Archive for December, 2014

Dear friends,

If this were the 18th century, we’d call this an entr-acte, a burlesque to disrupt or end the evening with.

With a fugitive visit from Andrew Davies’s Mr Selfridge:


Take the few minutes to watch. Much of the cast of Downton Abbey and the star of Mr Selfridge plus the inimitable Joanne Lumley (perfect timing herself) as our ghost of Christmas Hollywood. No serious pointing out of the inequities of Downton Abbey nor, like this Guardian article by Polly Toynbee, nore does it begin treat of the harm such shows acually perform, but it does highlight some of the most egregious absurdities of behavior and thought and feeling:

In the spirit of that Christmas ghost tale, It’s a Wonderful life, Lord Grantham has lost his whole fortune, and knowing it’s just all his fault, he is thinking of taking a spin in his car (we know what happens to characters who take spins on Christmas Eve), but then the Hollywood angel appears and shows him what the world would have been like had he never been born. The same counterfactual nonsense is applied.

For me the two best scenes are in Part One: the servants downstairs with Mrs Patmore dead drunk, Mrs Hughes beating everyone at cards and the tatooed undershirted Mr Molseley (I heart Baxter), Thomas upstairs stealing the crockery piece by piece. But in Part Two: Lady Mary’s bitchiness put to perfect account. There they resort to self-reflexive direct mockery: as Fellowes says few do care about the lack of real sense in the show but everyone scrutinizes the cutlery (literal historical accuracy of epitomizing details which is after all what historical fiction and films rely on). In one of the companion volumes, Fellowes gives away what a sex symbol Elizabeth McGovern is for him.

What better for New Year’s: a mini- mini-series. Let us with Mrs Patmore break out the brandy and look around for Clarence who let us hope by this time has gotten several more promotions.


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Constable, a Watercolor sketch of Stonehenge (he did several)

Dear friends and readers,

Over the course of today I noticed on the Internet in the places I visit a continual effort to observe the season. I was guilty of this too, complaining mightily of the continual and thus grating piped in Christmas music inflicted on people for the last few days (in stores, shopping malls, radio, including NPR, and even parking lots). But like others I attempted to spend this ritual time of remembering the past year, of asserting some light against the darkness, in a way congenial to my spirit. I had my beloved pussycats in my study with me (photos to appear tomorrow), and read towards the introduction to my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake for Valancourt. After more than 3 years I have typed the 5 volume text, written annotations, proofed everything within an inch of their files, and today I read and skimmed biographies of her, some literary criticism of her writing, and read Smith’s moving poetry itself.

Ethelinde is a thoroughly carefully-done worked-out effective symbolic colonialist global radical book about adultery from a woman’s point of view, and an original combination of interiors and landscapes done with brilliant insight. Also the novel’s mirroring of Smith’s relationship with her father and her problems coping with the kinds of macho males aristocratic primogeniture culture created (her husband among them). I will move out from this usual talk just about her novels which prefaces most editions of her novels though; her greatness finally is in her poetry, and it is this poetic spirit that also fuels what is most memorable in Ethelinde, what this spirit projects and how it set going the romantic movement for men and women in the novel as well as poetry (out of which Constable’s art and the genuine valuing of Stonehenge grew, which I cite & reprint because it’s Winter Solstice).

For tonight I can only touch upon one aspect of these: her sonnets to winter, those particularly in which she mourns the death of a beloved daughter, Anna, aged 21, from childbirth, and her adherence to Rousseau at his most radical:

71: Written at Weymouth in Winter

The chill waves whiten in the sharp North-east;
    Cold, cold the night-blast comes, with sullen sound,
And black and gloomy, like my cheerless breast:
    Frowns the dark pier and lonely sea-view round.
Yet a few months–and on the peopled strand
    Pleasure shall all her varied forms display;
Nymphs lightly tread the bright reflecting sand,
    And proud sails whiten all the summer bay:
Then, from these winds that whistle keen and bleak,
    Music’s delightful melodies shall float
O’er the blue waters; but ’tis mine to seek
    Rather, some unfrequented shade, remote
From sights and sounds of gaiety–I mourn
All that gave me delight–Ah! never to return


Where the wild woods and pathless forests frown,
    The darkling Pilgrim seeks his unknown way,
Till on the grass he throws him weary down,
    To wait in broken sleep the dawn of day:
Thro’ boughs just waving in the silent air,
    With pale capricious light the Summer Moon
Chequers his humid couch; while Fancy there,
    That loves to wanton in the Night’s deep noon,
Calls from the mossy roots and fountain edge
    Fair visionary Nymphs that haunt the shade,
Or Naiads rising from the whispering sedge;
    And, ‘mid the beauteous group, his dear loved maid
Seems beckoning him with smiles to join the train:
Then, starting from his dream, he feels his woes again!

