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Archive for November 8th, 2012


Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), Le Reveur, or the Ruines of the Oybin Monastery (1835-40), this image appears with Emmeline in an essay on the novel

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past couple of months I’ve read the first and last of Charlotte Smith’s novels, Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle (1788) and The Young Philosopher (1798). Inside those 10 years she wrote 8 more, one, the 2nd, Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake (1789) I’m hoping to make an edition of. I wrote about it here, as well as her translation from Prevost, Manon Lescaut, or the Fatal Attachment (1786), her abridgement, translation, adaptation of Pitaval’s Causes Celebres, as The Romance of Real Life (1787), and her later gothic, Montalbert (1795), as part of other projects, papers, or simply I wanted to read them because I like her writing.

Emmeline is remarkable for its powerful whirling around a group of characters who directly represent herself from different angles, and her frightening violent, irresponsible, utterly egoist, half-wild inconsistent husband, both when they first wed, and as she had come to know him by 1787 when she finally left him, taking her still living 9 children with her (she had had 12), and writing to her publisher that “his temper been so capricious and often so cruel” that her “life was not safe” (Smith to Joseph Cooper Walker, 9 October 1793). At first (age 16), she had spent extravagantly with him, but quickly came to see what a meaningless drone he was; she seems not to have been able to fend off his sexual demands and had 12 children by him; he used up his inheritance, embezzled moneys, ended up in a debtor’s prison, to which she accompanied him; later she obeyed him and went to live at a remote chateau (like a gothic heroine) in France where she nearly died of another childbirth. He had mistresses in front of her and finally she left him for good.

Some might say a novel which is so filled with such autobiographical painful issues cannot be good; I disagree. The greatest art comes out of an artist returning repeatedly to their life’s core issues to address these in large meaningful ways.

Her life of hardship, penury, continual tragic deaths and disappointment is also treated on the Net. Omitted is an incident (told by Antje Blank in the Literary Encyclopedia) that when Smith had already had a number of children by Benjamin Smith, she did meet a man whom she loved and could possibly have lived a fulfilled life with but she parted from him because she thought living with him would do her children harm.

In The Young Philosopher she presents the autobiographical material more indirectly, provides a wild, whirling, indeed exhilarating series of agonized adventures for a pair of outcast heroines and strong good thoughtful men as heroes (one an original thinker, the other determined to live his life according to his own evolved ethical standards) in order (it seemed to me) try out how far the philosophical ideas of various Enlightenment figures provides guides for understanding or life.

Since Emmeline was her first novel, and for its time so original and sold widely and ever since has been one of those by Smith readers read (and thus it came back into print in the 1970s in an Oxford edition by Anne Ehrenpreis), Emmeline has a full wikipedia article with a complete summary of the story, characters, and themes.

The Young Philosopher is only treated briefly as “a final piece of ‘outspoken radical fiction’. Smith’s protagonist leaves Britain for America, as there is no hope for a reform in Britain.” The novel is often left out of detailed treatments because it came last. There is, however, an excellent chapter on The Young Philosopher in Eleanor Ty’s Unsex’d Revolutionaries. The core story (presented as substory at first) is about Laura Glenmorris whose mother disliked her and who eloped to marry an unacceptable highlander; when Laura is deprived of his presence & protection, she is hounded by his relatives who destroy her newborn son (his heir); her daughter by him, Medora, is already grown and she has a series of parallel despotic, exploitative, and violent experiences, both in the Highlands and in London from which she seems to emerge the stronger. The framing story is of George Delmont, a younger son (though not young), the philosopher of the book whose brother takes advantage of him; Delmont’s experiences occur mostly in provincial society and London; he is the sober thoughtful caring man who occurs repeatedly in all Smith’s books, a dream figure for her of the good man she was not permitted to have a worthwhile life with.

Most salient: Emmeline makes clear why it was so necessary if you had an illegitimate child to hide the fact. The inheritance laws and desperation for any property at all by genteel people (there were no jobs but through patronage) was what made this imperative. If it should get out that Adelina, now coercively married to Trelawny, had had a child by someone else (Fitzgerald), immediately Trelawny’s family would be on top of her to discover if it was someone else’s and then spread nasty rumors, go to court if they had to, to secure the property away from her. Her brother can claim the child as his because he is a second son: no one cares. The Young Philospher makes clear how the legal system and customs render the strongest woman helpless when someone wants to take her property, abuse her body or her mind (a family or husband can put a woman away and this is one of the threats the heroines in The Young Philosopher endure).

