Misty Anderson thinks we are in a post-Johnny Depp era, i.e., The Libertine with Depp as the Earl of Rochester has been highly influential. Her aim as a college teacher using film is to think with students about how what we are seeing is the product of late 20th century capitalism; we have to critique what Chatsworth House was built upon then and is built upon now. Like Rozema’s Mansfield Park, bring out the cost of this world. Belle she saw as a fairy tale about racism. A Royal Affair shows how many people are moving towards atheism, and full modernity (the reaction to this) is not turning out to be a success. Devoney Looser said she tries to bring out the relationship of these films to original and present texts, emphasize the importance of educational influences in shaping identities. She would use how Lady Emily Lennox’s life was radically altered by her relationship with the Rousseauistic tutor, Ogilby and that of her children. The film Aristocrats kept a sense of the thousands of pages behind the knowledge that made making Tillyard’s book possible. John O’Neill talked about using satirical cartoons of the era to critique the films he studies with his students. Linda Troost told of how she first fell in love with the 18th century by watching costume dramas set in the era. She often needs to rely on films to convey a sense of period to students as they take her courses to fulfill a requirement and have had little history. The problem is to to teach them to look for signs of where we are in history and where we are fictionalizing. She has used 18th century historical dramas like Rowe’s Jane Shore to show how earlier history was portrayed analogously in the 18th century. Steven Thomas focused on Belle as a film that meant a lot to him personally. It is rare to see black faces on admirable characters; we do see the costume drama world from Belle’s eyes, feel her hurt about how this world regards the color of her skin. He teaches the film as a political fable for today. he emphasized how scant the evidence for what we see and how much change from the historical record is done.


The talk afterward was lively, varied, and included someone who suggested the influence of film on literary studies today is pernicious. Tillyard had emphasized how important is literal historical accuracy for sets and how that is a driving force for how a film looks. This insistence prompted me to offer the idea that filmic realism changes from era to era, so that the realism of a films of the 1970s (say Oneddin Line and the 1970a Poldark) looks quite different from the realism of the new Poldark (Aidan Turner’s expressions and wild hairdos remind me of Depp as the Libertine, the ambiance of Outlander) and Belle today. The length of scenes, the way they are filmed, has changed utterly, so technology drives the look of films just as much. Someone argued landscape is much more central because of filming on location. People countered Misty Anderson’s thesis, offering a real demonstration for the influence of Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones and again Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon. It was suggested that plays were influential on how people saw themselves in life and how they wrote their novels and that has influenced how we portray characters in films until today.


Norma Shearer as a bejeweled doll of a Marie Antoinette (1938, scripted Claudine West, directed W. S. Dyke, costumes Adrian)

There were four papers on “The Eighteenth Century on Film,” the panel my paper found a place on. Friday, 11:30 am to 1 pm. Since I was giving a paper my notes are minimal in comparison to some of the thoroughness with which each participant managed to present his or her paper inside 20 minutes. Dorothee Polanz seemed to survey the whole of the Marie Antoinette canon in her “Portrait of the Queen as a Celebrity: Marie Antoinette on Screen, 1934-2012.” Polanz demonstrated that on film Antoinette is an over-dressed doll, recognizable in iconic gorgeously elaborate and exquisite scenes; she is a mythic figure, and the poignancy of aspects of her life lost. Polanz tended to focus on more recent more naturalistic portrayals; she did suggest that the use of the part of a vehicle for stars is part of this and you can undermine this image, try to break it apart by casting somewhat against expectations. In her “‘Too light & bright and sparkling;’ the BBC Pride and Prejudice and the Secret of Style,” Melissa Bissonette’s insightful thesis was that the way the camera was used in Davies’s famous film continually kept Darcy’s eyes averted from us, showed him from the back, thwarted the viewer’s desire to see him up-close; he is carefully kept from Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth too, so that in the latter part of the film when they finally make long and full eye contact over a piano scene, we feel intense satisfaction. It’s a kind of game where a desire for erotic satisfaction is kept up for 6 hours. I have put the version of my paper I gave at the conference on Academia.edu, “Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films.” I’ve written about the process I went through coming up with my choice of films, my argument that we need to study and publish film scripts as central to understanding a film, and that screenplays and shooting scripts can be valued as a new experimental genre in itself elsewhere on this blog and Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two. Steven Thomas in “The Assurance of Belle, the insurance of the Zong, and the Speculation of Cinema,” talked at length about Belle. He offered a detailed history of the real political case used at the center of the film, talked about the history and conventions of costume drama, and while he said the discrepancies between historical accuracy and the fable before us were not important, he did show how speculative financial capitalism (how insurance policies lead to inhuman human acts) and the horrible treatment of people who were enslaved was beautifully hitched onto this finally melancholy romance film with many ghosts from today’s hurts (like the politics of African hair).