Among the many allusions in the set are several to Brook Boothby’s sonnets on the death of a beloved child, aged 5, Penelope; Boothby and Smith shared a love of Rousseau’s Julie, or La Nouvelle Heloise, Confessions, and Reveries of a Solitary Walker. Boothby was the first publisher of Rousseau’s Confessions and Joseph Wright’s portrait of him (Boothby was a patron of Wright’s) in a highly unusual (un-masculine) position is famous:


When I first fell in love with Smith in the 1980s I could not know how deeply she would be able to speak to me nor understand why she spoke so deeply to me a couple of centuries later. I was hungry for writing about and for women openly from the point of view I recognized in Austen, Bronte and some early twentieth century European Virago women novelists (though I didn’t know this label then): one novel few may have heard of that I loved is Lady Ursula Chewynd-Talbot’s The Gentlewoman (her pseudonym Laura Talbot), another Margaret Kennedy’s The Constant Nymph. Novels by Elizabeth Taylor (The Soul of Kindness); later on I read Rosamund Lehmann (The Weather in the Streets where the heroine has an abortion and reading Austen’s Pride and Prejudice helps her through; had she known it Charlotte Smith would’ve been as efficacious).

Virago cover for The Gentlewoman (Wilma met kat, 1940, by Carol Willink)

The later 18th century was an era when women as a group for the first time were self-consciously in public (not just implicitly as in the later 17th century in France) writing as women, presenting themselves as shaped by their gender and experiences so as to carve out a new kind of space and experience to write about. The overt life-writing this led to was ridiculed. In a book on 18th century women’s poetry Juliet Hawley writes Smith (among others of the era) refused to enact this pattern of “rewarded suffering” that we find in Austen’s Persuasion, of “a sacrificial offering by the subject which will be blessed and transformed,” which is close to “the traditional structure and economy of the elegy” — justifying among other things war.

Peter Sacks argues “that (male) elegies carry out the work of successful mourning: at the core of each male procedure is the renunciatory experience of loss and the acceptance, not just of a substitute, but of the very means and practice of substitution. In each case such an acceptance is the price of survival; and in each case a successful resolution is not merely deprivatory, but offers a form of compensatory reward. The elegist’s reward, especially, involve inherited legacies and consoling identifications with symbolic, even immortal, figures of power.” This is “an oedipal struggle for mastery and the right to inherit which is often played out in terms of a mastery over nature.” This “model of elegy equates a ‘healthy’ mourning with the renunciation of the dead, and is deeply entangled with masculine power struggles.”

We can read the traditional formal elegy, alongside which Charlotte Smith’s elegiac sonnets have been read, and Austen’s Persuasion these ways: in Austen’s case, the experience is disguised by slight amused-irony but entering deeply into the lasting grief of Anne Elliot, where the close is read as elevating and transcending the grief; in Smith’s she will not forget the dead person, cannot get over the loss and it remains endlessly; she is asked to live a deprived forlorn existence, impoverished, with children dying young, and find some compensatory substitute in say poetry. I say in reply that Harville does not forget or transcend the loss of his sister; and that Smith is more than justified; her cries if we will act on them could be on behalf of removing the causes of her grief. She is one of our earliest “internal exiles” — lives among people seemingly like herself but her interior life and real social existence makes her an exile.

Fast forward to the early 20th century (the era of the Viragos I cited above), Jahan Ramazani argues that modern poets “such as Wilfred Owen and Sylvia Plath refuse to use the dead as stepping stones to power in this way.” By “refusing to participate in the economy of ‘healthy’ mourning, certain modern poets occupy a critical position in their poetry which is akin to ‘melancholia’, the state which Freud designates the opposite of ‘successful’ mourning:” these are works of deep protest, these women and men who dare to write this way are not interested in power or obedience or conformity.” In Ethelinde Smith argues fiercely against life as competitive performance and for living in ways that defy all recognition of status hierarchy.

I mean to contextualize Ethelinde in this kind of scheme: if it is among the earliest of novels (I combine insights from Lorraine Fletcher and Jacqueline Labbe) to combine “the motif of persecution” with an imaginatively gut-level use of landscape too, then we are reaching the power of the text.

Another theme of is that of the mother, motherhood, transgressive sex, not as explicit as the later novels — though the title of the book, the recluse refers to the mother of the hero, and her mother lived out of wedlock with a beloved man; Mrs Montgomery’s mother (never named) is marginalized, her sons by this man disinherited (Mrs Montgomery is herself legitimate — natch); Smith also makes one of her transgressive women a bad adulteress, a woman who is indifferent to mothering (Maria, Lady Newenden). But even Lady Newenden (cold materialist, all the things we are supposed to reject) who probably dies of a miscarriage from an adultery with a cad is finally empathized with.

Reading Smith’s poetry I see her enacting the grief-striken mother everywhere, and in her novels many figurations of women as mothers and adulteresses or chaste controlled women separated from their husbands. Smith’s deepest repeated subject is a mother and her daughter/s and sons. And the man cut off from marriage from a woman he loves: Sir Edward Newenden, the novel’s deprived hero (Ethelinde does not love him, but one of Smith’s tempestuous chivalric — over indulged, spoilt — males), a mirror of her own fleeting experience in the early 1790s after 30 years of abuse from her violent macho ever-so-socially glamorous husband.