I try to suggest the journey that occurred between them, keep to autobiographical and literary contexts. They have flaws But the first keeps a heroine who has a baby out of wedlock central; the second occurs in Scotland, is exhilarating, looks back to Lee’s Recess.

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Carleton Watkins, The Three Brothers (1865-66), the photo is on the cover of the Broadview Press edition of the novel by Lorrance Fletcher, which I recommend

The two most interesting characters in the Emmeline are Adelina (see below) and Delamere who falls in love with Emmeline at first sight, immediately thinks he has a right to woo her, and because he is heir to a wealthy fortune and she a poor (probably illegitimate he thinks) cousin of his must accept him. He spends the whole of the novel either pursuing her demandingly, or, when he thinks she has been unchaste, castigating her harshly. As a character he is often mentioned in other novels of the era, but not always negatively, often as in a handsome suitor perhaps misbehaving in some way, handsome, rich, debonair, (like Darcy an eligible candidate). This is utterly to misunderstand the book, to ignore Smith’s whole perspective.

Among Austen’s marginalia to her History of England is a comment that suggests Austen saw that Delamere is not an ideal hero:

Though of a different profession, and shining in a different Sphere of Life, yet equally conspicuous in the Character of an Earl, as Drake was in that of a Sailor, was Robert Devereux Lord Essex. This unfortunate young Man was not unlike in Character to that equally unfortunate one Frederic Delamere. The simile may be carried still farther, & Elizabeth the torment of Essex may be compared to the Emmeline of Delamere.

In Sophia Lee’s Recess, Essex is a tyrant, irrational, a bully and he destroys the sanity of Elinor (Matilda’s sister, Mary Queen of Scots’ twin daughters; in the fiction, they lived to adulthood). Now since the young Austen seriously presents herself as idealizing pro-Mary, it may be she has fallen for the romance of Essex.

Delamere very much reminds me of Leonce in de Stael’s Delphine: one of these aristocratic older males who has been taught he is just a God on earth, needs answer to no control, can do whatever he wants; if he’s thwarted, he becomes enraged. Such a type and presentation is found in Montbrillant by Louise de D’Epinay. Stael and Epinay almost or just about say the only way you can stop such people’s behavior is to guillotine them. They will not accept the revolution, not accept their diminished status or a give away of any of their wealth or uncontrolled power but will fight to the death to keep it, do anything necessary to punish anyone who challenges them or takes anything at all from their power and status.

This was a type encouraged in the era by the primogeniture system in the ancien regime. One of Hubert Robert’s patrons (Comte d’Artois) grew up at first to be sensitive, a reading boy and was deliberately corrupted and changed into this type as a necessary linchpin of the system. In our time many boys are taught to be competitive, encouraged to develop aggression, even bullying propensities rather than risk they’ll be “effeminate” (read homosexual). Those who won’t or can’t behave this way suffer inwardly a lot.

One real flaw of this book — which reminds me again of Austen’s S&S. (Like Austen’s S&S, Smith’s Emmeline begins quietly, drily.) The chief male is not given enough inner life. We never see into Delamere’s mind so it’s hard to grasp what is probably meant as a partially sympathetic portrayal. Delamere is the badly educated heir, not controlled enough, given too much leeway to his passions. I’m beginning to think Delamere is a portrait of Mr Smith when young. Some phrases referring to someone who has no control over himself and inflicts himself on others, spending spending spending are surely memories of her husband as she first saw and still experiences him.

There seems an unsureness which harks back to Smith’s Manon. It really is not clear if Smith is on the side of the young couple as lovers — so the Emmeline does yearn to marry this eligible heir — or, are we to think of Emmeline as sheerly harassed. Delamere’s father wants to prevent the marriage sheerly on the basis of Emmeline’s poverty and lack of rank. The sequence which imitates Clarissa where Emmeline goes down to the garden and is abducted by Delamere is written with an unsure focus.

I couldn’t disagree more with Mary Wollstonecraft who decries the presentation of Adelina: Adelina is daughter of Lord Westhaven, an ideal male type in the novel (non-violent, chivalrous, enlightened) who marries Augusta Delamere. Wollstonecraft inveighs against developing empathy for once Adeline is discovered to be pregnant with Delamere’s friend, Fitzgerald’s child. She fled her abusive husband; Fitz-Gerald and Adeline fell in love and did the natural thing. The story of Adelina – “infamous” with the word having its central connotation of sexually transgressive — is one of the best things in the book. Instead of hoisting her off the stage, for having gotten pregnant by a man other than her horror of a coerced husband, Trelawny (who gambles as impulsively as Smith’s father and husband) Smith has the courage to make Adelina a secondary heroine.

