Piers Paul Read, Stonegrave House (1997) (?)

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past year and one half (that long), we’ve had a reiteration of themes in several threads on WomenWritersthroughtheAges@yahoo.com, which I’ve wanted to write about as directly relevant to why women need to continue reading Austen as one of the respectable inventors of the women’s domestic novel: to read her is to arm yourself with some protection, a norm or ideal of self-respecting intelligence which might see you through the worst of heterosexual courtships (and that’s saying something); as an outspoken endorser of “middle brow” novels adhering to realistic conventions (verisimilitude is the term in some circles), and most recently as one of the first practitioners of what was referred to derisorily as “the novel of adultery in Hampstead,” for short, the Hampstead novel (how? adultery? well, you have to understand they don’t have to happen in Hampstead nor include adultery).

I’m moved finally to write about the these briefly as last week in the New York Times (no less) we were told (or it was implied) that there is no such thing as women writing primarily for other women: Cheryl Strayed would like to erase what’s overtly written this way as such domestic themed novels are denigrated by men:  she has discovered and writes against the double standard for evaluating novels by women as contrasted to novels by men.

Short-listed — an almost Booker Prize

As chance would have it 4 days before (Cheryl’s piece appeared on May 12th), D. J. Taylor (May 8th) wrote about four of such domestic novels, a kind he once (notice he no longer does this kind of thing) wrote himself: “Reprinting the mid-list,” for TLS, pp 19-20. TLS puts it behind a wall, so not online for us all. Taylor has now turned to neo-Victorian Thackerayan fiction (redolent of Dickens too). Taylor says these caricatured novels used regularly to be made fun of (I suspect as woman’s novels), but they are precisely the novels that are often brought back and re-issued. He seems to imply some of these are the best novels of the 20th century; as all four of his choices are by men (a common characteristic found in men’s critical prose for centuries), I’ll confirm that by citing the Australian Christian Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children (far from Hampstead and about an enforced abortion) and Rosamund Lehman’s The Echoing Grove (excruciatingly castigated by Q.D. Leavis for her Dusty Answers), turned into a misogynistic movie alas; Lehman’s The Weather in the Streets is the first middle brow novel where a woman has an abortion (not in the streets, so she can reads Pride and Prejudice before and after).

Over the course of the last two threads (middle brow novels and domestic fiction), our resident fine reader, scholar and lover of the most sophisticated kinds of fantasy fiction today, Fran Z. found for us intelligent descriptions, defenses, summations of what is really meant by middle brow, a call for papers from a European journal, as well as the Hampstead novel, and the Hampstead novel (its unfortunate influence) and an intelligent analysis of its depth and value, and what respected women authors practiced it, by Kate Kellaway (The Observer, 27 December 2008).

Brilliant parody with parodic cover

I have been thinking about how the outstanding Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel fits precisely (neatly) into the century-long category discussed in Diane Wallace’s The Women’s Historical Novel, British Women’s writing, 1900-2000 because in her historical fiction Mantel turns to disguise (remember Woolf’s idea that women are still veiled) by choosing as narrator, a male, Thomas Cromwell, hitherto or since Bolt, everyone’s favorite ruthless thug (as enacted by Leo McKern in the unforgettable A Man for All Seasons with Paul Scofield and Wendy Hiller). The stealth central figure is of course Anne Boleyn. Further women’s genres include a subset of detective and recently bloody murder thrillers, female gothics (see Anne Williams) ghost stories (which Mantel indulges in too, as in her Black Book). This desire to deny that women write for other women, the way men write for other men, that they may take into account other genders, but that is their prime audience does not need Nancy Miller’s explanation in her Subject to Change: The Poetics of Gender. Like other human beings, women write out of their own experience and it is heavily shaped by their gender.

What I feel compelled to assert is women’s domestic themes novels (Hampstead) are superior to men’s gargantuan wide-ranging and violent ones. Men write Hampstead novels  (from Samuel Richardson to Henry James to Ian McEwan) the way women do some men’s genres (science fiction, bloody murders, the picaro novel turned vast). Women’s novels are popular, widely read as women buy far more novels and read far more of these than men (men having been influenced by the stereotypical fear of being a “reading boy” feel justified if they can tell themselves what they are reading is factual, objective). More importantly, it’s a way of women forging connections with one another across space and time, a way of bypassing isolation and censorship.

While typical covers (as above) show men in interiors,

occasionally some hired illustrator is encouraged to put a woman there.

I’ve long disliked George Eliot’s “Silly Lady Novelists” because it’s ceaselessly quoted as her statement on women’s fiction and been used to condemn such. But she wrote an essay in which she discussed the origin of women’s novels in the letters, memoirs and conversation of French women writers of the long 18th century (Women of France: Madame de Sable). This is an important strongly feminist essay on the value of women’s conversation and private lives as central to their achievement, what they see, what they know, overlooked partly because of the title: Women in France: Madame de Sable: “In France alone woman has had a vital influence on the development of literature; in France alone the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language”. Perhaps too what she has to say is not liked by feminists sheerly out for power. I just wish someone would write an essay on silly male novelists, on the junk genres males often write in, and the absurdities of their action-adventure stories and films, and sensitive male pride and egoism (D. H. Lawrence comes to mind), and transparent fatuity of their salivating over their heroine’s body parts (Naipaul comes to mind), or pornography disguised as irony (Nabokov).

I often like Virago covers best

The earliest threads first emerged from a discussion of the fiction of Georgiana Spencer (The Sylph), the anonymous Emma, and Sophia Briscoe’s Miss Melmoth, Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy, all of which ended unfortunately when we tried Austen’s Emma: somehow Eliza Haywood came up as an alternative to what we might call the 18th century Hampstead novel in its earliest stages, in my view paradoxically (among feminist women scholars of the long 18th century) a  ludicrously over-rated women writer because she is said to show women’s sexuality frankly: a fair reading of Haywood’s pre-didactic fiction before the mid-century Betsy Thoughtless turns up voyeuristic prurience: the equivalent of the once popular teenage magazine, True Story. Alongside her the scandal-writer, Delaviere Manley, Haywood writes on a crude level of Elizabethan “God’s Vengeance” stories; for me some level of stylistic beauty is required, and is in fact one of the pleasure the Hampstead novel characteristically offered. I’ve been told she speaks out for women but find her unreadable, sycophantic to the powerful, and exploitative of her reader’s appetites with little enlightenment about these. This earlier thread was long and meandered (I can’t begin to do justice to it here — we also discussed a sub-genre of women’s life-writing in the 18th century, “Under the Sign of Angellica”). It can be found on the Yahoo listserv and a few of my blogs (search for Richardson, Spencer, Emma, Haywood). Also on my Under the Sign of Sylvia blog on LiveJournal. Their burden was whether the predecessors or originators of the Hampstead novel (from Clarissa to Betsy Thoughtless, to Burney and Austen, to 19th century women writers onto Virago authors) erase women’s sexuality; I argued at their finest, they present sexual awakening and experience as women know it, in terms that enable them to make sense of it and sometimes cope.

An illustration from the Land of the Inheritance by Catherine Tobin (1863), “Incident in the Desert” — you would not want to show a woman traveling alone with servants or guides …

Tonight my purpose is simply to assert the women’s novel exists, it is important to and for women, and a variety of permutations exist from the Hampstead novel to women’s historical fiction, to the types outlined by Diane Philips (n her archealogy of women’s experience, to gothics, to girls’ books. Funnily enough Sayred’s own Wild fits right onto the genre of women’s travel writing (discussed in the same TLS issue as Taylor’s column, Jane Freeman’s review of Penelope Tuson’s Western Women Travelling East, 1716-1916, May 8, 2015, p 21): it descends from Sophie Cottin’s Elisabeth, a very long walk through Siberia, parodied by Austen’s in her late Plan of a Novel.

A typical modern cover is a drawing of a woman’s things — for Mary Wesley’s Jumping the Queue


Master-and-Commander A heroic scene done exquisitely realistically in Weir’s Master and Commander (2003)


The contrasting geologizing scene on the Galapagos Islands

Dear friends and readers,

As it was more than 2 weeks ago now that I spent three nights as much mesmerized by the features about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander as by the movie itself, I had better write now before I lose contact with what made the movie the meaningful experience it is, and (as I am told) reflects the poetic center of Patrick O’Brian’s historical adventure fiction. It’s this: it combines utterly incompatible feelings (Robert Graves wrote about this regarding verse): on the one hand, the worship necessarily blind to reality of violence on behalf of securing power (and with it wealth, privilege, status, the ceremonies of admiration), and on the other, the realization this demands death, maiming, torture (whipping, flogging, whatever it takes to enforce discipline to be cruel) when what makes life worth living is friendship, imaginative arts, knowledge and immersion in the natural world. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe in the film) enacts the thrust of the first, and Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) the activities and point of view of the second, with all the characters arranging themselves variously on a continuum between them.

This kind of intense quiet music-making punctuates the sequences

I seem to remember best a wholly naturalistic (it was filmed not computer generated) of Russell Crowe as the captain going for a swim, and everyone aboard watching him with bated breathe lest they lose him.

Russell Crowe as hero

Also the horror of the ship hospital, the operating table as the maimed men were amputated, sewn, and on beds left to die. Richard McCabe as Mr Higgon’s surgeon’s mate’s anguished terror at making a mistake as he imitates Maturin as surgeon whose arm is too hurt to perform himself.

