Archive for August, 2012

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840), Sylphide

Dear friends and readers,

About a week ago we finished a lightning-quick absorbed (for those who participated) reading and discussion of Annette von Droste-Hulshoff’s one work still in print: The Jew’s Beech (first published in 1842), during which we also albeit briefly discussed her life and poetry. She was an important (rare) early 19th century German lyric poet (so foremother poet), and in the way of advertising familiarizations one reads her work and life represent a kind of intersection between the passion and content of Emily Bronte, with her retired life resembling that of Emily Dickinson.

I’ll do one better and suggest her autobiographical novel, Ledwina (which I was able to read a portion of, Englished by Jeannine Blackwell and Susanne Zantop in Bitter Healing: German Women Writers, 1700-1830) depicted her restricted choices and liberty and all-encompassing apparently kind but repressive family makes me think of Austen:

she so loathed this sad and anxious sheltering, this pitiful cautious life where the body governs the spirit until it, too, becomes as infirm and impoverished as the body itself, loathed it so much that she would gladly have let all her life’s energy, which was glimmering out a spark at a time, flare up and expire in a single blaze

We see her daily life, and as in Austen’s letters, her close relationships with servants. There are strikingly modern passages: for example the heroine grows irritated with herself when she falls asleep (partly tiredness, partly boredom) during the day because as it is she can

scarcely sleep at night; then I get up from time to time and walk about my room; it’s not good for me, but what is one to do with the long night.

What indeed?

Her continual rewriting and perfectionist stance towards each detail of her text recalls Austen too.

To begin with her life:

Annette von Droste-Hulshoff, 1838 portrait by J. Sprick

Annette von Drost-Hulshoff may be said to be a rare women represented in the German romantic canon, but like so many women before the 19th century, it’s hard to get at the truth of her life. What I have read amounts to two different lives.

Take your choice:

Her birthplace, Burg Hülshoff in Havixbeck, Germany

at wikipedia and from the articles cited you will learn of a woman who was ambitious, wanted a career (planned her publications to make an image) and was thwarted by her family, the prescriptive life laid down for an upper class Catholic German unmarried woman, and bad luck. Her father was learned and gave his daughter an excellent high culture education (tutors in ancient languages, French, natural history, mathematics and music (she inherited considerable musical talent from her father).

We are told she was a member of her brother’s intellectual circles, knew Grimm, Goethe, Schiller and many other illustrious German names. She almost married a Protestant, but was cruelly tricked out of it when family members persuaded a Catholic lawyer to pay court to her. The end result was her reputation was hurt, she presumably shocked by this treachery.

Her father’s death, religious doubts, and her family’s wealth enabled her to live a life of quiet retreat with her mother and family and study and write poetry in the countryside. She wrote long-narrative poems but her work was not marketed skilfully (a backwater publishers) and the commercial failure humiliated her.

But again she tries for a social life, this time a salon in Munster where she meets Levin Schücking, a young poet, whose friendship, sympathy, congeniality inspire her to write again: poetry, The Jew’s Beech. Schucking has to take a position as a tutor in an aristocratic family. New contacts led to a literary success, an invitation by Clara Schuman to write a libretto, but she was betrayed by Schucking who, now married, writes two novels, one exposing the flaws of the aristocracy she belonged to, the other with a portrait of herself that distressed (she is said to have treated the poet like a son), so again she retires, this time to small house by herself and dies of TB. Nonetheless, Schucking was himself responsible for publicizing her work.

Or the life as told by Blackwell and Zantopp (Bitter Healing) and suported by Ledwina (written 1819-26):

The Säntis, a mountain in the Alps near Schloss Eppishausen, which inspired Droste’s poem “Der Säntis”

Blackwell and Zantop present Drost-Hulfshoff or Annette as not wanting to have her works published, as reclusive, quiet, and the story of the thwarted love affair becomes not so much a manipulation of her as her being over-sensitive and alienated or different from most of those she met, unconventional in her perceptions, and drawn inwardly by her religious feelings and love for travel and long sojourns in a wild romantic Westphalia landscape. Her relationships were all with family members or close friends; important to her were a Professor Anton Matthias Sprickman of Munster, a woman writer of popular tales, Katharina Brusch, and Adele Schopenhauer (the famous Schopenhauer’s mother who wrote her of travel in the UK). When young, Annette chose to turn away from her brother’s friends (now they are boorish students); she rejected one man who denounced her as arrogant and manipulative. They describe her poetry effectively (inward, intense, her marshes and moors inhabited by demonic nature spirits), some prose works (Pictures from Westphalia, 1842), two unfinished novels (one Englished as Our Country Place, begun 1841).

Both accounts depict her as an isolated and independent woman in character who was often ill: her heroine Ledwina suffers from severe chest pains; she has a widowed mother who has to give up her estate to an unworthy son, sisters desperate to marry but wanting to remain close to one another, a woman who goes mad with shame when she is left a bankrupt widow, another who renounces speech for 14 years to be able to live with her husband. It is an account of un-freedom, a lack of social worth accorded women. The Jew’s Beech presents women in the same light.


Friedrich, Abbey in the Oakwood

The Jew’s Beech, another Scheherazade tale:

I can find no plot-summary, but there is an account of the story’s sources in Drost-Hulshoff’s relatives’ experience of peasant culture and court cases recorded by them (see August von Haxthausen) The prosaic feel of everyday life, the anger and greed and competitiveness within families, occasional violence, the pragmaticism which nonetheless accepts superstitions reminded me much of the world of Martin Guerre as described by Charlotte Smith and Natalie Zemon Davis.

Basically it tells us of the lives of a few people who live amid and participate in a fierce smuggling and destruction of timber going on in the local rich woods and lands owned by the wealthy by bands of men desperate to make a living. We are told of foresters who are hired as murderous police on behalf of the state and grandees (who want to protect the game and “their” woods). In effect an unackknowledged all-out war between the haves and have-nots goes on ceaselessly in the background and every once in a while individual people erupt to murder and avenge themselves for humilation or because someone owes them money (or something else) and didn’t pay up.

The translation by Lionel and Doris Thomas (reprinted in an Oxford paperback classic) held me because it was rendered in modern lucid idiomatic fluid English. It reads as a startlingly modern fable (rather like a unusually plain Isak Dinesen story) so I expect the translator is part of the new school of translators (pressured to do this by publishers) which modernizes older texts by getting rid of certain kinds of idiosyncracies of the original author or the period. The packaging reminded me of Wolf’s historical fiction set in the same era about the poets Kleist and Gunderrode, Englished as No Place on Earth: the prose style here is the same. It may be that one or both of these texts is distorted.

So, we have a fearful world of peasants seen by a narrator kept at a distance. Violence is the way they control one another and the novel suggests things like drunken beatings, the intense concern with money and surviving as the main motive for people’s actions without admitting it. Margret the mother, loves her son, Frederich, but unhesitatingly lets the uncle take him away to work for him though it seems to me that the uncle is as fierce as Peter Grimes and I would not trust my son with him.

Oddly (again referring to Wolf’s historical fiction) I felt it was sort of an 18th century tale told much later – the way women are said to write in a belated way. It opens in 1738 with the birth of the young hero, Frederick,moves backward to the mother and her bad decision to marry a violent man (but then she was single and it’s said ugly) and then forward to Frederick as a young man — who can be dandy like, sensitive dreamy but also a determined bourgeois. It jumps forward once to July 1756, again four years and ends 28 years later (1788).

Charlotte Smith’s Romance of Real Life shows us how the legal and economic arrangements of the ancien regime create hatred and resentment and can lead to murder. What’s on Drost-Hulshoff’s mind is precisely this. The first three pages gives us the framework:

As a result of primitive and often inadequate lesiglature, the ideas of the inhabitants as to right and wrong had become somewhat confused, or rather beside the official legal system there had grown up a second law based on public opinion, usage and superannuaion arising from neglect … legal form mattered less the spirit was adhered to more strictly, infringements occurred ore often … nothing destroys the soul more surely than an appeal to external legal forms in contradiction to one’s inner sense of justice.

Drost-Hulshoff differs from Smith in emphasizing custom and also the vulnerability of women who do suffer terribly in this tale. As a kind of throw-away detail we are told of how at a wedding where everyone is celebrating, a young woman is being married to a very old man who sneers at her and seems to look forward to domineering and being cruel to her. The first time we meet Friedrich’s mother she has decided to marry a man (Friedrich’s father) who we have seen be somehow hideously cruel to his first wife so that she flees from him in the night all bloody and thereafter lives with her parents and not soon after that dies. Friedrich’s mother receives the same treatment from this man who we are told makes an exception for his son, which makes his son tender to the father.

