Archive for April, 2013

Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Louvre

Dear friends and readers,

A final blog on this year’s ASECS meeting in Cleveland. Two plenary lectures, one by Felicity Nussbaum defending 18th century tragedy by way of the salacious mocking epilogues associated with key actresses of the age; the other by Julie Hayes on French women moralists and marriage. Then a miscellany: a session on later 18th to early 19th century drama & novels, one on women’s attitudes towards Rousseau. Sessions on music: I went to one on 18th century opera as performed, now, in the 21st century. Tourism and art. Finally, most delightful, a session where people read aloud their favorite poems and for once revealed why they enjoyed them so much.

Elizabeth Pope Young (1735-9 – 1797), Countess Hortensia in Jephson’s Countess of Narbonne

Saturday, 11:30 to noon, In “Unaccountable Pleasures: the Subject of Tragedy,” Felicity Nussbaum began with the admission many of the plays of the era were poor; if tragedy is central to an era, how explain the aesthetic failure of tragedies when they were so popular. Radical shifts in ways of performing and the new central roles for women make for a different kind of drama: actresses made visible a new kind of bonding whose goal was to flatter and to enable their audiences to escape. She went over the careers of actresses, gave readings of several centrally popular 18th century tragic plays (not all today considered great masterpieces like Arthur Murphy’s The Grecian Daughter), read aloud numerous of the epilogues & and then explicated them and discussed how they were enacted to suggest they were meaningful as performed for their audiences.

One of the sessions, on Thursday, 9:45 am (18, “The 18th century repertoire) can be aligned with Nussbaum’s speech. All three papers were about the radical content of the plays of the 1790s; what unites them with the previous topic is on the face of it these have been seen as poor plays, rewrites of earlier plays or apparently naive recountings of earlier political events. Daniel Gustafson spoke of the rewriting of specific Restoration libertine plays (a revival where they were rewritten and famous Restoration historical figures brought before the public again, i.e, Rochester, Charles II); these manifest a preference for acting out contemporary (early 19th century) politicized ideals. Later plays have characters of lower rank; the earlier time of history is itself de-politicized. Daniell O’Quinn (quoting John Barrell) showed how plays got through the harsh repression and how performances through visuals, noise and a libretto yield comments on what is tyranny. Better plays — as Otway’s whose complexity was little appreciated — can tragically fail. Multiple complex intentions are mostly lost.

From a 2013 production of Sheridan’s Rivals (Emily Bergl and Matt Letscher) at the Vivian Beaumont in NYC

Roz Ballaster explicated the text of Sheridan’s Rivals as a prologue to looking at the interactions (so to speak) of the novel and drama. She went over plays which reworked other plays (Inchbald’s Married Man reworked Destouche’s autobiographical play of the same name); George Colman writes a play that is like an obsessed novel where no conflicts are resolved. We must not read the plays too much as imitations either. She pointed to texts which were read and not staged. The novel heroine is generally more active, more aggressive, more complex, but we get novelistic treatments of heroine in the theater (Southerne’s Isabella).


Madame du Chatelet at her work table by an unknown French artist

Julie Chandler Hayes first looked at the work of many 17th, 18th and 19th century women moralistsm then singled out 4 individual women and their works to treat in detail and then moved back to generalization. A mordant tradition of moralizing which differ from that of males which has little to say about childbirth or marriage, which women moralists discuss, often as a kind of slavery; they were given no or little choice. Women whose works she covered include: Gabrielle Suchon (1631-1703), Madame de Lafayette (1634-93); Anne-Therese de Marguenat de Courcelles, Marquise de Lambert (1647-1733); Madeleine de Puisieux (1720-98); Madame de Verzure (?1766); Marie-Jeanne de Châtillon Bontems (1718-1768) who translated Thomson’s Seasons; Marie-Geneviève-Charlotte d’Arlus (or Darlus), married to Louis-Lazare Thiroux d’Arconville (1720-1805), and wrote scientific works, translated, whose works have been attributed to Diderot; Emilie du Chatelet (1706-49).

While Prof Hayes discussed some themes as they appear in a few individual works or are of interest for one person, I’ve given just her heads of topic and what she discussed both separately and for the women as a group. SO: they discuss celibacy, companionate marriage, adultery (this was expected, people presented as taking a lover out of boredom, but then finding themselves in a morass of jealousy and resentment). The issue of parenthood is treated abstractly: before Rousseau motherhood is not a topic. More abstractly: unequal power relationships, egalitarian feminism; the necessity of submission, a pessimistic view of humanity, marriage as a perverted institution, hardly calculated to add to happiness of either person. Loss of liberty is central to the truth of marriage, especially for women.

Girls are victims raised with care in order that they submit to this life; boys are put into armies. The moralists say there are husbands who love their wives and wives who love their husbands, but it’s the husband who knows independence; for a wife to know liberty she must be a widow first. People shipwreck themselves for desire and ambition. Bleak depictions of social customs; she must obey him and his self-interest; he can make her unhappy with impunity. We see the interior of households, happiness not common among the lower class people either. Marriage not a natural state, an ideal of an unattached life. Some deeply poignant life stories hinted at: one woman lost her child at an early age and does not get over it. Some see a double movement between ambition (so you follow convenances) and personal identity.

There is little or no emotional refuge to be found in French women’s moralist writings. Novel took on further cultural analyses with its quest to understand human motivations and interactions. these are discourses of self-regulation. They have a profound sense the world they are allowed is not enough.

Portrait of Sophie von La Roche (1730-1807), Georg Oswald May (1738-1816)

Again I attended a session that may be aligned with this general lecture: Rousseau’s Emile (Friday, 11:30 am, No. 113). There were four papers. There were no surprises: Mary Trouille showed Rousseau advised educating women to serve men’s needs absolutely; his novel, Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise shows the tragic results; Kristin Jennings went over how 18th century German women responded to Rousseau as seen in their writing, her specific example the work of Sophie Von La Roche whose famous novel she compared to that of another German woman writer; Karen Pagani explicated an unfinished text by Rousseau, Les Solitaires which seems to be about whether a man should forgive a woman who has transgressed. The question (to me) seemed inadequate as the women in question was probably raped. Questions include whether the person should react with personal feelings (which seemed to lead to forgiveness) or do his or her civic duty and set an example. A fourth paper came from another panel: Avi Lifschitz had to leave early so he gave his paper on Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages in this session. I thought most interesting was Rousseau’s idea that words have a natural link with reality through their signing function; that the visual holds us, that language has lost its ability to persuade as it becomes more abstract, that it’s most effective when people say less. Rousseau was frank enough to show his imagined teacher and pupil acting out some of his theories and failing.

Giulio Cesare
2013: Metropolitan Opera: Handel’s Giulio Cesare

A session I and Jim enjoyed but I probably won’t be able to convey much about was “Eighteenth Century Opera in Production” (Saturday, 9:45 am, No 169). All four presentations used power-point, computers, screens, music, DVDs. Majel A. Connery discussed a recent production of Mozart at Salzburg which appears to have been 3 plays, all intended to reflect his life, his imagination trajectory, his work: she called it “meta-theater Mozart.” The plays were controversial among other things for the way they characterized Mozart’s inner life: wild, nightmarish, when reflective sad. Money (the lack of it) tears the hero apart. Everyone in simple symbolic costumes; the stage a huge box. Annelies Andries discussed what happened when the traditional aria of an opera is replaced by anther aria part of the opera but often left out. This happened in a production of the Marriage of Figaro with Cecilia Bartoli; the audience was apparently disappointed instead of reinvigorated with the apparently new perspective.

Danielle de Niese as Ariel (Enchanted Island)

Laurel E. Zeis’s’s “‘Persistent 18th century in two recent Metropolitan productions” was about elements of staging, kinds of voices, costumes, motifs, attitudes, practices, brought into the 21st century from the 18th century stage. I have a picture of some on this blog: the imitation of an 18th century stage in the recent Giulio Cesare. I wrote a blog about The Enchanted Island which was her central focus — and the use of boats on artificial water in the background appeared again in Giulio Cesare. Supernatural elements and computerized projection are found everywhere — though not Dryden and Davenant substituted for Shakespeare. Her suggestion that the “machine” for the Ring cycle was “very 18th century” because it changed the scenery in front of the audience, caused the players to come up front stage, & even dress in front of us was not all that persuasive, but her clips were fun. She talked of operas I’d not heard of (a Little Women), and pointed to unexpected 18th century elements in recently written operas like Nixon in China (a da capo aria).

Giovanni Piranesi (1720-88), Carceri V

Similarly, the strong tourism element of the four papers given in “Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations in the 18th century” (Thursday, 4:15 pm, No 71) were dependent on slides, and clips and photos, and I took few notes, just looked at lot. Suffice to say I especially enjoyed T. Barton Thurber’s talk on lasting impressions of Giovanni Battista Piranesi and British artists in Italy” and the pictures of Roman Antiquities discussed by Carole Paul. I was not able to stay for Jamie Smith’s Lady Mary Montagu and the Masks of Venice,” and unfortunately David Kennerley did not make it with his “Italian Prima Donnas and British Female Singers, 1770-1840”.

A little more on a poetry reading session and I’ve done.


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Modern photo of Beachy Head, England

Dear friends and readers,

A fifth blog report on this year’s ASECS meeting in Cleveland. Centlivre. Three panels, two very early morning; one very late afternoon. Susannah Centlivre’s plays on gambling, addiction and marital and civil liberty speaks to us today so too the sources and power of Smith’s melancholy vast poetry. The gothic strange work of several later 18th century women writers is explained & defended.

Folger production of The Basset Table: Valeria (Emily Trask) and Ensign Lovely (Robbie Gay) bond at Valeria’s lab table, where they share a discovery about worms.

An early morning session on Susannah Centlivre on Friday, 8:00 am (87, “A Woman’s Case”) surprised me by how good it was. Only recently have I had the opportunity to see one of Centlivre’s plays staged; it was so much better than than it had read, I realized I had not been giving them an adequate reading at all; these papers found Centlivre adumbrated humane understandings of addiction in the areas of gambling and alcoholism for men, and explored in a modern way the problem of personal or civil liberty.

