“But you must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy the ancient housekeeper up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. . . . [Y]ou listen to the sound of her receding footsteps as long as the last echo can reach you—and when, with fainting spirits, you attempt to fasten your door, you discover, with increased alarm, that it has no lock.” (Austen, Northanger Abbey, 158-59).

The above images two remain my favorite of all the stills of Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood: Jennifer Ehle walking along in the countryside meditatively, with a melancholy retreat feel into nature (1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies); Hattie Morahan looking out to sea and painfully enduring what seems a long loneliness ahead (2008 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies). The passage from Austen’s NA, probably using Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or a Tale of Others Times as part of what is parodied and yet taken seriously is also one of my favorites

Friends and readers,

Since I wrote about Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy, or the Ruin on the Rock (1795) here (some months ago), I’ve been wanting to recommend two further later eighteenth century epistolary novels I and another friend on my small WomenWritersAcrosstheAges listserv @ Yahoo read together last year on their treatment of women’s issues in the 18th century still of relevant today, Sophia Briscoe’s Miss Melmoth; or the New Clarissa and the anonymous Emma, or The Unfortunate Attachment: we read them because they have both been linked to Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, whose The Sylph (1778) we also read.

The latest The Sylph cover and edition

Prompted by the appearance of two new Austen films, P&P and Zombies and Love and Friendship (aka Lady Susan) as well as shoverdosing on a Scots TV production of Gabaldon’s Outlander, in reaction almost against, I recommend these 18th century epistolary narratives as well as The Sylph and Sophia Lee’s powerful gothic, The Recess (1783) as a better way to acquaint yourself with Austen’s world and context.



Hermione Lee reading one of Clarissa’s letters, a perfect image for “the New Clarissa” as it is all writing and receiving of letters (1991 Clarissa, scripted by David Nokes)

The first in time is Miss Melmoth; or, The New Clarissa (1771) by Sophia Briscoe, about whom little is known beyond that a second epistolary novel written in the following year was attributed to her (The Fine Lady, 1772), that The Sylph has attributed to her (a receipt for payment is in her name) and that the Critical Review and Monthly Review commended these novels as superior to some average they disdained, “entertaining,” amusing,” “not corrupting,” “instructive” and capable of “arousing powerful emotion.” She is also sometimes said to have been Scottish. Unfortunately no one has yet published a summary, and although I made intense notations on the letters (and they are in the archives at Yahoo) as we went through them (two novels which we read over some 6 weeks), I never put them together coherently.

A jumble of stories within stories, images left in the mind, something of the feel of Miss Melmoth (from an exhibit of 18th century women writers, including Austen, held at the NYPL, NYC)

What was most remarkable were not so much the on-going front continuous unfolding of the main characters, but the inset back-stories as it were, what was told all at once and intensely when one woman would sit down and tell her history to another, or one of our heroines report what she had heard of a new character in the novel’s history. I was struck by how seriously the novel took death emotionally; how the loss of a close relative or friend affects someone’s life irreparably. The front stories projected a sympathetic account of how women needs other women friends.

Whit Stillman includes such an image in his Love and Friendship (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, both in his previous Austen movies, and Beckinsale played Emma for Andrew Davis’s 1996 Emma)

One of the inset histories was a hostile depiction of a woman whose elopement with a rake turns out so badly that she is driven to become a lady’s maid who then betrays her young mistress by marrying that mistress’s domineering shallow father and becoming herself a tyrannical step-mother; another, a deeply empathetic depiction of a stranded widow. The novel reveals a tenuous security for all eighteenth century women of whatever rank. A desperate need for marriage however painful that condition may turn out.


The second in time was published anonymously, Emma or, The Unfortunate Attachment (1773); it has (probably wrongly) been attributed to Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, and the modern edition by Jonathan David Cross continues the attribution. We agreed that all three novels (Sylph, Emma, and Miss Melmoth) were written by different people because the styles were so different. Emma; or the Fatal Attachment has far more stilted and wrought style than either of the other two, and its central story is the plangent and tragic one. This novel has many Richardsonian twists and turns, and again I wrote about the letters as we went through, ironic and juxtaposed section by section (and these annotations are in the archives). Its subject is coerced marriage; in this novel a previous attachment has gone so deep and the new relationship despite all efforts on the part of the heroine and reinforcement of social norms by her relatives and friends a violation.

Saskia Wickham as the harassed Clarissa stopped in the streets, hounded for debts she doesn’t own (1991 Clarissa)

Beyond what Gross writes of it, in her “Richardson and some Richardsonian novels,” Isobel Grundy (Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, edd. M.A. Doody and P. Sabor) writes of how the heroine is harrowed by the death of the previous man, shows she is capable of loving two men at once, includes a friend who offers “a strongminded feminist critique of wifehood,” and depicts a retreat to “a desolate domestic wasteland” (pp. 227-29). Again a deep sense of precariousness in life for women is conveyed.



Both Miss Melmoth and this Emma (as well as The Slyph) have multiple correpondents who write to one another and receive responses; both happy endings (as does The Sylph) but what happens along the way is not negated. A chime of many voices and presences.


Outlander 2014
Catriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall now Fraser (2015 Outlander, variously scripted & directed) — upon her finding she has been transported to 18th century Scotland

I’ve been prompted finally to describe Miss Melmoth and Emma, or the Unfortunate Attachment and refer back to The Sylph because I’m almost finished with the 16 part mini-series film adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels as the closest thing I’ve come across to Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times, a journalistic epistolary novel (the letters very long and only by the two sisters), to my mind the first self-conscious genuine gothic in English literature (1783). (This wikipedia article will lead you to good material on Lee and her novel, which deserve a long blog of their own. I also read it with a another friend on Eighteenth Century worlds @ Yaoo, and postings are in those archives. I have no room here lest this blog become overlong.)

Gabaldon’s book (or books) are a kind of cross between Frank Yerby “The Border Lord” type romances, with time-traveling fantasy taken from Daphne DuMaurier’s House on the Hill; a Dorothy in Oz longing to return to Auntie Em turned into a resolute desire to stay (Claire is told to click her shoes before the stones and recite “there is no place like love” in her efforts to return to modern England); and a plot-design which exploits overall Scottish history, Highland cultural artefacts and the Jacobite 175 rebellion and patina of 18th century English politics. They read somewhat woodenly but if you have watched the mini-series for a while and go back, you find they make good script ideas and dialogue for a TV film. If you want to understand Gabaldon’s Outlanders the books to read are Helen Hughes’s The Historical Romance and Diane Wallace’s The Woman’s Historical Novel. The distance between Gabaldon’s book and the literate eloquent script and remarkable realization reminds of the distance between the 1978 mini-series Love for Lydia, and H.E. Bates’s sub-Lawrentian novel.

Craig Na Dun (the magical stones which hurl the heroine back in time)

The mini-series reaches out to contemporary wishes for spirituality by involving megalithic stones and the natural landscape in its depiction of “spirituality” and the nature of its characters. The central character, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser (two husband’s names) is a nurse from WW2 – this seems all the rage on these mini-series, nurses – is presented as pro-active and strong, a female hero who is as effective in action-adventure and yet needs rescuing, all the while doing a woman’s jobs of caring. Then you get plenty of blood, death, violence for the men. This is precisely what we find in Lee’s two heroines, Elinor and Matilda, Mary Stuart’s long-lost daughters, who learn to love as abjectly and erotically as Claire. The Scottish landscape and myths about the Highlands serves both Lee and Outlander.

Castle Leoch (an actual ruin in Scotland)

The mini-series and Lee manifest the same attempt at an exploration of male high adventure (Lee is much influenced by Prevost) through the cyclical art, use of voice-over (daringly by the men too) so sensibilities of l’ecriture-femme movie-style. Some of the scripts were written by a woman who was also the executive producer, Anne Kenney. I do love all of this, Lee and the mini-series, the Scottish landscapes captivate me too.

Very popular in French: Le Souterrain, ou Matilde (1788)

I like to think and even assume that Austen read all three of these semi-realistic epistolary novels; there is some evidence in Northanger Abbey to suggest that Austen had the fantasy The Recess in mind when Henry Tilney produces his mock-gothic narrative for Catherine as they ride into the Abbey.

Felicity Jones and J.J. Feilds as Catherine and Henry approaching the abbey (2008, Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

I was also prompted to tell of these novels finally because two new Austen movies have just come out, the utter nonsense of Burt Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a film adaptation of Seth Graham-Smith’s burlesque gay mash-up, and Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, a blending of Austen’s Lady Susan with her juvenilia burlesque, Love and Freindship. I link in a group of reviews in comments.

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet could easily be slotted into Outlander, or be either of Lee’s heroines

Lady Susan in mourning


When I’ve seen the two new movies, I will write about them, but from what I’ve read thus far, you will learn far more about Austen’s world, get closer to her values and assumptions by reading any one of these four novels. And yet how close, how alike are the photos, the pictures stemming from both movies to the appropriate photos and covers of these four later 18th century novels, and stills from movies made from and appropriate illustrations for Austen’s novels. At the same time some essential element of sanity, of ironic perspective, of true ethical compass is either not there or muted. See comments for full disclosure or elaboration on this.

Again Jones and Feilds as Henry and Catherine, with Catherine Walker as Eleanor Tilney between them, this time all discussing Ann Radcliffe and “real history” as they walk through a real wood (this one happens to be in Scotland where most the film was done).


Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game (left to right, Lucia, Europa, Minerva Anguissola, 1555)

Vigue: “In this painting, Lucia is on the left. She has just killed her opponent’s queen. The other player is Minerva, who is lifting a hand, perplexed and rather serious, since she has nearly lost the game. The young Europa smiles openly in the center, enjoying the situation. The psychological rendering of the figures is perfect. The expression of the servant gazing at the game is also remarkable. Occupied in her domestic tasks, she nevertheless has time to notice matters affecting the girls. This painting reveals Anguissola’s human spirit The young women are wearing elegant silk clothing with lace cuffs, high collars with a ruff, and necklaces and tiaras with precious stones and pearls adorning their heads. Anguissola paints a landscape in the background that adds depth to the painting. The canvas has a soft light throughout, with the indistinct, misty landscape in the background characteristic of Northern Italian painting in a technique called sfumato. The drawing is solid and the strokes of color are not very detailed, but rather suggestive and subtle, as is the case in Flemish painting. This can be observed in the complexions, in the magnificent golden highlights on the sleeves and in the highlights on their pearls … Vasari was profoundly impressed at its vividness, to the point where he assured readers that the girls might begin speaking at any moment. Chess was reserved for men of the nobility or upper classes. Anguissola did not paint her sisters sewing or embroidering, but rather exercising an intellectual activity, that is, playing chess … “

Lucia Anguissola, Self-Portrait (1558)

Exhibition catalogue of Italian Women Artists: Lucia portrays herself sitting down in elegant but modest attire. She wears dark clothing under which appears a white blouse. In her left hand she holds a small book (a Petrarchan or prayer book) … The same format and sense of silent detachment in this self-portrait can be found in a similar drawing by Sofonisba of Lucia … [Flavio Caroli suggests Lucia] is ‘reclined in a remote suspension of the heart … The attention given to the psychological element and the ‘movement of the soul’ falls squarely in the Lombard tradition, and is traced to the studies made by Leonardo … with respect to subtlety of feeling, in her own introversion, as well as human understanding, Lucia is not less talented than her sister … ‘

Friends and readers,

In recent years, no less than three biographies have been written about Sofonisba Anguissola (1535/6-1625), about which four argumentative, passionate, and insistently corrective reviews have been written (one of them embarrassed by the biography under review); she has had an exhibit dedicated to her (and her family), been a central painter of an exhibition of Italian Renaissance Women Painters from Renaissance to Barque, figured in another wider exhibit of Women Artists, 1550-1950, and at least three academic essays, two in peer-edited journals, where she is taken to stand for important trends and forms of creativity for women, for the Renaissance, a third in the Woman’s Art Journal, have appeared. She is discussed in detail in six of the surveys I’ve consulted, was the subject of early 20th century articles about a relationship with Michelangelo and Philip II, to omit passing mentions and casual reproductions of a few of her portraits in others. Yet when when one starts to compare, there is much contradiction, attributions disputed, dates tentative, much not known about her (how many sisters did she have, what were their names, did two or three paint?), and the whys and wherefores of what is known not clear.