It ends enigmatically. There are two murders and after the first murder was committed I was convinced that Friedrich had not done it. He was an accomplice with the lumber thieves, but not the prime actor. After the second the murder of the lender Jew Aaron (who is presented anti-semitically), as he had humiliated Friedrich, I thought he had done at least that one (though it’s never stated), and then when his corpse is found by the Jew’s beech tree, although it was implied that after years of exile and flight, he had returned and killed himself near where the Jew he killed died, I was not sure.

I am particularly struck by her originality and unconventionality. How different this is from the sentimental pirate and other tales of the French at the time. I thought of Marmontel’s Shepherdess of the Alps, but also the tales of sensibility of Germane de Stael. It is wholly alien in the way of Emily Bronte’s stances.


Johan Christian Claussen Dah (1788-1856), Dresden by Moonlight (1850)

We had some very good talk and I’d like to include some of the postings of two friends on WWTTA. Fran, a reader of German, very knowledgeable in its literature, wrote as quietly brilliantly as she usually does:

Glad you’re enjoying this hauntingly puzzling tale, Ellen. I’ve already re-read the German text and the notes in my new edition, so I’ll try and make time to see how the English translation compares with the original as well. I’ll probably be using the older online translation, though.

You’ll probably have seen from other sources that Droste-Hülshoff based her story on true events, ones that her ancestors had been involved in. The historical murder took place on 10.2.1783 when Soestmann-Behrens, a so-called ‘Schutzjude'(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schutzjude), was killed by Hermann Georg Winkelhagen, a farm worker from Bellersen (the B. in the text) after an argument about an unpaid bill.Though Droste-Hülshoff purposedly clouds the issue of who actually murdered the Jewish merchant in her text, there seems to have been no such doubt as to Winkelhagen’s own guilt.

At the time, D-H’s maternal grandfather (some sources say great-grandfather) Caspar Moritz von Haxthausen zu Abbenburg, an aristocratic landowner, was also serving as judge at the patrimonial court in charge of the case, so the details were passed down in family lore.

Like the assumed murderer in D-H’s story, Winkelhagen fled capture, but in the course of his adventures was picked up by pirates and sold into Algerian slavery. This lasted until 1805, when he and 231 fellow prisoners were freed by Jérôme, Napoleon’s brother. Winkelhagen then made his way back to Bellersen, arriving in April 1806, only to hang himself later in the woods on 18.9.1806.

From these dates, you can see that D-H did choose to set her own story further back in time as you thought.

It’s interesting that you should mention the sentimental pirate tales popular at the time since D-H.’s uncle August had already published a version of Winkelhagen’s story under the title of ‘The Story of an Algerian Slave’ in 1818, which played up the pirate and slavery scenario much more.

I’ve read that version, too, as it was in the notes. It’s a much more
straightforward, unambiguous account, though the Algerian side of the events as described there are actually held to be almost entirely fictitious, written perhaps to cash in on the wave of interest you indicate, whilst the details of the murder itself seem to have been more solidly based on the surviving details of the original case.

Since the subject of anti-semitism has already come up, it was interesting to read there that Winkelhagen had first been taken to court by Soestmann-Behrens for defaulting on payment of some cloth and that W. had expected to be let off since his accuser was ‘just’ a Jew. He wasn’t: the court found in favour of his accuser and W. retaliated by violence. When he returned from slavery, the matter of whether to prosecute the murder came up again, but it was deemed that his 24 years of exile, imprisonment and forced labour had already been punishment enough.

Interestingly enough, Droste-Hülshoff didn’t read her uncle’s version until after she had written all or most of her own story and, whilst she notes wanting to introduce some of the details he mentioned that she had initially forgotten, she also mentions not wanting to re-write the whole thing, underlining in particular how very different her fictional portrayal of the supposed murderer was from her uncle’s portrayal of the historical W.

She actually did revise this short tale again again over a long period of time, perhaps because it was one of her first adventures into prose. There seem to be eight, extant, much revised drafts or manuscript versions, which makes establishing an accurate text history pretty difficult.

This process of constant revision might also be the reason why this is her only completed prose text, whilst the rest remain as mere fragments.

Continued in the comments where I end with two lyrics and a bibliography.


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Muriel Rukeyser (1913-80)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve chosen Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) for this week’s foremother poet because when I’ve come across any of her poems, I find them so just, humane, so lucid and appealing in tone, and this past couple of weeks, the world as depicted in the public media has been so demoralizing and (as it were) intent on harm; her perspective is wide-ranging and (while she does not give the personal details of her life in such a way as to differentiate herself from others) intimate, and explicitly politically aware. Personal generosity and strength align themselves as traits with knowing how hard life is. I haven’t presented her before because I don’t know that much personally about her (see “A life” in the comments) and find it difficult to present her poems in a blog because she uses spaces within lines between words and indents irregularly to make stanzas.

But it just seemed so wrong to set up a page for the women’s canon, and not have Rukeyser among the 20th century voices.

I begin with a direct seemingly personal statement I find visceral and then a stanzaic address capturing a general vision of stratified cities made out of indifference:

Effort at Speech Between Two People

Speak to me.     Take my hand.     What are you now?
I will tell you all.     I will conceal nothing.
When I was three, a little child read a story about a
who died, in the story, and I crawled under a chair:
a pink rabbit:     &it was my birthday, and a candle
burnt a sore spot on my finger, and I was told to be

Oh, grow to know me.     I am not happy.     I will
be open:
Now I am thinking of white sails against a sky like
like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm
about me.
There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.

Speak to me.     Take my hand.     What are you now?
When I was nine, I was fruitily sentimental,
fluid: and my widowed aunt played Chopin,
and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
I want now to be close to you.     I would
link the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your

I am not happy.     I will be open.
I have liked lamps in evening corners, and quiet
There has been fear in my life.     Sometimes I
On what a tragedy his life was, really.

Take my hand.     Fist my mind in your hand.     What
are you now?
When I was fourteen, I had dreams of suicide,
and I stood a steep window, at sunset, hoping toward
if the light had not melted clouds and plains to
if light had not transformed that day, I would have
I am unhappy.     I am lonely.     Speak to me.
I will be open.     I think he never loved me:
he loved the bright beaches, the little lips of foam
that ride small waves, he loved the veer of gulls:
he said with a gay mouth:     I love you.      Grow to
know me.

What are you now?     If we could touch you another,
if these our separate entities could come to grips,
clenched like a Chinese puzzle . . .yesterday
I stood in a crowded street that was live with people,
and no one spoke a word, and the morning shone.
Everyone silent, moving. . . . Take my hand.     Speak
to me

Diego Rivera (1886-1957), Frozen Assets (1930)

Ballad of Orange and Grape

After you finish your work
after you do your day
after you’re read your reading
after you’ve written your say —
you go down the street to the hot dog stand,
one block down and across the way.
On a blistering afternoon in East Harlem in the twentieth century.

Most of the windows are boarded up,
the rats run out of a sack–
sticking out of the crummy garage
one shiny long Cadillac;
at the glass door of the drug-addiction center,
a man who’d like to break your back.
But here’s a brown woman with a little girl dressed in rose andpink, too.

Frankfurters frankfurters sizzle on the steel
where the hot-dog-man leans —
nothing else on the counter
but the usual two machines,
the grape one, empty, and the orange one, empty,
I face him in between.
A black boy comes along, looks at the hot dogs, goes on walking.

I watch the man as he stands and pours
in the familiar shape
bright purple in the one marked ORANGE
orange in the one marked GRAPE,
the grape drink in the machine marked ORANGE
and orange drink in the GRAPE.
Just the one word large and clear, unmistakable, on each machine.

I ask him: How can we go on reading
and make sense out of what we read? —
How can they write and believe what they’re writing,
the young ones across the street,
while you go on pouring grape into ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE –?
(How are we going to believe what we read and we write and we hear and we say and we do?)

He looks at the two machines and he smiles
and he shrugs and smiles and pours again.
It could be violence and nonviolence
it could be white and black women and men
it could be war and peace or any
binary system, love and hate, enemy, friend.
Yes and no, be and not be, what we do and what we don’t do.

On a corner in East Harlem
garbage, reading, a deep smile, rape,
forgetfulness, a hot street of murder,
misery, withered hope,
a man keeps pouring grape into ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE,
pouring orange into GRAPE and grape into ORANGE forever.

Kathe Kollwitz 91867-1945), Woman with her Dead Child

A poem to a fellow greatw woman artist:

From “Kathe Kollwitz”


Women, as gates, saying:
“The process is after all, like music:
like the development of a piece of music.
The fugues come back and
          again and again
A theme may seem to have been put aside,
but it keeps returning—
the same thing modulated,
somewhat changed in form.
Usually richer.
And it is very good that this is so.”