I conclude (keeping in mind this is Winter Solstice and I am supposed to be commemorating, remembering, enacting) how Jim loved the Enigma Variations by Elgar — these seem to me to stay with the position of melancholia I find in Smith. Elgar adds the costume drama aesthetic of dignity and order, surface harmony, which to my mind suits Sir Edward Newenden as a musical motif (in later of her novels this figure of the male will write soaring depressed poetry like the second sonnet above)), he is a kind of Mr Knightley figure who may duels but reads Cowper too:


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As Angelica Kauffman’s depiction of Anne Home Hunter as a pensive muse:


is no more accurate than George Romney’s of Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton) as Ariadne:


I’ve led with them both as the Ariadne has become an image used for Haydn’s settings of Anne’s lyrics in a recent CD (sung so beautifully by Carolyn Watkinson, with Glen Wilson a moving accompaniment on the piano forte) to signal not to present women accurately or in terms of cliched designed to erase reality was as de rigueur or common in the 18th century as today

Dear friends and readers,

I realize that with Vic Sanborne I wrote a blog on Anne Hunter some years ago as a foremother poet, and cannot say it was inaccurate in any of its details, but since spending a couple of months on and off reading all the poetry I could find by Hunter, mostly what’s available in Caroline Grigson’s The life and poems of Anne Hunter: Haydn’s Tuneful Muse (by no means all of what she wrote at all); some essays on her collaborations with Joseph Haydn (1732-1809 (much of it beyond my musical ignorance); and two important books on her extraordinary surgeon-scientific genius husband, John Hunter (1728-1793), John Kohler’s The Reluctant Surgeon, and Wendy Moore’s The Knife Man

John Jackson’s engraving of Hunter after Joshua Reynolds’s painting (now lost),

I’ve concluded that what we wrote was nonetheless for wife and husband wholly inadequate. I’ve also concluded that although recently satisfactory attempts have been made to account for the husband’s work, Anne’s as a poet and muse for Haydn, and (it goes without saying) Haydn; this trio and especially the partnership of the non-mannered solipsistic husband and in social circles elegant wife has to be understood before sense can be made of her life, writing, poetry — the latter of which is profoundly passionate, romantic, deeply melancholy, a product of her early life as an isolated reading girl with a few friends (she lived apart from her mother and with her army-surgeon father for years in London), of Scots traditions of women’s poetry (from Charlotte Smith to Joanna Baillie), and of her years of agonized struggle alongside her husband, and his early death (brought on by enemies whose traditional power-niches he threatened). She stirred Haydn deeply. As with all great writers, what matters is the texts she left and yet to understand these one must understand what they sprung from, her psyche in reaction.

Paradoxically, this sort of thing, the deeply melancholy universally angled lyric that Haydn and other composers set to pianoforte and art songs, which to anyone who knows about her life recognizes as about her grief:

Time may ambition’s nest destroy,
Though on a rock ’tis perch’d so high,
May find dull av’rice in his cave,
And drag to light the sordid slave;
But from affection’s temper’d chain
To free the heart he strives in vain.

The sculptur’d urn, the marble bust,
By time are crumbled with the dust;
But tender thoughts the muse has twin’d
. For love, for friendship’s brow design’d,
Shall still endure, shall still delight,
Till time is lost in endless night.

In spite of time methinks I see
Eyes once so fondly fixed on me;
I hear that voice, whose magic sound
My soul in soft enchantment bound;
Again the shadowy image flies,
And every sense but sorrow dies.

is easier to account for than her multi-various oeuvre, with individual lyrics empathizing with radically reforming genius outcasts (James Barry), bluestockings (Elizabeth Carter and Anne were good friends) and numerous women writer friends, and a list of dates as titles clearly referring to a political or social quagmire of the era. “November 1784” and “Carisbrooke Castle” are poems as strong and public as anything Anna Barbauld wrote. There are numerous poems to friends, acquaintances, many upon people’s deaths. Her father had been a surgeon in the military services, she was friends or related to people working originally in areas as disparate as classic studies, painting, music, various sciences, radical Scottish thought, women’s songs. I’ve gone into Anne Grant and other Scots women writers of life-writing and prose; the writers of verse are often so stereotypical the “gentle heart.” Anne is fierce, more like Austen in that; the idiom she knew was that Jane Fairfax sings; yet as seen in Austen’s letters it was Anne Grant’s quiet conventionalism, her prosaicism, her travel writings and love of the countryside, that made what appeal Hunter had for the public: Austen never mentioned Hunter, she at least in her usual way mentions and half-derides Grant who she is reading. Anne Home Hunter’s songs were appreciated in vacuums, in song books and separately; not always recognized as hers; Anne Grant was seen as a whole and her work appreciated as by her and about her. So all the talk about circulation of Hunter’s poems means nothing as they were not understood in their true context; only superficially I’d say.