The boy has lost his arm, we watch him follow Maturin around the Galapagos; he is groomed to be a captain himself

I have listened to a marvelous reading aloud on books-on-CD of the third book of the series, H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick Tull where the character of Stephen Maturin emerges fully for the first time as sceptic, objector, doubter, sensitive soul, the alternative voice, and have now placed the first book high on a TBR pile of historical fiction.

Paul Bettany as questioner

I’ve also looked up on my Eighteenth Century World at Yahoo list to see if there was any commentary on the film in 2003 when I saw it with Yvette. I had gone to a session in a ASECS (American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies) panel on film where:

A young Spanish professor, Diego Tellez Alarcia, gave a remarkably well-organized, lucid, and detailed exposition on Master and Commander, an adaptation of several novels by Patrick O’Brian. Mr Alarcia went over the type of film M&C represents, the real historical & contemporary events (one involving the USS Essex) it alludes to, its relationship to O’Brian’s novels, and how it functioned to whip up patriotic emotion after 9/11. Mr Alarcia first used Krakauer, an important film critic (who I’ve read) to argue that films provide a new way of studying history: we can study our culture as an engine of history itself as well as a mirror of society. Films are a new way of writing history as valid as speech and the written word. Mr Alarcia went on about how much effort was put into making the details of the film historically accurate (ship, food, clothes &c). The genre this film belongs to also is the swash-buckler, the rebellious adventure film, the tongue-in-cheek (Captains Courageous, Mutiny on the Bounty, Billy Budd, Pirates of the Carribean). I learned something new about O’Brian’s career: I had thought the Jack Aubrey novels are a roman fleuve, but did not know that O’Brian also translated 30 books from French.

I’ve appended as the comments I received on that listserve some 12 years ago on the film, beginning with a person who loved the books to someone who differed on the film but was glad of the attention repaid to journalism at the time.

We can connect this to Austen in various ways because of her sailor-brothers: here I choose to compare her with her brother’s Francis’s viewpoint on a renegade hero of the time, and Byron’s ironic understanding.

One chapter in Southam’s JA and the Navy is about a little known satire by Austen which shows her to have been a narrowly partisan amoral imperalist Tory type. Southam prints a little known and until now Austen’s little understood satire in the manner of Pope, Swift and others:

Of A Ministry Pitiful, Angry, Mean Of a Ministry pitiful, angry, mean, A gallant commander the victim is seen. For promptitude, vigour, success, does he stand Condemn’d to receive a severe reprimand! To his foes I could wish a resemblance in fate: That they, too, may suffer themselves, soon or late, The injustice they warrent. But vain is my spite They cannot so suffer who never do right.

In brief, Popham was court-martialed for disobeying an order to protect ports in the Cape of Good Hope. Instead he took his ships and attacked some ports in Argentina in order to steal their cargo and help friends upset the Argentinian gov’t and eventually take over. Among other helpmates were the revolutionaries: politics makes temporary bedfellows this way. There’s a long chapter in Southam’s JA and the Navy which shows that in this case Austen was fiercely on the side of an amoral thug-pirate type, Popham.

Why? because he was supported by her brothers; for among other things, his relationship with Moira and others to whom Henry had (very unwisely, but trying hard to make money from money) lent big sums of money. It’s a good instance of her narrow Toryism. The man was out for himself to make huge amounts of money; left his post to go over to another country and simply grab it. One of the sorts of people that make the world miserable for the average person. Even Nelson thought him a horror: Nelson, we have to give this to him, did not seek wealth personally except as it came as part of actions he thought genuinely for the good of the people and land of England.

People like to ignore or not talk about how Wentworth is presented as making money from his ships; we are not told what this actually means in reality. He, though, is not the charlatan type Popham was.

Now Southam keeps saying that the brothers (Francis and Charles and in this case Edward and Henry) would have approved of Popham, but while Henry clearly has behaviors that resemble Popham’s (and Edward is fiercely partisan on behalf of his property, will not help other landowners), not Francis and the two passages that Southam quotes are filled with comments that were they turned to look at Popham would judge him “horrible” and very wrong. In the chapter he registers the idea that it’s just “horrible” for people to bomb others. Popham was an early inventor of the equivalent of today’s drones (drop it on the ship and blow it up), but it was real claptrap and when used as often killed those using it. Nonetheless, he tried it and destroyed four ships in the process.

A drawing-illustration made from the movie — the officers studying maps, planning strategy

Given the continual dropping of bombs on people helpless against them and the targeting of civilians since WW2, it’s worth it to quote some of Francis’s words here. He speaks first (at length, a long sentence) of how impossible it is to “direct” the bombs with “any tolerable precision.” When people drop drones, we are often told a single “terrorist” is killed; not so; you cannot direct them that way; the drone drops the bombs on a house and destroys the house and anyone in it plus usually the whole street. Hundreds are killed and maimed and lives destroyed. Francis Austen:

“This horrible mode of warfare seems scarcely justifiable in principle (amongst civilized nations) short of self-preservation and perhaps its entire want of success may have been a fortunate circumstance for England who could not have expected to be the only power to use such machines and whose shipping would be constantly liable to similar attacks with much greater facility from the exposed situations of the anchorages then used.”

In other words, such bombs could be used against England’s ships. The second is a long passage where he says one must obey the orders of one’s commander. When one is ordered to stay and protect a port, one must. Francis always behaved that way and he missed Trafalgar (which he regretted all his life because it meant less money and less prestige and fewer connections he could pressure) because he obeyed an order. Jane Austen was taking precisely the opposite position. Throughout her letters we see her usual mockery (Southam calls this joking) and adversarial positions to whatever is happening.

Here Southam cavalierly says that Austen liked Popham because her brothers did. One can see parallels with Henry’s banking and loan practices and who he was more than willing to be friendly with but all the evidence suggests Francis would have judged Popham fiercely and said he should be court-martialed.

During this time Jane Austen was reading Charles Pasley’s Essay on Military Policy (you can download this as an ebook and I have) and we find in her letters one of these short phrases, but it is in full admiration. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperalist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. I wondered what Austen would have thought of Maturin.

Byron provides a rejoinder to Jane Austen, Pasley, and Popham: Wellington: The Best of Cut-Throats (1819)

Though Britain owes (and pays you too) so much,
Yet Europe doubtless owes you greatly more:
You have repaired Legitimacy’s crutch,
A prop not quite so certain as before:
The Spaniard, and the French, as well as Dutch,
Have seen, and felt, how strongly you restore:
And Waterloo has made the world your debtor
(I wish your bards would sing it rather better).

You are ‘the best of cut-throats': – do not start;
The phrase is Shakespeare’s, and not misapplied;
War’s a brain-spattering, wind-pipe-slitting art,
Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
If you have acted once a generous part,
The world, not the world’s masters, will decide,
And I shall be delighted to learn who,
Save you and yours, have gained by Waterloo?

I’ve done. Now go and dine from off the plate
Presented by the Prince of the Brazils,
And send the sentinel before your gate
A slice or two from your luxurious meals:
He fought, but has not fed so well of late.
Some hunger, too, they say the people feels: –
There is no doubt that you deserve your ration,
But pray give back a little to the nation.

Never had mortal man had such opportunity
Except Napoleon, or abused it more:
You might have freed fallen Europe from the unity
Of tyrants, and been blest from shore to shore:
And now – what is your fame? Shall the Muse tune it ye?
Now – that the rabble’s first vain shouts are over?
Go! hear it in your famished country’s cries!
Behold the world! and curse your victories!


To return to the 21st century film, Stuart Klawans, the film critic of The Nation provides a perceptive commentary on this film helps explain why it’s alluring experience. His argument is that it has a

deeply erotic charge … which turns out to be powerful and strange.” “It’s there from the first wordless, nocturnal sequence, in which the camera follows a prowling character through the sleeping quarters below deck, where rows of hammocks, seen from below, swing from the ceiling like multiple scrotums. Perhaps the penis is Russell Crowe himself, who makes his first appearance semi-dressed, bursting erect from the captain’s quarters through doors that part like a loosely buttoned fly. Never mind that the Surprise, like all ships, is calls ‘she.’ Weir conceives of it as a huge male body, whichis literally suffused with its crew’s blood. [Klawans was puzzled to read reviews claiming the picture was “stupendously entertaining” and “thrilling”.] You might have thought these writesr were describing The Adventures of Robin Hood rather tnan movie that lingers over the amputation of a young boy’s arm. Sailors are lavishly blown apart; a skull is opened and the brains probed before a fascinated crew; in one extended scene Maturin even performs surgery on himself, digging into his own guts while watching the spectacle in a mirror. Even during the longueurs, when male bodies are not being ripped into, Weir reminds you of the permeability of flesh by providing all the actors with highly visible scars. So it came to me: This penetration of male bodies is what’s thrilling about Master and Commander. How’s that for an S&M title? The infliction and endurance of pain is the sex …

Klawans isn’t “belittling the grandeur, the magnificence, the meticulous recreation” of details of “nautical life, or neglecting “Crowe’s wonderfully assured performance, which is as self-amused as it is amusing.” He agrees with Crowe “that M&C is one enormously expensive art movie.”

I was struck by the emotionalism of Maturin’s intellectual senstive-physician sidekick. I liked how the film questioned and exposed the values behind the male world. Yvette said to that they are the same pair of A Beautiful Mind. Maybe it’s a woman’s emotion picture shot into the center of a swashbuckler by way of Captain Hornblower. It is also siimply a bunch of men enjoying themselves enormously, pretending they are the men at sea, in danger, winning battles, exploring, watching punishment of those who risk all, or betray or undercut the rules. All this under the cover or rational of historical accuracy.