A woman pouring her opposites.
“After all there are happy things in life too.
Why do you show only the dark side?”
“I could not answer this. But I know–
in the beginning my impulse to know
the working life
          had little to do with
pity or sympathy.
I simply felt that the life of the workers was beautiful.”

She said, “I am groping in the dark.”

She said, “When the door opens, of sensuality,
then you will understand it too. The struggle begins.
Never again to be free of it,
often you will feel it to be your enemy.
I you will almost suffocate,
such joy it brings.”

Saying of her husband:
“My wish I is to die after Karl.
I know no person who can love as he can,
with his whole soul.
Often this love has oppressed me;
I wanted to be free.
But often too it has made me I so terribly happy.”

She said : “We rowed over to Carrara at dawn,
climbed up to the marble quarries
and rowed back at night. The drops of water
fc!l like glittering stars
from our oars.”

She said: “As a matter of fact,
I believe
          that bisexuality
is almost a necessary factor
in artistic production; at any rate,
the tinge of masculinity within me
helped me
          in my work.”

She said : “The only technique I can still manage.
It’s hardly a technique at all, lithography.
In it
          only the essentials count.”

A tight-lipped man in a restaurant last night
          saying to me:
“Kollwitz? She’s too black-and-white.”


Held among wars, watching
all of them
all these people

Looking at
all of them
death, the children
patients in waiting-rooms
the street
the corpse with the baby
floating, on the dark river

A woman seeing
the violent, inexorable
movement of nakedness
and the confession of No
the confession of great weakness, war,
all streaming to one son killed, Peter;
even the son left living; repeated,
the father, the mother; the grandson
another Peter killed in another war; firestorm;
dark, light, as two hands,
this pole and that pole as the gates.

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open ….

4 Song: The Calling-Up

Rumor, stir of ripeness
rising within this girl
sensual blossoming
of meaning, its light and form.

The birth-cry summoning
out of the male, the father
from the warm woman
a mother in response.

The word of death
calls up the fight with stone
wrestle with grief with time
from the material make
an art harder than bronze.

5 Self-Portrait

Month looking directly at you
eyes in their inwardness looking ,
directly at you
ha1f light half darkness
woman, strong, German, young artist
flows into
wide sensual mouth meditating
lookking right at you
eyes shadowed with brave hand
looking deep at you
flows into
wounded brave mouth
grieving and hooded eyes
alive, German, in her first War
flows into
strength of the worn face 2
a skein of lines
broods, flows into
mothers among the war graves
bent over death
facing the father
stubborn upon the field
flows into
the marks of her knowing­_
Nie Wieder Krieg
repeated in the eyes
flows into
“Seedcorn must not be ground”
and the grooved cheek
lips drawn fine
the down-drawn grief
face of our age
flows into
Pieta, mother and
between her knees
life as her son in death
pouring from the sky of
one more war
flows into
face almost obliterated
hand over the mouth forever
hand over one eye now
the other great eye
closed (1971)

Each of the sections of the above poem are descriptions of Kollwitz’s art. I like the repetition of “flows into,” one era, one woman’s grief flowing into the next, the man standing there stubborn.

Rightly famous:


I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Muriel Rukeyser’s life is told in a number of places on the Net, from wikipedia, to poetry sites and webpages devoted to her. Her poems are not about her personally, and when she tells of some personal private experience (“Night Feeding”) she generalizes as to include as many people in her revealed world as she can. I notice though she doesn’t stress it, most often her central victim fires are women (Mrs Walpurga); my favorite poems are often the medium length wide line spoken ones

Poem out of Childhood

Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry-
Not Angles, angels-and the magnificent past
shot deep illuminations into high-school.
I opened the door into the concert-hall
and a rush of triumphant violins answered me
while the syphilitic woman turned her mouldered face
intruding upon Brahms. Suddenly, in an accident
the girl’s brother was killed, but her father had just died:
she stood against the wall, leaning her cheek,
dumbly her arms fell, “What will become of me?” and
I went into the corridor for a drink of water.
These bandages of image wrap my head,
when I put my hand up I hardly feel the wounds.
We sat on the steps of the unrented house
raining blood down on Loeb and Leopold
creating again how they removed his glasses
and philosophically slit his throat.
They who manipulated and misused our youth
smearing those centuries upon our hands,
trapping us in a welter of dead names,
snuffing and shaking heads at patent truth.
We were ready to go the long descent with Virgil
the bough’s gold shade advancing forever with us,
entering the populated cold of drawing-rooms;
Sappho, with her drowned hair trailing along Greek waters,
weed binding it, a fillet of kelp enclosing
the temples’ ardent fruit-
Not Sappho, Sacco.
Rebellion, pioneered among our lives,
viewing from far-off many-branching deltas,
innumerable seas.

In adolescence I knew travelers
speakers digressing from the ink-pocked rooms,
bearing the unequivocal sunny word.
Prinzip’s year bore us: see us turning at breast
quietly while the air throbs over Sarajevo
after the mechanic laugh of that bullet.
How could they know what sinister knowledge finds
its way among the brain’s wet palpitance
what words would nudge and giggle at the spine
what murders dance?
These horrors have approached the growing child;
now that the factory is sealed-up brick
the kids throw stones, smashing the windows
membranes of uselessness in desolation.
We grew older quickly, watching the father shave
and the splatter of lather harden on the glass,
playing in sand-boxes to escape paralysis,
being victimized by fataller sly things.
“Oh, and you,” he said, scraping his jaw, “What will you be?”
“Maybe-something-like- Joan–of-Arc •.. ”
Allies Advance, we see,
Six Miles South to Soissons. And we beat the drums,
Watchsprings snap in the mind, uncoil, relax,
the leafy years all somber with foreign war.
How could we know what exposed guts resembled?
A wave, shocked to motion, babbles margins
from Asia to Far Rockaway, spiralling
among clocks in its four-dimensional circles.
Disturbed by war, we pedalled bicycles
breakneck down the decline, until the treads
conquered our speed, and pulled our feet behind them,
and pulled our heads.
We never knew the war, standing so small
looking at eye-level toward the puttees, searching
the picture-books for sceptres, pennants for truth;
see Galahad unaided by puberty.

Rat-tat a drum upon the armistice,
Kodak As You Go-photo: they danced late,
and we were a generation of grim children
leaning over the bedroom sills, watching
the music and the shoulders and how the war was over,
laughing until the blow on the mouth broke night
wide out from cover.
The child’s curls blow in a forgotten wind,
immortal ivy trembles on the wall:
the sun has crystallized these scenes, and tall
shadows remember time cannot rescind.

Organize the full results of that rich past,
open the windows-potent catalyst,
harsh theory of knowledge, running down the aisles,
crying out in the classrooms, March ravening on the plain,
inexorable sun and wind and natural thought.
Dialectically our youth unfolds:
the pale child walking to the river, passional
in ignorance, in loneliness, demanding
its habitations for the leaping dream, kissing
quick air, the vibrations of transient light,
not knowing substance or reserve, walking
in valvular air, each person in the street
conceived surrounded by his life and pain,
fixed against time, subtly by these impaled:
death and that shapeless war. Listening at dead doors,
our youth assumes a thousand differing fleshes
summoning fact from abandoned machines of trade,
knocking on the wall of the nailed-up power-plant,
telephoning hello, the deserted factory, ready
for the affirmative clap of truth
ricocheting from thought to thought among
the childhood, the gestures, the rigid travelers.

Emilio Longoni (1859–1932), Un gatto per amico (a cat for a friend) -1892

Rukeyser also identified as a Jewish poet and writer. Marilyn Hacker (also Jewish) Hacker wrote of the following two that they are “for Passover” and at the same time “for peoples’ liberation struggles today, as Rukeyser intended it.”

In this time of renewed terror and wrathful destruction of the vulnerable, powerless, poor in our world by the powerful, vicious, wealthy, Rukeyser calls out:

By Muriel Rukeyser

The Way Out

The night is covered with signs. The body and face of man,
with signs, and his journeys.     Where the rock is split
and speaks to the water;     the flame speaks to the cloud:
the red splatter, abstraction, on the door
speaks to the angel and the constellations.
The grains of sand on the sea floor speak at last to the noon.
And the loud hammering of the land behind
speaks ringing up the bones of our thighs, the hoofs,
we hear the hoofs over the seethe of the sea.

All night down the centuries, have heard, music of passage.

Music of one child carried into the desert;
Firstborn forbidden by law of the pyramid.
Drawn through the water with the water-drawn people
Led by the water drawn man to the smoke mountain.
The voice of the world speaking, the world covered by signs,
The burning, the loving, the speaking, the opening.
Strong throat of sound from the smoking mountain.
Still flame, the spoken singing of a young child.
The meaning beginning to move, which is the song.