Emma Ingrisani’s “‘If He Has Lost his Money, this News will break his Heart:’ Sentiment and Vice in Centlivre’s The Gamester claimed this play showed real sympathy for gamblers. Centlivre shows Valere’s gambling to be compulsive, but the qualities that led him to be addicted to gambling make him appealing. In gambling Valere experiences sublimity, he’s attached to gambling and feels himself magnificent; & the point is made that the man of feeling is not moral so much as someone who enjoys his emotions and is attuned to the emotions of others. The culture of sensibility alters the play’s criticism of gambling. The play is suggestive of an inner world in the characters, and seeks to explain supposedly abnormal impulses. The play’s conservative sexual politics parallels a sophisticated economic and social world. Angelia knows his faults, wants to marry Valere anyway as his dangerous masculine sexuality appeals.

In Aparna Gollapudi’s “The ‘Itch to Play:’ Gambling as Addiction in Centlivre’s The Gamester and The Basset Table are companion pieces. The male in The Gamester is an early prototype of an addict; the fame in The Basset Table cannot be an addict as such because as a woman she is unfree, bound to the will of others and thus does not have autonomy in the first place. Ms Gollapudi suggested the Enlightenment adumbrates the idea of an addict out of its concept of an ideal man of reason. Gambling is still considered a vice or sin, where we look at it psychologically (or chemically): the individual has lost control. In most plays we see gamblers play because they want to, not because they feel compelled to. The full idea of addiction (self-enslavement) comes in the later 19th century when people observed opium addiction. Ms Gollapudi cited much earlier treatises where drinking is shown to have an element of inner compulsion; Trotter: the drunkard is driven by cravings despite his intentions, irrationality, not for profit, unthinking pleasure, fueled by a failure of the will. Benjamin Rush gambling a disease or palsy of the will. Cotton’s Compleat Gamester is someone obsessed, with a deep-seated need, uncontrollable. Valere is exhausted in the morning; he earnestly vows to stop gambling, but he is at the table again soon after. Lady Sago is wasting her husband’s money, wilful and she and others are shocked into reform by showing them parallels with sexual complaisance. In the tradition of such plays, the male threatens financial harm to his family (e.g., Holcroft’s play); Lady Towneley chooses an irrational ideal of pleasure (Vanbrugh). Centlivre’s plays present a modern individual self in her depiction of gambling.

Lady Lucy (Katie deBuys), Sir James (Michael Milligan), Mrs. Sago (Tonya Beckman Ross), and Ensign Lovely (Robbie Gay)

Jennifer Airey’s “‘I must vary shapes as often as a player: Centlivre and liberty on the English stage” took up Centlivre’s defense of the stage against Collier’s criticism it’s immoral. In A Bold Stroke for a Wife, Colonel Feignwell frees Anne Lovely through his masquerading; the females help one another by using disguises too. Feignwell also defends his militarism as supporting the Hanoverian world which provides liberty for the subject; Anne Lovely shows us the right of women to resist male domestic tyrants who claim a power over individuals they do not deserve. Anne Lovely says her right to chose her dress (not to wear quaker clothes) is an aspect of her liberty, freedom of movement. She is justified, and enters a new contract with a better master; but her freedom goes only so far. The play’s parallel argument is that children are obliged to obey only when parents use authority reasonably. The older guardians are utterly destructive, selfish, obsessive. Underlying the action of masquerade is the idea that through acting one can save oneself. Ms Airey felt the play’s presentation of good sense and romantic fidelity in the central characters disconnects actors from the charge of prostitution (selling themselves).

Misty Anderson was the respondent and said that in Centlive liberty is a core value. She summed up Ms Ingrisani’s paper thus: emotional susceptibility is not entirely negative (gambling is an emotionally drenching experience). The depiction of the gambler is part of the history of the depiction of the reformed rake: excess is turned on itself but it “re-inscribes” [makes visible?] uncontrollable passions. Ms Gollapudi’s paper: more psychological terrain, makes a powerful case for considering the history of the invention of addiction (we move from Hogarth’s disease of the will to Methodist’s brain-searing). Gender gets in the way as Lady Reveller cannot be a slave as she is not free & in the end is indistinguishable from social norms; Valeria is obsessed with science; her character is just not convincing. Ms Airey’s paper: acting itself part of the agenda for liberty; a provisional self challenges patriarchal power and belongs to Butler’s discourse of the self as performer, re-assembling the self for social life.

2005 Bold Stroke for a Wife: Illinois Wesleyan University

Ms Anderson seemed though to object to the empathy and idea that rebellion gives liberty and pleasure: what do we do with actors around us who act with less liberal tendencies? Ms Ingisani defended the breaking out; but, asked Ms Anderson, is not this a risk, a danger making someone susceptible to a conservative person’s resentment? Valere is a psychological portrait but we see he’s a victim to an economic system. To Ms Gollapudi’s paper, MS Anderson said the will is not something individual, women can realize themselves through social manipulation; we don’t believe men have self-mastery (or autonomy) either. Ms Airey wants to show Centlivre defends the theater as a place of moral reformation.

Ms Anderson then asked what is the difference between Behn’s and Centlivre’s characters. Centlivre claims liberty through enacting performance; Behn’s characters perform hedonism plainly, not an act. Centlivre’s characters exist in a deeply unjust situation where you choose one trap over another; we can see some freedom if we see that signing a contract does not enslave us ontologically.

It was a brilliant response, show-offy too. My demur (which I voiced in the discussion afterward) is that if you obey the social conventions these will prevent you from enacting radical freedoms which may over-ride and erase contracts if the whole society agrees eventually to change. To worry about the risk of vengeful conservative people about you, made me think of Marianne Dashwood’s reply to Elinor who claimed freedom of understanding even if her behavior was under subjection that this ends up in subservience. And in another dialogue that “we are all offending every moment of our lives” no matter what we do (S&S I:13 & 17). The compromise Ms Anderson suggested ends up in supporting the establishment, not changing it and keeps everyone unfree.

Would it were that every session I ever went to at a conference came near the interest of this one.


Again at 8:00 am, now Saturday morning, a really worthwhile seesion on Charlotte Smith’s poetry (which I love (155, “Unromantic Charlotte Smith”).

Charlotte Smith by George Dance

Regulas Allen (“‘Rightly to spell of every herb hat sips the dew: Chaos and classification in the poetry of Charlotte Smith”) found the pervasive theme in Smith’s poetry is displacement, exile, a failure of boundaries, mourning over disorder, nothing can be securely in a place. She approaches plants in a scientific spirit, telling the species of plant, categorizing them using Linnaeus to try to impose an order on chaos which the notes to the poems continually undermine. In her life she knew continual disasters from the time of her marriage; abject terrorizing powerless misery as a women with a violent ruthless failure of a husband. She remembered her childhood as a time of wealth, innocence, contentment; her refusal to relinquish her class pretensions meant she had to make large enough sums of money to support gentility and a good future for 9 children too so she had to write for publication continually. She produced 10 novels and many editions of poetry. Her apparently learned study of Linneaus, geology (Erasmus Darwin), botany, her notes at the bottom of her texts, were not done to show off but as a way of finding order in nature. She’s not plagiarizing but situating her work in time and against the savagery of society (as in footnotes telling of pirates brutality).

Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening

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

Her poetry has a continuity. In the sonnets and Beachy Head we find traumatic displacement, or geographical violent shifts, corpses adrift in tides, emblematic landscapes of despair. She finds deep-time geology registered in a Middleton churchyard; couples cruelly parted; if she presents a shepherd she looks at the ground he walks on, many presences sleep unremembered there. In her Emigrants we find a French lady and her children, a female exiled from her husband, born to affluence; the channel waters, England and France dissolve into one; in Beachy Head the cliffs register the sudden violence of time, shells high up show continental shifts; it ends on a hermit in a sea cave who tries to make his place but cannot. Late in life the botany and zoology of her Rural Walks show her turning to order, contrasting what has been learned in the new science to peasant cultures she has known. It’s an escapist pursuit, a resource for someone sick at heart, provides calm to a wounded mind. She does not just think of herself and hers: her poetry is about the instability and harshnesses of experience for others too.

Greta River Bridge by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)

Ruth Knezevich talked of “Charlotte Smith’s “Antiquarian Pursuits in Beachy Head.” Ms Knezevich wants to understand the history and philosophy we find in this poem. The narrator’s literary voice presents the past tangibly by narrating a history (including going back to a castle of Stephen of Blois) that reflects the invasions and evolutions across the island (with relics) and the globe. People are in a local place but that’s the micro-level. She records names, places, events that make a wider perspective. We are invited actively to participate in the geological landscape and history. Her use of annotations is innovative; she distinguishes botany from Shakespearean perspective. She uses them to authorize her text and embed it in the writing of her era. The poem ends in brief rhapsody. She can be distinguished from romanticism by her concrete particularism and brings out the duality (intertwining?) of history with a literary voice. She wants her text to be respected, with her roots in 18th century traditions which go back (as in Warton’s history of poetry) back to the middle ages.

Lisa Ottum also discussed “Unromantic History in Beachy Head.” In her own era Smith was attacked for imitation; in our time Beachy Head is seen as central and romantic. Ms Ottum saw the poem as part of a debate about history’s effects, moving from past the cliffs to Asia, from the countryside to pre-historic time, from geology to cosmopolitanism. Smith has read Fergusson and Kames, Hume and Gibbon, and followed the changes in historical writing. She looked to the past to understand the present, to private life too, seen in larger social movements. Historians wanted to learn about manners and customs of people as well as statecraft. In Beachy Head she could find a proximate perspective to bring the moral imagination to bear. The poem is preoccupied with departed happiness which is fleeting, unsustainable. She uses temporal shifts in perspective, with a surplus of emotion. All things will collapse away into nothingness; after contemplation of large disasters, she has smaller pictures of cottages. The mind then rests on local peaceful moments. The poem draws on Cowper’s Task, anticipates Mont Blanc, where mediating power of the poet copes with vast powerful teaming worlds.

