Archive for October, 2015

Marianne von Werefkin - Russian expressionist painter (1860 – 1938) - Autumn (School) 1907
Marianne von Werefkin, Autumn (1907)

From her diaries (1905): ‘I am a woman, I lack every [ability for] creation. I can understand everything and cannot create… I don’t have the words to express my ideal. I am looking for the person, the man, who can give this ideal form. As a woman, wanting someone who could give the internal world expression, I met Jawlensky … ‘
I am more a man than a woman. Only the need to please and compassion turn me into a woman. I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am I.

Yet she could write in a letter: My eyes are magical glass [when looking at] the outside world, and it can transform a lot into bewitching beauty. Paris, Munich … they’re all the same. The country is nice, because it is closer to nature and bad because we [Werefkin and Jawlensky] are no longer people from nature. I saw this at Blagodat. The more a person improves himself, the more one is doomed to loneliness. One doesn’t need friends, one needs oneself and anybody who loves you like themselves

Dear friends and readers,

I was wondering how to present my tenth woman artist Marianne von Werekfin as I am so drawn to very specific paintings by her. For example, even in black-and-white one of her pictures remains one of my favorites of all 20th century women’s paintings: are we watching quiet peacefulness or repression with few choices caught up in a harmonious ordered design?

Sunday in Spring (1910)

Elsa Honig Fine in her Women and Art describes the painting when seen in color: “All the artist’s sources seem to coalesce …The large green expanses of grass, sinuous blue river and band of red buildings in the background, contrast with the black, white and grey silhouettes of the anonymous strollers. The artist seems more at peace with herself in this painting.

Where better is the darkness, fearful glare and fascinating colors of de-humanized and degraded landscape of unamelioroated industrialism unameliorated expressed than in her

Industrial villa (1912)

Jordi Vigue in Great Women Masters of Art: ‘There are three motifs in this work: nature, industry and the human being. The industrial village is located on a river. It is surrounded by a powerfully colorist landscape in which the plains taken on a copper tone and the high blue mountains are silhouetted against a yellow and green sky. In the foreground three men carrying a sack across a bridge in front of a village immersed in the twilight. The factory chimney, a symbol of industrialization per excellent, is as high as the old church’s bell tower. This is a narrative scene accompanied by forms with latent meanings. The association of the mangnficence of nature, the darkness of inustry with its chimney emitting green smoke, and the toil of the man bent under a heavy sack are ahead of their time and offer an invitation to reflection.’

In this picture by Werefkin, I think of the many images of lonely old woman carelessly discarded in so much fiction and life. Here the woman seems to matter:

Woman with a lantern (1912)

Again Jordi Vigue: ‘Her ideas are expressed in this work in tempera on cardboard, in which the snow covering the hills is green and blue, the furrows and shadows are tinged in red, andthe leafless wintry trees are as black as the phantasmagoric figure of the old lady. In fact, the subject of the painting is simple: an old lady goes to get some pigs that have gotten loose. Nevertheless, the treatment of forms and colors establishes a symbolic relationship with reality that imbues the painting with mystery, like the stories of Poe.’

Werefkin can do the hope of young girls (Autumn, the scene I led with, which reminds me of Bemelmans’ Madeline, books where we read of 12 little girls in a two straight lines), the calm of old age

Old Age

Here the seeming disorder and beauty and fearfulness of winter worlds, often with a pair of friends or heterosexual couple painted as tiny figures which repeats elsewhere:


Werefkin makes us see war as human beings turned into mindless crawling deadly insects in a row


She paints rather tormented scenes with processions of female figures in black walking on sinuous roads:

The Black Women

From Kochmann (see below): In The Black Women, Werefkin depicts several women dressed in various combinations of black and dark blue garments, tying and carrying white bundles back to a mountain village. The scene is set in the mountains, a line of chalet-style row houses at their base. The women appear to have finished laundering in a thinly rendered purple-colored river, preparing to return home after a hard day’s work … [I add there is an absence of men in many of these pictures]

She can also project the alluring stillness of an evening out in a world of war (note the heterosexual couple):

Without roofs

But a good deal of what Von Werefkin painted is to me also too consciously primitive, crude, glaring and gauche, even cartoon-like, or vague, inconsistent. These are labelled German expressionistic, and hark back to stylistically similar paintings by Paula Modersohn-Becker, only M-B rescues such pictures by the poignancy of the abject children, animals. Werefkin uses this style for depicting the strength of peasant women and men, and stereotypical 1930s kinds of bars. Two from In the Village:


Red City - Marianne von Werefkin 1860-1938 - Russian-Swiss Expressionist painter- Tutt'Art@ (18)

The Beergarten



For this blog I am indebted to a friend, Fran, who sent to Women Writers through the Ages (at Yahoo), the URL for an excellent detailed essay by Adrienne Kochmann which is meant to focus on and explain a specific picture. I will quote from Kochmann to provide biography: “Ambiguity of Home: Identity and Reminiscence in Marianne Werefkin’s Return Home, c. 1909:”

Werefkin was born in 1860 in Tula, south of Moscow.8 An aristocrat and a baroness, she was the daughter of Elizabeth Daragan, an artist, and Vladimir Nikolaevich Verevkin, an infantry commander general who had been decorated by the tsar for his accomplishments during the Crimean War. During her childhood, her father’s military career transferred the family to several different residences across the Russian Empire, including (chronologically) Vitebsk in Russia, Vilnius in Lithuania, Lublin in Poland, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. She began her formal art training at the age of fourteen and later studied with the prominent Russian Realist Ilya Repin for ten years.
    Through Repin, Werefkin met Jawlensky in 1892. The two shared mutual artistic interests and worked together, spending summers at Werefkin’s family’s landed estate, Blagodat, in Kovno Province, Lithuania. Werefkin established a reputation in Russia as the “Russian Rembrandt” showing her portraits—her primary subject area—at such exhibitions as the First Women Artists Circle Exhibition in St. Petersburg in 1886, the XX Peredvizhnik Exhibition of 1892, also in St. Petersburg, and in 1896 at the art section of the All-Russian Exhibition in Nizhni-Novgorod.