I take Sofonsiba’s somber, contemplative, and self-aware characterization of her subjects, and Lucia’s psychologically acute depictions of vulnerable, guarded nuances to be a core cause for the embattled defenses I’ve come across. Although Sofonsiba tends to warm colors amid the darkness of her sitters’ outfits, neither sister paints overtly emotionally warm, sensual, smilingly open (compliant? available?) women; raped, sexually inviting, castigated, vengeful or humiliated women are not part of their repertoire — as they are in most early modern Italian painting. Dare I say this makes some viewers and students of art turn away? (Find this boring?) Sofonisba and Lucia are rather concerned to show themselves as contemporary non-mythic women of high culture and status:

Sofonsiba of herself at the spinet

Sofonsiba repeats a self-reflexive motif in this inset intriguingly individuated intense mother-and-child painting she has painted within the larger frame of herself at an easel (c. 1556)


While Sofonsiba is said to have spent at least 21 years in the Spanish court at Madrid and painted many portraits, little has survived of this; Lucia died young, and her and her sisters’ most compelling (alive) portraits left are those of one another and their siblings, servants, pets, e.g, Sofonisba’s rendition of the family with a nervous poodle:

Said to be Amilcare, the father, Minerva and the one brother, Asdrubal (c 1557)

This panel by Lucia may be of Europa (the inscription is uncertain):


The vastly superior content, technique, accuracy of their portraits of people close to them or ordinary people (not always named) may be seen in comparing Sofonsiba’s Prince Charles of Austria (c. 1560)


to the density of apprehension in Sofonsiba’s “Husband and Wife:”


There are no extant or recorded landscapes, but there are remarkable drawings made by Sofonsiba, presumably at a young age:

of herself on white and blue paper

And here and there enlarged reproductions of detailed work in Sofonsiba’s painting:

Said to be from a portrait of Bianca Ponzoni (Anguissola?, c. 1557)


Sofonsiba’s life patterns resemble Garzoni’s and Gentileschi’s: sudden escapes or at least movement away from her family, long periods on her own here and there, with commissions from a court or courts as her support; she differs in having married late in life (so no pregnancies) two husbands, one political or arranged and other a seemingly sudden a love match. The intensity or genuineness of emotion here finds a parallel in the emotions felt and portrayed in the tight-knit continual painting and drawing of one another seen in Sofonisba’s early years.

The home and birthplace was in Cremona, their father, Amilcare Anguissola, not himself a painter but someone who recognizing his daughters talents’ cultivated them, had them study under the portraitist Bernardino Campi. There is an introverted self-reflexive mirroring in Sofonisba’s complex portraits of herself painted by Campi.


Biana Ponzona was the mother’s name; and may be painted by Lucia here:

The image also could be of Sofonisba before she went to the Spanish court (the inscription is a later one)

There were possibly five or six daughters, Sofonisba, Minerva, Europa, and Anna Maria. Only Elena did not paint; she is said to have became a nun:

Elena as a nun by Sofonsiba

The one brother, Adrusbal, did not paint:

This may be Adrusbal or a young nobleman: he does have the large family eyes

Nancy Heller supplies information about the sisters beyond Elena, the nun: Minerva died young too; Europa and Anna Maria married and painted religious works as well as portraits.

This is said to be of Minerva, by Sofonsiba, she is made much harder and more extroverted than Lucia’s Minerva (see below) — and wears matching rich red jewelry.

The records for Sofonisba’s individual career begin when she was 15. Two letters from Amilcare to Michelangelo at the time, show Amilcare bringing Sofonisba’s talent to Michelangelo’s attention, after having received encouragement. It’s said Michelangelo asked for a portrait of boy crying: whence this drawing said to be her with her brother bitten by a crawfish.

Sofonsiba (?) with her brother who it’s said has been bitten by a crawfish — he is one upset little brother

Documents suggest that when Sofonisba was 24 (1559), Philip II asked for her services as a portraitist, whence she left Genoa (where she was at the time) and went to live at Guadalajara. Eleven years later (1568), after the death of Queen Elizabeth of Valois whom Sofonisba had painted:


it’s thought that Sofonsiba took charge of the education of the Infantas, Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela. At any rate later visits show a remembered relationship and Sofonisa may have painted

Catalina Micaela, sometimes called the Lady in Ermine.

It was supposed an honor when after thirteen years at court Philip married Sofonisba to a Sicilian nobleman, Fabrizio de Moncada, who died three years after that when his ship was sunk (pirates are mentioned).

Two and one half years later she also defied a custom which tended to decree that widows (especially without children) not re-marry and while on a ship married the captain, Oracio Lomellini. She had asked no one’s permission, and to criticism is said to have replied: “Marriages are made in heaven and no on earth.”

The couple settled first in Genoa in 1584, where Sofonisba continues to paint and perhaps teach painting. She was then visited (or herself visited) the Infanta Catalina Micaela with her husband, the Duke of Savoy. Fourteen years later (1599) the Infanta Isabel Ciara Eugenia visited Sofonisba there.

We know that by 1624 she was living in Palermo because Anthony Van Dyke visited her there on July 12th. A year later in November she died, and was buried November 16th, in San Giorgo dei Genovesi, Palermo.


No specific events of Lucia’s life are known; her name repeated in the family group as a painter, trained like the others:

By Lucia Anguissola, said to be of their sister, Minerva (c. 1558-60, see above for Sofonisba’s)

Vigue: “Minerva was … was represented in three works by Sofonisba: The Chess Game, Family Portrait, and a portrait in which she is wearing two bracelets, a red coral neck-lace, and a pendant of the goddess Minerva (Museum of Art. Milwaukee). Minerva was a painter, but she also wrote. Filippo Baldinucci (1681) stated that she was an excellent write, both in Latin and in the common language, but that she died in the flower of her youth. The composition of [Lucia’s] portrait shows a great affinity with the tondo of the young Europa Like the portrait of the women’s mother, this one is somber, though the background is ochre instead of the dark green Lucia usually employed. The light is diaphanous and the brushstrokes evocative and subtle, especially in the lace on the shirt and the fine white strings against the dark dress. With its light background, this portrait emanates warmth …

Perhaps to fill out her portrait Lucia is credited with studying music, Latin and the humanities according to the plan of Baldassare Castiglione in his Courtier. There is a series of consistent comments which suggest intelligence, and her portraits of herself show that: we are told that she liked music, enjoyed playing chess (whence the famous picture), and reading. Lucia signed her portrait of herself reading a book. She also signed this portrait of Dr Pietro Manno as a hard secular man:


Lucia is also credited with painting a Virgin and Child which recalled Raphael (all tenderness). One can see a (as art critics have said) her softness of approach in color and brushwork in the extant pictures. I am attracted to the melancholy of those of her pictures that have survived. She was mentioned by Antonio Palomino (1655-1726) in his Lives and by Filippino Balducini (1681). In his Vite, Giorgio Vasari says Lucia had comparable expertise with Sofonisba, and it is he who wrote that when he visited her father in Cremona in 1565 Lucia had died, with words that imply recently.


One last self-portrait (black-and-white reproduction) of Sofonsiba of herself

I began my reading and some research for this blog by wondering why, and ended understanding how and why Sofonsiba especially but also Lucia have sustained respect and adherents over the centuries.

Germaine Greer suggests that Sofonsiba was Lucia’s teacher, that she escaped being subject to her father or a ward of the Spanish king by marrying; that is, it was she was initiated her first marriage. She may have married the second time to maintain a form of independence (182-86). Elsa Honig Fine portrays her as pro-active for herself and holding her own in her interchanges with powerful royalty (8-10). The Italian Renaissance Women Painters entries go over the complex iconographies that can be allegorically teased out of both Sofonsiba and Lucia’s extant works who were making identities for themselves — aristocratic, proud, and loving one another (106-24). Heller further suggests that Bologna and its environs manifested an exceptionally liberal attitude towards female citizens, with Bologna accepting women students as early as the 13th century and connects this to the high culture of Anguissola sisters (16-17).

In their Women Artists, 1550-1950 Nochlin and Harris cannot say she was the equal of Titian in variety, color, achievement in her portraiture, but insofar as her form of commissions and position as a woman painter (what she could paint) permitted in his league (106-8). Peterson and Wilson quote a diary entry by Van Dyke in his Sketchbook after his 1624 summer visit to Sofonsiba late in her life:

While I painted her portrait, she offered me advice as to the light, which should not be directed from too high as not to cause too strong a shadow, and many more good speeches, as well as telling me part of her life-story, in which one could see she was a wonderful painter after nature (26)

I end on the intensely felt life caught in these two details from both women’s paintings: Sofonisba’s laughing or grinning young girl in the The Chess Game


and Lucia’s delicately fingered hand holding her book:


The implied early close-knit family story is touching in the way of the Brontes. We may hope Sofonsiba’s older years, after her second marriage and departure from the Spanish court, were good.

My next subject will be Mary Beale (1633-99) who held her own in the Restoration English court. See my first series for an explanation of this project and who has been covered thus far beyond Giovanna Garzoni and now these Anguissola sisters.


‘It is so cold, so very cold — and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out to-day … Emma to Mr Elton during the afternoon from the book named after her, Emma, I:13, 110)

Alexandria, Va, around 8 in the evening, Wednesday, 1/20/16 (from my porch) — the reality

Edward Gorey — a lurid gleam is seen

Dear friends and readers,

Over on Sarah Emsley’s mostly Austen blog, there has been an on-going series, Emma in the Snow; prompted by this, paradoxically inspired by Diana Birchall’s summery comic Mrs Elton’s Donkey, and compelled by the present dire situation here in the Washington D.C. area I put before you a Sortes Austenianae. Who knows not the entrenched tradition in medieval European times: if in doubt, about what’s to come, if in doubt about what to do in response to what’s to come, pull out your trusty Virgil. We are speaking of The Aeneid here. Open up at random, look down and interpret from what has been vouchsafed. Sortes Vergilianae.

I put in the second disk of the 2009 Emma (scripted by Sandy Welch) and came upon the Knightleys playing with John and Isabella’s children in snow around Highbury

We are in the Washington DC area in need of some wisdom from Austen’s Emma. You may have heard of our coming Great Snow Storm. Last night there was probably something like 3 inches! perhaps more. I doubt I need to remind my readers of what Mr Woodhouse said when Frank Churchill informed Mr Woodhouse that people catch colds when dancing in over-heated places with the windows open, and replied that that neither Frank’s “‘

‘Dancing with the windows open! — I am sure, neither your father or Mrs Western (poor Miss Taylor that was) would suffer it.’
‘Ah! sir — but a thoughtless young person will sometimes step behind a window curtain, and throw up a sash, without its being suspected. I have often known it done myself.’
‘Have you indeed, sir? — Bless me! I never could have supposed it. But I live out of the world, and am often astonished at what I hear (Emma, II:11, 252)

We have been having a Mr Woodhousian lead-up to this fearful Winter Event in the past 48 hours. I wondered to myself what would my fellow citizens do if they had bombs falling on them daily as the much reviled immigrants and refugees of the Middle East have had to endure for years.

You see we have been told (it’s Thursday) we shall have our first winter storm tomorrow, Friday in the PM, and perhaps it will be a blizzard. 2 feet of snow is promised, but maybe less. Last night we had a light dusting as confirmation. And I have come across many a local blog recounting from previous years their and others’ ghastly adventures in the snow and ice, hours and hours getting home, accidents leading to higher insurance rates.

All day today from early Thursday morning Fairfax county schools were closed, and they are closed all day tomorrow; much in Northern Virginia began to close down this afternoon. I confess I dared to go out and found the air mild, all snow melted off my car; it was well above freezing. I went to the cleaners when I didn’t need to (but I am as reckless as Mr Churchill), then to the supermarket lest Isobel and I run out of bananas, then to a local bread store where all that was left was Challah bread. I had it sliced and came home. Uneventful. Except that the parking garage was a madhouse, far too many cars in tight space so several attendants were directing traffic between pillars. Thus there are others like myself and Frank Churchill.

Thursday morning daytime — a friend’s backyard (in middle Virginia)

Just about all in DC and Virginia is closing early tomorrow or not opening at all. My daughter, Isobel told me when she got home the Pentagon is thinking of shutting down at noon precisely, only then there will be terrific traffic jam as usually people leave that mammoth building in staggered periods. Virginia Dash buses will stop running at 3 tomorrow. The Metro shuts down promptly at 11 pm. On Saturday the Smithsonian has cancelled all activities and lectures, local community centers are not boarding up their windows and doors, but all classes are cancelled. You are advised to stay within.

A controversy has erupted about the storm’s name in the public media: Jonas. (Not taken from the story about the man who got stuck in a whale.) Since when do we name Snow Storms? What is it with people? If everyone else jumps off the roof, do you jump off the roof? But I am getting ahead of myself.

Leaving the entrance hall of Highbury (1972 Emma, scripted Denis Constantduros)

In this urgent snowpocalypse, I turned to Sortes Austenianae, but resorted to hurried measures, and instead of opening Emma at random I remembered the hysteria at Randolph when on Christmas eve and John and Isabella Knightley together with Mr Woodhouse and Emma, Miss Bates and Mr Knightley came to Randalls for a dinner party. John Knightley foresaw what was to be early on as they set forth:


Medium range shot of the carriage with Emma and John Knigthley in it; inside shot of him talking (1996 A&E Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

The cold … was severe; and by the time the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time. … ‘A man,’ said [John Knightley], ‘must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity — Actually snowing at this moment! — The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home — and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it; – -and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can; — here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse; — four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home’ (Emma, I:13, 113)

You will instantly recall that with such an anti-social gloomy attitude, it was no surprise to John Knightley when after some small tension-lade conversation both before and after dinner, and Mr Woodhouse began to get restless, a reconnoitre revealed it had been snowing steadily for the past couple of hours!