A cover illustration for Radcliffe’s Udolpho: in prose she too register the cataclysms of time and history

We had a fine discussion afterward. It ranged from asking what were Smith’s sources to when the people first encountered Smith and what editions they first saw her work in. I asked if she was influenced by Scott’s Antiquary and we talked of his Old Mortality and Scott’s use of history, chronicles and antiquarianism. What geology did Smith read? I thought of the poets and text of Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory. We discussed when Smith was first identified as a romantic (by Wordsworth, and again in the 1970s), the long period where most of her works fell out of print and no one discussed her. What a change since the mid-1980s and the feminist movement which was essentially responsible for bringing her back.

For “Women and the late 18th century gothic, see continuation in comments.

The novel has a famous scene of a wild hurricane flood over a vast cliff (mocked by Austen in her letters — but recalled)


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A male peacock — alluding to Dorset’s Peacock[s] at Home

W. Turner (1816-18), Junction of Greta and Rokeby — a landscape envisaged as Austen might have (from exhibit at Bowes Museum. Barnard Castle, on the intersections of Scott and Turner)

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been 3 weeks since our last letter (98, 5-8 March, also from Henrietta St, Henry’s place of business and home), the second of two long journalizing epistles (97, 2-3 March, Henrietta St), both snowy. Edward and Fanny are with Jane for all three: two are from Henry’s place (99, 100), where theater-going, courtshipsfor Fanny (especially by Mr Plumptre), and Henry finishing Mansfield Park, just before publication (May 1814) are still central. The second is a remnant, fragment, we don’t know to whom, but I suggest probably not to Francis, but one of Jane’s women friends; the third is written from Chawton, to which Fanny and Edward have accompanied Jane while Cassandra has switched places and is now with Henry.

There is much theater-going, socializing. Jane is preparing the proofs for Mansfield Park which is published during this time. She is also writing Emma. We looked at the satire on social life implied by Jane’s allusion to Catherine-Ann Dorset’s comic Aesopic poem, The Peacock at Home, and discussed whether Jane and Cassandra were joking in their insistence that the child-niece, Cassy (Charles and Fanny Palmer’s daughter left behind with her aunts), had fleas, and the cool unkindness of this teasing.

As I’ve been doing, I reprint the text in the comments so that the reader can if he or she wants to, read them first or refer to them while going through the commentary.

Again, close reading or paraphrasing along with Diana Birchall.


Imogen Poots as Fanny and Tom Hiddleston Mr Plumptre falling in love (Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)

99, Wed 9 March 1814, Henrietta St, to Cassandra at Chawton

First, Cassandra with the apparently flea-ridden niece, Cassy in tow were expected daily, almost momentarily, which would account for Austen not writing, but then how or why in June is Jane later at Chawton and Cassandra in Henrietta Street we do not know. The two exchange places by June 14th — my guess is they (the family) felt and Henry agreed, that he needed female companionship, company, someone beyond Madame Bigeon to care for his house and him.

On Tuesday again they went to the play; Mr Plumptre had come directly after breakfast, again having secured a box. A ceaseless day — out in the morning, then shopping, then Indian jugglers. So 4 in the afternoon she, Edward, Plumptre and Fanny are off to this entertainment while Henry was readying himself to go elsewhere. In the event Edward could only stand Farmer’s Wife once more and then insisted on going home. Austen now doesn’t seem at all keen on Catherine Stephen this time or her singing. Of course there were the stage comediens whom she names. Jane does now crave some quiet time: it’s Wednesday and Edward and Fanny gone off; next up she and Henry dine at the Tilsons and the next the Spencers.

Fanny and Edward “both liked their visit very much … I am sure Fanny did.” Henry sees the attachment of Plumptre and Fanny growing stronger and becoming real. Austen has a cold and can vie with her mother’s hypochondria. The cold brings on association of fashions and how she is making long sleeves (remember the fashion Mrs Bennet has heard of when Mrs Gardener comes in P&P). The ornate and somewhat sexy outfit she is making casts light ironic askance on by the poem, “The Peacocke at home.”

Diana concedes here that Jane not keen on the rituals of social life in the period:

A short letter, with no great gap; only five days after the previous one. She is still at Henrietta St., and she has rather a bad cold, bad enough to mention several times, yet it does not prevent her from the business of going about and gleaning what she can of the cultural and theatrical advantages of London. They went to the Play the night before, and this morning were shopping and seeing “the Indian Jugglers.” Everyone can imagine how tiring that is in any big city, and why she should say, “I am very glad to be quiet now till dressing time.” Though don’t you wish she’d given her opinion of the Indian Jugglers, as she touches on the exotic so little.

Just like Charles Musgrove in Persuasion, Mr. J. Plumptre “appeared to say that he had secured a Box,” about which he was perhaps more delighted than she was. Probably because of the cold, her reaction to the evening is a bit listless. “The Farmer’s Wife is a Musical thing in 3 acts,” is a lukewarm description, and Edward may have felt the same, as he was “steady” in not staying for anything more, so they were at home before 10. Fanny and Plumptre were delighted with the singing of Miss S, but not Jane: “that she gave me no pleasure is no reflection upon her, nor I hope upon myself, being what Nature made me on that article. All that I am sensible of in Miss S[tephens]. is, a pleasing person & no skill in acting.”

Also performing were three comedians, Mathews, Liston and Emery, and Jane concedes, “of course some amusement.” Fanny and Edward left early next morning, undoubtedly his reason for wanting an early night, and there’s a bit of gossip between Jane and Henry: “Henry sees decided attachment between her & his new acquaintance.” (We remember that Fanny nearly married Plumptre.)

More about her cold, and then some description of her tinkering with her finery, long sleeves being allowable, lowering the bosom. “Such will be my Costume of Vine leaves & paste,” she says rather mysteriously. What can she mean by this? Deirdre tells us that Dr. Vivian Jones identifies this as a slight misquotation from the comic poem, “The Peacock ‘At Home'” by Catherine-Anne Dorset, 1807. We are very fortunate in that this poem is available on Gutenberg

Wonderful notes by the author, too. It’s all about a sort of pre-Alice in Wonderland-esque birds’ ball. A Peacock decides to give a party:

The Peacock display’d his bright plumes to the Sun,
And, addressing his Mates, thus indignant begun:
“Shall we, like domestic, inelegant Fowls,
As unpolished as Geese, and as stupid as Owls,
Sit tamely at home, hum drum with our Spouses,
While Crickets and Butterflies open their houses?

Carrier-pigeons send out invitations, and the acceptances and refusals come in:

The nest-loving Turtle-dove sent an excuse;
Dame Partlet lay in, as did good Mrs. Goose.

That must have happened all the time in real life, as women were so often lying-in. Now, here is the bit referred to by Jane Austen:

The Partridge was ask’d; but a Neighbour hard by
Had engag’d a snug party to meet in a Pye;
And the Wheat-ear declin’d recollecting her Cousins,
Last year, to a feast were invited by dozens,
But, alas! they return’d not; and she had no taste
To appear in a costume of vine-leaves or paste.

Which explains the meaning of her joke! The “costume of vine-leaves and paste” is what you wear if you go to a party and end up being eaten! I have to admit to Ellen that this does not bespeak very much enthusiasm for social gayeties, but then again, perhaps it was the cold!

This delightfully mad next section I seem to remember reading before…I think Lord Peter Wimsey quotes it:

But the rest all accepted the kind invitation,
And much bustle it caused in the plumed creation:
Such ruffling of feathers, such pruning of coats;
Such chirping, such whistling, such clearing of throats;
Such polishing bills and such oiling of pinions
Had never been known in the biped dominions.

Then she looks forward to Cassandra coming. They are going to take her to the play to see Young in Richard. Covent Garden. Something Cassandra will enjoy.

Diana wrote:

Cassandra should expect to go to a Play when she arrives, on the first evening of her visit; likely to see Charles Mayne Young in Richard III. Young was the leading English tragedian following Kemble, before Kean and Macready were in full career. Interestingly, his first important part was as Young Norval in Home’s blank verse tragedy Douglas, which I presume is what Tom and Edmund Bertram recited as boys.

Not to worry about little Cassy, Jane has fixed things by swift going to Keppel Street. Does this have something to do with Charles or Fanny Palmer’s family I wonder? no use seeking this in LeFaye — there is no Keppel Street in her Family Record index. I looked at the indexes of four Companion/Handbooks. Since it’s a matter of the unfortunate child’s being swept off to Keppel Street immediately, I assume this is to de-flea her — some expert?

Fleas are found embedded in cat hair: did the Austens have a cat? was it a ship cat that gave Cassy her fleas?

Something of a digression: it was suggested by a couple of people that the whole idea of fleas, with Cassy getting Jane’s bed filled with fleas was an unreal joke.

Diane has found some evidence to suggest that fleas do not embed themselves in human being’s skin, but prefer much fur. Of course hair will do, but I’ll leave that.

If the child didn’t have some bug (like fleas), it’s not a funny joke. We were told when the proposal for her to stay at Chawton to regain her health that she was very scared of her Aunt Cassandra, and did not want to stay with her in a letter which indicates Cassandra had hit one of the peasant girls (perhaps working as a maid). (It was fine in this period to beat your servants. Let’s hope Cassandra was no Emily Bronte.) The child did not want to stay away from her parents, and we may guess nervous.

So Cassandra and Jane invent this little joke of theirs about her fear. Har har. They give her something to be afraid of, just think Aunt Cassandra getting rid of fleas. Ho ho ho. It’s not exactly kind.

When I was a girl growing up in the Bronx, a real fear among mothers and children was “nits.” If you got “nits” in your hair, you would be subjected to hard hurtful combing until you got rid of them and it was not easy. I know how it felt since at one point I had “nits.” I am wondering if “fleas” is an easy non-scientific way to refer to some bug that Cassy had naturally picked up aboard ship and Cassandra took it upon herself to get rid of it in the child.