Most difficult of all, how account for Anne’s relationship with Hunter whom she seems as far from in her social aspirations as he seems close to Darwinian insights — and it was noticed the evolutionary implications of all he discovered about animals. We can observe that this unusual pair and the home they had partly led to deeply unconventional lives for her children: she writes moving poems to her daughter upon that daughter’s first forced marriage (the girl and she needed the money to support her:

Dear to my heart as life’s warm stream
    Which animates this mortal clay,
For thee I court the waking dream,
    And deck with smiles the future day;
And thus beguile the present pain
With hopes that we shall meet again.

Yet, will it be as when the past
    Twined every joy, and care, and thought,
And o’er our minds one mantle cast
    Of kind affections finely wrought?
Ah no! the groundless hope were vain,
For so we ne’er can meet again!

May he who claims thy tender heart
    Deserve its love, as I have done!
For, kind and gentle as thou art,
    If so beloved, thou art fairly won.
Bright may the sacred torch remain,
And cheer thee till we meet again!

but the girl never loved the husband it seems, soon learned to dislike him and returned to said mother; she married again, happily, but in the end she was mentally ill and isolated (John Hunter’s injecting himself with syphilis to learn about the disease destroyed their chances of healthy descendants). Anne writes her son lovingly too, to him at each stage of his life, a fine poem, but after a brief career in the military, he went to France and no longer was part of the world the mother had been; he lived with a slave (it’s said). The mother, Anne, after the father’s sudden death suffered badly from years of bankruptcy, became a governess to upper class people’s daughters for a while) until influential people helped her sale her husband’s valuable collection to an institution; her own brother plagiarised her husband’s papers and then destroyed them to protect himself.

It is this material I’ve been reading, listening to, contemplating, putting together for the last few weeks. I felt I had a clue when I began to read Violet Paget aka Vernon Lee’s studies of 18th century culture (emphasizing the arts and Metastasio’s lyrics), music and psychology. The intense imaginative reality embodied in her lyrics inspired Haydn and other composers (her work was set to other music than Haydn’s) to express and give body to the deepest currents of our being. Her fibres were the strings Haydn played upon and the combination radiates out to reach our blood pressure so the systole and diastole enact the harmonies and hard-won order the music enables us to follow.

Her husband’s spirit speaks to her: The Spirit’s Song

Hark! what I tell to Thee,
Nor sorrow o’er the tomb!
My spirit wanders free,
And waits till Thine shall come.

All pensive and alone,
I see Thee sit and weep,
Thy hand upon the stone,
Where my cold ashes sleep.

I watch Thy speaking eyes,
And mark each falling tear,
I catch Thy parting sighs,
E’re they are lost in air.

Hark what I tell to thee, &c

Then there’s The Wanderer

To wander alone when the moon faintly beaming
With glimmering lustre darts thro’ the dark shade
Where Owls seek for covert, and night birds complaining
Add sound to the horror that darkens the glade.

‘Tis not for the happy come Daughter of sorrow
‘Tis here thy sad thoughts are embalm’d in thy tears
Where lost in the past, disregarding tomorrow
There’s nothing for hopes there’s nothing for fears.

I think the way in for an argument and story is to pick up a thread and it comes from the area in her soul coterminous for what Hunter, Haydn, James Barry, and Elizabeth Carter turned to her for. Hieratic life-writing by a woman who had the idiom of Scott (wild landscape) and classical pastoral (mixed through Renaissance idioms as in Anne’s Laura to Petrarch) available to her. I carry on typing Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and am aware of the contemporary deeply personalized romantic lyrics of the era, but Hunter appears to have kept shy of outright Revolutionary-reform idioms.

James Barry’s Distribution of the Society of Arts

I have read or am aware of all the relevant materials alluded to above, but lack some perspective beyond her as a woman poet deeply involved with her husband and family and friend’s lives. If anyone can make a suggestive, especially in a line connecting her to other women poets, Scots writers and aspects of her husband’s work I’d be very grateful. This is a blog meant to be working out preliminary thoughts. Did I say I was invited (asked if I would) write an essay on Anne and Haydn for the Haydn journal and have until March to come up with something?


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An illustration to Tam O’Shanter

Dear friends and readers,

A third and final blog on the EC/ASECS conference which I thought I had less to share than I do (1st, 2nd). There really was a wealth of new insights and (for me) new or different information on a variety of 18th century topics, beyond the night of Shakespeare Restored, the Winterthur museum, and a late evening of reading of poetry aloud the first night. All that in itself a pleasure (the conference’s subject, along with leisure and entertainment).


I did go to two panels of the more traditional type, with papers on major figures, major works, using close reading and historical approaches.

