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Archive for February, 2013

anna karenina 2012blog
Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina (2013)

Dear friends and readers,

Although 20th century awarding of recognition for achievement in movie-making may not seem appropriate for a blog intended for matter Austen, 18th century and women writers, artists, and I admit I write just about all my film studies blogs on Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two; nonetheless it is rare that an art that can so exquisitely capture aspects of life’s fantastical array of qualities be treated on TV with the equivalent of “Hail Stupidity!” so that Pope’s Dunciad becomes relevant. Since I went to most of the movies I saw with Izzy, it’s no wonder I agree with her favored list, and her assessment of the prize-receiving fool’s gold and the way the program was handled.

I am just now listening to a recording of a dramatic reading aloud of the whole of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; the reader is Davina Porter, and I see how brilliant and right was Matthew MacFayden as Stiva. And Knightley was as good as ever I’ve seen Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan. Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for actress in a leading role (Haneke’s Amour). No one dared not vote for Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. I assume the grave seriousness of the film was embarrassing to the voters. The great genius of film-making, Ang Lee, walked away with 3.

Still for the most part the choices and proceedings merit:

O Muse! relate (for you can tell alone,
Wits have short Memories, and Dunces none) [620]
Relate, who first, who last resign’d to rest;
Whose Heads she partly, whose completely blest;
What Charms could Faction, what Ambition lull,
The Venal quiet, and intrance the Dull;
‘Till drown’d was Sense, and Shame, and Right, and
Wrong— …
In vain, in vain, — the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow’r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primæval, and of Chaos old! 148 [630]
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain, [635]
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ethereal plain …

***************

What new movie in a paying movie-house did I see this year in the movies worth seeing and great? The only ones that remain in my mind are Coriolanus, last February; Alfred Nobbs, last March. I admit since we go to HD operas, I don’t get to see enough new movies.

Ellen

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To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do — Victorine de Chastenay on her beginning Radcliffe’s Udolpho

le_coeur_ou_la_raison
La Coeur et la raison: title of Goubert’s translation of S&S, so the allusion is to Pascal’s La cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas [The heart has its reasons, that the reason doesn’t know]

Dear friends and readers,

I send along a brief review of Helen McMurran’s significant book. Her argument implies that creative and attentively alive linguistic translations as well as translations that paid close attention to changing the text to something acceptable to the targt culture were at the core of the spread of the novel across Europe.

Next up will be a two part evaluative review of Pierre Goubert’s study of Jane Austen: he finds out the traits of her mind and character as shown in the books and letters, and has himself written one of the powerful accurate translations of her book into French: La Coeur et la Raison, a translation that enables me to approach Austen’s text afresh the way Ang Lee’s great film adaptation (1995), together with Davies’ 2008 imitation also function. Goubert is much closer in spirit to Austen.

Then I’ll return to Austen’s letters, probably beginning with just Letter 95 (Jane from Henrietta Street, to Cassandra, at Godmersham, 3 Nov 1813).

What troubles me about the reviews of this book is most reviewers seem not to have bothered to read carefully enough to present its arguments about translation or simply (as usual) don’t care about translation studies to see its significance. Her views are consonant with David Bellos which a recent review of Virginia Woolf’s collaborative translations from the Greek with S. S. Koteliansky show hardly anyone takes into serious consideration. The writer found her alterations of Koteliansky deeply effective but had to dismiss it as not accurate, so wrote a muddled even puzzled account of the Hogarth project.

McMurran’s book is presented as having dual purpose: it also explains how novels spread and that was probably what attracted reviewers and a publisher as it’s what was mostly discussed by the reviews I read. The images in this blog are of translations of Austen into French from her own era. See Francophone Jane for listing.

LaFamilleElliotsmall
This is Isobel de Montolieu’s translation: it contains her preface, a short life, and the whole of her text.

McMurran traces the history of translation in the 18th century. She argues that translation in the 18th century either refused to obey the norms of earlier translations which meant to obey the norms of classical culture as if it were universal; translations were also original (or idiosyncratic, depending on your perspective) in how they obeyed the target language’s literary norms (3). An influential study by Venuti divides translation types into domesticating or foreignizing. She says this division fails to take into account another way of thinking about translation. Before the 18th century the point of translating a text was to transmit it, and often the original and translated texts were used as learning tools.

Foreign language at the time was taught by method like Latin: silent, translating; in school texts we see words placed against one another as equivalents (9). (For my part I think this kind of study still essential in learning a new language.) You were transmitting the Latin and Greek (through Latin); your purpose to render and transmit; you produced what was understood and re-valued in original; you are engaging with, imitating, bringing up to date revered originals. There were classicists who did argue that a given text was not translatable, by which they meant it was necessarily at as good as the original. Such an argument would never be made when it came to Malory’s translations of 5 French romances into his romance epic of Arthurian Tales because the French texts were not respected (often not known). But it was applied in the case of Homer and Virgil especially. Now putting them into vernacular meant you were supposed to convey the essence of the author as you filtered it in your idiom. So Johnson complains that Pope loses the wild savage essence of Homer.

LesTroisCousinssmalleryet
This Archipoche edition gives the complete and unaltered early 19th century translation of Austen’s MP as Les Trois Cousins by Henri Villemain.

In the later 17th century the historical sense was beginning to emerge, just glancingly but it was coming. People became aware that older texts were from another time and culture and the distance between themselves and this earlier time. They begin to update texts. The most infamous examples are the Shakespeare alterations in drama. 18th century scholars continue to see the much revered texts as partly timeless — not wholly as the verse imitations by Pope of Horace and Johnson of Juvenal show. But they never see the texts written in their own time as timeless. When they translate texts in their own time, they are not reviving or renewing. Translaters begin to see themselves as enriching their own readerships of their particular nation and language by translation. Literary translation becomes a transnational exchange; texts are seen as representative of a nation

Think of the difference between Curtius’s European Literature and Latin Middle Ages and Auerbach’s Mimesis

A very important sub-argument of this book is that translation in the era was not seen as hackwork. She has a long section showing simply that most translations we have were done of out love of a text, interest in it. Yes there were hacks, but they are in the minority because so badly paid. She suggests this sort of motive persists to our time.

It’s certainly true of Feneon’s Catherine Morland for Northanger Abbey which by chance, talent, perhaps spiritual affinity made this anarchist’s French text a genuine match for Austen’s:

Feneonsverysmall

The historical sense changed the way texts themselves were viewed in histories of the novel. Early histories of novel, starting from later 17th century just assumed earlier novels were written out of a universal impulse to tell a love or adventure story. They would connect texts across centuries and make no effort to discover if there was any author of the particularities of a time or place. De Sade’s history is the first person to look at circumstances and say the one romance comes from one culture and time and another from another. Scott developed this into an important insight: he was the first to begin to look at texts as forming national identity. Watt sidesteps all this to begin with new definition of novel that takes us back to universal aesthetic impulses (divided into neat binaries). But he too (McMurran does not say this) begins with this assumption there was something new in the 18th century which made a break with the past.

McMurran’s book may be a companion to Moretti’s Atlas of the Novel, showing us how much novels at the time represent an interaction between the French and English. But more importantly it’s an application of Bellos’s perspective on translation.

CaracteresAnglaissmall
An anonymous 1816 translation of Emma, included in Valerie Cossy’s JA in Switzerland

McMurran tells us how trawling through catalogues tells us so little about the books — how nebulous and hard it is to make any sense of these catalogues, first pages, what little information is available and paratexts — and erects it into an understanding of the era as polymormous, as being indifferent to who the author was as they could not know. It was not until much later that it was admitted texts were changed to suit a political point of view, to sell to the taste of a public. Cossy’s book is an attempt to delve the people who produced the French translations of Austen, their political and personal views, and that of their immediate audience. It takes a long book to analyze just a couple of Austen’s translations (Montolieu, excepts from Pride and Prejudice) this way.

**************

OrgeuiletPreventionPerkstext
This is Eloise Perks’s 1822 text unchanged

She then moves into the translations themselves. It’s interesting to see (from what evidence we do have) that in the early parts of the 18th century 30-35% of fiction read in the UK were translations from French, but as century wore on less and less translations, there were more indigenous English texts in the UK. In France the proportions move the other way: little translation from the English until mid-way and then a flood of English texts translated into French begins, but these English texts were (it’s important to recall) naturalized, made to reflect French aesthetic and moral ideals.

RaisonetSensibiliteblog
This is Isobel de Montolieu’s text unchanged; unfortunately Helen Seyres has altered Montolieu’s text (as well as title, to Raisons et Sentiments) for Archipoche, making the reprint worthless

McMurran then turns to “rendering practices” in prose fiction. She explains that she ascertained what 18th century translators did when they departed from their text. Well it depends and was individual, but two common resorts are amplification to make more vivid, or condensing to make more forceful. I’ve found that later is typical for the two good male French translators of Radcliffe, Soules and Morellet (and sometime also for the poorer ones, Moylin and Fourier, but they might do that for anyone). Amplification allows for change of perspective such as we see in Smith’s Prevost and condensing such as we see in Chastenay’s Udolpho.

Behn then studies Eliza Haywood’s translations. I did not know that Haywood translated a lot (as did Behn) and I cannot resist thinking both did it for money. Haywood looks to heighten the impression of the text. My respect for her went up when I learned that that she translated Boiguibert’s Marie Stuart, Reyne d’Escosse, Nouvelle Historique, Mary Stuart was an attraction to Madame de Lafayette too (in her Princess de Cleves as the wife of Francoise). Haywood wrote about her methods justifying them Apparently many have thought her Mary Stuart an original book; she also wrote a fictionalized biography, The Life of Madam De Villesache, but this one she presented as a translation.

This real interest in French reminds me of Aphra Behn’s really fine work in French which only recently has gotten some attention (mostly libertine love poetry).

Quite career for Eliza Haywood as a translator. What’s interesting is how she deviates from her texts. Most of the time I dislike her fiction intensely (even her more domestic later fiction) which I find sarky and heartless or crudely didactic — it matters to me what her strength is exercised for; but here she emerges with a certain humanity. I did not know she translated a good deal of Prevost’s Memoirs of a Man of Quality; this is astonishing really.

McMurran then has a matching section on La Place as a French translator of English texts; his translation of Oroonoko influential; he sympathizes intensely with the African characters as native Caribs in a history of Imoinda; he manages to go outside a Eurocentric view of these characters according to McMurran.

About mid-point in her book the cross-channel emergence of the novel becomes her topic. Again she sees translations as central; part of this was the emergence of the nation state, for the first time the idea a language is not easily translated into another because of cultural differences is voiced regularly. McMurran loos at de-nationalizing strands too and turns to look at Richardson’s novels in translation.