There was little time for talk afterward. I was asked what kinds of films or which films have had film scripts published and I answered from the notes on my paper (see academia.edu). People talked about Marie Antoinette’s agon during the revolution, her trial, and if modern attitudes towards her as a celebrity have changed the fundamental hostilities towards her; if she is a compensatory victim.  Polanza spoke of Chantal’s Les adieux a la reine and Sofia Coppola’s sweet film. Of course Colin Firth’s performance was brought up.  There was not time to do justice to Thomas’s complex paper.

Over the course of the sessions I attended people probably did not begin to talk about the financing of films, roles of producers, uses of close-ups (so important in film) and modern montage, film-editing anywhere near enough (see Future Learn: From Script to Screen, Film-making; click and scroll down). I still think one of the finest and most successful films in conveying the 18th century Ettore Scola and Sergeo Armidei La Nuit de Varennes based on Catherine Rihoit’s novel and wish I had the nerve to do a paper on that for next time.



From the 1999 Aristocrats mini-series, scripted by Harriet O’Carroll, directed by David Caffrey, based on Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats

Dear friends and readers,

Just back from the ASECS (American Society for 18th Century Studies) conference in Los Angeles, and having listened to what was said in three sessions on the problem of what is history, conveying it, what is happening to presentations in books and classrooms, and novels, I thought of a proposal for a panel I’ll never send. Perhaps as a group of ideas it might spur others to think about this:

I propose a panel where in papers people discuss where the new historicism and post-modern attitudes have taken us? how has an insistence that history is to be found in the local nuanced often unrecorded doings of relatively powerless people in their personal lives and contemporary highly sceptical attitudes towards the possibility of uncovering a semblance of accurate enough truth affected what is written in respectable histories and what appears in historical fiction? The background includes the dropping of all history courses as a humanities and/or social sciences required course in many colleges. Since much that the ordinary person learns is conveyed through film, what is happening to historical films? The overt self-reflexivity of prize-winning Booker Prize and Whitbread type books and the increasing popularization of costume drama (brief scenes, little coherent thoughtful dialogue), with an increase in romancing and fantasy (time-traveling) influenced the TV mini-series, a central core place for such films. Are uneducated viewers further miseducated or do they view what they see with a sophisticated perspective?  I invite papers on modern monographs, narrative and specialized history, historical fiction in novels and films.

We should remember how people build their identities by their sense of the past and where they get that. The images for Aristocrats find their real origin in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, and he was much influenced by the Gainsborough Studies 1940s costume dramas, for example.


A fancy,

Chun Castle, West Penwith, 3rd ofr 2nd BC for that contains evidence of smelting

Dear friends and readers,

My Poldark class finally met on Monday and we had a good session. Spurred by this I thought I’d put onto my 18th blog a recommendation for books on mining and smuggling (they are linked) in Cornwall, especially 16th through 19th century.


In his Story of Mining in Cornwall, Allen Buckley tells the story of southwestern Cornwall as a center of industrial capitalism as it was practiced for real between the earliest times (pre-historical records) to now, where from the 16th to later 19th century Cornwall was a central driving place for the industry of mining and how it exported its products and know-how around the world. We see evidence for the the trades routes from Cornwall down to Marseilles and out from the Mediterranean really go back a few thousand years. In classical times evidence of archeaology shows that most mining was kept to the surface.

Smuggling began as soon as the powerful began their attempt to tax — documents from the early medieval period.