Music of those who have walked out of slavery.

Into that journey where all things speak to all things
Refusing to accept the curse, and taking
For signs the signs of all things, the world, the body
Which is part of the soul, and speaks to the world,
All creation being created in one image, creation.
This is not the past walking into the future,
the walk is painful, into the present, the dance
not visible as dance until much later.
These dancers are discoverers of God.

We knew we had all crossed over when we heard the song.

Out of a life of building lack on lack:
The slaves refusing slavery, escaping into faith:
An army who came to the ocean: the walkers
Who walked through the opposites, from I to opened Thou,
City and cleave of the sea. Those at flaming Nauvoo,
The ice on the great river: the escaping Negroes,
Swamp and wild city: the shivering children of Paris
And the glass black hearses: those on the Long March:
all those who together are the frontier, forehead of man.

Where the wilderness enters, the world, the song of the world.

Akiba rescued, secretly, in the clothes of death
By his disciples carried from Jerusalem
in blackness journeying to find his journey
to whatever he was loving with his life.
The wilderness journey through which we move
Under the whirlwind truth into the new,
The only accurate. A cluster of lights at night:
faces before the pillar of fire. A child watching
while the sea breaks open. This night. The way in.

Barbarian music, a new song.

Acknowledging opened water, possibility:
Open like a woman to this meaning.
In a time of building statues of the stars,
Valuing certain partial ferocious skills
While past us the chill and immense wilderness
Spreads its one-color wings until we know
Rock, water, flame, cloud, or the floor of the sea,
The world is a sign, a way of speaking. To find.
What shall we find? Energies, rhythms, journey.

Ways to discover. The song of the way in.

The Witness

Who is the witness? What voice moves across time,
Speaks for the life and death as witness voice?
Moving to night on this city, this river, my winter street?

He saw it, the one witness. Tonight the life as legend
Goes building a meeting for me in the veins of night
Adding its scenes and its songs. Here is the man transformed,

The tall shepherd, the law, the false messiah, all;
You who come after me far from tonight finding
These lives that ask you always Who is the witness –

Take from us acts of encounter we at night
Wake to attempt, as signs, seeds of beginning,
Given from darkness and remembering darkness,

Take from our light given to you our meetings.
Time tells us men and women, tells us You
The witness, your moment covered with signs, your self.

Tells us this moment, saying You are the meeting.
You are made of signs, your eyes and your song.
Your dance the dance, the walk into the present.

All this we are and accept, being made of signs, speaking
To you, in time not yet born.
          The witness is myself.
     And you,
The signs, the journeys of the night, survive.

*Note [by Rukeyser]: These two “Lives” [the other is about Kaethe Kollwitz] are part of a sequence. Akiba is the Jewish shepherd-scholar of the first and second century, identified with the Song of Songs and with the insurrection against Hadrian’s Rome, led in A. D. 132 by Bar Cochba (Son of the Star). After this lightning war, Jerusalem captured, the Romans driven out of the south, Rome increased its military machine; by 135, the last defenses fell, Bar Cochba was killed, Akiba was tortured to death at the command of his friend, the Roman Rufus, and a harrow was drawn over the ground where Jerusalem had stood, leaving only a corner of wall. The story in my mother’s family is that we are descended from Akiba –— unverifiable, but a great gift to a child.

Notes about the poem, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

I think this is one of the great poems of the 20th century — surely the greatest American Jewish poem. I encourage that it be read during Passover (it begins with a celebration of the Exodus) and perhaps during the all-night Torah study for Shavuot, and I hope it will increasingly be understood as a sacred text rooted in Jewish tradition but reaching far beyond it to the whole of Humanity — which indeed it celebrates.

This version corrects what is clearly a scribal error in every printed copy of the poem I have seen. The line “More than the calf wants to suck, the cow wants to give suck” shows up in printed versions as “More than the calf wants to suck, the cow wants to give such.” This “such” is a vague and meaningless word — terrible poetry — and the line as printed here echoes a teaching of Talmud that is a metaphor for teachers wanting to teach more than students want to learn. I have urged editors of Rukeyser’s work to correct the error, but so far to no avail.

References in the poem that may be obscure to many readers today: “Nauvoo” was a town in Illinois where the early Mormon community settled until (1844) suffering violence at the hands of mobs and resettling in Salt Lake City. The “Long March” was the trek of the early Chinese Communist Party all across China to build a political base in Yenan province. “The shivering children of Paris” is probably about the creation of a workers’ commune in Paris in 1870, which governed itself by direct socialist democracy until it was brutally destroyed by the invading Prussian army.

Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665), Winter (ca 1660)


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Gerard Depardieu as “the fake” Martin Guerre (1982 The Return, based on a novel, “The Wife of” by Janet Lewis, screenplay based on Natalie Zemon Davis’s book, Jean-Claude Carriere; director Daniel Vigne)

Dear friends and readers,

No this is not about the wonderful film adaptation, though I do include a source in the form of a widely-read Cause Celebre. In 18th century France lawyers routinely published judicial memoirs in which they told of cases they were arguing in court; addressed to judges, they were written so many readers could read them and were ways of trying to influence a local public; the popularity of these attracted two groups of people (I generalize): people who wanted to sell these apparently fascinating stories and those who were reformers and wanted to change norms. One enormously important influential (fluent, eloquent, intelligent) compendium was written and compiled over many years by Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (1744-1810), and it contained the story of the two Martin Guerres.

As I wrote the other day I’m into 2 projects for this summer and early fall which are leading me back to favorite romantic and French books and themes, and hope to write about these here. First up, is Charlotte Smith’s Romance of Real Life: in 1787 she produced 3 volumes of stories from two of the more popular redactions of Des Essarts: Francois Gayot Pitaval’s and Francois Richer’s, both called Causes Celebres et Interessants (1735-44). I’ve read summaries and redactions in Mary’s Trouille’s Wife Abuse in 18th Century France and Sarah Maza’s Private Lives and Public Affairs. I write this blog to suggest Smith’s little lives, for a while a popular read, are not quite accurately represented in what has been written about them in biographies and literary accounts of Smith, nor in Michael Garner’s introduction to Pickering and Chatto’s edition of The Romance of Real Life.

Much that he and others have said is true of them. Enormously shortened, they often focus on a vulnerable heroine, but they are more than abridged. They omit the arguments of the different sides, so unless Smith is particularly interested in these, they are hollowed out narratives that she shapes. Further, most of the time the heroine is lost amid a welter of detail about everyone else involved (family, sometimes friends),and the final lesson drawn is not necessarily in her favor. Rather story after story by Smith reveals to us how the legal and economic arrangements of the ancien regime, daily familial customs, create hatred and resentment and can lead to murder and profound injustice and misery. She brings out first repeatedly how everything is inherited by one person (a male), how everyone in the family has to live with this one man, or obey his ideas or the ideas of those who control or are close to him, and how this creates the hatreds and resentments that give rise to the misery, thievery, occasional murders, physical abuse and threats to women the cases make visible.


William Hogarth (1697-1764), The Denunciation

So, for example, in “The Count de St Geran” (Volume 2, pp 187-204 in Pickering and Chatto) where various family members seek to murder a wife’s newborn son, the origin of the action is a brother who wants to inherit the property. This is one of Smith’s longer stories and she depicts the whole households, the interactions and motives of the different people with a different relationship to the property and heir. This emphasis or perspective may be seen at length, dramatized in Smith’s The Young Philosopher where the Kilbrodie family, led by an older woman, succeed in treating one of our two heroines, Laura Glenmorris so badly during her pregnancy that her eldest born son dies.

“The Contested Marriage” is another lengthy tale (Volume 1, pp 167-77). Here Smith shows us a worthy young pair of people who want to defy their parents and marry for love and do. We see how the parents are relentless and even after marriage and the birth of children seek to destroy the marriage. In this story Smith produces arguments which in Prevost’s Manon Lescaut (translated very sympathetically by her as Manon Lescaut, or The Fatal Attachment) support Des Grieux, but for his criminal behavior — and that criminal behavior is something Grieux is driven to. In both Prevost and Smith’s texts the point is made explicitly that Grieux would have married Manon early on and gone to live with his father again had the father permitted. In “The Contested Marriage” the marriage is not wholly valid because the law forbids young people to marry who are under 25/30 w/o parental consent. Here her emphasis is on how legal arrangements pervert everyone to behave either illegally or immorally.

Tellingly, Smith depends on her reader to feel how awful is the parents’ continual appeal to legal forms when children have been born, against what I’ll call an inner sense of reality and justice, or fairness. And in all her stories she rings the changes on words like justice, the “heart” (our hearts are supposed to “revolt” at cruel practices), “terror”, “treachery” to our “affections,” and “atrocious behavior.”

