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Archive for May, 2016

StephenFryde
Stephen Frye as Mr Johnson coping with Jenn Murray as Lady Lucy Manwarring and Xavier Samuel as Reginald de Courcy (2016 Love and Friendship, scripted and directed by Whit Stillman)

Dear friends and readers,

I confess to a real let-down and disappointment upon my first viewing of the film. Since Love and Friendship is a Stillman film. Given the high literary quality of his scripts, and depth of emotion he invested Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco with, I assumed he’d do real justice to the sardonic nature of the central hypocrite, Lady Susan (played by an almost unrecognizable Kate Beckinsale — since her face-life her face resembles that of a Barbie doll) and her real potential destructiveness (however thwarted by her lack of money and need of other people’s and their houses) and perniciously cold and egoistic values. I knew it would not be presented as an “inverted protest novel” (the way I had read it recently).

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Beckinsale as Lady Susan – a rare moment in the clear light

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From The Last Days of Disco when Beckinsale had some character in her face and Sevigny was thinner
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Beckinsale as a bright hard mean Emma with Samantha Morton as a comically sensitive Harriet (1996 Emma by Andrew Davies)

I’d just taught Lady Susan, so could not easily forget, how hard, mean, at moments raw (towards her daughter, Frederica) Austen’s Lady Susan reveals herself to be in her letters to her confidante, Alicia Johnson (played by Chloe Sevigny whom I regret to say is as wooden and incapable of conveying a witty line as ever — she twice throws away “what man could deserve you” saying straight). The single moment of steel in the 92 minutes was supplied by Stephen Frye as Alicia’s husband: when Mr Johnson sees his wife still in a close relationship with Lady Susan (which he has strictly forbidden) and is confronted with the helpless and therefore hysterical grief of Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray) whose husband is adulterously entangled with Lady Susan, he informs hers that he understands the weather in crossing the Atlantic this year is tough. (She has told Lady Susan Mr Johnson threatens to remove her from Lady Susan by taking her back to Connecticut if she does not stopping seeing this friend.)

Yes, Alicia Johnson is made into an American. Ang Lee and James Schamus are on record since their The Wedding Banquet if you want big funding from an American company, especially in the case of costume drama seen as having a smaller audience, a woman’s film in the first place, you are pressured into having one American character. American producers cannot believe the average American will like a film that has no American in it. Thus recently Julian Fellowes made Miss Dunstable in the self-consciously costum-y Dr Thorne improbably into an American.

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Sevigny as Alicia (the promotional stills photograph her from a distance or angle)

Instead he has opted for slow artifice, insistence on playful theatricality (each character is announced in a still with their name written across their face, and their familial or work relationship with the other characters), a full-scale imitation or throw-back to 1970s BBC mini-series costume dramas. Everyone and everything is dressed or outfitted, decorated super-elegantly, not just Laura Ashley style but the hats are pure Gainsborough films (1940s costume dramas rather like Saul Dobbs’s The Duchess). The non-sourced music is often 18th century and as ironic background to the closing marriages, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Sometimes he seemed to be imitating Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s super-successful 1996 bejewelled Sense and Sensibility. Xavier Samuel as Reginald de Courcy’s stiff body gestures, his pained facial expressions, the occasional astonishment reminded me of Hugh Grant’s Edward, only Hugh Grant at the close does suddenly invest his character with a depth of tender affection nowhere felt or seen in this movie.

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Catherine de Courcy (Emma Greenwell) and Reginald Vernon

Stillman imitates the many walking scenes in Sense and Sensibility too. This is what a Jane Austen movie is supposed to be many of its fans feel; this is what they go for: emasculated men, women so gussied up to rape anyone would take excruciating efforts over corsets first. And both times I went I could see the audience was pleased: Beckinsale changed outfits almost every time we saw her, some of them quite lovely, especially her impeccably unruffled hats and curls. It is a relief after the alpha male, action-adventure movies crowding theaters with their 11 second scenes, non-literate scripts, and token women acting as male as their sexual roles permit.

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Those reviews which have been favorable have picked up on this unbroken surface, these masks. For example, Adam Thirkwell’s Unserious Austen. Thirkwell is one of those who believes Lady Susan is a work of a teenager (the hagiography that surrounds Austen makes it possible to attribute this kind of sophisticated understanding of the nuances and circumstances surrounding adultery to an 18 year old) and looking at Stillman’s other films, Thirkwell reads the film as about the seriousness of surface; the insistence that the way to live life is by staying shallow, encasing yourself in the frivolous, to be unserious and insist anyone with an emotional attachment that is unchangeable is deluded: that is to take Lady Susan’s view of the world as accurate, or good enough, a way of getting through the actual coldness, meanness, mercenary motives of everyone else.