Thinking a bit more and reading over the pieces, hair will do in place of fur. The child could easily have had some infestation from living aboard a ship with unwashed men in close proximity. If she didn’t quite, I can see how Cassandra might suspect she was — a class feeling.

Lord Brabourne removed all the references to fleas in his edition. How like Cassandra not to censor out that which makes Jane look bad — we saw this earlier in the laughing reference to the maid who was fired when the two nephews harassed her. At the same time we saw some indication of another letter where Jane did lambast the nephews; that was cut. Can’t have the nephews exposed, can we? Cassandra has no sense of what is humanely tactful or decent to people as people only what is conventionally allowed. JEAL did have a heart — very sensitive type — and Brabourne some literary tact and brains.

No one is selling Cassy into slavery, no one beating her; the aunt with her takes her to Canterbury (as I recall); I’m sure she’s fed and taken good physical care of. Treated overtly with affection too. But children feel things, they know. Charles and Fanny did not want to leave Cassy with the aunts, even though it was apparent to everyone the ship life was making her physically ill. And so that trumped, the fear the ship life would kill her.

But physical life is not all that matters to children. It’s just for a time and did her no harm, but I can understand why the child was so reluctant to stay with these aunts when I read Austen’s letters 91 & 92, Mon-Ties, 11-12, 14-15 Oct 1813

Here’s what she has to say specifically about Cassy:

I talk to Cassy about Chawton; she remembers much but does not volunteer on the subject. — Poor little Love — I wish she were not so very Palmery — but it seems stronger than ever. –I never knew a Wife’s family-features have such undue influence. –

A strong sense of distaste here. Like some kind of animal. Bad as colored skin? something racist here — though it’s origin is class. We know from various sources the family thought Charles married down — though Fanny was related to high officials, maybe they were not pseudo-gentry in the manner of the Austens. Had no aristocrats three times removed or whatever.

When Jane Austen looks at this child physically she feels distaste. It’s not just that she looks like Fanny but that Fanny is inferior and the child stigmatized by the outward clarity of the biology.

A little later:

Papa & Mama have not yet made up their mind as to parting with her or not-the cheif, indeed the only difficulty with Mama is a very reasonable one, the Child’s being very unwilling to leave them. When it was mentioned to her, she did not like the idea of it at all. —

Anyone who says this is just fine and she would feel the same would not be someone I would like to be my child’s teacher in school much less have the care of her 24/7.

And we are told Charles and Fanny hesitated and hesitated …

What cruel weather. We may assume it’s cold as well as snowy.

Then the sordid story of Lord Portsmouth, disabled as a child, mistreated probably he grew up reacting meanly to punitive or counterproductive treatment and became an object of unscrupulous fleecing and bullying by his lawyer and trustee who encouraged a daughter to continue this preying. Austen’s single exclamation conveys nothing of any adequate attitude. We can see in LeFaye’s words strong alienation from the disabled man, no empathy, no attempt to see him as human being, complete dismissal (see my blog on attitudes towards disabilities).

Diana quoting and takig her material from LeFaye:

Then she mentions the Lord Portsmouth scandal. “What cruel weather this is! And here is Lord Portsmouth married too to Miss Hanson!” We remember that Lord Portsmouth had been George Austen’s pupil in 1773, and was said to have stammered and been “backward.” He was born in 1767, but would have been gone from the Austen household before Jane could remember. As he could not lead a normal life, trustees and marriage to an older woman were arranged for him. When she died, however, Portsmouth’s trustee and lawyer John Hanson “cynically married off his daughter Mary-Anne to his ward, who by now was obviously a sadistic and necrophiliac lunatic,” in Deirdre’s words. Lord Byron, we remember, was persuaded, or bribed, to give away the bride. No wonder Jane Austen exclaimed at the event!

A close relationship between Henry (Adrian Edmondson) and Jane (Olivia Williams) suggested in Miss Austen Regrets (here they are discussing the price they should like for Emma)

Again Jane takes comfort and reassurance to see that Henry likes this later part of MP “extremely interesting.” (contentless word there.) Her mother had not given her enough money to pay small bills even.


Then she reverts to her state and the weather: she has a bad cold, very heavy, she’d like to lie in bed longer. We can see here her avoiding some social commitment: Hertford Street. She’s not “well enough to go on any account.” And again she trots out the by now tired joke of Henry’s friend’s, Chowne’s likeness to Frederick in Inchbald’s play. This is the third time she’s milked that one.

Amid all this, she mentions that Henry has finished MP, and his approbation is not lessened; he found the last half of the last volume extremely interesting (underlined for emphasis). In the next sentence she writes of her mother not giving her money to pay a bill, and her funds will not supply enough – so perhaps she has in her mind that she may make some money from MP

Back to long sleeves by association. Chowne is friends with the Tilsons, Mrs Tilson is wearing long sleeves too and assures jane they are in. Dining her next Tuesday … (maybe an association with “bad” Tuesdays meant here.)

Photo of modern glass of homemade mead

Friday all this socializing will be over. How she dislikes this. Then they will be snug with only the man servant, Barlowe. She prefers quiet with the servant. Being alone brings on thoughts of the mead at Chawton. How glad she is it’s brewed. Even if she’s not there to drink it it.

Diana paraphrases:

They got home so early that she could finish her letter, and for perhaps the only time in her letters (for she was an early riser) she writes, “I rather think of lying in bed later than usual.” She wants to be well enough to go to Hertford Street, though who lives there and why her eagerness, I don’t know. They met only Gen. Chowne today – Tilson’s brother – and JA makes another reference to him playing Frederick: “I was ready to laugh at the remembrance of Frederick, & such a different Frederick as we chose to fancy him to the real Christopher!” (Chowne’s name was Christopher.) Then she hears from Mrs. Tilson about long sleeves, and is reassured to hear that “they are worn in the evening by many,” since she is going to wear some gauze ones.

On Friday they will be snug, with only the firm’s chief clerk there for an evening of business. She finishes with another disgusted reference to little Cassandra filling her bed with fleas, and then insouciantly, “I have written to Mrs. Hill & care for nobody.”

Jane got up early not only to play her pianoforte at Chawton, but to write. The long mornings were her writing time. Back to Cassy and her fleas. I assume it’s the older Cassandra who keeps harping on this and Jane is responding.

Mrs Hill is Jane’s good friend, Catherine, married off to that much older man and having children year after year who she visited back in November 1813.

See also Diana Reynold’s reading from Austen-l archives.


Mansfield Park, 1st edition, title page

100, Mon 21, March, Henrietta Street, to ?

Here Diana and I had a direct disagreement. I don’t think the letter is to Frank. It’s a tiny dated scrap, March 9 and June 14, with no addressee. It’s LeFaye who says it’s to Francis, with Charles, the other brother, as an alternative. If it is that Jane had kept Francis apprised of the publication of MP because he was so sensitive as to the ship’s names, he would not need to know the novel is about to come out. It’s said she wrote him regularly. The warmth of “God bless you,” and sense of not only intimacy, but as sort of utter equality of status (“Keep the name to yourself”) between writer and correspondent, does not suggest Frank at all. As far as we can tell, Jane hardly wrote Charles.

I suggest this may be a scrap to one of Jane’s women friends: Martha Lloyd or even Anne Sharpe (there was a correspondence, all but one destroyed or lost) who she might not have told the novel was about to come out.

The paragraph suggests someone who has no idea Mansfield Park is about to be published, and from what we know of hearsay the family knew about this one stage by stage. Jane carried her writing desk about. So that rules out Martha who appears to be at Chawton with the mother. So by elimination perhaps it’s more likely Miss Sharpe who lived at a further distance — (or some other woman friend entirely — one of the Biggs, Constance Hill) who however is also close to Cassandra: Classandra’s best love is sent to her.

Diana, accepting LeFaye’s conjecture:

We may as well look at the next letter too, #100, Monday, 21 March 1814, as the letters are so close together and this is only a few lines. It’s thought to be to Francis. She revealingly notes, in a cut-off line, “…and only just time enough for what is to be done. And all this, with very few
acquaintance in Town & going to no Parties & living very quietly! – What do people do that…” which, though brief, sheds some light on her feelings about living in the city.

In a postscript she adds, “Perhaps before the end of April, Mansfield Park by the author of S&SP&P may be in the World.” This bespeaks her sense of the momentousness of the occasion, though she asks her correspondent, “Keep the name to yourself. I shd not like to have it known beforehand. God bless you.”

As Diana says, we have a different tone towards social life. Gone the patient enjoyment or ironies (using Dorset’s poem is just the latest), flat out she has “only just time enough for what is to be done.” (Perhaps referring to getting her proofs finished and to the publisher or helping Henry out in some serious way). Then “And all this, with very few acquaintance in Town & going to no Parties & living very quietly!” — This is not that much at variance with what she’s been telling Cassandra. Rather it shows what was the preferred life Jane and Henry too returned to once Edward and his much-courted daughter, returned to Godmersham. They left on the 9th and maybe since then, even if with Cassandra there (no social butterfly herself — remember Jane’s do know somebody, how tiresome it is that you know no one) and poor niece, they have lived quietly. What Henry has is business acquaintance, and that only a few are consistently renamed.

Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra preferring country life alone (Miss Austen Regrets)

Again see Diane R.


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen back in Chawton, writing again (Miss Austen Regrets)

101, Tues, 14 June, 1814, from Chawton, to Cassandra at Henrietta Street

Three months have passed since Jane wrote a letter to a friend (I suggest), and Cassandra has just arrived (by JA’s calculations) in London, so the correspondence between them resumes. We don’t know exactly when Jane returned home so can’t tell how many letters are missing.

We can say the announcement she may have made say to a friend of the publication of Mansfield Park is not here. (In the Fanny Burney D’Arblay Journals & Letters there would be a note to tell us of this publication, and probably some brief citation of a newspaper.) Fanny Austen Knight has accompanied Austen to Chawton; I assume Fanny and Edward are living in the big house and there is a lot of going back and forth.