The easier tin had been used up by the beginning of the 18th century century and people sought to find other minerals to make money by. Only when picking and washing it off the ground did people begin to dig down and build these tunnels and invent unwatering machines, and the whole man-based technology – wood mostly – emerge. There were different kinds of jobs, from what was done in the surface, to tributers – these were people given a space if they were individual enterpreneurs and what they could make depended on how much tin, copper they could pick off.  An interesting aspect of mining was that the individual worker was a sort of small enterpreneur. He was called a tributer.  A man who showed himself able to find and with a pic pull out ores was paid individually. A cost book was kept.  In the 19th century attempts were made to turn these people into salaried workers, but in Cornwall the ancient families held on to their land to some extent and so monopolies were not so extensive. Also the way of working, a single man hard at it many many hours would work more if he saw himself in control. No one tried slaves (who you would have had to whip and beat and the work was dangerous). Time and again owners tried to bypass this system and treat the workers ruthlessly, but a complicated set of realities – including the need for skilled people stopped that.

Companies and wealthy groups outside Cornwall ran a monopoly to keep the price of the ores down — they would buy the ore at low prices, smelt it, and then send it abroad. In the novels, Ross seeks to break the monopolies created by local thug-families, families with ruthless aggressive successful types at their heads and the English — who treated the Cornish as if this was a colony (not part of them). He seeks to find copper, mine, smelt it as the Carnemore Copper Company; there was a Cornwall Copper that did the same and also was beaten down by bankers calling loans in, the greater pockets of the non-Cornish — who though did not lose out altogether. Some of these rich outsiders who mined elsewhere (Yorkshire) are well-known by name: “Child, “Elizabeth Montagu, Bluestocking Businesswoman,” in Reconsidering the Bluestockings Edited by Nicole Pohl and Betty A. Schellenberg (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2003), 153-73. The idea of local combines meant that people within Cornwall would get to decide which mines were to be closed (if they were not profitable enough against the overhead) and which kept open. Mining in Cornwall was finally beat out by lodes and availability of ores in several colonies in South American, South Africa and other places. Cornwall turned to China clay and slate quarrying. In a way Cornwall extracted all it had from itself that was easy and then hard to get out, and then it sent its people to teach and work for others.

You can learn a lot from reading this book — about banking, real practices, ores, Cornwall too. About working places, why and how they rebel, riot, make combinations, how they are thwarted again and again and then exploited. A pro-slavery tract published around 1790 was dedicated to the “Starving Tin Miners of Cornwall.” The writer goes on to lambast abolitionists for ignoring inequities at home (i.e., the situation of the miners) in order to chase “foreign” issues. Mining undermined (pun there) people’s health badly; characters grow weak, sicken and die; they drown. They work hard long hours, and their lungs go. Some turn to agriculture or become servants but there is less money there. There was money in mining and not much money anywhere else — farming was hard and yielded poor results (see directly below). They also fish but there are apparently laws set up to control this so as to make sure the money to be gotten from it in large amounts goes to the powerful in the area. One scene late in Ross Poldark shows Ross and Demelza going to watch some fishing in the early dawn because that’s when the fish return from somewhere to other and also to evade these authorities. I can see why people preferred to smuggle, but it was dangerous. To offset starvation people also poached. For that they were thrown in jail to die if they were caught.

Cornwall has however for a long time been a poverty-sticken place. Why? It’s not good for growing things, and it’s not good for farming cattle in ways that make money. Corn – or bread (corn was the generic word for grain) riots occurred everywhere in the UK periodically as people were left to starve. Famine is sociologically engineered – it is the result of the food level in a given area going down where a large number of people have a precarious access to it – people can starve and huge amounts of food be shipped abroad. These corn riots, harsh repression and hanging occurred until the corn acts were passed in 1840

The focus of the book is especially the later 17th through 19th centuries where many new techniques and forms of mining emerged.. Beautiful pictures and informative box type articles on some of the pages on people and where scholarship is to be found. Buckley’s book is the result of not only personal decades of scholarship; it builds on a century of real serious effort by geologists, scholars, politicians, miners.

