View of the Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli by Louis Ducros and Giovanni Volpati

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith a 2nd report on the EC/ASECS conference held 12-14 November at West Chester University, Pa, with the broad topic of networks. I ended my 1st report with the lecture after the Friday business lunch (Sondra Jung’s talk on the chapbooks adapted from, and 18th to early 19th century history of illustrations for Richardson’s Pamela). There was a great variety in approach (from close-reading of a poem to wide-ranging discussions of archives), and kinds of topics (from building a park and landscape to writing an poignant epistolary novel whose places are mapped).

Johnson reading by Joshua Reynolds

My love of Samuel Johnson’s writing and interest in life-writing about him led me to choose “Samuel Johnson’s 18th century social and intertextual networks,” chaired by Anthony W. Lee, for the first Friday afternoon session (1:30-2:45 pm). I arrived late to William Coulter’s paper on Johnson’s “Lives of Dryden and Pope.” Prof Coulter suggested that Dryden aimed at making Homer easy to read, available while Pope was seeking intense respect for his finished polished (elegant) text. Dryden had cast his fate in the theater, then turned to journalism and at the last, translation. By contrast, Pope began with pastorals, translations of Pope’s earliest idyllic texts, moved to his translations from Homer. This is traditional, non-commercial (seemingly). Dryden was involved, while Pope existed at a distance from day-to-day raw politics. Prof Coulter felt that despite Johnson’s acerbic comments on Dryden’s career moves, he preferred Dryden’s poetry to Pope’s. In Christine Jackson-Holberg’s “Munich: Quixotic Encounters: James Elphinston and Charlotte Lennox and Johnson,” she showed an interplay of texts. Elphinston, still known for his attempt to establish a system of phonetic spelling, was an irascible man of undeviating rectitude who translated Johnson’s epigraphs; he was hypercritical and reviewed Lennox’s translations and editions of French writers’ correspondence in ways that infuriated her.

A later reprint of Lennox’s edition

Although Johnson promoted Lennox’s work, he remained loyal to Elphinston for the sake of their friendship. Anthony Lee discussed “the Johnsonian poems of Arthur Murphy.”

Arthur Murphy (1777) by Nathaniel Dance

Prof Lee quoted Arthur Sherbo on the value of Murphy’s lives, essays, verse, and translations and argued that there is strong intrinsic poetic merit in Murphy’s 1760 “Poetical Epistle to Samuel Johnson” where Murphy responded to an attack on him by Thomas Franklin who translated Sophocles’ tragedies. Murphy’s poem is about himself, uses Pope, Boileau and the dialogic form to defend and demonstrate Murphy’s writing characteristics. Prof Lee quoted from and close-read Murphy’s poem.


For the second afternoon session I chose “Research in Progress” chaired by Jim May. Peter Briggs discussed John Dunton’s “Puzzling self-representations: Hidden in Plain Sight.”

One of John Dunton’s publications: The Night-Walker

In 1691 Dunton commenced publication of his Athenian Mercury, which was immensely popular; but he published other texts. In his oeuvre in general Dunton anticipated Tristram Shandy in his various zany voyages through space, time, including through his local neighborhood. Dunton had married Elizbeth Annesley and as long as she was alive, they stayed solvent, but not long after her death in 1696, the business collapsed.

Jack Fruchtman Jr discussed how Sophie de Condorcet and her work, especially “Letters on Sympathy” helped foster the development of moral and revolutionary sentiment.


Sophie argued people possess an innate moral sensibility which enables them to do “the right thing.” She disagreed with Adam Smith on the force and centrality of sympathy. the goal of education is to develop virtue, talent, enlightened values. She agrees with Rousseau that civilization has done more harm than good; she develops thought out of Locke: if a man already rich cultivates his wealth further, is he obliged to share his excess, she would say yes. In 1792 Condorcet called a national convention and was elected but soon after as a Girondist was expelled, and persecuted; she visited him, corresponded with him using a secret code. She saw that the revolution had gone all wrong, and tried to understand how and why. She rejected cold rationality and was appalled by Robespierre’s cults and processions.

In her “Making Do; Public History, Local Archives and Atlantic Print Works,” Emily Kugler told us about her exploratory adventures in fascinatingly diverse archives researching women migrants, servants, those sold into slavery, and those who published their writing. As her career took her from San Diego to Brown University, she attempted to follow women around the UK empire, to capture their everyday experiences. Emily was part of a Middle Passage project whose main focus was West Hampshire, and she helped build a website which enabled her team to better understand the people shaped by imperialism. She researched Mary Prince (an especial interest),


Susannah Moodie, Elizabeth Freeman, Catherine Sedgewick.


The abolitionist movement was transnational, and included women with literary ambitions: Eleanor Eldridge, Frances Green, Phyllis Wheatley; she discovered networks of widows, women having trouble obtaining their legacies or property, arising from issues of class, race. She wanted to locate the voices of such women

Wayne Hanley told us of his experiences researching archives in Paris one summer. His focus was Michael Ney, who rose to be one of the French Marshalls under Napoleon, and first Prof Hanley narrated Ney’s life and execution.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

He then described the libraries he worked in, some of the difficulties modern procedures using the Net create. he went over problems of access, of permission, what can happen in the case of private family papers. Which reading room is the most comfortable, which archive set up most efficiently, which building most redolent of the century.


Hannah Webster Forster’s The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton

Leah Thomas discussed Hannah Forster’s 1797 American epistolary novel, The Coquette. Peter Sanford, a libertine male seduces Eliza Wharton, a flirtatious young woman; he has no intention of marrying her (as beneath him), marries someone else while as his mistress she is gradually isolated; she becomes pregnant, gives birth, and dies shortly thereafter; no one attempts to go to her to help her. Leah’s title included the phrase “Circumscribed Communities:” what she showed was the correspondences of the letters are situated in places along postal routes in New England. Leah showed how the postal routes improved over time, how many more places were included, how much more frequent the letters. If you map (draw graphs) and work out the percentage of letters between particular correspondents, you can gauge the importance of the place a character writes from and how it relates to other places in the story. Looking at the story from the perspective of who sent what, where and how many letters, you learn about the boundaries of the groups,and how Eliza’s community fails her. Only two of the letters have a day indicated — they are on a climactic final Tuesday. The novel is not long, it’s a sad affecting story, and is still read.


In “The Prince Franz Network: International Contacts in the Building of the Worlitz Palace and Park,” John Heins, himself a research librarian in the National Gallery of Art, took us on a journey through the life, friends and acquaintances of Leopold Friedrich Franz Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) as he built, developed and improved his extraordinary house, gardens and landscape in Germany. Franz had wanted to marry a woman for love, and retire from public life, but had been prevented and fulfilled himself through this building Prof Heins provided thumbnail portraits of all the people along the way: including Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmansdorff (1736-1800), the great art critic Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) with whom Franz spent and studied 13 years (the correspondence between these two men was destroyed by Leopold because Wincklemann was homosexual); Charles-Louis Clerisseau, a French draftsman (1721-1820); Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1716-1799); Nelson and emma Lady Hamilton at Naples; Goethe (8 times) who said “the Gods allowed this prince to create a dream.” We learned of English and Italian influence; the specifics of their particular values, of agricultural and building techniques, how many years the building took, where he traveled to (Naples to see Vesuvius and Pompeii) and how long. It seems a huge number of people lived on his property whose fate he controlled. So there were multiple complex relationships behind this architectural masterpiece.


Theodore (Ted) Braun told us about a little corner and one aspect of Voltaire’s vast correspondence. Voltaire wrote untold numbers of letters of which over 10,000 have been preserved; there are over 70 volumes. By the time Voltaire was aged 40 to 44 he had produced a number of tragedies, written and published Le Henriade, Zaire and other tales, his philosophical letters, the Letters on England, to Newton; then two imprisonments in the Bastille led to Voltaire’s exile from France. Few critics have wanted to discuss how Voltaire was an envious man who prevaricated against his rivals to slander them. Among those he attacked was Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pomignan; Ted told of how Voltaire had never seen or read Pompignan’s play, Didon, and yet wrote a blistering critique of it. Ted then turned to Voltaire’s continual health problems: Voltaire’s letters are filled with a dread of coming death; he half mocks himself but he also thinks he is dying; and there are many ironic and metaphoric passages about his dying (piece by piece) and (great) suffering; he wrote his own epitaph at age 42.

There were a number of questions about Worlitz, Franz, and the people John Heins had discussed. People asked about the post office in the US and the maps Leah had used. I asked what was Voltaire’s illnesa and Ted said we don’t know.

It was then time for the first coffee break and some continental breakfast (juice, rolls, cakes, and fresh fruit too).