Mr. John Knightley now came into the room from examining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of the ground being covered with snow, and of its still snowing fast, with a strong drifting wind; concluding with these words to Mr. Woodhouse: ‘This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir. Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow’ (Emma I:15, 126)

Reasoning the way the people in Northern Virginia and Washington DC have been he continued with his admiration for Mr Woodhouse’s pluck in coming forth, and cheerily predicts:

‘I dare say we shall get home very well. Another hour or two’s snow can hardly make the road impassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak part of the common field there will be the other at hand. I dare say we shall be all safe at Hartfield before midnight’ (126)

His intrepid wife whose every thought is for her children’s safety, determines to set out directly

‘if we do come to any thing very bad, I can get out and walk. I am not at all afraid. I should not mind walking half the way. I could change my shoes, you know, the moment I got home; and it is not the sort of thing that gives me cold … ‘ (126)

But instead of admiring her spirited reaction, her husband (reasonably enough) worried about the state of her ‘prettily shod’ feet. She had not brought pattens. But then the fear was not of mud and dirt, but snow. Would she make it home? she might have to stay at Randalls, stranded from her progeny.

Now here we reach our important “sortes.” Our true hero, Mr Knightley’s brother (appropriately named George) rushed out while all this was going on and what did he discover: he

‘came back again, and told them that he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home, whenever they liked it, either now or an hour hence. He had gone beyond the sweep — some way along the Highbury road — the snow as no where above half an inch deep — in many places hardly enough to whiten the ground; a very few flakes were falling at present, but the clouds were parting, and there was every appearance of its being soon over. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend’ (128)

But for the mentally distressed Mr Woodhouse this could not be enough reassurance because (Mr G. Knightley says) he will “not be easy:” (as I fear many of my neighbors are not). So, turning to Emma:

Mr K: ‘Why do you not go?
Emma: ‘I am ready, if the others are.’
Mr K: ‘Shall I ring the bell?’
Emma ‘Yes, do.’ (128)

It’s at such moments we glimpse the compatibility of her heroine with our hero and begin to think she might have some common sense after all.

And as fervent devotees of Downton Abbey know, bells fetch capable servants. Coachmen are waiting.

Emma and Mr Elton are handed in by servants who hold umbrellas over their heads to go home (1996 Miramax Emma, scripted and directed by Douglas McGrath)

So what has Austen’s text taught us tonight? Do not over-react. It may be there will be less snow than is envisaged. It may be you will be able to cope. Take heart. Remain calm.

This Gorey family put their Christmas tree outside their house and calmly proceeded to decorate it in the dark — how one family coped

I will be told that in the DC and Virginia area the local government authorities are very lax when it comes to cleaning roads, and are tardy to remove ice. They won’t spend the taxpayers’ money in such ephemeral moments. No, we shall wait for the sun to come out. And everyone have a day off. Well everyone whose boss does not insist they come in if they can. I will be reminded that the statistics for accidents in the snow suggest that mortal and harmful accidents occur at higher frequency than say rain or fog. That the weather bureau is not dependent on a crystal ball and tomorrow a blizzard will come. And also we could lose power as often enough happens in storms. So it’s well to get out and bring back candles, batteries, food supplies.

But none of the above comes from nature. It is man-made. The roads could be cleaned early in the storm and salt put down. None of this is being done. The electricity companies have been improving their service, but much much more could be done (and spent) from tax-payer money and their customers’ monthly payments.

We shall see. But was there really any necessity to start closing down two days ahead? I suspect many people enjoy this excitement as John Knightley did in reaction to finding himself grated upon by life’s demands. Many want the day off pay or no pay. US people get so little holiday time. That’s an actuating motive to why citizens accept this situation where they know they can find themselves stranded, in an accident, or without power. I confess I had rather have gone to the gym these past two mornings, have preferred to have a usual quiet Friday routine, preferred to see the Smithsonian people wait until Friday to cancel the Vermeer Saturday lecture. And strongly would follow John Knightley’s advice to Jane Fairfax about the post office’s potentials: when you pay people, they will do the work if you set them to it.

Turning then again to Austen’s Emma, I find that winter evenings Mr (G) Knightley sits by his twilight fire alone (so he is not all that unlike his brother John), reading Cowper “Myself creating what I saw” (Emma III:5. 344)

Downwell Abbey in snow (2009 Emma)


Fielding and the landlady at Upton who is staring horrified at Mrs Waters’ state of undress (John Sessions and Ruth Sheen, 1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Tom and Mrs Waters aka Jenny Jones eating later that night at Upton (Albert Finney, Joyce Redmond, 1963 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones)

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith a fourth blog on teaching Tom Jones to a group of older and retired people at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning. We have thus far covered the obstacles to reading (an ironic, erudite, allusively classical text with a chameleon ironic narrator) and Fielding’s life (1); 300 Years of reading the novel. Then as these relate to parts of the story: money and property in the 18th century, sex and commerce, how hard it was to escape prostitution in this patronage society (2); poaching and the criminal justice system (class wars); education of children; Culloden or Jacobitism and the 1745 rebellion (3). What is there left? A lot.

In this blog we’ll follow Tom and Partridge out on the road. We have a series of adventures on the road which are not intended as filler (our narrator tells us everything tends to his design, every little detail), so it’s up to us to see what themes they comment upon, or how they relate to the story or main characters.

I’ll treat the allusive quality of Fielding’s text and how this combines with use of the narrator and irony to form a barricade for him to obscure his cynical and iconoclastic attitudes. In these cases we see how ambivalently he treats male sexual violence towards women, how he undermines adherence to the Walpole-Hanoverian gov’t order, and how he views marriage customs in the era as filled with hypocritical feigning. We also see how hard it is to find out where Fielding stands on issues he brings out, and there is something uncanny in this text when you reach near the writer at his core.

Three incidents thematically considered:


The first is one of many places where Fielding titillates his male reader with a sexually knowing woman who is attempting to seduce his hero. We see how lightly he can treat male violence against women, and how women lie. The Orpheus and Eurydice incident in Book 9 (Chapters 2 & 7) has been filmed twice: Tom Jones together with Partridge comes across the brutal soldier Northerton (1963 Julian Glover; 1997 Julian Firth) beating his erstwhile lover, Mrs Waters, seemingly trying to kill her (when he “merely” trying to strip her of every penny she has). Tom, after rescuing her, accompanies her to the inn at Upton. The text says she is just about topless, Tom wraps his jacket around her as best he can, she resisting and they march together, he in front so as not to see her nakedness (especially her breasts)

An 18th century Orpheus and Eurydice: Tom and Mrs Waters (Albert Finney, Joyce Redman, strictly in imitation 1963 Richardson & Osborne’s Tom Jones)


Jones walking ahead of Mrs Walters is Orpheus in the underworld walking ahead of Eurydice and told if he turns back she is dead forever; well in the original misogynistic emblem she won’t shut up, is endlessly curious where she should not be, disobedient, and keeps asking him to turn round, and cries he doesn’t not love her; when he finally turns around, she vanishes forever. Fielding has substituted another kind of slur: Mrs Waters is the older married and hence salacious woman trying to seduce the handsome young man. When she is caught in bed with Jones, she cries rape. In the final chapter of book 9 we discover Northerton did not just attack Mrs Walters, she was deeply involved with him, fond of him, arranged to meet him in the wood; he tied her to a tree not to kill her but to escape from here while merely “naturally” extracting as much money from her as he could in order to flee the country as he believed himself to have killed Jones.

To bring out how male-centered the filmed walk is I read aloud a section from Carol Ann Duffy’s Eurydice where a very different motive is attributed to her trying to make Orpheus look back:

Girls, I was dead and down
in the Underworld, a shade,
a shadow of my former self, nowhen.
It was a place where language stopped,
a black full stop, a black hole
where words had to come to an end.
And end they did there,
last words,
famous or not.
It suited me down to the ground.
So imagine me there,
out of this world,
then picture my face in that place
of Eternal Repose,
in the one place you’d think a girl would be safe
from the kind of a man
who follows her round
writing poems,
hovers about
while she reads them,
calls her His Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns.
Just picture my face
when I heard –
Ye Gods –
a familiar knock-knock-knock at Death’s door.

Big O.
Larger than life.
With his lyre
and a poem to pitch, with me as the prize.

Things were different back then.
For the men, verse-wise,
Big O was the boy. Legendary.
The blurb on the back of his books claimed
that animals,
aardvark to zebra,
flocked to his side when he sang,
fish leapt in their shoals
at the sound of his voice,
even the mute, sullen stones at his feet
wept wee, silver tears.

Bollocks. (I’d done all the typing myself,
I should know.)
And given my time all over again,
rest assured that I’d rather speak for myself
than be Dearest, Beloved, Dark Lady, White Goddess, etc., etc.

In fact, girls, I’d rather be dead.

But the Gods are like publishers, usually male,
and what you doubtless know of my tale
is the deal.

Orpheus strutted his stuff.

The bloodless ghosts were in tears.
Sisyphus sat on his rock for the first time in years.
Tantalus was permitted a couple of beers.

The woman in question could scarcely believe her ears.

Like it or not,
I must follow him back to our life –
Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife –
to be trapped in his images, metaphors, similes,
octaves and sextets, quatrains and couplets,
elegies, limericks, villanelles,
histories, myths . . .

He’d been told that he mustn’t look back
or turn round,
but walk steadily upwards,
myself right behind him,
out of the Underworld
into the upper air that for me was the past.
He’d been warned
that one look would lose me
for ever and ever.

So we walked, we walked.
Nobody talked.

Girls, forget what you’ve read.
It happened like this —
I did everything in my power
to make him look back.
What did I have to do, I said,
to make him see we were through?
I was dead. Deceased.
I was Resting in Peace. Passe. Late.
Past my sell-by date .. .
I stretched out my hand
to touch him once
on the back of his neck.
Please let me stay.
But already the light had saddened from purple to grey.

It was an uphill schlep
from death to life
and with every step
I willed him to turn.
I was thinking of filching the poem
out of his cloak,
when inspiration finally struck.
I stopped, thrilled.
He was a yard in front.
My voice shook when I spoke –
“Orpheus, your poem’s a masterpiece.
I’d love to hear it again .. .”

He was smiling modestly
when he turned,
when he turned and he looked at me.

What else?
I noticed he hadn’t shaved.
I waved once and was gone.

The dead are so talented.
The living walk by the edge of a vast lake
near the wise, drowned silence of the dead.
(from The World’s Wife)

I had assigned Anthony Simpson’s essays (“Popular Perceptions of Rape in the 18th century.” and “The Blackmail myth and the prosecution of rape: the creation of a legal tradition.” The first is on the press and the trial of Francis Charteris, a notorious serial rapist, and the means he used to get away with brutal behavior. The second is on the perception that women lie, that they pretend to have been raped and that they blackmail men and get into court lying. The reality is that only a tiny percentage of real rapes ever prosecuted because most of the time over history women suffer badly even if they get a conviction, and they have in history rarely gotten convictions. Men just don’t believe women don’t want to be raped and they think they lie. Fielding in his fiction appears to think that women lie, that they don’t take rape seriously, pretend to have been raped and hold men hostage that way.( In his judicial career he was actually much fairer; he decided his cases on the particulars of a case, not on making examples of anyone (which in law you are not supposed to).

Also Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes” is about Fielding’s attitude towards violence towards women. First he discusses Fielding’s plays, especially Rape upon Rape (which Fielding later under pressure retitled to The Justice Caught in His Own Trap – a justice who is corrupt among other things tries to get to one of our female characters to lie and pretend she was raped). Fielding in these plays regards rape as minor problem, women think it’s okay, want it, it’s treated as a good joke, they fake it; they fantasize; the danger is not that you rape a woman (you being a man) but that someone bribes her to lie, to blackmail you. Simpson’s essays make short shrift of this. Some of scenes in Fielding’s worst later voyeuristic treatises put a different and rather deadly spin on Austen’s famous: “run mad as often as you please, but do not faint.” Dickie doesn’t mention these.

In the second half of Dickie’s essay, he shows how these attitudes play out in the nuanced complex texts of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones and Amelia. There is a pattern of women’s accusations which are mocked immediately or dismissed; very often when we are sympathetic to the woman we later find out she was somehow at fault: the old way of finding fault. The way Fielding treats the heroine in Joseph Andrews shows class bias when someone tries to rape her: she is strong armed, thick skinned in mind. So too is Mrs Waters described as sturdy, strong, not fussy over her appetites. A curious detail in all is when the man tries to touch the woman’s breast is when she gets excited and angry. In Tom Jones there’s Lady Bellaston persuading Lord Fellamar to rape Sophia and into her mouth is put all the arguments of how unimportant this is, how women want to be raped (p. 699, Bk 15, ch 4) it makes for marriage (Squire Western would like that), comes sort of sinister.