And given my return to historical fiction (Poldark novels, Wolf Hall) and its relationship to historic fiction (older), biography, our understanding of history, now I would like to read a few of the novels


Jean Marsh as Rose Buck 40 years on (Upstairs/Downstairs 2010)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a separate excursus from the three part review & evaulation I offered on Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two, of Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama, Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey, edd. Leggott and Taddeo. The question here is, Why did the 2010-12 Upstairs/Downstairs fail to please when the 1970s-year version was such a national past-time (for just about all English-reading, speaking people who can stomach costume drama and serial conventions)? Giselle Bastin (quite honorably) suggests it was the subversive exposure of real politics of the 1930s in Britain. I suggest that didn’t help but what did the new mini-series in was the daring idea of having the new series insist on the reality of the older one and have the two women who conceived of the original series in the new one (4 years older) return, one in the same role of Rose Buck, now running an employment agency for servants and return and set up by their very presences their connection to an (to them) meaningful past where ties counted. In this it is very much women’s art: and the central creators still women: cyclical in structure across 40 years.

Most remakes pretend that there was not a previous filming of this story and characters or book. No one in the present Poldark series has heard of the books, much less a previous film adaptation of said books. Every effort (too much in fact) is being made by Debbie Horsfield not to imitate the previous mini-series. Andrew Davies is smarter than that: he imitates what was good in a previous film, sometimes trying to better it, but often just imitating. Heidi Thomas instead makes central to the first episode that we have known these characters and place before. She does not present them as characters but real people. We open on the “newcomers” to 165 Eaton Place:

Ed Stoppard as Sir Hallam Holland

Keeley Hawes as Lady Agnes Holland

and the filming of the place announces it as a meaningful return. We go into the house and find the old disposition of rooms the way we remember it, only it is all filthy, things broken, torn curtains, no furniture, the basement now a basement again. Improbable but the plot-design of the episode is the bringing back to life in a 1930s way the old place. Agnes, the new wife goes to an agency to hire servants and who is the head of that agency, but Rose Buck, Jean Marsh. The camera insists on the 40 years gone by, and throughout the episode I found moving all the references to Rose’s memories. When Rose enters the house, it is through the way Pauline Collins as Sarah did 40 years ago. The scene is a deliberate evocative imitations. We get this hushed feeling. it is only half-way brought back. The old basement is an ruined mess of the place when we last saw it after World War One.

But what if you never watched the first series, never loved its elegance, its downstairs appointments, weren’t even alive 40 years ago …

In Leggott and Taddeo’s essay collection, in “Upstairs/Downstairs, 2010-2012, and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement,” Giselle Bastin accounts for the failure of the new U/D, 4 years after the smashing success of the 1970s mini-series in ways that made me feel so bad I had not known what the new U/D was like. I would have rushed to watch. All I read online were complaints about it’s being dark and “dull,” and not like the first series; there was little content about the characters (now I realize that must have meant they were doing really socially unacceptable things as no one in Downton Abbey really does except maybe Obrien which witch is now gone); and of the professional comments they were few and the ones I came across were shaped by the usual snobbery and sneers towards costume drama. Except after watching I discovered that Batsin left a central feature of the new series out, which I suggest might account for the new one’s failure to connect. I’ll first summarize Bastin and then describe what she omitted:

Scripted by Heidi Thomas, with Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins again listed as inspiring and creating the series, according to Bastin what was wanted was to correct the 1970s U/D, to challenge it, invite comparisons with close parallels. The 1970s U/D had (says Bastin) a vision of a society that never existed, or what the 1970s wished to dream the Edwardian and pre-World War 1 era was and what its powerful people wanted to present as their face.

Typical group picture of the 1970s Eaton Place household

The new one is set in 1936 and now the era counterpoint for the domestic private stories is the appeasement policy of the British gov’t at the time; attitudes towards the Nazi regime are part of the mix -– resentment, aristocratic paranoia, dislike of modern capitalism and of Jews, despise democracy, parliamentary gov’t. A feeling of marginality among some upper class people made them want the authoritarian regimes and not care or see what the cost. All this is found in David Cannadine’s description of this class of people in his Decline; he said many had feelings like Oswald Mosley who funded the blackshirts. I begin to wonder about the name Mosley in Downton Abbey. I remember the famous tape of Romney talking to his rich supporters showed attitudes just like those Bastin describes as everwhere in upper class 1930s households.

The new Top Man, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) is the site a compromised man. Apparently the servants are not just the marginalized onlookers as they were in 1970s, but are living and looking forward to lives of their own; not as in Downton Abbey, a version of what they already know, but as part of a different environment. In the 1970s series we see a family destroyed, in decay, James ends a suicide after being (Sir Richard Bellamy says) every advantage. Elegiac tone ends the series.

Simon Williams  'Upstairs, Downstairs' (1973)
Compare Simon Williams as Captain James Bellamy (1973)

In 2010 Sir Hallam Holland has a wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes), daughter of impoverished earl from ancient family. Lady Agnes’s sister is Lady Persie Towyn and lives with them (Claire Foy who was the saintly Amy Dorrit, now specializing in mean females, most recently Anne Boleyn). Another member of the househod is Lady Maud, Holland’s Hallam’s mother (Eileen Atkins, one of the two central developers behind U/D 1970s).

Eileen Atkins as Maud, the mother-in-law from India, and Claire Foy as the shallow “spoilt” exploitative sister, Lady Persie

Downstairs we have Mrs Rose Buck (Jean Marsh, the other developer) now 40 years older; Mr Warwick Pritchard, butler (Adrian Scarborough), Mrs Thackeray cook (Anne Reid); Mr Amanjit Singh (Art Malik, real hero of Jewel in the Crown), Lady Maud’s personal servant; Johnny Footman; Eunice, parlormaid; Beryl a new feisty type, nursery-ladies’ maid who marries the chauffeur Spargo.


Says Bastin (and truly as I have now watched the first season): 1936, the family arrives at 165 Eaton Place where Bellamys lived; Lady Maud brings a monkey,Solomon, too. She was wife of colonial ruler. Lady Agnes redecorates. Hallam and Lady Agnes are supporting those trying to cover up details of Edward VIII’s affair with Mrs Simpson. Instead of suffragette and pre WW1 events as backdrop we get Britain’s flirtation and seduction by Nazi regime. Lady Persie arrives to coincide with 1938 Anschluss, and she eventually moves to Munich to be near German loer, Frederick. Lady Persie seen as treacherous and she does die from fall on stairway to tiles below. A disaffected rootless daughter, she first flirted with German minister Herr Ribbentrop, and is friends with Spargo the chauffeur who is fascinated by Mosley’s fascistic blackshirts. Hallam, her brother-in-law, covers for her when she aborts Frederick’s baby (Squalid, dangerous incident); she attempts to seduce him. He identifies with Chamberlain and Whitehall cronies. He seems to take a letter from Duke of Kent that was written by George VI to Hitler. Hallam supposedly is against appeasement and is blind to what will happen to his home from what he actually does and feels. Hollands’s asbestos mines mentioned (site of toxic decay and hard if not always calamitous work for miners).

Most films present two clear cut opposing groups: corrupt aristocratic arch appeasers or clear-visioned anti-appeasement people (e.g., Glorious 39 [2009] and Richardon Oncrain’s Gathering Storm [2002], based on Churchill’s journals. So film-makers of 2010-12 are willing to engage with very uncomfortable issues; Hallam disagrees openly with appeasement views and is warned off by boss, foreign secretary Lord Halifax; but stands firm. Hallam warns Persie to stay away from Blackshirts as she does not understand what she is getting herself into; tells Lady Agnes to give up dreams of moving to US. He brings his Downs syndrome sister, Pamela to live at Eaton Place; he allows a homosexual aunt to continue living in the house (while calling her an “invert”). He takes responsibility for a Jewish girl, Lotte, after her mother, Rachel Perimutter, dies from asthma attack brought on from shock of witnessing Nazi fascist violence in London. Hallam tells Persie after she says all is smiling since Munich: “I think the Jewish population might disagree with that.” It does depict as convenient depository of fascism, the woman aristocrat, Persie – discontented, dissatisfied, resentful of loss of status. But she is at least not an evil other (as Marchioness of Flintshire is in Downton Abbey). Eunice cleans up after her death.

Servants: Johnny footman and Spargo chauffeur work as boxing ring champions for Eaton place – will become soldiers in WW2. Amanjit a defender of Eaton place, a colonial. Pritchard a pacificist. Beryl and Spargo do not manage to escape to the US (at one point Lady Persie shoots Beryl!). Last seen is Pritchard is escorting Lady Agnes and Dr Motterhead to an air raid shelter (Lady Marjorie died on the Titanic). Hallam ends up a whitehall civil servant to Duke of Kent (soon to die). Tone is melancholic and quiet, accepting at close.

Bastion maintains critics like Jenny Diski are wrong to imply costume drama never changes: Diski says the wail of them all is “Nothing will ever be the same again.” The new series directly engages with and expects us to remember previous series and see the contrasts. Dr Mottread to Eunice who hopes disruption will end after Munich: “this is history, Eunice, it is never over”

It is hard to emphasize sufficiently how important this continual denigration of mini-series as women’s soap operas and therefore automatically that dreaded thing “sentimental’ influences what happens to mini-series. Diski wrote a scornful piece – it’s easy to do as the costume drama all have a series of characteristics which lend themselves to pro-establishment feelings for security, order, and slow pace (with manners mattering).