Not that females are not shown (implicitly, not explicitly) especially vulnerable. “The Deserted Daughter” (Volume 1, pp. 152-59) is a good example of how females are shown to be vulnerable, but at the same time how Smith’s idea is not to show sympathy for the woman’s risk, lack of power, but rather how property arrangements can hinge on chances, and perversions of feeling emerge when variously desperate and (by virtue of the original arrangements) suspicious people have to cope with realities that result. This too is one of the longer tales.

Emma Brownlow King, The Foundling Restored to Its Mother (1858) — in the 19th century we begin to see sympathy for a women in a woman painter

Smith tells of a child who was born 7 months after her parents were re-united after a separation. As in Mary Trouille’s cases, we find an instance where a very old man (age 69) had been married to a young woman (29). Joachim Cognot just could not accept that his wife had a premature infant, and he farms her out to a woman, Frances Fremont, agreeing to pay her for her service, but in a short while stopping payment. The woman conceives real affection for the daughter and brings her up for 14 years but when she discovers who the mother is, goes to both parents to demand payment. The mother’s conduct shows wavering: she grieves when her baby daughter is taken from her, but then lavishes attention on the one son; when the nurse comes for the money, she supports her husband in refusing to pay; she and the husband do take the daughter, called Mary into their house as a servants, but after he dies, her mother begins to treat her as a real daughter, providing for her a suitable match, but after she marries again, becoming Madame Coquant, herself does all she can to marginalize this daughter. The court after much chicanery on the part of the Madame Coquant, finds for the daughter a right to half the legacy from the original legal father.

Amid all this Smith never loses sight of its origin: a premature baby and father’s angry suspicions. She does not produce a feminist argument against the man who would not accept this child — we never know that there was another man nor who he could have been, but rather warns the reader against “such indiscretions.” A contrast is found in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels where intense sympathy is extended to a heroine who is raped by one of the heroes, conceives a child, but married to his enemy must deal with his suspicions about her 8-month pregnancy. When after much emotional abuse heaped not only on her but the son, she takes a concoction which leads to premature birth (but also risks infection and death), and dies, we are told these two men between them killed her. Her son, Valentine (ironically named) grows up twisted. Graham’s 18th century series often has paradigms which imitate 18th century novel paradigms or realities from an instinctively feminist point of view.

Smith is somewhat interested in the mother’s treachery to her daughter, but not alive to the different mothers the girl had nor that she could be considered a child traumatized by too many re-adoptions, something we do see in novels of the era, including her own.

“The Pretended Martin Guerre” is yet another of Smith’s longer stories, and again a modern treatment brings out what is Smith’s emphasis. Smith’s title indicates how she agrees with what she supposes are conventional sympathies of the reader. Natalie Zemon Davies goes into the subtle psychological nexus we can glimpse even in Smith’s abridgement: the real Martin Guerre fled his parents and wife because he had been impotent and had been shamed and pressured over his failure to be masculine in the appropriate way. Davies sympathizes with the wife’s divagations and terror of her first husband (I’ll call him) and also makes the case that our identities are partly or even largely the result of not on inner selves, but who and what we are asked to enact. This idea is found in Anthony Trollope’s novels about children declared illegitimate as opposed to those granted legitimacy.

The film at times presents a perspective like Smith’s — but not the wife at the center

Smith’s interest is in showing how economic and social arrangements lead to deep perversions and troubles in particular family groups. She emphasizes how the case was brought by an angry deprived relative: Martin’s uncle, aided and abetted by Martin’s wife, Bertrande, originally from a rich family (but that gave her personally no power), who was swayed back and forth by need, fear, her vulnerability. There we do see the woman’s perspective. Bertrande needed a husband, one adequate to produce the heir with her; when the “real” Martin turns up we are made to see he is an angry man and may have beaten and will beat her again. More is known as this went from court to court and had the unusual end result of a real claiment turning up: often these claiments are false, with the original man really dead. Smith goes over the arguments and the welter of emotiona that arises and perspectives turns her book into an anticipation of Leonard Woolf’s horror stories of family in a traditional village, The Village in the Jungle (Woolf was a magistrate for many years in “Ceylon”).


To conclude, the first story in the volume is the horrifying one of the Marquise de Gange (Volume 1, pp 131-59), made familiar to readers since Sade’s story, Dumas’s novel and other retellings. In Smith’s a great deal of space is spent on the Marquise’s earlier history, including her first marriage, so that we feel we are entering the world of 17th century romance redolent of Madame de Lafayette. Smith cuts short (hardly mentions except as something claimed by the marquise’s mother) the beatings of this woman, the sexual rage of the husband; rather it seems a story of “avarice” and “revenge,” that revenge partly brought on by the heroine herself for laughing at the young stupider brother. Smith is at a loss to explain the “excess of cruelty” here and spends space and time on the agonies the marquise experienced from the shots and poison, and after life of the second brother, the Abbey who escaped punishment by the way in which he elsewhere manipulated the norms and manners. “The Chevalier de Morsan” (Volume 3, pp. 249-74) is a long, the last story, “Renee Corbeau” (Volume 3, pp. 284-85) short high-romance.

But when totally serious what fuels these tales are the ironies and distortions of life set up by customs and laws, fearful worlds they are of violence, of inter-familial hatreds and abuses, desperate intense concern for money, public pride, status in circumstances which exacerbate the rigidity of these laws and horrendous punishments just thrown off. “La Pivardiere” (Volume 1, pp 160-166) about a bigamy case, one of whose victims is whipped, burnt with a hot iron, and exiled to poverty “fore ever. It is not good to be a woman in this world, and not possible to defend yourself against a violent man, but that’s not Smith’s central point. Her central idea is might be said to be to put before us what her later reform minded heroes (Desmond in his novel of the same name, Armitage in The Young Philosopher) assume is the case in life and needs radical change, not just in law but custom.

That this is will be supported by a tale still in print though the author’s name not well-known, Annette von Drost-Hulshoff’s novella, The Jews Beech, about which I hope to write a foremother poet blog soon. It may seem a mild instance but I suggest Austen gets at this too when she has Elizabeth tell Lady Catherine de Bough when Lady Catherine is indignant at the idea that the younger daughters are out before Jane Bennet, the eldest is married or at least engaged: she does not think such behavior conducive to encouraging kindness among sisters.

They also contrast very sharply with the popular sentimental and gothic tales of the era, with their unreal castles, pursuits and pirates, and gushing exemplary emotionalisms (gratitude) on the one side and supposed quiet domestic realism on the other (from Sarah Fielding and Charlotte Lennox to Jane Austen and Elizabeth Inchbald say). I think they justify and like some of her novels are said to have done (The Old Manor House as precursor for Bleak House) the later melodramatic novels of the Victorian era.

Richard Redgrave (1804-1888), The Outcast (1851)


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Caspar D. Friedrich (1774-184), Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818-22)

Dear friends and readers,

Paradoxically I’ve not had any books to blog about since I’ve been reading so diligently towards one perhaps two conferences. Tonight I looked and saw that the proposal I was aiming at — for a Chawton conference in summer 1213 — is not due until January 1213. I had thought it was November 1212. From a brief conversation I had with Gillian Dow at the JASNA in Portland, more than two years ago now, I had the impression she’d welcome papers on the French background of 18tn century women writers and as I love reading French novels and am interested in the issues that crop up when one reads translations as well as the interaction of French and English texts, the one I thought I’d try for is for Dow’s panel whose topic is to be women writers and translation.

This blog is about the novels I’m going to deal with (and maybe a memoir) — which cannot be said to anticipate the Brontes so much as be like them fundamentally; the ultimate precursor is Prevost. Another problem with Lucasta Miller’s The Bronte Myth is she apparently does not know of these novels, still very much part of the reading of Victorian women of the first half of the 19th century. I call specific attention to Sophia Lee’s The Recess (which Austen probably had in mind in her NA parody), and Charlotte Smith’s The Young Philosopher. Great and powerful novels — if with the usual flaws of wild romantic novels of the era.


Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), ‘Woman Wearing a Mantle over her Head and Shoulders’ (detail), c.1718-19.

Starting late last week, I’ve now read Prevost’s Manon Lescaut (1734, revised 1753), a novel that deeply engages me), Charlotte Smith’s translation, Manon Lescaut, or The Fatal Attraction (1786), and am now into her Romance of Real Life (1787), a set of stories she has made out of published long legal cases originally in French, and at the same time reading her very great and last long partly-gothic, Scots novel, The Young Philosopher (1798). Ive not got a specific thesis yet; I seem not to come up with anything precise until I actually sit down and write.