A short letter. Three months since the last, and March is now June. I’m reminded of this passage in Mansfield Park:

“It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passing March and April in a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her. What animation, both of body and mind, she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods.”

Not that Jane Austen is in town any more, and in any case Henry’s digs at Henrietta Street couldn’t be compared with Fanny’s noisome abode in Portsmouth! Jane is at home, at Chawton, and has changed places with Cassandra, who is now in London. “This is a delightful day in the Country, & I hope not much too hot for Town,” she writes, which would seem to show that she participates at least to some extent in Fanny’s rhapsodies about spring in the country. Though there has been a little rain, and Edward has been not quite “brisk.” She went up to the Great House and “dawdled” away an hour. Not sure who “we all five” were who walked together into the Kitchen Garden
(Jane, Edward, Fanny, Marianne, the governess, perhaps?) or if someone lived along the Gosport Road about whom she said “& they drank tea with us.” Domestic matters about the cow man and the nursery man.

Miss Austen Regrets attempts a family scene at Chawton in the country: this includes Mrs Austen, Anna Austen, Edward Bridges (as played by the actors)

Still there is but one sentence on this, and the paragraph in which it appears gives a wider perspective of a picture of country life which includes servants and a long walk and evening tea. My predilection is to dwell on that walk even if it’s given a few less words.

Looking at the text as a whole it gives us a snap shot of country life from the point of view of a genteel subaltern woman inside a family; she gets to speak her voice a little by finding time to write this letter. We have to assume she’s also finding time for Emma but this kind of talk she will not allow herself or is not allowed. Hence my term “subaltern.”

To the letter: we are in present time: Fanny is taking Mrs Austen to Alton, giving Jane some free time. I am struck more by how meditative, yearning, deep feeling is the passage from MP and how matter-of-fact and brief in this letter: “This is a delightful day i the Country, & I hope not much too hot for the Town …” Then how the day Cassandra left which was rainy, how she went up to “the great house” between 3 and 4, dawdled an hour. Edward not well but better in the evening. Then one of these walks she loves to do — into “the kitchen Garden & along Gosport Road.” Then the two came back to the cottage and drank tea with Mrs Austen — we should imagine the soft wet evening in June.

Jane notices servants in these letters. It was something of a code, to erase servants in novels, not to mention them as unimportant. This does not control Jane Austen in her letters. ( Frances Burney D’Arblay rarely if at all mentions servants in the way Austen does, but then FBA has so many more people to discuss and describe.) We are not told why Cassandra will be glad that G Turner has a new situation — I hope it was not that they wanted to get rid of him: “something in the Cow Line near Rumsey” is an odd way to put cowherding, semi-comic is the intention. His wish to go immediately is said not to inconvenience anyone. This letter mentions a number of lower order people. I’ll bring together them all. There is a new Nursery man from Alton to value the crops in the garden.

Then a medium sized paragraph on the topic of the Cookes, which occasions a mention of MP. And still Austen hasn’t gone, she has literally been putting off going for months and months, and they are still (in effect) pressuring her to come. As of this letter (as she has before), she says she will, if a bit reluctantly: “after considering everything, I have resolved on going. My companions promote it.” Meaning Fanny and Edward — the way people do urge others to visit yet other people.
But she can’t just go.


She has received a letter from Mrs. Cooke, which pleases her. This lady, born Cassandra Leigh, Mrs. Austen’s first cousin and contemporary, was now 70 years old; her husband Samuel was Jane’s godfather. They want her to visit, “and after considering everything, I have resolved on going,” she writes. Her companions promote it, but, she adds, “I will not go however till after Edward is gone, that he may feel he has a somebody to give Memorandums to.” Though joking, she does show what her position is with him – something on the level of a secretary or a governess. “I must give up all help from his Carriage of course,” she writes, the “of course” sounding a bit bitter. But she basically says, hang the expense. She’s going. She had thought of Trigg (the gamekeeper) and a Chair, “but I know it will end in Posting.” Will she post alone? We will see. The Cookes will meet her at Guildford, and what delights her so much is that “they admire Mansfield Park exceedingly. Mr. Cook says ‘it is the most sensible Novel he ever read’ – and
the manner in which I treat the Clergy delights them very much.” Therefore, “Altogether I must go”! She also puts it in Cassandra’s “capacious head” that she should join her.

Edward (Pip Torrens) pictured discussing papers with Jane (Miss Austen Regrets)

As Diana suggests, Jane seems to be functioning as a sort of amanuensis for Edward, following him about taking down “memorandums to the last.” (I am reminded of something 50 years ago when I was a stenographer in the gov’t I’d follow a Contracting Officer about taking down all that was said with sten, memoranda they were called too.) But forget the carriage. She must give that up. If she is to go to the Cookes, she’ll have to get there by borrowing a chair from Triggs (a gamekeeper)

She is willing to go suddenly and to this trouble because the Cookes like MP: “in addition to their standing” (half-relatives, long time friends) “they admire Mansfield Park exceedingly.” (The reviews of MP are non-existent, it just was not like the way the first two novels were at all and it shows in the silence.) They liked the way she “treats the clergy:” since they are clericals that means they see it as positive: it is a novel about taking religion and one’s appointment (Edmund’s) seriously. So altogether she must go. But she wants Cassandra to join her there when her visit to Henry is over. She’s not keen to be with these people in the first place and now, even with their liking for MP, without a buffer.

A joke: Cassandra must watch out lest she be trampled by the Emperor. The joke is about their insignificance — she is pretending as she has done before how much they count, and how their activities are central to the World. I imagine Austen would know about the naval review from either Frank or Charles or as a naval sister: so this line also tells us how she watches out for the navy and hints at ongoing other correspondences. The Important People were certainly passing by Alton on the main road or from Portsmouth. The reference to the “bow of the prince” mocks the importance given these people and their slightest activities — reported in the papers as if it mattered intensely.


A reference to Tsar Alexander, who was traveling from London to Portsmouth for a review; she jokes that she hopes Cassandra will “not be trampled to death in running after the Emperor.” She longs to know “what this Bow of the Prince will produce” – but I don’t know what she means, historically.

Then some people whose lives are talked of with less irony — as are the servants in the earlier paragraph and throughout the letters. The Mrs Andrews and Mrs Browning mentioned in the letter’s close are farming people and “Elizabeth is Mrs Browning’s young daughter, aged 6. Austen says this mother “is very glad to send an Elizabeth:” a girl this age perhaps sent to London? to care for some other even younger child? or work in what’s called “service.” “Glad” is a kind of euphemism here: the reality is the woman would have to look upon this as an opportunity for money and to get the feeding of this child off her hands.

Miss (Tamsin Greig) and Mrs Bates’s (Valerie Lilley) hovel (2009 Sandy Welch’s Emma)

Perhaps by association the last paragraph moves on to Miss Benn (one source for Miss Bates) — in a new hovel undoubtedly, her “hand is going on as well as possible.” Again the wording puts a positive slant on something bad. The unfortunate woman has something bad wrong with her hand.

She has Fanny (again Imogen Poots) with her at Chawton

She closes with a word which suggests an awareness of Fanny’s presence: “Accept our best love.” Fanny back so time to end her private time with her pen and paper and sister …


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Windsor Castle, Henry VIII gateway (1775) by Paul Sandby (1731-1809)

Dear friends and readers,

A third blog on the ASECS at Cleveland, one which also continues a series I’ve been writing on Frances (Burney) D’Arblay’s life-writing. As with my previous, this is just on one session. The papers were so good I managed to take more detailed notes; the second half of this blog I dedicate to providing more context by summarizing a few recent papers which are overturning a perspective on Burney’s life-writing which prevented real analysis of what’s there from going forward: Burney (FBA) may be said to have written 4 novels, the 4 traditional ones (three very fat) and a 25 volume novelization of her life.

This is the conclusion I had come to after reading through the fifth volume of the Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (1782-83), as edited by Lars Troide and Stewart Cooke, which I’m now going through slowly. As I realized in front of me were writing from at least six different sets of years, all intertwined, some obviously rewritten, interpersed with letters by others (saved by Frances or provided by an editor or editors), and accompanied by notes from different editors, I began to wonder what it was I had in front of me and how many people at different times wrote it.

The “bouleversant” perspective as outlined below allows for a whole new way of approaching the life-writing. It becomes possible to apply to it techniques hitherto reserved for the fictions. Many of our close reading techniques (coming down ultimately from I.A. Richards) depend on the idea the text is imaginative, creative, and the sites or conventions of character, setting, theme (&c) seemed inappropriate for history based on some kind of factual truth. Now we can for example, look at how Frances D’Arblay used epistolarity in her final arrangement of her books. The real problem in treating his massive new “fiction” will be it’s so large. Critics and scholars will necessarily have to deal with a couple of volumes or one phase of her life at a time.


Detail from Vermeer, A Lady Writing

The Burney Society session began at 9:45 and there were 3 papers. Lorna Clark’s “Burney’s Methods of Narrating the Court Experience”, a result of her long work on 2 volumes of the court journals, came first. A summary (as far as I could manage it):

Frances Burney (D’Arblay) is one of the UK’s great diarists; within a few years of her death, her life-writing began to be published, first by Charlotte Barnett, a sanitized censured abridged version of 6 volumes. Kate Chisholm expressed the traditional view that what they represent was the work of a reporter, a keen observer who witnessed so much.