Except that Metropolitan, Last Days and Barcelona are rather about happiness coming from the integrity of the heart, from intelligent people seeing the limitatons of say worldly success (a great concern of Metropolitan is where you will be placed by your mid-30s). A few essays in Mark G Henrie’s collection of essays on Stillman’s films, Doomed Bourgeois in Love, argue that Stillman is highly unusual not only for his open identification with and interest in the upper class, but because his films are ironic Christian comedies. He is a thinking Christian and sees Austen as an optimistic ethical writer.

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An unusually emotional scene: Lady de Courcy (Jemma Redgrave) and Catherine Vernon meeting Frederica (Morfyyd Clark) (not in Lady Susan but implied)

Thirkwell omitted a series of scenes not in Lady Susan, and certainly not the lines: except for the local vicar, the unnamed “local curate (played by Conor MacNeill) no one knows which position on the 10 commandments a particular instruction has. This curate is an invented character not in any of Austen’s texts: pious and trying hard to make the Christian message he understands doable. The joke about the 10 commandments is brought back three times. They are also all clueless on the story of Solomon judging which woman is the mother of a baby. Lady Susan alludes to it at least three times too as if it shows just what a good mother she is; she does not seem to know the parable contains two mothers or what happens in it, nor does anyone else. Frederica (Morfyyd Clark) Vernon, Lady Susan’s daughter, presented as unqualifiedly virtuous is so guilty over having finessed her mother’s injunctions not to tell her uncle Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) or his wife, her kind aunt, Lady de Courcy by telling Reginald goes to church to find guidance and solace and comfort. (Something that never occurs in Lady Susan.) The lighting of the film throughout is exquisitely beautiful, like a golden Vermeer painting, and especially of Frederica reading books here and there, but this scene is luminous. Our new local curate looks at her lovingly, and for a moment I thought maybe Stillman would make this a match. As she emerges, she meets Reginald and he is clueless over why anyone would go to church on any day but Sunday. He asks twice about this peculiarity of hers. But by the end of the movie he has apparently “gotten it,” understood why, for at their wedding, he cites a verse written in 18th century style celebrating Frederica’s virtue, where virtue means religious as well as marital constancy. We then see James Fleet as Reginald’s father, Sir Reginald beaming down on Jemma Redgrave, with slight comic over-doneness (James Fleet like Fyre is able to act the part with comic effect).

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James Fleet as Sir Reginald looking on at some ridiculousness

Stillman does have to soften the story somewhat. In general until near the end of the movie he sticks literally to events in the book. Then instead of Reginald finally waking up to what Lady Susan is (Reginald is an anticipation of the denseness and delusions of Edmund Bertram) and throwing her off, Stillman has Lady Susan break the engagement. Reginald’s pride is hurt we are told, and he is still in danger of returning to Lady Susan. If he does not, another change is that Lady Susan is pregnant by Manwaring at the close of the film. This gives her a less mercenary incentive: in the book she wanted to marry Sir James to her daughter so with her ability to bully her daughter, she could have (in effect) enforced regular marital sex and children on her daughter by taking the money herself. Stillman adds a silent scene where we see Sir James giving Lady Susan money. He adds wedding scenes which however ironic underneath are on the surface social happy affairs. So too dancing.

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A particularly gorgeous hat == the cloaks provide further eye-candy (the film recalled McGrath’s 1996 hit Emma with Gweneth Paltrow in this respect)

So I should not have been surprised at the genre Stillman has opted to use for Austen’s story: highly traditional familial costume drama undercut gently by ironic music and for the thoughtful more critically by what is actually happening and the distance between what’s said and what’s done in the case of Lady Susan. Rich costumes bring audiences in; there are people who insist on the meaninglessness of Downton Abbey for them personally: they are watching for the costumes and to look at the lovely rooms and buildings.

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One of the houses glimpsed in the distance (there are few photos of distant shots in promotional images)

Certainly in this film a number of older grand mansions in various states of decline were filmed (like the 2007 Northanger Abbey by Andrew Davies this film was done in Ireland). And it fits into his outlook, the way he professes to understand Austen. He’s not a typical Janeite though as he finds Fanny Price a likeable (appealing) character in Mansfield Park. He has his heroine in Metropolitan defend Fanny against the strictures of Lionel Trilling as well as the story’s taking seriously whether amateurs should do a salacious play in a private house.

Myself I don’t find this kind of tone characteristic of Lady Susan. Since it is all in letters, she can drop the social mask and reveal herself more than once very directly as a bully, mean, aggressive, with an expectation that everyone will be as nasty she is (rather like Fielding’s Bifil). A couple of time Stillman acknowledges the centrality of letters by having one read aloud, and he shows characters communicating through them, but his theme of the effectiveness of social mask and that Lady Susan never drops it is not true of the book. She can be very raw as can her friend Alicia; these lines are divided in the film:

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying
a man of his age!–just old enough to be formal, ungovernable
and to have the gout–too old to be agreeable, and too young to
die. May the next gouty attack be more favorable

As I read Lady Susan and have listened to it read aloud by Blackstone and other audio-readers, it’s close to Les Liasions Dangereuses, or Stael’s Delphine (1805, with a Madame Susan Vernon as worldly villainess and very bad mother). If you were puzzled why there are so many brief scenes between Alice and Lady Susan — I mean how she does manage to whiz up to London from the country and back again repeatedly: Stillman is presenting the matter of their letters brief scenes. Epistolary narrative can be looked at as inner dramas on a stage with the characters represented by letters in lieu of dialogue.