A second novel I’m persuaded is strongly influenced by Prevost is Sophia Lee’s The Recess; Or, A Tale of Other Times (1783), which like Smith’s book is also influenced by Prevost’s Le Philosophe anglais, ou Histoire de Monsieur Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwell, écrite par lui-même, et traduite de l’anglais (1731-39). I once read half way through it in French and now have it from ECCO in both the French and contemporary English translation. The Recess was almost immediately translated into French as was The Young Philosopher. For The Recess I have very good notes which I’ll share here one night later this week.

In all these

the world is filled with people who are having a long and
painful journey, who are exhausted by affliction, who have lost all the ties that meant anything to them, and who have not deserved this! I have thought the central motive for the gothic is a knot of grief: it is a genre compounded of mourning and rage, one in which people are allowed to express what cries out for expression but which they silence — for many reasons. The book is a memoir written in the first-person, sometimes in the present tense and sometimes in the historical present (the past). It is intended to vindicate the writer, to record the unknown truth and is written to pass and to solace the time.

I have two critical books I want to read through or dip into J. R. Foster’s older The Pre-romantic Novel in England which is really a study of Prevost’s influence on the English novel, and April Alliston’s Virtue’s Faults: Correspondences in 18th century French and British Women Writers. I own a copy of Smith’s Etherlinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1786) in both the Elibron reprint of the English text (5 vols!) and my home-made xerox of the contemporary French translation.

Later this week I will write a blog on The Recess (which I have ample notes about from the time I read it on ECW with a friend) by way of re-familiarizing myself and on the weekend The Young Philosopher, in order to come to some conclusions about it.

For now what the English women took from Prevost seems to be his use of wild remote places in which the protagonist is driven to a nadir of loss, grief, despair, madness, suicide; intense sympathy with a younger generation’s rebellion and reactive defiance against the mercenary ambitious on their own and previous generation. Prevost expressed an enduring psychic condition of neurotic passion, he expresses a cri de coeur about the nature of life and both Lee and Smith took these over. With this mood they can take whatever conventions they are using to an extreme and alter our perspective on life.


Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night o’er the ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “strike the bell.”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar, the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim; such the dubious ray
The wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Charlotte Smith as Elisabeth Lisburne


Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), Blindman’s Bluff (1728)

The other conference paper I’m not much more precise on. I began by proposing a panel on actresses which I did not plan to contribute to, but when it seemed only one person was interested in actresses (at least for a panel of mine), I changed its focus to R-e-s-p-e-c-t: For actresses, women playwrights, working women, fictional heroines and even aristocrats respect and favorable reputation matter. In other words, I included all sorts of women and the dangers of their various occupations to their reputations.

Then because I didn’t know what to do (meaning if I should or could just withdraw the sugggestion), and did want to contribute something, I decided I would present a paper at it too, to be titled: Ellen Moody, George Mason University, “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!” paranoia and shame in the writings of George Anne Bellamy, Charlotte Smith, Sophie Cottin and Mary Brunton. The conference program is now up and my panel is Saturday early afternoon.

Looking at it, I begin to worry less about trying to do two things since I’ve read the works of two I mean to cover, am now reading Smith (and have read her before) and have certainly worked on Bellamy. I also see where the topics criss-cross. Brunton and Cottin also use wild remote places, have a knot of grief at the core of their work; the difference is the accent: in the first I want to see how the French work enables this, in the other the effect of it on the writer’s reputation and way we regard the work.

A key link between the two sets of books and emphases or themes could be the fictional poet, Elisabeth Lisburne whom George Delmont hears of in The Young Philosopher. In Delmont’s wanderings in Wales (supposedly after his brother to give up yet more money to him) he comes across wild landscape, remote, rocky, where he is told of a young gentlewoman who drowned herself; she had been intently waiting for letters that never came and we are given a moving poem of lyric despair. My guess is there will be more poetry from her. She is a surrogate for Smith. I’m drawn to the first set of lyrical stanzas that Smith puts in the book as by Elisabeth Lisburne because it reminds me of a translation I did of Veronica Gambara’s similar poem where a refrain deepens into a bleak lack of hope.

When the two heroines, twin-daughters of Mary Queen of Scots by Bothwell wake in the morning in their subterranean cavern their source of light the sun is seen through the glazed thick windows: “The rising of the sun, whose first beams gilt our windows, rouzed us entirely. Methinks, while I expatiate on these trifles, times seems suspended, and the scene still living before me …” Once when they left, they found themselves in a park “with a playful group of fawns and deer, with whom [they] long to frolic.” But another time it was a ruined cloister:

For a long way beyond, the prospect was wild and awful to excess; sometimes vast heaps of stone were fallen from the building, aong which, trees and bushes had sprung up, and half involved the dropping pillars. Tall fragments of it sometimes remained, which seemed to sway about with every blast, and from whose mouldering top hung clusters and spires of of ivy. In other parts, ruined cloisters yet lent a refuge from the weather, and sullenly shut out the day while long echoes wandered through the whole at the touch of the lightest foot; the intricacies of the wood beyond, added to the magnificence of art the variety of nature. We quitted, with regret, our new empire, when the sun left his last rays on the tops of trees.

I think of Manon and know how lack of money drives our hero and heroine into crime, self-degradation, and realize that money too is key to these romances, to Brunton and Smith’s heroines, Bellamy, even Sophie Cottin. Each novelists traces female sexuality as experienced by many women (sometimes disturbingly silenced as someone who has had a child out of wedlock). Each “traces [her] heroine[‘s] incessantly renewed struggle to keep from being swamped in the tempest of men’s emotional needs. (Manon may be said to have been swamped in the tempest of Des Grieux’s emotional needs.) Most of her sympathetic heroines, central or not, have a “tenuous hold” on “their social position” and we repeatedly see them “displaced” (“common theme” across the novels) “so that women already existing legally as possessions within male-controlled economy, find themselves alienated from its provisions …” They resemble figures from French, “exiles” (Prevost called himself “d’Exiles”) defined by what they cannot have. Nancy Miller makes Prevost’s heroine one of her key heroines’ texts — of the tragic terrain instead of euphoric.

I figure I’ll find enough to make an elegant argument for a proposal and a paper before November with sufficient content to back it up. But to anyone reading this, have you have articles or books on Prevost (beyond Sgard whose work I know well) or Sophia Lee. I know all Labbe’s books on Smith.


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1983 MP: Edmund arrives in London, visits and walks with Mary Crawford

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve some new findings on the composition of, and internal dating in, Austen’s Mansfield Park and I think them important. I’ve discovered that the movement of time of the novel where Fanny goes to Portsmouth starting just around the time Edmund returns to Mansfield and writes to Fanny to tell her of his failure with Mary in London, and we get the first inklings of the development of a genuinely adulterous liaison between Henry and Maria, makes sense only when put onto a grid of the 1797 calendar. Chapman pointed long ago that for the Portsmouth section of the novel to make sense, the date for Easter must be April 16th, the latest date during the time Austen was an adult and writing her novels and that occurs only in 1797.

What I discovered is there is a phase in the book where (probably this happened by chance but Austen used it) both 1797 and in 1809 work coherently or accurately at once: the day Maria and Henry met at long last again at Mrs Fraser’s party, March 14th, was a Tuesday in both 1797 and 1809. The next day and month we are given, a Monday in very late March, works out to March 27th and in both 1797 and 1809 that day was a Monday.

1983 MP: Henry and Maria kiss (in the 83 film Maria’s house-warming party and Mrs Fraser’s later party are conflated to become one)

In other words, for a short while in the novel both calendars work out with the dates and happenings Austen specifies. She then moves into 1797 wholly. You can see this clearly in my online calendar starting with Fanny’s receipt of Edmund’s letter from Mansfield (the sixth full or partial text of a letter in the novel. I quote just the opening entry and leave it to those readers who are interested to look at what follows:

Resumption of determinate time consistent with all that has gone on previously and fitting into both 1809 and 1797

Mar 25th-26th, Sat-Sun: *5th full text of a letter*: Edmund to Fanny: “7 weeks of the two months very nearly gone:” He was in London “3 weeks,” which in 1809 brings us back to Feburary 25th, but no sense that he saw anything untoward either at Feb 28th or Mar 14th parties in Wimpole Street. He speaks of returning after Easter which would be April 2nd in the year 1809, but April 16th in the year 1797. (Penguin MP III:13, 390-93, Ch 44)

The novel begins to be solely in 1797 (the transition made) when Fanny receives the first of Lady Bertram’s letters reporting Tom’s illness, and Edmund immediately leaves for London to nurse Tom. The weeks of phases of Tom’s illness, including Tom’s home-coming and one-week relapse, Fanny’s reading about this in Portsmouth over a few weeks, and Easter. Again I’ll just quote from my calendar where this begins:

Mar 30th-31st, Thurs-Fri: “Within a few days from the receipt of Edmund’s letter, Fanny has one from Aunt Bertram.” “An express earlier in the day apprised them: “a few hours before”: Tom is ready to allow a physician to send a letter to Mansfield.