A new preliminary view from Clark’s own work on 2 volumes is redefining the nature of the text, reshaping our view. Contrary to the view taken of her years at court, Ms Clark suggests that the most creative and crucial years of her writing years are those at court. Burney wrote more than at any other time. Dobson pointed out that the 5 years at court take up 2 1/2 of Barrett’s 6 volumes. If we look at our present 25 rescued ones, the court journals represent 25% (or 1/4). Though the court journals are presented as a chronological account written to the present moment (the phrase is first Richardson’s), that’s a fictional device. Burney wrote up her journals 12 to 15 months later; they are creative, diverge to make into wish fulfillment versions of what happened. She would hoard notes she made obsessively, compulsively. She was herself someone who loved spontaneity and found the obsessive control of the queen’s court killing. We can see how she built up her texts fro her reaction to a meeting with George Owen Cambridge (who she had fantasized about since 1782), which he instantly hastily retreated from. Burney evades this realty, streetches out the drama into several phases (referring later on to a heart-to-heart communication). She takes his avoidance as him conforming to customs, and hiding original serious intentions. It’s an artificially heightened, carefully crafted account. This process is repeated in her depiction of her encounters with rprosecutor, William Wyndham, at the trial of Hastings; she turns these into full-scale arguments about Hastings which she wins.

She has two people for her audience and critics of her court journals: her beloved sister, Susan Burney Phillips, and her close friend, Frederica Locke; these would arrive in instalments many months after the events had occurred. Susan would respond to the tale as if she didn’t know the present situation, but only in terms of what’s narrated, most of the time as if she didn’t know what was to come, as if it were a novel. Frances was actually producing a pathetic sorrowful text. She’d write of the early days of her relationshiop with Stephen Digby much later by which time Digby was already married. What we have is a memoir developed in tranquillity [using Wordsworth’s not altogether appropriate term here]; not something written to the moment where she doesn’t know what the future will bring. Claire Harman uses the phrase “super-retrospective:” we have someone not letting go of the past.

We see her doing this in 1812 where she tries to catch up to what’s happening. Frances echoes Boswell: she felt she could enjoy nothing without relating it. Again there had been 10 years where she was removed from relations and friends, this time interned in France.

If you compare the actual manuscripts to Barrett’s edition, you disover she sanitized in favor of the bland. Barrett removed the intensely effusive, the trivial and petty, some purely family news; some harsh criticism from Hester Thrale Piozzi, from the woman who married Goldsworthy (another courtier); pruned tediousness, repetition; anything too obviously egoistic. Barrett marginalized the male attention FBA made central to her stories. The summer at Cheltenham where the relationship with Digby (as a kind of Orville) is so central is cut entirely, including sentimentalized discussions, his reading of love poetry to Burney, lyrical passages of serenity, tender scenes of parting. All expunged. What FBA likes most to write about is what is removed. What appears to be a journal of George III’s illness is a journal of Digby’s courtship of FBA, which is structured as a romantic comedy in the vein of Evelina and Cecilia.

What we have is multi-layered complex re-structured life-writing
adrift in time, someone writing intensely while in isolation. The 5 years at court improved her technique enormously; she worked out something of a system for writing. After she was released from court, she quickly recovered from her depression. The court years were crucial, and what has been suppressed was we have here one of the UK’s great fictional writers masquerading as a diarist.

Ball at St James, 1786, Queen’s birthday

Elaine Bander’s paper, “Fanny, or a not-so-young lady’s entrance into the world,” was an account of FBA’s time at court from a perspective very different from that of Hester Davenport.

FBA entered the court at age 34; she was separated from her family, with no hope of marriage, her father delighted; Mary Delaney wanted FBA near her. Frances expressed her intense anguish to Susan alone; it was an exile from the country retreats at Chessington with “Daddy Crisp” where she had been so happy (a home free of the stepmother); at Mickleham with Susan, at Norbury Park with the Lockes. The ritual and customs of the court meant she had to devise strategies to get alert time to herself. the 1st year: a primary scene of battle was Mrs Schwellenberg’s tea-table. Visitors preferred to talk to Burney; FBA much preferred to spend her time with Mary Delaneybut was not able to. The way Burney survived was to sit there silently, which shocked Mary Delaney when Delaney saw it. Frances told Susan she tried to free herself by remaining aloof.

The 2nd year Burney renewed her resolve to make the best of her life; Peggy Planta (another courtier) told her they all longed to be free of the tea-table, but Delaney warned Burney not to try to make changes without the queen’s permission. In her earlier life Burney liked social assemblies, was eager to make new acquaintances; this delight in the world continued until 1784-86 when she begins to express frustration with the duties of social life. Burney began to find uncongenial the preoccupation with what’s expensive, dress and surveillance. These years saw the conflict with Hester Thrale emerge; Burney would not visit her in Bath, could not acknowledge that Piozzi was acceptable. So Hester Thrale Piozzi dropped Frances. George Owen Cambridge seems to be a real suitor, but he never declared himself. They enjoyed one another’s company sometimes deliriously; as years went on the relationship mutated; he was invited to parties and then for months he’d be absent. Frances felt the bluestockings watching her became insupportable.

So Frances began a campaign to extricate herself from her father’s socializing; she would say how tired she was. One 1784 letter shows her longing for quiet, to be by herself in the quiet, Norbury seems a refuge from George Owen Cambridge too. This new replacemtn for Chessington was lost when the Queen’s offer came; it would be 5 long hard years before she regained it.

Sandy, Windsor Forest scene

Geoffrey Sills’s paper, “Journalizing as epistolary fiction” carried the story to 1789, the year of the Court journal he is editing.

Building on Lorna Clark’s paper in the Age of Johnson on “Epistolarity in Burney,” he showed her characteristic techniques and moods as an epistolary narrator. Her writing and sending journals to Susan was more than therapeutic; she “aimed to enlist her readers’ sympathy, to reshape reality, not reflect it.” The journal’s real emphasis is the romance; FB ignores US and French revolutions, and the madness of George III mostly.

Lorna Clark tells the story of Digby’s courtship of FB. Digby’s family was socially well above Burney’s, but he was the 5th child in the family so not about to inherit a lot of money. His wife died; as he appears in the journal, he is pessimistic and melancholy when it comes to thinking about achieving happiness in life. Life resembles the “grotto of grief” in a Spectator paper of 1712. Burney’s taste did not always turn to the gothic; when she heard Walpole’s Myserious Mother read aloud, she declared it “truly dreadful” from “the atrocious guilt:” the play’s themes include incest between a son and mother, and Fb showed an indignant aversion to this “wilful” story. Another courtier, M. Charles de Guiffardiere (the queen’s French reader called by her Mr Turbulent) troubled her too with his sense of the depravity of human nature; he once grabbed her wrists to see what she was writing so she erased what she had.

The summer at Cheltenham enabled her to escape Guiffardiere and construct Digby as an ideal hero. George III’s illness figures as part of her romance. Digby burnt whatever papers he wrote; Burney presents him as a potential serious lover who stays in her room to escape the socially stultifying world; she records her emotional conflicts at night. By 1789 she was looking to Digby to rescue her; the possibility was remote; she was told about Charlotte Gunning but refused to believe Digby would marry Gunning; she insisted to herself he would remain unmarried except if forced by his family or Miss Gunning. But in December 1789 a letter from the queen with a wedding present for Digby forced her to face reality.

The several phases of her presentation of Hastings’s trial: Hastings had come to stand for ruthless colonialism; it had been expected that Pitt would stop the impeachment, but he did not. The trial lasted from 1788 for 7 years; a third to 2/3s of the peopele had died and the tide turned against making Hastings a scapegoat. Claire Harman compares FB’s recording to a transcript that appeared in the news; instead of seeing that she is miraculously getting down word-for-word just as the reporter, it could be she took the report and rewrote what she had. This enabled her to pose as a chronicle of the time; yet we know that she sent off some version to her sister & Fredy Locke quickly after the trial scenes were done. At the same time Susan was sending very long very well-written journal letters to Frances.

The texts are prisms, many sided narratives where you are locked into the stories, but once you go outside and have someone else’s take or evidence, it contradicts FBA. Charles Burney loved the second wife whom Frances claimed he never liked.


Sandby, Waterfall — a watershed

The discussion afterward was lively and provocative (I did think of Cecilia’s project in Book 5 of that novel to leave off wasting time with “undermining” people and read much more), but I thought instead of recounting what was said I’d cite a number of texts by the people giving papers and others which argue for the same or supporting points of view on FBA’s life writing.

Claire Harman’s literary biography on Frances Burney D’Arblay is the first book centrally to use the idea that the life-writing is brilliant imaginative rewriting and journalizing. This was very courageous of her because at the time Lars Troide was the controlling force of the editing staff and he insisted in his volumes and essays that the texts were all historical records, perhaps fixed a bit, but essentially history. He kept to the story of a miraculous memory and that line of argument dominated as did he for at least a decade. Harman’s is also a very enjoyable insightful book which unlike all but Hemlow does justice to Frances D’Ablay’s later years. Julia Epstein’s The Iron Pen had voiced the idea without elaborating.

Lorna Clark has three articles in this vein: “The Diarist as Novelist: Narrative Strategies in the Journals and Letters of Frances Burney,” English Studies in Canada, 27 (2001):283-302; “Epistolarity in Frances Burney,” Age of Johnson 20 (2010):193-222; “Dating the Undated: Layers of Narrative in Frances Burney’s Court Journals,” Life-Writing Annual 3 (2012):121-42. “Epistolary” goes over the use of epistolary techniques like those we find in Richardson, which partly accounts for the immediacy of the texts, as well as how the writing of the texts themselves becomes part of the story. “Dating the Undated” seems to me the most important because there Ms Clark from her long experience of editing shows how FBA wrote her narratives much later in time, sent them to Susan who responded as a good critic-novel reader; the two were collaborating in the re-writing of FBA’s life “in a way that answered her deepest needs.” A “turmoil” is continually going on beneath the surface of all her journals; in the court years she “remains deeply traumatized and fixated on the failure of her first love affair, and her rejection by George Cambridge. When she realized that Digby would not rescue her, she broke down altogether and began her campaign to escape through illness.