The story of the circumstances which led to Adelina’s marriage like that of Mrs Stafford is a mirror image of Smith’s. So Adelina is a Mrs Smith who got another chance. Fitz-Gerald was not the good man he should have been but he is decent enough and offers some affection and stability, both qualities needed desperately by Adelina.
The book is filled with mirror images of Benjamin and Charlotte Smith’s very first years when she did not see clearly how amoral he was as yet, how she would pay for his reckless utterly selfish behavior, his bad business deals, his gambling. There are also memories of Smith’s father’s marriage, and his shunting a 15 year old Charlotte Turner off to Benjamin Smith when his second wife did not like his daughter.

Mrs Stafford is the most obvious: she tells the story of her life which parallels the Smith’s precisely, including the trip to France (omitting his violence and adultery); juxtaposed to this we watch the utterly spoiled Delamere. She’s retelling her story obsessively in her first novel, for Emmeline and Adelina walking along the shores are both Mrs Smith.


Friedrich, called A Monk by the Sea: its sublimity and picturequeness visually captures the feel of Smith’s Emmeline at moments

During these walks (indulged by Godolphin too), Smith’s characters utter great poery (Broadview Press edition, p 408). This poem is attributed to Adelina as she wanders along the shore. In it Smith expressed the anguish of her memories of sex.

Sonnet XL

FAR on the sands, the low retiring tide,
In distant murmurs hardly seems to flow,
And o’er the world of waters, blue and wide,
The sighing summer wind, forgets to blow.
As sinks the day-star in the rosy West,
The silent wave, with rich reflection glows:
Alas! can tranquil nature give me rest,
Or scenes of beauty, soothe me to repose?
Can the soft lustre of the sleeping main,
Yon radiant heaven, or all creation’s charms,
“Erase the written troubles of the brain,”
Which Memory tortures, and which guilt alarms?
Or bid a bosom transient quiet prove,
That bleeds with vain remorse, and unextinguish’d love!

Smith attributes similar poetry to the good melancholy hero in Montalbert. What these novels testify to is not a real lover (which she deprived herself of), but Smith’s desire for one. How she felt cut off forever from any personal happiness. How in dreams she gave herself ideals and then put them into her novel. Volumes 3 into 4 has sequences of landscape which embody these sorts of feelings.

Adelina’s story is partly undermined by all the hysteria by others over her, how she is ostracized and how ashamed and self-berating she is. This is mot really true to the way people really behaved: they made do; the unwed mother remarried if she could (based on her looks and original status). This stigmatizing makes the portrait less worth while (to put it minimally).

Readers have expressed surprise that Emmeline does not marry Delamere — again that’s to misunderstand the book. Emmeline’s turn to Goldolphin is slow and justified and developed slowly. Emmeline dreads marrying Delamere by the time she meets Godolphin (Lord Westhaven’s brother). So Emmeline anticipates or is parallel with S&S as Willoughby was a bad choice for Marianne (though she didn’t see it) and she is paired off with the genuine man of sensibility and intelligence, Brandon; so Delemare is a very bad choice for any woman, and Godolphin is the parallel with Brandon.

In the character of Godolphin, with whom Emmeline finally ends up (married), Smith achieves the type of man that the film adaptations of S&S and recent readings of S&S want Austen’s Brandon to be. Smith really meant us to see a highly ethical, deeply emotional man of sensibility and high intelligence, moral, in love with the heroine out of deep seated urges (see in Oxford edition, pp 272-84). Alan Rickman is indeed perfect for the role.


Alan Rickman as Brandon first coming upon Marianne

Tellingly, David Morrisey is not: for example, in Emmeline Godolphin does want to challenge Fitzgerald, duel with him and it’s made plain in order literally to kill him, but is persuaded out of it. We are told in 1995 that Rickman fought Willoughby but we never see it; the passionate brutality of the 2008 duelling scene is felt and then abjured in Emmeline and (in truth) kept out of Austen’s alive text. The books — Emmeline and S&S when compared illuminate one another.

Scott’s comments against the prudence of the love affair between Emmeline and Godolphin suggest that he cannot have read this novel carefully. Again the film adaptations of S&S are more like this than S&S. Godolphin loves her and she is falling in love with him. There is nothing particularly prudent or mercenary about their love affair. As for Delamare, he is presented as the worst person possibly any woman could marry. On the supposition – a rumor suggested by the Crofts after Delamere’s fortune through his sister — that Emmeline has been unfaithful, he leaps to believe this and becomes fanatically jealousy and abusive. How could Scott suppose this is a love story? only by not having read the book perhaps — or not carefully.