Robert Burns (1759-96) by Alexander Nasmyth (1787): best known portrait

My favorite paper was second on a panel on the Scottish enlightenment (Friday, mid-morning) was by Carol McGuirk, a moving autobiographical and thematic exegesis of Burn’s “Tam O’Shanter” (with English transliteration), which is often looked at from the angle of Burns’s use of mock-heroic conventions. Ms McGuirk showed us that Burne=s was revisiting his relationship with his father. It is his first known extended work, a strange intense poem where he looks back to scenes of his early childhood and adolescence. The scene of witch-nanny brings us back to Burns when young, from which there was a long-lasting estrangement between Burns and his father. Burns had gone to a dance when forbidden; this was seen by his father as a solemn breaking of the fourth commandment, and from this instance of rebellion Burns felt his father took a dislike to him, which led to his later rebellions, especially when the paternal dislike developed into a fear for Burns’s soul. The Victorian editor of Burns’s work softened an anecdote Burns’s sister told where the dying father denied he’d see his son in the afterlife. The poem has been misread as about retributive justice, but is rather a deft depiction of an old central psychic wound, about a life-altering conflict. The narrator is caustic but this is not a poem advocating prudent conformity; the thrust of the poem is on the side of tolerance as the poet faces the residual power of memory to hurt again. Ms McGuirk reminded everyone that Burns’s wife Jean was a woman who accepted and tolerated Burns’s flaws and suggested in the poem Kate stands in for Burns’s father. Tom’s experience is a painful memory. Alluded to figures in the poem include Margaret Thompson who Burns said distracted him from his trigonometry studies and whom he remembered with deep affection; he visited her and sent her a copy of this poem.

Arthur Murphy (1727-1805) by Nathaniel Dance (1777)

I slipped off to another panel I had longed to hear too (going on at the same time): Samuel Johnson. Unfortunately I missed the first two papers, and came in only at the middle of the third and a discussion of all three afterward. A. J. Schmidt’s paper (2nd) had been about Johnson’s attitude towards the American colonies and touched on the Hudson river and empire, and as I came in Jane Wessel was talking about how and why although Murphy defended literary property rights (against booksellers) he also defended the right of an author to imitate, adapt, use and said this was not plagiarism. Murphy was arguing for a modern low threshold definition of originality: the expression of the idea is protected not the idea itself. In an essay on the “Genius of Fielding” Murphy had urged that complete invention is a myth, and what was central to the new work was the establishment of an authorial persona. Murphy himself adapted and transferred plots and other elements from other people’s plays to his own, and cited his own name on his later adaptations. John Radner further elaborated on his argument that for Johnson hope is less related to despair than a forward-looking vein of nostalgia; the future is seen with anxiety; morally we need to spend well the present time, not try to escape it. (I remembered how Johnson tormented himself over his waste of his gifts and time.) It was mentioned that Murphy had apparently met Johnson after Murphy had accidentally plagiarized Johnson, and the similarities between one of his own plays and one of Sheridan’s had made him wonder if Sheridan plagiarized him. (So Murphy’s spontaneous thinking belies his theory.) Johnson’s defense of abridgements and his own imitations supported Murphy’s outlook too. Anna Foy talked more about how Johnson praised James Grainger’s Georgic, “Sugar-Cane” as a new original poem though derivative; Grainger brought into poetry new images and refreshed the reader’s mind; Gilmore’s book on Grainger’s poem, The Poetics of Empire was mentioned.


A photograph of a contemporary actress as Nell Gwyn delivering one of Dryden’s satiric epilogues sending up he pious character she had just acted

Late on Friday afternoon, the plenary lecture which preceded Shakespeare Restored was appropriately about 18th century audience’s tastes. In “Hamlet with a Hornpipe,” Diana Solomon (who has published a book on 18th century prologues and epilogues), suggested the 18th century general preference was strongly for comedy, and audiences especially seemed to have enjoyed the disruptive effect of mockery interjected into serious texts. Comic scenes may have been controversial or forbidden under strict “rules,” but audiences liked a mixed experience, with comic entr’actes between acts of tragedy (even), lively comic dances, and ridicule framing or joking parts of plangent and poignant nights. A pantomime might follow an anguished suicide scene in a proto-feminist she-tragedy (say about rape). These were often short disconnected spectacles. She cited many many kinds of disruption and burlesque. Some statistics: after 1760 plays by dead writers predominated, only 10 were new; out of 371 performances 20% were tragedies, with comic after-pieces a must. She conceded there were those who decried this situation. Addison was one of those who decried these practices, and often they were treated as guilty pleasures (not much discussed). Cibber said he included gross derision (cross-dressing) “against my conscience.” Perhaps some found graphic distress too hard to take (she instanced Johnson’s response to the dreadful murder scene in Othello, the despair of Lear). Should we look at these entracts as curative, the epilogues as a form of release? The discussion afterward was fun. People talked of how we watch TV today: continually changing channels, having more than one program on the screen at a time; how a row of disconnected commercials is part of most people’s experience of whatever program they are watching, and they don’t seem to object over-strenuously. It is true that certain things were not mocked: nobility or the aristocracy as such; religion.

The last panel and last two papers I heard on late Saturday afternoon into evening questioned the extent of debauchery claimed as experienced by John Wilkes, Charles Churchill and the Hell-fire club. Kevin Knott’s very long paper, “Necessary Lies: Sodomy Hysteria and the Heroic Grotesque in Charles Churchill’s The Times and David Garrick’s The Fribbleriad” opened with Hazlitt’s comment on the pleasure of hating, and how mockery of exaggerated disgusting versions of transgressive behavior were used as to attack and satirize and erase homosexuality. He went through Ned Ward’s writings, Molly-house culture, how Garrick tapped into cultural prejudice against effeminacy (for his own theatrical needs), sought to titillate, encourage violence (at least in emotion), discipline by hostility (turn what was feared into the abject). He went over a number of texts psychoanalytically (the persistent fear, oppositional ideologies), quoting Byrne Fone, Rictor Norton. Churchill used viotriolic discourse to disrupt the social order; a public display of a venomous nature was a mode of outing. He quoted private ugly letters by Wilkes and Churchill which seem to suggest that yes debauchery went on.