Fielding was deeply upset by Richardson’s portrayal of the rape of Clarissa by Lovelace: he wrote Richardson a letter; for once someone has pushed him out of this comfort zone of his, but he moves quickly to show he doesn’t take sexual violence seriously and wants Richardson to marry Clarissa off to Lovelace as an okay ending. I should mention Lovelace drugs Clarissa, she is held down by prostitutes, and kept awake in part and there is a good deal of transgressive sex in the scene forced on her. She has a psychically traumatized week afterwards. Tom Jones has a lot of careless violence in it; Tom is upset to think he’s murdered Mr Fitzpatrick but Nightingale seems to think it’s okay if Tom was just defending himself.

A little later in the term we read Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried: Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” ” who qualifies the above considerably. The women at the center of the story (Sophia, Lady Bellaston, Molly, Mrs Walters, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Nancy, Mrs Miller) show how law and custom render women powerless. The women at the edges fare worse. Mrs Bridget Allworthy who disappears, Mrs Western and the various women we are told of in the stories are stronger examples of how society makes invisibility safety; women are turned into servants of law and family and live in a liminal kind of space. They have to be hypocrites to survive, but a woman like Squire Western’s wife was in effect coerced into a rape situation for marriage, bullied into death. We do see fearful and arbitrary control; women as “other.” We see scenes where what they want is simply not paid attention to at all. Willaputt does bring in the Elizabeth Canning case where Fielding defended the woman who had been abducted, raped and complained and was later herself accused and in the end punished for perjury. In Tom Jones we find the narrator objecting to mockery of women when they have been sexually seduced or impregnated – Tom calls “jesting” “pieces of brutality.” Willaputte does not mention that the narrator and sometimes good characters deplore ridicule as very unkind especially of vulnerable or exposed people – like playwrights.


An 18th century print of a gypsy queen

18th century print image of an itinerant gypsy

The second has never been filmed but critics have used much ink trying to explicate it. In Book 12, Chapter 12, just before Tom and Partridge begin to approach London they come upon what seems a happy community of gypsies, are welcomed among them, and Tom talks with a Gypsy King. What happens is meanwhile Partridge thinks he is seducing one of the gypsy wives; she cries out and claims she was forced (does not quite cry rape), and her husband demands payment for this fornication and adultery. Unlike Squire Allworthy, this king carefully interrogates everyone, thinks sceptically and decides this was a blackmail scheme concocted by the husband and shames him. The king (reminding me of Gulliver talking to the Brobingnag king) that see absolute monarchy when headed by truly wise man the best form of gov’t – because supposed disinterested (TJ, Penguin ed, Keymer and Whately, pp 590-92). Jones is very impressed. Look how happy these people are. But then narrator interjects strongly and produces a heated series of argument which add up to denying that there can be such a person. How are we to take this?

We read two essays: Martin Battestin identifies the narrator’s rejection of the gypsy king with Fielding. The good Whig, Hanoverian, anti-Jacobitism where people were to adhere to an divine right monarch. J Lee Green is sceptical of Battestin’s neat conclusion: he showed there is a close analogy in Don Quixote (which Fielding has alluded to and imitated in Tom Jones, as for example, the traveling companions). Sancho takes over a gov’t and becomes judicious. Green suggests that the gypsy king is a foil for Allworthy and Western. He says we are not to accept the narrator’s view which is a rejection of any sort of Utopia. He does not repudiate the gypsies at all. They are living a happy life. It’s an attack on pre-conceptions.

John Allen Stevenson (whose book we read excerpts from) takes a third tack: he sees the incident as Swiftian; the wedding, feasting whole feel of this society is good, Utopian, and emotional. Fortune-telling and therefore superstition are associated with them, and throughout the journey we have people reacting superstitiously to all that occurs around them, as it were naturally. Sometime after Fielding published Tom Jones, a man who called himself Bampfylde-Moore Carew, the king of the gypsies himself, an impartial account correcting that personage Thomas Jones.

BamfyldeCarew (Large)

Said to be a scoundrel rogue. The name is based on a man who was a mole, a spy, a double-dealer, and some critics say Bampfylde-Moore Carew suggests that this Utopian scheme was a radical attack on the part of Fielding on the English way of handling gypsies: which was to hunt them down as thieving vagrants when not ignoring them. The book is really a picaro novel, sympathetic to gypsy types. Did Fielding know Carew?

It’s telling that neither man pays attention to the content of all the cases at hand, including Sancho’s: all rape cases. If you pay attention to the role of women here, Simpson says that blackmail was highly uncommon – neither Battestin nor Green nor any of them interested in that gypsy woman – why did she behave the way she did? A number of novels in the era show women going to bed with men because they are forced to by husbands who have become victims of debt – just like Mr Watson, and our man on the hill. On the road Tom meets a lieutenant who is a good man and helps him against Northerton: we learn he can’t get promoted because he won’t sell his wife to the officer above him. So is Fielding unthinkingly stigmatizing women?

The incident is preceded by Jones’s meeting with Mr Dowling who pumps him for information and is no friend of his though he appears to be, followed by Partridge and Jones discussing what happened Jones becomes incensed once again when Partridge wants to take Sophia’s money to support them, only to be interrupted by a beggar who tries to be a highway man, but is an utter failure at this, turns out to be Mrs Miller’s brother or brother-in-law who has 5 starving children and anther one on the way. Things are not always what they seem.

TheirEverShiftingHome (Large)
Stanford Forbes, Their Ever Shifting Home (a late 19th century depiction of gypsies, Newlyn School, Cornwall)


The third is the incident of the puppet show of Punch and Judy (Book 12, Chapter 5). A puppeteer at the inn after Upton refuses to use his puppets to put on a Punch and Judy show. It is “idle trumpery” and “low.” Instead he has his puppets perform a “fine and serious Part of the Provok’d Husband.”

The Audience were all highly pleased. A grave Matron told the Master that she would bring her two Daughters the next Night, as he did not show any Stuff; and an Attorney’s Clerk, and an Exciseman, both declared, that the Characters of Lord and Lady Townnley were well preserved, and highly in Nature. Partridge likewise concurred with this Opinion.

Everyone is “elated with these encomiums,” until Jones protests that the puppeteer has ruined a godo entertainment, he misses Master Punch and his merry Wife Joan. Everyone attacked Jones as low and the language used by Fielding is one which implies all these people are utterly hypocritical, uttering cant.

Stage (2)

Stage (1)
In the 1997 Tom Jones the puppet show is The Tragedy of Macbeth with however leading characters George III and Prince Charlie; the audience approves but here Partridge is given Jones’s speech of protest.

No one mentions the play is misogynistic farce, but if we looked at the full context, we find the incident is surrounded by stories where violence is explicitly discussed, objected to, carried on freely. If we look at all this, we could understand this incident quite differently and again say that in the book Tom and in the film Partridge has got it wrong.

Much of Book 11 is taken up by Mrs Fitzpatrick’s story of how her husband married her for money, took her to Ireland, had a mistress, abused her; she is likened to a
“trembling hare” fleeing him. 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 (Book 11, Ch 12, p 320).

Right afterward the scene of the puppet show we hear the landlady’s maid defend herself from being beaten by her mistress on the grounds that her betters are not better than she; “what was the fine Lady in the puppet-show just now? I suppose she did not lie all night out from her husband for nothing” (p 563). Vanbrugh and Colley Cibber’s The Provok’d Husband is a play which runs on lines similar to Fielding’s own The Modern Husband: it’s about a couple who treat one another as commodities; they live in an adulterous world and imitate to find status and compete with one another. Its subtitle is Journey to London. There’s a scene between Lord and Lady Townley where she says he is so abusive she will leave him and he replies, leave this house madam, and you’ll never come in again and I will give you no money whatsoever. She is subject to him. At its close there is a moving dialogue between husband and wife where she reasons with him – oh she’s had a lover but so has he had a mistress: “what indiscretions have I committed that are not daily practised by hundred other women of quality” (II: 675). Both plays were received hostilely but was reprinted and read and remembered.

As the characters talk, the landlady remembers when good scripture stories were made from the Bible (as opposed to either Punch and Judy or The Provok’d Husband), and she refers to Jepththah’s rash vow? (p 564. Jephthah vowed to sacrifice his daughter on return from battle if God would only give him a win (it’s an Iphigenia story, note p 946). Before he sacrificed her she sat around bewailing her virginity. The idea is she wouldn’t have minded had she had sex, married, had a husband. It’s a ploy of the female character to try to stop the father. He will not.

Partridge is a Jacobite. A barber, a surgeon, a teacher, he’ll do anything. His story of desperate scrabble – it’s superficial or not so to say he’s simply mocked; there are several notable instances where we can take his side: in the book his preference for a serious play based on play in London while Jones prefers Punch and Judy (about as misogynistic a play as one can find; nothing in the book comparable to Hogarth’s attack on cruelty to animals, I’m not sure it’s brought up) fits here. We went over his story of the cruel hanging judge.

During most of these arguments Partridge has fallen asleep in a profound nap; he often falls asleep when Fielding does not want us to hear the true low ironic person’s comment. He is himself an abused husband. Once they get off the road, we find ourselves in the story of Lady Bellaston, a female libertine who hires males for sex, but is herself deeply unwilling to marry for then she will be subject to a master. As the narrator over the gypsy king can be shown to be totally inadequate so is Jones (pp. 562-563). Around the text swirls all this stuff And Fielding knows it.

The chapter ends with Jones going off to mouth his muff — which stands in for Sophia’s vagina. There is a curious wild hilarity behind this incident. And it’s here I sense something I’ll call uncanny, very unfamiliar not our good old home-y comfortable narrator at all. for is not Fielding a puppeteer? Thackeray saw that and called himself not inn-keeper but puppeteer. “Come children let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.”

The conversation of the great minds in the kitchen before we meet Mr Dowling once again (who pumps Jones) includes the question if Jones mad or not? (Is Fielding? does he ask himself if he is mad to write this book?) They go on about people put in madhouses by their relatives: happy is he who learns caution from the mishaps of others. Remarkably dumb talk, but they discuss who has right over others, whether Catholics seek to make all the world Catholic; as for the puppet show man, he cares not who’s in charge as long as it’s not Presbyterians who are against puppet -shows. They were strict in behavior and they were important in the closing the theaters again and again (p. 570): to be sure every man values his livelihood first.

The puppeteer, his assistant and lady all quarreling hard

Tellingly the puppet show in the film ends in a debacle: the puppeteer discovers his assistant behind the curtain having sex with the puppeteer’s mistress; when he objects, they vociferously defend themselves and attack him. As Partridge and Jones leave because they are told Sophia and her maid pass by, we hear some ruffians debate whether to follow and rape them. I take it the film makers were attempting to get into this incident some of the densely allusive texts on the road.


What kind of help is the narrator?

John Sessions as the narrator walking along the road (1997 Tom Jones) — in the film he directs traffic and utters ironic quips

Fielding’s introductory disquisitions frame, comment on, justify, undermine the themes of the book at hand (and novel as a whole). Well Book 8 opens with Fielding advising the reader that his novel will not overindulge in the marvelous. As if writing a recipe for authors, the narrator says as a novelist the marvelous must be used with discretion. We talked in class about how the “new” novel differed from romance and (using Fielding’s book and introductory chapters) came up with: probability; real characters; historical time; accounting for space and a real map; accounting for how someone knows something; slow moving structure; death is not something that you get up from; social themes (love, sex, marriage, real courts, politics), psychological depths and above all no supernatural. But shortly after this Tom meets Partridge, the man reputed to be his father; he is himself taken for a ghost; and then in the next book (9), he meets Mrs Waters who we soon discovers is Jenny Jones, the woman reputed to be Tom’s mother. Marvelous coincidences, no? What the narrator seems to suggest is he offers what happens just on this edge of believability and not too often.

It is just the sort of thing that would happen in the world of Greek romance: a vast watery world (here it’s roads) where characters lost and find their closest relations. I did offer a brief history of the novel. We like such fantasy. It’s piquant, alluring, reassuring.

Book 9 tells us who may lawfully write novels or what talents, knowledge and moral qualities an author must have — to invent good stories is not easy hence the envy of the ever carping critics; genius, invention, judgement, learning, conversation, knowledge of manners – and an author must have a good heart and make us weep. The opening of Book 10 launches into classical examples and allusions, from fops of the 18th century stage to “Dido” whom he says critics would claim was a model for “every amorous Widow” but that “very few of our Play-house Critics understand enough of Latin to read Virgil.” In this book Jones and Mrs Waters enact Orpheus and Eurydice.