So she belonged to the lesser nobility, with her mother an amateur painter; early on she met a man she seems to have idolized and with whom she would have (for her time) an unconventional passionate relationship for 30 years:

A pastoral painting of herself and Jawlensky in their happiest phase

By 1896 they were living in an artist community in Munich, friends with Munter and her partner, Vasily Kanddinsky, and part of movement which included many new and avante garde artists (Munich New Artists Association):

Kochman: In 1896, Werefkin’s father died and, provided that she stay a single woman, allowed her an inheritance of a government pension and the financial means to live independently. That same year, she and Jawlensky moved to Munich and took up residence in adjoining apartments on Giselastrasse in Schwabing, the home of the city’s Eastern European immigrant and artistic populations. There, they became active members of Munich’s avant-garde artistic community, and befriended the prominent Slovenian art teacher Anton Azbe, in whose teaching atelier Jawlensky, Igor Grabar, and Dmitrii Kardovskii, Werefkin’s friends from the St. Petersburg Art Academy, enrolled as students. Werefkin herself, in 1897, formed the St. Lukas Brotherhood, an informal artists’ salon which met at her apartment.

She and Jawlensky became part of an international exhibition society, Der blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).

Marianne von Werefkin as painted by her colleague and friend, Gabriel Munter

1902 was a time of personal crisis; a child was born out of wedlock to a long-time female servant in the house and Jawlensky fathered it. (This reminds me of a child born in Italy when Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley were living there with Byron and Clare Clairmont; it may have been Shelley’s by a maid servant.) Werefkin kept a dairy in French, published many years later, Lettres a un Inconnu, 1901-1905, mostly about art: there she asserted the principle of art seen as a kind of expression of one’s soul or of the internal world.

Kochman: Although Werefkin remained active in the avant-garde art community, she took a ten-year hiatus from painting between 1896 and 1906. The break in artistic production has been traditionally attributed to the attention she gave to advancing Jawlensky’s career, but it is also apparent that she needed the time to develop a new artistic language, as she moved away from the Realist style which had dominated her work in Russia.

She had a more personal style than these other people, seems to have felt her as a Russian ex-aristocrat something of an outsider. Here is a letter she wrote to her brother, Peter, after a visit back to Kovno in Russia: she looks at the city like as if she is making one of her paintings and reacts in an intensely ravaged way, both feeling revulsion from and in love with what she sees:

Convince yourself. Kovno is a treasure-trove for artists. It is gloomy, the lamps don’t make it lighter and the streets are getting darker. Their violet windows hover threateningly in the darkness. The elusive lines of low houses, on them—the glimmer of green and red flames—illuminating rows of shops. Bright green bright red stripes [all] fall on the violet sidewalk. And all those shadows are full of people who only speak about one thing, about love, in the dialect, Polish or broken Russian. Whispers and loud words touch the silence, like the green and red bands of light—the darkness of the night. Something terrible, terrible lies over everything, I feel a shudder, it seems I am in another world, far away from real life. I save myself in a church. Dark, empty. Lights flickering before icons. One sings everything that one has sung before in the past. Some black figures—and the heart is heavy. The tears take one’s breath away and the past rises up again. Home…In Peter’s office, my entire soul starts to ache for him, for that battle for everything that is sweet and good, which is called Russian life. Empty, empty in the house, no one. Whoever comes—doesn’t get his fill of him. And then such a heated rush of love rips out of the [visitor’s] heart, begging one’s pardon and forgetting the trouble behind, that the whole house swells. And I go to my room and stretch out my arms to the West—that it is far away [from here], that I will someday return. Outside those painful sensations—it is horrible to be before these people and their lives. Service and family troubles—a hard beginning, pay raise, promotion—sweet dreams, scandal—daily bread, and their happiness reminds me sweetly, of those who buy “for the people,” and whose food you wouldn’t put in your mouth. I think of Munich and of my health. All that is here is suffering and this horror of beauty and this horrible life and this overbearing literature, and the complete superfluousness of art.

Note how her father forbad her to marry on pain of losing her inheritance: he feared who she would marry. From her diary we can see how insecure she felt as a woman; that she had to try to see herself as man to justify her art. Yet her pictures are meant to be of ordinary people in familiar acts of everyday life. One reviewer at the time said of Werefkin’s pictures that “she catches quick, transitory moods, but beyond mere narrative, she creates rhythmic arrangements by large, strongly outlined color planes that cut into each other.” Werefkin did not date her paintings and they are dated by trying to trace her stylistic changes.

My sources were very vague about an illegitimate child that was born to a servant in her household, Jawlensky was the father: Fran has told the full story clearly in her comments. Perhaps reading Werefkin’s letters, her diary or about her friend, Gabriel Munter, a great painter in her own right (187701962) would turn up more information of about this private agon.

This rare photo of her, cheerful and unpretentious can startle someone who has been imagining her through her paintings alone — it comes from her later years and like Munter’s depiction of her can reassure us a bit

Werefkin seems to have stopped painting again in 1914 (having escaped the war to Switzerland); and broke off from Jawlensky in 1922 after 30 years of life together (again see the comments on this eventually cruel destructive partner). Honig writes that there are very few paintings from these later years; many disappeared shortly after her death in Ascona on 6 February 1938. Vigue says that Werefkin was rediscovered in the 1950s in Rome and Basel by the curator of the Wiesbaden Museum of Art at the time, Clemens Weiler. There is now a Von Werefkin Museum in Ascona, Switzerland.