Earlier accounts include Ingrid Tieken Bouvan Ostade,”Stripping the Layers: Language and content of Fanny Burney’s Early Journals,” English Studies, 72:2 (1991):146-59. Remarkably because based just on a real reading of the first of Lars Troide’s Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, Ostade comes to the same conclusions as Clark and all the others I’ve cited here. She carefully distinguishes the different layers which is helpful. Here I should not omit John Wiltshire’s “Journals and Letters” in the recent Cambridge Companion to FB, ed. Peter Sabor where based on 3 of Troide and Cooke’s EJL, Joyce Hemlow and her team’s 12 volumes and filling in with Ellis and Dobson’s editions from the papers and Barrett Wiltshire sees clearly that what we have is a many layered multi-voice fictionalized life-writing.

Paul Sandby, an untitled genre scene

I had high hopes for two further articles which disappointed me. One by Kathryn Kris, “A 70 Year Follow-up of a Childhood Learning Disability: the case of Fanny Burney,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1983 (34):637-53, I thought might be of real help, from a psychoanalytical periodical, supposedly showing her compulsion to write the result of her 8 year dislexia and the humiliations it caused; it made a little stir in Burney studies, where people acknowledged she was “onto something,” but then anxiously hurried to deny FBA was disabled permanently or even at all. The essay itself was written in such a mild tactful it was almost useless. It didn’t convince because Kris was unwilling frankly to discuss FBA’s lifelong writing of her life as a fictionalized novel where much that we have is made up and starting with the court years written much later with the addition new habit of going back to earlier years and rewriting these to some extent too.

I also thought I’d like Linda Lang Peralta’s “Clandestine Delight: Frances Burney’s Life-Writing,” in Women’s Life-Writing: Finding Voice/Building Community (Bowling Green State University Press, 1997):23-43. Peralta’s idea — very reasonable — was that the persona or mood and attitude of FBA changed over time. I’d noticed this many times and know I prefer the later FBA, especially the woman who wrote the journal-letters of her time in Europe where she follows, stays near, and finally rescues her husband from Waterloo. Her later writing is more emotional, franker, more openly melancholy and yearning. But Peralta is taken by the work of Mary Field Belenky which purports to give a scientific documentary basis to Carol Gilligan’s book on a different psychology and development for women. The problem is it’s not scientific; Belenky claims too she did this working out with a team of women who wonderfully came to the same conclusions. It’s all Utopian (one can see that some of the women dominated over the others) and the schemes are too rigid and upbeat. The essay is good when it does into specifics, e.g., accounting for say Burney at the time she rejects Madame de Stael upon the advice of her father, but as a general account is not persuasive.

Among other things, what is happening is the Burney people are admitting that John Wilson Croker’s famous attack on Burney that it was impossible for her to have remembered so much, and the work was a fiction. Also the assertions of the few who had themselves witnessed the events told in the diaries or knew people who had and had told them something of them that FBA’s account was very far from an accurate record. We need to say that the value of the writing is in its imaginative realization.


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1971 BBC S&S: Joanna David as Elinor visiting Robin Ellis as Edward in the inn he took refuge in when his mother threw him out

Dear friends and readers,

A short blog to let you know I’ve put my paper, “Diasporic Jane: Imagines of Displacement, Exile and Homelessness in the Austen Films” on line at my website.

It was one of three papers given on a panel chaired by Prof. John O’Neil. It comes from the larger project I’ve been working on for several years now: specifically the fifth chapter which dwells at length on the Tamil I Have Found It: I suggest that Austen’s books lend themselves to contemporary cinema because of her identification as a vulnerable dependent woman and the nature of her stories as well as characters. More narrowly I argue that images of “alienated social identities, de-housed heroines, geographic displacement, resulting epistolarity, and quests for refuge appear as often in heritage as appropriation films.” I include a select bibliography of books on transnational and accented cinema, notes and stills. I couldn’t put on lie the two brief clips I showed: instead I have a series of shots.

2009 Emma: Tamsin Grieg as Miss Bates sending Jane off

2004: Bride and Prejudice: the Bingley characters removed from Jane — even Emma and the gay Punjabi P&P lend themselves to images of exile, displacement

There were two other papers given in this session: Daniel Brewer’s “Screening the Anachronic Sade,” and Moti Gharib Shojanai’s “Kubrick and Kant: Re-framing Enlightenment in Barry Lyndon.” Unfortunately (as often happens when I am giving a paper) I was unable to take notes on the other two papers. Prof Brewer showed how anachronistic and downright misleading Quills was if you are looking for accurate history, but that the film offered a modern vision of today’s world (highly pessimistic, violent) to viewers as well as a sophisticated discourse on the nature of Sade’s compulsion to write. Ms. Shojania’s paper barely mentioned Thackeray’s novel, Barry Lyndon; she took us through the movie in a way which showed how it was about the education of the central character into corruption and despair. You might say it left off where Thackeray’s ironic novel (the narrator, Barry is seen from a stance which recalls Fielding’s Jonathan Wild) begins: we sympathize with Ryan Gosling as Barry as a kind of victim, and again the movie spoke to people today.

I’ve two blogs on these films (part of my study of 18th century film): I see Quills as falling into the genres a horror and period biopic; I wrote about the slowly-moving equisitely set out shots (like paintings) in Barry Lyndon.

It was a well attended session, but the only one on film in the conference.

2002 I Have Found It: Sowmya’s long quest for a job

To pay the rent (our family is threatened with eviction in Madras, the mother sells her jewels for money


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Sir, the biographical part of writing is what I like best — Johnson as quoted by Boswell


Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written about the social life and place of this year’s ASECS meeting in Cleveland; now I’ll turn to some notes on the sessions and papers. I discover that I have rather more notes than usual on three related sessions: Biographies, travel-writing, and “Frances Burney at court” (this combines life-, travel and fiction writing). So I’ll begin by transcribing my notes from just two of these three panels and on another day go on to Frances D’Arblay (once again).

I’m with Johnson: there’s nothing I enjoy reading more than a superb literary biography or someone’s life-writing when well done; and I think the author or artist remains central to how we understand their art. All the forms of life-writing as an art first emerged in the long 18th century. . I bring together two really marvelous and informative sessions on writing biography and 18th century women travelers.


Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700-77)

Eight in the morning on Thursday and after pouring myself a coffee in the central meeting area, I went off to a room on the side to listen to five people tell of their experience in writing a biography. Reed Benhamou was the chair and began: how does one write a biography? She wanted to learn things about the authors she was devoting her life to and for herself she felt she had to like her subject. So she chose Charles-Joseph Natoire, a French painter and director of the French academy in Rome. She wanted to re-insert him among his peers, and she examined known cases where he was accused of unfairness, bigotry, expelling a student unfairly.

Vin Carretta who wrote a life of Olauda Equiano (using the autobiography) and edited the poems of and wrote a biography of Phillis Wheatley. He soon found he needed a methodology: “trust but verify.” One of his subjects had written an autobiography and so he had to re-construct the puzzle where pieces are missing using this text. You have to cope with problematic and contradictory evidence. What do you do with critics today? Prof Carretta felt the best biographies move straightforwardly, and the problem is you can be tempted to fill your narrative too strongly with reception history or allow yourself to spend too much time answering literary critics. He mentioned that people had looked at Equiano as a precursor of Frederick Douglas; he wanted to show how Equiano had dealt with previous biography. As to Phillis Wheatley, With enslaved women their identity is reached through property papers; married, their existence can be buried. You must turn to her poetry.

Gene Hammond wanted to write about Swift as a humanist. His problems included what do you do with a series of letters widely apart in time. Where is it best to cover something? Where is it best to cover something? Swift is said to have been deserted by his mother between the ages 6 and 18; he looked at shipping records to see if she ever visited him; he found Swift’s grandmother did. Esther was illegitimate and thought Swift would marry her; they probably had an affair, and when he didn’t marry her, she threatened blackmail or to kill herself. When Swift later in life tells of his young years, you must put the information in the young years, yet the writing reflects the time it’s written in. How seriously do you take letters? His most powerful influential years were 1710-14 and later he tried to help those women who wanted to to flee the noxious town. Biography is also a story of several characters.

Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz (1772–1816

Kathryn Libin told a story about how after the communist party lost control (1989), she was hired to come to Czechoslovakia to inventory the private music papers of the wealthy Lobkowicz family. She asks us to imagine her sitting on the floor of the local large library surrounded by the papers of a Prince Lobkowicz of the Habsburg empire who had been Beethoven’s patron. The family had collected thousands of sheets of music. There had been no archivist. The archive is rich beyond belief and she has been formulating a chronology. Her difficulties included access, the ancientness of some of the materials. Her talk centered on the actual circumstances in which a research project is carried out and how that affects what the biographer can write.

Anastasia Robinson (1692-1755)

Kathryn Lowere’s subject is the 18th century soprano and actress, Anastasia Robinson. There is a story Robinson was born in Italy, her father died, and she had gone into a theater for first time in a long time. Lowere found fashion to be helpful chronological evidence. Anastasia was involved in Queen Anne’s court as a vocalist-musician and when the planes went down she broadened her appeal by learning to sing Italian opera too. This to carry on earning a living. She knew a lot of people (Mary Delany, Italian diplomats), lived in an English nunnery; her Catholicism is often marginalized in biographical sketches of her. Her letters are scattered everywhere (she is known to have asked Handel to rewrite her letters).

There was then general discussion among the panelists, and ideas thrown out: epigraphs can help you start a chapter; when a person’s life has gaps, you have to decide how much context outside to give. Who do you think your core readership is going to be controls what you write. Every biographer has to deal with a series of specific issues. Leave no stone unturned. You have the right to take control of your narrative. You can treat something as a mystery as long as you are forthright about it. When and where people are born limits their life’s choices. You can write a biography of someone from different people’s points of view.

The audience did join in: a few people told of their projects and the art of biography was defended as the basis of understanding a writer or his or her text in fundamental common sense ways. I told of my work on later 17th century women’s life-writing, Anne Finch, and how I had to have a story of a life in my mind to annotate Anne Murray Halkett’s remnant autobiography and the poems I have translated by Colonna and Gambara.