In Chapter 11 the narrator attacks and/or exposes (depends on your view) critics: slanderers, people who injure the author by making him miserable over “the offspring of his brain.” Fielding knows he can be castigated for the open sex, the presentation of the soldiers, just about everything; so he defends himself: has he not preserved the characteristics of his characters or people; has he not distinguished his characters from their type carefully. In another part of the book he boasts of having carefully distinguished his landladies. He mentions Dido (like Aeneas a character everyone was familiar with), as the widow who fell in love with Aeneas and he her and he deserted her for his duty; it’s here he insists that everything in the book is part of a great design. If you don’t see how it all fits, it’s your lack not his. Fielding is exposing his hurt here too, trying to make readers think of the book as carrying the author’s spirit about; they are malicious says he, wantonly destroying what they don’t understand and (worse yet) have not read! They invent absurd rules that no author can live with. It’s quite a bleak and black diatribe. This book includes the long story of Mrs Fitzpatrick.

Finally 12 justifies plagiarism, or rather explains borrowing. It’s a book crowded with incident, very long justifies Fielding’s allusive use of other texts (which are heavily used throughout the center third of the book) and distinguishes justified plagiarism. It’s not thievery. Here Fielding shows how repeatedly he harks back to older ideas: in the 18th century a new definition of creativity, originality, of property was gradually emerging. Previous to this stories were seen as common property; no one owned a story or a character until the Renaissance when in-depth psychology emerges and a character is recognizably the product of a single sensibility, some could be recognized as the writer of “works.” Shakespeare’s folio among the first of this type. He did not gather them himself but his friends and colleagues. Fielding stakes himself on the idea that “the Antients provide a rich common ground” and as long as he makes it clear he’s borrowing, does not abuse the previous text, this is part of the poetical trade. Throughout the novel there are continual borrowings, but 12 contains the puppet, kitchen and gypsy sequences.

Jack MacGowan as Partridge upon meeting Tom on the road (1963 Tom Jones)

For my part I like to think of Tom and Partridge as an 18th century Estragon and Vladmir who meet all sorts of Luckys and Pogos on the road.


Giovanna Garzoni, Plate of Figs (1661-62)

Garzoni, A Hedgehog

giovanna garzonibeans
This sort of thing by Garzoni is thought to have symbolic hidden meanings … why the rose?

High are the winds and equally high
My thoughts …

My sweet and lovely magnet lives in me …

The more I feel it deeply in my soul
Engraved and living in every part
Reigning as lord over this moral cloister …
Chiara Matraini (1515-1604?), as translated by Laura Anna Stortoni and Mary Prentice Lille

Dear friends and readers,

I also begin the new year with a second series of women artists (see first series). I had wanted to provide portraits (in both senses) of women artists before the European Renaissance, but the reality is while names are cited here and there from the classical or ancient world, there are no extant images or reliable information. By medieval Europe there is an illuminated manuscript tradition and two women emerge where there are extant images by them: Herrad of Landsburg became Abbess of Hohenburg near Strasbourg, and wrote and illustrated an encyclopedia, Hortus Deliciarum or Garden of Delights. There are poems in her hand; it’s a compendium of desirable knowledge for girls, with monumental allegorical figures in miniatures, dedicated to fellow nuns. And then there are the visions of Hildegard de Bingem, a few of stunning beauty, however knowledgeable (she wrote long treatises on trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, minerals, told of the life of her era), often troubling if you consider that many are visions she had.

What I want to cover are individuated images, secular, of this world. And this happens in the early modern period, rather astonishingly. Yes women did have a Renaissance and as the sudden cornucopia in contrast to what had been by early modern women artists and poets in Western Europe, this testifies to the importance of the Renaissance, it mattered.

This time we start in Italy and southern Europe with Giovanna Garzoni, Venetian, for the magnificence of her still lifes, the feeling of lusciousness, of a tremendous super-abundance of life’s energies from insects to flowers to fruits, and her meticulously studied herbarium. Giovanna is our second female botanist (Herrad would be first if Whitney Chadwick’s account in Women, Art and Society is accurate); they start a long tradition (read Ann B. Shteir’s Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860). Next up will be Sofonisba Anguissola (1535-1625), whose career, life, painting and several sisters make her a painter of enormous interest.


While Garzoni painted religious, mythological, allegorical subjects and at least one portrait, she is renowned for her still lifes, this is probably her most reprinted image:

Giovanna Garzoni, Plate of White Beans (n.d.)

From Jordi Vigue, Great Women Masters of Art: This still life, a plate of beans, forms part of the works that the Medici family commissioned [Garzoni] to pain. The centered dish is piled high with ripe beans, which are arranged together with several long leaves, painted with so remarkable naturalism they bear the marks of decay. Hence The foreground is occupied by some kidney-shaped seeds, white and peeled or with streaky brown skin markings. The other element in the foreground, the red carnation, is rendered with the same degree of detail. The two beans in the left foreground, however, are merely sketched … [The picture] reveals much about Garzoni’s technique, which is based on sketchy contour lines hat are then delicately filled in with varnished colors. Finally, tempera was applied in fine parallel lines or stripes, with tiny short strokes and tiny patches of color combined with pure color. These parallel lines can be seen in the veins of the beans. The mottled streaky texture of seeds with skin, and a granular texture, which she renders with a pointillist technique, are evident at the bottom of the painting.

Giovanna alternated between varnished surfaces, rich tempera and watercolor, pointillist:

Giovanna Garzoni (Italian Baroque Era Painter, 1600-1670) Still LifeflowersFigsBean
Still Life with a Basket of Fruit, a Vase with Carnations, and Shells on a Table (n.d.)

Plate of Pears

and works where she used a stippling technique to achieve a grainy surface. She includes butterflies, insects, birds, and small animals:

A Dish with a Pomegranate, a Grasshopper, a Snail, and Two Chestnuts

GarzoniMordmardock (Large)
Still Life with Birds and Fruit

Her botanical studies are less well known:

Hyacinth, with Four Cherries, a Lizard, and an Artichoke — remember Henry Tilney said of Catherine nursing a hyacinth (n.d.): One cannot have too many holds on happiness

I like this Ranunculous with Two Almonds and a Hymenopteran (n.d)


She did the bursting forth of flowers typical of later women painters:

Vase with Flowers, a Peach and a Butterfly (n.d.)

and also A Mandrake:


It is thought that some of the detail has hidden meanings (sometimes allegorical, as images of vanity), beyond a scientific study


This with its strange intensities:

Giovanna  Garzoni TuttArt

This is of the caliber that brought her commissions, respect, fame, money (we hope)

Plate with Almonds, Nespole, and a Rose (1660-62), tempera on parchment

Again from Vigue: Garzoni presents a simple plate of ripe green medlars, together with their leaves and fruit, to which a dash of red is added in the guise of a red rose. One of the medlars on the far left has been sliced into two, showing the fruit with and without its seed, which appears to have just fallen out. In the foreground, the elaborate yellow leaves become gradually sketchier as they recede into the background. The rose is partially enveloped in a yellow color, softly varnished over the parchment. This work’s botanical motifs attest to the scientific interest the Medici had in the produce from their land and country gardens. Both Duke Fernando II (1610-1670) and his brother, Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici (1617-70) were friends of Galileo’s and had an important art collection containing numerous botanical and fauna motifs. This still life, comparable to Garzoni’s other exquisite still-life works of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, offers an attractive illustration of the botanical produce of the period, painted in a realistic and decorative style.


The frontispiece, Plante Varie, c 1650, perhaps a self-portrait

While we can see a smile on her face, a sharp look in quiet eyes, self-awareness, beyond this image, and a very few family details, little is known about Garzoni’s inward or private life beyond that she seems to have separated herself from her nuclear family early on.

Her mother, Isabetta Gaia and her father, Giacomo were Venetian; a grandfather Nicola, and uncle Vincenzo, were goldsmiths, and another maternal uncle, Pietro Gaia, a painter from the school of Palma the Younger. She was briefly married to a Venetian artist, Tiberio Tinelli (1624) but (it’s said) since she had made “a vow of chastity,” the marriage was soon dissolved. We are told she had “differences from her family” and so in 1630 departed with her brother, Mattio, to travel to Naples, to work for the Spanish viceroy, Duke of Alcala. In some letters in 1630 she describes herself as a “servant” to Anna Colonna, wife of Taddeo Barberini. Christina of France also “persistently contacted” her to come to do miniatures at the Turinese court. Less documentable, but suggestive are the close similarities between her work and that of Fede Galizia (c 1574-1630)

This Glass Compote with Peaches, Jasmine Flowers, Quinces and a Grasshopper is closely similar: Greer characterizes Galizia’s work as filled with “reverent contemplation:”


Both were fond of cherries:

Fede Galizia
Fede Galizia

Garzoni is more varied, more bursting with energy, has these repeated idiosyncratic personal touches, more interesting even if we can’t break her code

Her death in Rome in 1670 is attributed to the “undermining” of “her health,” and the erection of a tomb by the Accademia of San Luca in the Church of San Luca and Santa Marina in Rome took 28 years.

All else written about her is about her career, contacts, and works: her earliest known work was for a Venetian church, she attended a calligraphy school in Venice (Giacomo Rogni), and produced a book of cursive chancery characters. There’s a dated miniature done in Venice of a “gentleman” from 1625 at the Hague. She spent but one year in Naples, from which she wrote an important patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo (member of Academy of Lincei, linked to Pope Urban VIII Barberini’s family). When the Spanish viceroy left, she went to Turin (November 1632) and stayed for five years.

Portrait of Carlo Emmanuele I, Duke of Savoy c. 1632-37

Portraits of the Savoy family stem from this time and she begins her still lifes. She’s said to have been influenced here by Flemish artists and Fede Galizia.

We can locate Garzoni in Paris in 1640 because of a letter sent by Ferninando de’ Bardi, the Medicean ambassador, to a Florentine grand ducal secretariat saying Garzoni was uncomfortable in this environment and recommending her as a miniaturist. A work to be sent to Florence, perhaps a portrait of the Duchess, Vittoria della Rovere, was promised.

We catch up with her again with her brother, Mattio, 1642, in Rome; she then traveled to Florence to work for this Medici court. Copies of Raphael, parchments with vases of flowers, still life, portraits, animals come from this time and place. In 1651 she is back in Rome but continues to work with and for the Florentine court (20 miniatures of fruit); she is invited to meeting of the Accademia of San Luca but grew ill — with too much work? pressure? old age? In 1666 she makes her will, directing where she is to be buried and leaving all her possessions to the Church of San Luca and Santa Marina, in Rome.

One scholar, Tongiorgi Tomasi (1997) has argued that image of her (at last) on Plante Varie is derived from portraits of her by Giuseppe Ghezzi, who was the secretary for the Accademia of San Luca by an unknown artist. This does remind me of arguments cited by Janet Todd and Linda Bree in their Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen where a few times the obvious candidate for the author of a poem at the time attributed to Austen is said to be an an unknown person. The book is now owned by the Botanical Library of Dumbarton Oaks and is at Harvard and has been described by Agnes Mongan in 1984, published in 1991 in a monograph by Gerardo Casale and Paola Lanzara, reviewed by Liana de Girolami Cheney in The Sixteenth Century Journal, 29:1 (1998):257-58.

In the climate of Italy at the time for women (where women were routinely forced into nunneries, married off) to live the somewhat independent life of an artist she kept her private life austere and quiet. She was careful, guarded. It could not have been easy. Let us recall the excoriation of Artemisia Gentileschi for going to court because she was raped. Garzoni did latch similarly on to powerful patrons. Giovanna Garzoni’s botany is not done in the same spirit as that of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), whose work is not an escape, not strange (no insects, no odd flowers, no controlled wildness), and seems done in a sheerly scientific student spirit.


Partially eaten melons, some grapes, and a wandering about insect

As context for studying her style and art, I’ll cite Germaine Greer and Elsa Honig Fine (Women and Art) who (like other surveys, but with a bit more information and comment) name several women artists of this era about whom little is known. Elena Recco (fl 1680-1710, Madrid) whose work is connected to the court of Carlos II of Spain, resembles Galizia’s and Garzoni, with the difference she could branch out (so to speak) into whole landscapes of this sort of fiercely conceived and painted material from the non-human natural world. Recco’s are more deadly, show the ravages of killing and death:

Elena Recco, Still Life (her few works are scattered, many used to be attributed to her father)

Is there a lesbian aesthetic at work here? I don’t see it.