We learn of many important individuals, I’ll mention Thomas Bear for his inventions; wealth, connections and yourself being a “venture capitalist” and politician is found in Sir Francis Basset, Lord de Dunstanville of Tehidy (1757-1853).  In the second trilogy of the Poldark novels he figures as someone Ross is able to work with and borrow money from to form a combination against enforced bankruptcy.

1778 William Pryce illustrated one method of mine ventilation: moving air to a tunnel end

Its subtitle is “A world of payable ground.” It’s about more than mining. Through the experiences of people who mined from the working miners to the people who owned the ground and exploited them insofar as they could to the powerful kingly type players, he illuminates economic and political relationships of the time with real insight, lucidity and deep humanity.

Also very worth while: A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, The Cornish Miner. I’ve written about Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground (neolithic Cornwall, its mythic penumbra) on my Sylvia blog.


Mary Waugh Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall, 1700-1850. This excellent concise book shows the trade occurring all over the coasts of England where serious fishing and mining occurred. How widespread and (yes) violence on both sides (the smugglers and all the local people helping them) and the preventionmen (and the establishment on their behalf with their prisons and punishments like hanging, transportation) were — especially in Kent and Sussex. (The picture people have of Austen’s world as a gentle one is just ludicrously wrong). It was known companionably as the free trade.

How this relates to Poldark novels

After Ross is found not guilty of inciting a riot in Jeremy Poldark, he turns to smuggling: the scenes of lugging the goods on animals are fairly realistic

In Demelza Ross is trying to start a business that will support him as a gentleman through mining.  Ross’s problem is he is not going to get enough money for copper; among the reasons for this is there is a monopoly by the bankers and outsiders who buy the copper and sell it to foreign markets. Eventually what emerges is Ross in secret (he’s allowed) takes the small company he has begun, calls it the Carnemore Copper Company, based on something that really occurred, it was called the Cornish Copper company; a group of Cornish people attempted to wrest smelting of copper, selling and trading it abroad to get decent prices.


The death of Francis Poldark from drowning — this is done with psychological depth and individuality in the books

and 1970s mini-series, but it was actually a not atypical accident

He’s up against the difficult technology: how dangerous it was. and early on because he does not have enough money to build safe enough structures, a mine collapses. He is heroic trying to save all he can, but one character who has become familiar to us and has a family dies. The Poldark novels were written the later 1940s-50s in the UK where the labor gov’t made an attempt at building a progressive society. They reflect this time.

A worthwhile essay by Nickianne Moody:  “Poldark Country and National Culture.” She opens dryly and her tone is academic austere but she makes good points about the reasons for the success of the novels and the first mini-series. She means us to compare this need for nostalgia and reassurance in 1945-53 and again the 1970s against a bleak backdrop of post World War Two and economic hardship and decline and the ruthless policies of the Thatcher era with the astonishing success of Downton Abbey in the 2nd decade of the 21st century with a similar backdrop of economic hardship, and sense of betrayal and ruthless social policies, only as Moody points out the Poldark books are not complacent and not supporting the oligarchy.

Inexplicably Moody does not refer to the one-off movie of the 8th book, Stranger from the Sea, that was made in 1996 and was a flop: due mostly to the fanatical energies of the Poldark Appreciation Society whose anger at the exclusion of Ellis and Rees from the new production knew no bounds, and which Nickianne Moody treats with a certain unqualified (too much) respect. People are afraid of fan groups.

The essay comes from Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Elia Westland and has two opening essays on the history of Cornwall , 16th to 18th century and 19th to 20th, on various writers (besides Graham, Virginia Woolf, Daphne DuMaurier, the poet, John Harris, Thomas Hardy, and aspects of Cornwall (geography, the railway, regional differences)

While Ross supports his failing mining ventures by smuggling, Demelza (Angharad Rees) fishes … (1975-76 Poldark, Part 11)

I wonder if the new 2015 Poldark series will have time — allow for the necessary meditative quiet pace and coherent dialogue — to do justice to the treatment of mining, attempt at breaking a monpoly, the smuggling and fishing and farming to survive the way the 1970s series did. I doubt it. I will be writing on the new film adaptation after all 8 episodes of this year’s coverage of the first four novels (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan) conclude.