WerefkinReturnHome (Large)
Return Home (1906)

Adrienne Kochman concentrates on the above painting at length — giving me the feeling that she too is drawn to certain specific pictures: I summarize and paraphrase: Werefkin’s work has “largely been defined by scholars in terms of her associations with Russian literary Symbolism and the Symbolist work of such French artists as Paul Gauguin, Paul Sérusier, and Emile Bernard.” But if she used their techniques (“flattened areas of color, highly saturated hues, and outlined forms”), she was painting about her German experience from the point of view of a Russian woman. She had had a successful career in Russia before she moved to Munich and then she was immersed in the Munich avante-garde. in her painting, as well as personal documents recording her interest in color, have directed analyses of her art in this manner. Werefkin’s artistic concerns however, were also filtered through the lens of her experience in Germany and her native Russian ethnicity. She led a successful artistic career in her Russian homeland in the late 1880s and early 1890s before resettling in Munich in 1896, and was actively engaged in that city’s avant-garde community, and cared about socio-political issues, the failure of the tsarist regime, the coming Russian revolution, the coming European conflagration.

The painting depicts some fifteen women walking down a city street in an unidentified urban setting. Street lamps provide some illumination in an orange-purple sky, casting irregular shadows on the buildings which line the sidewalk. All of the women wear black, shapeless, often hooded garments. They walk in a loose procession down the street alone and in pairs. Their movements appear heavy and slow-paced as they go laden with a child in arm, baskets full of goods and/or large white bundles. Their return home from marketing or laundering appears to be a regular if not daily ritual. The scene is haunting …One might read the red glow within the interior of each door as a suggestion that the home is the traditional center of love, hearth and passion—the domestic sphere dominated by women. The public space of the street outside the protected space of the interior is occupied by masculinized women. And yet, even the space of the street bears qualities of being a place “in between”—where these women are protected and somewhat enclosed. The high flattened walls flanking the low, red- lit buildings block the street from harsher natural elements, such as wind, suggesting there is an expanse beyond the geographic space of the picture plane which is even more raw. It is in this larger area that the world of men is located; it is the space where war is fought and men’s lives are lost.

Kochmann feels Werefkin felt her status as an unmarried woman from an imperialist background. Obviously she found the cityscape deeply “un-home-y” in Freud’s sense, haunting, eerie, disquieting. Her pictures are often of women as beasts of burden at the same time as the rhetoric she heard around her was deeply misogynistic: a woman artist was a “”manwoman;” they had gone against nature, [were] shirking their responsibility as wives and mothers. Around this time she also painted Black Women (see above) and Twins

Twins (1909)

In black, formless, hiding their sexuality, a kind of widowhood (regarded perhaps as shameful: to me there seems much self-hatred here:

From Kochmann: Two women dressed in mourning sit on a bench holding twin babies in their laps. The babies, contently swaddled in white, form a stark contrast to the women, whose strained grimaces suggest the hardship of raising children alone and the pain of losing a spouse. Werefkin suggests the cycle of life, as the babies come to represent the future and continuation of the family, the women situated in the middle as bringing up the children, and the deceased fathers, as part of the past.


I found helpful a stirring perceptive essay on recent paintings in the NYRB by Jed Pert, “The Perils of Painting Now 62:14 (Sept 24, 2015):55-57, where Perl argues that all paintings are timebound, the general pictorial style of an age a mirror of contemporary turmoil through which the individual artist expresses sincere private feelings and emotions, what matters (he follows Trilling in his essay on “Sincerity and Authenticity”) is how the artist expresses his or her inner experiences, the ambiguities of personal life through a social medium; time-bound styles are public social avowals through which an autonomous self expresses a vision. Yes, this is so for Werefkin.

Yet when we look at the paintings of Werefkin’s years once she goes to Munich they speak to our immediate time: the women are perpetual émigrés, outside the emotional and geographical circle of home — rather like Werefkin. There is Kochmann’s reading of the bereft sense in Return Home: not belonging anywhere; she is no longer part of, a long way from Sunday Afternoon in Spring. She paints pictures as as fearful and nightmarish as Munch’s The Scream, yet more engulfing, a maelstrom:


But maybe she was not bereft. Maybe she was relieved not to have to belong. If what was on offer for the outsider couple was not any kind of Arcadia, it was better than what was experienced inside these circles and lines of people. Here is her couple grown out now old in a Turner-like landscape:

thm_le_dos_a_la_vie_ruecken_lebenWerefkin (Large)

This is Jawlensky’s insightful picture of Werefkin in her prime: look at the expression on her face:


Werefkin’s of a friend, Rosalie Leiss, painted in the same style, only using lines much much more:

Marianne von Werefkin - Portrait of Rosalia Leiss


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Philip Glenister as Wm Stafford curtly asking Mary Boleyn to be his wife (The Other Boleyn Girl, 2003)

Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn, in the tower, awaiting beheading (The Other Boleyn Girl 2008)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I’ve been listening to Simon Vance read Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies so effectively that I returned to re-watching the 2008 Other Boleyn Girl film and part of the 2015 mini-series Wolf Hall. And now after several Tudor films this year I’d not watched before, and a number of non-fiction as well as fiction books on the actors and/or milieus of this area, how the Renaissance era is seen from contemporary documents. I’ve also come up with with an fresh idea that might help explain the popularity of this era. For why after all should the murderous and sexually insecure impulses of a half-mad King Henry VIII deserve a moment’s attention.

It’s this: the appeal of this Tudor Matter comes from its unacknowledged freedom to present masculinity in ways that undermine norms for men either in costume, manners or sexual behavior since the later 19th century, and tell real truths about fluid sexual desire and what worldly ambition may necessitate. hese “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance dream-themes,” screenplays and films expose men caught up in situations where their masculine pride is directly hit. They kneel to strong women, and their swords are rendered irrelevant when it comes to the power of money, religion and the king. The origin of this is in the period: men were flamboyantly dressed, the poetry and plays of the era demonstrate how they defied sexual taboos by enacting enthrallment, abjection, and sensitivity; when aristocrats or courtiers or businessmen (lending money) or soldiers, they were at direct risk from monarchs with the power to execute them with impunity. There were a number of women who came to power and used it effectively: Catherine de Medici in France, Elizabeth I in England are only among the most famous and powerful; there are many minor levels of power and victimage. Historical fiction and gothics picked up on this strain beginning with later 18th century gothics (Sophia Lee’s The Recess, 1783) and Walter Scott (Kenilworth and The Abbot among many others), and have not let up since; films took this over in both the US and UK from The Prisoner of Zenda on, and especially in the Errol Flynn and Gainsborough movies. Stewart Grainger is with us still in Ross Poldark.

Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) has been credited with putting new characters into the familiar mapped territory: George and Mary Boleyn. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel has for a wider public transformed the character of Thomas Cromwell (it began in the scholarship of Geoffrey Elton and Marilyn Robertson, 1970s-89) from the monster of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons into another kind of empathetic hero-monster, a fixer and businessman and intellectual coerced into cooperation, co-opted like many today feel they are. for myself I bond intensely with Mary Boleyn, and have ever wanted to read more about the so-called “minor” women of the court, from the French Jeanne d’Albret (mother of Henry IV who said Paris was worth a mass) to Katherine Parr. It’s the first age where we find numbers of women educated and writing letters and poetry and drama.

Beyond this I am just fascinated by bringing Elizabethan-set movies together, and looking to see what is their dramaturgy; what new did this movie contribute to the Tudor Matter, what new techniques did it use. I want to watch the older Elizabethan movies and trace the changes in movies about Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart, from Scott. I get the impression the 18th century was more stuck in frozen gender types than the age before or ours since. I find myself looking at the paintings of the Renaissance era to see where ideas and images came from for each decade of the 20th and 21st.

Ana Torrent as Katharine of Aragon (Other Boleyn Girl, 2008)

The 2003 film is peculiarly fascinating for the way it also defies dramaturgical norms: Andrew Davies is credited as adviser and this script has the characters speak directly to us; the focus of the story is inward shattering of participants. Who are these: Anne and Mary Boleyn, with George around the edges of their talk .The 2008 film was a commercially successful costume extravaganza, whose historical adviser was Gregory herself, whose characters in this film strongly feminist film: beyond the Boleyn Girls, the remarkable Ana Torrent for Katherine of Aragon, Kristin Scott Thomas for Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother of the two beheaded children. The agonies of childbirth are presented repeatedly. I found these two women writhing under their lack of power yet so strong. The makers of Wolf Hall have had the daring to give us a new Elizabethan revenge play, with Anne Boleyn as a cool and transgressive stealth tragic heroine, and Cromwell a driven Hamlet.

Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn, aggressively keen archer, POV Cromwell (2015 Wolf Hall)


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Caspar Friedrich, Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818-22, a detail)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m gratified to be able to report the Times Literary Supplement has published a review of Valancourt Press’s edition of once the most rare of the Northanger Abbey gothics, Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine; where I come in for praise for my introduction. I quote from part of Julie Peakman’s review (TLS, October 9, 2015, p 26)

Little was known about the author until recently, except for an incorrect suggestion by Michael Sadleir that she was a Roman Catholic, based purely on the Catholic sentiment in her writings. Recent research by Becky Czlapinski and Eric C. Wheeler has discredited the idea; she was in fact a Protestant, born Eleanor Carter (1770-1847), lived in Leicestershire. and married at twenty-one. Her husband. a military doctor called Joseph Barnabas Sleath, died four weeks after the death of her first child in 1794. leaving her bereft and in debt.

Peakman retells of Eleanor’s liaison with an already married clegyman, John Dudley, and how it connects to “a creative period for her:”: between 1809 and 1811, she published The Bristol Heiress, The Nocturnal Minstrel and Pyrenean Banditti. She married Dudley in 1823 after the death of his wife. After recounting the stereotypical gothic elements of the story, Peakman goes on to highlight some of the novel’s strongest features:

Sleath describes the wildness of the natural Iandscape, with its rugged rocks and dark, horrifying forests, in detail. The moon is ever-present as the mists waft over the darkened skies, and mysterious spectres glide through unlit corridors.

She makes the mistake of seeing the back-stories as secondary to the book. To quote from my introduction:

Large swathes of Sleath’s novel are given over to tranquil stories of Madame Chamont who we first meet as Julie de Rubiné (an allusion to Mackenzie’s novel Julia da Roubigné), as a mother nurturing and educating a boy, Enrico de Montferrat, and girl baby, Laurette whose true parentage are learned at the book’s close.  This boy and girl emerge as the ostensible central pair of characters who experience a Longus-like Daphnis and Chloe (Greek, 2nd century romance) semi-incestuous erotic childhood that becomes a shared adolescent love … Some of its paradigms do recall particular obsessions in Radcliffe: e.g, the dark father-lover who seeks to murder his daughter-niece and worldly callous aunt, and a ghost is explained away, but the one character who stays in the narrative from beginning to end is the older woman, the romance’s mother.  Madame Chamont stands in for Sleath.  The book’s back stories often parallel Madame Chamont’s and project many intense retreats into solitude from the severe calamities of the social world that we find in the main narrative. Gothics lend themselves to psychoanalytical parallels, but it is intriguing to note that, like Madame Chamont, the book’s true central male character is the Conte della Croisse (called LaRoque).  Della Croisse is the most carefully delineated complicated male character who Madame Chamont comes upon early in the book, and who keeps turning up at hinge-points in the plot-design, and himself gradually presents a believably mixed personality (amoral with virtuous impulses). Like Madame Chamont, at this point LaRoque seems at a central male (it is he whom she hears being tortured) …

The second half of my introduction tells the story of Eleanor Sleath’s life. The first half (which I quoted from above) is written in academic style and really tells of how the book is mostly misunderstood (it’s not a German horror story but rather Radcliffian – imitating and inspired by Radcliffe) and how the older main characters — a woman and man he mother and the unmarried priest — reflect Sleath’s life. It’s common to think that women in the earlier period lived these chaste obedient dull lives: they wisely hid themselves. She is typical in being widowed young, though the first husband died too quickly to make her endlessly pregnant and leave her with too many children. In this era they did know of contraceptive methods, but often people didn’t use them.

Sleath was part of the same milieu as Austen; since we now know of this life of hers, its events and hiding makes me wonder what we don’t know of Austen’s. Was Austen so closely chaperoned that she never came near any of Sleath’s experiences? probably. Unlike Austen, Sleath was freed by a marriage and widowhood.