Later that day (11:30) I went to a marvelously informative session on a form of writing related to biography and autobiography: travel-writing is a special form of memoir. This particular set were by women, where 3 were seen as offering knowledge of “exotic” places (Fay, Clive, Falconbridge), 1 seemed wildly adventurous (Ashbridge) and a last by someone thought to be a poetic genius and is filled with intelligent political thought (Radcliffe). They are all joined by the reality that what influences them most on their journey is the male closest to them. Abusive male sexuality, a domineering presence, or (in the case of the lucky Radcliffe), a kindly husband who is equally intellectual but just as cautious. This relationship remains what counts most — unless the woman goes out on her own.

Melissa Antonucci spoke about Elizabeth Ashbridge’s (1713-55) conversion narrative as moving into “self-authorship.” Ms Antonucci felt that women who move away from home to another place, usually stay, and develop for themselves a new world and life. When a girl Ashbridge had a love affair that made her resolve to elope with him; he died young, and what was left were painful memories. She found herself financially destitute, homeless, and relied on neighbors until she left for Ireland for the first time. She seems to have remarried a stocking weaver, and had a conversion experience into Quakerism. She went to the US through indentured servitude, and when she got there was sold illegally by a man called Sullivan whom she did not love. They moved to Rhode Island, and again she joins with someone who is not good for her. She and her husband kept moving, partly because the husband wanted to jolt her out of her religious piety. They go from Boston to Pennsylvania. A story is told of how her husband tried to get her to dance at an inn and she refused. They went on to Freehold as teachers, again among Quakers, and he threatens to kill her. They moved again and she genuinely tries to reform him, but he gets drunk, enlists, moves to Cuba. He died. She returned to Ireland and became an itinerent Quaker preacher. Ms. Antonucci suggested an early exclusion from the dominant community had led to Ashbridge choosing quakerism and here she could “share the light” with like-minded people.

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823)

JoEllen Delucia discussed Ann Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794. Ms Delucia suggested this text feels anomalous after her gothics, but that this text has gothic, picturesque and sublime description. Radcliffe availed herself of antiquarian sources and history, and held onto her native tongue. Mr Delucia felt this book was written to change the way people were regarding Radcliffe who wanted to present herself as British foremost. In her journeys Radcliffe comes close to genuine want, hunger, and does not seek to be picturesque. She goes through zones of war and sieges and suggests that as a nation we are an artificial construct, easily dismantled bit by bit. She also knew fear: she and her husband were stopped at the Switzerland boundaries, and the roughness with which they were treated made both of them fear imprisonment in a place where the individual has no or few rights. So they turned round and went home. As far as she gets Switzerland is described sublimely. In the later journal (it’s not clear when she went) through English lake district she was seen to anticipate Wordsworth and looks at her books once again and seeks history and place. Ms Delucia’s insight was to notice how the aesthetic categories of Radcliffe’s usual modes dissolve away once she moves into an imaginative passionate encounter with experience, history, past people.

I suggested afterward that the Journey book is not anomalous but rather another way of presenting the same violent and disquieting matter. Even in the lake district she visits dungeons and shows how rituals are forms of tyranny. Ms Delucia agreed that the Journey book is another face of the same gothic artist.

Henrietta Clive, Countess of Powis (1758-1830)

Mona Narain told us about two women British travel-writers who went to India: first, Eliza Fay. Fay’s book was published posthumously. Fay was alone, a daughter of a sailor; she had married “up”, a lawyer who hoped to prosper with her. The marriage was unhappy; he had an Indian mistress and child. She conveys her personal feelings. When she and her husband were imprisoned for a short time, she seemingly couldn’t believe treatment could be this bad. Later she finds her husband cannot make a living as a colonist, most cope with his intemperate behavior, and slowly return home (England). She discovers she is more at risk from her husband’s failures than from Indian people about them. Henrietta Clive published more than her travel book; at the time of her arrest by her husband she was reading Birds of Passage. Gender is but one valence by which we understand a travel book: class position, reasons for travel, stance in writing all affect and shape the process and thus product. She shows us the national pleasures, cultural aspirations, and argues for spontaneity and heterogeneity. Her aspiration is everywhere. Seh married Edward, Lord Clive’s oldest son who was appointed governor of Madras; they travelled richly with a huge retinue to impress the Nawab. Nonetheless Lady Clive wanted to return home but they had to stay to recover costs and get out of debt. She learns material circumstances are not enough as a basis for existence and that she was fooled by Mary Montagu’s Turkish Letters. Her framework with her husband fell apart too. For both women male sexuality was central to their experience, and they find they can activate their own agency only by travelling alone.

Elizabeth Zold’s topic was Anna Marie Falconbridge’s (1769-1816?) 2 voyages to Sierrra Leone. For the rest of this summary see comments.


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Frontispiece of an inexpensive 1854 7 volume reprint of Charlotte Barrett’s edition of her aunt’s life-writing

Dear friends and readers,

A careful reading of the 5th volume of the Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, 1782-83, ed. Lars Troide, Stewart Cooke, gets me thinking about the multi-level problematic nature of all life-writing, especially Frances D’Arblay’s.

I am wondering if this or the other volumes can be said to have had a single or even a double author. Volume 5 has several including Frances at several stages of her life. This is not just a matter of how far Frances D’Arblay later re-wrote her early life-writing books or at the time made up what she was putting down, but when did she do it. There is the year of the first brief entries: 1782-83 when she was Burney. There is the time after her husband’s death in 1817 when he conjured her to go back to the life-writing and write up everything. Then she is writing in the 1830s, when, as D’Arblay, she is known to have rewritten much or written up for the first time and did destroy much of her father’s writing insofar as she could and wrote her own autobiography as his biography. I’ve seen so much evidence to show she revised and imagined over and over, coming back with inserts at a later time again and again. Frances as Burney and then D’Arblay inserts the letters she was responding to or talking about; she inserts letters that shed light on what her letter is about; she is thinking of us, her later reader she’s planning on. She destroys thinking of us too.

She dies and others get to work. 1841 when Charlottte Barrett
made the first edition and used the term “Diaries.” She emphasizes the Evelina, Streatham and Court journal years. Then the later 19th century, with an edition of earlier journals than CB started with by Annie Raine Ellis, and the new re-editions by Dobson. The small amount of the later years known are again re-done, this time rescuing much destroyed or half-destroyed material in the 1980s, with three different teams doing it — under Joyce Hemlow. Then in the 21st century under Lars Troide, there’s a return to 1768 and a newly determined “full book.” Now with Troide’s retirement, Peter Sabor and Stewart Cooke seem to have taken over as general editors. Each time there’s something of a name change.

Not only are we back to Frances since the retierment of Troide, the silence over how much is made up, or the stubborn insistence that Frances had a miraculous memory such as is rarely seen so that we are to believe if not her every word, her every nuance or implication.

The kind of recent changes I’m thinking about is seen in both Betty Rizzo’s heavily-annotated fourth volume (Streatham, 1780-1781) and Lars Troide’s 5th. Just one small example, Troide (and Stewart?) seem to belive that Hester Thrale and Frances Burney were not that close friends at the time — I see all sort of tones and evidence that there really had been intimate liking and trust and closeness. Well, what is done is Troide inserts in a footnote a diary entry by Hester Thrale Piozzi 17 days after she has sent strong praise to Burney about Cecilia. The letter to Burney shows Hester remembering the characters, living through them, admiring this and that in the book, showing that it came alive in her mind. The footnote (not to Burney) is strongly critical and suggest the book is limited: the types of characters are time-bound and the novel will not live. The effect is to make Hester seem insincere when she’s writing Burney. This is making a different story from the one we’d come away with were we not to have this note.

It’s the insert that makes this effect. There are so many different kinds of motives for these inserts and erasures. I’ve now read a long one by Betty Rizzo where she (in effect) lambasts James Burney for his rebellious behavior which was but one reason his promotion was delayed. In comparison, Troide is silent when Frances tells Susan about Jem’s struggles and politicking.


Eventually Susan’s husband so outrageously mistreated her, it’s not exaggerating to say he caused her early death

And I’ve noticed that Frances does not reprint her sister, Susan’s letters nor insert them, and the editors have followed suit. They can now use them for a separate two volume edition of Susan’s life-writing, but originally they probably just imitated Frances. But why did she leave these out? Was her sister quickly not as happy as she asserts? it seems so if her sister’s need for her and then the other sister come to subsitute is a sign.

John Wiltshire in a particularly insightful essay in The Cambridge Companion to Frances Burney on the journals and letters in a throw-away line says the editors have continued the tradition, begun by Barrett, of making an epistolary novel by many people, constructed out of materials gathered together. I own a copy of Barrett’s book and read much of it some years ago. To me it read like a mid-19th century epistolary novel, differentiated from others by the determined innocence of the perspective of the editor. Wiltshire’s comment reminded me of Richardson who said writing Clarissa gave him such pleasure because he could personate so many voices and then the reader could enter into contrasted characters. These modern editors think of themselves as so objective, trying to present truth’s full complexity. But these are books in the tradition of the niece, Charlotte Barrett’s 6 volume book?

So who is novel-making here?

Come to that in Burney D’Arblay’s case of voluminous writing, to what extent are the novels life-writing? In the 5th volume, when Frances finishes her re-writing of Cecilia, her corrections, and it is published, she refers her sister, Susna, to Cecila’s “project” in the 5th volume of the novel where Cecilia vows not to waste her time on ignorant “underminers of existence” (people who are vain, proud, people who drive you to network, to waste time) but instead follow her own spirit in reading and enjoying the deeper pleasures of existence among friends and in solitude. Unfortunately that’s just what Frances Burney didn’t do when she took a job at court. But she means to. The section shows she wrote Cecilia as an alter-ego.

So where does life-writing end and how are we to judge it? I have yet to read the article suggesting an early experience of disability partly accounts for Frances’s long-time compulsive writing. So much to do, so much to think about when writing a review of such enrichened life-writing.

Of course I have in mind what we’ve seen in Austen’s life-writing, only there the problematical nature of the life-writing takes on a very different aspect: among other things, she didn’t live to doctor the stuff, others did …



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