But something else, something remarkably innovative was going on and I’d like to speculate that the why for this is the why costume drama, most often coterminous with historical film (for all the reviling of the form) refuses to go away. Patrick Wright saw it in his On Living in an Old Country: the everyday world we are now living in is dysjunctive, separates us from others, moves us about, gives us almost no power to outside of the position we were born in; communities are disintegrated as people struggle for the least job, so we turn to imagined historical existences across time. The fight is over how this past shall be presented? shall it be the vision of Julian Fellowes, the world of the privileged few where the rest of us are happy to serve them because (forsooth) we are treated okay enough or a different identity in the past? Heidi Thomas is at least brave enough to expose the Julian Fellowes apolitical myth.

It is true that part of the mini-series magic is the way it weaves into our lives over time. Daytime soap operas play on this if they’ve been going for years. What happened to you since last week the nighttime mini-series says as the music begins again. And they allude to other mini-series. This new one was using by alluding to the Edward and Mrs Simpson 1980s series by Simon Raven (he wrote the Pallisers).

Well, Rose is so good at organizing and running the house, by the end of the first episode of the first season, Agnes and her mother-in-law from India, played by Eileen Atkins (the other creator of the original episode) have persuaded Rose to give up her agency (why? it’s said to be hard work, endlessly near failing) and become housekeeper. She cherishes her key. Very like Mary Poppins she has one of these textured bags, and the concluding scene of the episode of her return, her eyes filled with tears.

Over the course of the hour there is a party to which Mrs Simpson is invited but she brings a verboten German — George, the king’s brother (Blake Ritson) at any rate, detests him as does the prime minister or a near enough politician, that Rose and the new butler (the point is made he is replacing Mr Hudson) engineer getting rid of him. There are realistic portrayals, one successfully comic of a new gossipy wry cook, Beryl. There’s a money, an Atkins has an intelligent Indian man servant. Interwoven are memories evoked and a sense that some of the old actors are now dead too

The old music from the old show is used too. (I’ll lay a bet there was debate on whether to use the older music for the original Poldarks; it’s superb and is missed. But ruthlessly they said no — if they thought of it.)

The trouble is is, What if you were not alive 40 years ago? What if you were and didn’t watch U/D. What if you did at least once in the five years, and didn’t like it. All this would pass over you. I suggest it flopped because not enough of its audience had the deep response I felt as I watched.

The new series was deeply a woman’s product, scriptwriter, director, central presences — in our end is our beginning, it’s utterly cycical, rooted in personal memories of Rose Buck. In the credits the writers of the old series are named as having created it too: John Hawkesworth who wrote so many of the Jeremy Brett Sherlocks. All fine but cannot touch someone with no memory or indifferent to this kind of thing.


Upstairs Downstairs

The second and final episodes of the first season of this new Upstairs/Downstairs struck me as a series that ought to be have been liked and watched by more people. It certainly did show the family and the servants involved in the politics of the era and not only did that make sense, it shows up how the absence of such in other dramas is absurd, and accepted only because that’s the norm. But it’s hard to find offense in this rare candour, as not one step is taken towards tearing down the new Eaton Place. A new maid is Jewish, fled Germany, to keep the job has put her child with someone, her husband in prison. The chauffeur downstairs becomes enamoured of Nazism, he is anti-semitic, goes to rallies.

The Jewish lady’s maid who flees Eaton place in terror, abandoning her daughter in an orphanage and taken in by the new Eaton place family, and Maud’s Indian servant.

Servants in these new mini-series do have a lot of free time in comparison with the truth about routines my mother-in-law described (not a moment of freedom except when in bed between 11 pm at night and 5:30 am in the morning). In the later evening the new groups of servants sit and listen to the radio as a group. The sister, Lady Percy, has become a Nazi (like Lady Sybil chases down the suffragettes) and started an affair with the chauffeur (more realistic than Lady Sybil and Tom). Upstairs Agnes’s husband is in parliament (like Lord Bellamy) and more realistically again than Downton Abbey, the couple goes to parties where they meet politicians. This film (or series of films) is however too simplistic since we are not shown why anyone would be drawn to the Nazis; they are presented as awful simply and the attraction a mystery. Rose and Maud are much in evidence and Maud provides some humour with her monkey,and the Indian man commands respect because of his seriousness of approach and desire to see all bodies survive with little damage.

They do bring in disabled characters: when the little girl is retrieved we learn of an autistic sister kept in an orphanage for years and she is rescued.

The next season though — like The Bletchley Circle — was the last. Why? ratings fell to “5.222 million.” That was not good enough. The first season was in the 8s. I’ll lay a bet this kind of cancellation from such a reason was not done in the 1970s or 80s. It reminds me of the take over of Books-on-tape where they got rid of a majority of their better books not classics and many of their classics and now have just the famous classics or trash and fashionable books. Why? The profits were not high enough on the latter.

All sorts of explanations were given. Marsh had an heart attack and couldn’t continue; Atkins dropped out. It meandered. It was dark. But again I suspect that the lesson take was 1) as a result of turning to private companies as the way to do it, no long scenes, no development, no attempt at least at some political understanding and the realities of life; and 2) that the team was women, with a female centered take on life. Only when the male figure is a surrogate for our heroine, do we come to save her.

They don’t say women scriptwriters because there are nowadays so many. But I’m struck by how this new series, the Bletchley and a number of others where it’s a woman writer and the product shows structures that are typical of women’s work (interest in small things, cyclical structures, i.e., meandering) even if the use of pepertual climaxes is inserted are part of why those who are cancelled are cancelled. I tried Call the Midwife the first season and it was embarrassingly stupid — a situation comedy in disguise, poverty stricken women content to be endlessly pregnant. I’m told Heidi Thomas has changed its act but when I see ads for Season 3 it doesn’t look like it. the genuine use of cyclical time even a half century on is part of this.

Originally PBS was supposed to offer an alternative, and BBC the Reithian values, but if you privatize and are dependent on a demand for high audience ratings, and thus go for a mass audience, you won’t have that. I find it revealing that amid all the changes in technology, and the business of film-making and TV the sameness of the ultimate heroine (Sarah in the first Upstairs/Downstairs, Lady Persie in this, and Anna Smith Bates in Downton Abbey)
Keeley Hawes as Lady Agnes in a shot parallel at all points with Anna Maxwell Martin in Bletchley Circle: good heroines sit on the floor in drab clothes playing with their girl children and their doll houses … (original material in both series from 1930-50, the new from 1970-2015), I can see Pauline Collins as Sarah doing this and certainly Joanne Froggart as Anna.

Still I don’t doubt the reason the series failed is not enough people watching PBS today watched the earlier series with genuine love and felt intense dazzlement with Rose as she re-entered the meaning of a meaningful past.

Patient power: The physician leaves in a huff because patient prefers services of apothecary

Dear friends and readers,

While discussing Winston Graham’s Poldark novels this term, I’ve had occasion (as I’ve said) to delve into central aspects of 18th century economic, social and political in order to appreciate the novels, make their themes understandable. Alongside my lectures on Graham, Cornwall and Ross Poldark, I’ve discussed mining in Cornwall, something of smuggling, and Nickianne Moody’s essay about how these economic and social realities were available as a usable past for the later 1940s (post WW2) historical fiction writer, Winston Graham, and how in the 1970s with the first crisis and turn around from hope in economic equality and prosperity, the 197s Poldark mini-series appealed widely.

Well with Demelza we come first to the topic of medicine, far more central to the Poldark novels than has been acknowledged. In the first 1940s quartet (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan) we are channeled through medicine in the 18th century (and its relationship to the 1940s) through the character of Dwight Enys. In the 1970s trilogy (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, The Angry Tide) this channeling will be seen in the treatment of mental shattering of Morwenna Chynoweth, coerced in marriage with the sadistic Rev Whitworth and the crippling of Rosina Hobyns from an abusive father; the subject widens out into disability itself with the appearance of autistic and other kinds of disabled character in the second 1980s quartet (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword) and finally animals rights in the last 2003 coda to the series (Bella, one of whose central presences is an orangutan). With Jeremy Poldark and the trial of Ross for instigating a riot, we moved into the history of crime and courts in the era and corrupt elections.

L0034242 Five surgeons participating in the amputation
A surgeon

The simple unhappy truth about medicine in the long 18th century was there was little practical progress, little change in the way physicians (the most respected, with degrees), surgeons (worked with their hands and were dentists too), and apothecaries (regarded as quacks by some but produced compounds people in desperation bought).

One familiar way of telling this is that at the time of the Renaissance, Shakespeare’s time people in Europe believed in a world made of four substances: water, earth, air and fire; these corresponded to four humors in our bodies: phlegm (white stuff), bile, which was yellow (must’ve been pus), blood and black bile; each corresponds to four temperaments: which dominated made someone’s personality; when you were ill you were out of balance. The way to cure was to excrete or bleed a person – beyond that they did attack specific things with herbs (some real knowledge of for example digitalis goes way back). They though the air carried diseases in it: miasma, bad air causing disease. They were looking outside the human body for symmetrical forces impinging on it that made neat sense. A roman could send his servant to the doctor instead of himself because what was needed was an astrological chart to predict what would happen. What is the configuration of the stars. Basically we are talking of a magical world. Traditional societies look to god or the Gods.

The problem with this neat paradigm is it explains nothing, not why those people who knew about these theories continued to believe in them nor why what was done carried on when it was clear to most people doctors of whatever status could help very little. In a nutshell, that easy paradigm of humors erased and the theory of miasma in the air does not explain why it held nor why it dissolved away.