Then what probably happened was the woman had a stillborn child by this clergyman out of wedlock (who La Roque is surrogate for) — very dangerous in this period because of what she could have been accused of. Being middle class with connections she was able to hush it up. A dead husband, two dead babies, and an intense love affair. And one result of all this were these books. (Peakman calls the love affair “ill-advised:” by whose criteria?)

My introduction does not say Sleath probably had this stillborn child or very bad miscarriage, only refers to the rumors that she had one and how this hurt her position with her “friends” and broke up the coterie. It’s speculation I can put here.

But Peakman is right that for “a modern-day reader accustomed to a linear narrative,” these may seem a distraction instead of what they are: the core of the novel.

She concludes however that

while the novel is by no means high literature, it makes for good bed-time reading. It is also fun to understand what the eighteenth-century reader was enjoying. This new edition, with an informative foreword by Professor Ellen Moody, is a valuable addition to the modern study of a work formerly all but lost to public view.

I hope this review helps sell The Orphan of the Rhine, and my introduction makes Sleath’s narrative content and the book’s autobiographical context better understood.

I look forward eagerly to when Valancourt publishes my edition of of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake, where I prepared the text itself, wrote explanatory notes as well as an introduction. We are promised the coming spring.

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491


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Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn, pregnant by Stafford, preparing bundles for the road-journey from court, POV Jessica Raine as Jane Lady Rochford (Peter Straughan-Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall 2015)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve returned to the Tudor Matter these past couple of days, finally finishing Alison Weir’s biography, Mary Boleyn, having read two more books on Anne Boleyn, and watching several times Phillipa Lowthorpe’s daring and free film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Barring none, including Wolf Hall, Lowthorpe’s film is the most original of the films with Anne Boleyn as stealth or obvious heroine (which began in the 1960s with the no longer tenably watchable Anne of the Thousand Days).

Natasha McElhone as Mary Boleyn, POV Jodhi May as Anne Boleyn (The Other Boleyn Girl, scripted and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, 2003)

Lowthorpe’s film is totally different in feel and angle, deeply inward in its approach. Andrew Davies is listed as one of the film editors; well what happens in this as in other of his films, is that central character address us regularly; the character faces us, the assumed audience, directly and tells us their innermost emotions, is ironic, pleads with us, justifies themselves.

The 2003 Other Boleyn skips most of the outward pageant scenes we are so familiar with; it assumes we know the history, or the broad outlines, ad we hear of what’s going on off-stage, as this person beheaded, that falls from power to poverty, the accusation of Anne, the trial, the outcome. The film zeros in on the inner worlds of the two Boleyn Sisters and partly George. Outstanding performances (as usual) by Jodhi May (an unsung great actress) and Steven Mackintosh (he also doesn’t get his due, he was terrifying in Prime Suspect and perfect in Sandy Welch’s Our Mutual Friend, just the right amount of fearful tyranny for Lady Audley’s Secret). What we see is how twisted is the psychology, how neurotic and desperate and how Anne Boleyn is driven to become amoral early on – the young girl punished for allowing a love affair with Harry Percy to proceed to informal betrothal and bed, and she is exiled to be left utterly solitary, in poverty, and to empty hours at the cold Hever Castle for a long while. She learns her morality and lessons from the like of father and uncle. We have many scenes where either Mary or Anne faces, focuses on what seems to be us, spilling out their reflections and intense agons, resentments, despairs. Mary escapes not only death but a hard life — this is romance history — because Stafford loves her and she learns to love him and when she marries him. It is documented in the histories that this was so at least initially and perhaps for the rest of their lives together. The second time Stafford married, it appears it was also for love! The exile gives Mary space and time because she has Stafford with her, the house they live in, her two children probably by Henry, to become someone different, at peace far more. While at court, when she was coerced into becoming Henry VIII’s mistress and cuckolding the willing but agonized Carey she is going in the direction of Anne’s ruthless amorality, and (this is said to be in enough records, and is dramatized in the 2008 movie and Wolf Hall, then replacing Anne in bed while Anne was pregnant and Henry could not do without a bedmate each night.

Lowrthorne’s sexuality is not focused on genitals, not violent, but affectionate, sensual over skin, very physical — there is few shots on womens breasts, it’s rather sensual, lots arms and hands, and soft focus, the couples’ backs.

Unlike Justin Chadwick and Peter Morgan in their 2008 The Other Boleyn Girl,

Other Boleyn GirlJohannsson
Scarlett Johannsson as Mary Boleyn watching Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford from afar (The Other Boleyn Girl, Morgan and Chadwick, 2008)

Lowthorpe ignored Gregory a lot. She makes Mary the older for example, she takes liberties and cuts out Mary’s first child, a girl (Alison Weir thinks this girl was Henry 8’s) and her boy is said to be Henry 8’s. Lowthorpe turns George Boleyn into a deeply anxious sycophantic hero on foot, he has to be driven into having sex with Anne, his sister, and does, to get her pregnant yet a third time — ended in a nonviable still born male fetus, January 1536. In the depiction of George, Lowthorne defies masculine stereotypes at the same time as she does not make him a homosexual man. Lowthorpe suggests what thus far the biographies I’ve read have not — (except for Mantel from an outside perspective), that Anne was sexually transgressive now and again lightly, and then went to bed with George because after her third miscarriage she felt she must produce a son and Henry was the problem. Court life encouraged this.

When this film eschewed the actual beheading, and instead fast forwarded to 2015 to show us the square plaque commemorating to see bas relief sculptures, I was taught there is a voyeuristic fascination, a kind of sadism being fed by these beheadings. There was no obligatory scene of a women terrified to death. We fast forward to the present and where there is apparently a stone which marks the place where AB was executed and we see people looking at it.

This one won no awards and so has no feature — it’s budget was less than the other and it shows at moments — some minor actors for roles we needed better actresses at (Katharine of Aragon). Lowthorne’s is very much a woman’s film, with the three Boleyn children as in the 2008 movie shown playing games together in the fields as in 2003 the young adults are half making imply if they can stop the king. The season turned and cyclically returns to that.

