Archive for February, 2012

John Singer Sergeant’s portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Dear friends and readers,

I’m now into Sandra Richards’s important The Rise of the English Actress, and am chuffed to be able to say at long last I’ve discovered it was in the mid-19th century that the tide began to turn for actresses and they became socially acceptable outside the stage and achieved respectability for some on it. A key figure was Fanny Kemble, and a central instrument, the writing of memoirs. My guess had been it was the later 19th century. I was wrong.

It’s worth saying that when I’ve asked this question not only do I not get an answer; people in academic conferences in sessions on actresses shrug. They couldn’t care less when the kind of lying half-slanderous memoirs ceased nor when actresses were able to tell their lives more truthfully and as adults. They seemed not to value the truth nor serious sober life-writing as such at all. Well I do and I’ve been vindicated.

Helen Mirren as Prospera in a recent adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by Julie Taymor

But I’ve no time to present this book; it will have to wait until I return — as it is well past one in the morning until I return — for I’ll have a time away for a few days at the South Central 18th century regional conference on landscapes and vistas at Asheville, N. Carolina where I’ll give my paper on Ann Radcliffe’s landscapes.

And though it is no longer December, but as it has been a very cold night, I’ll share a poem by Radcliffe I had not come across before embarking on this new paper (and reading Clara McIntyre’s Ann Radcliffe in Relation to her Time where it is printed), but loved upon reading: her winter evening with pleasant accompaniments of light, music, congenial companionship, favorite dog

Welcome December’s cheerful night,
When the taper-lights appear;
When the piled hearth blazes bright,
And those we love are circled there

And on the soft rug basking lies,
Outstretched at ease, the spotted friend,
With glowing coat and half-shut eyes,
Where watchfulness and slumber blend.

Welcome December’s cheerful hour,
When books, with converse sweet combined,
And music’s many-gifted power
Exalt, or soothe th’ awakened mind.

Then, let the snow-wind shriek aloud,
And menace oft the guarded sash,
And all his diapason crowd.
As o’er the frame his white wings dash.

He sings of darkness and of storm,
Of icy cold and lonely ways;
But, gay the room, the hearth more warm,
And brighter is the taper’s blaze.

Then, let the merry tale go round.
And airy songs the hours deceive;
And let our heart-felt laughs resound,
In welcome to December’s Eve

Of course the last thing Radcliffe would have wanted was to be an actress.

Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Coming Events

And so to bed,


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Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), aged 27, at Kellynch, about to be rented; she is looking back, reading over old letters and books in a trunk she is packing as she prepares the family things for their life in Bath (1995 BBC Persuasion by Nick Dear)

Dear friends and readers,

This time I’ll begin with a comment on Jane Austen’s life as it is slowly emerging from a close reading of these letters. I think as she grew older — and that’s by this time (1809) she had gone outside the family’s point of view for her feelings and understandings. She had intuitively done so before they left Steventon (we see this in her reaction to the family’s intense sycophancy over the father’s letters to patrons for the two sailor sons — she is against what they do), but she had not thought it out, she had not developed an alternative view of her own. This happened during the time at Bath, which I conjecture included a period of breakdown: signs of this break-away for real include the thwarted desire to set up housekeeping with Martha and her sister, the ceasing of most raw filips against childbirths, marriage, flirting which show genuine resentment of those who are living conventionally. She got a lot, a lot out of her reading; we don’t begin to see the extent of her reading or what she knew about (like politics — the peninsular war is part of her terrain we have seen in the last couple of letters).

The sense I have that she was at this very time working on Lady Susan and had written The Watsons in all their mututal but differing frank and unsanctimonious register makes this group of letters (unusually uncensored with none omitted) of more interest than they would be. Lady Susan and The Watsons, with their bold frankness as going beyond her home and family. They would not permit her to go on with the first (Watsons) or publish the second (Lady Susan). The Watsons is as startling frank, exposes false values and reality, as relentelessly as Lady Susan.

I’m wondering if the missing four months between January and April where we find this startling letter of an attempt to get back a ms of a gothic style book (she had pinned hoped on too as part of a popular subgenre of book), contained a struggle by Austen and to keep on with The Watsons or Lady Susan and when she saw it would not do, she turned back to the three books she had on hand and decided they would ahve to provide her with what she could use at long last to attempt publication. When she got to Chawton she began to save and to revise, first her favorite novel, Elinor and Marianne, and then the one she knew in her gut would please (First impressions) if only she could get it to the public somehow or others.


Emma (Kate Beckinsale) trying to escape Jane’s letters, but apparently not managing it; Harriet (Samantha Morton)’s astonishment (1995 BBC Emma by Davies)
So, to general remarks first:

She does talk of weighing her style here and it can refer to novel writing: “I begin already to weigh my words & sentences more than I did, & am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my ideas flow as fast as the rain in the Storecloset …

Again no gap and we begin to get a real feeling of continuity going on.

The weather continues very bad: “not but that you may have worse, for we have now nothing but ceaseless snow or rain & insufferable dirt to complain of … ” There’s a second later reference to all the snow and one finally to how she does like to keep someone “waiting in the Cold” — on top of the detailed trouble between the new flooded (yearly?) storecloset (which would contain their things, precious things as we’ve seen), not to omit that the closet “defeated them” gives us what she needed to escape from (Lady Susan) and what to record felt life from (The Watsons).

I take it in this letter she admits the stanzas in the previous letter are by her: “I am sorry my verses did not bring any return from Edward” (I realize “my” could just mean she sent them but do not feel that’s that meaning in context, in context is by me). She did have some ambition — of the best kind — to be as purely classical as Homer Virgil Ovid and Propria que Maribus. She knew the phony pompous stuff parading as classical verse was not its best spirit.

As to the matter it is heavily family (again Henry is the “excruciating” one), illness, real discomfort over Martha’s behavior on Jane’s part (she is not sympathetic to Martha’s newly franic male catching). We can glimpse too distress, discomfort, mortification in Martha (which Jane records enough to allow us to see); some attempt at joking to lift Cassandra’s spirits over the coming death of Mrs E Leigh (Cassandra’s godmother). Literary talk which reveals the backwater Austen is in: sermons, Cassandra is trying to force More’s dreadfully reactionary didactivc Calebs in Search of a Wife on Jane and Jane trying to escape this book — this puts me in mind of Emma escaping one of Jane’s letters:

She regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself.

Well Jane will not escape Hannah More and although she is downright against evangelicals, the milieu impinging on her will tell in her later books (MP, Persuasion). There is a catch in Austen’s throat as she uses the word “future home” for Chawton. I’ve not heard that word “home” since Steventon and again the very early days of Castle Square when Jane planted the syringa and hoped for the best.

And then most unexpected a genuinely grand ball! who’d have thought it.

Jane Austen is aware of what is happening in the Peninsular war. Fascinating. I must read Escaille’s Peninsular War.

But as important is the poor mad woman escaped from an asylum; not told as fun or amusing but with real interest and a kind of intense curiosity. Austen has unexpected identifications, no? She signed herself MAD four months (April) later.


An order for prize money, Portland, Maine 1813

Opening passage reveals the real rhythms of these letters to Cassandra; let us suppose three packets of letters to Frank showed the same rhythms. Like many another novelist, Austen was also herself a letter-writer and (in effect) diarist. Cassandra has hurt a finger on her writing hand in some way. Since she had written on Tues, she would have waited until Fri (3 day interval — as LeFaye suggests in the introduction to this 4th edition)

My dear Cassandra
I will give you the indulgence of a letter on Thursday this week, instead of Friday; but I do not require you to write again before Sunday, provided I may beleive you & your finger going on quite well.

A reference to Burney which shows Austen alive to the unreality of the idealization of the characeter, Cecilia:

Take care of your precious self, do not work too hard, remember that Aunt Cassandras are quite as scarce as Miss Beverleys.

Charles is now beginning to appear regularly in the letters again; he had not been here since before they left Steventon and he was so obstreperous and demanding for his own place when it came to the patronage plum giving out (and the letters written at the time) and also a dancer, someone who liked to dance and flirt (as we would say). Note again a characteristic given Henry which is not the one the family wants us to think of as dominating. Excruciating. Henry was a demanding urgent sort; I hear that incisive held-in-check aggressive tone in his notification of her death. She is jealous that Henry will get there first; tell what he knows and all Charles said. We have seen her credit Henry with real insight and information about Stoneleigh Abbey and the history of the incomes of all family members now and in the past.

Charles’s Fanny only in expectation of not being well. Poor woman was another made incessantly pregnant while she lived once she married. We’ve not got that September letter — hardly any from her to Charles. He makes money by violence. As to this encounter, see Southam on the hardships of the life on board ship (pp. 131-32). He gives us a description of the general (corrupt in the extreme, lousy) system of patronage and prizes (interest he calls it). Very few got any prize money it should be noted. LeFaye cites Sheila Kindred’s essay on Charles’s capture of La Jeune Estelle (JA Society, Collected Reports for 2006, pp 50-53): this is an excellent article, showing the exact particulars of what Charles did, how the sum from sale of perishable goods came to 539.14s.11d 3/4s (two and one third times his regular annual salary; he also sold the vessel; years later Charles specifically names this vessel in his entry in a naval dictionary. Later in the letter we find she is keeping up with the peninsular war.

I had the happiness yesterday of a letter from Charles, but I shall say as little about it as possible, ·because I know that excruciating Henry will have had a Letter likewise, to make all my intelligence valueless.-It was written at Bermuda on ‘I 7 & 10. of Decr; –all well, and Fanny still only in expectation of being otherwise. He had taken a small prize2 in his late cruize; a French schooner laden with Sugar, but Bad weather parted them, & she had not yet been heard of; — his cruize ended Dec 1 st My September Letter was the latest he had received. —

Cassandra is going to London in three weeks, I assume to join Eliza and Henry: how often Jane and Cassandra were apart. This is worth thinking about, not ignoring: the why, the effect, how they seemed not to have minded

This day three weeks you are to be in London, & I wish you better weather — not but that you may have worse, for we have now nothing but ceaseless snow or rain & insufferable dirt to complain of — no tempestuous winds, nor severity of cold. Since I wrote last, we have had something of each, but it is not genteel to rip up old greivances. —

Then a joke — I presume these sermons by her cousin were pretty bad; this is the same sort of joke as when she speaks of all her political correspondents. Cassandra has no unknown mysteries; Jane only the papers she can get hold of and read with intelligence and honesty:

You used me scandalously by not mentioning Ed. Cooper’s Sermons; — I tell you everything, & it is unknown the Mysteries you conceal from me. —

Back to sick aging single women, the Austen women’s world. I note all the references to letters Jane receives. She had not the Internet or a phone but did what she could

And to add to the rest you persevere in giving a final e to Invalid — thereby putting it out of one’s power to suppose Mrs E. Leigh even for a moment, a veteran Soldier. — She, good Woman, is I hope destined for some further placid enjoyment of her own Excellence in this World, for her recovery advances exceedingly well.-I had this pleasant news in a letter from Bookham last Thursday; but as the letter was from Mart instead of her Mother, you will guess her account was not equally good from home. — Mrs Cooke had been confined to her bed some days by Illness, but was then better, & Mary wrote in confidence of her continuing to mend.

Fanny Price (Sylvestre Le Tousel) in the passageway of the Portsmouth house; at least she is there in April (1983 BBC Mansfield Park by Ken Taylor)

A curious passage about Fanny Knight: She was 16 the day before (Jan 23rd). The way Austen talks reflects the back-handed disciplinary way these people might talk of their children. Then we get Austen citing a platitude: while you give happiness to others, you will get your share. (That is not the view endorsed by the novels.) She is not eager for Fanny’s overlooking what she is writing – I don’t think this is that much a joke — remember how she excused herself (she did) to her young nephew, and here I do think we have a rare reference to Austen’s novel writing. She does not flow; she has to work at her first drafts too. Indeed this is the most interesting passage we’ve had in a while. She does not forget the real life context she writes in: lodgings, she’s upstairs and not so warm, but not literally wet as she would be and was when she contended with water seeping in, eroding the house downstairs, ruining objects and clothes.

You rejoice me by what you say of Fanny — I hope she will not turn’ good-for-nothing this ever so long; — We thought of & talked of her yesterday with sincere affection, & wished her a long enjoyment of all the happiness to which she seems born. — While she gives happiness to those about her, she is pretty sure of her own share. — I am gratified by her having pleasure in what I write — but I wish the knowledge of my being exposed to her discerning Criticism, may not hurt my stile, by inducing too great a solicitude. I begin already to weigh my words & sentences more than I did, & am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my Ideas flow as fast as the rain in the Storecloset, it would be charming. —

How often she uses the dash in her letters and in her manuscripts for her fragments of novels.

What a misery they lived in. I can’t get any contractor to come in and fix small jobs either. They (the Austen women) have been defeated — but she is defeated with good grace. That’s the task and her real tone: here she puts me in mind of Robert Louis Stevenson:

There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.

Everything had to be moved out. Imagine the wet and the blackness and sour smell.

We have been in two or three dreadful states within the last week, from the melting of the Snow &c. — & the contest between us & the Closet has now ended in our defeat; I have been obliged to move almost everything out of it, & leave it to splash itself as it likes. —


Hannah More’s didactic books enjoyed a long printing history; Coelebs now available in facsimiles. ON the church tracts for children, see Dixon

Early on in the general discussion on Austen-l (which has now ceased) of Jane Austen’s letters we had quite a controversy over this next passage (if I can find it I’ll put it in the comments here). It is true that the novel may be read as romance. Nonetheless, Austen is obviously pressured to read Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife and does not want to read it. She does not like intransigent didacticism, especially when aimed at women; she has shown over these letter no strong religiosity of spirit. She is unwilling to quarrel with Cassandra over this but she hopes to be left alone (she was not). The reference to her “delight” when she reads it is a reference to the hypocrisy of people who will say anything others do, or an admission that perhaps (like people watching Downton Abbey who know they are like black people watching Amos ‘n Andy) she will be drawn in. But until then she resists.

The passage is of interest showing that people read politically — More’s book was liked as reinforcing conservativism — and we may infer from this and that Cassandra left this passage go, that Cassandra would have destroyed letters showing Jane reading liberal and radical works or commenting positively on them:

You have by no means raised my curiosity after Caleb — My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real; I do not like the Evangelicals. — Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people — but till I do, I dislike it. —

I don’t know why others have not picked up in these verses from Letter 65. (Brag had been preferred to Speculation at Godmersham, though Speculation was “under” Austen’s special aegis, Letter 64.)

To me the next passage suggest again Jane wrote the stanza she sent in the last letter (“‘Alas! poor Brag, thou boastful Game! …”) I am puzzled as to why they seemed classical to Austen as they are not in couplets, but it may be that the game aspect, the sense of urbanity is what she refers to here. I don’t know that she is making fun either; we need to know more about how classical authors were taught, which poems chosen, what the teacher might say — for this is from the schooling she acquired as a bye-blow of her father teaching boys and her brothers: — or possibly she read the kind of essays published at the time on Virgil; again most of the titles that come down to us taht she or her characters read are not criticism but novels, travel books, poetry, occasionally a straight history.

I am sorry my verses did not bring any return from Edward, I was in hopes they might-but I suppose he does not rate them high enough.-It might be partiality, but they seemed to me purely classical-just like Homer & Virgil, Ovid & Propria que Maribus.

Remember how twice a day she was intensely looking for a letter from Frank. One finally came. She is very anxious about him. She reads how so many are slaughtered at Corunna and she thinks about it. Maiming was common; he was seeking prizes and that means violence. It was a kind affecionate letter; she lingered over it, and I suggest she answered, showing her anxiety for him:

— I had a nice, brotherly letter from Frank the other day; which after an interval of nearly three weeks, was very welcome.-No orders were come on friday, & none were come yesterday, or we should have heard today. —

Their inadequate present home. They hoped that Miss Curling would not seek to stay with them. Their house would be damp and cold — damp from the floods from snow, cold from how they don’t over heat the place (as we’ve seen). This is a connection shoring up Frank’s connections in the navy so they must make do. Imagine Jane trying to make a room more comfortable and knowing she must really fail beyond showing that she made the effort: (This is The Watsons stuff).

I had supposed Miss Curling would share her Cousin’s room here, but a message in this Letter proves the Contrary; — I will make the Garret as comfortable as I can, but the possibilities of that apartment are not great. —

Eliza is a servant and they would like to take her with them to Chawton. Remember how she and Eliza sat and ate black butter together by the fire in “unpretending privacy” (Letter 63). Straight off plates held on their laps together; on another day Eliza kept to her bed ill. LeFaye seems to think “sweetheart’ refers to Eliza’s mother. That’s not likely. It’s a boyfriend-lover. Eliza is making no difficulties about how she will have t live apart from this boyfriend. For Downton and other country house and supposed norms that say servants shall have no boyfriends, at least at this level of life the mistress does not appear at all to stop romance. When they were going to Bath Austen wrote of another romance and how she would provide romance interest for servants then. Sally playing John Binns is playing hard to get to get a higher salary. Jane not as kind or forbearing as Mr Austen had been, but also she and her mother have less money:

My Mother has been talking to Eliza about our future home-and she, making no difficulty at all of the Sweetheart, is perfectly disposed to continue with us, but till she has written home for Mother’s approbation, cannot quite decide. — Mother does not like to have her so far off; — at Chawton she will be nine or ten miles nearer, which I hope will have its due influence — As for Sally, she means to play John Binns with us, in her anxiety to belong to our Household again. Hitherto, she appears a very good Servant. —

I get a great kick out of the following epigram like utterance: its spirit went staright into Austen’s Sense and Sensibility when Eleanor Dashwood comes to Cleveland and has to watch Mrs Palmer go into stitches of happy laughter upon being told her plants are all dead:

You depend upon finding all your plants dead, I hope. — They look very ill I understand. —


Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) just delighted to come to a ball at the Crown Inn (2009 BBC Emma by Sandy Welch)

Jane never tired of balls — in The Watsons Emma just revels in the one she goes to, with all its pains, mortification for the boy, attempted and thwarted romances (Miss Edwards for Captain Hunter) grating snobberies and stupid jockeying for position by those she’s surrounded by)

I imagine she might have said, echoing Johnson, the woman who is tired of balls, is tired of life. What could list shoes be? They were “shoes made of list, a strong, coarse material used for the selvage of carpets or other woven fabrics.” They sound rather porous, but presumably were not. Let us hope Jane reached home with with her ball shoes not ruined and her feet dry. But it’s odd that she can’t put the shoes aside for when she wants to go. Someone (a servant?) brings her a pair, there they are and so she must go home now. Would a family have only one pair? (I ask that rhetorically.)

Part of the enjoyment here is she is with gay younger women, still eligible for marriage. It’s a refreshing change from older single women forced to become companions, to be eager to come to someone’s house so they can get some tea. Captain Smith is a connection of her brothers and thus looking out for Jane for a partner. We have had Captain d’Auvergne before (see Letter 62) — he’s one of those who shows up for these dances – and his friend likes to be fancy too. Subsets of people do different sorts of things.

Your silence on the subject of our Ball, makes me suppose your Curiosity too great for words. We were very well entertained, & could have staid longer but for the arrival of my List shoes to convey me home, & I did not like to keep them waiting in the Cold. The room was tolerably full, & the Ball opened by Miss Glyn; — the Miss Lances had partners, Capt. D’auvergne’s friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an Officer to flirt with, & Mr John Harrison was deputed by Capt. Smith, being himself absent, to ask me to dance.– Everything went well you see, especially after we had tucked Mrs Lance’s neckhandkerchief. in behind, & fastened it with a pin. —

Anna too has gone to a ball and here Austen refers discreetly, indirectly to a sudden angry rebellion which was partly self-harm, self-destructive: Anna cut off her long hair. Jane Austen was one of those who said Anna should not be given a hard time as the cut hair would make her miserable enough, and also this would pass the incident most kindly. It could be that ignoring it was one way to repress the rebellion itself. As told in the following paragraph, the stepmother was for once decent and did not try to stop the girl’s enjoyment at the ball.

We had a very full & agreable account of Mr Hammond’s Ball, from Anna last night; the same fluent pen has sent similar information I know into Kent. — She seems to have been as happy as one could wish her; — & the complacency of her Mama in doing the Honours of the Eveng must have made her pleasure almost as great.- The Grandeur of the Meeting was beyond my hopes. –I should like to have seen Anna’s looks & performance — but that sad cropt head must have injured the former.-

A desperate pathetic Nancy Steele (Maggie Jones) (1971 BBC Sense and Sensibility by Denis Constanduros)

And then a series of not-so-funny jokes if you were Martha and reading this. Her relationship with Dr Mant is immoral but a decorous air because he is a clergyman. Ho ho. Maybe the joke is against Jane Austen herself. She felt her love was betrayed and so treated this heterosexuality as immoral. By this time Jane ans Martha are clearly growing apart. Dr Mant has not responded in some way that Martha longed for. Jane is not undeceiving Martha: Not telling Martha some painful truth. Martha is longing for a husband. That’s how Jane sees this: Martha cannot see happiness without this. Again we have Martha’s sending her regards; I see this as intense anxiety. She fears losing any one ‘s approbation. Martha is overdoing her solicitude about Cassandra’s finger.

Martha pleases herself with beleiving that if I had kept her counsel, you would never have heard of Dr Mant’se behaviour, as if the very slight manner in which I mentioned it could have been all on which you found your Judgement. –I do not endeavour to undeceive her, because I wish her happy at all events, & know how highly she prizes happiness of any kind. She is moreover so full of kindness for us both, & sends you in particular so many good wishes about [your] finger, that I am willing to overlook a venial fault; & as Dr M. is a Clergyman their attachment, however immoral, has a decorous air. —

Many of Goya’s powerful remembered images come from this wretched colonialist war set on foot by Napoleon

Peninsula war was very grievous, much misery. Moore’s son dead. Here is evidence she reads about politics. (I must read about this war when I return to my work on Winston Graham’s later Poldark books, one of which is set in Portugal and another has repercussions from the Portuguese entanglement.)

Too lovely handwriting shows low status is the joke here perhaps

Anna’s hand gets better & better, it begins to be too good for any consequence. —


Marianne Von Werefkin (1860-1938), Woman with a Lantern (1912)

And a final curious identification When I hear of the homeless I hear a bell ring for me; so Austen takes this gothic like story. Too bad she never lived to write up a novel from it, but then she was not allowed to publish Lady Susan and set aside The Watsons.

We send best Love to dear little Lizzy & Marianne in particular. The Portsmouth paperl4 gave a melancholy history of a poor Mad Woman, escaped from Confinement, who said her Husband & Daughter of the Name of Payne lived at Ashford in Kent. Do You own them

For full series, see Jane Austen’s letters


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Mae West surrounded by male supporters after she was arrested for making the movie, Sex

Dear friends and readers,

I returned to my project of reading towards and then writing a review of Nussbaum’s Rival Queens (on 18th century actresses), and found myself again facing this vexed question of how to treat prostitution. Nussbaum is determined to distinguish actresses from prostitutes, to insist the “whore” angle has been exaggerated, is even unimportant, especially when it comes to the really successful actress. So many others say the “whore” position is one incessantly attached to any actress until the later 19th century. Sometimes I’m beginning to think it’s still attached — except for the unusual actress, often English, who has made herself an icon of high culture art and/or (quiet) feminism.

So I’m reading both Sandra Richards’s The Rise of the English Actress and Kirsten Pullen’s Actresses and Whores: On Stage and in Society as my last two survey books before writing. I’ll write about Richards when I’ve finished it; this blog is on Pullen’s book which (like Elizabeth Howe’s First English Actresses and Kristina Staub’s Sexual Suspects) is a kind of antidote, contrast, rebutal to Nussbaum. Pullen differs from all these but Staub because Pullen wants to more than acknowledge that later 17th century and many 18th century actresses worked as prostitutes or were promiscuous or went in for serial relationships (very like today). Like Staub she sympathizes with women who become prostitutes, does not sneer at or degrade them through language or implications; Pullen goes further: she wants to legitimize prostitution or women’s sexuality in liberated forms.

The glaring fault or gap in Pullen’s presentation is she leaves out a real aspect of prostitution: violence. I couldn’t find the word in all the first chapter. Yes other professions have problems with injuries, hurts, exploitation of the body, but a miner when a mine falls on him has not been put there to have that happen: violence is part of what costumers want to pay for. Prostitutes are directly answerable by their bodies. Yet Pullen is valuable: she makes all sorts of persuasive counterarguments showing how this stigmatizing of the prostitute is unjust; they are not different from the rest of women, only on a continuum, and the edge of this continuum matters (it spills over into today’s sex trafficking, modern forms of chattel slavery for women).

So Pullen’s is a fresh frank book which can make one question, why the need to separate actresses from prostitutes so intensely as Nussbaum does when at the same time Nussbaum is happy to show her actresses crossing all sorts of sexual taboos? What really bothers Nussbaum to separate prostitution off? I doubt it’s the violence for she remains resolutely at a distance from the body most of the time, but rather that in the 18th century and today a woman needs to de-sexualize her worldly presentation or she cannot rise to power, big money and respectability. It’s the respectability Nussbaum craves for her actresses. (Without it no tenure I suppose and for academic women the guise is dowdy clothes.)

This is a third in a series of blogs I mean to write on 18th century actresses (see Margaret Woffington, Francis Abingdon, with Susannah Cibber and Catherine Clive, foremother actress, writer, poet), another of several about the treatment of prostitutes and women’s sexuality in our society (e.g., On “an argument for not trying to decrease prostitution”).


There is no picture of Elizabeth Davenport Boutell; this is an unusal one found in books and on the Net as Elizabeth Barry (see the common one and wikipedia): it has the merit of genuinely capturing a thoughtful face which is not conventionally pretty; I don’t know its provenance

In Pullen’s prologue she argues that Mae West was the first screen heiress of earlier actresses, a woman who actively sought to break down repressive restrictive notions of sexuality for women; she then moves to two chapters on the long 18th century stage — her best and most persuasive because she show that the sexualized demeaning legends that grew up immediately around the actresses often had little connection with the literal realities of their lives. Betty Boutell provides the first ironic story.

Boutell was a second line actresss (so to speak) in the restoration (Elizabeth Barry was a more central presence) and the ugliest scurrilous assertions were made about Betty Boutell, basically that she went to bed with anything. A famous line from a particularly misogynistic poem refers to her as Betty Boutell “whom all the Town fucks.”

Elizabeth Davenport Boutell was her full name (born 1649, died 1715). Judith Milhous has put together the real details of Boutell’s career and life. Guess what? we cannot connect Boutell to even one man as his mistress or as one stage in a series of serial monogamous relationships on her part regularly at all. When it comes to her private off-stage life what we discover is Betty Boutell married a Mr Boutell, and led a respectable married and prosperous life in the 1670s and 80s. Upon becoming financially successful enough to be independent, she separated herself from him and travelled (to, among other places, Holland several times in the 1690s). She became close with one woman friend, Elizabeth Price who she helped with a lawsuit against an Earl. There is evidence of her living in London and caring for her sister, Francis, when Francis became ill — her sister was not as strong as she and suffered nervous collapses and was towards the end of her life confined in an asylum and then taken care of by Betty (and her money). When nearly 50 Betty was still acting in Breeches roles, and living a cosmopolitan life travelling in Europe. When she retired she was well off enough to buy an annuity for Price, and to inherit money from her sister’s first husband, collect a debt from one Justin Maccarty (3rd son of Earl of Clancarry), rumored to be her lover, but there is no proof of this or even anecdotes of any kind. She died in 1715 leaving bequests worth about 800 pounds.

And yet Betty is best remembered as a whore, so strongly helplessly heterosexual she could not resist any man in town. How or why is this? Pullen shows that the kinds of parts Boutell took would create (if they were real in the world) a woman who was promiscuous. In her first chapter Pullen also goes over attitudes towards sex, women, marriage, actresses. Whore was a term used for any unchaste woman — and in common pop parlance today one finds “ho” used similarly. Older historians used the whore/actress connection to limit the agency and write condescendingly of women. It’s virtually impossible to disentangle much that was rumored with what actually happened to a woman. Much that we do have suggests (Pullen is quite different from Nussbaum continually) a lack of respect for actresses. Pullen does agree with Straub that rowdiness was very bad for actresses, they did not enjoy it, thrive have “robust” responses (as Nussbaum claims). Who could when, for example, one of Middleton’s men threw shit in Rebecca Marshall’s face when she tried to flee him.

Earlier historians of actresses show a lack of respect for their women; simply assume the general truth of the sex rumors and go about to explain (justify) why women did accede to sell their bodies. They never stop to think maybe this or that woman didn’t. No empathy here, no endowing them with real humanity with all its individualities. Or you get the kind of thing Lawrence Stone in his study odes: he will say well she must’ve been frigid, that’s why or how she escaped promiscuity (women naturally are promiscuous you see, they all want heterosexual sex from men). Quaif denies women agency and choice; more recent studies show women did assert their romantic and sexual desires (Lois G. Schwoerer) but cannot get their minds around an idea a women might just see that independence of men was the real way to achieve liberty, peace of mind, personal self-respect and power over the self.

Pullen is very good on the 17th century stage world: she describes (unusually) a rough, hard, mean place, often squalid in experience and risky for actors and actresses; we learn about its crafts (too) as well types of plays, staging: theater stage design, costumes meant to display women and underline sexuality strongly (in men too). Pullen also remembers that men were prostitutes, men had a problem with status, also threatened the class status of aristocrats, the wealthy and respectable. Mohun (a baron) got away with murdering William Mountfort with impunity. Mohun a lout, thug, drone; Mountfort a hard-working intelligent actor. Wjho cared what they were as individuals. Pullen does agree with Nussbaum that both male and female actors did play and same roles and kinds of roles over and over which the public persisted then (and does until today) creating a sort of putative personailty/biography from.


Charlotte Charke (another unusual image); there is no image for Margaret Leeson

In Chapter Three Pullen takes us into two memoirs of women who are openly sexually promiscuous: Margaret Leeson and Charlotte Charke. Pullen wants us to see how the circumstances of these two and how they wrote about it show why we must bring into our perspective how women sold themselves for sex and not reject them for this at all. In effect Pullen wants to increase the number of women we respect.

I knew of Charlotte Charke’s life and autobiography: she is probably known to 18th century scholars because she was the daughter of Colley Cibber (who threw her off) and openly lesbian, a transvestite, but I had never heard of Margaret Leeson. Leeson was able to write her memoirs because in her last years she had become a brothel madam and was thus somewhat protected from the violence and control from others lower status prostitutes had to endure.

Leeson’s book is long: I downloaded 3 full volumes in ECCO. What a hard and in the end sad life she had. In a nutshell, when young she was seduced, impregnated and abandoned by a young man; her family refused to take her in. Abandoned by his man she could not find any job to support herself, had not been trained for any and ended up a prostitute in the streets. Strength of character, luck took her on a journey where she became a successful brothel madam for a couple of decades. But late in life aging (perhaps ill), she became depressed, lonely, and in the end without friends. It could be her business went badly so she wrote to make money, but her memoirs were the final thing that destroyed her. Instead of creating sympathy. (There is no wikipedia article on her.) Pullen thinks Leeson’s memoirs actually destroyed her career as a brothel-madam. Leeson died in extreme poverty, aged sick. In her memoirs, Leeson does assert her right to a life of her own, to respect, to sexual pleasure. Sometimes she revels in her life, sometimes she apologizes. She too downplays the violence.
I felt for her.

Leeson was never an actress but I can see how she belongs to Pullen’s book. At the close her (poignant to me) memoir Leeson makes an argument for valuing other kinds of virtue in women than chastity (or virginity): generosity, charity. Like many other actresses then and since, shows herself charitable (today’s actresses interest themselves in good causes); in one case, Leeson is kind to another brothel-madam left dead and destitute; Leeson praises people for generosity; and presents herself as never debauching an innocent young woman; and asserts that she did find work including prostitution for women ejected by their families. She has several love affairs but also strong friendships with women; her female friends sustain her. These latter details remind me of how Fanny Hill justifies one of the madams who becomes her friend in the novel by Cleland.

I know for some there’s no need for me to rehearse the the outline of Charlotte Charke’s life, but as seen in Pullen’s perspective a rather different set of experiences emerges (also different from Emma Donoghue’s because Donoghue wants to prove she was a lesbian and active sexually). We see a hard-working life. The obviously transgressive Charlotte , Colley Cibber’s unlucky daughter, sister of the vicious Theophilus (no help to anyone but himself) was a late child, not sympathized with (mother exhausted by this time), so had a neglected childhood. She married Richard Charke to get away; he was a violinist, spendthrift, promiscuous, indifferent to her; alas Charke lies to the reader frequently: defensively, to cover up, but it’s lies.

Much of her life she worked in the theater as actress; she worked with her brother in illegal theaters; with Fielding, father’s rival, took male roles repeatedly, for her a breeches role not a woman revealing herself but a male role (acted roles her father took and roles meant to recall him), reputation as rebellious and 1737 act destroys her connections with legitimate theater world; ran puppet theater, 1746 a strolling played, 1753 return to London and begins to write (for money), memoir, novels, and dies 1760 still estranged from family and living with Mrs Brown

Was hers an appeal to lesbians in the audience? Is this why she was so frank? Pullen says this handle was a double-edged sword, for Charke became disliked because she was clearly not subjugated to men; she had a regular audience in women by the 18th century; her power appealing as alternative to conventional women’s roles. A woman of conflicted identities, without resources, in debt. So cross-dresser seen as “whore” because she is “outside the mainstream” fo “femininity” Pullen does not see her as aligned in public mind as a man but a prostitute. She cross-dressed because it was easier to find work as a man, she attracted attention and got jobs on stage, she felt power and privilege; she uses theatrical conventions. Charke exhibits playfulness and she plays a comic hero; denies natural characteristics of women, remains in control of her fate; a world of women working and living together. Yet she yearned for the comforts of family life. She wanted someone to love her.

Pullen ends on an usual summing up: in these memoirs we see the “whore” position offers a woman space from which to speak. In the 18th century it was not even acceptable for the chaste woman to write and publish a book with her name on it.


Lydia Thompson

I was at first puzzled by Chapter 4. Pullen tells the story of Lydia Thompson and Charlotte Cushman, two actresses who defied norms of femininity at the time. This may be seen in their pictures.

Charlotte Cushman

Thompson dresses like a masculine woman who is exposing her usually hidden sexual parts. Cushman really looks mannish, powerful body and although her lower legs are exposed, the flat shoes do not allow them to be taken as sexy.

Their stories: Thompson — together with a troupe of women and her second husband, Henderson — succeeded in making a financial success of a burlesque act which was bawdy and involved cross-dressing and breaking sexual taboos. Then after initial approval. the critics turned against her: what was most loathed was her defiance of male prerogative (she led her troupe) and her exposure of female as well as male aggression in sexuality. The criticism was vitriolic, mostly because she was making money, getting audiences, apparently amused the crowds.

What Pullen shows is Thompson fought to have her own narrative of her life emerge and it never did. Thompson stressed middle class background, respectability (which by contrast Boutell never had a chance to). Thompson even had children to show, but at the same time on stage she flaunted her sexual behavior. Those attacking made her subordinate to Henderson as if she had no agency. She tried and tried to get a discourse dominant which showed she was in charge; she never managed that. Thompson tried to construct a story that would appeal to the public and was really partly true, but she could not control what use was made of her words and photos.

Pullen ends her tale of Thompson on a odd climactic moment: it seems that Thompson literally assaulted her worse critic, Storey, in the face with a horse whip. Pullen says when this event was told in newspapers every attempt made to downplay Thompson’s violence. Since Pullen has had so little violence in her book, this sudden eruption is startling. This violence of Thompson comes from nowhere, like from a vaccuum, Pullen herself treats in almost a trivializing way, as half-joking justified retribution.

Charlotte Cushman was probably a lesbian and did make a successful career out of popular theater — vaudeville. She was more accepted by the critics for she was content to present herself as lower class. She said financial circumstances drove her to the stage. Like Margaret Woffington, Cushman played male roles as males. So in this woman’s life and public history, the element of class ironically emerges as what affected how she was allowed to succeed in life.s consciousness, what class the actress feels she belongs to. Here also the question of fashion comes in: it is not just self-expression, but (as in Francis Abingdon’s success) a visible marker of identity according to controlling conventional norms. Cushman got away with her act because she presented herself as not defying upper class femininity — thought the cross-dressing was still seen as transgressive, and treated as a joke, not discussed seriously, the way 18t century actresses delivering epilogues were treated.

At the same time in normal social life neither woman was ever acceptable, ever invited into respectable women’s homes or society. Pullen cites two treatises (Dr Sanger and Dr Action) who denied good or natural women sexual feeling. The horror felt by these Victorian men as well as what was said of Cushman, Thompson, and at the opening of the 19th century other actresses (say Dora Jordan) reminds me of Trollope’s attitude towards transgressive women. Trollope has them in the “virtuous” place in his plot-designs but treats them as inferior and polluted; Dickens leaves them outside as monsters. Thackeray has them inside but as very bad or as jokes.

So these two women were not socially successful but symbolically important. Pullen’s argument is that to understand what happened to them we need to recognize and to respect the whore component here. We can’t avoid it as they were called whores and worse, so if we marginalize them stigmatized women, we lose their story and its signficance. Pullen is making the point that from the marginalized position Thompson was forced to take, she spoke to her social order and thus it is important to recognize the validity of the job as prostitute.


Julia Roberts (note the long hair is still a characteristic of the whore-actress) and Richard Gere (Pretty Woman).

Pullen’s last chapter is about prostitution. At first she was so dead wrong, that I was tempted to put the book down at last. But then she produced an example of her stance that made me pause.

She begins with a movie, Pretty Woman and from that deduces “the performative nature of prostitution.” This is taking Judith Butler and Lacan very far; first her evidence is a movie, a sentimentalized fiction. More centrally, that the real self of someone is different from their self on the job or in different roles is one thing but to disassociate prostitution from the real body is to mistake it altogether. This is social constructionism misused. What Kirsten wants us to see is prostitution is a form of playacting. She did ethnic research among prostitutes &discovered that’s how they like to see themselves. I like to see blogs as important writing; does that mean they are?

What is the difference between an actress and prostitute then? that actresses are taken seriously and respected because of 150 years or realism on stage, discourses of admiration for their acting and they live so luxuriously and are accorded fame. First not all are, and then throughout the book and here too Pullen is forgetting the central reality of prostitutes lives: they are answerable directly with their bodies; she wants us to ignore the story of the “poor beaten victim” as a simply stereotype; it’s not. Has she not heard of trafficking women? Violence is wreaked on prostitutes; they are outside the loop of respectability and the police care not. Police use and beat them too. People are violent creatures. Whores (let us use the demeaning term) have no status. It’s a free-for-all (and homosexual people face the same terrors).

I was going to shut the book – not because I’m against someone being
sympathetic to prostitutes but then I noticed Pullen turned to “high
class” prostitutes” (those who are hired by agencies for big sums of
money) and she began to make her argument in ways that resemble Nussbaum’s — by looking at exceptions. She also began to make the argument that prostitute stories in movies and fiction are told to make political points about areas of life outside prostitution.

I read on.

Her argument is that the two stereotypes, beaten up street-walking victim, or high class call girl who “succeeds” leave out the myriad of realities and types and experiences that make up the reality and history of prostitutes lives over the century. One is it’s something many women have done for a little while or part time to make ends meet or achieve some goal for which they can make enough money only by selling their bodies. Selling your uterus for someone to impregnate artificially is analogous. Pullen manages to suggest the array of reasons women might go in for prostitution. You do learn of organizations prostitutes make up for themselves and individuals who went public (it’s very rare) like Linda Marchiano who played Linda Lovelace in the notorious Deep throat. And she admits it does seem most women who go public pay harshly for it, and most of the lives told end in misery and are harder to endure than lives lived where men treat women as chaste and thus not subject to physical moves without some previous by-your-leave.

Nevertheless, Pullen’s persistent notion that performance as what prostitution is “really,” that it corresponds to women on the stage does actresses as disservice, trivializes what actress do on stage (people are not actors on a stage, what we do counts in life, the play is over after 2 hours) and on the face of her own evidence does not correspond to the reality based experiences of actresses. She becomes sentimental telling the love experiences these prostitutes had with customers and bosses that they tell her. These tales correspond to the biographies of actresses that Nussbaum (and Laura Engel in her book Fashioning Celebrity) recount – in that they mirror today’s mores more than what happened.

So many of them are ashamed too. The use any word but prostitute for themselvese any word but “whore” — which has come back to mean promiscuous women once again in the 21st centruy. Feminism has not even been able to make the term narrowly precise; it’s slander.


Juliet Stevenson (in Rosalind, a breeches role in As You Like It) and Fiona Shaw (as Celia) in a 20th century production of Shakespeare’s play — two actresses who have escaped the stigmatizing

One thing comes clear: how tabooed this profession is, how stigmatized promiscuity among women. Pullen downplays the violence and her pooh-poohing (for that’s what this is) over the “victim stereotype” and arguing against attempts to stamp out prostitution by getting after the men who frequent them is (I think) allowing this to happen, supporting the establishment’s cruelties towards women. What would she say to traffickers in undeveloped countries who snatch women? of laws and customs which allow families to sell their daughters as submissive wives at ages 12-15. Shall we let them do what they want too?

It would be wonderful if the truth about women’s lives which leads to prostitution, the false tales told of women on the stage could change the way women in general and women who are driven to sell their bodies are seen and treated. Yes women have resorted to this out of desperation on and off during their lives sometimes; they have occasionally lucked in and found a good husband; gotten a job on an interview which included a demand for sex, a promotion. But they have also been raped and engulfed through debt and having no friends or relatives who will help them and died young and sick most of the time. Or gotten out in time and died old and quiet.

Pullen’s is finally a generous minded book which is wrong because she slides over harsh realities with her performative nonsense. It doesn’t work on its own terms.

Still on her behalf and behalf of reading this book and thinking about it, I’d like to confide a brief incident. I’d been reading Annibel Jenkins’s rich, informative, insightful biography of Elizabeth Inchbald, a later 18th century actress and playwright and writing about it on line and when I told of Jenkins’s demonstration that Inchbald has sexual desires and experience outside her husband at least once, I was confronted with a repeatedly urged denial and Inchbald’s behavior if it were so characterized in the derisory absurd term, “sleeping around” (why is a fuck called sleeping around; you need not sleep with anyone to fuck them or be fucked). Jenkins herself will wonder why another actress who did not maintain the chaste reputation Inchbald did, Mary Well, didn’t sleep with a given man. It did not occur to Jenkins in that moment maybe Wells didn’t like him. No she was an actress, ergo probably promiscuous, and ergo could have nothing against sex with anyone.

Pullen wants such seething underlying hatred of women’s sexuality which comes out today as slut-shaming to end and writes her book in this good cause.

Helen Mirren who uses as well as defies the sexual stereotyping (from “Scent of Darkness” in Prime Suspect: in the next instance she spits in this man’s face in retaliation for the way he has tried to destroy her career)


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1812 winter walking dress

Dear friends and readers,

This is another wintry letter (see Letter 64): snow, cold, people ill, such a severe winter, a doctor. During this period she’s writing The Watsons, Lady Susan.

General observations:

It’s filled, stuffed with middling aged single women, Austen’s world and most of them living on the edge: from Miss Murden to the Miss Williams’s, to Martha – again a reference to her running after a man. I fear that Nancy Steele is a part satire on Martha. It hurt and offended Austen that Martha was not satisfied with her; she has learnt to accept it, but her feelings fuel characters who chase men no matter who or what. She grows irritated with one woman recently married, Mrs Col Tilson for parading herself and seeking attention.

There’s also still (!) the problem of escorts when she does go somewhere — two men have disappointed and now Austen is hoping for others who will not be troublesome. She wants men because the conventions say they must have them, for the appearance of the thing, but men who will not be felt as there. There is certainly enough here and in these letters to suggest a lesbian orientation. Terry Castle should have argued from a general reading of the letters (if she did one, but it takes time and effort and hard work and maybe she’d have found the letters boring).

Still on the problems of being a single women – even if at the same time she prefers to be single — of travel. It seems men use travel etiquette to control the women. Austen puts it this way: “Edw & Henry have started a difficulty respecting our Journey …” She does not detail it. I have to go back and look at where early on Frank makes for difficulties and see if the way it’s stated shows as clearly that Austen feels this is a partly a frustrating ploy.

Her mother (Austen’s) ill again is part of the vein of everyone sick,
and again we have from Austen dubiety that the mother is really ill;
as the years have gone on and with Mr Austens’ death, it seems to me
Jane’s view that this is hypochondria has won the day and Mrs Austen
is subdued. She has lost ground as she ages — what happens to older
people as even if they have enough money become more dependent on the

She is again looking forward to Chawton, at least comfortable in this
prospect — in having somewhere for sure they are really going to –
but as yet by no means really eager.

We now have 3 letters in a row with no break whatsoever. They also
look uncensored. Then suddenly a leap and Austen “disappears” (to use
Nokes’s term) for 3 months and then an astonishing letter demanding a ms back — if we take into consideration how we’ve hardly had a mention of the novels. One thus far to be precise, about First Impressions that Martha has memorized it is the implication — now there’s something I understand as I never did before — it’s significant it’s Martha who has read it incessantly. She and Martha were some sort of lovers. As Martha once loved Austen, so she loved FI (its former title).

I wonder if the missing gap registers a time when it came home to
Austen that wow now retired and in a house at least her brother owned,
with few people about, a lower status house, she’d be left alone to
write. If she voiced this openly and was shot down for it, but ignored
the family’s not wanting her to turn primarily into writer and thus
wrote her MAD letter anyway. She wanted the ms back because she was
going to Chawton and foresaw she could work on it.

I wish we could know this because then we’d have definite evidence (though Harman has close read persuasively new glimpses and hints) the family were partly complicit or didn’t mind how Austen’s attempts at a career (sending ms’s out) had gone nowhere. I don’t think this is special punishment but rather the way women were treated and Austen was no different.

1809 — we are getting close to Chawton, to when Austen begins openly
at long long last to writing about her novels in her letters. I know
the discussions are not really satisfying, but still there will be
some! the extent to which the letters either hid the writing or
Cassandra destroyed any references to it is much much greater and
frustrating than I had thought before I started this project.


Jacob Ruisdael (1628-82), Winter landscape

Moving through the specifics of the letter:

Cassandra’s godmother has not yet died and Austen has enjoyed the letter Cassandra sent telling of the life at Godmersham:

I am happy to say that we had no second Letter from Bookham last week. Yours has brought its usual measure of satisfaction & amusement, & I beg your acceptance of all the Thanks due on the occasion. —

I don’t understand this sentence unless it means literally what it says: Cassandra thought to send Jane and her mother and Martha a scarf worn close around the neck. Today a cravat is a highly uncomfortable neck-gear under which one ties a tie, but in the 18th century it could be any kind of clothing worn about the neck. Since (as we shall see) it was cold, perhaps Jane had a sore throat.

Your offer of Cravats is very kind, & happens to be particularly adapted to my wants-but it was an odd thing to occur to you. —

The cold and snow. In the previous letters there had been responses to stories of illness. We see that boys were taught to sew when they were very young, even if older they could divest themselves of this skill. Nothing so useful as a shirt or garment, but a footstool. The satin stitch was a strong one.

Yes — we have got another fall of snow, & are very dreadful; everything seems to turn to snow this winter. — I hope you have had no more illness among you, & that William will be soon as well as ever. His working a footstool for Chawton is a most agreable surprise to me, & I am sure his Grandmama will value it very much as a proof of his affection & Industry — but we shall never have the heart to put our feet upon it.-I beleive I must work a muslin cover in sattin stitch, to keep it from the dirt.-I long to know what his colours are — I guess greens & purples

And now the hitch over travel arrangements. We are not told why, but evidently Edward and Henry are starting up difficulties. Jane says “if the former” wants to stop us from going into Kent,” and I take the former to mean Edward. Jane’s plan will it will not do. Their arrangements are made; they are going to use the Croydon Road (which I take it was a coaching-able road); they have slept at the inn at Dartford before. Why Edward wants them to go straight to Hampshire and Chawton I know not.

Edwd & Henry have started a difficulty respecting our Journey, which I must own with some confusion, had never been thought of by us; but if the former expected by it, to prevent our travelling into Kent entirely he will be disappointed, for we have already determined to go the Croydon road, on leaving Bookham, & sleep at Dartford.-Will not that do? — There certainly does seem no convenient restingplace on the other road.

Then a paragraph noticing how little pleasure Anna Austen (later Lefroy) got out of life: put down and marginalized, ostracized by the jealous resentful stepmother, Mary, she does have a Matthew aunt who might actually be a decent interesting person. There is nothing against it. Austen will live in hope. Anna is getting to go only because James and Mary visited before this and Mary was pleased at the woman. Her praise proves nothing I suppose because she’s the usual hypocrite plus she has no understanding of what is worth while in people. Anna is growing up and looking better because of this, but Mary is very begrudging in all compliments, and won’t praise the young girl beyond this minimum. Austen may have sniffed at the smallness of balls nowadays; not she finds Anna will not even have this tiny ball and she is sorry. The girl would have enjoyed it.

“Anna went to Clanville last friday, & I have hopes of her new Aunt’s’ being really worth her knowing. — Perhaps you may never have heard that James & Mary paid a morning visit there in form some weeks ago, & Mary tho’ by no means disposed to like her, was very much pleased with her indeed. Her praise to be sure, proves nothing more than Mrs M.’s being civil & attentive to them, but her being so is in favour of her having good sense. — Mary writes of Anna as improved in person, but gives her no other commendation. — I am afraid her absence now may deprive her of one pleasure, for that silly Mr Hammond is actually to give his Ball-on friday. —

A whole bunch of marginalized, people who have suffered continual stress because of this squeezing of them. Earle Harwood we will remember displeased his family by marrying for love a young woman the domineering hypocritical would have ostacized. Miss Murden needs that disabled desperate carebox (basket); we may hope that we will have enough of a quorum to go on. The Williams family; there is nothing to indicate ugliness or bitterness beyond the home-y-ness acknowledged briefly. The purple and mahogany are excuses to end the men back to safety.

— We had some reason to expect a visit from Earle Harwood & James this week, but they do not come. — Miss Murden arrived last night at Mrs Hookey’s, as a message & a basket announced to us.- You will therefore return to an enlarged & of course improved society here, especially as the Miss Williamses are come back. — We were agreably surprised the other day by a visit from your Beauty & mine, each in a new Cloth Mantle & Bonnet, & I daresay you will value yourself much on the modest propriety of Miss W’s taste, hers being purple, & Miss Grace’s scarlet unity and forbearance. It’s been my understanding that flecks of gold are alway actually welcomed.

The state of Austen’s clothes. She is giving herself time to come up to some sort of costume.

I can easily suppose that your six weeks here will be fully occupied, were it only in lengthening the waists of your gowns. I have pretty well arranged my spring & summer plans of that kind, & mean to wear out my spotted Muslin before I go. — You will exclaim at this-but mine really has signs of feebleness, which with a little care may come to something. —

The eager Miss Nancy Steele (Anna Madeley) embarassing even her sister, Lucy (Daisy Haggard) (2008 S&S)

Marths running after any one, even Dr Mant. Is not this Miss Parolles’s from Burney’s Cecilia (or Anne Eliot, more discreetly) — or Miss Nancy Steele chasing after her doctor-male in S&S:

Martha & Dr Mant are as bad as ever; he runs after her in the street to apologise for having spoken to a Gentleman while she was near him the day before. — Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married Daughters. —

CA is Charles’s wife; she gave birth at the same time as Mrs Esten. Kintbury is the family home of the Fowle group. Mrs Esten is Esther Palmer and thus related to Mrs C-A, a Palmer. Mary Jane is Mary Jane Fowle, relative to Cassandra’s dead love (he is being kept alive in memory to spare Cassandra having to try again). The Aunt Martha is Jane’s beloved Martha who is leaving them.

We hear through Kintbury that Mrs Esten was unluckily to lie in at the same time with Mrs C.A. When William returns to Winchester Mary Jane is to go to Mrs Nunes for a month, & then to Steventon for a fortnight, & it seems likely that she & her Aunt Martha may travel into Berkshire together. —

This brings memories of their (Martha and Jane’s) love. It put me in mind of the letter sent to Martha and the ones about Jane’s visit to her before the blow feel about leaving Steventon. Jane’s love for Martha and their enjoyment of one another’s company is strong here because of the understatement.

We shall not have a Month of Martha after your return-& that Month will be a very interrupted & broken one; –but we shall enjoy ourselves the more, when we can get a quiet half hour together. —

Austen does distinguish Sydney Owenson from the huge mass of people turning out drivel, but she’s not really doing or delivering what is claimed: strong sensual and chivalrous action. Jane’s use of a pun shows she is alive to the intensity of romantic vocabulary, but begs leave to say it’s not real. If it could touch the body and warm the body up during winter it might be worth something. And she is rightly irritated by the foolish boast one has written something quickly. Austen’s books were “gradual performances”, at least 3 across a lifetime.

We have got Ida of Athens by Miss Owenson; which must be very clever, because it was written as the Authoress says, in three months — We have read only the Preface yet; but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much — If the warmth of her Language could affect the Body, it might be worth reading in this weather. — Adieu

(Nancy Paxton has an excellent chapter on Owenson’s The Missionary in her Writing Under the Raj.)


Emma (Kate Beckinsale) and Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton) visiting Miss and Mrs Bates and Jane Fairfax (1996 BBC Emma)

Jane Austen spends her time with marginalized half-desperate people — this is the bottom part of the world of the Watsons, Miss Bates telling Patty not to tell her what this or that in the house needs.

So, on this day so cold (and people without funds or clothes to offset it) that some servants’ friends nearly froze to death and one may now be permanently crippled:

She bids adieu as if Cassandra were in front of her; she must stir the fire and with Martha and Mrs Austen visit some maiden lady friends in the same economic circumstances as they:

So now Miss Murder is the paid companion of the chemist’s widow. She fears spending too much money on herself or has long habituated herself to denial. Probably the latter idea is meant too: Remember the stinking fish of Southampton; well Jane didn’t think the place was particularly good on light. The “neat parlour” is a carved out area three removes from a window. Reminds me of modern cubbyholds in offices. Only the big bosses get the windows. That last line is a kind of dig. They hear the apothecary at work. Years ago I was actually offered a full time job at LaGuardia Community College and a tenured person needled me I would smell the chicklets from the nearby chicklet factory. On the other hand it reads neutrally. It is simply the truth and Austen does not like pretension. In fact the sound made them lively or they heard lively people nearby:

“. — Adeiu –I must leave off to stir the fire & call on Miss Murden. Evening I have done them both, the first very often. — We found our friend as comfortable, as she can ever allow herself to be in cold weather; — there is a very neat parlour behind the Shop for her to sit in, not very light indeed, being a la Southampton, the middle of Three deep — but very lively, from the frequent sound of the pestle & mortar.

We have met the Miss Williams in an earlier letter where we learned they were not pretty and not young; they managed by the males taking far more than one sinecure and they were connected to Aletha Bigg (who rented the prebendal house LeFaye tells us). Not in good health either. Conversation consisted of the doctor coming in and talking of how severe the weather is and exchanging tales of illness. her mother went on and on about her illnesses; Austen does not make fun here. The mother cannot walk easily — perhaps arthritis? Can anyone wonder at Sanditon? Maybe its source was not centrally Austen’s own mortal illness and terrible pain at the time.

Who is Hamstall? As they are clergymen’s daughters, it’s natural for them to have such books. Examination of the Necessity of Sunday-drilling (memorization of passages in Sunday school?), Sermons, chiefly designed to elucidate … doctrines. The goal of the the third type Austen can at least approve: Practical and Familiar Sermons … Better than pontificating.

Mrs Smith (Helen Schlesinger) ill, imporverished (1995 BBC Persuasion)

We afterwards called on the Miss Williamses, who lodge at Dusautoys; Miss Mary only was at home, & she is in very indifferent health.-Dr Hacket came in while we were there, & said that he never remembered such a severe winter as this, in Southampton before. It is bad, but we do not suffer as we did last year, because the wind has been more N.E.-than N.W — For a day or two last week, my Mother was very poorly with a return of one of her old complaints — but it did not last long, & seems to have left nothing bad behind it. — She began to talk of a serious Illness, her two last having been preceded by the same symptoms;-but thank Heaven! she is now quite as well as one can expect her to be in Weather, which deprives her of Exercise. — Miss M. conveys to us a third volume of sermons from Hamstall, just published; & which we are to like better than the two others; — they are professedly practical, & for the use of Country Congregations. —

Could these be by Austen? Remember how she talked of Speculation being under her special protection and her protest against substituting brag? Maybe that was part of her talk conversation too. Read and perpend:

I have just received some verses in an unknown hand, & am desired to forward them to my nephew Edwd 6 at Godmersham. —

‘Alas! poor Brag, thou boastful Game!
          What now avails thine empty name?­
Where now thy more distinguish’d fame?
          –My day is 0’ er, & Thine the same.–
­For thou like me art thrown aside,
          At Godmersham, this Christmas Tide;
And now across the Table wide, Each
          Game save Brag or Spec: is tried.
“­Such is the mild Ejaculation,
          Of tender hearted Speculation.”-

This poem not included in non-attributed or dubious poems; still I wonder. The line: “My day is o’er … For thou like me art thrown aside … Austen gives this for hypocritical use to Lady Susan; the idea surfaces over and over for Jane Fairfax, Anne Elliot. I’ve seen her use “Ejaculation”, & Fanny is very tender-hearted at Speculation. She uses this stanzaic format in one of her attributed poems. I suggest it could be by her and Cassandra would understand this.

How hidden this pair of women were. They are as guarded as I remember Renaissance women being.


Frederick Wentworth (Ciarhan Hinds) (1995 BBC Persuasion)


She opens with her longing for a letter from Frank. She looks twice a day. This is not the first time she has expressed intense longing for letters from Frank; I will go back and look for the other couple of times before I try to write a published paper which I may do eventually — or give a paper at another conference. It need not be JASNA. I suggest their relationship was intensely close. Had we the three packs of letters we’d be able to discuss it; as is, all we have is his getting the place for her and his mother and sister, his apparent attempt to stop the move to Chawton, the depiction of males with letters “F” in the novels and the knowledge we do have of the letters — plus I think the intensity of MP and Persuasion towards the male heroes.

–I expected to have a Letter from somebody today, but I have not. Twice every day, I think of a Letter from Portsmouth. —

Then we see that in fact Austen longed to be rid of or ignore some of these marginalized companions: probably a combination of embarrassment and (the strong word she uses) “shame” (to be associated with them), plus boredom. Emma is bored silly by Miss Bates and also bored at the Coles’s party. She does know it’s wrong; she has Mr Knightley not be embarrassed or ashamed; and she felt back about dropping Miss Irvine. On the other hand, she is not a landowning gentleman like Mr Knightely or a heiress like Emma. To be seen with Miss Murden for Miss Austen is to be classed with her. The “as yet” also used of Charlotte when Elizabeth bids adieu suggest that Austen does identify to some extent; she knows that eventually Miss Murden will not be so well pleased, once she becomes used to not being scared of downright homelessness or near it.

— Miss Murden has been sitting with us this morning-as yet she seems very well pleased with her situation. The worst part of her being in Southampton will be the necessity of our walking with her now & then, for she talks so loud that one is quite ashamed, but our Dining hours are luckily very different, which we shall take all reasonable advantage of. —

Then, showing in a way how little some of her attitudes changed, we return to her usual irritation at the presence and burdens woman who are so stupid as endlessly to give birth give other women. She is talking about being at the christening or perhaps godmother? There is no indication who Mrs H.D. is

Mrs HY D. has been brought to bed some time. I suppose we must stand to the next.

She does identify with the upper classes. The queen’s birthday interests her for this but alas as we shall see later she “sides” with the queen against the king and the way he treats her. In this she makes stronger feminist comments than she does anywhere else. She does not care that the queen is accused of adultery; she is with her all the way. LeFaye tells us a ball was held at Southampton every Tuesday fortnight and this one was put off one day to look like they are celebrating the queen’s birthday. And here the old problem of having to get somewhere in a style she cannot afford and how her brothers will not only not help but take advantage of this somehow to discourage her from doing what they don’t care for. She lights on the Wallops as having males and accommodation least likely to be troublesome to them – embarrassing, limiting, perhaps demanding attention in return for their help:

The Queen’s Birthday? moves the Assembly to this night, instead of last — & as it is always fully attended, Martha and I expect an amusing shew. — We were in hopes of being independant of other companions by having the attendance of Mr Austen & Capt. Harwood, but as they fail us, we are obliged to look out for other help, & have fixed on the Wallops as least likely to be troublesome.-I have called on them this morng & found them very willing;

That Cassandra likes to hear this kind of detail about dances that bores many a 20th century reader; some of Austen’s descriptions of these balls are intended to amuse her sister. And Cassandra apparently has not given up on finding some husband for Jane — Jane has made it cystal clear to all she prefers Martha, off letter (like offlist) and on letter perhaps (destroyed ones) wanted a life apart with Martha and Cassandra and was stymied and repressed. Later we shall see (over Haydn the apothecary) at the same time Cassandra does not want her sister marrying down. To be fair, Austen in her descriptions does not openly long to marry him. Not for her endless pregnancies. So she shall decline Capt Smith’s invitations to dance. He is a friend of Charles (who does not appear anywhere near as often in all these letters as Frank does — probably a factor of her not writing about him and whatever she wrote being destroyed — his marriage for example). And he was less diplomatic than Frank, and less successful.

I am sorry that you must wait a whole week for the particulars of the Eveng. — I propose being asked to dance by our acquaintance Mr Smith, now Captn Smith, who has lately re-appeared in Southampton — but I shall decline it.­He saw Charles last August. —

Her irritation at women who parade in front of other women their great feats in getting married. And her ironic appreciation that it is the asses of the world who have “boundless influence.” In a sense she’s wrong here, for unless Mrs Coln Tilson has high rank and money as well, she will be ignored. And probably was:

What an alarming Bride Mrs CoIn Tilson must have been! Such a parade is one of the most immodest peices of Modesty that one can imagine. To attract notice could have been her only wish. — It augurs ill for his family –it announces not great sense; & therefore ensures boundless Influence. —

I’m not sure which Fanny is meant here, as after all Fanny Austen Knight lives at Godmersham. It cannot be Charles’s wife as she is with Charles (and having a hard time of it, as Deborah Kaplan’s articles show):

I hope Fanny’s visit is now taking place.-You have said scarcely anything of her lately, but I trust you are as good friends as ever.-[continued upside down at top of p. 1]

Poor Martha again currying favor. These anxious assertions in the last months of Martha’s living with the Austens at Southampton to Edward, to Cassandra, to Henry that she really does care for them teach us why she was eager to become independent of these people. Not Jane, probably it was Jane (and also Frank, but that was drinking down the poison of her desire for him, and his persistent indifference to her since they were young)

Martha sends her Love, & hopes to have the pleasure of seeing you when you return to Southampton. You are to understand this message, as being merely for the sake of a Message, to oblige me. —

And Henry irritated about something. He and Edward we recall were making difficulties about traveling in the last letter. Very pointed:

Yrs affect[ionate1y­J Austen.
Henry never sent his. Love to me in your last-but I send him Mine. —


The 2009 BBC Emma has the poorest Miss Bates of all the Austen films

And so this revealing slice of her life has come down to us. As I said this is one of a small series of letters where none are missing and perhaps nothing cut.

I am persuaded Lady Susan was written between 1805 (the watermark of the paper is that date) and 1809 with optimum time 1808 or so. In other words just the time she is living this bare existence of cold, genteel impoverished respectability, all morality she as far as others can see.

And what does she write? Not only The Watsons (from this time), a direct reflection of her milieu at the time and the one her father rose from, but Lady Susan — as a curiously distanced strong wish-fulfillment just as Pemberley was to be (for our extant text is that of 1811). Yes Lady Susan is an absolute cruel monster, especially to her daughter but she is also all gaiety, all strength, all liberty including a sex life at night when no one can gainsay her. No one to trouble her about how to get from one place to another. Lady Susan flies low.

In a way I’m repeating something of what Murdock said only from a very different perspective, and the drastic simplification when you compare it say to the nuances Leonora(Edgeworth), Delphine (Stael), Les Liasions Dangereuses (LaClos) is part of why she wrote it. She cut away all unpleasant realities which would preclude her inhabiting this presence — which defies all, exposes much even if not explicit, and by so doing (by the way) escaped the direct censure of her family. The family would see it as fable as it had no obvious connection to them.

People mistake when they see Austen’s primary inspiration as other books. Other books gave her the forms she could follow and improve on. But she was not bookish in this sense. Not a person who looks in the dreampools of books, but someone who wrote out of what she saw in the natural social world (so too did Trollope and he too has the same relative dearth of allusion).

She comes home from MIss Murden and she is Lady Susan at night, in the early morning. Machiavelli said he did the same; he wrote at his desk what he did because he was powerless, impoverished, marginalized in his later years. He’d even dress up to write. Jane didn’t have the clothes to waste.


See the whole series of blogs on Jane Austen’s letters


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Phyllis McGinley when young

Dear friends and readers,

About two weeks ago now Wom-po seemed to flower with poetry by Phyllis McGinley: one member and then another and then another put a poem by McGinley on the list and people began to speak of how much they enjoyed her poems. I was one of them and now think it’s high time I devoted one foremother poet blog to Phyllis. First of all, Ginia Bellafante and all those who peg McGinley as more or less complacently in rapture with life as a middle class wife in the suburbs are wrong, in effect asking us to dismiss McGinley.

Read and consider these:

Evening Musicale

Candles. Red tulips, ninety cents the bunch.
          Two lions, Grade B. A newly tuned piano.
No cocktails, but a dubious kind of punch,
          Lukewarm and weak. A harp and a soprano.
The ‘Lullaby’ of Brahms. Somebody’s cousin
          From Forest Hills, addicted to the punch.
Two dozen gentlemen; ladies; three dozen,
          Earringed and powered. Sandwiches at one.

The ashtrays few, the ventilation meager.
          Shushes to great the late-arriving guest
Or quell the punch-bowl group. A young man eager
          To render ‘Daddy Deever’ by request.
And sixty people trying to relax
On little rented chairs with gilded backs.

Occupation: Housewife.

Her health is good. She owns to forty-one,
          Keeps her hair bright by vegetable rinses,
Has two well-nourished children — daughter and son —
          Just now away at school. Her house, with its chintzes
Expensively curtained, animates the caller.
          And she is fond of Early American glass
Stacked in an English breakfront somewhat taller
          Than her best friend’s. Last year she took a class

In modern drama at the County Center.
          Twice, on Good Friday, she’s heard _Parsifal_ sung.
She often says she might have been a painter,
          Or maybe writer; but she married young.
She diets. And with Contract she delays
The encroaching desolation of her days.

This anti-war lyric:

Ballad of Fine Days

All in the summery weather,
          To east and south and north,
The bombers fly together
          And the fighters squire them forth.

While the lilac bursts in flower
          And buttercups brim with gold
Hour by lethal hour
          Now fiercer buds unfold.

For the storms of springtime lessen,
          The meadow lures the bee,
And there blooms tonight in Essen
          What bloomed in Coventry

All in the summer weather,
          Fleeter than swallows fare,
The bombers fly together
          Through the innocent air.

McGinley’s social verse is social satire. McGinley became “the “bete noir” of feminists in the 1970s, because she was widely marketed and reviewed as against ambition: the title of her book was Sixpence in my Shoe (as bad as barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen), with satires on power, ambition, and making light of access to control of your income. She is presented as someone innocent of any understanding of say The Disinherited Family by
Eleanor Rathbone, a labor politician in the UK who said to allot
money to men as the heads of families assumes it makes it to the
wives and children and showed it didn’t.

McGinley certainly does reflect the world of the 1950s, but it is the one we can read about today in Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage. Another of her books is The Diary of a Mad Housewife which can be aligned with a long tradition of such self-deprecating books — a latest one is Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. But they may be taken very differently than celebratory — as in the way Alison Light dealt with Mrs Miniver in her Forever England.

More from the sonnet sequence called “Sonnets from Suburbia:”

Lending Library

Between the valentines and birthday greetings
With comical verses, midway of the aisle,
Here is a rendezvous, a place of meetings.
Foregathers here the lady bibliophile.
A dollar down has bought her membership
In this sorority. For three cents daily
Per paper-jacketed volume she can dip
Deep in Frank Yerby or Miss Temple Bailey,

Lug home the current choices of the Guild
(Commended by the press to flourish of trumpets),
Or rent a costume piece adroitly filled
With goings on of Restoration strumpets
And thus, well read, join in without arrears
The literary prattle of her peers.

Trapped women. The world Betty Friedan exposed. Her poems follow the vein of Dorothy Parker. And these show the second aspect of her verse held against her: her formalism, her penchant for rhyme and intricate stanza formations. Just not modern. Just not what men were doing — Annie Finch has shown us that women tend to like and use rhyme.

For example,

Song of the Underprivileged Child

Youngsters today need television for their morale as much as they need fresh air and sunshine for their health…It is practically impossible for boys and girls to “hold their own” with friends and schoolmates unless television is available to them. To have television is to be “cock o’ the walk.” Not to have it, well, that is unthinkable.—Angelo Patri in an advertisement of the American Television Dealers and Manufacturers in the Times.

Mother, my mouth is dimpled,
          Mother, my cheeks are pink.
There are stars in my eyes
From exercise
          And the vitamined juice I drink.
My way is a winning way, Mother,
          My manners a hundred proof,
But I’ll never be Queen of the May, Mother—
          No aerial’s on our roof.

We have no Console Model
          For viewing of Imogene,
No Super-Precision
Full-Room Vision
          Dual-Antennae Screen.
So my playmates cry
As they pass me by
          With courtesy less than scanty,
“There goes the girl
Who doesn’t know Berle
          From Caesar or Jimmy Durante!”

What use to bind my hair, Mother,
          Or cherish my childish brain?
I can’t quote banter
By Eddie Cantor,
          I never see Benny plain.
Though I’m lavish with treats
Like sodas and sweets,
          Though my roller skates roll like jet,
Hark to the jeers
Of my youthful peers:
          “She’s got no video set!”

An outcast tot am I, Mother,
          Stranger to fun or flatt’ry,
Pitied by none
Beneath the sun
          Save God and Angelo Patri.
So turn the key in the lock, Mother,
          While you kiss my tears away,
For I’ll never be cock o’ the walk, Mother,
          I’ll never be Queen of the May!

To be fair to the view of her as creating paeans to mythic suburban moments, here is one of her most frequently reprinted poems:

McGinley later in life

The 5:32

She said, If tomorrow my world were torn in two
Blacked out, dissolved, I thnk I would remember
(As if transfixed in unsurrendering amber)
This hour best of all the hours I knew:
When cars came backing into the shabby station,
Children scuffing the seats, and the women driving
With ribbons around their hair, and the trains arriving,
And the men getting off with tired but practiced motion.

Yes, I would remember my life like this, she said:
Autumn, the platform red with Virginia creeper,
And a man coming toward me, smiling, the evening paper
Under his arm, and his hat pushed back on his head,
And wood smoke lying like haze on the quiet town,
And dinner waiting, and the sun not yet gone down

Twelfth Night

Down from the window take the withered holly.
Feed the torn tissue to the literal blaze.
Now, now at last are come the melancholy
Anticlimactic days.

Here in the light of morning, hard, unvarnished,
Let us with haste dismantle the tired tree
Of ornaments, a trifle chipped and tarnished,
Pretend we do not see

How all the rooms seem shabbier and meaner
And the tired house a little less than snug.
Fold up the tinsel. Run the vacuum cleaner
Over the littered rug.

Nothing is left. The postman passes by, now,
Bearing no gifts, no kind or seasonal word.

The icebox yields no wing, no nibbled thigh, now,
From any holiday bird.

Sharp in the streets the north wind plagues its betters
While Christmas snow to gutters is consigned.
Nothing remains except the thank-you letters,
Most tedious to the mind,

And the gilt gadget (duplicated) which is
Marked for exchange at Abercrombie-Fitch’s.

There is much information about her life at wikipedia. She is claimed by Utah as a daughter. Many of her poems are online. There is a Twayne book: Linda Welshimer Wagner, Phyllis McGinley (New York: Twayne, 1971). The best essay I’ve read on her is by Nancy Walker of Stephens College, Source: American Humorists, 1800-1950. Ed. Stanley Trachtenberg. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. An interview: “The Lady in Larchmont,” Newsweek, 56 (26 September 1960): 120-122.

Several women on wompo declared McGinley to have been a personal foremother for them, how they remembered reading McGinley’s verse as children and young women; one woman said she wanted to be a poet after reading McGinley: “they were my first encounter with a woman poet, my first sense that poetry and reflective practice sh/could be a part of the daily lives of American women.” When I first read her, I was drawn to comments she made about how growing up relatively isolated in Oregon and Utah left her to lose herself in any and all reading she could get hold of: “I am probably the only person left living who has read the entire works of Bulwer-Lytton–when I was ten years old.”


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Anne Grant’s Memoirs of an American Lady (1st edition), among the books Austen mentions in this letter

Dear friends and readers,

I am in the ironic position of having pictures to illustrate this letter with for everything but what is most interesting (and to some unexpected) in it: Austen’s repeated identification or at least written awareness of servants and poor frozen-to-death or crippled people. It is very cold.

An 18th century Flemish painting of a village in winter

I note also once again that letters are missing. Letter 64 is a transcription from an ms and traveled about to 6 places or people it is now in the Maine Historical Society. How many times published? 3 Looking at capitalizations, dashes; punctuation, abbreviation, spelling it seems faithful. (I will make an effort from here on in to pay more attention to the letters as ms’s or from wherever they come.)

This is a longer letter than Jane has written since the earliest phase of their coming to Southampton. Austen responds to a letter from Cassandra, and one from Bookham. (As a side issue I’ve mentioned before how puzzling it is to me that Burney never mentions Austen and how when Austen mentions the Cookes and Bookham, Burney never comes up. Here is a family and group of people whom both knew, and Burney by 1809 a famed novelist.)

The second portion (or page) of the letter concerns plans to visit Bookham and a reference that is so tantalizing: Jane speaks of her “political correspondents” who have been writing her of the Portuguese colonialist war. This conjures up a whole other correspondence beyond that to Frank where Austen discusses politics. Walpole’s correspondence is said to divide this way: with some to one interlocutor all politics and another all literature; to Madame du Deffand he is all gallantry; she (poor blind aging too woman) pours out her soul to him as she does not quite to Voltaire. Except that perhaps Jane is ironic, and referring to her frustrating lack of information in this deflective playful way she has.

Then we get detail about Godmersham, showing Jane entering minutely and empathetically into Cassandra’s troubles mothering 11 children. Here we fina a back-handed reference to Edward’s not about to give a generous present just at the time they are moving into Chawton (which Mrs Birch wishes for Cassandra). Much on life at Godmersham which anticipates evenings at Mansfield Park (playing cards)

Then back to the aunt at the Paragon with her stringent ideas that all the world should be catering to her, at Scarletts her rich country house (she found it “so dirty and so damp”); how dare John Binns engage himself elsewhere. (This is not Downton Abbey it seems, no Lord and Lady Granthams in sight. Forgive the contemporary media reference, gentle reader)

Then we hear of her and her mothers’s reading (and Martha too? perhaps Martha still there). Austen reading Anna Grant’s second book, her Memoir from her life as a girl in Albany New York. Semi-mockery of a popular gothic novel by Mrs Sykes.

She puts her pen down, and so to the next day, Wednesday: she worries Eliza’s health – she did die in a couple of years; Henry now getting wealthier which by contrast association brings to Austen’s mind his over-worked horse, and the freezing to death of a farmer’s wife and child. Here we do feel a genuine note of humanity and distress. In the letters Jane Austen repeatedly shows real identification and sympathy for servant and working class people: eating non-pretentiously with them was in a previous letter.

Charles’s rug comes to her mind: it’s to keep people warm. Then Marmion. Austen reading Scott’s poem and sending it to Charles “very generous in me I think.”

Finally no letter from Adlestrop — Cassandra’s aging godmother, Mrs Elizabeth Leigh of Adlestrop, said to have been very ill, still dying (not yet dead). No news is good news. That’s the world I live in. Does Cassandra continue well? her namesake? the ball Anna Austen makes do with would not have done for her.


The Battle of Corunna (16 January 1809): Brigadier General Craufurd with 95th Rifles, 43rd & 52nd Light infantry during the retreat to Corunna

To begin,

Austen responds to one of Cassandra, and one from Bookham.

I am not surprised my dear Cassandra, that you did not find my last Letter very full of Matter, & I wish this may not have the same deficiency; — but we are doing nothing ourselves to write about, & I am therefore quite dependant upon the Communications of our friends, or my own Wit. —

Casssandra had perhaps complained Austen was unusually contentless.

This post brought me two interesting Letters, Yours, & one from Bookham, in answer to an enquiry of mine about your good Godmother, of whom we had lately received a very alarming account from Paragon. Miss Arnold was the Informant there, & she spoke of Mrs E.L.s having been very dangerously ill, & attended by a Physician from Oxford. —

Cassandra’s godmothe’s ill health ended Jane’s previous letter (63). Cassandra’s letter to Jane said Cassandra had also sent one to Adlestrop. The whole of these lines breathes real concern and distress; I take it this is Jane identifying with Cassandra who cared about this woman. In this era godmothers could be second mothers easily — the role was taken seriously not just from religious practices and feelings, but because death was so common. if you lost your biological parents, the godparents were supposed to step in in some way.

Your Letter to Adlestrop may perhaps bring you information from the spot, but in case it should not, I must tell you that she is better, tho’ Dr Bourne cannot yet call her out of danger;­ such was the case, last Wednesday — & Mrs Cooke’s having had no later account is a favourable sign. — I am to hear again from the latter next week, but not this, if everything goes on well. — Her disorder is an Inflammation on the Lungs, arising from a severe Chill, taken in Church last Sunday three weeks; — her Mind, all pious Composure, as may be supposed. — George Cooke was there when her Illness began, his Brother has now taken his place. — Her age & feebleness considered, one’s fears cannot but preponderate-tho’ her amendment has already surpassed the expectation of the Physician, at the beginning.­I am sorry to add that Becky is laid up with a complaint of the same kind. —

Becky is the servant, presumably much younger.

I am very glad to have the time of your return at all fixed, we all rejoice in it, & it will not be later than I had expected. I dare not hope that Mary & Miss Curling may be detained at Portsmouth so long, or half so long — but it would be worth twopence to have it so. —

Mary is Francis’s, Austen’s older sailor brother’s wife and Miss Curling Mary’s aunt (her father’s sister). It would be worth twopence to have them stay at Portsmouth? that’s the price of the stamp so despite the plangent tone of Austen’s longing to have Cassandra home, it’s abruptly cut off with this dry surmise. She does not herself miss Mary. Jane Austen would have had to be superhuman not to resent Mary’s rejection of the Southampton household and refusal to return. She probably had done all she could (reading to her) to make Mary comfortable and had not realized how all her efforts just made the women even less comfortable. I suggest Francis’s wife was like Edward’s Elizabeth: of a very ordinary intellect, didn’t find her sister-in-law (or mother-in-law) comfortable to be around.

Then the very interesting bitten off bit about politics:

The St Albans perhaps may soon be off to help bring home what may remain by this time of our poor Army, whose state seems dreadfully critical.­ The Regency seems to have been heard of only here, my most political Correspondants make no mention of it. Unlucky, that I should have wasted so much reflection on the subject! —

Now I wonder if she is kidding. Are her “political Correspondants are an ironic invention; in fact Jane Austen has no source of special information and wishes she did. Since the St Albans is Francis’s ship and she means that he will soon be off to bring home what remains of the slaughtered suffering men, she could be that Francis does not speak of it in any detail. Not surprising. Either of these possibilities could be what she means rather than she writes to political people.

This is the story of John Moore at Corunna — part of the Portuguese colonialist war. (See Charles Esdaile’s The Peninsular War) the retreat occurred in dreadful conditions. The story is also told (briefly) in Park Honan’s biography of JA and her times (p. 243). Frank is now a captain sailing to China and India and he was paid handsomely for doing the East India’s company’s bidding — Honan offers a good deal of special pleading to make us sympathize with the man’s hard work despite the ignoble sordid goal (opium trading). Honan thinks Jane Austen was reasonably well informed with what the nature of the business was and the battle of Corunna. He suggests that Mansfield Park could be meant implicitly to function as Jane’s quiet critique of distant wealth gotten this ways.

(In later letter Jane’s honest relief she knew no one has been criticized as heartless; it’s tactless to us but not Cassandra.)


The old rectory at Bookham, a 1961 photo

They (Jane and mother) are to leave their Southampton home for good on
April 3rd. Apparently Cassandra did not like Bookham or she would feel
the lack of Austen so strongly that the day spent at Bookham needs to
be made amends for. Why the knowledge does Edward no good I don’t know
since a little later we are told Jane is not holding her breath for the Mrs Birch’s expected present:

— I can now answer your question to my Mother more at large, & likewise more at small­ with equal perspicuity & minuteness, for the very day of our leaving Southampton is fixed — & if the knowledge is of no use to Edward, I am sure it will give him pleasure. Easter Monday, April 3d is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, & be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home;-there we remain till the following Monday, & on Tuesday April 11th, hope to be at Godmersham. If the Cookes are absent, we shall finish our Journey on y” 5th These plans depend of course upon the weather, but I hope there will be no settled Cold to delay us materially. .- To make you amends =for being at Bookham, it is in contemplation to spend a few days at Barton Lodge in our way out of Kent. —

Now Barton Lodge was the home of Cassandra’s friend, Mrs Birch. It’s
not clear whether Cassandra would be there or not (I’m not sure the
arrangement is that Cassandra will set forth and visit Mrs Birch with
Jane and then Jane and she return to Godmersham), but Jane I suppose
would be a substitute and she could convey news of Mrs Birch to
Cassandra. She has already written to Mrs Birch who has written back
teasingly hoping that Edward would fork across with something when it
is so obviously needed. “Odd’ is the polite word for someone breaking
a polite barrier. Edward would not permit his daughter, Fanny, to come; she has become another substitute for his wife. Jane says anyway we have no bed for her. Since all will come to Godmersham afterward, the loss is small

— The hint of such a visit is most affectionately welcomed by Mrs Birch, in one of her odd, pleasant Letters lately, in which she speaks of us with the usual distinguished kindness; declaring that she shall not be at all satisfied unless a very handsome present is made us immediately, from one Quarter. Fanny’s not coming with you, is no more than we expected, & as we have not the hope of a Bed for her, & shall see her so soon afterwards at Gm — we cannot wish it otherwise. —


18th century playing cards

Austen now turns her attention to imagining life at Godmersham. We have breezy irony about William and his cross-stitch. What was in Uncle Deedes’s packet. He is a relative of the dead Elizabeth. Uncle John is a Bridges relation to Marianne. While speculation is a bridge type game and said to be simple, brag is yet simpler, it’s mostly luck and no thinking. That Speculation was under Aunt Jane’s “patronage” testifies to everyone’s sense of her relative wittiness. There is an insightful disquisition on this passage in David Selwyn’s JA and Leisure (271-72) and it is the game played in Mansfield Park; it is an older game and had lost popularity by the 18th century, the more complicated gambling game was preferred. this is a cheerful passage, spirited

William will be quite recovered I trust by the time you receive this. — What a comfort his Cross-stitch must have been! Pray tell him that I should like to see his Work very much. — I hope our answers this morng have given satisfaction; we had great pleasure in Uncle Deedes’ packet — & pray let Marianne know, in private, that I think she is quite right to work a rug for Uncle John’s Coffee urn, & that I am sure it must give great pleasure to herself now, & to him when he receives it. — The preference of Brag over Speculation does not greatly surprise me I beleive, because I feel the same myself; but it mortifies me deeply, because Speculation was under my patronage; — & after all, what is there so delightful in a pair-royal of Braggers? it is but three nines, or three Knaves, or a mixture of them.-When one comes to reason upon it, it cannot stand its’ ground against Speculation-of which I hope Edward is now convinced. Give my Love to him, if he is.-

But then leaves the gaiety and drops down to more grimness because she must consider the aunt. Now our reading of the letters helps us out here. We know that Jane Austen indeed loathed Bath and what she feels about this aunt’s niggardliness, egoism: Mrs Norris is a portait of Aunt Jane. We have seen the legacy the uncle got and their behavior over Stoneleigh; not one dime for the Austens once of Steventon. So we can rejoice Robert and Martha have escaped her. Of course a carriage. Holders are people now in Bath (See LeFaye’s index) and the marriage is explained there. Miss Irvine. Remember her? a maiden lady who missed Jane Austen and regretted not getting letters, how Jane felt guilty not to have responded. But she did value Miss Irvine and of course the aunt would not mention her.

The Letter from Paragon, before mentioned, was much like those which had preceded it, as to the felicity of its Writer. — They found their House so dirty & so damp, that they were obliged to be a week at an Inn. — John Binns had behaved most unhandsomely & engaged himself elsewhere. — They have a Man however, on the same footing, which my Aunt does not like, & she finds both him & the new Maidservant very, very inferior to Robert & Martha. — Whether they mean to have any other Domestics does not appear, nor whether they are to have a Carriage while they are in Bath. — The Holders are as usual, tho’ I beleive it is not very usual for them to be happy, which they now are at a great rate, in Hooper’s Marriage. The Irvines are not mentioned.-

On Anne Grant’s letters see my foremother poet blog. This is not Jane’s first reference: she looked for and enjoyed Grant’s Letters from the Mountains, but not enough to hold onto them. Austen’s reference to or way of referring to Grant does show a certain sophistication. Ausetn realizes this is not the real woman we are encountering, but her persona through a book showing a specific kind of face. It’s very frustrating the way Austen does not explain what are these faults. Sufficient for her not to want to hold onto Grant’s book. I’d like to think Austen tired of the sentimental effusions, did not go for the romantic nature of the text, but then she does value travel and descriptive writing.

The American Lady improved as we went on — but still the same faults in part recurred. —

Now the tone of this next passage does not give much comfort to those who want to see Austen reading Gothic with intense seriousness. It’s apparently a gothic novel very recently published, 5 volumes. They read the latest thing. I don’t have the resume to hand (it’s an older Notes & Queries article) but have sent for it through interlibrary loan. As it’s publication date was 1808 one can’t get it out of ECCO either. (I will note separately that LeFaye’s literary entries under “subject” are good; she has read a lot of the works and her references are thorough)

— We are now in Margiana & like it very well indeed. ­We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain. —

Jane put her pen down until the next day


A later illustration for Marmion by John Edmund Buckley

A new day brings an asperity of tone (slight mockery) in the reference to Henry’s great business success (Austen never forgets it’s not she who is making this money) but the tone of her hoping Eliza’s health is
better is simple and sincere. Austen then speaks not of Henry but Henry’s horse. Here Austen shows an attitude like that
of Southey: genuine awareness of the horse who is overworked hard.

Wednesday. — Your report of Eliza’s health gives me great pleasure — & the progress of the Bank is a constant source of satisfaction. With such increasing profits, tell Henry, that I hope he will not work poor High-diddle so hard as he used to do. —

She turns to newsprint. The sentiment reminds us how she was glad they didn’t know anyone dead in Corunna but it is not meant to be read so harshly. Austen is again registering her awareness of the ordinary and servant lives around her. Frozen almost to death. It is January in Southampton and it did snow and ice over. Miss Wood — another maiden lady, another one on the edge unmarried. The Middletons had no home or estate, the sister is the wife’s sister, another maiden woman. Austen’s world was made up of maiden women far more than we realize. It was to them she was acceptable. She does feel for the dead child. The maiden sister may end up a cripple. So on the edge, unmarried, a cripple>. This is matter for a poem by one of Austen’s favorite poets, Crabbe:

Has your Newspaper given a sad story of a Mrs Middleton, wife of a Farmer in Yorkshire, her sister & servant being almost frozen to death in the late weather — her little Child quite so?-I hope this sister is not our friend Miss Wood — & I rather think her Brotherinlaw had moved into Lincolnshire, but their name & station accord too well. Mrs M. & the Maid are said to be tolerably recovered, but the Sister is likely to lose the use of her Limbs. —

A rug is used for warmth – the association is clear. And at last a reference to a literary work of value again: Marmion, and Austen knows it is because she says it is generous of her to send it. Scott by the way did not undervalue his work. Only later reprints were cheap. I’ve never read all of Marmion, only started it. Its content is wholly out of what she usually tells of — or is allowed to have told of to us — ballad violence, heavy rhythmic stuff, Scottish history. She does not mention Scott’s name here:

Charles’s rug will be finished today, & sent tomorrow to Frank, to be consigned by him to Mr Turner’s care — & I am going to send Marmion with it; — very generous in me I think —

Cassandra’s god-mother is dying and Cassandra not getting any younger

As we have no letter from Adlestrop, we may suppose the good Woman was alive on Monday, but I cannot help expecting bad news from thence or Bookham, in a few days. — Do you continue quite well? —

Cassandra not sentimental. She also now has 11 children to care for
and the birthday of one might not loom large in her mind when she sits
down to write to Jane

In the postscript I detect a real sniff. In my time I was better served, had a better time. Slightly priggish in feel and puffing herself up, but from other comments she has made about Anna, and from our knowledge of Anna’s situation (kept at home, kept down, has a hard time getting shoes for a ball), I still surmise that Jane is aware of the impoverished youth the stepmother and environs are delivering Anna. Jane had it better than this. Nevertheless, it’s not just ungracious or clunky; it’s show-offy.

The Manydown Ball was a smaller thing than I expected, but it seems to have made Anna very happy. At her age it would not have done for me.-

Poor Anna, married off soon and then many pregnancies and genteel poverty as a widow. She burnt her attempt at a novel she began in Austen’s lifetime but did publish three other books.

Anna later in life

See JALetters; Jane Austen Letters


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Christian Wilhelm Dietrich, Landscape with Bridge

Dear friends and readers,

I rejoice to report that I’ve finished my Ann Radcliffe paper: “‘What are men to rocks and mountains?'”: The content of Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes” (see proposal). It takes something under 21 minutes to read and if anyone is interested in it, I’d gladly share it (ask me and I’ll send it by attachment). It focuses heavily on Radcliffe’s 1794 Journey Made in Summer book, and I learned a lot in doing it. This blog is on two of the books I read which I could not go into in detail in the paper.

First: Christa Wolf’s No lace on Earth, a historical fiction which imagines the great German writers of the later 18th into 19th century, Karoline von Gunderrode (1780-1806) and Henrich von Kleist (1777-1811), met and walked and talked in a village by the Rhine (they could have but alas didn’t). Both Kliest and Gunderrode killed themselves. Another woman writer of the era (life-writing), Bettine von Armin (I’m not sure the later Elizabeth married into that family) wrote a life of Gunderrode and told why Gunderrode killed herself: forced into a nunnery, when Gunderrode got out (she was as ill as Fanny Burney at court), there was no place for reading intellectual women, and she did away with herself.

Christa Wolf’s essay on this novel and an interview she let someone shed light on Radcliffe for me. It is headlong, no chapters, just an intense rush of two subjectivities. We move back and forth between Kleist and Günderrode with the connectives supplied by the present tense narrator (unnamed, but of course Christa Wolf). It’s all about modern poetry in Germany too, men and women’s relationships, about coping with social life’s demands. About unearthing this pair from the grave. An ironic level is provided by the details of the room, position of the people, and the costumes. Kleist and Gunderrode take a walk together — this reminds me of Jane Austen novels where characters gain a modicum of liberty & peace by leaving the house and going for a walk. As they walk, they express their radical or individual thoughts. Talk of sexuality — or at least think. It’s not clear all the time whether someone is talking or thinking. But what are they wearing? He is in a military uniform, she a nun’s outfit. They are encased, imprisoned, endlessly imprisoned even by their clothes.

I admire Wolf’s ability to imitate and call to mind the way people talk to one another in social life, the bitter acid underneath the depiction doesn’t corrode me, but rather makes me feel the keen knife of truth. The way Karoline is accused of being arrogant struck me; also (as I wrote on Austen-l) They did have it worse in some ways than the English (and French). I was struck by one phrase Wolf has Gunderrode use of herself: “ignominious loneliness.” Gunderrode lives in fear that her she will be seen as living in this kind of state: she is unmarried and no one wants to marry her; she is given no options she can stand. This state is one she is determined to hide and present another face to the world. I felt that this phrase again could be one that Miller is suggesting Austen lives in and that he has lived in when he found she stretched out her consciousness to him. It’s the state of Miss Bates for while the novel shows her socializing, that’s a tiny percentage of her hours. The 2009 Emma (by a woman, Sandy Welch, and that’s significant) makes a point of showing us the Bates household when alone

Wolf puts thoughts into the minds of Kleist and Gunderrode which I have when faced with analogous strained and alienating situations. It’s validating and comforting to see them there because they are expressed with nobility and as intensely understandable, even right. This is how I feel when I read George Sand in some of her earlier works and her non-fiction.

The thoughts she puts into the minds of Kleist and Gunderrode also express or articulate thoughts I have imagined other contemporary rebellious/romantic or simply highly intelligent people of the age had or which seem to predict, describe patterns of behavior I have recognized but rarely see others acknowledge, much less argue for. This is true for Radcliffe as to her behavior: she stopped publishing at the height of her success and simply fell silent but for one slender publication of poems. She did attempt to publish her pageant romance; that is, she actually put it to the press to set up, but then backed down and withdrew it.

It’s true for Jane Austen (!). I believe Jane Austen had a special relationship with her brother Frank, and do think it went as far as erotic love. I doubt they ever came near to doing anything about it, but I see enough in the letters of Frank’s behavior to feel he knew it (Farrar, Strauss Giroux translation by Jan Van Heurck, p. 94). The section on Kleist and hia sister, Ulricke, and sentences like “This is the thing concerning which they cannot and must not ever, with a single word, with even so much as a single glance, show each other that they understand their own and one another’s feelings [fully I’d add] … Which they tolerate by failing to perceive what their blood is urging deep down in its abysmal muteness. (Alas, incest is in some ways natural.) Frank is said to have carried Austen’s packets of letters to him (they amounted to 3) every where he went; within a few days of his death, a great-great niece or granddaughter is said to have destroyed them. Maybe she was acting on understood orders. Now he’s dead, get rid of them. There are other many such insights: Shelley, Mary Shelley and others.

Christa Wolf when young

In Wolf’s essay on the novella she does not say what she wants to rebel against, what she wants to do, how she feels particularly. She dare not. Well she did it here; it’s an indirect defense of herself — at times not a justification but defense of not so much suicide but chosing the path which is not safe: “freedom falls to our lot who are destined to be destroyed.” (p. 118). I did like the dark ending and wish she had included more imitations 20th century style of intimations of landscape 18th century mode:

Now it is getting dark. The final glow on the river.”
Simply go on, they think.
We know what is coming.

Karoline will soon kill herself, and Kleist when still very young in a few years. See especially “Culture Is What You Experience: An Interview with Christa Wolf,” by Christa Wolf and Jeanette Clausen, New German Critique, 27 (Autumn, 1982):89-100

One of my foremother poet postings was on Gunderrode.

The only one

How all my wits are now enslaved,
To one, to one alone I cleave;
To embrace this only one
Is my sole desire’s aim;
If I this secret wish employ,
Or fool myself in many a dream
And let my longing me consume,
To give birth to what would kill me.

Resistance is no use to me,
I come back even though I flee,
I rage, my conscience to bestir,
But cannot wean myself from her,
Must groan in anguish in my joy.
My drinking cup is filled with tears,
I sink in dreams and crazy fears;
I do not hear the dance’s sound
As it swells aloft, around.

Wave on wave swells in delight,
But I can’t see the colours bright
Streaming from the source of light.
Springtime airs try to caress,
Scents of flowers try to kiss,
But all of that is lost on me,
Is as though unborn to me,
For my spirit is held fast
By one desire above all else
To possess but one, and one alone.

Hungry amid many a guest
I sit at the joyous feast
Which Nature on the earth bestows:
Ask myself:will it soon end?
Can I then escape at last
From the nauseous repast
Which feeds other guests so lavishly,
But brings no sustenance for me?
For I have but one desire,
One longing and consuming fire;
My world is held in captive bond
By one desire, and one alone:
To possess but one, and one alone.

— Karoline von Gunderrode (English translation of “Die Einzige”


Kostheim, 1793: just before the terrible seige of Mainz began, where a series of fierce sea and land battles were fought.

Radcliffe has a very long section in her Journey book about the seige of Mainz. She journeys to the place, describes the ruins, gets a pamphlet, reads and tells the story and then re-tells what she sees with the insight she’s gained. Her thesis: it’s not over when it’s over by a long shot especially for poor civilians and women and children.

My second book was about the Siege of Mainz by Arthur Chuquet: The Wars of Revolution: VII: The Siege of Mainz and the French Occupation of the Rhineland, 1792-1793, trans and annotated by Wm D. Peterson. Chucquet tells a story uncannily familiar to anyone who has studied failed (many are utter failures) revolutions; those who take over (the French) supposedly wanting to free the oppressed actually don’t pay attention to the middling people who had learned to survive reasonably well under the old corrupt order and fear and don’t want change; they end up themselves domineering and exploiting. The poor and powerless fear all people above them and don’t know how to rule (deliberately left untaught). The old establishment fights back successfully with its priests. I’ve summed up a story told about fascinating individuals. The French who came in and Germans who joined them were the intellectuals, the artisans, the middling sort with real ideals and how their weaknesses come out. A real lesson for today. Goethe who lived in Weimar (not far off) wrote a famous account of this seige and the re-installation of the ancien regime.

The city had been a bye-word for luxury and corruption When the old order was put back much had been destroyed physically and was never rebuilt as it had been. That’s the moment Radcliffe is traveling through.

When the revolution began, and the aristocrats and their flunkies and soldiers fled what happened? A group of people who came to be called the Clubmen (they were part of a differently elite club) took over. They came to an astonishingly tactless and anti-liberty decision to incorporate this part of Germany into France. They could not get the old trade routes back for the bourgeois; the ancien regime types would not deal with them (reminds me of capitalism’s response to communism). I assume the clubman were terrified of the combined forces of Prussia, Austria, England which soon gathered force, but this will not give the people their liberty (pp. 70-72.) Each of these groups is out for specific interest: Prussia wants to expand to take some of Poland for example.

Some people saw how bad all of this was right away: “barbaric, terrible,” others said it was the “tragic necessities of war.” Immediately demanded are loyalty oaths to France. An anti-emigre law. We then get a long series of portraits of people fighting for Mainz, the revolution. The besiegers bring home how militaristic the whole culture, revolutionaries and aristocrats, all male. These are indidividuals who spend their lives making war. If you see this as indicative and widespread, you can understand why Napoleon upon getting into power made and spread continual war. Not just high aristocrats, that’s why middling males were taught to do and be (p 102)

Then a long section on the battles, the sea fights, the ships, the sorties, attempted tricks and betrayals (people disguised and telling lies about Paris), trying to get someone who is Prussian and in prison to negotiate; the failure of a political settlement when Danton falls from power.

Not mentioned by Chuquet: Heinrich von Kleist was there. It was one of his shattering experiences, and became a setting for some of Kleist’s own worst emotional experiences. Kleist was forcibly packed off to follow his family’s century-old military tradition as a 14-year-old and was only 16 when his guards regiment took part in the siege of Mainz (another Kleist, a major general, actually commanded one of the assaults on a further enemy position). Not exactly ideal for any young man and definitely not for such an over-sensitive one as Kleist. Mainz was also where he had his later nervous breakdown in the aftermath of his burning of his uncompleted ‘Robert Guiscard’ manuscript and absurd, first failed suicide bid.

Goethe was an eye-witness and darts in and out here and there. So that’s where he got his (to Germans and 18th century scholars) famous book.

It’s an extraordinary book about a significant siege. I doubt I can do justice to the details of what it reveals happened stage-by-stage during this siege. Each set of events has direct analogies with what happens politically today in reality during wars; the biggest difference of course is modern warfare when contemporary weapons are used does not permit this kind of fighting over a piece of land in this way. Single individuals in combat or leading groups of individuals cannot cope with much modern technology; but in places where this technology is not used (that means outside the purview of the modern US empire, or where it doesn’t reach beyond its bombs and drones) simulacra probably do. It’s the jockeying for position and ways in which treaties are just negotiating stances behind fierce anger and rage and struggle for land, wealth, money, position. I was struck by repeated refusals of groups of men to fight — called cowards but it was their lives — how the powerful once back in power returned immediately to reactionary laws and so the French new ideals and norms were actually missed at first and might have done good had they had some means really to implement them, which it seems they never quite did, as those who had their hands on trade and commerce which were needed to back up these norms, immediately refused to trade. As I say, how reminiscent of what happened after 1945.

One learns what thwarted the French revolution from having the good effect it might have, and why terror so often emerges from such revolutions — atrocities from all sides.

The bombardment of Mainz: burning the cathderal, engraving by Tielker after drawing by Schutz

The book is part of a larger series of such books published by Nafziger, on a plethora of wars and individuals battles or sieges or sites. If each one is as good as this, they immensely valuable. My problem with the books I had on the Peninsula war was they were so fat and about so many others things beyond the battles and wars, and here it’s shown if you just go that thoroughly (extrapolating out to economics or other social arrangements that make for whatever is happening), how much you can learn.

To conclude on Radcliffe: in almost 50 pages she depicted the same siege that Chuquet did from the same humane and insightful stance (about politics) with the significant difference she continually emphasizes the effect on the civilian population (hardly mentioned by Chuquet), she details the destruction of buildings and art (only in passing), and imagines how it felt to endure these war conditions. She names the same people in charge; she sees how important the clubmen were who took over Mainz and how badly they handled the bourgeoise. She notices how few people vote. She notices and talks of people thrown out of the city, fleeing who were terrified when no one would take them back. How the people were surveyed and monitored and forced to produce such and such food and such and such water. The sick.

She differs from Chuquet and he comes out better in this in blaming Custine, the head of the French forces for the defeat. He was executed. Not that she wants the place to have been totally destroyed, but she does not see that Custine was a brave man for refusing to take the situation to this. On the other hand, she describes the quay size, traffic, burgesses and concludes *it was not an important city commercially* Aristocratic cities are good for aristocrats; it seemed prosperous because it was admired as an icon and all the impoverished parts of the city, the real lives of ordinary people ignored. And now the destruction of property as the result of war will not be remedied easily or any time soon she says because in the first place its reputation was skewed and the city’s real basis and economy never truly described. Radcliffe’s husband had a hand in this book and she says so but I’m loathe to say everytime she has a remarkable insight it’s just him.

Wm Turner’s Buttermere Lake, with part of Cromackwater, Cumberland (a near contemporary painting)

Non-sequitor: Ive found an Italian article which says the beautiful, lyrical part of Radcliffe’s book about her time in the Lake District — a suspiciously over-long autumn — may have been written earlier and is the product of more than one trip. That makes sense to me and the writer seems to be sound on this.
Sanna, V. “La datazione del libro di viaggi di Ann Radcliffe.” Critical Dimensions: English, Germand and Comparative Literature Essays in Honour of Aurelio Zanco, edd. Mario Currelli and Alberto Martino. Cuneo, Italy: Saste, 1978. 291-312.


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