Amy Marston as Anne Dormer, a prisoner within a marriage

Hannah Boyle as Gertrude Saville, spinster

Dear friends,

What unites the above unhappy women was they had no space or place of their own they could have any liberty to live for real in. They are but two of the many real historical people, many men too, whom Amanda Vickery discussed and dramatizes in her excellent 3 part documentary, At Home with the Georgians. It has been much misunderstood in some of the public commentary: she’s been quoted as using outrageous language about males (testerone), but she’s talking tongue-in-cheek very often — and to me that was part of the surreptitious fun, her use of ironies undercut patriarchy without saying so. She made instructive comparisons with us today: we too live behind barred doors and seek partners, but we have our solitude and do not live under such strict hierarchical arrangements. I enjoyed her delivery of sparkling wit, dry descriptions, and how she suggested tragedies of several existences she described which now and then came into the edge of the focus.

An enactment of George Gibbs, country physician, come back to his home, wife, family, servants (out of his diary, from Part 1 of Vickery, At Home)

Part One was about how men longed to marry to gain status as males, women for sex, homes to stabilize, to vote from, to participate in communities out of. Part Two about how women gave themselves an identity by how they decorated their houses, made their world. Part Three the intense importance of having space, guarding it fiercely, the nature of the crowded hierarchical and often hard lives the Georgians lived. I envied how many private correspondences she had been privileged to read.


It takes off from only one sub-set of themes in her powerful Behind Closed Doors, and I hope to watch it carefully and write a review here to do it justice.

For tonight though I want to share a CFP I sent to the committee for next fall’s (!) EC/ASECS whose topic is networking. It’s been accepted; it’s an outgrowth of my thinking about the anomaly (women living alone, well if middle class except for their servants), years of reading women writers and about women whose lives were in potentiality like that of Saville and Anne Dormer. And just now Vickery who reached her subjects by reading the letters and documents they left. So I called it

Forging Connections Among Women

It is a truth once universally acknowledged that the way societies have organized themselves isolates the average woman; they may socialize within the space they find themselves in with their families and friends, but there are enormous pressures and social and economic constraints keeping them from reaching out to people beyond the family and milieu into which chance has thrown them. Thus the writing and publication of poetry, novels, plays, letters and memoirs and travel by women especially when addressing issues and experiences from a woman’s point of view become ways for the average woman to become part of a network and dialogue with other women. A trip to a spa or town where there was a public life such a woman could enter into, owning and managing a shop or a girls’ school, teaching in one, a profession like midwifery would be other places and provide shared experiences for women to forge connections with other women as women. I invite papers on topics like these where a woman could feel she was or indeed be connected to other women through gender experiences.

I’ve ideas for a paper for my panel too. It would be a paper on a group of women poets who also had different kinds of social connections not usual for the elite: Anne Home Hunter, great poet who wrote lyrics for Handel, who married and kept home for her genius-surgeon husband, John Hunter; Mary Chandler, who was disabled, so never married, and ran a shop in Bath, and wrote her poetry about her spinsterhood and life; and Mary Leapor, poet, servant, and cook and housekeeper (so Amanda Vickery’s books and documentary comes in here). It’s common for scholars who write about these earlier women have chosen to working and poor agricultural women when they seek out the non-elite; I’ll be looking for how non-elite (sort of on the fringe of the elite) inbetween-women lived, and forged connections.

A cat climbing down from a servant’s room in the attic (from Part 2)

I find I’ve never written a foremother poet blog for Mary Leapor, but there is an edition of her poetry, a book on her, and essays too. So I’ll end tonight on two poems by her around the same time. This is what she wrote when her play was returned to her:

Upon her Play being returned to her, stained with Claret.

Welcome , dear Wanderer, once more!
    Thrice welcome to thy native Cell!
Within this peaceful humble Door
    Let Thou and I contented dwell!

But say, O whither hast thou rang’d?
    Why dost thou blush a Crimson Hue?
Thy fair Complexion’s greatly chang’d:
    Why, I can scarce believe ’tis you.

Then tell, my Son, O tell me, Where
    Didst thou contract this sottish Dye?
You kept ill Company, I fear,
    When distant from your Parent’s Eye.