As in 2003 Boleyn Girl: Anne and Mary in the tower as Anne awaits her execution


I’ve offered three actresses as Mary to emphasize how no one knows at all if any of the portraits said to be of Mary Boleyn are of her; those said to be of Anne are at least less hesitantly so. Also that Gregory’s putting Mary back into the tapestry, the carpet of history is was key step in transforming the way we tended to see the story, and led to this new flowering and new points of view on the old material. What I’ve come away with is how little we know and how we must remain sceptical even as we see this interpretation matters and that needs rectification. So briefly, Bernard’s and Ives’s books on Anne Boleyn and Alison Weir on Mary.

Hever Castle, Kent, became the seat of the Boleyns

While away I read G. W. Bernard’s iconcoclastic (nowadays) Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions where he argues she was guilt of sexually transgressive behavior with the male courtiers surrounding her and Henry, or at least some of them. He makes a strong case for arguing this is as probable as all the insistence she was not at all; the problem is he is so successfully sceptical by the end of the book — like Alison Weir’s on Mary — I am so aware of how little we can know for sure. Thomas Cromwell’s life in comparison is hugely documented: since he wrote and did so much in public. What is so refreshing is how he acts on the kind of scepticism Weir tries to follow. A good deal of his book proves we know nothing about Anne Boleyn and Ives’s too has invented continuously.

Kristin Scott Thomas’s enactment of Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Anne’s mother, seems much closer to Ives’s portrait of Anne than any of the four I’ve seen (2008 Other Boleyn Girl)

Eric Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Like many writers about early modern to mid-18th century women he attributes agency where there is no proof of any. This is a great problem in studies of earlier women. So we are told that Margaret of Austria was Anne Boleyn’s teacher and Ives proceeds to analyze all he knows of Margaret’s accomplishments. Anne was a lady at Margaret’s court — to jump to the idea she was taught as if this were a governness is overdoing this. He doesn’t say this of Claude because the personality of the woman stops him.

Ives is much too partisan. He wants to keep Anne sexually uninvolved wherever possible. As a long reader of Renaissance poetry I know how old are the traditions of insisting much of what was written in verse was posing. Well without arguing this at length here (I can’t) a lot is not. A hellvua lot. Ives wants Anne to be too artful, too manipulative — she was more than Mary. He then in effects disdains Mary as this easy lay. Mantel at least respects her — as do I — for her later choices. He just dismissed Warnke — probably because she’s such an overt feminist.

The archive is anything but forthcoming and unbiased, by a combination of his reasoning, myriad sources to me is convincing: he sees Anne as centrally led out of her own political needs for allies and also her own education, bent, reading, to move into Protestant doctrine, foremost of course is to throw off the pope and allow Henry to be supreme head and thus marry her. He often relies on Chapuys, the Emperor’s spy-ambassador. Ives does go into the sex: he sees the problem of Henry not having an heir a function of Henry’s own sexual anxiety, incompetence, let’s call it repression from childhood. Mantel does not go that far but she does pick up on Henry’s potential hatred for Anne because she so held him off and it was in front of others, and how she did domineer at least until the first miscarriage and it became clear that it was probable that an heir was unlikely. Henry liked Jane Seymour’s passivity and wanted to believe her a virgin.

Most men will not countenance a continuing and especially an exclusive relationship with a woman who cannot or will not fuck, and where I depart from Ives is I wonder how much of Anne’s holding out was her fear of sex — the whole repressive Catholic background, the denigration of sex as lust, evil women doing it outside marriage, of pregnancy and childbirth, and if she did encourage Henry to use anal intercourse that suggests to me that’s a motive (as well as no contraceptives) I wonder if that played a part in how she allured by Henry because she was aggressive. Ives goes over how few women Henry had between Katharine and Anne, how Mary’s two children first appeared after she married Carey. Now Mantel has Henry VIII hating Anne Boleyn for refusing to fuck for so many years until they were near married — and that came out afterwards when no son resulted.

Ives lays out the three ways to take Cromwell that are now common; before Mantel’s book the 3rd was known only to scholars of the era (p. 150): 1) a fixer, hit man for others; 2) bureaucrat, brilliant politician, the archetype staff officer, very strong; 3) “a perceptive statesman, the original mind which reallocated the atomic weights in the periodical table of English politics” (I’d add religion as practiced in churches)

Very interesting is Ives’s account of why Anne was so disliked: yes other women disliked Henry’s dumping his wife, but there was real fear of revolt; Anne was often blamed for what Henry or Cromwell or More did: the brutality of the torture, the executions – and we may exaggerate because Cromwell was so good at gathering evidence so he could head off conspiracies. New taxes on churches, of course all those kicked out hated her; she was the bad adviser before Cromwell took her place. Her real fault was she didn’t have a son because had that happened all would have become silent around her. Ives is good at showing early signs of trouble in the marriage even before the first miscarriage. One must get past the long sections (half-skimming) where we are regaled (it must be) with all the ceremonies, rituals, gifts given and received the are connected to and with Anne. The more revealing objects are the paintings she is said to have caused to be painted – there is a real problem proving agency but some of this is persuasive . Realistic psychological paintings can tell a great deal if they have symbolic images readily interpreted by Ives. She did revel in being queen, in the court life she had garnered for herself.

But sometimes Ives rejects documentary evidence because what it says doesn’t suit him. Mary not ejected out of jealousy (from successful sex with Henry, from sheerly having gotten pregnant but because Mary did not try to marry up – the idea here is Anne wanted to present the family as having all these nobles in their midst. Mantel does not discount that in Mary’s tirade in Wolf Hall, but obviously she goes more for the depths of human jealousy and resentment because Mary got pregnant. Mantel opts for the latter. If image creation was Anne’s aim it was counterproductive as jewels and ceremonies just roused more resentment; it did not work to make her queen, something deeper afoot.