Jean Raoux, “A young woman reading a letter”

A color photo of Bergin

Dear friends and readers,

It’s not often I come across a new good poem about Jane Austen, so I’d like to share Tara Bergin‘s

Appointment with Jane Austen

Blushing in a manner out of keeping with my age
(my graying hair, my falling face)
I entered Greyfriar’s Inn.
I was blushing, and out of keeping with my age.
In I went, making my foolish entrance,
folding down my umbrella self-consciously — 
aware of the locals at the bar with their gin
and their small talk — 
and walked right up to the barmaid,
somewhat brazenly, I thought. One glass of beer,
I said to her, and she, smiling kindly,
pulled it. I stood and waited.
I waited for them all to stop their fond,
drunken reminiscences,
for them to stop putting forth their opinions,
and to turn to me and say — in an accusatory way — 
What are you doing here? On a Wednesday night?
With an accent we can’t quite identify?

I waited ready:

Why am I here? I would say.
I am here as an imposter, an outsider,
a reluctant admirer of your lovely daughter Jane — 
I am here for my Lecture in the Picturesque,
to learn of sidescreens and perspectives,
to learn of window tax and syntax — and “ha-has” — 
for harmless gambling in the parlor,
wearing mittens and handworked collars and a pretty amber cross — 
I am here to steal a pistol and a spoon found underground,
to rob the peacock feathers streaming from the silly boy’s crown — 
I am here, I would say, for sensation — 
For sensation? they would say, and I would say:
Yes! Painful sensation of restraint or alarm!
Oh ye patrons of Greyfriar’s Inn, I would exclaim,
I am here to meet your high-waisted Jane,
to embrace her as my comrade; as my brother-in-arms!

I stood and waited. But the good patrons of Greyfriar’s Inn,
they never said a thing; just continued talking amongst themselves,
quietly reminiscing. I paid the barmaid and turned my head.
I looked out at the wet; I looked out at the southwest rain,
and the redbrick houses. I watched the famous silhouette,
gently swinging back and forth above the gate.
I raised the glass to her impassive, sideways face.
Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

The poem was first published in September 2014 in the Poetry Magazine, and may now be found at the Poetry Foundation.

One reading: the poet presents herself as an outsider to things Jane Austen, the Jane Austen world and usual topics. She has come “here” to learn about the picturesque, of the realities of her Regency world which we can attach to her novels and life (window tax, “ha-has”), the things that we read of in her novels and that we are told she wore, the foolish fashions of her time.

18th century style hats for women

People are even excavating where Steventon was (finding spoons underground?) She wants somehow to get close to Austen, to be her inward friend, a comrade in writing say. But she fails. The people who are Austenites that she came to be with carried on talking to one another, among themselves, their own insular talk, remembering experiences they had had with, through, in Austen. None of this helped her. The “picture” provided is not even one of Cassandra’s pictures but a silhouette (the one with the sharp nose?) which swings like a sign above the gate. Austen is abiding all these people’s non-questions; they are not looking at Austen somehow, perhaps that is to say her books. Maybe they don’t want to look.

An extrapolation, looking at inferences: I suggest a metaphor is at play here. Bergin suggests she learned nothing worth knowing about Jane Austen from this slide lecture about one aspect of Austen’s sources. Nor the things of her world, nor in her books, nor what she wore. Point taken: what passes for Austen studies in 2015 — well one kind of Austen studies — are source and influence studies, what we may call the wild surmise school of biography bolstered (justified?) by theoretical practice.

Is it close reading of the books themselves that we do not dare venture? one where we eschew the old moralizing themes but instead look to see how the world of the regency era operates in Austen’s novels, how her characters build that, react to it, and to one another, where she seems to stand.

I would not recommend going back to the close readings uninformed by self-examination and deconstruction of social norms, but perhaps the suggestion is some new break through is needed through daring to read the books out of a contemporary world perspective.

Or is that she went to find Austen among those said to know about and love her and couldn’t find her there at all.


From the cartoon paratexts of Fay Weldon’s 1979 BBC First Impressions (aka P&P): we the cartoon room layered over blurred image of Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth coming inside …

Well, I just listened to a similarly Austen-empty BBC radio program. Melvyn Bragg interviewed three Austen scholars on Emma: Janet Todd, John Mullan, Emma Clery. What was most striking is how empty the talk seemed: the usual biography trotted out, a description of the story for listeners who cannot be presumed to know Austen. Bragg tried to upend the cant of usual views: one of three said how by the time of Emma Austen had found her art, viz., in one letter she wrote of how she draws together most delightful, three or four families in a village.” Another that nonetheless (?) “everything” and “nothing” is in Emma. He replied (in effect) “really?” and then, so “what is in the book?” as ten minutes had gone by and no one had said.

So one of those interviewed started the stuff about how Emma is about the disturbed milieu and the time, and he countered, “the book is all about the relationships of these characters,” and asked about the characters. So Todd it was who tried to tell the story and describe the characters which took some disentangling. She did say how malicious Emma was early on to Mr Martin. It might be that this kind of forum, the semi-pop quick question-and-answer radio show does not lend itself to revealing this author. The problem here seemed to be the surface nothingness of Emma. So Mansfield Park was mentioned as full of critiques. Hmmn.

Could it be an environment that for the last 4 decades (since say the 1990s) all stories on TV or film are presented in some ratcheted up super-excited plot-design lush format or in a bath of emotional warmth? No wonder Emma is a lost case when the actual text is paid attention to.

Here and there someone managed: One person admitted openly how unusual Austen was for the literati of the time to know no one, to go to no parties of literary people, even to avoid the one occasion we know of when Austen could have met someone. That was refreshing. Another in reply to the demand for the content of the book said that Austen’s book is about a young women utterly hemmed in by her invalid father — though (qualifying) the heroine does not seem to mind. Then we heard “the theme is boredom,” but then (the qualification was irresistible it seemed) is common in this era in novels …

Had Bergin been sitting there, she might have produced the same poem.



Dear friends and readers,

The yearly meeting of the East Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies concluded a couple of days ago. Its topic, “Networks” provided a perspective that made for new alignments of information and insight: concrete human relationships may be said to be the basis of many lives, of many political and social movements, of every kind of artistic project; finding out and describing people’s interconnections, how they connect, why, what they use connections for, turned out to tell the story of history and works of art in fresh ways. This first of three reports covers the panels for Friday morning and early afternoon. As usual this report is not meant to reflect a general view of what went on, as I simply followed my own interest in what I choose to go to; I also give just the gist of the papers I heard.

Thursday night was our customary Oral/Aural experience organized by Peter Staffel. Some years people have done parts of plays, and read poetry chosen by Peter, but this year we “went full circle” back to 20 years ago when a few performers played the romantic subplot of Dryden’s Marriage a la Mode. We listened to and watched members of our society enact this play again, with all its wry and perceptive remarks on love and marriage.

William HogarthJonesFamily
Hogarth’s portrait of The Jones Family children performing The Indian Emperor in 1730/31 reminds us how popular were amateur theatrics in the 18th century


Zoffany’s The Gore family (at home), with George, Lord Cowper belongs to the 18th century genre of painting called conversation pieces ….

Friday began at 9:00 am and the first panel, “Friendships and Their Networks” was chaired by Linda Merians who gave one of the two papers. Elizabeth Lambert spoke first on Edmund Burke’s different interconnecting worlds of people and projects going on in his Irish country estate, Beaconsfield. She covered a small portion of the material of her book, Edmund Burke of Beaconsfield: Burke’s life at Beaconsfield after his retirement.


Beth began by telling us that Burke studies are in a healthy state with two new books published recently (e.g., David Bromwich) and Fred Lock’s day-by-day biography. She told of Burke’s state of mind as he retired, his relationship wih his wife, and then took us to Burke in his later years. The list of his guests reads like a roster of the finest minds, people with the most interesting experiences in the UK at the time. It’s piquant to see how differently Burke was regarded by his friends as a group and then separately. Elizabeth Montagu saw a farmer, husband, neighbor, good companion. Hester Thrale noted the dirt and informality of the house and how Burke’s wife, Jane, enjoyed drinking and dressing up. Guests included Garrick, Frances Burney, French exiles, local Irish associates. Burke fought with neighbors over property rights (a small pond, the right to kill rabbits). We read about their amateur theatricals, about how Burke provided an outfit for one man by sneaking it out of a closet. Beth painted a delightful picture of a Burke not often discussed in books about his political life or philosophy, the man in the country, the life at his table. Among other projects of his late years (which included a vexatious incident of litigation she referred to under the label “rabbit killing and pond wars”), Burke set up a school for the children of the French exiles, and in his letters we can watch him setting the place up: hiring teachers, selecting books, providing mattresses, blankets, soup plates. Beth said the school and Beaconsfield provided a place for the healing of Burke’s soul after his years in Parliament.