Was it for This, O graceless Child!
    Was it for This, you learn’d to spell?
Thy Face and Credit both are spoil’d:
    Go drown thyself in yonder Well.

I wonder how thy Time was spent:
    No News (alas!) hadst thou to bring.
Hast thou not climb’d the Monument ?
    Nor seen the Lions, nor the King?

But now I’ll keep you here secure:
    No more you view the smoaky Sky:
The Court was never made (I’m sure)
    For Idiots, like Thee and I.

This she wrote as Ursula (they used these pastoral-classical-romance pseudonyms in the 18th century); it’s a burlesque on the house she served in (and doubtless had limited space in), which she called Crumble Hall. Presumably it could’ve needed fixing.

From Crumble Hall:

We sing once more, obedient to her Call,
Once more we sing; and ’tis of Crumble-Hall;
That Crumble-Hall , whose hospitable Door
Has fed the Stranger, and reliev’d the Poor;
Whose Gothic Towers, and whose rusty Spires,
Were known of old to Knights, and hungry Squires …
Of this rude Palace might a Poet sing
From cold December to returning Spring …
Tell how the Building spreads on either Hand,
And two grim Giants o’er the Portals stand;
Whose grisled Beards are neither comb’d nor shorn,
But look severe, and horribly adorn …

    Then step within—there stands a goodly Row
Of oaken Pillars—where a gallant Show
Of mimic Pears and carv’d Pomgranates twine,
With the plump Clusters of the spreading Vine …
From hence we turn to more familiar Rooms;
Whose Hangings ne’er were wrought in Grecian Looms:
Yet the soft Stools, and eke the lazy Chair,
To Sleep invite the Weary, and the Fair.

    Shall we proceed?—Yes, if you’ll break the Wall:
If not, return, and tread once more the Hall.
Up ten Stone Steps now please to drag your Toes,
And a brick Passage will succeed to those.
Here the strong Doors were aptly fram’d to hold
Sir Wary ‘s Person, and Sir Wary ‘s Gold.
Here Biron sleeps, with Books encircled round;
And him you’d guess a Student most profound.
Not so—in Form the dusty Volumes stand:
There’s few that wear the Mark of Biron ‘s Hand …

    Would you go farther?—Stay a little then:
Back thro’ the Passage—down the Steps again;
Thro’ yon dark Room—Be careful how you tread
Up these steep Stairs—or you may break your Head.
These Rooms are furnish’d amiably, and full:
Old Shoes, and Sheep-ticks bred in Stacks of Wool;
Grey Dobbin ‘s Gears, and Drenching-Horns enow;
Wheel-spokes—the Irons of a tatter’d Plough.

    No farther—Yes, a little higher, pray:
At yon small Door you’ll find the Beams of Day,
While the hot Leads return the scorching Ray.
Here a gay Prospect meets the ravish’d Eye:
Meads, Fields, and Groves, in beauteous Order lie.
From hence the Muse precipitant is hurl’d,
And drags down Mira to the nether World.

    Thus far the Palace—Yet there still remain
Unsung the Gardens, and the menial Train.

[In “her” kitchen]

    O’er-stuff’d with Beef, with Cabbage much too full,
And Dumpling too (fit Emblem of his Skull!)
With Mouth wide open, but with closing Eyes
Unwieldy Roger on the Table lies.
His able Lungs discharge a rattling Sound:
Prince barks, Spot howls, and the tall Roofs rebound.
Him Urs’la views; and, with dejected Eyes,
“Ah! Roger , Ah!” the mournful Maiden cries:
“Is wretched Urs’la then your Care no more,
That, while I sigh, thus you can sleep and snore?
Ingrateful Roger ! wilt thou leave me now?
I baste the Mutton with a chearful Heart,
Because I know my Roger will have Part.”

    Thus she—But now her Dish-kettle began
To boil and blubber with the foaming Bran.
The greasy Apron round her Hips she ties …

Strange Sounds and Forms shall teaze the gloomy Green;
And Fairy-Elves by Urs’la shall be seen:
Their new-built Parlour shall with Echoes ring:
And in their Hall shall doleful Crickets sing.

The first of many 18th century homes photographed in At Home with the Georgians



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