It’s here I left off, but will return eventually, but again I interested to see a new perspective (so many have studied Clarissaand Richardson in translation you see). The new perspective informs Robert Frail’s more recent enquiry into transation, A Singular Duality which again is defeated by reviewers who remain wedded to the idea a translation is first and foremost a crib of a specific text. See Gillian Dow. “A Singular Duality: Literary Relations Between France and England in the Eighteenth Century (review).” Translation and Literature 17.1 (2008): 127-131. Project MUSE. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. .

ModernPleiadeblog
The modern Pleiade texts

McMurran begins with the idea that a national cosmospolitanism characterized the outlook of readers and translators alike in the 18th century; people read the second language of either English or France while they were in Europe. As there was intense hostility between France (and hence French and French book) and the UK (books in English) so there was also intense admiration. This too describes some of the motives for translating central to the function and nature of translated texts in the era.

PlantbyWindowRubyinParadiseblog
A still from Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise, an appropriation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey: the image resembles a common motif in women’s painting (e.g., Jane Freilicher).
Ellen

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BhajiontheBeachCloseblog
Hasidia (Sarita Khajuria and Oliver (Mo Sesay) seen from the bus (Bhaji on the Beach, 1993): modern reality transforms the romantic image

DarcyLalitablog
Wm Darcy (Martin Henderson) and Lalita (Aiswarya Rai) walking on LA beach (Bride and Prejudice 2005): romance scene left fantasy but with addition of cultural disparities

Dear friends and readers,

For the last couple of weeks now I’ve been watching the 6 Sense and Sensibility films still available, and a group of Indian films, mostly Tamil, powerfully great ones, Roja, Bombay, Guru by Mani Ratnam; plus the two other recent Indian adaptations of Austen, Bride and Prejudice and Aisha. I’ve watched two transnationals: Bhaji on the Beach and Mississippi Masala. And I’ve read in whole and parts several superb books on Indian cinema and essays on individual films.

I had watched them before (see earlier blog on Lagaan, Guru, Bombay, Charuntula, Mississippi Masala) but this time it was with a view to understanding and then writing a paper on Rajiv Menon’s I Have Found It, the 2000 Tamil analogous or free adaptation of S&S.

I’ve come to a few general conclusions. Jane Austen’s novels — or novels of the 18th & 19th century — seem peculiarly suitable for contemporary Indian films, from the typology: chaste heroine, intelligent assertive yet tactful and acquiescent in her subordinate position to men; she also regards having and bringing up children one of her main functions in life. Austen and the English traditions of middle class novels also contain social criticism from the angle of the vulnerable or underdog combined with women’s romance. Finally, they have ethical heroes who are ambitious and want to marry and are respectful of women, the traditional family group, and the arranged marriage for money (for themselves as well).

Further, if we look at the four faithful movies, we find her material has forced upon the film-makers images of displacement, journeys, exile from home:

PacingEuropeanHomeImageDefied
Striking & memorable image of Marianne pacing un-home-y space (not usually discussed, in “faithful” 1995 S&S)

Turning to both free adaptations, I Have Found It is filled with sudden journeys, by train, by bus, by truck; the characters stand outside buildings they are excluded from; the Elinor character Sowmya has a hard time getting a job and the family is harassed for rent and lacks food for a time; they live in a rented apartment, in danger of eviction. They had lived in a palace type house in their village before the grandfather died and cut his daughter, the equivalent of Mrs Austen, off without any money.

trainjourneyblog
The family’s train journey away from village (I Have Found It)

SowmyraKickedoutNoJob
Sowmya-Elinor can find no place, outsider in Chennai

From Prada to Nada makes the trip from West to East LA profoundly transformative of everything the sisters have known:

turnsintocarcrossingLAblog
Crossing from west (white, rich) to east (Spanish, poor) LA (From Prada to Nada, 2010)

Since I’m interested in Indian films here I turn also to Aisha too. Despite the static quality of Emma’s life in the novel becomes a film of journeys. Aisha is conceived of as a romance about an upper class girl with plenty of leisure time to spend her life socializing in her milieu, but what does she do but tak journeys between four places cities, a town not far from Delhi; Delhi; a resort area; Bombay:

AishaArrivesMumbaiblog
Mumbai seen from the angle of Aisha’s car

Aisha’s coming-of-age story and confused inner life is mirrored in these concrete displacements:

DisplacedonRoadblog
Aisha has many car scenes; here the characters (Shefali and Gambhir) have been tricked by Aisha & are w/o their car and are in a dangerous unknown area, must find & walk home (Aisha)

When I compared Gurinda Chadha’s transnational Bhaji on the Beach together with Bride and Prejudice & distinguished the features of Austen’s 1813 Pride and Prejudice from all that accrues in one’s mind: I saw that Chadha took on board, added, as part of what estranges our lovers in B&P a displaced young man (Wm Darcy) and a journeying set of sisters at risk. Bride and Prejudice is filled with images of journeying, of people displaced, suddenly turning up; planes, bridges, odd angled cities juxtaposed are noticed by many. But the images of moving, of loss, of zoom shots are continual and many unnoticed. The many cars laden with family belongings:

Oddanglevanblog

When Jaya-Jane and Balraj-Bingley are separated a visual image of a train on a desolate landscape appears:

Goodbyeblog

This is part of what makes the imitation of Austen’s P&P plot-outline touching beyond the beauty and energy of the dances & songs. Austen’s P&P had nothing to do with cultural liminality and yet the novel lends itself to this sort of deepening treatment.

Since it’s not well enough known by Janeites or Austen scholars, and at the present time the only way to get it is to pay to have a DVD manufactured on demand, I’ll describe Bhaji on the Beach.

WomeninVanblog
One of the many scenes of the women in the van (this one at evening, coming home)

From “Representing the Spaces of Diaspora in Contemporary British Films by Women Directors,” by Anne Ciecko, Cinema Journal, 383 (Spring, 1999), pp. 67-90:

Bhaji on the Beach takes place in the course of a single day. The film begins with a journey down a street in Birmingham, offering glimpses of England’s second-largest city as a marketplace of diversity … Birmingham is [the] place of departure, and the ultimate destination is Blackpool for a summer holiday. In a series of short, parallel-edited vignettes, the viewer is introduced to the dramatis personae, a wide range of pilgrims of different ages (mostly middle class)-women of South Asian ethnic backgrounds- all headed on a day trip to Blackpool sponsored by the Saheli Women’s Center. Through the character of the group leader, Simi, Chadha and her screenwriter, Meera Syal, foreground the site of the Asian women’s refuge and resource center, which provides facilities, advice, services, and information to the community, concentrating on women’s issues with a strong focus on the family.

We have three separate stories threading their way through the trip and day long outing. The first is Asha (Lalita Ahmed), a middle aged Indian women terrorized by her nightmare Gods, who appeases them by saying she will know her place; she slowly emerges from her nightmare and finds herself stumbling among huge grocery store goods, which come down to normal size and she is in a grocery and her family just behind waiting for her to make them lunch. Over the course of her day at Blackpool, she will meet, walk, and talk with a lonely gallant ex-actor British (white) man.

We switch to Ginder (Kim Vithana), a Southasian young woman in her mid-20s reading a letter on a stairway; these turn out to be divorce papers; she goes into the room where her son is and he asks when they will see Daddy in this new place they are moving to. She says she can’t answer that but today they are going to seashore, and she feigns or feels some relief to get out of their tight quarters. We switch to an empty cot for child, near by Ranjit (Jimmi Harkishin) angry Southasian young man on another bed with similar letter; and his young brother, Manjit (Akbar Kurtha) comes in and he cries with real rage, “Will no one ever leave him alone in this family.” Manjit wants to be reasonable (and prevents his brother from kidnapping his son later in the movie) and with a bully tyrannical older brother, Ranjit chases Ginder down to Blackpool, to try to persuade her to return to him and his family on his terms. We learn from seeing her body he has beaten her, and he tries to again as a way of subduing her. He is unable to change his destructive life patterns.

Sheappealsblog
Ginger makes one last appeal to Ranjit

Hethrowsherongroundblog
This opening with an insistence he listen to her and make a separate home for them results in his hitting and throwing her on the ground

The third couple is comprised of a 21 year old Southasian girl, Hasidia, daughter of aspiring parents; she has made medical school and they want her to be a physician. She finds she is pregnant by Oliver, her black English boyfriend (Afro-Carribean?) whose existence the parents do not know about — only partly because he’s black. Over the course of the day she argues with him, phones him, he tries to find her; she finds out about abortions and they meet again at the beach where he too followed her. The most directly hopeful moment of the film occurs when they agree they must do the abortion, they are not in a position to marry or bring up a child, but they will see it through together, and they are last seen in the shot I put at the head of this blog, on his bike.

On the bus are relatives of both young women, a grandmother, an aunt, Pushka (Zohra Sehga), Rekhan (Souad Faress) a Indian woman who lives in Bengal. There are two younger women who are “taken out” (or harassed, depending on your point of view) by some British young men (louts is the feel). They wear combinations of traditional and modern British dress.

The film also makes humorous references to the artificial conventions of popular Indian movies, as in the stylized fantasy sequence in which Asha dances in the rain until she is jolted out of her reverie when the man who courts her is revealed to be [her eldely English escort] Ambrose (his brown makeup washes off) … The whole place has a liberal and liberating atmosphere about it; at the same time, it is stiflingly cluttered and consumerist. The Blackpool “illuminations,” the late-summer lighting up of the tacky town with Christmas lights, is ostensibly the reason the women’s group has chosen this place for the summer getaway. … The women from Birmingham are allowed to enjoy the spectacle at the end of the film, when the darkening streets are lit up and the place takes on a unique beauty. Despite the heavy situations encountered along the way, the film has a comforting tone. They also bring with them the enormous symbolic baggage of tradition. Befitting the carnivalesque environment of Blackpool, many are in costume or change their clothing along the way, as if taking on the guise or garb of the “other.”

I felt as with Mira Nair’s Namesake (see Natalie Friedman’s “From Hybrids to Tourists: Children of Immigrants in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 50:1 (2008): 111-27)and Mississippi Marsala which combines an ethnically diverse Southern American town culture with India culture (from Uganda), in Bhaji on the Beach, I could discern the archetypes of Indian filmic culture in this hybrid form.

Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala like her adaptations in general are in mood quite different from Chadha’s — far more grave, melancholic, with more emotional depths. Chadha uses stereotypes far more: of course the husband is wretched and violent; of course the wife longs to return but “I can’t.” Individuals are far more various than this; some hybrid people are happy, not punished, have parents who sympathize. As B&P is shallow easy romance, so Bhaji on the Beach is a situation comedy in type. Nair gets beneath the stereotypes to suggest another self which does not have any public space to be. Nair’s Mississippi Massala uses strong melodramatic patterning (the opening flashback of Indian films, the wedding, the dance) while Bhaji on the Beach is more Western in tropes and does have the inconsequentality of life in feel because of many events not part of the plot-design. Yet in both the same imagery and concern with homelessness, exile, displacement prevails (so too Nair’s Namesake).

FirstEagerblog

MississippiMassalablog Jay (Sethman Roth), the exiled Asian Uganda eagerly returning (from Mississippi) by plane, car to discover he has been dreaming of ghosts, of what is not (Mississippi Masala)

This blog is meant to be suggestive only. I’m working out some thoughts. So I turn to Bishnupriya Ghosh and Bhaskar Sarkar’s “The Cinema of Displacement: Towards a Politically Motivated Poetics,” Film Criticism, where they write:

Home is largely construed in terms of the land to which one belongs: land is a cultural repository of memories and symbolic of a way of life … The spaces that the protagonists occupy become a central feature in their acts of self- representation. In films representing displacement, the protagonists seem to locate themselves in a curious double space. The space in tiie mise-en-scene – a room, a train station, a porch – always evokes an “other” space.

I add the dominant principle in the relationship between the double spaces is intrusion. There is a constant traversing of space.

All six S&S films show the above emotional characteristics & imagery: psycho-social distress becomes literal displacement and liminality. I move from first seeing the Dashwood women lamenting on the stairwell in the 71 S&S:

Stairwellblog
We see the 3 Dashwood women pressed together on the stairwell surrounded by new furniture crowding them out (1971 S&S);

to the many grim journeys of the 81 S&S; to the dwelling on melancholy stark and fearful landscape in the 95 S&S (even gardens are nightmarish and a piano has to be hauled up a hill); to continual displacements of I Have Found It (2000), and the continual movement of Davies’s 2009 S&S

08SSJourneyBartonblog
The classic coach journey (2008 S&S)

culminating most recently (2011) in the use of zoning and moving trucks in From Prada to Nada, where Edward and Nora-Elinor’s love scenes are conducted next to a moving van.

Virginia Woolf pointed out in 3 Guineas how most women have no state for real — if they want any liberation; Carole Pateman that they are attached to the society they live in through men or families who however can eject them at will. These insights are pictured in these films out of Austen.

Ellen

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LichfieldCathedralblog
Lichfield Cathedral: Honora Sneyd lived here for a time with Anna Seward

Dear readers and friends,

This blog has two subjects: lesbian arts and spinsters. About a year ago I was so enthused by a review of Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts, and now I’ve been sent it to review and have skimmed the book as a preliminary move. First it’s a beautiful book, an art book, about 18th century landscape and gardening and the popular images conferred and imposed.

If one wanted seriously and earnestly to persuade readers that Jane Austen had some lesbian tendencies (as when she and Martha spent the night on the floor together one fall evening at Steventon), to substantiate Emma Donoghue’s thesis about a type of individual recognizable in the 18th century (thought not openly admitted), the lesbian spinster, one could not do better than advise the person to read this book and Moore’s previous, Dangerous Liaisons, together of course with reading selections of letters and diaries from literary women of the later 18th and early 19th century. Dangerous Liaisons close reads the overt lesbian patterns in Edgeworth’s Belinda, Austen’s Emma and Sister Arts takes us from a group of 18th century artists (including Mary Delany and Anna Seward whom Moore claims had a sexual love relationship with Honora Sneyd) to 20th century lesbian poetry and art through nineteenth century poets (Emily Dickinson one) and into contemporary aligned art, Mickalene Thomas. The purpose: to demonstrate a lesbian aesthetic.

I am also reviewing for a Burney newsletter Volume 5 of Burney’s Early Journals and Letters and there I’ve come across long pieces on Mary Delany and have been reading about her. She’s a woman who may be said to have begun life all over again several times, from devastating falls/disappointments (except maybe the second husband). As a biography about her says (Mary Peacock’s The Paper Garden), Delany’s best time began at 72!

As background one has to read books like Ann B. Shteir’s Flora’s Daughters: Cultivating Women, cultivating science. I cannot say this is an entertaining read; Shteir’s style is dull, but she does convey important information about women in science in the earliest days they entered consciously. She tells of how plants were organized by different taxonomies and the superiority of Linnaeus’s precisely because he used sexuality as a marker; the arguments to keep even this knowledge from women as too sexualized. How that was successfully fought off. Latin could be used to exclude women, but Lineaus’s terms had just two words. Then a chapter on the popularizers, who women read and where they got these texts. I’ve been aware of how much information women in the 17th through later 18th century had of what was useful in medical science as well as plants and vegetables. They were responsible for putting food on the table. (Shteir does not make that kind of point).

LetitiaBushDrawingMaryDelanysfirstIrishloveblog
Letitia Bushe, Mary Delany’s first Irish love, a drawing (1731) in the et Arcadia Ego situation: I too (Death) am here in this idyllic place.

Moore opens by going through lesbian genres, lesbian type arts hitherto not recognized as lesbian specifically. Sister Arts is filled with color plates and drawings — all by women, often flowers and still lifes. Moore wants to show us a kind of taste or aesthetic crossing across countries and time too, and claims should be part of the lesbian matter we will attached to Virginia Woolf. I’m not sure Moore is not simply identifying l’ecriture-femme (the best book is still Beatrice Didier’s) . One source of botanical knowledge was a book by Rousseau: Lettres elementaires sur la botanique (1771-73). The readers and comments in letters on botanical knowledge include the French Swiss (the Constants) and English so-called bluestockings whose lifestyle again exemplifies Emma Donoghue’s findings.

But I wonder.  Charlotte Smith who lived an anguished life of much hardship turned to botany for solace. Her Rural Walks were not meant just for children, but contained available sound scientific women’s delights.  As “To the Goddess of Botany,” tells you, she was also escaping a hard life and resulting depression (she had a violent abusive husband, many children to bring up and place and was cheated out of a legacy for them).

To the Goddess of Botany

Of Folly weary, shrinking from the view
of Violence and Fraud, allow’d to take
All peace from humble life; I would forsake
Their haunts forever, and, sweet Nymph! with you
Find shelter; where my tired, and tear-swoln eyes
Among your silent shades of soothing hue,
Your “bells and florets of unnumber’d dyes”
Might rest — And learn the bright varieties
That from your lovely hands are fed with dew;
And every veined leaf, that trembling sighs
In mead or woodland; or in wilds remote,
&;Or lurk with mosses in the humid caves,
Mantle the cliffs, on dimpling rivers float,
Or stream from coral rocks beneath the Ocean’s
waves.

Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Sonnets, 1797

In an exhibit of the art of Mickalene Thomas I saw recently at the Brooklyn Museum of life the accent was on how she also turned a life of hardship and abuse into beautiful art:

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Mickalene Thomas

It may be because the general culture at large either ignores women-centered writing and its characteristics or downright despises it. Or is there some other motive here? some other tabooed type of woman?

*************

Now three days ago I queried Austen-l on the uses of the term spinster:

In a hispanic film adaptation of S&S, From Prada to Nada, Mary (Marianne) arrives home the morning after the central party of the film. Mary has gone to bed with Roderigo-Willoughby; she says she wants to marry Roderigo for his money, class, all he can give her of freedom from having to work for a livingt. Nora (Elinor) says “that makes you a whore.” To which Mary replies, “that’s better than being a spinster.”

Quarrelblog
Hot quarrelling

Now I know the word “whore” is nowadays a slang word for slut, promiscuous. It’s not used in its more accurate sense of prostitute receiving money for sex. But I find the use of “spinster” as an opposite fate to selling oneself to a man odd. I asked on Austen-l, Janeites and Women writers through the ages whether spinster was still in common use and if this use struck them as unexpected.

After 3 days & nights one person had responded by referring to an essay on spinsters as represented in films and dictionary definitions of the term: the term is not just to refer to a woman who “spins” – it was until the turn of the century [1900] a legal term meaning an unmarried or single woman – it is used in legal proceedings as a title, or addition to the surname; as it was / is? in the Book of Common Prayer.

Well I knew that. So I asked her: “Do you use the word spinster?” No reply.

I had thought the term “spinster” had gone out and was to be found only in older texts or historical fiction or history. “Jane Austen would have been called a spinster.”  In Ross Poldark we are told that “Verity Poldark was on her way to be a spinster.” When I was young I did want to grow up, get married, have children; around age 9 I dreamt of a wedding, and husband (never very distinct image) and 3 children. But the state to be dreaded was “old maid,” the word in use was “old maid.” I used the term “old maid.” I used to show in my undergraduate classes a powerfully great movie, Wit, about a woman who is a professor in her later 40s diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. It was a shock to me the first time the students wrote about it, how many of them held against her that she had never been married. I cannot remember if they used the word spinster but a whole host of negative terms for her as cold, dried up, isolated (that’s a negative one) were trotted forth.

It seems that people think with the word “spinster,” but do not voice it aloud. Is it such a horrifyingly unacceptable state for a woman. The implication is not bachelor girl but someone who remains a virgin. I think an ambivalent attitude towards the real Jane Austen as we find her in her letters and fiction derives from having been a virgin, especially the refusal among other things to see that she’s basically asocial outside her family — much of the false way of presenting her comes from hiding from, compensating for her spinsterhood.

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Cassandra (Gretta Scacchi) discouraging Jane (Olivia Williams) from going through with her promise to marry Bigg-Wither (MAR)

In both Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets Jane Austen is presented as depressed for much of her life because 1) she never married, and/or 2) everyone is nagging her to marry. Miss Austen Regrets has her trying to tell people she didn’t want to marry but they refuse to believe her, and the final scene implicitly suggested she and Cassandra had an inactive lesbian relationship. In the film’s opening scene we saw that Cassandra convinced her not to marry Bigg-Wither and now in the closing one Cassandra is drenched in remorse and asks for forgiveness.

Women alone in modern movies are often semi-promiscuous (aggressive detective type)s. When Helen Mirren is Jane Tennison, her state of mind remains opaque. Such programs are said to be transgressive. A few hours did do much to convey what’s it’s like to live as a single woman having a career, and much of the time we were to see that Helen was not personally happy though she was professionally fulfilled. She was useful to other women and the vulnerable and powerless.

