Dear friends and readers,
Just back from a splendidly rich ASECS at Williamsburg, which included a masquerade ball that led me (and a few people I talked to) to imagine what it might really be like to be at a masquerade, or to feel they were in Burney’s Cecilia. I enjoyed very much also just about all the sessions and lectures and musical events I went to, and thought I’d try to give some account of what I heard. This is series of summaries, the gists of papers I heard on Thursday and a couple of the social activities I participated in.
I began early in the morning, 8:00-9:30 am: “The Liminal and Unique: Redefining the 18th Century Canon. I arrived in the middle of Erin Makulsi Sandler’s “Amatory Anonymity: Redefining the Amatory Fiction Canon.” She demonstrated from several short fictions that in these novels the seduction narrative is secondary and the master narrative teaches lessons quite different from the presumed punitive one where rape, prostitution, and other sexually transgressive experiences lead necessarily to a wretched life. Some women thrive after recovering or growing rich from such experiences. Marilyn Francus was not able to come to the meeting so her paper, “A Major ‘minor’ writer: Frances Sheridan” was read aloud by someone else. The question Prof. Francus asked was, Why 60 years after a highly successful career with three remarkably original, powerful and original works (Sidney Biddulph, a poignant epistolary novel in the Richardson tradition; Discovery, a hit comedy; and Nourjahad, an oriental tale as effective as Johnson’s) was Francis Sheridan marginalized? her highly praised Biddulph reached a 5th edition in 1796, a sequel of two more volumes had appeared; it had been translated into French, German and Dutch, was adapted into a French play. Francus noted several features in the process, among these that from the very first biographies she is mentioned as the wife of Thomas and mother of Richard, and her place of birth mentioned because it was relevant to her husband’s theater life in Dublin. Second her novel was not included in the famous collections by Scott and Barbauld. Barbauld protested against the novel’s melancholy and mid-19th century critics called it “vexatious, unpleasant.” And she died young.
In her paper on Charlotte Lennox, Susan Carlile showed what a central and versatile writer Charlotte Lennox had been though today she is still known mostly for her satiric The Female Quixote: Carlile went over another novel by Lennox, Harriot Stuart, which exposes and critiques the social and psychological problems a female encounters in the world (including rape). Lennox’s Shakespeare Illustrated, translation, editions of letters, philosophical dialogues were described, with special attention to her poetry, especially one poem on botany found in a book on botany that Lennox wrote in part and put together. This last account was particularly original and detailed. Lastly Nicole Horslejsi meant to create interest in Sarah Fielding and Jane Collier’s part-satire, part fable, The Cry as a self-aware metatext of literary history. In the discussion afterward people still felt the term “amatory fiction” had its usefulness. I remembered how Austen’s novels many of whose themes have nothing to do with courtship or marriage are turned into romances in films and thought of that way by readers.
I attended both sessions on “Elizabeth Inchbald, Actress, Playwright, Editor, Novelist,” convened in honor of her biography, Annibel Jenkins, 9:45-1 pm. In the first, Angela Rehbein discussed the peculiar mix of progressive idealism and brutal imperialism thought and action in the Utopian socialist communities found in Inchbald’s didactic novel, Nature and Art. Misty Kreuger gave a lively account of how a group of her students went form dramatic reading to acting the roles in and staged Lovers’ Vows, how it taught them much about Austen’s attitudes in the novel. The experienced the parallels in the characters; they did tend to choose characters they had some emotional connection to. In condensing the play for a brief one-hour enactment she learned how erotic both this text and Austen’s are.
In the second session, Laura Engel described and discussed Inchbald’s Pocket Diaries: (printed into large readable type by Chatto and Windus). Inchbald got down details of her daily life (a record of her writing process), especially money spent, her work for the theater; other actors, managers, procedures, her hairdresser (her needs met); we see what she enjoys and what distresses her; how her complaints about not getting this or that part contrasts with the reality of the good parts she was assigned. Daniel Ennis’s account of the paraphernalia surrounding the production of Inchbald’s The Moghul’s Tale across a couple of centuries was supposed to accompany a second paper about a student production; the second speaker could not come, but Prof Ennis’s account as lucid enough to give the audience a real feel why this farce about ballooning and an acting company who find themselves taken prisoners in harem was so popular, how it changed over the years, how the characters (Johnny a cobber, and Fanny his long-suffering wife) in it related to the actors (e.g., John Barnes, 1761-1841) who played it. He described the different configurations of works The Moghul’s Tale appeared with, how gradually names were assigned to the Islamic characters.
A friend invited me to come to the Richardson Society luncheon, where conversation was stimulating and everyone so welcoming that the next morning I participated in a supposed closed session on Richardson (I was assured last year it had been “crashed” and this year was open to all despite the printed reservation) and since coming home have joined the Richardson Society through facebook.
The last session of papers I attended was the first of the afternoon, “Jane Austen’s Geography.” James Thompson, the chair, had run the Jane Austen Summer Program last year and I had had a chance to talk with him again during a coffee break. Robert Clark’s paper on Mansfield Park, the East Indies and the British (im)moral empire offered a convincing account of the felt presence of the global economy which was (from Antigua) supporting the Bertram property; he suggested the pro-abolitionist theme of Austen’s work is there to offset and justify the ruthless and cruel exploitation of the native people’s imperialism inflicts. Prof Clark pointed out how involved George Austen was in Antigua, his sons in East India, with Henry’s banking business dependent on speculation. I was glad to find this man agreed with my view that Austen’s praise of Paisley and Buchanan in her letters show her to have been a fierce pro-imperialist. Elizabeth Kowalski-Wallace gave a recent consensus interpretation of Northanger Abbey (that we are to take Catherine’s intuituions about the gothic goings on at the Abbey seriously) based on the mentions of Italy and things Italian in the novel. John Leffel attempted to map and connect globally-apart places in Austen’s juvenilia, Catherine, or the Bower (India) and Sanditon. By the end of the session one felt like the one place Austen omitted from her books was England.
After this session, I hurried over to join a group of people at a dance workshop and for an hour and fifteen minutes was told about and danced pattern dances from the 17th through the early 18th century. These are such a pleasant somehow satisfying way to pass time with other people.
There was a reception between 6 and 7 where people drank and talked, and I then went with a good friend to dinner at the Tavern at the Williamsburg Lodge and had an evening meal and talk I’ll remember for a long time to come.
I regretted missing a paper by Alessa Johns on Anna Jameson as “An Enlightenment and Victorian Feminist” because I have so enjoyed Jameson’s travel writing; I wished I could have heard some of the Hogarth papers, the session on Pope’s Rape of the Lock; a session on the politics of mourning in 18th century poetry, gothic romance and real life; Rivka Swenson’s paper on Eliza Haywood’s Secret History of Mary Queen of Scots (I’d have liked to know if it at all connected to Sophia Lee’s Recess or Scott’s later Abbot; and the whole sessions on Mozart; global cities and gardens; and disability, war and violence. But one cannot be in two places at one time.