A slow accumulation of knowledge led to the framing of disease, an understanding of the relationship of the body to the natural world over the course of some several hundred years from the early Renaissance to the early 19th century. Progress in science can exist only when the whole society, especially the influential members (not necessarily the richest or most powerful), changes the way it looks at disease. Doctors cannot get too far ahead of their patients. Without the powerful organizations that have arisen and now control medicine (see Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine) what you can get (prescriptions), what your treatment is, who you can complain to (sue) and on what terms, power lay in the hands of the disease processes and the patients.

Well in a lesser way lots of individual things understood and I’m sure Wm Heberden (an important late 18th century clinician working on London) would have said wonderful progress in the last twenty years. It may not seem so anymore but the doctor is not the only powerful element in the relationship: there is patient power because there is disease power. The patient needs to believe the doctor is helping or can help.

This is the burden of Edward Golub’s The Limitations of Medicine.The roots of modern medicine lies in European responses to the spread of disease in cities – rise of cities created epidemics. Plagues, epidemics, social unrest. The development of trade, of small industry, of cooperation. There was a slow dissolution of the magical world beyond the earth when it was understood that the earth went around the sun. You were to test something to see what happens, trial and error, and when you saw that something didn’t work, get rid of it. Try again. Scientific theory is an approximation of the truth which we are ever improving. People are terrified of sickness and disease and were unwilling to let go of what they had; doctors wanted to protect reputation and too did not want to let go of what they thought they could do. People would not change their ways nor respect doctors until they saw a man could make the sick well. With the changing social structure of the society, how people were employed and the education needs, the way people regarded themselves changed to individualism in the early modern period – the self, with an individual body and mind being your identity and existence. People wanted to know how their bodies worked, their minds; the magical God-filled world was placed at a distance and with the coming of the new astonomy dissolved away. Le silence eternel de ses espaces infinis m’effraie (Pascal). And we have gone deeper and deeper into the body until now we are dealing with our DNA, RNA.

Doctors still resist sharing information, drug companies certainly. Trade Secrets. This refusal to go beyond individual interest is part of what so retarded any progress (as well as patient ignorance and fear). So women died for 150 year more than they had to because forceps delayed. Midwifery had begun to be somewhat scientific in the later 17th century in Paris; in the later 18th century in London (note great gaps in time), John Hunter (still respected and celebrated as one of the great surgeons in history) described and drew a series of remarkable depictions of the embryo in 1790s, the way it developed, how the baby had to turn (to do this he had to perform vivisections on animals and corpses), and yet when it came to getting it out, not so easy. Forceps invented in first half of 17th century Chamberlain brothers, Huguenots who came to England and Pierre said to be inventor; we can find definitive descriptions in 1634. Chamberlain became obstetrian-surgeon to Henrietta, the French Queen of Charles I. It was held as a trade secret for 150 years. They would not disseminate; obstetricians carried on with their bleeding. I was forceps baby; today it’d have been a C-section. I would not be here – babies just do not always come out, they reverse themselves. Today doctors rush to C-Sections lest they be sued; because it’s more convenient, but after a C-Section the mother or woman is seriously at risk for every further pregnancy. Bleeding, hemorrhage a great killer.

There’s too much to cover (for details read Roy Porter’s the Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity), but so I’ll just emphasize education: the people who worked in and ran early medical schools were important, e.g., Herman Booerhaave (1668-1738), it’s no coincidence that trade, manufacturing, capitalism banking reached heights in the place where progress in medicine may be seen at least as far as discoveries. Microscope in 17th century can only change the small element of looking; it has to have a context. Edinburgh emerged as the British Leiden (Darwin went there in the early 19th century) when Alexander Monro (1733-1871) was appointed professor of anatomy. His son and and grandson. Very important an influential new body of ethics: what the doctor has to do and when he does not: Jon Gregory (1725-73),Lectures on the Duties and Qualifications of a Physician (written mostly by Thomas Percival); if all doctors follow this, the patients can’t force them to sell quack remedies. One more as an example Wm Cullen, Scots surgeon, lecturer (first half of 18th century) professor of chemistry, pathology and practice. I bring him up because I feel that what we see Graham’s Dr Enys follows Cullen’s idea; you look at the environment of the body, at the sensations which provoke irritation in tissues of organisms – look at spasms and try to moderate and control by diet.

Very practical handbooks began to be published at the turn of the 18th into 19th century. Precursors of Dr Spock. The Poor Man’s Medicine Chest (1791), Primitive Physick (1747) by John Wesley. Porter and his wife also wrote two books just on 18th century: In Sickness and In Health, the profound one and Patient’s progress (how patients felt, comes from people’s diaries and memoirs).

Several things came together in the early 19th century : Paris medicine and use of hospitals: in the 18th century patient put in wooden drawers of beds, four to a bed, head to foot without regard to nature of sickness. In Paris they sorted people into wards and could study an illness. What killed people were underlying lesions, sickness a shade away from health; physicans began like detectives to go on a trail to find patterns. The work of Bayle and Laennec who died of the diseases they studied immensely important; in Germany higher education was taken to real uses and there developed the use of laboratory. Inn practice the development of the stethoscope was revolutionary; there developments in pathology, anatomy, the development of the idea of the cell as a unit. Technological inventions get nowhere without practical application. You lay bare relationships – Virchow on cellular life and organ interaction. Drug experiments.

Does that mean we are in a scientific age? No because most people still don’t think scientifically – if they did the world would be different. Cancer – what you see are tremendous shows of force and radical surgery – they must be seen to be doing something. But they cannot predict whether what they do to you will make you better or die in great misery. Little money given for fundamental research, money for prolonging life and things that make doctors money. It’s denied there is a central paradigm – the way before Darwin it was denied there was a central paradigm for understanding why people and animals and the natural world take the forms they do. However upbeat the Ken Burns film (by concentrating on the few who survive ), fundamental progress on cancer is yet to come – we don’t understand why the central cancer cell begins to multiply and devour us.

To turn to Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan (less so there), Dwight Enys is one of the new men who has moved away from the older view of the world and medicine and is working out a piece by piece reformulation. In the novels, the morbid sore throat is diptheria; prison and hospital fever are epidemic typhus, typhus is to be distinguished from typhoid which is a different bacteria carried by water. Typhus is caused by rickettsia bacteria; it helps to eat oranges. Putrid fever is mostly typhus. Typhus was associated with lice, why Ross wants everyone to wash. Typhoid is salmonella, high fever, aching, rash, carried by feces in water. By the end of the eighteenth century they recognized forms of cancer – but they didn’t know the etiology so often describe a symptom that seems to them salient but is not causative. Apoplexy must have sometimes been strokes, but it was associated with severe bleeding. Gout was a name for all sorts of conditions – gout in the stomach was very bad. Julia dies of diptheria, Jim Carter of a combination of gangrene and epidemic typhus.

Education is central to the Enlightenment project (so to speak): Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous Vindication of the Rights of Women, companion volume to Paine’s Rights of Man (Ross found reading it in the 1970s book), is about education: women have been miseducated and see themselves utterly differently (I’ll write a separate blog on Wollstonecraft eventually).


Poachers in prison awaiting a pardon (both contemporary 18th century prints)

From Gentleman and Poachers by P.B. Munsche on the English Game laws. To chose the subject of the game laws and have Jim Carter sent away for 2 years to one of these pestiliential hellholes (transportation for 10 was death sentence) is a tactful version of Jean Valjean stealing a piece of bread so as not to starve and being put to hard labor for 20 years in Les Miserables. Or it’s comparable to the opening of Dickens’s A tale of Two cities: it was the best of times, the worst of times, and the attack of the population on one of the symbols of this ancien regime, the Bastille, in which astonishingly (but it happens) the soldiers joined the people. Seven people found there, and Dickens has Mr Manette clearly unjustly imprisoned – no gentler, kinder soul ever existed than Mr Manette. In Death Comes to Pemberley which aired last year, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James has as substory a young boy hung for poaching.

The poaching and gaming laws were egregiously unfair and like many or even most laws in the UK at the time administered unfairly, unevenly, defendant not allowed to defend themselves in court; it was who you knew, who put in a good or bad word; you were flotsam and jetsam. Now when someone had committed a serious crime as people sometimes did, it was not so. Propertied people wanted the exclusive right to hunt game in England because they wanted to own all the animals on their property. That’s reductive but that’s it. People in a subsistence world, corn prices artificially high; of course they poach. It’s also fun to poach. They are not protecting the animal but their ownership of it, particularly tenacious over pheasants and deer. What could happen was poaching gangs arose – a kind of class war over property rights under the guise of food. Because everyone knew this was egregious, the administration of the law was sometimes harsh and sometimes you could be let off. You hadn’t really done anything wrong. Had Ross gotten to Brodugan early in the morning, maybe he could have stopped him, but Brodugan is a spiteful man. the Rev Halse is a narrow rigid one. Nicholas Warleggan a just man but has little heart. By not making it a piece of bread, Graham makes it subtler and more accurate – it’s actually accurate and not until the 1830s were these laws abrogated. Then it became a matter of fox hunting, and laws to preserve foxes (considered vermin, attack chickens) but wanted for hunting.