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Season 3, Part 4, morning: Edith (Laura Carmichael) getting up early for breakfast (nothing to keep her in bed) now wants a profession

To invoke Downton Abbey the coarse (insensitive, unsubtle, prejudiced) way of understanding the humiliation of Edith for trying to marry Sir Anthony Strallon was she was so despicable as openly to chase him rather than be a “spinster”. I believe one of the characters throws the word of her. She’ll be a spinster. So Lady Edith (Downton Abbey) brings us back to Nora’s insult of Mary (From Prada to Nada), both women’s films. The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn is the only movie I can think of that tries to defy the stereotype – there the heroine was framed as eccentric.

On commercial popular TV, the program “Girls” seems to me not to have made much progress. (See Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker article, Barbaric Hannah.) Why? well for a start all these girls are into sex, and supposedly realistic sex at that. Like many a women’s film the sex in Girls is not idealized. I did watch 3 episodes of the first season myself and went from feeling liberated by what I was seeing to feeling it was a one joke or one paradigm scenario. Girl rises above humiliation, puts her clothes on, and walks away, only to return the next day. Does this show really put an end to the demand that women marry, have sex with men and babies? No. it does show an alternative lifestyle going on for a small group of upper class white women living in Manhattan for the time of their later 20s. These are precisely the terms of Sex and the City. And fashion, however differently presented, is central to both, the women costuming themselves.

LenaDenhamGirlsblog
Lena Dunham and her “girls:” Illustration by Michael Carson. Do not they look like they are waiting to be taken by a man?

***********************

My two topics come together in the strong prejudice against, refusal to recognize lesbians and continued hostility to unmarried women and women who haven’t had any children. The sources of the stigmatizing, ostracizing are the same. Women’s central function is to provide sex and children for men. ? Paradoxically if you try to write a book on women living independently and with other women and show their power relationships from the aspect of power but not sex you are misunderstood: that’s what happened to Betty Rizzo’s Companions without Vows — many of whose subjects were women who were unmarried at the time of their jobs as companions.

Ellen

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UK - King Richard III Discovery
Archeaology often unearths grim stories

Dear friends and readers,

As you probably know the bones of Richard III were unearthed this past Monday in a Leicester parking lot; the skeletal remains show a small man with a twisted spine, some who had suffered scoliosis; dreadful wounds from a weapon made of a hatchet axe and spike had been delivered to his head and shoulders; his body was covered with humiliation wounds. It seems the parking lot is where there was once a friary, later closed by Henry VIII. The friars rescued the body (all but the feet) and buried it.

As I’m sure you also know Richard III has been portrayed as a villain, twisted in mind by his ugly body — said to be that of a hunchback. This portrayal goes back to Thomas More’s life, a political document supporting the Tudor claim to the throne; and it was carved in the English imagination and memory from the time of Shakespeare’s plays, with a long tradition of great actors admired in the role, from Garrick to Olivier who did it part farcically, to the most recent Ian McKellen who lent humanity to the role.

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Less well-known Kevin Spacey and Annabel Scholey in lead roles at BAM

I’m not sure you know that the first objections to this portrayal occurred in the 18th century and were bought together by Horace Walpole who took the side of the Yorks and said it was Henry Tudor who murdered the two young boys, heirs to the throne, and in our time there are groups of people who join together to defend Richard III: The Richard III society has put the whole of Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III online. One such person, Robert Fripp ‘s Dark Sovereign will sell more widely now: he was a guest blogger on my Ellen and Jim have a blog two after I wrote a posting in praise of a local WSC Shakespeare company’s production of Richard III where the production brought out telling parallels with contemporary politicians.

Austen took the Walpole and Fripp side of the question in her wildly parodic History of England (dated November 1791) where she plays upon Goldsmith’s History of England (either 2 or 4 volume version) and history in general. Her family library and brothers’ reading suggest she could have read anyone from Robertson to Hume too; and she’s read Shakespeare’s history plays:

RICHARD THE 3D

The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two nephews and his Wife, but it has also been declared the he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive [sic] true; and if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a Villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown and having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.

Austen gets a kick out of shocking the reader, startling us and mocking in this history and sometimes it feels like 1066 and all That. But she does seem to sympathize with Catholics rather than Protestants — she and two neighbors are fervent adherents of Mary Queen of Scots no matter what anyone says. Alas, she has an anti-learned lady quip on the beheading of Lady Jane Grey’s death, suggesting the same kind of odd detachment we find in her letters. So I am not sure she is seriously “on the side” of the Stuarts — or anyone in this parody. It resembles 1066 and All That, with the hits at history as much as the way it is taught and presented. She’s still dwelling on this Northanger Abbey, the conversation during the country walk between Eleanor Tilney and Catherine which ranges from history as such to the Gordon Riots to the connection (or not) of all these to gothics , viz.,

Catherine: ‘But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. Can you?’
Eleanor: ‘Yes, I am fond of history'”
Catherine: ‘I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes’ mouths, their thoughts and designs–the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books.’
Eleanor: ‘Historians, you think … are not happy in their flights of fancy. They display imagination without raising interest. I am fond of history–and am very well contented to take the false with the true. In the principal facts they have sources of intelligence
in former histories and records, which may be as much depended on, I conclude, as anything that does not actually pass under one’s own observation; and as for the little embellishments you speak of, they are embellishments, and I like them as such. If a speech be well drawn up, I read it with pleasure, by whomsoever it may be made–and probably with much greater, if the production of Mr. Hume or Mr. Robertson, than if the genuine words of Caractacus, Agricola, or Alfred the Great.’ (NA, I:14)

And yet (as we have seen in our journey through her letters), we find the adult Austen in 1813-14 at Godmersham reading Paisley’s book defending aggressive ruthless imperialism (a sort of politicized history), and with her niece Fanny, Bigland’s Letters on Modern History and Political Aspect of Europe (aloud).

Turning to her references in her novels to Richard as an unlucky name, which (as used) feels like a family joke, it’s not clear that the idea the name is unlucky comes from connecting the name to this king or not, but details like “he had never been handsome” incline me to think the reference in Northanger Abbey does refer to Richard III. So Catherine Morland’s

father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome.

It’s possible too that in one of her unkind jokes in her letters she has latently Richard III in mind: she says in a 1796 to Cassandra of of Richard Harvey whose marriage was put off

till he has got a better Christian name, of which he has great Hopes.” [Letters, p. 10]

An intriguing reference to Richard III in Mansfield Park has one Henry Crawford professing how he longs to enact Richard III (MP 1:13):

I really believe,” said he, “I could be fool enough at this moment to undertake any character that ever was written, from Shylock or Richard III down to the singing …

By Persuasion there is a turn-around (as there often is in this penultimate of her novels), and we are into “poor Dick,” and find Austn harsh on her Richard. The Musgroves have been displaying the common sort of sentimental fantasies people do when someone is safely dead:

The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.
     He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him “poor Richard,” been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead. (Persuasion I:6)

Moving outside Austen & 18th century Richards, I seriousl recommend Jennifer Wallace’s magnificent Digging the Dirt: the Archeaological Imagination. Two passages from my earlier book review:

Wallace’s book is a work of deep poetic insight into the subjective
basis of modern archeaology. She points out that the site for geologizing and archeaologizing is no longer external merely or even primarily. Instead of running off to the desert sands, caves, or delving frozen mud, Cavalli-Sforza and his followers take blood samples. We carry our history in our DNA. It’s a fine book which were it taken seriously and read by many common readers could help reshape the popular understanding of what scientific and literary writing together can explore.

Science turns gothic here too in her meditation on sacrifice rituals and freak-show modern tourist places (the realities behind Carter’s mausoleum in her Nights at the Circus) in modern London and malls too around the world. She shows how quite a number of sculls and corpses we happen to find where put there as a result of cruel sacrifice rituals. These included depriving the then living person of certain kinds of food for months, of tying them up in certain ways, killing them slowly.

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A later 18th century print of an excavation at Herculaneum

She includes a long section justifying the archeaologist and Druidical Stuckeley’s work and insights about Avebury in Somerset, and a section on later 18th century archealogical digs in Pompeii. A central map for Robert Wood, an antiquarian, member of the Society of Dilettanti and its first director of Archaelological Ventures, who came to Pinarbasi, a village near Hisarlik (now thought where the citadel of Troy was), determined to discover “concrete facts” was Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Ilidad, notes, and especially, Pope’s map of Troy. In 1720 Pope drew a map which Wallace describes as “bizarre and geographically-impossible,” “exuberantly fanciful, people with warriors and ships and tents and other characters from the Iliad, busily doing things.” This map it was which became the guidepost for the people who first poured over the site “scientifically.”

Poetry and snatches of prose from letters by Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth even are shown to be prophetic and explanatory of archaeological insights today too. To turn back to the grim photo with which I began this blog: such is what these powerful people turn into, as in Shelley’s Ozymandias.

I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ellen

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UponSeeingEliorblogblog
Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens) upon seeing Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) in the library (2008 JA’s S&S)

Dear friends and readers,

Having returned to one of my chapters towards a book on Austen films, working title: A Place of Refuge, where I’m placing the accented Indian Austen films in a global context, I’m thinking about Andrew Davies’s Austen movies in a fuller context of his own filmic work and novels too.

To begin with, a list:

Davies’s films

Seven of the above are Jane Austen movies: Davies has scripted more of them than any one else. One, the 2007 A Room with a View, from E. M. Forster’s novel, as yet unrecognized as a rewrite of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Davies was a crucial contributor to the two Bridget Jones movies, like the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, were so commercially successful that they became significant much-discussed sociological events. All seven are revisionist re-tellings of Austen’s novels dependent on his sharply perceptive engagement with the texts.

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Elinor (Hattie Morahan) coming into the library, she returns Edward’s gaze

With their Austen matter producing recurring motifs, these seven films form a consistent fabric whose underlying patterns are found across and actuate Davies’s huge corpus. I have tried to write about some of these, especially romance, since Sarah Caldwell’s otherwise excellent study (Andrew Davies marginalizes his romances. As a script-writer of all these various mini-series, Davies is of enormous importance in shaping how modern viewers will see many 19th century and Neo-Victorian novels too.