Matthew Prior (1664-1721)

Linda Merians began by quoting Samuel Johnson’s famous definition of a network (it’s of a concrete fishing net), suggested that for some the word has very negative connotations (the New York Times defined a networker as a “leech”), and said how we look at this part of human behavior depends on our age, what career we had, or the stage we are in, how good we were at networking. Networking was central to Prior’s career success: at age 10 when his father had died, he was working in a pub and so impressed the Earl of Dorset, the man paid for Prior to go to the best schools, and Matthew learnt to read and translate Latin, made the right friends and eventually became a career diplomat. He is said to have written 3000 letters (where he expended some of his sharpest sallies). Linda also gave us a picture of the man’s at-home social life and how in his case it spilled into the making of his career. He enjoyed entertaining guests and wrote social verse for them. He was employed by the Tories, and when Harley (Earl Oxford) was thrown out of office Prior visited him in prison. Undaunted (in effect), he carried on writing to a friends and people who could help him and others, e.g., Shelton. Sometimes Prior does sound the note of bitterness (as Samuel Johnson did in his famous letter to Chesterfield) writing that this help has come too late and while he is now in bad health. Late in his life Prior had to keep writing to support himself. He wrote to cover debts, sought patrons to subscribe for his next publication (as did Swift) and performed in letters, but he also maintained friendships important to him (he wrote “friendship can be no more forced than love”). Linda found endearing how Prior refers to his verse as his “little stuff.”

In the talk afterward people said you could buy rare books by Prior for very little. Alas he is not much read nowadays. Nor is Pope outside 18th century and literary and scholarly circles. A couple of people suggested that Prior was himself the (unsung) hub of a network. We agreed that a house and place were central to who became a hub for networks. The house may also be central to the identity of the writer and others living there.

A contemporary print of Streatham, the Thrales’ home


Richard Samuel’s The Nine Living Muses (1779): The sitters are (standing, left to right): Elizabeth Carter, Anna Barbauld, Elizabeth Sheridan, Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox; (seated, left to right): Angelica Kauffmann, Catherine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Griffith

At 10:30 the second set of panels began, and my panel was part of this set: “Forging Connections among Women.” Catherine Keohane spoke first: she presented the triangular relationship of Hannah More, Elizabeth Montagu, and Ann Yearsley where More was cultivating Montagu to further herself while she supposedly commended Yearsley’s writing to Montague.

Elizabeth Montagu (1762) by Allen Ramsay (1713-1784)

by Henry William Pickersgill, oil on canvas, 1821 Hannah More (1821) as painted by Henry William Pickersgill

by Joseph Grozer, after  Sarah Shiells, mezzotint, published 1787
Ann Yearsley by Joseph Grozer, after Sarah Shiells, mezzotint, published 178

Catherine focused on a nine-page letter from More to Montagu most of which consists of More’s praise (flattery?) of Montagu’s critical work on Shakespeare. More is showing how women have the right to produce literary criticism based on the excellence of Montagu’s book. The uncomfortable part of this networking is More describes Yearsley’s work in terms much more fitting either to stereotypes of Shakespeare or to Montagu’s work. Yearsley is given the backhanded compliment of imitating the Bible in place of the classics. We have no sense of Yearsley’s voice. We do have a accurate sense of what contemporaries valued Montagu’s criticism for.

Erlis Wickersham described the arduous unceasing work of Sophie Von La Roche during the time she was producting a periodical called Pomona for “Germany’s daughters.”

Sophie Von La Roche (1713-1807)

Sophie was the only German woman writer to produce and write in a periodical in this era. She wanted to provide other women with cosmopolitan knowledge of the world outside their local worlds, to recognize and understand the cultural icons of their day. She kept up the periodical almost single-handedly, producing an issue every month for two years, using other women’s writing sent to her (not always identified) but writing most of the material herself. She herself was well-educated by a liberal father. She translated, provided songs, musical accompaniments for poems, discussed issues of the day (abolition of serfdom), American Quakers, German translations from Naples, material about and from Greece, Switzerland, Italy. Her message was it’s acceptable for a woman to be an intellectual.


My paper came next – on Anne Home Hunter and Anne Macvicar Grant: I’ve put the text on academia.edu: Poetry and Prose from the Center and the Periphery. My argument is that we need to study these two women from the point of view of their lives and art as women; when we do, their full oeuvres emerge as of great interest to us today: they deal with global and political issues; they are also most moving when they intermingle their personal experiences, friends and poetic concerns with the larger historical and geopolitical perspectives they carve out. Grant is a fine poet, but she reveals her friendships and is is at her most interesting and original in her prose writing; her ethnographic studies and transations and literary criticism are worth perusual. Hunter left few letters but reveals her connections with women in her verseis a great poet, and although I argue her lyrics for Haydn are a small part of her oeuvre, they are extraordinary and so I include here a performance of “The Wanderer:”

Elizabeth Childs talked about using a variety of Austen post-texts (movies, sequels, other analogues) to teach Austen in an all-girls’ college. The larger question is what is Austen’s cultural role in the 20th century. She focused on the Austen project, a publishing venture where best-selling authors are supposed to re-write Austen’s famous six novels. Thus far Joanne Trollope has published a Sense and Sensibility, Val Mcdermid, a Northanger Abbey, and A. McCall. Smith, an Emma. The publicity emphasizes these authors’ celebrity status; what evaluative criticism there has been suggests the authors have been too reverential, and the attempt to align closely modern day circumstances with Austen’s plot-design and themes can be jarring and anachronistic. Liza suggested that Smith’s Emma set in Botswana is concerned with the nature of male authority in the local culture.

This cover makes Trollope’s name, a teenager’s coat and the title of the book prominent; Austen’s name is in tiny letters to the left.

Among the topics discussed afterward were the recent demoralizing falling out of print of those women’s texts that had been made available for the first time in the 1980s, and the continued lack of scholarly annotated editions for many women’s non-fiction books. There is still also the problem for Austen world books that the identification of women with sentiment skews the way these originally ironic books are written and framed. It was agreed that Jo Baker’s Longbourne because it introduces a new perspective (that of the servants), new characters, takes place in areas connected to Austen and yet far from her immediate concerns (the Peninsular war) helps account for its strength and success.



Above an engraving (by Benoist) for a French edition of Pamela and just below a simple woodcut type illustration for an inexpensive Pamela

After lunch, the presidential address was given by Sondra Jung and was about Pamela Chapbooks and their illustrations. Richardson’s Pamela was the focus of a central popular media event of the era, and among the enormous amount of paraphernalia produced were illustrations. These visualized scenes from the novel provide us with different readings of the book and basically what Sondra demonstrated was that insofar as the illustrations can tell us what working and lower middle class people felt as they read, Richardson’s message came across to them in abridged and other editions as deeply conservative, religious, pious. He described what 20th century critics write of Pamela (elite, ironic, complex meanings) to what we may surmise from these chapbooks, abridgements and illustrations, most of which remove the erotic ambiguities we find in Francis Hayman, Hubert-Francois Gravelot, and the best known today, paintings of Joseph Highmore. He then took us through a history of different editions, engravings, and included in his purview the US. Pamela, he suggested, was by most readers read as a conduct book. These lesser-known but important illustrators include John Arliss (he illustrated a juvenile library edition of Pamela); Sondra cited the names and talked of the publishers of these books, the style and interest in the pictures found there: they are small, blurred, and seem sometimes intended to show the fashions of various readers’ eras.

A copy of the fifth full edition: note the subtitle

There was considerable discussion of Sondra’s presentation afterward, most of it querying the reliability of statistics, problems in ascertaining who were the readers of the different Pamelas, the perspective of book history people.

I didn’t get to make a small contribution I might have made, though I’m not sure I could have (I cannot resist saying how proud I felt but also much flustered at having been awarded the Leland D. Peterson award at the beginning of the luncheon): when I was around 14 my father had in our house several sets of English novel classics first printed in the 1930s and 40s: these were not abridged, they were printed and distributed by mainstream book-of-the-month type publishers in inexpensive hardbacks meant to look like serious books (dark brown, silver-colored designs). Most of these sets did not have novels with any kind of open sexual matter, overt politics and probably violence too, so Jane Austen, Dickens’s David Copperfield, George Eliot’s Silas Marner were repeated choices, with individual ones Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Only one set included a copy of Pamela, but I remember that the story, characters and what seemed to me heroine’s obsession with her virginity, indeed the whole attack on her seemed obsessive and surprised me greatly, seemed very strange in the context of 1950s New York City. I couldn’t take seriously its obvious reiterated theme of “virtue rewarded,” but now surmise that this theme enabled the inclusion of this book in just one set out of many classic books. My point would have been that ordinary readers and publishers of the 1930s through 50s saw Pamela as both ostensibly about virtue and highly erotic.