Policing and punishment early modern London

To talk of poaching as to talk of smuggling is a subset of the important slow changes over the long 18th century in Crime and the Courts and Policing and Punishment (the two magisterial books are by J. M. Beattie).
Basically what had happened was early in the 18th century few people were caught, hardly any police, but those were subject to hideous deaths when juries could be got to declare the defendant guilty. A huge growth in cities made crime looked upon as serious, something you really did have to take seriously and do something about. Conscious efforts to improve. Limits of terror seen. So over the century first efforts to set up working police, effective magistrates – Henry Fielding and his brother John involved. And juries were reluctant to convict so imprisonment (without any reform of prisons) and transportation were substituted. In our own time terror has come back, in states (long imprisonment, torture) in those rebelling against the states ferocious partly because of lethal weaponry of states.

William Hogarth, The Bench

In the court system too changes and reforms slowly made. Between the earlier 18th century, say 1730 and later period 1770 and after the use of a defense counsel was permitted, a defendant could speak and defend himself. A giving over from torture itself. With the increase of people in prison, the prison system lagged behind: they were still death traps most of them. Highly uneven reform: see John Howard’s An Account of the present state of the prisons and houses of correction in the home circuit (1789) We see these changes in Ross’s trial for instigating a wreckage riot. Absolute contradiction: for hundreds of years the custom was that flotsam from a wreck was available to all the people in a community; this was illegal; people were supposed not to take what was thrown on the beach but leave it to soldiers and owners. On top of this excise men (prevention men and their informers) stopping smuggling were hated. The judge and prosecution was the jury to make an example of Ross whether he was personally guilty of what he was charged with or not; it was enough that he approved. They want to use him as an instrument for state terror. Instead the jury either listened to Dr Enys and accepted that Ross was not himself, heard Clark, understood Vigus and Clemmen’s were liars. Jud helped in a small way – he had been bribed, intimidated. Or they saw Ross as themselves and wanted to vindicate the ancient peoples’ customs.

During 1790s there was a fierce repression by Pitt – included paying mobs to make riots and destroy houses of known reformists and sympathizers; there were treason trials with treason being what someone said was treason. In Johnston’s Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of alarm and the lost generation of the 1790s and Jenny Uglow’s In these Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815, you have the background to the last quarter of Demelza and the first half of Jeremy Poldark. They are books of stories, told very readably in Johnston’s about ruined lives, about what people could have been. Johnston shows how a mass movement was put a stop to for another 40 years – the demands which gained traction in the 1840s such male franchise, reforming corrupt districts, regularly elected parliaments were all there. It’s about destroyed lives and the argument is individual lives count: they can matter to the society as a whole and of course they matter to the people living them. How reform movements fail and why. Uglow is about atmosphere and how people felt as they lived through this ear.


From Hogarth’s Election series of prints: Polling

Elections were in the modern sense utterly corrupt – Cornwall one of the more egregious districts because of the poverty of so many; its status as a Duchy and laws pertaining to that. I admit I don’t know specifics of these lawsor if there were in 1790 two mayors in Bodmin, but I believe it could have been. We see in our time times competing groups saying they are the true representatives of a district (in 1972 in the Democratic National Convention who represented Mississippi an all-white group or a predominantly black and poorer whites). During polling there was much violence until the the passing of the secret ballot in 1872. The Duchy of Cornwall was predominantly royalist from the point of view of who could vote, 2 members from country in 1294 but by 1821 fifteen additional towns and villages received the franchise because the electors were Tory. In 1832 Cornwall one of the most notorious for rotten boroughs, 14 boroughs eliminated., and Bodmin was one of those represented with few people in it compared to other places in Cornwall in 1885 still. One man one vote is not our way in the US today either; we are severely gerrymandered; the senate is deeply undemocratic if you regard state lines as artifices of history. Demelza protests why can we bribe electors and I am risking Ross’s acquittal if I try to talk to a judge and present some accurate truth to him, not the totally false lies of Warleggan — which in the event might have hurt the prosecution’s case as none of the better witnesses would vouch for these.

Norma Streader as Verity Poldark asks Ross to enable her to meet and get to know Captain Blamey (which her family would prevent) (Poldark 1975)

In my essay on Liberty in the Poldark novels. I point out and discuss the use of a theme throughout the Poldark books one central to 18th century history, Enlightenment, the 3 revolutions, our own constitution: civil liberty. People in the 18th century were against tyranny and superstition. Upper classes feared methodism as it attacked the church, but many were joined in the dissolution of magic, of astrology. Your civil rights – we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. In Demelza we see how class works to prevent her from coping adequately with men because they think she has no rights – it’s not a matter of political liberty here, but the value of the human being as such herself. Graham’s treatment is unusual for popular historical fiction, not so much any more because the books that win the Booker and Whitbread and other prizes are progressive. Pultizer prize in the US not yet given to historical fiction. Graham and these new 1990s and recent historical fiction (Paul Scott in Raj Quarter is another earlier exception) shows how laws and customs get in the way of men too exercising liberty and rights, and how central is self-esteem, the belief you have the right and ability and will not be further punished if you try to exercise your legal right. If election nullified to start with, what good to vote? P 1. Women made abject in society and in the 2015 mini-series they are showing that. I go over the stories and contexts of the first 7 novels.

The word liberty occurs regularly often in ironic contexts. Women do not use this language. They do not feel they have rights. Or they only have a right to disobey or break away if the male has broken an understood set of taboos. Men were allowed to beat women, but not to death. Elizabeth cannot break away from Warleggan as he stays within bounds so cannot protect Morwenna; flight not a good option. There is no or little opportunity for female agency. After the death of her sadistic husband, Morwenna manifests a rare assertion of her right to freedom: because she can give the hated son to the mother-in-law and as widow is under her own control. Later books economic monopoly curtails political and social liberty of those subject to it. We have that today: homelessness, rack renting, bankruptcy of small holders. In Jeremy Poldark and Demelza fairy tale finding of copper or someone gives you a big loan. Not the later books where political arrangement and compromises are worked out.


2nd edition — 2011

Dear friends and readers,

I am relieved to say that two years after having being sent Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts, and the 2nd edition of the Jane Austen Cambridge Companion, I’ve sent the reviews of book to ECCB. I originally wrote about the two books in a single review but was asked to divide them into two. So I won’t be putting the two onto any site, but rather (eventually) the earlier version bringing the two together. For now I written enough about Lisa Moore’s book, but very little about these two companions which could have been important as bellwethers; in the event both are too discreet, too careful, a result of the intense and intricate politics of Jane Austen studies, fashions, sequel, heritage, film, and institutions. I read and evaluated the essays of the 1st edition (1997), and compared them with this second one (2011), and thought the least I could do was put a brief summary and evaluation of the most worthwhile or innovative (or notable, e.g., Clery) essays in the Cambridge Companions. The essays summarized below might be of use or interest to my readers. If anyone would like to see either of the separate reviews, contact me off blog. As to simple practical advice, if you have the first edition, it’s a waste of money to get the second, so much has been reprinted. Further, much has been lost so don’t discard the valuable essays of the 1st edition, instead take a copy of the 2nd edition out from a library and xerox (or scan into your computer) the essays whose subject is of interest to you. I recommend Selwyn and Sutherland.


1st — 1997

Only in the 1st edition: Rachel Brownstein on NA, S&S, PP: Mr Bennet’s comment: we love the phrasing, economy, symmetry, sense, detachment even as when we look at the context we critique it; social interactions the substance of life; we condemn most people for wanting feeling, sympathy, love; she looks at conjunctions of romantic narrative and irony in the 3 books. Heroine centered, there is an irony that undercuts Austen’s use of conventions. NA parodies tropes of romance, giving new meaning to clichés; S&S, laughter hollow, opposing pairs, much more pain than pleasure as we compare; it’s as certain as death world a hard mean place (p. 45); couples together make for an anti-social activity, attitudes, the unsuitability of the couples; final irony against sisters as such. P&P a witty undercutting delight (it’s men who traffic in women not women men) where narrator, heroine and reader come to identify – Elizabeth holds back in self-control, detached; we are given enough about Darcy’s mind; we are not so very different from our neighbor – she is careful to say the chronology set up is a construct and across Austen’s oeuvre we find a set of many constants though Brownstein to give her credit opens and closes her essay on the problematic nature of these pairings, or trios. Brownstein admits the chronology she has used has nothing to do with the book’s themes. Irrelevant. This is an essay from a woman’s point of view as none of the three there are any more. Brownstein wrote a famous history of the novel: Becoming a Heroine. A number of her authors are men, and the choice of women’s books very much canonical (e.g., no Oliphant). Becoming a Heroine nonetheless approaches how we read as women in our books, our autobiographical self-narrative as we go

Only in the 1st edition: John Wiltshire: MP, Emma, Persuasion: Central to his description of Emma: it is about a restricted life, restricted spaces, restricted in POV and what Emma can do; she contributes a buoyancy of spirit, and confidence and has intuitive knowledge throughout. Restrictions in walking are part of it — Jane Fairfax going to the post office in the rain overdid we recall. Wiltshire sees that Mr Knightley represents a continuation of restriction, but that Emma moves to his point of view and within this restriction can thrive. He does see the unpleasantness of the walk for Emma a function of the probable poverty she sees. MP a contrast: everybody wealthy but Fanny, Mrs Norris neurotic, compulsive bully; Fanny the POV who is transient, dependent. Austen moves in and out of the characters, and creates through Henry and Mary Crawford appealing pair through their sympathy and agendas. That there is much sympathy for Mary when we begin to see her as negotiating social life, she was abused or neglected too, is seeking an emotional center for her life. They too have a fraternal tie. Novel has psychological depth with narrative portraiture; a physical world. Broad and wide. Persuasion we get a continuous registration of a inward and physical state and slowly we watch heroine break out; she becomes herself though emerging through her physical environment. The intricacy of her psychology a new reach, and development, setting focuses tensions and increases them. In this novel we see bonds elective affinities replace family bonds, themes of loss and mourning, fidelity and transience come into narrative, she is finally eloquent in words and thus if enabled to enact a life, (which she does by marrying Wentworth, that not in Wiltshire) find a place in this world. Wiltshire says he has united these so-called Chawton books artificially: he shows that the relationship between character, theme, and setting he has been making so much of is utterly different or incommensurate in all three. Novels combine romantic narrative with social satire and psychological insight; from MP on broader, more thoughtful social critique, greater power of imagining her figures within the social setting and spaces they inhabit. Distinct social and physical words are conceptual worlds. How Austen does this by her narrative techniques.