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Rosamund (Trevyn McDowell) showing Lydgate (Douglas Hodge) her Keepsake album: “Beautifully idiotic” he pronounces (Middlemarch)

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Molly and Squire Hamley (Justine Waddell and Michael Gambon) and read Roger’s letters from Africa (Wives and Daughters)

Davies’s movies include a considerable body of melodramatic romance, and a number of predominantly satiric films whose crowded scenes explore capitalism and class structures, wars and political regimes, specific regions (where the story is set) and niche worlds: academic, medical, journalistic (the writing career), archaeological, parliamentary, commercial, financial, and (continually) familial. At least half of these are TV mini-series, and, often of pre-mid-twentieth century books, much is adaptation that functions to speak to our own era in the manner of historical fiction. Yet varied as they are, and products of team-work, most of these films may be studied as complicatedly artful film that dramatizes and pictures Davies’s individual consistent world view, one which exposes realities of human desires (especially sexual) and losses that matter in a sensitively intelligent way, to, in so doing, question the soundness of our sexual and social, and by extension, political and economic arrangements.

If you study the plot-design of many of Davies’s melodramatic romances other than those based on Austen you repeatedly find a story of one or more significantly vulnerable heroines caught up in a jealous rivalry, often Oedipal between two men. One of this pair or another male character is susceptible to abjection or (startlingly conversely) seemingly coolly malevolent and/or contemptible. An agon which may take the form of a dark night of self-examination, or cowardly flight or long siege of drunkenness (not always on-stage), ensues. We experience an unusual triangulated quest for identity because most of the time Davies’s males do not end up clearly in charge, but rather dependent on the strength (or money) of heroines whose favor they have had to actively solicit and who seem free actively to choose or reject them.

The continuum includes male types outside Austen’s range, from the tragic (e.g., John Leigh played by Kevin McNally, 1984 Diana), to the psychopathic (Henry Kent played by Michael Kitchen, 2005 Falling), but who nonetheless function in the stories in ways that connect them to the lighter variants within Austen’s range, from introspective sensibility figures, strong depressives (Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Dan Steevens as Edward Ferrars), to shallow and (for a young girl) dangerous cads (Raymound Coulthard as Frank Churchill, Mark Dymond as Captain Frederick Tilney).

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From the 1984 mini-series Diana Jan (Kevin McNally) watching Diana

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Diana bathing (Jenny Seagrove)

From the earliest of his films (when it was even discreditable to do so), Davies’s scripts called for frequent use of flashbacks for both male and female characters to show us the inner evolution of characters during the story: we are confronted with memories, dreams and fantasy, dramatized moments from the past, sometimes with the image of the past having the present older character doing the dreaming turning up in place of the younger person who was there at the time. Continuity and strong emotions are kept up by much voice-over and pulsating non-diegetic music.

In the five Austen movies written wholly by him, and in a number of romance movies not from Austen but from a text susceptible to transformation into a women-centered movie close in mood, perspective, character types to his Austen set (e.g., 1999 Wives and Daughters, 2004 He Knew He Was Right, and 2007 Fanny Hill), we find a continual balancing counterweight of movement-images or sequences of scenes placed across the movie (yet not closely plot-driven) which dramatize aspects of intimate supportive and/or false women’s friendship (sisters, potential sisters-in-law, cousins, friends, maternal or governess figures), interwoven with the Oedipally-understood heterosexual romance plot-design.

Many Davies’s movies, including political and satiric movies and thrillers, manifest an equivalent male counterbalance: intertwined second stories dramatize ambiguous homoerotic male friendships (1992 Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, 2001 Othello and The Tailor of Panama [Andy and Harry unexpectedly go dancing in a gay bar], 2005 Bleak House [Sergeant George and and Phil Squod], 2008 Little Dorrit [Miss Wade and Tattycoram], 2009 Sleep with Me). Further movies dwell on the absence of this psychologically-needed relationship (a mother, a distanced father) as central to the movie’s tragedies (Wives and Daughters and the 2005 Bleak House).

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Amanda Ooms, from the extraordinary werewolf film

If we add to these, movies which substitute homosexual for heterosexual romance (2002 Tipping the Velvet, 2006 Line of Beauty) or include episodic homosexual romance and incestuous familial relationships (1996 Emma and Moll Flanders, 2007 Fanny Hill), movies which depict naturally indifferent or hostile mothers and protective mother-governess figures (1984 Diana, 1989 Mother Love, 1995 Pride and Prejudice, again Moll Flanders, 1996 Wilderness, 1998 Vanity Fair, again Little Dorrit), we see the Davies’s Austen films belong to a set of movies which insist on the centrality of friendship in people’s lives, break the ban on dramatizing the ubiquity of homoerotic relationships, and look equally at loving support and fierce incestuous possessiveness and rivalries within families.

Ellen

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Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” — owner of private library in Mary Swann

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Dear friends and readers,

I found myself remembering Carol Shields’s Mary Swann the other day. On Sharp-l (a list-serv devoted to book history) someone asked for the titles of novels which contain our favorite fictional libraries. After several citations of Eco’s Name of the Rose, people began to cite all sorts of books and I thought of Mary Swann.

In brief, Sarah Mahoney is a feminist professor English who discovers
an obscure Canadian woman writer named Mary Swann. Swan nbecomes a cult figure for other careerist women, feminists, her texts sought by book collectors. Inside the novel (as in A. S. Byatt’s Possession or Nuala O’Faolain’s My Dream of You) the real story of Swann emerges, quite different from what the 20th century readers are imagining for her. A mystery or gothic patterning emerges. All Swann’s papers were slowly disappearing throughout the book and they have to be tracked down and put together to make sense again.

Could it be her murderous husband come back to life to destroy them? What happened to Mary Swann is she was brutally hacked to death by a dull dense exploitative husband after she tried to give a bag of her poems to someone; he then shot himself through the head. She had been a badly abused housewife. We are left without being quite sure, but I think (without giving this away too much) instead of this we are given hints it’s someone who could make money out of creating a mystery over these books in a nasty sordid sort of way. This someone is someone we meet early, someone the heroine goes to back with (faute de mieux), a bookseller, bookstore owner, semi-publishing type.

Along the way we read an inset epistolary novel. And it there we encounter this library. An elderly man who has accumulated an enormous library over the course of his life gets a letter where a book publishers offers to buy some of it or has someone who will buy a portion. It’s obvious to the writer books = money. The character writes back: “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” The man has no room for them in his house. He is near retirement and soon will have a much smaller income. He must sell. He has of course the disillusioning experience of discovering the books are in money worth so much less than he had thought.

To him his books had been a sanctuary, they protect, surround, reassure. So too to me. They shut you off and bring you in. Chantal Thomas in Soufrir captures the atmosphere of this section: “Aussi triste que soit un livre, il n’est jamais aussi triste que la vie.” As sad as a book may be, it’s never as sad as life.”

The story then seems suddenly simply to cease. In a way it’s Radcliffian & Nancy Drew stuff: a supernatural explained away so we are after all safe. The real threat of the unknown is shut off. Quiet is the tone of the whole book. Laid back, understated.

*********************

The same techniques are found in other of her (once you think about them) devastating novels. I’ve not read them all, only Unless, The Stone Diaries, and her life of Jane Austen, which I admit I was disappointed by. Let me confine myself to Unless (less well-known than Stone Diaries)

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An image from story of Unless

Rita Winters’s 19 year old daughter, Nora, has taken to spending her days sitting as a beggar on the corner of a sidewalk with a sign on her which says “goodness.” Winters tries not to think what the girl does at night to get along, where she sleeps, who might hurt her or how she lives on the streets. In a subjective monologue Rita is tells of her life as a writer (the back story) and mother of 3 daughters, wife of a physician (front story) in a lovely old house in Ontario. We learn everything but what led to this shock — her daughter’s life choice — except she keeps saying something terrible happened, some loss, which has completely alter her life from one of shallow happiness to this one of grief. We learn how she came to be a major translator of the memoirs of a French scholar-poet-academic whom Rita knew at college.

More interesting than this story matter are Rita’s meditations. These are superb: on for example the history of a house we move into and whose previous residents left traces. In a quiet unassuming way Shields writes of depths of feeling with sharp insights and categories whose value one feels in retrospect. She had a wonderful monologue on living in an old house and the meaning of lived-in occupied-with-memories space. She thinks about how she experiences sex and produces a modern graphic account that makes me uncomfortable but is sadly-comic spot on.

On the word on her daughter’s sign. Rita claims “Unless is almost untranslatable. It can be a pain in the neck to translate in French or Italian, especially in older texts. For French it’s a construction: “a moins que.” The difficulty is similar to translating “I like.” In French one does not say “I like;” one says “it pleases me. But you can translate it. In demotic modern French “unless” is “sauf,” “sinon,” and “excepte” (accent on that e), except that these are not as close equivalents: “sinon” means “if not,” “sauf” really means “except” or something (not sure) “lest,” and “excepte” is except.

Now Italian hasn’t this demotic alternative (which come from English — Franglais is a living language): unless you have to reconstruct the sentence: “a meno che,” “salvo che,” except that “salvo que” means except, and there’s this negative that is necessary. So “Unless he comes” is “A meno che egli non venga ….” There’s also “eccetto que ..” — I think all these require the “non” and present subjunctive tense. Slightly archaic you see.

In Latin there does not seem to be this difficulty as “unless” is “nisi” or “nisi forte,” except I have no good feel for this language anymore (never did) so don’t know how accurate or close “nisi” is.

In my thesaurus (I use a thesaurus to understand words rather than a
dictionary — I have a French thesaurus. “unless” is given phrase equivalents not a single word. So we have either stilted words like “conditionally” & “provided that” or “if — so be,” and ” in such a contingency.” There is also the use of the phrase, “except that,” & older feeling words like “save” (“save that”) and “barring.” Probably at one time an English speaker might use the subjunctive.

The theme is then “conditionally.” Nothing absolute exists in the world and the daughter can’t understand that. Do not all people promise things conditionally. I know some vows are expressed absolutely, but (as Sondheim says about getting married), it’s a pretty lie (in that song, “I’m not getting married today …”) Parents say they love unconditionally and try to tell themselves they do and act that way insofar as they understand perhaps, but if we really pay attention, we’ll find there’s no unconditional attachment there either. All relationships must be worked out continually too.

Each of the book’s chapters, like the novel itself, is titled with the sort of words or phrases that Reta calls “little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define, since they are abstractions of location or relative position, words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, theretofore, instead, otherwise, despite, already and not yet.”

Linda Miller (from Salon):

Eventually, Reta comes to agree with the formidable French intellectual whose multi-volume memoir she has spent many years translating: “Norah has simply succumbed to the traditional refuge of women without power: she has accepted in its stead complete powerlessness, total passivity, a kind of impotent piety.”

Reta takes to writing letters complaining to all sorts of people that they never mention women writers or women achievers get angrier & angrier; she accuses them of helping to form a world her daughter can only reject, although she never loses a wry self-awareness about how badly she’s coming across. “Probably you will dismiss this as a crank letter from one of those women who go around begging to be offended,” she writes. (She never mails the letters, by the way.)