Modern photograph of 18th century print of Medenham Abbey

Jack Fruchtman’s presentation, “‘Was it all true or made up? Hell-Fire, Tory Politics,and Aborted Reform in 18th century Britain was a similarly complicated text. He first surveyed a group of aristocratic politicians regarded as radical who were themselves involved in transgressive behaviors with infamous members of Francis Dashwood’s circle (among these Bolingbroke, Frederick Prince of Wales, John Montague, Lord Sandwich, George Bubb Doddington, famed obese man) or very much in opposition to them (Walpole). See the Wikipedia list of people, with Hogarth’s depiction of Francis Dashwood as a parody of St Francis. Mr Fruchtman showed slides of the mansion in which the orgies and uses of prostitutes were said to have occurred (said to have been 12 inner circles in Medmenham Abbey), how much money these people had as income, how they dressed, heir libertine doctrines; he named individuals from several walks of life (archbishops involved), told of their lives, their relationships to kings and princes (Lord Bute). Hogarth hated admiration of such people and his art was effective in characterizing these people for many people. Unfortunately I had to leave because the clock turned 5 (like Cinderella at midnight — I was driving home with a friend) so missed out on specific political legislation some of these people urged (increases in taxes, Wilkes’s famous No 45 North Briton). Mr Fruchtman though was moving towards scepticism: that in his words in an email to me “We will never know for certain whether it was all made up or real. The evidence was destroyed or lost so all we have are second-hand accounts like those of Walpole and Wilkes.”

dashwood gates
the Abbey is now private property and people photograph the Francis Dashwood gate which allows a glimpse of the building

While listening to Mr Knott I thought about modern day uses of snark in newspapers and on the Net. I also wondered and took down scattered notes to the effect that perhaps Wilkes and Walpole’s accounts of the Hell-fire club were fabricated for political and personal reasons. There was a patness in the descriptions of the cells — it all seemed so archetypal. What I had wanted to ask about was a parallel in stories told of Madame du Deffand and the French Prince Regent, Duke of Orleans (to put it in the English form) when she were young and “said to have been his mistress.” I remembered coming across a passage of salacious innuendo which suggested nefarious goings-on in the grass at Sceaux late at night — everyone very drunk and some naked. Now that had a feel of reality,but by the time it reaches the public written down the text has been shaped by a temptation to make it more shapely as well as certain. Some people want to deny such things occur and others want to build them up.

Angora cats were popular subjects for paintings at mid-century: these two were said to be owned by Madame du Deffand, late in life blind, living alone, but bravely writing on (to Walpole, to Voltaire) and holding salons


Next year they meet at West Chester University (Pennsylvania), and the topic is “Networks.” I’ve thought of a topic for a CFP: “Forging Connections among non-elite women:” it is a truth once universally acknowledged that the way societies have organized themselves isolates the average women; they may socialize within the space they find themselves in with their families and friends, but there are enormous pressures and social and economic constraints keeping them from reaching out to people beyond where chance has thrown them. Thus the writing of poetry, novels, plays, and especially memoirs by women become ways for the average woman or women below the gentry, working class women (some wrote poetry, many could read) to dialogue with other women; they also beat time and space by writing and receiving letters; by visits to others; by attempting to travel and write about it; if they had the funds, go to a spa or town where there was a public life they could enter into, someone’s salon they could attend; or perhaps run a shop where they would not be under the monitored control of the house servant class. We can have papers on the elite (married or connected to powerful men, with access to large funds) but how did they address the shared question of being a woman, given that the salon and the “behind the curtains” operator may be said to support the male hegemonic order by not trying for her own position, salary, independence but supporting his and that of hegemonic families. I’ll invite papers on this subject.



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Frances Abingdon as Prude in Congreve’s Love for Love by Joshua Reynolds

Dear friends and readers,

This is the 2nd of 3 reports on the papers I heard at the Nov 6th – 8th conference of the Eastern Region division of ASECS at the University of Delaware. I hope it won’t seem utterly narcissistic if I concentrate on the two panels whose papers were sent in response to my Call for Papers, or placed on my panel as closely connected; as I went to both, and took good notes on both, if I ignore them I will not have much more to say about the conference’s papers. So, to begin with, here’s the call for papers (and early thinking on this topic). For the record, including my own, 7 proposals were sent in, 6 became papers.