A second report will follow in (I hope) less than a week.


People Walking (Union Square)

Elizabeth Bennet reading a letter from Jane (one of a series of illustrations for an edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)

Without my conscious knowledge, somewhere along the line I had become committed. This commitment to being an artist had, I realized, come on me even without my being aware of it … then I realized that, no matter how awful I felt about everything I had done to that point, the decision was made . I was prepared to do anything to keep myself painting. Anything (1977, Isobel Bishop, cited in Munro)

Dear readers and friends,

Of course when I realized that one of my favorite line drawings of Elizabeth Bennet reading a letter from Jane was by Isabel Bishop and intended for a 1976 edition of Pride and Prejudice, that confirmed that I must write about her for my mid-century woman artist. A New York artist of mid-century, who did most of her work from a studio looking down on fourteenth street. She did drawings, highly original prints, illustrations, one still well-known painting and one mural:

While Isobel Bishop appears in a brief biographical sketch with accompanying single reproduction in three of my survey books (Elsa Honig Fine, Women in Art; Nancy Heller, Women Artists, and Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists, 1550-1950), and there is indeed an excellent on-line blog by Victoria Meyers (so open to the public), “hellomargot” on Bishop. Meyers includes an accurate balanced survey of the kind of pictures she produced, a summary of her schooling, where she resided while painting — for 44 years in a studio on the northwest Corner of Union Square, NYC (1930s-70s); her several prestigious and serious art positions in American art institutions, plus an exact list of precisely described characteristics of her art, yet it is true enough for me to suggest with Paul von Blum that she is one of several women artists of the mid-20th century largely ignored by mainstream critics who produced socially conscious art, which “shed enormous if disconcerting light on the precariousness of existence in a technological world beset with overwhelming social, economic and environmental problems” (New Visions, New Viewers, New Vehicles: Twentieth-Century Developments in North American Political Art,” Leonardo, 26:5, Art and Social Consciousness: Special Issue, (1993):459-466.

Greer’s book (and four other of my major surveys) doesn’t mention her, though Bishop endured the same obstacle race as Greer’s other women, in 1934 marrying an eminent neurologist (who made good money) and conservative episcopalian, Harold B. Wolff, producing one son, so that her life’s routine began with her daily commute from Riverdale, a very nice area of the North Bronx to Union Square. She is not of interest to Borzello though she created self-images. This small one alludes to 17th century pictures:

The focus of many surveys is still Eurocentric and this may account for her absence and/or brief presence in several accounts, but her once best known works include a mural with a “world literature” center:

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray …. (from Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Inferno)

O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street
The pleasant whining of a mandoline … (T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland)

Dante [and Virgil] in Union Square;

Much of her work looks like images of mostly or centrally women out famous European and American films:

Two Women Among Men,

and allude to previous famous male artists, like Degas:

Bishop, Isabel ReadingAndartDegaslike


Two of Us

Nochlin and Sutherland Harris say that Bishop combined the grand manner with contemporary urban subjects in the manner of Reginald Marsh. She of course did not omit the required or once obligatory classical nude as formulated by Kenneth Clark, for which she won her first official prize (now duly at the Whitney Museum of Art):

Nude (1934) — as a subject she is said to have found the nude fascinating for a woman to draw (there is a Nude by a Stream, and A Nude Bending)

It may be the very socially and politically committed nature of her leftist art: she belongs to the worlds of Diego Rivera (muralist), Dorothea Lange (photographer), Herbert Block (cartoonists), Alice Neel, who painted her in an image playfully imitating Bishop’s typical kind of image:

Alice Neel: Isobel Bishop

Isabel Bishop: Departure

and to cite the other women: Nancy Spero, May Stevens, Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago, more recently Margaret Lazzari, Judy Baca, and closely contemporary American, Louise Bourgeois, Jeanne Reynal, Alma M. Thomas.

Probably it’s more the her de-emphasis on conventional large-scale finished oil painting, of which I could find only one:

Bootblack (1942)


Photo of Bishop working in her fourteenth street studio

The longest most satisfying treatment is found in Eleanor Munro’s Original: American Women Artists (145-152), and what comes across, rather surprisingly, given her elite education and successes, is self-deprecation, self-dismissal or marginalizing words of a kind found in Paula Modersohn-Beck and Marianne Werefkin:

Of her childhood and family time: she was the youngest of five children, two sets of twins before her: “infant impressions come back in time to haunt” (Munro, 147): her father was a teacher of classics in a school he founded in Princeton, New Jersey before moving to Cincinnati (where Isobel was born), then to Detroit, where he was a principal in private schools

“They would go off here and there. Whichever was at home would take an interest in me, decide what kind of person I should be, what I should wear, and then go off again. One sister had me in Eton collars and tunics. Then another came and said, ‘Oh, those terrible dull clothes!’ and put me in fancy things. Everyone was trying to do something to me, except my mother. She was quite indifferent.” (Munro, 147)

Munro says her parents were “poor;” after Detroit, the father “returned as putative dean of faculty to a boys’ military academy in Peekskill, New York, where his learning was barely appreciated. His plight touched his daughter, but she was relieved of having to experience it firsthand by being sent off to New York-thanks to a [wealthy] cousin-to study art.

“The only thing I had any aptitude for was drawing. I’d been at Saturday classes in Detroit, where the teacher was so radical as to have even young children drawing from life. When I was twelve, walking in for the first time to find a great fat nude woman posing was something of a shock! But at least by the time I got to New York I felt I had been initiated.
    I was sent to the New York School of Applied Design for Women [where she was to learn the art of book illustration to be self-supporting], and I convinced the school that I was already an experienced student. So I went immediately into the life class. This was 1918. In November, we students marched, in our smocks, in the Armistice Day Parade. The Armory Show had been a long time before, in 1913. But the end of the war triggered a renewal of the excitement of it. I felt the excitement, remote as I was. And so I began learning about modern art.”(147)

At the Art League, Isobel was inspired by the artists and patrons she met: Katherine Dreier. She left for the Art Students League in NYC and met and impressed and was soon encouraged and mentored by Kenneth Hayes Miller (he had work in the Armory Show), Guy Pene du Bois where she learned European techniques (imitating the “old masters”). For a while she lived with “provincial well-bred art and music students,” chaperoned properly, but then left for the Village and her own place to work alone. She writes about this period of struggle and depression thus:

“And then I began having a terribly hard time.
    “I was only in my early twenties, and, working by myself, I got into a bad state. I couldn’t manage it as a person, I see now, and I drifted into an extreme depression, stayed up all night, couldn’t do anything all day. “Then, just at that point, Miller offered an ‘Advanced Composition Class’ back at the League, and I went and enrolled in it, to make my life livable again. And in fact taking that course did give my life a structure again by allowing or obliging me to work alongside my peers. So I stayed with that class for another two years.
    “And then I had another severe jolt. I woke up to realize that I had misinterpreted Miller’s teaching. That I had been trying very hard in a completely wrong direction! Working all by myself, in my isolation, I had lost my nerve as an artist; coming back to the class, I had thought that by following Miller’s methods I would arrive, again, at a point of confidence. But that hadn’t happened.
    “The School of Paris was dominant at that time in the ’20s among all the more interesting artists. But Miller took the exact opposite direction. I thought he was teaching that as long as you used a rational method, rendered figures solidly and firmly in formal relationships, the works would have meaning. But they had no meaning, no personal expression! I had lost track entirely of the idea that to be an artist is to say something for oneself. It was du Bois who opened my eyes. He came into my studio for the first time in a couple of years and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And the moment he said that, I realized my error. I felt those years had been a mistake.
“In 1975, cleaning out my studio, I found some of those pictures. When I looked at them, I saw they were so terrible! I had to take an ax to them! Literally-physically; they were on gesso panels and so tough I had to break them up with an ax.(150-151)


She found herself when she moved to fourteenth street. She was comfortable among the people in the street, working women, immigrants, unemployed afternoon or homeless and sometimes violent men (whom she calls bums and invited upstairs). She loved the city, its buildings, the perspectives, vistas, the detritus of commerce overlaying everything