In the meantime, Reta’s life goes on, sometimes absurdly so. “My daughter is living like a vagabond on the streets of Toronto, but even so I had to have four yards of screened bark mulch delivered to the house this morning, $141.91, including haulage,” begins one chapter, an acute summation of the way existence indiscriminately combines the tragic and the mundane. Reta’s longtime editor dies; a preposterous new one is assigned to her second novel, a sequel, but she muddles along nevertheless, concocting the further romantic adventures for her characters.

As the crisis with Norah moves toward a resolution, Reta’s “loss” … turns out to be beside the point. When we finally learn why Norah became a beggar, the truth is not at all what her mother had thought. By then, though, Reta has already asked “How can [Norah] go on living her life knowing what she knows, that women are excluded from greatness, and most of the bloody time they choose to be excluded?” and the rage she allowed herself to feel only on behalf of her daughter can’t be tidily stowed away again.

Shields does suddenly account for Nora’s staged trauma with a specific incident. It’s not persuasive; a larger complaint is to produce this kind of accounting for Nora’s behavior is to diminish Shields’s paradigm and book. And so we have another version of the Radcliffian punt, but not before we have had a dark quiet but utterly believable journey.

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Carol Shields late in life

Many-souled is a phrase that comes from Margaret Atwood’s obiturary and appreciation of Shields’s work. Like Anne Tyler, there’s been no movie made from them. Carol Shields’ novels remind me of Anne Tyler’s and Bobbie Anne Mason’s. Mason has had one novel filmed (In Country) for commercial theaters; Shields and Tyler have had only TV movies (or documentaries). I’ve blogged about Mason but I don’t remember talking about Tyler. Another time I’ll go over my favorite of hers, The Amateur Marriage. All are “under the sign of Austen.”

Ellen

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ClaireBloomJulieHarrisBlog
Claire Bloom and Julie Harris conveying frightened terror as they simply listen to incessant sounds coming from a house (The Haunting, 1963 from Shirley Jackson’s equally famous tale)

Dear friends and readers,

Although I’m no longer teaching gothics and ghost stories regularly, I have by no means given up reading and studying and writing about them. We read two on Trollope19thCStudies and three by Edith Wharton on WWTTA this winter solstice, and I was delighted to review Tyler Tichelaar’s Gothic Wanderer in the context of Teaching The Gothic (an MLA anthology of essays) this past fall.

A stimulating query was put on Victoria (a list-serv run by Patrick Leary) by Judith Flanders. Is it true as she just read that ghost occurrences in 19th century ghost stories tend to occur on bridges and marketplaces and in the 18th century in private houses? It seemed to me the most befuddled sociological-metaphysical “theorizing” must have given rise to such a notion, plus the person could not have read many ghost stories. So I answered the query in order to bring the subject back to accurate mapping.

Ghost stories are inward stories of terror, most often written by women and when not by women using heroes who are vulnerable, male victims in the position of the typical gothic heroine. The aesthetic techniques of many are those found in what’s called l’ecriture-femme, or women’s writing. One of the most famous where the ghost occurs in the streets (so marketplaces and perhaps bridges) is the mid-19th century Gogol’s “Overcoat.” Scrooge’s ghosts take him all over the streets, bridges, and marketplaces, as do all of Oliphant’s: “The Open Door” has them in the wood, so does Gaskell’s “Nurses Story” (out in the snow). Snow is deadly, stands for death in ghost stories.

There are few 18th century artful ghost stories until the later 18th century; those most famous are paradoxically at the same time strongly sceptical and the person who has the experience is lower-class, a servant. In Tom Jones Fielding has Partridge experience a ghost in a theater while he watches Hamlet. Later 17th and before and very early 18th century tend to see ghosts as manifestations of sin, an eruption from hell: the brilliance of one of the first artful narratives, Defoe’s “Appariton of Mrs Veal” is the question, has she gone mad? It does not matter where she is, the action occurs in her mind.

By artful I mean crafted by someone who is writing the story down or inventing a poem and at a distance from his or her material; not someone gripped by religious panic, fanaticism and ready to burn people (usually women) as evil. Ghost stories are not a joke; they come out of atavistic dangerous areas of the human mind.

I taught ghost stories for years. The artiful ones teach very well; they really tend to fall into a group of repeating patterns (evil, guilt, injustice/justice), lend themselves to precise definitions (a ghost is the soul/presence of someone who was once alive), and provide just the right amount of reading matter to give students for a presentation.

I like them for more reasons than I might care to say publicly here, but one I can is that they have a metaphysical dimension that’s central to them. The best single book on them since they became artful is Jack Sullivan’s Elegant Nightmares where he shows they are a sort of popular form of Kafkaesque. I can’t overpraise it or his Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural which has definitions of ghost stories and examples. I find introductions to good anthologies often have the best information and insight into them: Michael Cox for the Oxford sets, J. A Cuddon for an out-of-print excellent set, The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, What Did Miss Darrington (where the introduction used to be online somewhere). They do tend to be written by women (another anthology beyond the Victorian ones by Dalby is Restless Spirits), and a good book on the gothic which really tends to discuss the ghost story is Eugene Delamotte’s Perils of the Night.

The useful fault-line that is arguable, even demonstrable is between the ghost as really there, not just a psychological project, the ghost as both, and the ghost as sheer psychological projection. The three options make for different meanings. Some ghost stories continue to be all three but in modern ones (starting with 20th century, post WW1) there’s a strong tendency to opt for the last.

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Sherlock Holmes violent labyrinth: The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (Sarah Findlay and Ciarhan Hinds as sister and brother-in-law)

Another is less easy to use, much more blurry but there as recognized by Radcliffe is horror versus terror. The ghost story hits the inward being and thus terrifies our inward being; the vampire breaks bodily taboos and is more a horror story, physical brutality and breaking of taboos a mark (stories of body snatching say belong here, especially from graves). The ghost story unnerves us, the horror tale disgusts. The Cardboard Box really moves into horror (ears are cut off the victim) as do many of Conan Doyle’s: his are more masculine gothic (see The Gothic Wanderer). It is true that the wild action takes place in the marketplaces of the world, but the ears are delivered to the women in their home Christmas time.

I offered a bibliography with The Gothic Wanderer; to that I’d like to add just for ghost stories:

Owen Davies, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (Palgrave)

Shane McCorristine, Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750-1920

Owen Davies’ five volume set: Ghosts: A Social History (Pickering & Chatto)–primary texts plus commentary, Reformation through the twentieth century.

Sasha Handley, Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007.

Gaslight on line is a wonderful place to explore; the original list-serv which was opened when the site was first built and then active and lively was a place for reading ghost stories from the 1880s to 1910s.

I don’t deny that in older anonymous folk and faery tales different kinds of criteria might be needed to understand and enjoy (if you do) them, and very recently feminist and post-modern re-vamping of police procedural and detective stories are evolving new psychological and sociological insights into what ghosts and gothics have to tell us.

Jane TennisonSmokingblog
One change is in the attitudes of the detached watchful figure (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison)

Ellen

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I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter (Letter 29 dated January 3-5, 1801):

Dr Johnson: ‘Ay, never mind what she says. don’t you know she is a writer of romances? Sir Joshua Reynolds: ‘She may write romances and speak truth,’ quoted from Claire Harman, Fanny Burney: A Biography, p xvii

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Gainsborough’s daughters, Mary and Margaret, 4 years apart, but not much older than Lizzy

Dear friends and readers,

Austen continued to write in journalizing fashion to Cassandra for the whole of her 2 month stay at Godmersham (see letters 91 and 92). Jane is in much less irritated spirits; she remains as alertly critical and alive to mocking as the previous week, but she has more to enjoy (she likes Harriot Moore and enjoys walking in the park and at Canterbury one morning with her). There do seem to be less people at Godmersham, and we may surmize Austen was less interrupted and got on with Mansfield Park more.

The real interest of these two packets sent to Cassandra is half the first is a letter written by Elizabeth or Lizzy Austen (who had asked for permission to write in her aunt’s letter last time) who produces a surprisingly humane letter which unlike her aunt’s contains a depiction of servants and desperate agricultural workers on the Godmersham grounds at once unsentimental and good-natured. Lizzy was born in 1800, 7 years after Edward’s oldest daughter, Fanny; she married for love (though Margaret Wilson describes the courtship as “uneasy”) at the relatively young age of 17, the entirely suitable Edward Lloyd Rice, then age 27; they had 15 children and a happy life together. She seems to have been cleverer than her older sister, Fanny and despite the age disparity kept up with her sister and they were close.

This pair of letter-journals (with Lizzie’s overt perceptive kindliness as an instructive contrast in temperament) do seem the equivalent of phone conversations and bring home to us the life of the gentility of this era. Here and there (like Anna’s problems) Austen touches on serious matters. Austen’s purpose is to tell her sister what was happening (and Lizzy follows suit) and keep herself company with an imagined presence.

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Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen writing to Cassandra (Becoming Jane 2009)

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Photo of barn in England today

Letter 93, Mon 18 October 1813, Eliza to her aunt Cassandra

The letter shows how confined and close to the family a thirteen year old gentleman’s daughter was kept. Lizzy’s incessant interest in small animals would be more appropriate for 8 say; she has not been permitted any associations outside the family except the servants and poor people no one could avoid. If she has an average child’s mind, the learning she’s given (kings and queens) will not give her much adult insight into her world’s order. And yet if we look we find she’s alive to money, bullying, class and things she will have experienced. Eliza married at a young age, a long successful one with many children. In Margaret Wilson’s book on Fanny, she emerges as no fool.

I am very much obliged to you for your long letter and for the nice account of Chawton. We are all very glad to hear that the Adams are gone, and hope Dame Libscombe will be more happy now with her deaffy child, as she calls it, but I am afraid there is not much chance of her remaining long sole mistress of her house. I am sorryyou had not any better news to send us of our hare, poor little thing! I thought it would not live long in that Pondy House; I don’t wonder that Mary Doe is very sorry it is dead, because we promised her that if it was alive when we came back to Chawton, we would reward her for her trouble. Papa is much obliged to you for ordering the scrubby firs to be cut down; I think he was rather frightened at first about the great oak. “Fanny quite believed it, for she exclaimed ‘Dear me, what a pity, how could they be so stupid!’ I hope by this time they have put up some hurdles for the sheep, or turned out the cart-horses from the lawn. Pray tell grandmamma that we have begun getting seeds for her; I hope we shall be able to get her a nice collection, but I am afraid this wet weather is ‘very much against them. How glad I am to hear she has had such good success with her chickens, but I wish there had been more bantams amongst them. I am very sorry to hear of poor Lizzie’s fate

On being happy the Adamses are gone she’s repeating Aunt Jane without realizing quite what this means: Jane Austen then did not keep silent on how she wished the guests out of the house, and the child just take the same attitude as the one to have.