1st reprinted in 2nd: Juliet McMasters, “Class.” McMasters sees that Emma and Miss Bates are prophetic of Fanny Knight and Austen: years later Lady B was equally condescending; JA’s low position; McMasters goes over ladder; then JA’s attitude and then her characters – she goes carefully through the characters using the ladder, with an emphasis on Emma as Emma has them all more detailed and mentioned; Austen’s attitude towards class seen in her judgement of such characters and also whether she makes a character of this or that rank fine or contemptible; for Austen rank matters but identity more; humane and social values in daily life for her people much more

1st reprinted in 2nd: Edward Copeland, “Money.” Copeland wants to make the case that a complication of engagement with money characterizes the three later novels where the first three are about heroines acquiring a man who will support them – put that way especially with his qualifier that the later novels all turn on or focus on a single woman without money. (The problem is that the first three novels do tell of incomes, thought P&P least of all –it’s that the first two concentrate on land and clergy; and NA concentrates its energies on gothic satire. Very useful though as he goes through each level of income and shows by recourse to Austen’s novels just what that income brings; for Emma it’s signs of consumerism that matter; in Persuasion sheer money beat out land; we have the complication of the estate and Portsmouth pension. He admits some characters seem to know nothing: Henry Crawford is not real quite. Also answers question the women are usually cited as what they get a year except heiresses; for inherited income you make a 5% equation and you have the yearly sum. He does carefully cite many sums including Austen’s nuclear family’s own.

1st reprinted in 2nd: Isobel Grundy, “Jane Austen and literary traditions.” Grunday begins with the reality that Austen did not write her novels with a tradition in mind: they did not belong to theLlatin one; she had no BA as a modern reader might in English literature, she could not know of the novels of her period with clarity or extension; she read what what came along and had been in her father’s library and then Edward’s. A letter shows her rejoicing at a better book club in Chawton; at access to Paisley (but mocking Mrs Grant which Grundy omits when she mentions Austen reading Grant). Grundy find these letters relatively stuffed with literary references that are appropriate to whatever she speaks of, so we have a woman who read extensively and understood insofar as she could, but this combined with “real intellectual deprivation,” lack of choice of books, lack of stimulating varied conversation, and what she could glean about reactions to her own books couldn’t help; she shows no recognition or authority but her own taste. There seems to have been nothing deep entrenched in her from her reading (I’m not sure about that, how about Grandison or Johnson); no dialogue with forerunner to what she’s doing – yes, far from that, she wants to erase anyone she thinks is a peer, ridicule them (Grundy again omits this). Books in Austen’s novels further delineate the inner life of a character – but when Grundy says Austen does not attach herself to a tradition, I reply, “ah what about Ch 5 of NA?

Grundy sees the problem of trying to unearth some coherent understanding of books or schools of writing in the teeth of Austen’s reticence and non-cooperation, an insistence she is not to be taken seriously. Here’s where the hagiography comes in: why not say what Austen did from nature and what she did read extraordinary, but no, she wants to find evidence of classics. So there is what her brothers were taught when young. Grundy then concedes that Austen might mock pedantry, but “I will not accept she dislikes scholarship.” she points to Austen’s insistence on accuracy, not the same as scholarship. She cannot avoid hagiography; otherwise she would not try to get through this thicket of disjunctive jokings (Goldsmith and historical novels). She uses “surely” several times. Myself I do see a tradition in her mind: Edgeworth, Burney, Radcliffe, Brunton, West – novelists of her day that she sees herself vying with and dialogues with indirectly – Doody in the older Grey’s Handbook takes the easier task of simply finding out her reading, but I think Austen did see this is a tradition no one was recognizing. Isabelle de Montolieu assumes it – as does Stael.

Then Grundy turns to the novels, and despite some lapses into hagiography and wishful thinking (Austen is not thinking of Lady Winchilsea), and the usual overstretched attempt to show allusions, once she gets to the novels where we are given not just a text but an intelligent use of it, she shows Austen made genuine intelligent use of a wide range of texts you might expect from her class, gender, type, background, and she probably gets the emphasis right: while Austen saw her novels in terms of other novels, especially those by women, in the attitudes she is directly in Augustan school. I agree that Catherine is better read than we realize but then NA is a literary book. Austen was a strong reader and took what she read – would read against the grain, would not accept others’ aims; though we have to take into account her unqualified admiration for Edgeworth, the presence of Burney, Johnson, Grandison, Cowper.

1st reprinted in 2nd:  Claudia Johnson, “Austen cults and cultures” (the word Janeites is eschewed in the title.” It’s better than I remembered. Thoughtful , not condescending, informative and insightful. JA “a commercial phenomenon and a cultural figure,” HJ aimed at “her faddish commodification by publishers and marketers.” The growth of readers first occurs in 1870 JEAL Memoir. James cannot stand she is loved by the wrong people for the wrong reasons (233). Austen’s appeal reaches those who do not recognize the authority of those who like to think they adjudicate literature.  She is looking at the history of her reception: what writer can be seen independent of this? Difficult to disentangle “the real Austen” from the agendas of those discussing her. Modern Austen criticism begins with DWHarding who “claimed Austen herself was above her admirers, meant to rescue her from them.” She sees turn of century male scholarship as a form of play, and Kipling’s story presenting Austen not as an escape but what helps you in the trenches of life. People who attacked (Harrison, they are ahistorical; ridicule the idyllic dreams). Chapman accords her intense respect (as others) books seen as “refuge from realities”.  Harding and Booth are two different forms of bullying, Harding elitist and Booth from the angle of marriage and other disciplinary norms for women (Johnson rightly lists under this approach quite a number of critics, with Sedgewick as the protester against it). Then there are the male critics who are concerned not to be gender deviant because they reads these books (Lewis, she’s acerbic, serious, moral). Mudrick comes out of mindset, is an attack on JA as frigid, lesbian (Austen can do no wrong). The problem with the inclusion of this essay is it needs to be updated, the latest fashions in Austen criticism (which may be seen as a cross between Janine Barchas and Sarah Raff) are not here, but they fit into a point of view.

Johnson’s point is that Austen criticism turns out to be a matter of disciplinary self-identity. They differ from the other books taken up by cults and fan groups (among them just now the Poldark novels because of the mini-series) because her novels “hold a secure place in the canon of high as well s popular culture.”  The academic criticism of all the amateur and bellestristic study has not assailed its object (Austen’s texts) but the “triviality of its non-knowledge.”  She says it’s not the novels that police us as has been claimed by some, but novel criticism as a discourse. Here where I think she “falls down” is she too participates in hagiography and is unwilling to critique why Austen lends herself (what in her fiction and letters) to these skewed, half-nuts and overdone evaluations.


A recent cover illustration for Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

2nd edition (new): Thomas Keymer – NA & S&S begins with usual praise using Scott — see how this is verisimilitude and has power of Wordsworth, only to knock it down by saying rightly texts show immersion in popular modes; where he’s fashionable is wanting to situate her in “market-leading genres of the day.” But she did use gothic and nervy routines and formulas for S&S. Long tradition wants to make NA and S&S early, callow somehow but in fact we see that NA was revised several times and ready for publication in 1803; the latter three not technically flawless experiments but do bear witness to earlier fragments. So we are talking of a novel parts of which refer to what no longer exists (dress and other streets) after 1807 (so it reflects a Catherine of 1809).

Keymer demonstrates intertextual range, what is generally alluded to and what he can cite: he cites a list of novels with word Abbey in them; comedy is to frustrate expectations; he does admit the interweaving of gothic elements. Nonetheless, Austen playing on idiom in general; goes into Radcliffe and says Austen distinguishes Radcliffe from debasements and horrid novels. Wants us to see her assured tones – but I wonder about how the tone one takes in public is different from the tone one feels in private (p. 27). How the register of parody is pitch perfect. But she is not just kidding because in her fifth chapter the strong praise, elsewhere she shows anxieties about her rivals doing more than she, shutting off possibilities; superficial simply to see it as satire for admiral is awful, not that such novels have nothing to say for themselves. He then turns to references in the text: the Blaise castle visit has having genuinely sinister implications (p 29); nothing at all authentic about Blaise. Slavery can be brought in because the builder of Blaise, Thomas Farr was a Bristol merchant – we learn that by the time the book published Farr bankrupt by American war and folly bought by John Scandrett Harford, a quaker and abolitionist and had made the estate a center for abolition activity p 30; as for Tilney we see how he married wife for money and how Radcliffe has helped Catherine to see what Henry admits is true Not about what the novel is, but about what it’s doing. For S&S he turns to Barbara Benedict and her thesis this is a state of the art regency novel; did not resist but repeated marketable routines; Lynch too on the character types &c&, still he has to say Austen disrupts these stereotypes. Marianne like Catherine reading life out of novels.