“I’d come into the Miller class in the next wave after Alexander Brook, Kuniyoshi, Peggy Bacon, Katherine Schmidt. There are classes where a number become known and classes where no one does, and not much mixing between them. The group about four years older than I had a lively time. They went bowling at Teutonia Hall Tuesdays and did many social things together. I envied them, but I wasn’t part of that group. In fact, I had no artist friends. No art life. Eventually, however, the Whitney Studio Club run by Gertrude Whitney was a resource. Du Bois recommended me, I became a member and showed my still lifes there. A lovely place to go. Aside from that, I just went on working in my studio on Fourteenth Street …”
    “As time went on, I began spending more and more time down in the square sketching. I’d been abroad (my cousin again, bless him) to see the museums. I remembered sitting in the Green Park in Antwerp with my pen and sketchbook. When I came back to Union Square, the difference in the people on the benches from those in Holland fascinated me. It was the first time I registered the particularity of what I was looking at, the genre aspect of the scene. For example, after seeing a certain sleeping bum a number of times, I took courage, waited till he woke and then approached him and explained I would like him to pose. He asked whether I wanted him to take his clothes off. I assured him not. In the end, he came to the studio, more frightened then I was, and returned many times. A dreadful man. He once threw an easel through the window. Then Raphael Soyer got hold of an older man and persuaded him to pose and he did so for everyone. That made my bum furious and he beat up the other man in the Bowery. In the end, these subjects made a whole epoch for me-my interest in these people. They had for me what I had been seeking: subjective reality.” (151)

Then came the recognition, marriage, all the years of professional appointments (see Victoria Meyers); many exhibitions of her art from the 1930s on, including at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, the 1939 World’s Fair, the Corcoran Biennial in Washington DC; one women exhibitions too (Midtown galleries, NY, New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, even a retrospective in 1974 at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson).


Yet she will still write: “No, I don’t think all artists have so much trouble. There are others so fecund, able, prolific. I know they do not succeed altogether without struggle, but there are some who have a most enviable genius.
    “My ability is so small! And yet the pursuit never stops engrossing me entirely.” (153)


Munro sees the basis of Bishop’s art as the same as Goethe’s (who wrote theoretically): “Images originaTe when light falls on dark edges; light must somewhere strike edges hat make it visible.” Bishop was never of the school of abstract expressionism but wanted to handle “pure light” and “pure color”, figures, the human body as it cuts along the light. She sees people as “insubstantial” while “real” (145).

At the Noon Hour

She specialized in etching and sought “irredescence and transparency” using 8 coats of gesso to a “masonite panel,” grounds of loose uneven gray stripes composed of gelatin, powdered charcoal and white lead to create a surface that will give a sense of vibration:” “Color is not an original motif for me. My fundamentals are form, space and light” (quoted in Honig, 207):

Campus students (1972) — look at our they are dressed, what they carry

But Bishop’s subject matter, how she treats working women, the tone of the picture, her stances towards them are what impresses us and counts for her. A favorite motif is of people reading, close up, interacting intimately and intensely:

Bishop, Isabel (1902-1988)readingandart
Reading [a letter or some written communication] and concerned over it

[Learning to] Read … Together

She is rebelling against class hierarchy, against the predominance of images of women based on “air-brushing,” fanatical dieting, cosmetic surgery, gentility: Bishop’s women eat ice cream during their

Lunch Break

Genuine self-gratification in putting vulgar make-up on (this is no classical image of Vanity but of strong good large teeth):


Come up close, and they have chubby faces and look sad:


She debunks too:

Lunch counter

According to Honig (206), Bishop identifies a contemporary living art with movement: she seeks to capture figures “in motion — dressing, reaching, bending, pulling” (207). Honig denies there is any protest meaning in Bishop’s art; her “derelicts” (what language) and working people “do not appeal to the sympathy;” we see them in “small moments of triumph.” Really?



Is not this a grim Madonna (no false worship, no mystification, no bland serenity here]:

Waiting with her child

Even her illustrations for Pride and Prejudice present the figures as aggressive people:



We are to feel sorry for Mary: any minute now she will be told “she has pleased us long enough:”


As Nochlin and Harris Sutherland say, Isobel Bishop is a New York artist (325); her subjects and world are creatures of the city on multilayered kind of friezes, so the fleeting moment may feel monumental: what no one says is the look of her people is that of a 1940s movie:

LunchHour — ice cream is one of life’s treats, compensations …

Before and while married she made money from the Roosevelt era federal art projects, and I’m tempted to end this sketch with a New York City 1930s sort of poem.

Apartments on First Avenue

By Cynthia Macdonald

Cemeteries are becoming so crowded in the New York area
a conglomerate has filed plans to construct a block-square
above-ground facility.”
— WYNC News broadcast

Underground space, like water, is running out
So they are building apartment houses for the dead.
That ad: “Keep your loved ones safe from seepage,” is
Obsolete; these marble skyscrapers have
No cracks and point in the right direction.
Here, where the municipal station tolls the hour with
“This is New York where more than eight million people
Live and work and enjoy the fruits of democracy,”
The question now becomes where can you afford
To live and where to live and die?

Persephone, her lips stained with pomegranate juice,
Runs in her shift (it is 8-4) through the hall.
The seeds from that seedy red globe litter;
They cannot root in marble fields. She plays
Her lyre and the single strand of plaint
Turns polyphonous, echo’s counterpoint off
Blue-veined cleavage. Here in the clouds, strains
Of the lyre suffuse the thin air, using it up.
But Zeus, her father, angry at the music of women,
Tells her to go to Hades again even though
The bright stamens of her hair make him want to
Stroke it. She resists his direction. Lightning bolts.
o Lord, the hardness of this place.
She takes the elevator down, abasing herself.

O Lord, the hardness of this place.
Galleries fitted to entomb feeling and bodies,
Sky catacombs where love’s declensions stiffen into
Fixity. But I play my lyre and it tells the truth.
Gluck’s single strand of happiness resounds.
If you, walking ahead, searching for a bridge to
That most circular of Museums, turn and
Look at me too long, we may both become marble-
Statues for our funerary niche-but we must risk it.
Pluto, Zeus, our parents, the archangel Michael,
Mayor Koch: to Hell with them. Or not.
You reach out your hand and turn. Pulses deny marble.
The ignited fires have no lick of burning.
Defying the Storm King Power Co., we walk out into
The light fantastic, trip the sidewalks. Within our
Bodies’ compass there is no need to fight gravity. (from Howard Moss, ed. New York Poems)

But Bishop is said to have kept on her wall a piece of paper with these lines by Henry James:

    We work in the dark.
We do what we can – We give what we have.
Our doubt is our passion, and our passion our task.
    The rest is the madness of art (Munro, 146)

A photo of Bishop, n.d.

From closing frames of S&S (modeled on Andrew Wyeth picture?, Liew, Molinari, Sabino)

From closing frames of NA (imagery of pastoral intermixed with nightmare, novel as Catherine’s dream, Lee, Pildari, Eckelberry)

Dear friends and readers,

Surely it’s time to write about Austen here again. Long overdue some might say.

Last night I read and perused the latest graphic novel of Northanger Abbey, words chosen and written by Nancy Butler, the artist Janet K Lee; colorist Nick Pilardi, letterer Jeff Eckleberry. It’s a Marvel product and since in just the way the company that produces a film predetermines the shape and much that is indefinably the film so the comic book publisher Marvel predetermines elements of the commodity they sell. Thus it’s no surprise if the other Marvel graphic novel I own, which I also reread and looked at the pictures for far more carefully and deeply than I’ve done before, Sense and Sensibility, also by Nancy Butler, but this time artist Sonny Liew, colorist L. Molinai, Letterer Joe Sabino, showed a strong family resemblance.

The Dashwood family approaches Barton Cottage (Liew, L. Molinar, Joe Sabino, angle and shot from the 1996 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson S&S)

Catherine and Isabella exploring Bath (based on general gothic mode, Lee, Pilardi, Eckleberry) Isabella “easy, unreserved conversation” (!), showing Butler can do irony

Both have marvelous large pictures at the close of the most striking of the panels that are smaller inside the story — and here both are highly original or they allude to famous works of art or movie/movie genres.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them — I have a strong tendency to see these books as comic books but under the influence of Simon Grennan’s Dispossession, which I bought at the Trollope conference meeting, and is a graphic novel adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s John Caldigate, I began to look at the individual panels seriously for the first time, and could see they are genuinely art; in these two cases expressionistic, and project a general outlook and mood, not necessarily Austen’s but a reading of her. It’s obvious that Posy Simmonds and Audrey Niffennegger’s graphic novels are art, Simmonds’s images are so distinctive — and Niffennegger’s spun art in the manner of artistic poem books. These Marvel books are not so; they are deliberately set up in frames and use typologies resembling more comic book images — probably not to put off the comic book buyer. I can’t say that all Marvel comics are genuinely good; and I know some of the recent autobiographical graphic novels rich on text are poor on images (which makes them poor graphic novels), but these are worth perusal.