But most interesting to me was I suddenly came upon a stretch where Ives was trying to discuss the nature of Anne Boleyn’s religious faith. It was exactly the sort of material I labored for years on in Vittoria Colonna, found in Marguerite de Navarre, and Rene of Ferrra, not to omit Jeanne D’Abret. Anne owned manuscript epistles by Jacques D’Etaples, called Evangelical at the time but we might see this as mystique subjective stuff encouraging self-examination; he finds exchanges of manscripts of poems in this vein (between Colonna and Marguerite it was Colonna’s poems though Marguerite wrote her own more medieval like versions of them). I felt astonished and recognized the same problem Ives faced: how do you attribute this to the woman? What can she have liked this for? To tell the change from good works to faith doesn’t come near it. I suggest the analogy is women reading Rousseau: he thought women mattered and his treatises were taken as attempt to lay claim to their valid subjectivity.

Ives shows that George Boleyn wrote a dedication to his sister of a present of Tyndale to her: in this we see an intense closeness of feeling between them. Maybe they never came to sex, but I can see why Henry might find something disturbing here. Ives suggests the whole Boleyn family were a “hotbed” of Protestantism of this kind – I know from reading elsewhere Cranmore was and Anne was all for his high office, he supported her as far as he dared; he was one of those Mary burned – he was involved in trying to place Jane Grey on the throne.

I have never come across an adequate explication of what these women got out of these kinds of materials. In Colonna’s case mostly men afterwards have talked of her relationship with Pole and gone on to him, and deprecated her flagellations. She did flagellate herself – as did Wolsey
Some insight which translates the religious language into secular psychology is needed. Ives mentions the “fierce passions” that drew Henry and Anne together – their bedrooms were set up across a hall from one another before marriage but we haven’t got an equivalent of Freud to parse these women.

While it is very moving and a consistent portrait of Anne emerges from the book that shows her to have been (to use Cromwell’s words about her quoted as having been said by him shortly after she was executed) a woman of “spirit, intelligence, courage,” I don’t think his explanation of what happened at the end quite holds up. In a nugget, he fails to explain how a woman who in April at least seemed fully in control of her position and loved by the King enough, could by May be executed by him — along with 5 other men, all of them close to Henry. His inability to come to a satisfactory explanation comes from his refusal to see Anne as anything but innocent of all sexual transgression. There are a couple of significant holes in his long book and story. First he does not tell us what Anne said so hysterically when she went to pieces upon being taken to the tower.

Second he does not tell us what Kingston said in a letter about Anne while in the tower — it may be these letters are no longer extent but he does quote the Lisle letters repeatedly otherwise (keepers of the tower) and I’ve discovered another book which has Anne as sexually transgressive with her male courtiers seems to — by G.W. Bernard and I’ve bought that one now. If the letters don’t exist, then there is plenty of hearsay at the time about what the letters said.

He omits (as I’ve said) the accusation of sorcery which is the old accusation of how she betwitched him, but was at the time seen as his reaction to the two miscarriages and the foetus dying which was said to have been male. He does this partly to dismiss Retha Warnke’s book which he repeatedly calls nonsense. He cannot even get himself to talk about her idea that homsexual behavior went on between Anne’s male courtiers which included her brother, George.

The origin of this in the book goes back to his reading of the poetry of the early part of Anne’s time at the Tudor court which he refuses to admit has any sexual reality. He won’t have her having gotten into serious engagement (sex and a vow) with Henry Percy Northumberland. He won’t allow sex to have happened between her and Wyatt.

He will allow that she and her courtiers indulged in ugly and dangerous ridicule of the king’s prowess, that she flirted in the way of courtiers at the time, and got too familiar or too close with the men in her entourage, and that this ignited all Henry’s deep hurt, humiliation, anxiety.

He does suggest that Henry’s desire for a male heir and Henry’s inability to produce one is at the core of all that happened. So it is this humiliated resentful male with lethal power — and it has to be remembered he inflicted dreadful deaths on four of the men, a terrifying one (beheading) on George and Anne Boleyn. Everyone just stands there and let’s Henry’s power do it. One of the reviewers said we have to remember that Henry’s power was so tenuous that’s why he fell to axing people but it does not seem tenuous when he can have people burnt, drawn and quartered and axed to death.

Ives’s explanation has to rest on Cromwell; Cromwell emerges in this book as suddenly turning on the woman he had been serving for years. Ives has Cromwell as serving Anne more than the king in changing the kingdom into protestantism, not credibile really — even if she had a personal religion and books that resemble other queens of the era. Cromwell in a ruthless way concocts out of rumor and nothingness the whole fabric and makes it stick even endlessly denied by all but Smeaton (who was the core of the evidence, admitting to adultery with Anne, saying the others did this too, a miserable role no matter how you see his motives). Ives says people did dislike Brereton who had deliberately hung someone a jury in his district had first declared not guilty (that is in Wolf Hall and in the film). Cromwell killed her lest he be killed; he felt himself in danger but even here, we are left with why? Why did Cromwell suddenly feel so threatened? Ives goes over the politics and uncertainties over the emperor, and the French king, Mantel has it Henry let Cromwell know he wanted to get rid of Anne after she had the second miscarriage and he had started his liaison with Jane Seymour so Cromwell, fearful but reluctant (over Anne and one of the men, Weston), acted

Cromwell is Ives’s great villain of these 6 weeks — loading the jury with people utterly hostile to Anne, with one man dependent on him, but 96 people said guilty and many of them were not Cromwell creatures. Those biographies of Cromwell I’ve read or am reading work hard to counter or explain away this perspective (Tracy Boorman, John Schofield).

The reviewers of Ives’s book most admired his sections where the social construction thesis is strong: how Anne manipulated the court, her image, rose to power this way. Here my objection is these images she manipulated were believed in, she was supposed to be a numinous figure. All collapsed so suddenly that my idea of the phoniness of all this as seen through is plausible (to me). The other version of why it is all collapsed is that no one could accept her in the way they did women coming from regal numinous families. Ives thinks it’s the latter (not that the images were religiously intertwined) and that all her power resided in Henry’s favor if we are talking for real. He says that the courtcraft she rose to power on did her in.