A Branch of Dittany, with Four Hazelnuts and Two Pears (n.d)

Still lifes are silent; a woman cannot be accused of anything anti-familial or sexual or by anyone of breaking a social taboo beyond that of aspiration to create art; she need not pay for a model, nor expose her body:

A strange flower arrangement — her flowers are often decaying:

Giovanna Garzonistrangeflowers

I don’t feel Giovanna was finding peace either: as may be seen in Charlotte Smith:

To the Goddess of Botany:

OF Folly weary, shrinking from the view
Of Violence and Fraud, allow’d to take
All peace from humble life; I would forsake
Their haunts for ever, and, sweet Nymph! with you
Find shelter; where my tired, and tear-swollen eyes
Among your silent shades of soothing hue,
Your ‘bells and florrets of unnumber’d dyes’
Might rest–And learn the bright varieties
That from your lovely hands are fed with dew;
And every veined leaf, that trembling sighs
In mead or woodland; or in wilds remote,
Or lurk with mosses in the humid caves,
Mantle the cliffs, on dimpling rivers float,
Or stream from coral rocks beneath the ocean’s waves.

She called herself a miniaturist and we could end on Austen (appropriate for this blog): “ . . . the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?” — Jane Austen to James-Edward Austen-Leigh.

But it seems to me these paintings show someone who was ever trying to break out of such self-restraint. The inner mood of the paintings puts me in mind of the inner mood of the poetry of Chiara Matraini (1515-1604?)

I am a wild deer in this shady wood
With a sharp arrow driven through my heart.
I flee, alas, that which would end my pain
And seek him who destroys me bit by bit;
And like a bird that feels among her feathers
A lighted fire, which makes her flyaway
From her beloved nest: the heat goes with her
And all the time her wing-beats fan the flame.
So I, among these leaves in summer air,
Flying on high with wings of strong desire, 10
Attempt to quench the flame I carry with me.
But howsoever much from bank to bank
I go to flee my ill, with fierce assault
I gain a long death for my little life.
— translators Laura Anna Stortoni and Mary Prentice Lille


HoratioMcCullough (Large)
Horatio McCullough, Glencoe (mid-19th century)

– “as woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” – Woolf, Three Guineas

Dear friends and readers,

For the past two weeks I’ve been re-reading Charlotte Smith’s poetry, her novel powerful poetic Marchmont (still no modern separate edition), skimming and rereading parts of her other books, and much criticism and scholarship on her. I finally started Stanton’s edition of her letters (a monument). I had seen on the Romantic listserv (NASSR-L) a Call for Papers for “Charlotte Smith and Place,” for a coming conference at Chawton House Library next Fall 2016. This is to be the year of the Charlottes as a second conference on Charlotte Bronte is to be held in May 2016. I duly wrote the editor and publisher of Valancourt Press and was told that my edition of Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake will be published during the coming year, it was hoped in later spring into summer 2016! He suggested it might be a good idea for me to go to said conference. I have longed to visit Chawton House Library for years.

So I set about finding a topic that fit the conference trajectory – and Ethelinde. I soon found myself returning to the perspective I found to be true this past fall: because of her life experiences as a woman, coming out of that experience like Anne Grant and Anne Home Hunter and a number of women writers, especially Scots, Smith anticipates the post-colonial perspective of our era. At first because Ethelinde‘s most famous places are in Scotland and Cumbria (Grasmere in the Lake District), I turned to Scottish literature (especially of the 18th century and Buchan’s book on Edniburgh), and of course remembered the same (minus Cumbria) holds true for her The Young Philosopher. I then read a stimulating book by Carla Sassi, Why Scottish Literature Matters. I remembered Mary Brunton, Susan Ferrier, Margaret Oliphant, and fast forwarded to Alice Munro and Carol Ann Duffy. As I started to accumulate ideas and read Smith and writing on Smith, I began to see Smith as another woman who through writing about herself found analogies with other marginalized, displaced, subaltern people: only Smith goes global. Her novels have settings all over Great Britain, Western Europe, Italy and the British empire (East and West Indies, Jamaica, India, oceans border places around Africa).

I reread Stuart Curran’s essay, “The Altered I of Romanticism” where he goes into Smith’s theme of “rootless exile.” He suggests that whatever permanence she can feel is situated in external phenomena of nature, especially Sussex, but then we find her despairing, longing to be washed away, to dissolved as she feels a disembodied sensibility at mercy of alien society and universe, with no way out. In The Emigrants she is creating an identity for herself by absorbing the loss of the exiles; she gives figures like herself in Beachy Head mythic status. Women have alienated sensibility and quotidian details, says Curran and reprinted Jane Taylor’s remarkable poem about a poor working man keeping his soul with a book (reminding me of Dickens’s “The Signalman” who also studies mathematics in his solitary station house, and is half-mad)

Down a close street, whose darksome shops display
Old clothes and iron on both sides the way;
Loathsome and wretched, whence the eye in pain,
Averted turns, nor seeks to view again;
Where lowest dregs of human nature dwell,
More loathsome than the rags and rust they sell; —
A pale mechanic rents an attic floor,
By many a shatter’d stair you gain the door:
‘Tis one poor room, whose blacken’d walls are hung
With dust that settled there when he was young.
The rusty grate two massy bricks displays
To fill the sides and make a frugal blaze.
The door unhing’d, the window patch’d and broke,
The panes obscur’d by half a century’s smoke:
There stands the bench at which his life is spent,
Worn, groov’d, and bor’d, and worm-devour’d, and bent,
Where daily, undisturb’d by foes or friends,
In one unvaried attitude he bends.
His tools, long practis’d, seem to understand
Scarce less their functions, than his own right hand.
With these he drives his craft with patient skill;
Year after year would find him at it still:
The noisy world around is changing all,
War follows peace, and kingdoms rise and fall;
France rages now, and Spain, and now the Turk;
Now victory sounds; — but there he sits at work!
A man might see him so, then bid adieu, —
Make a long voyage to China or Peru;
There traffic, settle, build; at length might come,
Alter’d, and old, and weather-beaten home,
And find him on the same square foot of floor
On which he left him twenty years before.
— The self same bench, and attitude, and stool,
The same quick movement of his cunning tool;
The very distance ‘twixt his knees and chin,
As though he had but stepp’d just out and in.

Such is his fate — and yet you might descry
A latent spark of meaning in his eye.
-That crowded shelf, beside his bench, contains
One old, worn, volume that employs his brains:
With algebraic lore its page is spread,
Where a and b contend with x and z:
Sold by some student from an Oxford hall,
— Bought by the pound upon a broker’s stall.
On this it is his sole delight to pore,
Early and late, when working time is o’er:
But oft he stops, bewilder’d and perplex’d,
At some hard problem in the learned text;
Pressing his hand upon his puzzled brain,
At what the dullest school-boy could explain.

From needful sleep the precious hour he saves,
To give his thirsty mind the stream it craves:
There, with his slender rush beside him plac’d,
He drinks the knowledge in with greedy haste.
At early morning, when the frosty air
Brightens Orion and the northern Bear,
His distant window mid the dusky row,
Holds a dim light to passenger below.
– -A light more dim is flashing on his mind,
That shows its darkness, and its views confin’d.

Had science shone around his early days,
How had his soul expanded in the blaze!
But penury bound him, and his mind in vain
Struggles and writhes beneath her iron chain.

— At length the taper fades, and distant cry
Of early sweep bespeaks the morning nigh;
Slowly it breaks,-and that rejoicing ray
That wakes the healthful country into day,
Tips the green hills, slants o’er the level plain,
Reddens the pool, and stream, and cottage pane,
And field, and garden, park, and stately hall,-
Now darts obliquely on his wretched wall.
He knows the wonted signal; shuts his book,
Slowly consigns it to its dusty nook;
Looks out awhile, with fixt and absent stare,
On crowded roofs, seen through the foggy air;
Stirs up the embers, takes his sickly draught,
Sighs at his fortunes, and resumes his craft.

— Jane Taylor (the only poem by her and her sister generally known is Twinkle, Twinkle …”; for her life, another poem and a source, click comments)

I read Adrian Craciun, “Empire without end, Charlotte Smith at the limits of cosmopolitanism,” where she makes much of, but does not quite over-read the Southern Italian setting of Montalbert and the Jamaican of Henrietta. The material is sexually transgressive material, e.g., Henrietta’s three half-sisters who are slaves have had incest inflicted on them. This intersects with its transnational context, itself what allows and encourages some of the action. We are in a hostile world openly opposed to biological ties, indifferent to them as biological-loving. Smith seeks out Calabria, as an unfamiliar borderland for an exploration of the limits of understanding. Smith had read a book on Vesuvius eruptions (2:171).

sunset_on_the_coast_near_naples-JWrightofDerby (Large)
Joseph Wright of Derby, Sunset on the Coast Near Naples (later 18th century)

I had read MacGavran on the real life poaching, smuggling, and pressed men everywhere in Sussex during Smith’s life time and found in The Old Manor House (where we find ourselves in the 7 years war as played out in North America).

But my topic was now getting out of hand; I returned to Scotland as a place which offers the experience of periphery and center (Edinburgh).

John Quinton Pringle, Muslin Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow (at the turn of the 19th into 20th century)

Carla Sassi sees Macpherson’s Ossian poems as “heterogeneity restructured according to hegemonic norms, with a text that resists belonging; Smith too appropriates and re-makes sympathetically or “reciprocally” (Sassi’s word). As with Australia where from later 19th century on most colonialists lived cities even though the mythic people were in the “bush,” so most Scots people lived in towns, many sophisticated lives, with lowland ties to England, and strong interncal conflicts though the myths take us to the Highlands and Gaelic poetry and deep unity.

And I remembered Regulas Allen’s paper (“‘Rightly to spell of every herb hat sips the dew: Chaos and classification in the poetry of Charlotte Smith”) where she found the pervasive theme in Smith’s poetry is displacement, exile, a failure of boundaries, mourning over disorder, nothing can be securely in a place (ASECS Cleveland April 24, 2013). Hether Kerr on “Melancholy Botany: where she brings together literary subjectivity, and and investments in local natural shistory; why some areas offer more possibilities than others, why some places invite someone to write as an Outsider looking at precarious conditions of living in non-proprietorial space which is itself connected to systematic injustice. On the edge of the river, the downs, on the cliffs, looking down, but also a border place, seen at night, subject to storms all around it is thievery and desperate behaviors. Here I thought of Smith’s life — systematic injustice doesn’t begin to be adequate.

I wrote a proposal for a talk to be centered on Ethelinde and The Young Philosopher. I’m going to analyse Ethelinde and The Young Philosopher as showing a post-colonial outlook and vision that emerges from Smith’s gendered experience of life. (You can trace the process most explicitly in her Romance of Real Life — I did not mention this in the proposal.) I will placed Smith’s two novels in a line of Scottish women’s texts (whose trajectory from personal into post-colonial is analogous), for now I’ve thought of some favorites: Mary Brunton and Anne Grant, Margaret Oliphant and Nuala O’Falain and Carol Ann Duffy, Evan Boland and, Alice Munroe. I’ll pick two or three of these. Fingers crossed.

It was a satisfying happy two weeks because now I can look forward to returning to Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores, a little known and strong three volume Scottish tragic novel (a coerced marriage, an abused heroine), which I never finished, and more letters and poetry by Scottish women, as well as more of this post-colonial studies and essays on books from that point of view: Margaret Cohen and Carlyn Dever’s The Literary Channel: The International Invention of the Novel is a number of intriguing collocations). And maybe I’ll get to Chawton after all.

The Opening of Book II, The Emigrants

SCENE, on an Eminence on one of those Downs, which afford to the South a View of the Sea; to the North of the Weald of Sussex.

TIME, an Afternoon in April, 1793.
LONG wintry months are past; the Moon that now
Lights her pale crescent even at noon, has made
Four times her revolution; since with step,
Mournful and slow, along the wave-worn cliff,
Pensive I took my solitary way,
Lost in despondence, while contemplating
Not my own wayward destiny alone,
(Hard as it is, and difficult to bear!)
But in beholding the unhappy lot

Of the lorn Exiles; who, amid the storms
Of wild disastrous Anarchy, are thrown,
Like shipwreck’d sufferers, on England’s coast,
To see, perhaps, no more their native land,
Where Desolation riots: They, like me,
From fairer hopes and happier prospects driven,
Shrink from the future, and regret the past.
But on this Upland scene, while April comes,
With fragrant airs, to fan my throbbing breast,
Fain would I snatch an interval from Care,
That weighs my wearied spirit down to earth;
Courting, once more, the influence of Hope
(For “Hope” still waits upon the flowery prime)
As here I mark Spring’s humid hand unfold
The early leaves that fear capricious winds,
While, even on shelter’d banks, the timid flowers
Give, half reluctantly, their warmer hues
To mingle with the primroses’ pale stars.
No shade the leafless copses yet afford,
Nor hide the mossy labours of the Thrush,
That, startled, darts across the narrow path;
But quickly re-assur’d, resumes his task,
Or adds his louder notes to those that rise
From yonder tufted brake; where the white buds
Of the first thorn are mingled with the leaves
Of that which blossoms on the brow of May.