As with Posy and Niffennegger, one aspect of the enjoyment is the text. In both cases Butler is the writer and she choses wisely to take as much from Austen’s text straight as she can. I once had a publisher tell me when you publish about Austen let your guide by to quote her when you can. You are sure to please that way. So you are reading Austen epitomized, in bits and pieces, sometimes altered and expanded with piquant details, often from the era, but they are well chosen.

Mr Willoughby and Marianne have their first literary discussion: it’s about Scott

As Henry and Catherine drive up to the Abbey, it is gothic — purples, greys, angles which are edgy

The pictures matter of course, maybe more than the words. In the case of NA I was surprised to find very dark colors used for Bath itself, Bath made gothic, with overlarge oddly angled depictions of the characters (so we are inside their minds), haunting kinds of shapes for what happens. In the case of the S&S, there are zoom shots, the characters look so overawed and powerless against the screens they are caught in, especially Mrs Dashwood in her widow’s garb, at a kind of great distance angle of shot from on high, very sudden too.

The page where Catherine receives the invitation to go to the Abbey and discusses it with the Allens

Fanny Dashwood needling Mrs Dashwood to make her take Elinor away, Mrs Dashwood vowing not to take this punishment

Butler (in a preface) talks of Northanger Abbey as sending up the gothic, but the artist and especially the colorer made Bath into a gothic image, with the characters sometimes looming and scary in context. Everything feels pervasive from colors seeping around to lines — lots of odds oranges, off-color yellows, browns. As if a page is the inner or deeper feeling of Catherine. The lines on the face of John Thorpe make him menacing. Real grit in the S&S: this frame combines the melancholy of the three Brandons: Robert Swann who uses a cane (1983), melancholy Alan Rickman with that brown jacket (1996), David Morrisey brooding most of all:

(You do have to abandon your critical faculties to the cartoon’s edge into absurdity)

In the S&S panel you see the characters drawn as on a stage from different angles and then squares within squares with faces close up, so tensions from social life come out: in the preface to S&S Butler speaks of the book as about sisters, and outrage over the way the Dashwoods are treated by the laws and when they arrive in Devonshire custom. Butler and Lee’s S&S takes off from the movies.

It’s undeniable that many of the characters are drawn to recall specific actors in either the 1996 Emma Thompson S&S or the 2008 Andrew Davies one; the dresses; the way Colonel Brandon is figured as so strong, manly, and melancholy with a cane. Many of the frames prefer what happened in one or other other of these two S&S than Austen’s more simple lack of particulars. So Barton Park recalls the 2008 S&S grand mansion (even photographed or drawn in the same way) and Barton cottage the 1996 S&S house (as they come up the walk) though the inside is more like the 2008 (as they go through the place, with the same clothes as Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan had on). As this is the third time I’ve read this one I started to see new things, and for the first time recognized some memories of the 1983 S&S film too — in the dresses, in some of what’s emphasized in the choices of text, occasionally a frame resembles a shot in the 1983 film — the script writer for the 1983 film was Alexander Baron, a fine novelist in his own right who did quite a number of the Dickens and one notable Bronte adaptation for the BBC in the 1980s. Mrs Jenkins is even modelled on Patricia Routledge from the 1971 S&S (Denis Constanduros the writer), with this wild page showing Ciaran Maddan as Marianne and Joanna David as Elinor:

The hairstyle suggest Irene Richards is remembered in the grieving Elinor

Yet at the same time similarly there is a particular interpretation which is Butler and Liew’s own and it’s poignant because of the high shots. It’s more daylight mind (Molinari did the colors) here than the Marvel NA, with normal perspectives on the size of the characters (they don’t overwhelm a page) and the background made into light of the day or quiet of an evening so there is a quieter feel to the work.

I have read a previous graphic novel adaptation of Northanger Abbey (words Trina Robbins, illustrator Anne Timmons): a Gothic classics volume which contains 5 novels so each one is shorter (it includes Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, words Antonella Caputo, illustrator Carlo Vergara); I want to say that the pictures are in black-and-white makes them limited only I know that Posy Simmonds makes beauty, gives depth with drawings on white too. I think it’s the wild angles of the frames themselves, sudden thrusting and most of all that the gothic is kept to throughout.



Also the use of Austen’s words: in the NA and S&S both occasionally Andrew Davies’s superb perceptive scripts.

I probably enjoyed them strongly because I’ve not been reading Austen in a while and when I return (I am grateful this is so) after having been away for a while, I forget all the outside materials I read about Austen: while some adds and enriches, so much is said or has been that to say something new or different (which is required) mars the experience because it’s so intermixed with the critic-writer’s political/social point of view and my feeling of how this book is supposed to operate for them in the Austen world, or just things that are said that are a new extreme and grate, or simply ignore the book altogether or mock it (in effect it’s so over-the-top in its reactive reading) though the person writing does not always know that.

Post-texts. S&S has the occasional wink as featured in the upper frame of its windowed cover:


while the NA is not above bats, and allusions to vampires, Udolpho and bookishness (the ancient table the two sit on are held up by fat ancient tomes)


I should not have been surprised as I love studying film (and films are moving pictures), loved art history and see pictures as endlessly meaningful when well done. In this Marvel NA, we have many narrowed eyes, on the male and female faces, suggestive; in this S&S really detailed developments out of Austen via different movies.


It’s a small vindication of the readings each perform since Austen’s words are used to pull NA into gothic realms, and easily host images from across 4 S&S films

My daughter Izzy bought the Northanger Abbey one on Sunday, November 1st, and we said it was appropriate to the season and All Saint’s Day — which for me would have been very lonely but for her and my two cats – and Austen and memories of the Austen movies.

Hattie Morahan as Elinor

Charity Wakefield as Marianne


Marianne von Werefkin - Russian expressionist painter (1860 – 1938) - Autumn (School) 1907
Marianne von Werefkin, Autumn (1907)

From her diaries (1905): ‘I am a woman, I lack every [ability for] creation. I can understand everything and cannot create… I don’t have the words to express my ideal. I am looking for the person, the man, who can give this ideal form. As a woman, wanting someone who could give the internal world expression, I met Jawlensky … ‘
I am more a man than a woman. Only the need to please and compassion turn me into a woman. I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am I.

Yet she could write in a letter: My eyes are magical glass [when looking at] the outside world, and it can transform a lot into bewitching beauty. Paris, Munich … they’re all the same. The country is nice, because it is closer to nature and bad because we [Werefkin and Jawlensky] are no longer people from nature. I saw this at Blagodat. The more a person improves himself, the more one is doomed to loneliness. One doesn’t need friends, one needs oneself and anybody who loves you like themselves

Dear friends and readers,

I was wondering how to present my tenth woman artist Marianne von Werekfin as I am so drawn to very specific paintings by her. For example, even in black-and-white one of her pictures remains one of my favorites of all 20th century women’s paintings: are we watching quiet peacefulness or repression with few choices caught up in a harmonious ordered design?

Sunday in Spring (1910)

Elsa Honig Fine in her Women and Art describes the painting when seen in color: “All the artist’s sources seem to coalesce …The large green expanses of grass, sinuous blue river and band of red buildings in the background, contrast with the black, white and grey silhouettes of the anonymous strollers. The artist seems more at peace with herself in this painting.

Where better is the darkness, fearful glare and fascinating colors of de-humanized and degraded landscape of unamelioroated industrialism unameliorated expressed than in her

Industrial villa (1912)

Jordi Vigue in Great Women Masters of Art: ‘There are three motifs in this work: nature, industry and the human being. The industrial village is located on a river. It is surrounded by a powerfully colorist landscape in which the plains taken on a copper tone and the high blue mountains are silhouetted against a yellow and green sky. In the foreground three men carrying a sack across a bridge in front of a village immersed in the twilight. The factory chimney, a symbol of industrialization per excellent, is as high as the old church’s bell tower. This is a narrative scene accompanied by forms with latent meanings. The association of the mangnficence of nature, the darkness of inustry with its chimney emitting green smoke, and the toil of the man bent under a heavy sack are ahead of their time and offer an invitation to reflection.’

In this picture by Werefkin, I think of the many images of lonely old woman carelessly discarded in so much fiction and life. Here the woman seems to matter:

Woman with a lantern (1912)

Again Jordi Vigue: ‘Her ideas are expressed in this work in tempera on cardboard, in which the snow covering the hills is green and blue, the furrows and shadows are tinged in red, andthe leafless wintry trees are as black as the phantasmagoric figure of the old lady. In fact, the subject of the painting is simple: an old lady goes to get some pigs that have gotten loose. Nevertheless, the treatment of forms and colors establishes a symbolic relationship with reality that imbues the painting with mystery, like the stories of Poe.’