In the later parts of the novel, the story of Mrs Smith begging money, negotiating is powerful. It’s not quite believable that Montreville, Delamare’s father could himself want to help and be so easily turned off. Such a man would not be, but Smith wants to whitewash Delamere’s father to make Delamere and his mother worse. Montreville also has traits and parallels with Smith’s father and this shows she wanted to have a positive view of her father. So they go to rural France where Smith produces her sea- and landscape pieces and continues the parallel of Mrs Smith following Mr and finding him anything but repentant or grateful.

I am ever puzzling how Mrs Smith (as Stafford) just let her husband continually impregnate her. If he was such a physical brute, that’d be another reason to keep away in whatever way she could. Had she no one to turn to for a bed? Perhaps not. Restif de Bretonne’s daughter fled her husband beaten in the middle of the night to sit half naked on a stair and some neighbor actually came out and demanded she return to the monster because she was his wife. (See Ingenue Saxoncour). We see when Edward Austen comes home from a journey, he can wake his daughter up, get into bed with his much-impregnated wife and proceed to inflict himself on her again.

At the close of the book, we learn all about Emmeline’s mother at last — like many a gothic. Emmeline’s mother was married to her father and she is an heiress! Here Emmeline and her mother’s exemplary behavior, this incessant use of secresy to keep the plot turning and turning without resolution becomes very tiresome. And all these men wanting Emmeline. Campion disliked James’s Portrait of a Lady rightly: who wants all this harassment. The extreme emotionalisms of the text are absurd. She had this in Ethelinde too. It’s absurd and surely she knows it.

All that saves the book is the sense I have that these “courtships” are a form of harassment. At moments too Smith throws out this or that new little life, another woman, another form of abuse suddenly told, e.g., the woman Godolphin picks up on his boat trip (who arouses Emmeline’s jealousy).

At the close of Emmeline, Smith metes out poetic justice to everyone. I can see that the way to get rid of the “problem” of Delemare will be solved by himself: he will die after he challenges one of the other males who crosses his obsinate ideas about what he is deserving (every single appetite) and respect he demands (ludicrous). Delamere is not only a version of Smith’s own husband but stands for what this society makes of its most privileged men: unreasoning tyrants who ruin the lives of all they inflict themselves them whether explicitly or implicitly. Everyone cares so much about this guy too. Is Smith sufficiently aware of this? I don’t know. In Caleb Williams Godwin was. Doubtless Mrs Smith wishes Mr Smith could be got rid of this way. It was her only hope.

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J.M.W. Turner (1776-1851), Dumblain Abbey, Scotland

The Young Philosopher starts strong with a quotation from Sarah Fielding’s Art of Tormenting (a book published by Broadview nowadays and actually by Jane Collier) and we get a powerful series of scenes: Dr Winslow is trying to get his wife to leave one place to get to another where they have been invited. We experience her procrastinations in favor of feeding her vanity with nasty gossip from friends. The family with their ward and servant get caught in a storm on a wasteland part of the landscape and land in the house of a younger son of a younger son inside a wealthy family clan, George Delmont. (It does in outline curiously remind me of Sanditon with its overturned carriage and slow movement into the families we are to be interested in.)

Then there is something of a muddle in the way the family line is presented: my feeling is this is due to Smith not being able to be forthright about the autobiographical material here: the oldest male has managed to disinherit his brother (father to George) by unexpectedly marrying his wife’s sister; that is, George’s aunt. Charlotte Smith was excluded from her father’s care when he and her aunt colluded in her marriage to Benjamin Smith; later her aunt married Smith’s husband’s father.

We then get a portrait of George who is emerging as the usual good man in Smith. We see the perverse nature of schools and how the values instilled just about everywhere are actually awful, with an opposition of the mean cold calculating older brother, Adolphus. George’s ward Miss Goldthorpe, plays a role in a coming romance; we have an older harridan woman figure, Mrs Crewkhern — a type found in women’s fiction of this era (Austen’s version is say her Lady Catherine or Mrs Norris). Mrs Crewkhern is the type of the woman who inflicted false values on the Miss Goldthorpe. A letter follows where George explains his views to Miss Goldthorpe (why he is teaching her independence) against those of Mrs Crewkhern.

George’s reading and his values are the focus on this early part of the novel — we are to ask, how will he do in life?

For more on The Young Philospher, see comments.

Ellen

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