Charlotte Lennox, an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after a portrait by Joshua Reynolds

Charlotte Turner Smith by George Romney

The first panel occurred mid-Friday afternoon. The first paper was Sue Howard’s “Chronicling the Liminal State: Fictional and Non-Fictional Expressions of Married but Separated 18th century Women’s Experience.” Hers was a tale of two Charlottes, Charlotte Lennox and Charlotte Smith, both married, both mothers, both badly treated by domineering husbands (Smith’s a lot worse); they both supported themselves and their children by writing and both separated from these husbands but could not escape the husband’s rights, say in Lennox’s case to determine what schooling her children would have, and in Smith’s, his right to come and take all the earnings she had from her and beat her with impunity. Lennox was 30 years older than Smith. In the 1770s Lennox wanted to live with a friend and was thwarted; she wanted to try for a theatrical career, again thwarted. In the 1790s she wrote begging letters to her husband on behalf of her son. He would not support them; he tyrannized over her and yet took her earnings; they did not sleep together. True, he was not violent and did not intrude himself into her presence without warning her first. Ms Howard felt that Lennox handled her situation well by not allowing this private situation to become widely known; she used her novels to express her happiness and show the the vulnerability of women indirectly. Her last novel, Euphemia, an epistolary one, which takes place partly in the US, is the most open: Euphemia’s husband takes their son into the wilderness and loses him; she gains financial control, a separation from her husband, US laws were more favorable for women. Charlotte Smith’s was a devastating experience: her husband ended in a debtor’s prison where she had (it seems) to join him; he inflicted 12 children on her, had mistresses, threatened her life. She was fiercely frank about the autobiographical sources of of the misery of the older married women in her novels (surrogates for herself), and aggressively angry in her sonnets over the way the courts, the lawyers, and society in general treated her complaints and demands. Smith was criticized severely for her radical political opinions and presentation of a rape in Desmond. Ms Howard suggested that over time Smith was forced to write more indirectly, and that when she became more elusive her novels improved (she instanced Old Manor House, and The Young Philosopher).

Self-portrait of John Flaxman when young

Ann Denman Flaxman, painted by Henry Howard in 1797

Marie McAllister’s subject was the real correspondence between John Flaxman (1755-1826) who became a successful sculptor, draughtsman and painter, and his eventually bethrothed, and later wife, Ann Denman. they left love letters they wrote before marriage, a journal of their tour together. The love letters tell the story of a young couple where the girl’s parents are fiercely opposed to the marriage, because they felt his status was low and he would not make enough money. The letters read like a novel of the era; the lovers see themselves as tormented people; there are incidents of misunderstanding and she breaks off with Flaxman at one point. An uncle and aunt intervene, the couple are permitted to court at a distance, and eventually they do marry. The letters are poignant, melodramatic, show intense reveries; the language used is that of novels partly because they had no other language with which to encompass their emotional extremes. Ms McAllister quoted these letters to great effect. One cannot say this paper was about women living alone but it showed the mores and economic circumstances and social realities of the era.

Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood standing by the window of Barton Cottage (1995 S&S)

I have since revised my paper, “The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in the Jane Austen canon,” and sent it to Persuasions on-line to see if this Jane Austen periodical will publish another more detailed and somewhat differently focused version of the paper. I’ve also been encouraged to write a book proposal on the topic of The Anomaly and call for papers by someone at a well-respected academic press; at that time I will revise my paper so as to fit the topic more closely. What I wrote was a survey of the way widows and widowers are treated in the Austen canon: in her novels, in her letters, and what we see in the contemporary family documents. I have uploaded it to my space in academic.edu for anyone who wants to read it: The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in the Austen canon. A few snippets:

In a recent study of widowhood in the ancien régime, Bardet remarks the obstacle to understanding the condition of widowhood is what we have are sociological studies badly served by sources (7) … The Austen canon, her fiction, letters and contemporary family documents, mirrors these distortions and adds a few, but is valuable because of her strict adherence to social verisimilitude and the successful attempt of some later Austen relatives to save her relatives’ life-writing.4 Thus widowhood is as common as marriage in the novels: at least 19 widows , and nine widowers. …Her particular limitations must be noted. Her fiction depicts the genteel … she often refuses to believe people are ill and confronted with mental suffering she spits out mostly caustic and wry references … There is though a realistically enough rendered depiction of these circumstances and of the social mores and instinctive behavior shaping the reactions of the widowed to make visible probable conditions and their motives from the standpoint of how the afflicted characters cope and the social advantage or damage (and it is mostly damage) they or others close to them bring upon themselves and others. In her female characters, a fear of widowhood pervades the novels … while the widows we remember are well-heeled and menopausal, Austen has three widows in need of security, with children, in tenuous circumstances. Most of her widowers are an even eagerly marrying or marriageable bunch … a saturnine perspective contrasting or and confirming Austen’s unmarried and married women’s anxieties emerges: [three central widowers] are suggestively presented as having contributed to the early deaths of their wives … The fictions include central now widowed people who themselves make unwise remarriages, and the fiction’s plot-design hinges on how a new marriage is ruining the other central character’s lives (or so they feel)… Austen also pays attention to the relationship of the widowed with their children, and how the absence of a moderating parent influences the fate of these children …Several of Jane Austen’s wives and widows’ calamities parallel those of her great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Weller Austen who writes about the calamity she experienced and exposes the injustice of the primogeniture system … The letters of Jane around the time of Henry’s first wife’s death and for a year or so after need a thorough re-seeing to understand what is fully going on …The frequency of death in people’s lives from a young age in Austen’s era is not enough to account for her uses of widowhood or obsession with the deaths of women in childbed .. she delineates and attacks not just those who confront their disasters with strong sensibility to show the high price such people and their involved relatives pay for feeling and/or finding themselves in vulnerable places in the social and economic arrangements of the later 18th century.