Werefkin can do the hope of young girls (Autumn, the scene I led with, which reminds me of Bemelmans’ Madeline, books where we read of 12 little girls in a two straight lines), the calm of old age

Old Age

Here the seeming disorder and beauty and fearfulness of winter worlds, often with a pair of friends or heterosexual couple painted as tiny figures which repeats elsewhere:


Werefkin makes us see war as human beings turned into mindless crawling deadly insects in a row


She paints rather tormented scenes with processions of female figures in black walking on sinuous roads:

The Black Women

From Kochmann (see below): In The Black Women, Werefkin depicts several women dressed in various combinations of black and dark blue garments, tying and carrying white bundles back to a mountain village. The scene is set in the mountains, a line of chalet-style row houses at their base. The women appear to have finished laundering in a thinly rendered purple-colored river, preparing to return home after a hard day’s work … [I add there is an absence of men in many of these pictures]

She can also project the alluring stillness of an evening out in a world of war (note the heterosexual couple):

Without roofs

But a good deal of what Von Werefkin painted is to me also too consciously primitive, crude, glaring and gauche, even cartoon-like, or vague, inconsistent. These are labelled German expressionistic, and hark back to stylistically similar paintings by Paula Modersohn-Becker, only M-B rescues such pictures by the poignancy of the abject children, animals. Werefkin uses this style for depicting the strength of peasant women and men, and stereotypical 1930s kinds of bars. Two from In the Village:


Red City - Marianne von Werefkin 1860-1938 - Russian-Swiss Expressionist painter- Tutt'Art@ (18)

The Beergarten



For this blog I am indebted to a friend, Fran, who sent to Women Writers through the Ages (at Yahoo), the URL for an excellent detailed essay by Adrienne Kochmann which is meant to focus on and explain a specific picture. I will quote from Kochmann to provide biography: “Ambiguity of Home: Identity and Reminiscence in Marianne Werefkin’s Return Home, c. 1909:”

Werefkin was born in 1860 in Tula, south of Moscow.8 An aristocrat and a baroness, she was the daughter of Elizabeth Daragan, an artist, and Vladimir Nikolaevich Verevkin, an infantry commander general who had been decorated by the tsar for his accomplishments during the Crimean War. During her childhood, her father’s military career transferred the family to several different residences across the Russian Empire, including (chronologically) Vitebsk in Russia, Vilnius in Lithuania, Lublin in Poland, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. She began her formal art training at the age of fourteen and later studied with the prominent Russian Realist Ilya Repin for ten years.
    Through Repin, Werefkin met Jawlensky in 1892. The two shared mutual artistic interests and worked together, spending summers at Werefkin’s family’s landed estate, Blagodat, in Kovno Province, Lithuania. Werefkin established a reputation in Russia as the “Russian Rembrandt” showing her portraits—her primary subject area—at such exhibitions as the First Women Artists Circle Exhibition in St. Petersburg in 1886, the XX Peredvizhnik Exhibition of 1892, also in St. Petersburg, and in 1896 at the art section of the All-Russian Exhibition in Nizhni-Novgorod.

So she belonged to the lesser nobility, with her mother an amateur painter; early on she met a man she seems to have idolized and with whom she would have (for her time) an unconventional passionate relationship for 30 years:

A pastoral painting of herself and Jawlensky in their happiest phase

By 1896 they were living in an artist community in Munich, friends with Munter and her partner, Vasily Kanddinsky, and part of movement which included many new and avante garde artists (Munich New Artists Association):

Kochman: In 1896, Werefkin’s father died and, provided that she stay a single woman, allowed her an inheritance of a government pension and the financial means to live independently. That same year, she and Jawlensky moved to Munich and took up residence in adjoining apartments on Giselastrasse in Schwabing, the home of the city’s Eastern European immigrant and artistic populations. There, they became active members of Munich’s avant-garde artistic community, and befriended the prominent Slovenian art teacher Anton Azbe, in whose teaching atelier Jawlensky, Igor Grabar, and Dmitrii Kardovskii, Werefkin’s friends from the St. Petersburg Art Academy, enrolled as students. Werefkin herself, in 1897, formed the St. Lukas Brotherhood, an informal artists’ salon which met at her apartment.

She and Jawlensky became part of an international exhibition society, Der blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).

Marianne von Werefkin as painted by her colleague and friend, Gabriel Munter

1902 was a time of personal crisis; a child was born out of wedlock to a long-time female servant in the house and Jawlensky fathered it. (This reminds me of a child born in Italy when Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley were living there with Byron and Clare Clairmont; it may have been Shelley’s by a maid servant.) Werefkin kept a dairy in French, published many years later, Lettres a un Inconnu, 1901-1905, mostly about art: there she asserted the principle of art seen as a kind of expression of one’s soul or of the internal world.

Kochman: Although Werefkin remained active in the avant-garde art community, she took a ten-year hiatus from painting between 1896 and 1906. The break in artistic production has been traditionally attributed to the attention she gave to advancing Jawlensky’s career, but it is also apparent that she needed the time to develop a new artistic language, as she moved away from the Realist style which had dominated her work in Russia.

She had a more personal style than these other people, seems to have felt her as a Russian ex-aristocrat something of an outsider. Here is a letter she wrote to her brother, Peter, after a visit back to Kovno in Russia: she looks at the city like as if she is making one of her paintings and reacts in an intensely ravaged way, both feeling revulsion from and in love with what she sees:

Convince yourself. Kovno is a treasure-trove for artists. It is gloomy, the lamps don’t make it lighter and the streets are getting darker. Their violet windows hover threateningly in the darkness. The elusive lines of low houses, on them—the glimmer of green and red flames—illuminating rows of shops. Bright green bright red stripes [all] fall on the violet sidewalk. And all those shadows are full of people who only speak about one thing, about love, in the dialect, Polish or broken Russian. Whispers and loud words touch the silence, like the green and red bands of light—the darkness of the night. Something terrible, terrible lies over everything, I feel a shudder, it seems I am in another world, far away from real life. I save myself in a church. Dark, empty. Lights flickering before icons. One sings everything that one has sung before in the past. Some black figures—and the heart is heavy. The tears take one’s breath away and the past rises up again. Home…In Peter’s office, my entire soul starts to ache for him, for that battle for everything that is sweet and good, which is called Russian life. Empty, empty in the house, no one. Whoever comes—doesn’t get his fill of him. And then such a heated rush of love rips out of the [visitor’s] heart, begging one’s pardon and forgetting the trouble behind, that the whole house swells. And I go to my room and stretch out my arms to the West—that it is far away [from here], that I will someday return. Outside those painful sensations—it is horrible to be before these people and their lives. Service and family troubles—a hard beginning, pay raise, promotion—sweet dreams, scandal—daily bread, and their happiness reminds me sweetly, of those who buy “for the people,” and whose food you wouldn’t put in your mouth. I think of Munich and of my health. All that is here is suffering and this horror of beauty and this horrible life and this overbearing literature, and the complete superfluousness of art.

Note how her father forbad her to marry on pain of losing her inheritance: he feared who she would marry. From her diary we can see how insecure she felt as a woman; that she had to try to see herself as man to justify her art. Yet her pictures are meant to be of ordinary people in familiar acts of everyday life. One reviewer at the time said of Werefkin’s pictures that “she catches quick, transitory moods, but beyond mere narrative, she creates rhythmic arrangements by large, strongly outlined color planes that cut into each other.” Werefkin did not date her paintings and they are dated by trying to trace her stylistic changes.

My sources were very vague about an illegitimate child that was born to a servant in her household, Jawlensky was the father: Fran has told the full story clearly in her comments. Perhaps reading Werefkin’s letters, her diary or about her friend, Gabriel Munter, a great painter in her own right (187701962) would turn up more information of about this private agon.

This rare photo of her, cheerful and unpretentious can startle someone who has been imagining her through her paintings alone — it comes from her later years and like Munter’s depiction of her can reassure us a bit

Werefkin seems to have stopped painting again in 1914 (having escaped the war to Switzerland); and broke off from Jawlensky in 1922 after 30 years of life together (again see the comments on this eventually cruel destructive partner). Honig writes that there are very few paintings from these later years; many disappeared shortly after her death in Ascona on 6 February 1938. Vigue says that Werefkin was rediscovered in the 1950s in Rome and Basel by the curator of the Wiesbaden Museum of Art at the time, Clemens Weiler. There is now a Von Werefkin Museum in Ascona, Switzerland.