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The heroines exchange bits from the letters — sometimes they lurk outside amid columns in unspecified areas

But I did find it startling to see the transposition of the original language of the letters into dialogue, often without much change. This is very like some of the 1970s film adaptations and the closest in the Austen canon is the 1979 P&P by Faye Weldon, only Weldon had an omniscient novel with characters talking to one another. The effect is stilted, and I could see from other viewers they were growing restless. Since the 1990s these costume dramas have been trying for some compromise between the language of the originals and intelligent and demotic talk of today. The audience were clearly glad to have the more obvious jokes, or seemingly obviously funny lines which they got and laughed a bit too determinedly I thought — as if to feel they were enjoying themselves. I wondered if some other of the lines given to Lady Susan gave them pause, but after all Stillman’s Lady Susan never for once breaks her surface of sweetness and she never offers more of her real values and norms than she has to even to Alicia. So no one leaving this theater could think from this film Austen seriously questioned our society, except maybe if you were seeking something, you could say see how desperate women were. This jusifies Lady Susan’s behavior in part, and it is the way a couple of favorable reviews took the movie. It’s about how women are oppressed.

To me this kind of review is a caricature of the idea: no woman in the movie is ever pictured as less than well-fed, comfortable, and on the surface complacent. If you can control the surface this way, what can the depths be? The one hard statement in the film comes from Catherine Decourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwall) when at the close of the film she calls Lady Susan a cold snake (to her mother). It’s a good thing this utterance does not need an ability to utter irony for Greenwall is another actor in the film who cannot do it; nor Justin Edwards as Frederica’s lummox of an uncle.

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Moment of obvious astonishment: Catherine de Courcy and Charles Vernon

The overt joke here is that uncle Charles is astonished that any woman of intelligence could marry a fool, by which he means Sir James Martin (Tom Bennet). At the close we learn that Lady Susan has married Sir James, and as Charles drivels on in his usual “candid” way (of seeing all good everywhere) to say Lady Susan has fallen in love with him, Greenwall turns aside to grin. In Austen’s book, Sir James is not a harmless rattle, but a stubborn and dense man who would not (as Sir James does here) not realize that he’s being cuckolded by Manwaring; as Reginald is a permutation of the obtuse Edmund Bertram so Sir James is a version of Rushworth in Mansfield Park. In the book Frederica is right to dread marriage with this man and in the film to assume she will be just fine with Reginald. After all her aunt Catherine is doing just fine; her uncle does whatever the aunt wants. Stillman has picked up that Charles Vernon is a version of Charles Bingley (P&P), easily led, only left out that he could be led by bad people.

Talk I heard from people coming out both times included asssertions “it’s an odd film.” One woman didn’t quite know what to make of it, but then she’d not read Lady Susan. At least most people leaving seemed to realize there is such a novel, and they realized perhaps that there is another juvenilia called Love and Friendship which because he so likes the title and thinks it appropriate Stillman chose to call Lady Susan. Disingenuousness can work but it’s transparent that someone hoped there might be Austen readers who’ve read the wildly hilarious Love and Freindship and be drawn into the theater that way. In my own anecdotal experience really faithful fans do know of Love and Freindship: they learn bout it in an effort to find more Austen to read, and when they start it’s burlesque wild jokes lead them on to the end.

Nonserious Austen indeed. No one will leave this film disquieted or having been brought to think about our society seriously through an Austen text. The Guardian gives the expected comment: this is a racier, naughtier Austen than we have known. But the second time I knew what to expect. I’ve seen many Austen films. It’s intelligent and literate and if you can extrapolate out from Lady Susan’s behavior and how she is thriving at the close, you can say cold performative people utterly without any humane compassion for anyone, in fact despising anyone who has that as weak fits in just fine with our world. Stillman gives Beckinsale a line just before the credits as she looks at her daughter now married, to the effect she is delighted to see Frederica is becoming more manipulative though where I couldn’t see. This is a more usual transposition into modern talk of a passage in a letter where Austen’s Lady Susan indicates an active dislike or distaste for her daughter; she finds Frederica “contemptible” precisely because she has sincere feelings and acts on them. Doubtless had Lady Susan been able to read Mansfield Park she would have despised Fanny Price too:

Frederica

Ellen

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National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Angelica Kauffman, Hector Taking leave of Andromache (1768)

‘All I possess has been attained by my work and industry … ‘ (from Angelica Goddden’s Miss Angel, Kauffman)

Friends and readers,

I return to my series of blogs on women artists. Thus far in this second round, we’ve looked at Giovanna Garzoni (1600-70), Strange and magnificent still lifes; