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Archive for March 21st, 2012


Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Portrait of a woman dressed as a vestal virgin

Dear friends and readers,

A third and last blog on my time at the South Central ASECS (see Panoramas and Ann Radcliffe’s landscapes), again mostly on the papers I heard: Saturday was a long satisfying day, sessions all day long, and I did session-hop. I spent my morning listening to panels on women essayists, novelists & poets; in the afternoon I heard papers connected to Shakespeare in the 18th century (which turned out to be on Sarah Siddons, Anne Hathaway and Mary Lamb). The banquet featured a keynote address on Joanna Baillie’s letters, and if I’m not mistaken, I heard a paper on a Vietnamese woman poet

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Frances Reynolds (1729-1807), Self-portrait, with her sister, Mary

The early morning session (Panel 18, 8:30 – 10:00 am) was “Communities of Women.” Kristin Distel (“Mary Astell’s Empirical Feminism: Marriage of Conservatism and Autonomy”) argued Astell sought to reconcile her religious faith with a genuine feminism; basically within the restrictive confines of patriarchy (Astell did not acknowledge women had a right to divorce), she carved out a space for women to study and work independently in proposed academic communities. Samantha Anne Cahill (“Between Moon-shine and Fire-light: Turning, Crossing, and Passing in Jane Barker’s The Lining of the Patchwork Screen“) suggested Barker, a pro-Jacobite Catholic, used Islam as a threat to bring Catholics and Protestants together. Adam Fletcher (“A ‘Proper’ Ending: Pamela v A Simple Story) compared Inchbald’s heroines to Richardson’s Pamela to show that Inchbald creates a strong sexually-desirous independent heroine in Miss Milner and defied gender roles; she is a replacement for Pamela as a norm (however punished).

Kelli MacCartney (“Prospects for Women: Cannon-building Vision in Mary Scott’s The Female Advocate [1774]”) described how this poem asserted a long tradition of women laying claim to education, knowledge, cultural taste. Women should not be prohibited from cultivating the sciences; they have been coerced into obeying values to which they didn’t want to conform. Ms MacCartney named some of the women Scott celebrated: Katherine Parr (Henry VIII’s sixth & learned wife), Anne Killigrew (poet and musician), Rachel Russell (politician, letter-writer), Constantia Grierson (an Irish poet and scholar, apprenticed as a midwife), Anna Barbauld (poet, essayist, editor, teacher).

Alas (no fault of the four papers), I found myself remembering Anne Oakley’s Subject Women, one of whose central themes is how there is a disconnect between how accomplished women can become, how far they can go in places of learning and the actual jobs and places in professions they are allowed to achieve. Nonetheless, an inspiriting paper.


A cover illustration for an edition of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

It was during the mid-morning session I switched from one session to another. I began in “Making the Book, Meditating the Enlightenment” (Panel 21, 10:15- 11:45 am) and heard most of Adam Miller’s paper on Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest (“The Container and the Gothic: Reading the Abbey”). Mr Miller’s paper was based on Heidegger’s ideas about thingness, and Mr Miller talked of containers people build for themselves as shelter and what can make for progress (inside for comfort) but (in this novel) also slavery and imprisonment. I did not understand the paper very well (because I often find Heidegger a mystifier), but gathered Mr Miller saw the novel as pessimistic and proving some of Foucault’s contentions about the 18th century. The hero-villain of the The Abbey, La Motte, who flees into the forest, almost kills and is almost killed; the characters in the novel seek to be civilized but are surrounded by the darkness and death of history.


Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun (1755-1842), The Princess Belozersky

I returned to “Women in the Eighteenth Century,” this time under the rubric of “Vistas of Virtue and Vanity” (Panel 22, also 10:15 – 11:45 am), to hear the most of Kristen Hague’s paper on Charlotte Lennox’s novel, The Life of Harriot Stuart where she showed the strength of the novel lay in the complexity and intelligence of the central character. Harriot sees life as an adventure; her choices would be subtle but she finds herself in a world where men imprison women. Dawn M. Goode (“Violent Virtue in Burney’s Evelina“) demonstrated that Burney felt women were responsible for the sexual harassment they endure (when they don’t say obey conventions); Madame Duval deserved the abusive cruel treatment inflicted on her; the women authority figures collude with the men. Burney’s is a conservative book. One hear so much special pleading and strained arguments that to hear the problems in Burney’s first novel plainly stated was refreshing.

I really also liked Steven Gores’ paper on Sophia Lee, “Negotiating Literary Celebrity and Ladylike Gentility.” He retold the lives of Sophia and her sister, Harriet Lee, briefly, and argued that the moves Sophia made in her life, the choices of what to write, when to cease writing, when to open a school, how to advertise it, and how later in life to publish again came out of Lee’s conscious creation of a respectable persona and this persona served her and her sister, Harriet very well. There were originally 4 sisters; one married for love and vanishes from records. The father, an unpopular actor, ended in a debtor’s prison. When she had a great stroke of luck in the popularity of her play, A Chapter of Accidents, she took the money and invested it in a school in Bath. Her gothic, The Recess, was presented as a historical novel; a tragedy failed. With her sister, Harriet, she published The Canterbury Tales which was a respectable hit; one of its stories influenced Byron. Friends included Sarah Siddons and Hester Thrale Piozzi. By 1804 she could risk publishing her The Life of a Lover, an autobiographical novel (it reads like a memoir). They had by this time sold the school and retired to Clifton.

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Eggplant parmesan

At this point there was a 2 hour and 15 minute break for lunch. Happily, Jim and I went to lunch with an old friend of mine and a friend of hers. We went into Asheville using Jim’s car and ate yummy food in a place called The Cafe Jerusalem. I had some eggplant parmesan and wine and we all enjoyed good talk. Then we returned for the last part of the conference: the afternoon sessions, a brief reception (drinks) and the banquet, together with the last plenary address.

I really meant to go to a session on women’s life-writing to hear a paper on Teresa Constantia Phillips’s “scandal memoir,” but was too late so hurried off to “Shakespeare in the 18th century” (Panel 27, 2:00 – 3:30 pm), which looked and turned out to be more papers on women. Darlene Giraulo (“Monsters and Fairies: Mary Lamb’s Retelling of The Tempest“) described how Lamb had rewritten Shakespeare’s story to marginalize Caliban’s part and write a story about the education of a young girl (Miranda). Hannah Ruehl argued that in Aphra Behn’s Rover she rewrote Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (quite literally as she made parallels between these plays).


Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1784)

Christy Desmet (“Sarah Siddons as an Icon”) discussed central sources during Siddons’ life and immediately afterward for her life and reputation. Reynold’s image of Siddons mattered; James Boaden, Thomas Campbell, and Siddons’ own memoirs, Anna Jameson’s portrait. These combined to reinforce her as a revered passionately engaged actress. She was shown late in life surrounded by her family (not quite true). Katherine Scheil also discussed the image of her subject, rather than the subject herself: “Anne Hathaway in the Eighteenth Century” was about how the image of Shakespeare’s wife has changed over the centuries. At first she was hardly mentioned, and Shakespeare was presented as something of a rake (Davenent half-claimed he was Shakespeare’s illegitimate son). It was Betterton who first named Anne and presented Shakespeare as basically a happily married man. The will with the legacy of the 2nd best bed was early on seen as evidence of a lack of love, but the 19th century preferred to see a couple of young lovers. Wm Ireland contributed by having forged a love letter from Hathaway with a lock of her hair.

The group discussion afterward veered from discussing the latest operatic rewrite of The Tempest (the Met Enchanted Island) to tourism in Stratford, to modern actresses’ attempts to shape their reputation.


One of Blake’s many illustrations to Dante

The last session was on “Overlooked Texts” (Panel 30 3:30 – 4:45 pm). I came in late for Susan Spencer’s paper (“The Risky Business of Being a Poet at the dawn of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty”) on Ho Xuan Huong’s poems: those she read were mostly short, lovely, could be read backwards and through the use of puns several ways at once (they were often quietly sexy). Gloria Eive told us about her adventures in the Mazzolini papers at Faenza, Italy. Martin Lansverk (“Nearly Forgotten Texts in Blake’s Dante Illustrations”) discussed little noticed words Blake supplied under his pictures which turn out to be a guide on how to read Blake’s reaction to Dante’s text in these pictures. James McGinnis’s “Hobbes’s Thucydides” was about how Hobbes found in Thucydides much material consonant with his own pessimistic and conservative philosophy.

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Contemporary illustration of George Anne Bellamy and David Garrick playing Romeo and Juliet

I have but two more papers, these just to mention. I missed a paper I would have loved to hear on George Anne Bellamy. Unfortunately the title was an insufficient signpost for me. Joanne Cordon’s “All the Stage’s a World” was about George Anne Bellamy’s benefit performances: what parts she played, how she drummed up support from influential people to come and bring others, and how much money she made (this was the first paper for Panel 10, “Tricks of the Trade: Stagecraft and Culture, High, Low and Popular”, 8:00 – 9:30 am on Friday). Jim told me about it and brought me the handout, a full list of all the parts Bellamy played that we know about, the parts she did for benefits, and what we know of her receipts (a lot). I didn’t miss but I didn’t take in Judith Bailey Slagle’s “Representations of History, Criticism and Feminism in the Letters of Joanna Baillie,” not because it was not clear and interesting (especially the details of critical reading of other writers), but because I had already dined very well as they say, couldn’t hear that well and was too tired to remember what she said later.

It was that evening we all retired to a beautiful room with glass walls overlooking the green landscape all around the Grove Park Inn. There we had waiting for us a Celtic band, drinks and snacks, tables and chairs to sit at, and a floor to dance on. I did dance as often as I could find someone to dance with me.

And so ended a really rejuvenating, gratifying and instructive time away. We were up early the next morning and drove the 8 hours back where I had much to do to prepare for teaching the next day.

Ellen

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