WerefkinReturnHome (Large)
Return Home (1906)

Adrienne Kochman concentrates on the above painting at length — giving me the feeling that she too is drawn to certain specific pictures: I summarize and paraphrase: Werefkin’s work has “largely been defined by scholars in terms of her associations with Russian literary Symbolism and the Symbolist work of such French artists as Paul Gauguin, Paul Sérusier, and Emile Bernard.” But if she used their techniques (“flattened areas of color, highly saturated hues, and outlined forms”), she was painting about her German experience from the point of view of a Russian woman. She had had a successful career in Russia before she moved to Munich and then she was immersed in the Munich avante-garde. in her painting, as well as personal documents recording her interest in color, have directed analyses of her art in this manner. Werefkin’s artistic concerns however, were also filtered through the lens of her experience in Germany and her native Russian ethnicity. She led a successful artistic career in her Russian homeland in the late 1880s and early 1890s before resettling in Munich in 1896, and was actively engaged in that city’s avant-garde community, and cared about socio-political issues, the failure of the tsarist regime, the coming Russian revolution, the coming European conflagration.

The painting depicts some fifteen women walking down a city street in an unidentified urban setting. Street lamps provide some illumination in an orange-purple sky, casting irregular shadows on the buildings which line the sidewalk. All of the women wear black, shapeless, often hooded garments. They walk in a loose procession down the street alone and in pairs. Their movements appear heavy and slow-paced as they go laden with a child in arm, baskets full of goods and/or large white bundles. Their return home from marketing or laundering appears to be a regular if not daily ritual. The scene is haunting …One might read the red glow within the interior of each door as a suggestion that the home is the traditional center of love, hearth and passion—the domestic sphere dominated by women. The public space of the street outside the protected space of the interior is occupied by masculinized women. And yet, even the space of the street bears qualities of being a place “in between”—where these women are protected and somewhat enclosed. The high flattened walls flanking the low, red- lit buildings block the street from harsher natural elements, such as wind, suggesting there is an expanse beyond the geographic space of the picture plane which is even more raw. It is in this larger area that the world of men is located; it is the space where war is fought and men’s lives are lost.

Kochmann feels Werefkin felt her status as an unmarried woman from an imperialist background. Obviously she found the cityscape deeply “un-home-y” in Freud’s sense, haunting, eerie, disquieting. Her pictures are often of women as beasts of burden at the same time as the rhetoric she heard around her was deeply misogynistic: a woman artist was a “”manwoman;” they had gone against nature, [were] shirking their responsibility as wives and mothers. Around this time she also painted Black Women (see above) and Twins

Twins (1909)

In black, formless, hiding their sexuality, a kind of widowhood (regarded perhaps as shameful: to me there seems much self-hatred here:

From Kochmann: Two women dressed in mourning sit on a bench holding twin babies in their laps. The babies, contently swaddled in white, form a stark contrast to the women, whose strained grimaces suggest the hardship of raising children alone and the pain of losing a spouse. Werefkin suggests the cycle of life, as the babies come to represent the future and continuation of the family, the women situated in the middle as bringing up the children, and the deceased fathers, as part of the past.


I found helpful a stirring perceptive essay on recent paintings in the NYRB by Jed Pert, “The Perils of Painting Now 62:14 (Sept 24, 2015):55-57, where Perl argues that all paintings are timebound, the general pictorial style of an age a mirror of contemporary turmoil through which the individual artist expresses sincere private feelings and emotions, what matters (he follows Trilling in his essay on “Sincerity and Authenticity”) is how the artist expresses his or her inner experiences, the ambiguities of personal life through a social medium; time-bound styles are public social avowals through which an autonomous self expresses a vision. Yes, this is so for Werefkin.

Yet when we look at the paintings of Werefkin’s years once she goes to Munich they speak to our immediate time: the women are perpetual émigrés, outside the emotional and geographical circle of home — rather like Werefkin. There is Kochmann’s reading of the bereft sense in Return Home: not belonging anywhere; she is no longer part of, a long way from Sunday Afternoon in Spring. She paints pictures as as fearful and nightmarish as Munch’s The Scream, yet more engulfing, a maelstrom:


But maybe she was not bereft. Maybe she was relieved not to have to belong. If what was on offer for the outsider couple was not any kind of Arcadia, it was better than what was experienced inside these circles and lines of people. Here is her couple grown out now old in a Turner-like landscape:

thm_le_dos_a_la_vie_ruecken_lebenWerefkin (Large)

This is Jawlensky’s insightful picture of Werefkin in her prime: look at the expression on her face:


Werefkin’s of a friend, Rosalie Leiss, painted in the same style, only using lines much much more:

Marianne von Werefkin - Portrait of Rosalia Leiss


Philip Glenister as Wm Stafford curtly asking Mary Boleyn to be his wife (The Other Boleyn Girl, 2003)

Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn, in the tower, awaiting beheading (The Other Boleyn Girl 2008)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I’ve been listening to Simon Vance read Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies so effectively that I returned to re-watching the 2008 Other Boleyn Girl film and part of the 2015 mini-series Wolf Hall. And now after several Tudor films this year I’d not watched before, and a number of non-fiction as well as fiction books on the actors and/or milieus of this area, how the Renaissance era is seen from contemporary documents. I’ve also come up with with an fresh idea that might help explain the popularity of this era. For why after all should the murderous and sexually insecure impulses of a half-mad King Henry VIII deserve a moment’s attention.

It’s this: the appeal of this Tudor Matter comes from its unacknowledged freedom to present masculinity in ways that undermine norms for men either in costume, manners or sexual behavior since the later 19th century, and tell real truths about fluid sexual desire and what worldly ambition may necessitate. hese “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance dream-themes,” screenplays and films expose men caught up in situations where their masculine pride is directly hit. They kneel to strong women, and their swords are rendered irrelevant when it comes to the power of money, religion and the king. The origin of this is in the period: men were flamboyantly dressed, the poetry and plays of the era demonstrate how they defied sexual taboos by enacting enthrallment, abjection, and sensitivity; when aristocrats or courtiers or businessmen (lending money) or soldiers, they were at direct risk from monarchs with the power to execute them with impunity. There were a number of women who came to power and used it effectively: Catherine de Medici in France, Elizabeth I in England are only among the most famous and powerful; there are many minor levels of power and victimage. Historical fiction and gothics picked up on this strain beginning with later 18th century gothics (Sophia Lee’s The Recess, 1783) and Walter Scott (Kenilworth and The Abbot among many others), and have not let up since; films took this over in both the US and UK from The Prisoner of Zenda on, and especially in the Errol Flynn and Gainsborough movies. Stewart Grainger is with us still in Ross Poldark.

Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) has been credited with putting new characters into the familiar mapped territory: George and Mary Boleyn. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel has for a wider public transformed the character of Thomas Cromwell (it began in the scholarship of Geoffrey Elton and Marilyn Robertson, 1970s-89) from the monster of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons into another kind of empathetic hero-monster, a fixer and businessman and intellectual coerced into cooperation, co-opted like many today feel they are. for myself I bond intensely with Mary Boleyn, and have ever wanted to read more about the so-called “minor” women of the court, from the French Jeanne d’Albret (mother of Henry IV who said Paris was worth a mass) to Katherine Parr. It’s the first age where we find numbers of women educated and writing letters and poetry and drama.

Beyond this I am just fascinated by bringing Elizabethan-set movies together, and looking to see what is their dramaturgy; what new did this movie contribute to the Tudor Matter, what new techniques did it use. I want to watch the older Elizabethan movies and trace the changes in movies about Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart, from Scott. I get the impression the 18th century was more stuck in frozen gender types than the age before or ours since. I find myself looking at the paintings of the Renaissance era to see where ideas and images came from for each decade of the 20th and 21st.

Ana Torrent as Katharine of Aragon (Other Boleyn Girl, 2008)

The 2003 film is peculiarly fascinating for the way it also defies dramaturgical norms: Andrew Davies is credited as adviser and this script has the characters speak directly to us; the focus of the story is inward shattering of participants. Who are these: Anne and Mary Boleyn, with George around the edges of their talk .The 2008 film was a commercially successful costume extravaganza, whose historical adviser was Gregory herself, whose characters in this film strongly feminist film: beyond the Boleyn Girls, the remarkable Ana Torrent for Katherine of Aragon, Kristin Scott Thomas for Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother of the two beheaded children. The agonies of childbirth are presented repeatedly. I found these two women writhing under their lack of power yet so strong. The makers of Wolf Hall have had the daring to give us a new Elizabethan revenge play, with Anne Boleyn as a cool and transgressive stealth tragic heroine, and Cromwell a driven Hamlet.

Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn, aggressively keen archer, POV Cromwell (2015 Wolf Hall)



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