*sixth text of a letter* Back story given by narrator. Tom from London to Newmarket, drinking, fell, a fever, left to servants alone; “disorder” increased. Edmund to leave to fetch him immediately and bring him back; “too distressing” for Lady Bertram to lose Sir Thomas (perhaps implied that if Fanny were there it would not be?). “I will write again very soon.”

1983 MP: Fanny reading with Edmund’s over-voice telling of

Tom brought home

When you follow the days closely (including named days), you then find all the stated days of the week work out precisely the way they do in the parts of the novel keyed to 1807-9 — the point that for example when Edmund, Fanny, and Susan return to Mansfield we are told it was a “Thursday” and working out the calendar carefully from the time of the newspaper article and Mary’s letters, that’s May 11th which was Thursday in 1797. “May 11th, Thursday: arrive Mansfield Park. We are told it was full three months: William and Fanny arrived Tuesday, Feb 7th, and now Edmund, Fanny, and Susan return on May 11th, the Thursday

1983 MP: Homecoming with Susan

What this means is this epistolary section was written much earlier than the final version of Mansfield Park, well before the 1807-9 phase, probably around the time she first wrote up the section on the play-acting, for Henry and Maria’s final phase is a culmination of what happened during October. Slipped in-between is this other movement about Henry’s courtship of Fanny, the ball, her refusal and ejection from the Park. J.Walton Litz was right to suggest that the play-acting and this phase of the novel belong to 1797.


1983 MP: one of several sequences where we have flashbacks and incidents in present time told through voice-over of Fanny writing

Q. D. Leavis suggests the novel’s first draft was originally written as an epistolary novel. My careful study of the 1983 film showed me it uses more filmic epistolarity than any other Austen film until Andrew Davies’ 1995 P&P; it may have as much filmic epistolarity as this later film but it’s not that noticeable since it’s dispersed through the film. These filmic flashbacks reflect the meditative feel of the novel, its interest in memory and the past. Certainly one can’t dismiss Q. D. Leavis’s argument.

The Portsmouth section is itself rich in epistolarity features. What’s more it shows all the jagged edges and re-combinations we see in some of the P&P chapters: where we are given redactions of letters, summaries and paraphrases connected by the narrator. One can’t count all the letters as there are so many mentioned, and full correspondences, but we are given the same variety we find in P&P: some whole (it’s telling most of these are Edmund and Mary to Fanny as the thwarted lovers), some partial, some paraphrase, sections quoted. The reportage of events (like Henry and Maria’s love affair) are held off, and several skeins of narrative occur concurrently.

That there are so many women narrators in the Austen films, both free and faithful adaptation suggests the underlying epistolary foundation of Austen’s art.

Bridget Jones writing in her diary (near opening, Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001)


As to Tuesdays, it depends on how one counts them. There are none, none until after the Mansfield Park Ball, and they don’t begin to mount up until we reach the Portsmouth section where they increase quickly up if you include all certain Tuesdays, not just the days that are named Tuesday.

Here they are, thus far:

1st Tuesday: is January 3rd, the day after Henry comes back from London with the three letters he has procured (he himself tells us it was a Monday), showing that he has gotten William his promotion. What’s special about this day? it’s the day he meant just to go and see Fanny and Lady Bertram for 10 minutes, and stayed an hour an one half, and returned to Mary to announce his astonishing determination actually to marry Fanny Price. Henry names Monday the day he left London for Mansfield (Penguin MP II:13, 276, Ch 31)

2nd Tuesday, January 10th: the day Edmund returns home unexpectedly to find and meet Mary at the Parsonage still (he had hoped to miss her) and admits to himself that he is still irresistibly in love with Mary: “I was within a trifle of staying at Lessingby [another] five or six days more.” (Penguin MP III, 3, 309, Ch 34).

3rd Tuesday, February 7, 1809, a Tuesday evening when Fanny and Wm come to Portsmouth: Four weeks later Fanny tells Crawford “I did not arrive here until Tuesday evening” (Penguin MP: III, 11, Ch 42) On this same Tuesday also Crawford traveled to Everingham — in order to be traveling the same day as Fanny Mary said

1983 MP: Mrs Price greets Fanny, Wm just behind (Part 5)

4th Tuesday, February 14th, Tuesday: her immense disillusionment complete at end of a week (Penguin MP III:8, 360-64, Ch 39) Fanny’s assessment of her home given as under this date. Even if not named Tuesday, it’s not a conjectured day. At this point in the novel it is operating day by day and sometimes half hour by hour, tick tock, tick tock

5th Tuesday, February 21, 2012: end of fortnight when Fanny realizes truth about Susan and resolves to buy a silver knife, has the open conversation with Susan, and after that joins a circulating libary — week reckoned as a fortnight from the time Fanny arrived, their relationship takes off — becomes very good.]

6th Tuesday, February 28, 1809: Tuesday, the night of Mrs Rushworth’s first party Feb 28th, “Tuesday”: Mrs Rushworth throws her lavish party, discussed in Mary’s letter letter above We have been told that Henry left for Evringham and that Edmund has arrived sometime before. Feb 16th, Thursday: Contains the *third text of a letter* 16th (Penguin MP III:9, 365-66, Ch 40)

7th Tuesday March 14th, 1797 the night of Henry and Maria’s first meeting once again at Mrs Fraser’s! (p. 386, told about on March 7th, Mary’s letter to Fanny after Henry returns

8th Tuesday, May 8th: “Nothing happened the next day, or the next, to weaken her terrors … Two posts came in … no refutation, public or private … no second letter to explain away the first … when the third day did bring the sickening knock, and a letter was again put into her hands … ” Edmund’s letter says he and father arrived in London two days ago, so May 7th. We are told they arrive at the park on Thursday, talk Sunday and those days are the 11th and 14th, so this is a Tuesday but cannot be said to be worse than the other days, the way it must be admitted the two Thursdays (the day of the ball and the day Sir Thomas berates Fanny after she says she means to refuse Mr Crawford) are as important as the day Henry determines finally he will ask Fanny to marry him.

This also seems to be day of Edmund and Mary’s final interview which makes him distraught. (sometime between arrival on Sunday and Tuesday evening letter): Edmund goes to see Mary; “a note from Mrs Stornaway to beg him to call.” Sir Thomas’s scheme for sending Fanny home via Edmund: “he had seen or conjectured his feelings, and having reason to think that one interview with Mrs Crawford had taken place … Edmund’s letter afterward; so too his distraught state: “He looked very ill; evidently suffering under violent emotions” (Penguin MP III:15, 413; Ch 46). He tells Fanny on Sunday, May 14th. (Penguin MP III:16, 421-26, Ch 47)

A narrow definition gives us three to five important Tuesdays — I’ve italicized these. More flexibility yields more Tuesdays but it must be admitted other days are as important or bad.


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I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure, born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld; or offered only at a price I cannot afford to pay —Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

I am Heathcliffe — Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Poeple little know the injury they do to children by laughing at their faults, and making a pleasant jest of what their true friends have endeavoured to teach them to hold in abhorrence … [my employers had] a surprising effect in repressing all familiar, open-hearted kindness, and extinguishing every gleam of cordiality that might arise between us … I was used now to wearing a placid smiling countenance when my heart was bitter within me. Only those who have felt the like can imagine my feelings, as I sat with an assumption of smiling indifference — Anne Bronte, Agnes Grey

The Bronte house in Haworth

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve been away for about 5 days during which time I read a couple of books I’d long wanted to read — mostly because of the way I heard academic colleagues talk about them: one was Lucasta Miller’s The Bronte Myth, which seemed ever to be accompanied by phrases meaning Miller had at long last (relieved tones here) freed the Bronte sisters from a context just filled with falsehoods. Now I know that the Brontes are yet another literary group of women around which a fan cult of sentimental emotionalisms and present day (not just Victorian) identity politics swirl. The question was, what was so inaccurate or were the people advocating the book referring rather to skewed presentations. It did not sound as if it was the latter. So I was even eager to know what I had been mistakenly believing.

It turns out to be highly debatable whether the Bronte stories are filled with inaccuraries. Rather the obstacle for understanding the books partly by understanding the lives and other writing or art of the writers was a matter of prejudiced and unexamined interpretation and emphases, some of which simply is that the popular audience prefers to learn not so much all they can about writers’ lives rather than study their books, but what will reinforce their own belief system. Lucasta Miller’s book is valuable because she really treats so many biographies (novelizing and non-fiction) of Charlotte and Emily, and offers a detailed picture of what scholarly and primary documents there are to study. She often also seems to be correcting various inaccurate details about major people in the Brontes’ lives.