Maybe it’s the sordidness of the sex and motives all round that is so hard for Ives to accept and see as explaining what happened — Mantel infers or insinuates this and her use of fiction (reminding me of the debate on Lolita) allows her to suggest this without making it explicit.


Blickling Hall, Norfolk where Mary, Anne and George Boleyn were probably all born

Two flaws in Alison Weir’s book: first, as with so many of these people writing on earlier sexually transgressive women, like Ives and Warnke, she is adamently opposed to accepting any tenuous evidence of most of Mary Boleyn’s presumed sexual life. When she says there no evidence whatsoever for an affair with Francois I, there is equally no evidence for other of assertions about the Boleyn family’s motives. Having a little expertise in this area in the sense that I spent a few years reading these often lurid gossip kind of material (chronicles, letters, diaries) for Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, I know that often that is what evidence we have for women apart from biological and documentary entries (property changes) and their letters are few and often guarded, or censored. That Mary may have been promiscuous does not mean we have to call her a whore. I don’t. I recognize she’s coerced in part — as I see prostitutes. Second, Weir’s style. Someone said of one of Weir’s long books: a “great puddle of a book.” I’ll say. She will say the same obvious truism over and over,and she repeats evidence in a circle. She hasn’t got a style — I’m relieved there’s none of the different jargons in Ives or Warnke, but that does not make for entertaining reading.

Still Weir is so conscientious and goes over every smidgin of evidence that from her work you can erect a chronology and come up with an probable outline of Mary’s life. It’s interesting to me that four women who recur in these costume dramas provided powerful people after they retreated, were forced out or died: Edward Jane’s son was king for a time and he was important in preventing a total catholic take-over; Mary Tudor became queen but it was too late and she was too bloody, Elizabeth Tudor became queen and the two Lord Hunsdons from Mary Carey Strafford.

There exists a startling long and frank letter from Mary to Cromwell after her pregnancy and marriage to Stafford was found out. She was literally turned out of court with no money; Weir’s hard work and scepticism makes a strong case for the couple going to Calais and living there for some 6 years because Stafford had an appointment as a guard there and is found in records for these years there. But what was so dismaying was how she treated this letter: sheerly from the standpoint that Mary should have written the letter as a manipulative document, not openly showing emotion and realities that are (I know) so rare in letters until the 18th century when there is suddenly a extraordinary break-through and you get whole sets of letters where women (and sometimes) men too open their vulnerable lives up to one another.

Among other things the letter testifies to the rightness of Mantel’s instinctive positive treatment of Cromwell. It’s clear Mary feels assured the man has a heart. Weir assumes that he didn’t like this letter or disdained it because there is no record that anything was done for her; that does not mean Cromwell didn’t try — he was super-careful when it came to protecting himself in this lethal court. John Schofield’s Cromwell (a recent biographer) is a man who a woman could write such a letter to as Mary Boleyn wrote.

Weir quotes a few other people on this letter: they also disdain it. No one doubts its authenticity. There exists only one short letter by Anne Boleyn; if we had anything like the equivalent for Anne it would be well know and I suggest would made people defend Anne more — paradoxically as writers would probably equally disapprove.

My speculation or inference is that Mary is despised still because she did fail in her court career and because for all Weir’s hard work, people believe she was sexually available to men “too easily.” Weir won’t have her as a “great whore” but she does not respect her. Gregory tries to — and I wonder if some of her inaccuracies are her attempts to tone down the woman’s lack of success as this is understood by most. She did survive and there is enough evidence she was happy in her closing years, made her choice herself and courageously but what her choice was won’t do.

Not only does Weir’s case against Mary having intense sexual involvements with someone in France and again with Henry VIII fall down, but her own appendices seem to me to demonstrate beyond any doubt that Katharine Carey and Henry Carey, Mary Boleyn’s two children were Henry VIII’s — the way they and their children and children’s children were treated seems to me to have no other explanation. Weir admits to the probability of Katharine; what stops her from agreeing to Henry is that for her to have had two children by Henry shows an extended sex life and she wants to say Henry stopped having sex with Mary rather quickly. She will admit only the briefest of sex outside marriage episodes for Mary.

In Mantel Henry keeps Mary as a side-mistress, concubine really for when Anne is pregnant. The accurate phrase for these women who are at court and go to bed with these powerful kings is concubine. They are tantamount to slaves, their bodies endlessly available to men at court whom their families want to aggrandize with.

Henry Carey, later Lord Hunsdon, favored by Elizabeth, Lord Chamberlain (probably Henry VIII’s son, and thus Elizabeth’s half-brother and cousin)

Katherine Carey, later Lady Knollys, lived close to Elizabeth all their lives (Henry VIII’s daughter, and thus Elizabeth’s half-sister and cousin)

If I’m right (and Philippa Gregory has both of Mary’s children Henry’s), then it helps explain Henry’s intense sudden hatred of Anne. She excluded him until he betrothed himself to. Since he can sire children and healthy ones with other women (her sister for one), it must be he has 1) angered God in his choices, and 2) what was wrong with choosing Anne was she was sexually unchaste or not a virgin when he finally had her — and all the while she was refusing him. He looked at he courtiers and Leontes-like went into a crazed rage. Leontes in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale comes partly from Henry VIII as he was known about and Hermione’s speech is a piece with Katharine. That Shakespeare was gripped by the private aspects of the Henry VIII debacles is seen in his repeating it in his Henry VIII in part. Who then was the father of the stillborn baby Anne perhaps produced in summer 1535. Her brother who had aided and abetted her and been given so many financial plums.

Ta Nehisi-Coates writes and says that American black people, especially men walk around with bodily fear; it seems to me that all women until the 19th century and since only a (growing) minority can feel their bodies are their own, safe from invasion.

Chronology and outline of Mary Boleyn’s life (see comments)

As in 2008 Other Boleyn Girl: Wm Stafford freely chosen by and choosing Mary Boleyn, for love, and her two children (above) by Henry


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