So I find her no more unfeeling than the world whose values she is reflecting (which includes Deirdre LeFaye), when for example she talks of a “deaffy” child. Indeed the child seems alive to poverty and lack of power of those around her immediately. The note by LeFaye almost sniffs: Dame Libscomb’s baby is illegitimate, and the mother marrying just now another man. While the Lizzy (she is not adolescent despite her age) is not alive to what partial deafness means, the child says the old woman will be “happy” to have the deaf child with her only that she will soon have a boss– “not be sole mistress” The child is aware the woman’s daughter will boss her. The woman might have conveyed this or the child seen it.

She’s aware of what money and salary mean. “Mary Doe” is “very sorry” the animal entrusted to her is dead. Why: “because we promised her that if it was alive when we came back to Chawton we would reward her for it.” Not a sentimental view, is it? when Fanny says “how could they be so stupid,” of the workman who mistook and cut down a tree, we are getting a sense of someone getting in trouble though Fanny doesn’t care so much as just complain condescendingly.

She does know the sheep are in danger without hurdles and the grass from the horses. She seems a sweet child. She is trying to please the grandmother: it’s so wet Mrs Austen’s Seeds will go to waste, and she has been told the number of bantams so despite the upbeat information that “grandmamma” has so many chickens, again Eliza has noticed many died.

Then the abysmal world of the poor:

I must now tell you something about our poor people. I believe you know old Mary Croucher, she gets maderer and maderer every day. Aunt Jane has been to see her, but it was on one of her rational days. Poor Will Amos hopes your skewers are doing well; he has left his house in the poor Row, and lives in a barn at Builting. We asked him why he went away, and he said the fleas were so starved when he came back from Chawton that they all flew upon him and eenermost [sic] eat him up. How unlucky it is that the weather is so wet! Poor uncle Charles has come home half drowned every day. I don’t think little Fanny is quite so pretty as she was; one reason is because she wears short petticoats, I believe. I hope Cook is better; she was very unwell the day we went away. Papa has given me half-a-dozen new pencils, which are very good ones indeed; I draw every other day. I hope you go and whip Lucy Chalcraft every night.

(By the way for semi-haters of Downton Abbey, of which I am one, this is the world of Downton Abbey we are not permitted to see). An old woman madder and madder: Austen goes to see her. Score one for Aunt Jane. A homeless man lives in a flooded barn with fleas. That Uncle Charles comes home soaked every day means that man is wet too. Lizzie seems aware that the old man is very wet as her sentence about Charles follows one right after the old man, what a shame it is such wet world. I believe the bit about whipping. The upper class did whip servants, older people children. We may assume Cassandra didn’t do it every night, but maybe did it one night.

I agree with Diana Birchall that there is much noticing of how pretty a girl is. Charles’s daughters are judged this way. Little Fanny is one and is up to muster with her petticoats. Cassy, who is only 5 and would be a worry to me if she was looking as thin and bad as Jane Austen said in the last letter is not mentioned.

Then the polite close:

Miss Clewes begs me to give her very best respects to you; she is very much obliged to you for your kind enquiries after her. Pray give my duty to grandmamma and love to Miss Floyd.’ I remain, my dear Aunt Cassandra, your very affectionate niece.

Miss Clewes keeping in good with Jane Austen. Remember a couple of letters ago Jane Austen said it was Miss Clewes she was placed with.

What’s the difference between duty to the grandmother and love to Martha? Probably that Martha is not a relative; Eliza knows she actually owes her nothing as the norms go, but Martha is one of the family group and “love” is probably a cliched word there. She may be trying to please Aunt Jane with that one but I doubt she would recognize anything untoward in the relationship.

The letter tells how women were kept in, and down, how wretched the poor’s lives and how a child with brains sees more than we realize. If we get no talk about gender, it’s that she never heard that category. She’s heard a lot about money and knows all about class by this time.

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And now for Austen’s match:

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Pre-20th century shop

Letter 93, Thurs 21 October 1813, Jane to Cassandra

She thought Eliza’s letter of interest but does not say why:

Thursday. I think Lizzy’s letter will entertain you. Thank you for
yours just received. To-morrow shall be fine if possible. You will be at Cuildford before our party set off. They only go to Key Street,’ as Mr Street the Purser lives there, and they have promised to dine and sleep with him. Cassy’s looks are much mended. She agrees pretty well with her cousins, but is not quite happy among them; they are too many and too boisterous for her. I have given her your message, but she said nothing, and did not look as if the idea of going to Chawton again was a pleasant one. They have Edward’s carriage to Ospringe. I think I have just done a good deed-extracted Charles from his wife and children upstairs, and made him get ready to go out shooting, and not keep Mr Moore waiting any longer. M’ and M” Sherer and Joseph dined here yesterday very prettily. Edward and George. were absent-gone for a night to Eastling

Charles Austen and his wife making up to the purser, socializing to keep things fine. A purser counted on board.

It seems that Cassy is looking better from her rest at sea. Alas, the lines could be as much about whether the girls looks “good (pretty, socially acceptable) or less ill. I see Cassandra has offered to take her. The rooms below the deck even for an officer were smelly, low ceilinged, and there was much disease aboard ships. But the child is not keen. Aunt Cassandra did perhaps seems stern. If she didn’t whip Lucy Chalcraft she had made a joke of it, which to a child shy could be just as bad. I had thought a description of Caroline vis-a-vis these Godmersham children suggested Caroline as a child an original for Fanny Price, but now Cassy has the same response. I imagine they were rich children let have their way. The boys seem to be that. I note the governesses come and go.
Jane’s good deed in giving Charles a day off from this family. Vacations are often just work in another place if you have to take all your troubles and cares with you. Better to shoot birds it seems.

We next see Jane Austen indulging in favorite activity of hers. Not socializing but going for long walks with someone willing, this one with Harriot Moore while her husband goes shooting with Charles. Then family news (Henry) and worries (Edward):

The two Fannies went to Canterbury, in the morning, and took Louisa [Edward’s youngest) and Cassy to try on new stays. Harriot and I had a comfortable walk together. She desires her best love to you and kind remembrance to Henry. Fanny’s best love also. I fancy there is to be another party to Canterbury, to-morrow and Mr and Mrs Moore and me. Edward thanks Henry for his letter. We are most happy to hear he is so much better. I depend upon you for letting me know what he wishes as to my staying with him or not; you will be able to find out, I dare say. I had intended to beg you would bring one of my nightcaps with you, in case of my staying, but forgot it when I wrote on Tuesday. Edward is much concerned about his pond; he cannot now doubt the fact of its running out, which he was resolved to do as long as possible. I suppose my mother will like to have me write to her. I shall try at least

I note again that Henry is again saying he is so much better. He too taught to put the best face on it. and that Jane cannot depend on him as close confident. She will have to depend on Cassandra discovering whether Henry wants Jane to visit or not. Edward still worried about his property, now the pond.

You can indeed see Austen’s pursed lips when she concedes she will knuckle to her mother’s pressure and write some woman, but who it is I cannot figure out. Mrs Moore comes too early in the paragraph. Or is it Mrs Moore.

And then the casual supercilious comment about Mrs Crabbe: a rightly notorious comment by Jane Austen on the death of Crabbe’s wife:

No; I have never seen the death of Mrs Crabbe. I have only just been making out from one of his prefaces that he probably was married. It is almost ridiculous. Poor woman! I will comfort him as well as I can, but I do not undertake to be good to her children. She had better not leave any.

Now I understand why the family was embarrassed by this. Before reading the letters I had countered their embarrassment with another of their favorite excuses: she was laughing, and here indirectly I thought she was signaling her affinity with Crabbe. She may be, but she knows the woman died, and probably knows she died in a depression, breakdown, and poverty. Yes there were children. We again see how disconnected she can be to reality, how people become counters to her. And LeFaye’s notes (which seek to distract us) point us to where Crabbe says his poems are like children to him. If this were the Burney editor, we’d be told straight how Mrs Crabbe died and given the lines from the preface by Crabbe on his wife’s death if they were germane.

Edward and George set off this day week for Oxford. Our party will then be very small, as the Moores will be going about the same time. To enliven us, Fanny proposes spending a few days soon afterwards at Fredville. It will really be a good opportunity; as her father will have a companion. We shall all three go to Wrotham, but Edward and I stay only a night perhaps. Love to Mr Tilson.

The Moores live at Wrotham and after they leave it seems Fanny, Jane and Edward mean to visit. The love to Mr Tilson is for Henry’s sake as a business man.

The niece, Lizzie’s letter seems to me kind, alive to what matters beyond self, the aunt’s distanced.

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Tues, 26 October 1813, Jane to Cassandra

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Canterbury Cathedral today

As this letter is too long to scan in, this time I’ll take the liberty (with permission) to print Diana Birchall’s paraphase with quotations and then add my comments on hers and further quotations as an efficient way of discussing it.

A Canterbury Morning. Jane is still at Godmersham, a week after her last letter, and Cassandra is still staying at Henrietta Street with Henry. She worries that she has not the “wherewithal to fabricate” a letter today. Then, interestingly, “I amnot at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am.” Perhaps she used that technique of pressing on, with her novels too, at times. Thatspeaks of a long-practiced discipline.

Then bits of news – Mrs. Tilson has had a daughter, and Mr. Deedes and Sir Brook Bridges have arrived (in that order as she likes Deedes better). Sir Brook, baronet of Goodnestone Park, was related to Deedes, who had married his daughter Sophia, and was a brother-in-law of Edward Knight. It was their “fair and accomplished” daughter, Sophia, who intriguingly served coffee to the Tsar of Russia when he passed through Hythe the following year(1814) when in England for the peace celebrations.