But alas, not always. She also produces her own biases, most often when it comes to presenting Charlotte and Emily as suffering from having been made victims. What she wants to do is substitute another ideal or norm, one as feminist (in her book a very ambiguous word) as any she attacks: she is concerned to make us see Charlotte (and Emily at times as well) as bright (in tone), ambitious, resilient, robust career (need I use the word net-workers) women, thwarted perhaps, but more from death than any particular local injustice. The portrait reminded me of the one nowadays replacing the older view of many a Renaissance woman writer as withdrawn, austere, with a new assumed stereotype, a woman whose main goal is her career, someone who resembles a modern woman academic.

Charlotte Bronte (1850) by George Richmond

Emily Bronte (n.d.) by Branwell Bronte

Anne Bronte is mostly omitted as someone not needing such whole-scale re-drawing; she has only recently been paid adequate attention to and is from the get-go being presented as fighting robustly for women’s rights. The bitter caustic quality of Agnes Grey, its strong depiction of the social world as dysfunctional is ignored by Miller in favor of briefly describing and praising Anne’s nowadays conventional targeting of alcoholism and feminist critique of permanent marriage bonds.

I find Miller’s book to be in fact a continual sustained and unfair attack on Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography as well as “the interfering” Gaskell who is (somewhat ironically) presented as a normalizer (see my other blog for Gaskell analyses). Miller is concerned to defend Patrick as good father who encouraged all his children to read. Nowhere though do we learn his income (which would account for much misery) nor why he left his daughters at Cowan Bridge. Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Nicholls may be perfectly understandable his distaste for publicity, but that Charlotte married him rather than George Smith or someone else does seem to be the result of her less than acceptable status as a clergyman’s daughter (the Austens had trouble marrying out of their immediate clan too). We are told they are misrepresented but are not given evidence beyond thumbnail sketches which turn them into common modern-like decent men. She even (though not wholly unexpectedly since her sympathies do not encompass Branwell), justifies Mrs Robinson or Lady Scott (Branwell’s employer who may have committed adultery with him) as within her rights to defend her reputation. Lady Eastlake’s withering scorn and resentment of the low governess-writers is not clearly brought out.

To Miller, the isolation of these women, their deprivation, the instilled class insecurity and stigmas, were all exaggerated, much of it the product of Gaskell’s determination to excuse them for having written their radically shocking novels (which Gaskell is presented as mostly disliking), perceived by Gaskell as a danger to the careers of women like herself. By the time she finished describing Haworth village it sounded like the apparently cheerful and business-like corner mall near my house. It may be that Gilbert and Gubar’s interpretation of Bertha Mason as a double for Charlotte herself is not one Charlotte would have recognized and it may be the way the Brontes regarded their neighbors shows their own desperate narrowness and alienation (which would include an attack on sexualized women such as Bertha is supposed to represent), but it is a legitimate way of our understanding Charlotte’s novel.

I wondered if Miller had read Mary Barton, arguably just radical and threatening (to the capitalist establishment). If so, she does no justice to Gaskell’s own complicated politics (though she quotes Jenny Uglow now and again).

Miller’s defensiveness about Emily is especially fierce and tendentious. No Emily was not angry that Charlotte tried to publish her poems; of course she would have wanted them published. She probably didn’t like the patronizing. Emily was a fully conscious and even learned (two translations from the Latin in Emily’s younger hand exist) writer. She was not a pantheistic mystic. She was probably often “happy and relaxed” when alone. Miller’s way of retelling the story that Charlotte told Gaskell of how Emily kept and once cruelly beat a bulldog into quivering submission, wounding the animal is typical. Miller scrutinizes Gaskell’s imagery as melodramatic and therefore not worthy of belief. Then she quotes a servant “who could remember nothing of it.” Hareton’s cruel hanging of animals in Wuthering Heights is offered up as influencing Gaskell’s anecdote when the text could just as well represent a lingering memory of Emily’s own behavior. Within 10 pages, the incident has become the “dog-beating caricature” (see pp 224-33). We are to dismiss it as exaggerated if not wholly untrue.

Emily (it is implied and also said) is just not explainable. She is too private. Is she? Miller asks us to read many of the poems as about characters in the fantastical sagas of Emily’s younger imagination. Do they then have nothing to do with her?

I don’t mean to say Miller is obtuse or hides evidence: she retells the story of Heathcliff to show how disturbingly sadistic and vengeful he becomes.

The 1991 film of Wuthering Heights which presents both generations and Ralph Fiennes as an searingly angry half-crazed man is a perceptive enactment

She tells of a new find of translations from the Latin by Emily which are accompanied with sketches by her of a man holding a boy up by his hair; he is about to beat the boy in front of another man. Another man is flogged next to a heap of corpses. Miller wants us to believe these are extrapolations from Horace’s text where there is an allusion to Medea. But this is not the Medea story (pp. 286-87).

For some texts Miller is particularly good, e.g., Charlotte’s rich analyses of Lucy’s breakdown in Villette (though not as willing to bring in Heger as an explanation). Her analyses of Emily’s poetry, especially when she separates out the original lines from those Charlotte rewrote or added to, together with her probable list of books read by all four Brontes gives us a literary context to understand Emily’s work in.

But she is obfuscating. She distrusts biographies as legitimate art and the biographical as a legitimate approach; one can predict how she will judge a critic by how he or she regards biography. Henry James is used as an insightful authority because he inveighed against the uses of biography. Mary Robinson’s biography with its original emphasis on Branwell becomes “an exercise in moral rehabilitation,” “biographical apologia” (pp. 238-43). Repeatedly the implication of Miller’s responses to the Charlotte’s letters and Emily’s leftover fragments to whomever is they are performances, a kind of personating an identity, and letters are the very lifeblood of biography. What then do we do with Emily’s student essay, “The Butterfly:”

Nature is an inexplicable puzzle, life exists on a principle of destruction; every creature must be the relentless instrument of death to the others, or himself cease to live (quoted not by Miller, but by Bluestone in his chapter on the 1939 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights, in Novels into Film, p 109).

Miller does make an exception for Rebecca Fraser’s The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family, one of the few biographical texts Miller praises. This one too is often praised and I wanted to read it for the same reasons I wanted to read Miller: to help me see what is accurate and inaccurate. Now (from Miller’s descriptions admittedly) I realize Fraser’s contribution is also to target Gaskell’s biography as what has to be done away with, to use biographical methods comes up with a strong defense of Patrick Bronte and to normalize Charlotte in terms of modern academic career women’s lives and goals.

Patrick Bronte in old age

In the the later parts of the book Miller has an easy time making fun of modern novelizations by pop authors, filmic and textual versions of the Brontes’ lives, but again makes her academic norms and life biases clear when it came to dealing with recent writers. Recalling how recently free adaptations of texts have found more favor with critics than faithful ones, she praises post-modern playful fictions with play with the biographical facts.

Oddly (except he is such a respected figure), she is careful to take Hughes’s appropriation of Emily Bronte seriously: “it reflects his impulse to clear up the mess left by Plath’s suicide by imposing a fatalistic order.” What should have been said is his impulse to erase how much he was to blame for his adultery and desertion of Plath. We see how she is careful to distinguish her heroines from Plath’s misery, whom she half-blames while (very much in her vein of wanting to deny death-wishes in her women writers) mentioning how “other commentators on Plath’s suicide reject the idea that it was an inevitability” and suggest maybe “she did not really want to die and expected to be saved” (pp. 279-80). I suppose that’s why she sealed the room she gassed herself in.

The book is an eye-opener certainly — but one where Miller is trying to substitute a new modern academic career woman stereotype for a more complicated and in some ways historically accurate portrait which emerges from a careful reading of traditional and recent scholarship. She exposes herself and the world she is praised by, as much as she does her variously respected, resented and mocked targets. What we get is a suggestive new Bronte myth. Pace all Miller says, Gaskell’s book is a masterpiece of imaginative and biographical art and offers rich insights into all three Bronte sisters’ work. It’s carefully substantiated, thick ethnography too. If Gaskell is silent, reticent, evasive when it comes to a presentation of Charlotte’s sexuality so too is Miller, especially when she gives no alternative for Freudian-psychoanalytical & hidden-injury-of-class approaches.

Elizabeth Gaskell (in 1854) by Samuel Lawrence

The Brontes lived a hard inward life in Yorkshire, a deprived life as young women in an awful school, they had few opportunities for advancement of any kind, and three young died, within one year (Emily is a kind of rage) and Charlotte not long afterward, of a pregnancy she should not have risked. The reader can also use Miller’s book as a sort of encyclopedia for Charlotte and Emily as it cites & describes so many sources and criticisms, including Patsy Stoneman’s.


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