Keymer does find the ending of S&S dispiriting. It bears comparison to alternative fictional types where the heroine is over-emotional and has to be taught a lesson – what this kind of thing is doing is preventing us from seeing how differently and in a superior deep way Austen is embodying this clichéd theme (p 34). Finally he turns to Butler who says it’s congruence, and Elinor learns legitimacy of feeling. Novels quoted: Elizavbeth Gunning Orphans of Snowdon (1797) Isabella Kelly Abbey of St Asaph (1795). By no means is sensibility entirely rejected – and Keymer concludest Elinor’s self control does show a perverse endorsement of social codes that work to restrict and oppress Marianne – histrionics her only way of fighting back. So he brings NA and S&S together at last: Catherine and Marianne responding to calculating world with justifiable screams of distress.

2nd edition (new): Penny Gay on Emma and Persuasion. She remarks how different are MP and P&P. Her task to see how the mature artist who never repeated herself produced two novels in a row so different one has to find new generic descriptions (p 55). Gay wants to find the theme of a novel about novel writing in Emma – after in passing she says it’s like a detective story – she has some insights about the novel – such as Mr K and Emma have a strong sincerity between them because their relationship is familial, p 57 – notices how Frank plays games and does nothing about Emma’s dangerous gossip over Jane; that Emma hardly goes anywhere; has not been to Donnwell in a couple of years, not to London because Mr W won’t Jane Fairfax as tragic heroine well supported; Persuasion rooted in larger world, in navy, aware of larger political happenings too, Anne is carried about from place to place without her wanting this; on a sensitive soul whose feelings are validated; romance motifs pulled out; a comparison of two endings shedding light – I feel it’s the lack of comedy in the second that makes for the superior quality of it (not Gay, it’s Anne participating more, and the theatricality of the letter scenes); a comic and elegiac novel; social commentary in both, a stable optimistic man the hero.

2nd edition (new): David Selwyn, “Making a Living,” comes from the older school of criticism: genuinely historical and close reading: JA had many relatives of people who could be no means take an income for granted. How people behave towards their estates characterizes them, so most Crawford and Rushworth do decorative improvements; Dashwood ruins his property, but Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey is “unimproved,” when he makes changes like a footpath which will “not cut through the home meadows” it is to increase productivity, not satisfy aesthetic whims; he retains the “abundance of timber in rows and avenues”. He is involved in day-to-day business of his estate, careful scrutiny of a drain, acres destined for weath or spring corn or turnips. He is vital part of economic structure of his locality. Selwyn gives deep, accurate thorough portrait of economic arrangements of Austen’s characters, again a great deal taken from Emma; along the way explains many terms, e.g., parlour boarder, a boarder who lives with the family, eats with them. He is too optimistic, saying “good people” did that and this … honest people making a comfortable enough living in Highbury shows stance of Austen’s novels her fans like; people seem far more precarious in Sanditon – commercialism at its center; real sources of income which enable some characters to hold up heads are ‘decently obscure’ (the Woodhouses, Sir Thomas Bertram).Joke at close: Emma would be shocked by some of Sanditon – so too The Watsons.

2nd edition (new): E.J. Clery has written brilliantly on the gothic, especially Sade and Radcliffe. He quotes Tauchert as an authority on a conservative woman-reading feminine approach. “Gender” begins with idea that Austen mocks heroines equipping themselves with superficial training that makes for gender identity; males must project gender too – and Tilney show this to be silly stuff. Clery shows Austen uses words like “queer,” Strange” half-witted by Tilney when the character admits to awkwardness. He talks of de-stabilizing of gender identity in recent queer theory; 19th century it was a form of impropriety merging on antisocialness. Critics notice many misdirections of feeling in Austen, violations of code. Social artifice is made visible alongside Enlightenment ideal of rational individual. Her renown is as a conventional romancer; he thinks 70s and 80s feminists wrested Austen from canonical readings; the queering the latest manifestation of D.W. Harding impulse to prove the readers of the novels those Austen would have most detested. With the movies overtaking discourse on Austen and their insistence on romance, is there any way of reconciling these positions; Austen who plays with and subverts, Austen who ends books stupidly (S&S especially). He says he is going to address this through literary form: movies end on bliss, kiss, novels have brusque endings, Austen enjoys giving pain to romantic readers.

Throughout her books she is mocking romance in all sorts of ways while heroine quietly long for it. In the books we do not project forward after the happy ending, and we see all the things that will be troublesome in the “union” (indeed I’d add Juliette Towhidi under the guidance of PDJames in Death comes to Pemberley who insists on Darcy as still rank obsesses insists on these until near the end). Is there real cohesion at the endings? No attention paid in NA, S&S, not much in P&P. DAMiller narrative mocks what it cannot do without. Emma though presents perfect happiness and Darcys have the Pemberley and Gardiners. He argues we transcend because it’s such hard work to get there; we enter mind of heroine throughout, closed off from hero (his idea this is radical departure is unreal and silly – very common in 17th century long haleine romances, 18th century, like Burney). Communication problem not just social but psychological. He suggests a second plot-design in the background of hero chasing a vocation, having to have independence, proper manliness (fact not unnoticed by modern parasitic sequel writers as in Mr Darcy’s Diary) his solution is we are ecstatic when these two minds come together, the utopian potential of understanding is what we are given.
From Davies’s 1995 P&P: two sisters living together (Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, and Susannah Harker as Jane)

2nd edition new, a valuable addition: Kathryn Sutherland: “JA on Screen.” She begins from a broad perspective angle and then bring in cultural reading comparisons and finally ends on particular films. How film and novels are good at telling stories; one is motionless words, the other moving (and aural) pictures. That Austen is a singularly anti-visual novelist, stays with generalities; characters focusing on a particular object often pathological; it’s the interplay of subjective understandings that brings us the characters and stories. Her visual transformation first seen in first illustrated editions of 1890s; not among earliest films but staged in 1935 and then play turned into film meaning to convey ideas about war. 1970s BBC mini-series, first are influenced by stage and illustrations; Fay Weldon breaks away, but we are still in Laura Ashley land. Huge media attention, and it has become impossible in discussions and thinking about Austen to disentangle the novels from the films; they reflect our time (so Transpotting and 1995 S&S can be brought together). But it was out of the same nostalgia (1870s) that the cult of Austen began; what then is the link between academic and popular understanding as two march together, occur together. The personal identification with character filled out found in AC Bradley likened to the intelligent reinvention of Lost in Austen where some essential solace is found – both have supplied what is implied in the Austen text but not brought out. Lost in Austen substitutes the reader for Elizabeth in the fantasy. Tie-in books and readings have reinterpreted these books as romances (refers to Becoming Jane Austen as an absurdity) but what how different is false emphasis from super-edited academic texts.

Turns to films: they are interpretive, the visuals in the 1990s are high luxury, and camera work of the gorgeous cinematic landscape type of far shots; post-2005 shabby and minimal, with hand held cameras. But if we look we find since Said no one can discuss without discussing Antigua though before him few ever mentioned it. “We are always reading new novels even when they are the same old novels”. Screen interventions have momentous impact: we see the hero and heroine so it must be a courtship marriage story from the outset; the McGrath with its arrow scene; Davies use of Colin Firth, his turning on its head Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza Williams so what damned him later is made to damn him before we meet him. Davies’s language sounds like Austen’s and he substitutes himself (so does Emma Thompson do this feat.

Interestingly Sutherland is impressed by Miss Austen Regrets. Film good at delivering the silences in the books; silent images of Amanda Root which begin 1996 Persuasion convey the meaning of the novel well; no intrusive voice, no voice-over (why is she against this?); she feels Hughes used Austen’s letters with tact and understanding, Olivia Williams played the part with complex understanding and it is a contribution to Austen studies when we go back and read the letters – she does not realize Nokes an intermediary. A bleak and beautiful film. European use of camera work, triangulation of Fanny Knight, Haden and Austen before last turn of film. She does connect this to one woman whose engagement broken leaving her in emotional wasteland and another marrying in middle age in the novel Emma: we are viewing the novels and Austen from the perspective of a woman who reneged on a promise to marry. New observational style, drab wardrobe, luminous use of light at times. She sees this as showing us Austen’s life and its little matters (what Paula Byrne turned to though Sutherland does not say that).


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets (2009, scripted Gwyneth Hughes)

The politics of Jane Austen studies in which so many have invested careers, businesses, to say nothing of people’s self-conceptions and on-going fan communities have prevented the second edition of the Cambridge Companion from doing anything more than differing from the first in a couple of new subject matters and in a few indirect mirrorings of recent fashionable norms and ways of framing in order to praise Jane Austen and her writing. The assumption in both volumes is Austen’s novels are pretty nearly flawless, Austen herself made to fit as far as possible today’s ideals for women writers. I concluded my review with the comment that we need a sound edition of Austen’s letters (perhaps together with a second volume from the Austen Papers) of the type represented by those published by the McGill Burney scholars. The one we have, with its appendices muddled and contradictory, the information offered biased and not precisely aimed at the references and individuals in the letters, falls under the rubric of “family friends” and “advocates” (as described by Donald Reiman in his The Study of Modern Manuscripts: Public, Confidential and Private [Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1993]).


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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Madame de Genlis, as drawn by her daughter, Caroline

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

The Petit Trianon

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

Thomas Gainsborough, Vauxhall Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), Le chat angora

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



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