Jane’s brother Charles and his family have returned to their ship the
Namur, and she hopes the best for little Cassy aboard ship. A Canterbury scheme takes place, named by Jane as pleasant, with the Moores. Rev. George Moore, son of a late Archbishop of Canterbury, was a local vicar, and if we liked, we could look him up in the Reports, where there is an article. Deirdre quotes a Kentish historian as saying that Moore was so universally hated,when he took Harriot-Mary Bridges as his second wife in 1806, a funeral hymn
was sung instead of the nuptial psalm. Be that as it may, on this visitMoore is taking his little boy George to “Taylors & Haircutters.” Jane writes that “Our chief Business was to call on Mrs. Milles, and we had indeed so little else to do that we were obliged to saunter about anywhere & go backwards & forwards as much as possible to make out the Time & keep ourselves from having two hours to sit with the good Lady. A most extraordinary circumstance in a Canterbury morning!” Mrs. Milles was a very elderly widow, then ninety years old, and lives in rented houses with her daughter, who is quite the garrulous one, a regular “Jane Austen character”:

“Miss Milles was queer as usual & provided us with plenty to laugh at. She undertook in three words to give us the history of Mrs. Scudamore’s reconciliation, & then talked on about it for half an hour, using such odd expressions & so foolishly minute that I could hardly keep my countenance.” No, Jane’s kind side isn’t showing, but her observant and amused one is, and perhaps here we are seeing her at the work of coolly examining her neighbors, which helps her to obtain “two strong twigs and a half” toward a work of her own.

Now a mystifying phrase, “Old Toke came in while we were paying our visit. I thought of Louisa.” Sounds like a servant, but no, according to Deirdre, “old Toke” was a former High Sheriff of Kent, about 75 years old, whose son the Rev. John had a daughter, Mary, who had just married Edward Scudamore MD. So that is who Miss Milles was gossipping about (though I don’t know who Louisa is).

Jane notes that “the death of Wyndham Knatchbull’s son will rather
supersede the Scudamores.” Wyndham was a London merchant, and his son Wyndham, Ensign in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, had just died, age 18. Jane says she told Miss Milles that the young man was to buried at Meersham Le Hatch, the Adam-designed home of the Knatchbull family, but Miss Milles “had heard, with military honours, at Portsmouth.” Amusingly and with a touch of exasperation Austen comments, “We may guess how that point will be discussed,
evening after evening.” We may hear an echo of Mrs. Elton’s decided statement of (wrong) fact: “‘No, I fancy not,’ replied Mrs. Elton, with a most satisfied smile. ‘I never heard any county but Surrey called so.'” Or perhaps the interminable argument in S&S between the two mothers about the respective heights of their children!

“Oweing to a difference of Clocks,” the carriage is late, and Jane Austen watches the anger of Mr. Moore with great interest. “I wanted to see him angry – & though he spoke to his Servant in a very loud voice & with a good deal of heat I was happy to see that he did not scold Harriot at all.” So perhaps the rumors about Moore’s being universally hated, are known to her by his ill nature. In any case she is observing him as an author. She concludes about the marriage that “he makes her – or she makes herself – very happy,” which sounds rather like Mr. Collins and Charlotte. We have no difficulty in believing, “They do not spoil their Boy.” Yet Jane likes Mr. Moore rather better than she expected, or at least sees “less in him to dislike.” She will not be sorry to visit Wrotham with them; Moore was former rector of the place.

Jane will send her letter by a visitor, though she thinks that is “throwing it away,” as the Visitor can tell the news, but then there is a saving of postage. “But Money is Dirt,” she says insouciantly. About these arrangements she concludes, “Whatever is, is best,” and seems to find this philosophy agreeable, for she adds, “There has been one infallible Pope in the World” (and she is quoting him). Then a George Hatton called, and talked, and Bowed, but she was “not in raptures.”

An interlude of talking about finery, flounces and bombasin and morning gowns – they are so very sweet by Candle light,” she says in a mocking tone, and quickly adds more truthfully, “in short, I do not know, & I do not care.”

Some of Fanny’s arrangements have changed – she is not to visit Mary
Plumptre, as an uncle by marriage, Mr. Ripley, has died, and Jane Austen writes with some sympathy, “Poor Blind Mrs. Ripley must be felt for, if there is any feeling to be had for Love or Money.” Edward Bridges has just paid a Sunday visit, and she sarcastically notes, “I think the pleasantest part of his married Life, must be the Dinners & Breakfasts & Luncheons & Billiards that he gets in this way at Godmersham. Poor Wretch! He is quite the Dregs of the Family, as to Luck.” Not sure what his ill luck consisted of, but he was the “dregs” in birth order, being tenth of thirteen children.

Jane sends remembrances to Madame Bidgeon and Mrs. Perigord – she did seem to have a special regard for them – and then she wittily instructs Cassandra to “be sure to have something odd happen to you, see somebody that you do not expect, meet with some surprise or other, find some old friend sitting with Henry when you come into the room. – Do something clever in that way.”

A final bit of news concerns Ben Lefroy, and it is “baddish,” for he has declined an eligible curacy on the grounds that he does not want to take orders so early, and if James makes a point of it, he “must give Anna up rather than do what he does not approve.” Austen’s comment is, “He must be maddish.” She concludes, after an apology for the letter, “I find time in the midst of Port & Madeira to think of the 14 Bottles of Mead very often.” Mead, made at Chawton, was more homely than the elegant wines of Godmersham, but she obviously liked it and probably helped make it.

I can’t disagree with anything Diana said, and am puzzled in a couple of the same places (e.g., Who is Louisa?)

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Anna and Ben Lefroy’s marriage license — by the following year they will be married

So, Austen is not at all in the mood for writing a letter is what she said. I take her writing of novels to be different. She need not “fabricate” new matter as she goes along the way she does for a letter. Cassandra has gone to Henrietta Street, and I take the line to indicate that Henry is not in good health – as I’ve been suggesting. I put it down again to the loss of Eliza, and strain at his occupation as banker: “I trust you are seeing improvements in him every day.” Cassandra’s presence should buck him up and provide a helpmeet (which he seems to need.)

The business about the squires from East and West Kent going in “one barouche” together “to their Sittingborne Meeting, East & West … ” In those few local political issues I’ve read about occurring in Kent there seems to be a faultline between East and West Kent. The men on the different sides felt they had different interests.

On the Charles Austens: Austen does write that “Cassy had recovered her Looks almost entirely” and she cites the parents’ taking this to justify taking the girl aboard again: “They do not consider the Namur as disagreeing with her in general — only when the Weather is so rough as to make her sick …”

This reminds me of Mrs Allen saying how nice it would be if only it were not raining. Austen is pointing out by this language that the Charles Austens want to take Cassy on board with them, period. We saw that Cassy did not want to stay with Aunt Cassandra. Apparently Edward and Fanny Knight were not willing to take Cassy on, but also in an earlier letter Austen reports that Charles wanted the girl with him. To me this is strange, but I take it to be part of the male desire to own all the women and all of his family members. We saw much earlier how when Edward came home one night he demanded his daughter get out of bed so he could have his (exhausted) wife immediately available. This is the same mind set — to give him his due once the parents founds the girl would not stay at Chawton. Austen allows herself the wry parodic sentence over it.

A very pleasant time at Canterbury. This is where Austen and the Moores visit Miss Milles and I concur with Diana that Austen is anything but decently human here. The sentence or so vignette of her and Harriot and little George and her brother coming on the carriage is pleasant, but she laughs at the old woman meanly. Yes maybe it was from such people Austen got some of her details for her satire; if so, her satire seems softer where the character is fictional. So, she laughs at how many details the woman included. She could hardly keep her countenance. I hope the old woman didn’t notice. Perhaps Austen was remembering herself when she has Emma treat Mrs Bates similarly.

I am interested in Austen’s relief that Mr Moore is not raging at Harriot. The first letter where she mentioned them and we had a note then about how Mr Moore was hated had a sense that she was afriaid for Harriot. I see this as a covert statement that the man is not physically or emotionally abusive of his wife which he could be. It’s a rare reference on Austen’s part to men’s violence inflicted directly on women. So I don’t see him as a Mr Collins but a type of male we don’t find in the fiction unless we feel that there’s enough in NA to say General Tilney was indeed abusive

She feels silly writing a letter which will be delivered by someone whose news will make it obsolete, but she knows Cassandra does want the letter (as she did Cassandra’s) and gets a kick out of saying she couldn’t care a less about the price of postage: “but Money is Dirt.” (She doesn’t think so.)

Another mention of George Hatton again deprecating him. “There is no one brilliant today.” LeFaye thinks her “I discerned nothing extraordinary in him” comes from Fanny Austen being attracted; I think rather she is denying that he is attractive in general which is what she did before despite admitting he’s intelligent, likes to read, is fine to have in the library with them when it turns out he does not want to go to an inane fair either.

Flounces. Remember how Austen begged Cassandra to have some since all the guests at Godmersham did three weeks before. Does Cassandra like hers? In fact “I do not know” (much about flounces) and “do not care.” Fanny cannot visit a friend because a relative died.

And then another of these extravagantly antagonistic remarks aimed at Edward Bridges. He’s paid “another of his Sunday visits — I think the pleasantest part of his married Life must be the Dinners & Breakfasts & Luncheons & Billiards that he gets in this way at Godmersham. ” I take this like “a poor honey” to be a stab at Bridges’s wife. Only when he’s away from home and at Godmersham is life pleasant. That he’s the “Dregs” of the family when it comes to luck” is undermined by her “Poor Wretch!” I don’t feel much sympathy there.

Jane says she wants to know what purchases Cassandra is making in London, to have her regards sent to Mme Bigeon and her daughter, Mme Perigord (yes she does not forget them), then a man who talks about books and is Austen’s friend whom Cassandra will meet and an order to Cassandra to be sure to do something “odd” or meet someone new or unexpected or some surprise so something will have happened to her! This is polite but there is the warmth towards the French servants.

The note about Anna’s fiance by her granddaughter justifies Ben’s reluctance as an act of integrity. I remember Austen’s oldest brother, James did not want to take up a sinecure but was bullied into it by his wife, LeFaye says Anna does not want to return to Chawton lest she be harshly censured too. Not a kind family and shameless about imposing their ideas on someone vulnerable.
Apparently the Scudamores prescribed for Miss Clewes (the governess Austen was lumped with) some medicine. This by association calls to mind how Austen loves Port and Madeira (so do I) but while in their midst can remember the Mead they brew at home in Chawton.

This time she finds the Finch women pleasant. And ends on Harriot and Fanny’s best love; they are just now Jane Austen’s female support group

I have been asked to review the fifth volume of Fanny Burney’s Early Journals and Letters (1782-1743) (ed Troide and Cooke) and these make a striking contrast to Austen’s. Both journalized, both wrote confidingly to sisters and friends and relatives. But Fanny’s are self-concious acts of art; if written quickly carefully crafted, even (as Claire Harman puts it) “attention-grabbing.” They are heightened, and it seems to me a good deal of what she writes if based on truth, or approximately to something that happened that day, they contain a large amount of imaginative heightening. Austen’s letter journals are attempts to get down what happened, to capture actuality — as she felt and saw it of course.

Ellen

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