Helen Allingham: Near Beachy Head, women, children, Indian nurse at the turn of the 19th into 20th century — she painted worlds of women.


penelope fitzgerald
Penelope Fitzgerald in her later years as an author

Florence is uncertain whether she should buy “the Old House” and turn it into a bookshop: “The uncertainty probably kept her awake. She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much … She had a kind heart, though that is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation” (p. 1, 1st paragraph The Bookshop)

“che mena il vento, e che batte la pioggia, e che s’incontran con si aspre lingue”: tell me, those the dense marsh holds, or those/driven before the wind, or those on whom/rains falls and those who clash with such angry tongues (epigraph to Offshore, Dante’s Inferno, Canto 11, trans. Allan Mandelbaum)

Dear friends and readers,

Another year — and you may expect on this blog, more reveries, essays, reviews, poetry and art by and about women; on and by 18th century people and the “long” era, and of course occasionally on, by and related to Jane Austen. I begin tonight with yet another woman writer who it’s been claimed has an art, life, whatever the seller can think of “like” Jane Austen’s. And like for some of these writers, aspects of Penelope Fitzgerald’s life and art recall Austen’s and this inheres in more than their both writing in a tradition of l’ecriture-femme traceable back to the later 17th century in France as embodied and booked by Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette and her La Princesse de Cleves.

You see a few of us have declared our “winter read” on and for Women Writers through the Ages at Yahoo will be books by and about Penelope Fitzgerald and there appear to be four people participating. And thus far I’ve read Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop and Offshore, am thoroughly into Hermione Lee’s life, and have begun Fitzgerald’s literary biography, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends. I hope to finish Lee, and after Mew, Human Voices (on her years at the BBC), At Freddie’s (on the theater world and children), and at least go on to The Blue Flower. I am thinking of her biography of Burne-Jones and/or another of her later historical novels.

A fine literary biography

Some parallels with Austen: Like Austen Fitzgerald came from a heavily clerical and fringe genteel families, and her books closely reflect aspects of her life. Her second book is about her father’s family The Knox Family. They were an intelligent and unusual group of people. For the two below, Fitzgerald worked in a bookshop in a small town; during a long nadir she lived with her husband, then an alcoholic, and their children on a boat. She lived a very hard life during that and later times in council estate housing. I’ve only gotten into the middle phase of Fitzgerald’s life.

Fitzgerald can be accused of writing narrowly English books until near the end, when she turned to historical novels, and these are strongly Eurocentric. We think Austen transcends but not everyone does and there is an argument if anything her fourth and last published novels in her lifetime (so what she meant us to have) is yet narrower. She was terribly worried she was repeating herself and not exciting enough (yes she was and that was why the librarian replied the way he did) so she branched out to the navy, went back to her gothic and then madly doing a draft tried for a commercial spa. She did not think of herself as transcending and so whatever we may think yes Fitzgerald begins this way. She writes about what she knows: family, a Pre-Raphaelite, even Charlotte Mew; the BBC whom she worked for during and just after the war hired fringe upper class people who until Mrs Thatcher axed their act and made them make money and ratings a central criteria. Penelope wrote for Punch too: so scripts, all sort of reviews, short pieces for women readers often or from a woman’s point of view too. One on a librarian’s day. This was immensely formative experience: she was taught to be intense and concise at the same time.

Fitzgerald is not writing to the male pattern of the bildingsroman. The first person to write this as a recognized form is Goethe and it is a plot-line whose central purpose is the career trajectory or the success one. The character at its heart is really conceived of as moving in a line ahead, not cyclic. Fitzgerald’s heroines are seen in one phase of their existence, and they embody traditional virtues: they follow in fact The Psychology of Women as outlined by Lynn Brown and Carol Gilligan. Generosity, gift-giving (as Deborah Cherry has it) go deeply against the values of our competitive society and our heroines are taken down because they stick with these values. (Nabokov in his lectures, one of them on Mansfield Park, mocked the “traditional” heroine, her virtue was utterly hypocritical.) A too great generosity of spirit moves them and they are dismissed from their jobs. They don’t lie, honesty which doesn’t help. The surface of her books is witty, controlled and quiet, she imitates diurnal life.


The Bookshop (click for plot summary)

This storm in a teacup developed, nevertheless, in the souls [of those involved], as violent passions as those excited by the greatest concerns? — Julian Fellows, quoted in Lee’s Penelope Fitzerald

At first the book reminded me of Patricia Dunker’s Miss Webster and Cheriff, and seemed an unusually darkly suggestive descendant of the English middling milieu novel with the self-deprecatory and eminently morally sound Mrs Miniver (as described sympathetically by Alison Light in her Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism between the Wars), but as I went on the book gradually became the tale of a slow relentless shattering of our heroine, Florence Green. Now that is not like Austen, but what is like her is the surface apparent cheer, the keeping to wry ironies most of the time, the prosaic reasonableness of what seems to be so ordinarily happening, under near which desperate plangent suffering is gradually induced.

Though Mrs Green refers to a dead husband, she appears to have no other family, no children and no close friends. She doesn’t even have a dog or cat. The same holds true of Dunker – the woman exists in a kind of vacuum immediately around her. I suggest this freedom (so to speak) and implicit aloneness is important to the text. She has been left a small amount of money and is determined to borrow more in order to start a business she understands, respects and thinks she can make a go of to support herself: a bookshop. The book opens with her talking to a loan agent in a bank to secure a loan. She has worked in a bookshop before. Unknown to her, there is a woman who is the center of elite town life, to whose house only the respectable of the community are invited, who can call on all sorts of middle level officials to back any obstacle she can think of to stop anyone else from erecting another cultural center: Mrs Gamart. First Mrs Gamart tries to stop Florence by inviting Florence to a party where Mrs Gamart suggests to Florence she should not try acquire a leasehold on the “Old House” and a nearby store-house garage Florence wants to use as an office (the backstore) because she, Mrs Gamart wants to turn these into an art center.

Part of the book’s strength is its accurate re-creation of the 1950s in the UK, a particular point in time when people still could open bookshops with a little amount of money, when TV was limited, when much of the old “county” society carried on. The BBC offers jobs for all sorts of people. Milo North who works for the BCC and his partner for some non-profit agency determined to do good, lives with his partner outside marriage and appeared ever so grateful to Florence for accepting this since he otherwise has to keep this relationship hidden. He will become one of Mrs Gamart’s agents. A Mr Brundish writes her to tell her that no one has tried to open a bookstore since his grandfather’s bookstore failed just after the arrival of an instalment of Dombey and Son (a novel about relentlessness and business).

But Florence is so hopeful. She loves books. She lingers over a Life of Queen Mary (comically middle-brow this allusion) and sets her books up in hierarchies which mimick the outside world:

    New books came in sets of eighteen, wrapped in thin brown paper. As she sorted them out, they fell into their own social hierarchy. The heavy luxurious country-house books, the books about Suffolk churches, the memoirs of statesmen in several volumes, took the place that was theirs by right of birth in the front window. Others, indispensable, but not aristocratic, would occupy the middle shelves. That was the place for the Books of the Car — from Austin to Wolseley — technical works on pebble-polishing, sailing, pony clubs, wild flowers and birds, local maps and guide books. Among these the popular war reminiscences, in jackets of khaki and blood-red, faced each other as rivals with bristling hostility. Back in the shadows went the Stickers, largely philosophy and poetry, which she had little hope of ever seeing the last of. The Stayers — dictionaries, reference books and so forth — would go straight to the back, with the Bibles and reward books which, it was hoped, Mrs Traill of the Primary would present to successful pupils. Last of all came the crates of Miiller’s shabby remainders. A few were even second-hand. Although she had been trained never to look inside the books while at work, she opened one or two of them — old Everyman editions in faded olive boards stamped with gold. There was the elaborate endpaper which she had puzzled over when she was a little girl. A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. After some hesitation, she put it between Religion and Home Medicine.
    The right-hand wall she kept for paperbacks. At 1s. 6d. each, cheerfully coloured, brightly democratic, they crowded the shelves in well-disciplined ranks. They would have a rapid turnover and she had to approve of them; yet she could remember a world where only foreigners had been content to have their books bound in paper. The Everymans, in their shabby dignity, seemed to confront them with a look of reproach.
    In the backhouse kitchen, since there was absolutely no room for them in the shop itself, were two deep drawers set apart for the Books of the Books – the Ledger, Repeat Orders, Purchases, Sales Returns, Petty Cash. Still blank, with untouched double columns, these unloved books menaced the silent commonwealth on the shelves next door.

OldBookshopMadrid (Large)
Photograph of an old bookshop in Madrid, circa 1950s

What’s terrifying is how Mrs Gamart works invisibly against our good woman and through agents. I have had experiences like this where a chairman of a college department maneuvered to try to fire and then when she could not, give me terrible teaching schedules, and cut back my number of sections. Florence resists the inroads at every turn. No she will not turn her store however temporarily into an art exhibit. But here and there she yields to circumstances which Mrs Gamart uses against her. She hires a daughter of a numerous family, Christine, to be her clerk because she knows the family needs the money and she will find Christine useful, compliant and yes inexpensive. Lawyers show up with citations of infractions against town regulations. Florence is served with a writ because she is breaking the law by the number of hours the girl works. This is said to take time from Christine’s studies.

There is even a poltergeist (who like Mrs Gamart) recognizes no bounds, no rules, will stop at nothing:

    The hostile force, pushing against her push, came and went, always a little ahead of her, with the shrewdness of the insane. The quivering door waited for her to try again. From inside the backhouse came a burst of tapping. It did not sound like one thing hitting another, more like a series of tiny explosions. Then, as she leaned against her door, trying to recover her breath, it suddenly collapsed violently, swinging to and fro, like a hand clapping a comic spectacle, as she fell inwards on to the brick floor on her knees.
    Everyone in Score Lane must have seen her pitch head foremost into her own kitchen. But stronger than the embarrassment, fear and pain was the sense of injustice. The rapper was a familiar of the bathroom and the upstairs passage. In the backhouse she had never heard or seen any signs of malignancy. There are unspoken agreements even with the metaphysical, and the rapper had overstepped them. Her will-power, which she felt as indignation, rose to meet the injury. The Unseen, as the girls had always called it at Muller’s [her ex-bookshop, could mind its own business, no better than the Seen. Neither of them wou prevent her from opening a bookshop (p. 35).

It delivers a night of terror through ever increasing knocks and raps that put me in mind of Robert Wise’s The Haunting

There are several climaxes: one is the remarkable scene where Florence is made to feel electrifying fault because Christine does not do well on her ElevenPlus: the day the selection of children for Grammar school or Technical modern depending on how each did on a test called the Elevan Plus and administered to children at the age of 11.

The page in the novel which describes the day the envelopes are given out in Christine’s classroom was so powerful I was startled.  All the children in the class sit together and some get a long-letter horizontal white envelope (you are going to a grammar school and there will be prepared for a university place) and some get a long beige one rather like receiving a contract for work (you are going to a technical modern). The sense of inexorable placing of the child forever in a place where there will be opportunity for fulfillment, for advancement and just high respect as opposed to a place where the child is cut off from these things for not being intelligent enough is felt in the class like some lightning bolt. In the novel the girl’s mother bitterly tells Florence that Christine will never have an opportunity to meet the right kind of man who would give her a middling to upper class life. It’s over for her. Wee know that Christine herself has said she doesn’t like to read and doesn’t read what she doesn’t have to; Christine denies that she could have gotten a high grade. It’s not our heroine’s fault but it hurts and makes her feel bad; worse Mrs Gamant how goes after her through the authorities as having abused a child. As before the case falls to the ground.

It’s a quietly feminist book even if the great spider enemy is a woman. In order to attract customers looking for the latest popular “high” best-seller, she orders in many copies of Nabokov’s Lolita. One of the book’s strengths is its inimitable evocation of the 1950s in England, small town life on the East Coast. Lolita is a brilliant choice in this respect: it’s Playboy‘s answer to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Rebecca Solnit is a rare woman’s voice with the courage to say she is deeply pained as she reads about Lolita and her mother’s destruction and resists allowing a man to speak for her (and ironically?). She shows it’s a cruel pornographic book disguised through having an ironic narrator — or supposedly ironic narrator. Solnit argues those who read it that was have taken on the patriarchal point of view. “Men explain Lolita to me” by Rebecca Solnit. Fitzgerald is showing us the true destroyer of women’s lives in the gendered circumstances Florence cannot escape. In women’s book there is often a woman who is powerful and hurts the heroine.  And who the author loathes. It’s that women enact the patriarchal script and as Gilligan says nothing hurts or enrages women more – especially since female friendship can  mean so much.

It seems that gradually the good custom that Florence was building dissipates away and she can’t figure out why. She learns that Mrs Gamart has managed to set up an alternative bookshop and Christine gone to work in that. Milo North has become a mole as he takes Christine’s place, treacherously supposedly clerking for Florence but actually an informer, when Florence is gone he sits outside the shop on a chair. The banker who lent Florence the money originally and whom she now cannot pay comes to hint she should give over. Florence lives in that bookshop. She has tried to keep up the store-room garage but finds it is rotting away much more quickly than it should. She is told she should not fix it because Parliament has passed a law which has a subsection which will allow the community to take her bookshop from her for the arts.

Finally, an aging ill decent male,one with respect and self-esteem and thus position, what’s more, someone who knows how the world works, Mr Brundish comes to visit Mrs Gamart. He tells her to leave Florence and her bookshop alone. For a moment, Mrs Gamart tries scoffing, what has she to do with this? Florence disobeyed child protective laws, she is not responsible for laws in Parliament intended to provide buildings for the arts. He breaks that down immediately (her son was responsible for the subsection) and then she falls silent. He leaves and alas drops dead. The result Mrs Gamart’s husband, a General who first tries to win over Florence by asking her pity: he is he tells her one of the world’s “Walking Wounded.” Maybe. Is that why he obeys Mrs Garmart? This General puts it about that Mr Brundish came to praise Mrs Gamart. It’s over for Florence. Her shop is to be pulled down. She tries to get money for her stock and it emerges it’s worthless or no one will give her anything. A final blow is to discover the treachery of Milo. She is last seen in a bus station. This is Cathy Come Home stuff: Cathy’s children are taken from her at a bus station.

The Bookshop is pure heroine’s text, Florence Green is our center, and much about the book reminds me of other books of this type by women: a kind of desperate courage in the face of the world’s bullies and terrors. . Among the things shown is how a person can be entrepreneurial, do everything one is told to do, ambitious within constraints, socially appropriate, and keep at this — and utterly fail. And yet the tone is not lugubrious, you are not whipped about in the way Dickens will do, nothing maudlin. She just sits and cries we are told. The sky shines still.

Offshore (see wikipedia for a concise account)

She plunges you (the verb is apt as this is a watery world) into the world of fringe people living on boats, most of them very precariously, though there are a couple more well-heeled ones who are fancying a bohemhian kind of life for a time.

As novel opens there is a meeting because Willis one of the boat owners, Willis, is trying to sell his boat and lying about its condition. Is that acceptable?, Richard, a man who owns the best boat among them, Lord Jim (beautifully named). wants to know. We move to learn quickly about each of the boatowners family but within a few pages we are at our heroine’s boat, Grace: Nenna separated from her husband, Edward, and lives there with her two daughters, Tilda and Martha, very young, 8 and 6, not being sent to school and the school authorities have sent Father Watosn, to find out why, and demand she start sending them. Of course the threat is they will be removed. Richard’s wife, Laura, is jealous of him with every woman. People are named after their boats so one person called his boat Maurice. Nice of him so it’s easy to remember him too. We learn Willis is an old man without a pension; that Maurice receives stolen goods and has other shady businesses with shady people visiting his boat from time to time.

So we are again with a powerless person, a woman, not much money, this one with the burden of two daughters, and she is menaced by powerful authorities indifferent to her and truth to tell her daughters, and surrounded by vying people some of them in desperate straits.

The book seems to me to be vague in time. It’s set in the 1960s, the year 1965 has not yet come but I feel she is mirroring the 1970s. This book also fits in with one of the messages of the extraordinary Cathy Come Home. You can see it only by buying it: there is no YouTube, it’s not on Netflix. Anyone who claims the 1960s or 70s were an easy era to live through, that the gov’t and English society were suddenly truly socialist needs to watch Cathy Comes Home (or Up the Junction). Or ask someone. The film shows the punitive nature of the underlying norms which have come out of cover and now are no longer being ameliorated for people the way the Labor gov’t of the 1940s and again 60s tried. Richard Hoggart’s famous book outlining and extolling the pro-social communal nature of the working class is heavily fantasy — as he attacks those undermining such people most readers are reluctant to admit this.

Fitzgerald also shows how cheap things were. How you could get along on very little. How no one was rent racking; how food was around; people lived on a cash basis and did not have to plan ahead, have credits and the like. So this is a mirror of the era after The Bookshop and we see human beings are being devastated just as surely.

There are no chapter numbers,and the book moves much more quickly than The Bookshop; you might say it sinks quickly. Nenna’s two little girls gather junk on the shore and manage to get an antique store to give them money for it — out of pity. Nenna is waiting for her husband to return, but she (and we even more) have no faith in this. Meanwhile Richard uses his connections to try to sell Willis’s boat. He fails with an agent, but two people come to see it and the boat collapses under its leaks. He is left swimming for his life.

Desperate and lonely, Nenna goes to where her husband is renting a room from some obnoxious conventional people. They respect neither husband or wife. Edward can’t get a job, it’s not easy for him, and they try to have it out. But they don’t manage at all. They begin quarrelling bitterly about side issues — the main one is where should they live? Then they are at an impasse. He will not live on a boat, and she will not live in this room. She leaves without her purse and only realizes this as she begins to get lost in the streets. This is the kind of book I literally dialogue with. So as I read, I felt a bite, and responded to myself, ah ha, I wouldn’t do that. So I would have gone back to get the money and my purse. I would have forced myself. Come to that I would have the two children and gone to live him in that goddamn room. So there’s where she and I differ. She is wrong not to return for the money but maybe she is brave to stick it out in the boat, which she bought with some money she got that was hers.

There is an assault, sexual transgression, a quiet murder, and possibly a drowning

I now realize the night Nenna before this catastrophe and after Nenna visited Edward and saw how useless was the relationship, and was so insulted when he told her “you’re not a woman” (why this should have set her off so is not clear except maybe that all she’s experiencing could only be experienced by a woman), she and Richard made love in Lord Jim. So Richard’s wife was rightly jealous of Nenna at least.

Meanwhile Richard has returned to the Maurice because he is worried about Willis — to see if he can find help with the Dreadnought. One of the shady men is there and fractures Richard’s skull with some kind of iron instrument to hand — he is in a rage over money — common enough kind of rage. As in The Bookshop no good deed goes unpunished once again. Richard ends in hospital and his wife (we learn) sells his boat.

In the end the children come back with a relative, Heinrich, who is a visitor and it seems that Nenna is going to allow herself to be bullied by Louise, another relative get off the boat and return the children to the hideous school where they will taught stupid conventional values (it’s a nun’s school of some sort where teaching is through threats of humiliation). While she is gone to see Louise, this relative (or somewhere else, she still has no money, no cards, no identity), Edward comes to the boat! he is very drunk and gets drunker with Maurice. I began to fear they would drown, but no they sort of get their act together and sail off a bit — or possibly they drown.

The pain of these scenes is intense. Again I became personally anxious. I wanted to be sure and know that Nenna’s children would drowned. What kept me frightened as I read was my fear they’d drown. They are very young, she is so troubled she cannot get herself to send them to school. There they will learn their life is skewed and wrong and they haven’t got the right clothes. But she has no energy to watch them. I said I would have returned for my purse, and also that I would probably have given in early on and just given up the idea of the boat. One reason for that is I’d be perpetually worried about my children’s safety. For me safety was always a first consideration in bringing up my daughters.

It does end sadly — or tragically. It ends in life’s mess, nothing is truly resolved, nothing changes a lot and yet a lot changes. Now Richard’s Lord Jim will be sold; he is badly wounded in his skull and who knows what will happen in that hospital. He will be under his wife’s management from now on and is lost to the boat people.

End of book. I suppose it’s an increase of maturity for her not to pull the curtain down at the moment of complete nadir despair as she does in The Bookshop but take us on to another turn in her heroine and her children’s lives. I am relieved to think she is getting off the dangerous, wet, uncomfortable boat but not for the choice she is driven to take or the drunken husband who did return to give her her purse but seems to haae thrown it overboard — that’s not clear. Maybe it’s still on deck. Willis will carry on because Maurice decides to stay with the boat life (we are not surprised by this)

OldBatterseaBridge (Large)
Whistler, Old Battersea Bridge

Hermione Lee is brilliant on this book. Her comments on the motif of failure in the novel. She treats the book asa poetry of water — these three paragraphs made me think of Bachelard’s Reveries about Reveries (in one of his books):

Tilda has a comprehensive knowledge of all river-craft, tide times, flag markings and boat signals. Martha worries that “with so much specialised knowledge” she would be qualified for “nothing much except licence.” But Martha also believes that “everything you learn a pilot’s And Tilda’s knowledge is useful to the reader, as well as funny, as it provvides one kind of language, a detailed, technical one, for the boats and river, the novel’s dominant characters. The language of painting is used,too. Tilda and the marine artist Willis visit the Tate (a disrereputable pair closely watched by the gallery attendant) to look at the Thames paintings by Whistler and Turner. Tilda criticises them for inaccuracies but Willis puts her right: “Whistler was a very good painter … There’s Old Battersea Bridge. That was the old wooden bridge. Painted on a grey ground you see, . to save himself trouble. Tide on the turn, lighter taking advantage the ebb.”

Fitzgerald daringly infiltrates a whole paragraph of Whistler’s famous 1885 lecture “Ten O’Clock” into Nenna’s mind. The prosecutor in her head asks her if she knows Whistler’s description of the time “when evening must clothes the riverside with poetry, as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili and the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole city:’ ahngs in the heavens, and fairyland is before us.” There are other kinds of grand language sounding through this plain-spoken, low-key novel. A curate visits the barge to complain about the girls’ irregular attendance at their convent school. (“Ma, it’s the kindly old priest,” bellows Tilda.) This allows in a solemn biblical note: “You’ve decided to make your dwelling place upon the face of the waters,” he says. All through, the sound of he water, the changing tides, the light, the smell, the air, the wind, the feel of living on the Thames, is invoked with a mysterious, melancholy eloquence. One of notes to herself in the manuscript of Offshore sums up the mood she wantedd to invoke: “Slack tide, calm, knocking sound on boatside, peace, it doesn’t matter when & how sordidly you live, happiness.”The magical moment of the changing tide is conjured up, when “the Tham es had turned towards the sea,” and the moment as night falls when “the darkness seems to rise from the river to make it one with the sky.” We hear the groaning of the old boats as they stir and long “to put out once again into mid-stream.” Maurice and Nenna think of the Thames, in a an echo of Eliot’s Four Quartets (“I think that the river / Is a strong brown god —sullen, untamed and intractable”) as “a powerful god, bearded with the white foam of detergents, calling home the twenty-seven lost rivers of London, sighing as the night declined.” This is a pagan god. The river’s edge is where Virgil’s ghosts “held out their arms in longing for the further shore.”

A death wish is here. The passage reminds me in its lyricism of Woolf’s prose, The Voyage Out, The Years.

I’ve read popular kinds of accounts of Offshore and heard people discuss it. It’s an easy read, won a famous prize so they go for it. They never fail to say of this book the characters are eccentrics. I’ve a local friend who remembered it as about a “weird’ or “odd” set of people. That is to profoundly misread: the very point of the book is these are ordinary people in desperate straits. In NYC we had areas of the Hudson River where one saw people like this living in boat communities, some better off and okay but many not. And the book is a cracked mirror of Penelope’s life with her husband and children on a boat while he was an alcoholic.


I’ve just started this book and so will treat it briefly in this way: I wrote a foremother blog on Charlotte Mew and offer one of her powerful poems:

The Farmer’s Bride

Three Summers since I chose a maid,
Too young maybe — but more’s to do
At harvest-time than bide and woo.
When us was wed she turned afraid
Of love and me and all things human;
Like the shut of a winter’s day.
Her smile went out, and ’twasn’t a woman —
More like a little, frightened fay.
One night, in the Fall, she runned away.
“Out ‘mong the sheep, her be,” they said,
‘Should properly have been abed;
But sure enough she wasn’t there
Lying awake with her wide brown stare.
So over seven-acre field and up-along across the down
We chased her, flying like a hare
Before our lanterns. To Church-Town
All in a shiver and a scare
We caught her, fetched home at last
And turned the key upon her, fast.
She does the work about the house
As well as most, but like a mouse:
Happy enough to chat and play
With birds and rabbits and such as they,
So long as men-folk stay away.
“Not near, not near!” her eyes beseech
When one of us comes within reach.
The women say that beasts in stall
Look round like children at her call.
I’ve hardly heard her speak at all.
Shy as a leveret, swift as he,
Straight and slight as a young larch tree,
Sweet as the first wild violets, she,
To her wild self. But what to me?
The short days shorten and the oaks are brown,
The blue smoke rises to the low gray sky,
One leaf in the still air falls slowly down,
A magpie’s spotted feathers lie
On the black earth spread white with rime,
The berries redden up to Christmas-time.
What’s Christmas-time without there be
Some other in the house than we!
She sleeps up in the attic there
Alone, poor maid. ‘Tis but a stair
Betwixt us. Oh, my God! — the down,
The soft young down of her; the brown,
The brown of her — her eyes, her hair, her hair!
— Charlotte Mew

Great pity for a young woman shattered or who was disabled and remains so.

One of Fitzgerald’s novels is called The Beginning of Spring



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