See also Bereft: of Widows (in Austen), aging with poem on Jane Kenyon; widows as disabled.

Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) and Anna Howe (Hermione Norris) talking of a single life (1991 Clarissa)

The second or continuing panel occurred on Saturday morning at 9. In her “The Protestant Nunnery: Richardson’s Take on a Proto-Feminist Term,” Dashielle Horn discussed Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (to advance their education, opportunities, improve their lives), mentioned Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall (there was not time to discuss it but its content is relevant), and went closely over Richardson’s proposal for a Protestant nunnery in Sir Charles Grandison. Astell was seeking to help women personally develop themselves; Richardson a solution to the problem of single supposed non-productive women. Astell thought a moral and practical education cold enable women to be fulfilled and useful. Sarah Scott develops a feminist Utopia. Richardson recognizes the plight of women: his Clarissa’s sees marriage bleakly and finds the single life preferable; the harsh severity and exploitation she meets with makes her want a refuge, but the presentation of a nunnery in Grandison seems in the service of controlling women, of serving society; the women are regarded as having failed in life.

Elizabeth Kemble in Southerne’s Oronooko

Elizabeth Keenan Knauss’s paper, “Unbounded: The Many Empowered Women of Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko” presents women characters living outside the traditional roles of wife and daughter, and given ususual positions of power. Marriage, it’s suggested, is a kind of slavery; in this colony where there is a slave rebellion, women experience agency, e.g., the Widow Lackett. Other women characters are hunters rather than hunted; they choose their husbands; they would rather be an anomaly than lose their liberty. She interestingly told how the many female characters broke with passive stereotypes; Imoinda takes control of her situation by killing herself. The fantasy empowerments reveal where in life women have no power.

A young servant girl plucking a chicken (follower of Nicolas Bernard Lepicie, French, 1735-1784)

Lastly, Joanne Myers discussed Jane Barker’s vocation in her prose fiction. Only recently have Baker’s texts become available, and the interest has been her loyalty to the Jacobite cause. Ms Baker’s argument was that Baker achieved autonomy subjectively, from within by her commitment to her religion. The conversion experience is an assertion of selfhood and virginity the center of her strength. There is much ambivalence in the writing, suffering becoming beauty is pathological perhaps. Myers conceded that Toni Bowers has seen in this kind of intangible fidelity to self a pseudo-choice, a painful escape from life.

Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh bullying Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth Bennet (1979 P&P by Fay Weldon)

Before and after both sessions there was much talk about the status of women who were without men. It was suggested that women lived in groups or with another woman or that a lady’s maid was of paramount importance to her as a protection, essential helper, and to give her more status. People thought that there were more women living without men than we realize. The problem of violence (by implication) rape was brought up: a woman without a man was a target for thugs. People were (of course) interested in women who were able to exercise power. Older women and widows were thought to be powerful; but my research suggested the powerful widow was rarer even than widows left a good deal of money. Some did carry on the business they had exercised with or by their husbands, but many sought to remarry. Since there were no papers on actresses, as a group they didn’t come up, but they do fit into the anomaly and they exercised power in building a career, in moving about when they had to, in creating a reputation. The fantasy element in books dramatizing women’s communities was talked about, women dressed up as as men, in breeches’ parts on stage; how in many novels middle class women were represented. Institutions were usually set up to control women, not help the individual “find herself.” There was little talk about the stereotypes of the era which depicted women alone hostilely and cruelly, and hardly any talk about the real emotions of such women living alone (whether widowed, or never married by choice or as a result of the society’s response to her, or separated); we did discuss how women who were beaten terribly were often still expected to carry on living with a husband.


Sad journey, by Raffaele Faccioli (1845-1916).
Italian painting of a widow forced to move with her child

Today I thought I’d read an essay on the legal status of single adult women, and found an essay whose title suggests the author was going to discuss the legal status of married and single women, but after a paragraph stating with that in theory the single woman had the same legal status as a man, and that this was not in practice true as women had no place in public law (they couldn’t hold office, couldn’t be on a jury, &c), the author said since marriage was the goal of the majority and most did marry, she would devote her essay to the legal status of married women. I judge that there were far more single unmarried adult women living alone, spinsters, divorced, separated, and widowed women than has been supposed. It was in their interest to keep themselves invisible: many may have lived quietly with other women; there has been startling little effort to discuss them as a group, which is going to be the start of my book proposal. This is fertile ground which could open up new areas of research and kinds of women’s lives.

Patricia Rutledge as Mrs Peachum (Beggars’ Opera)


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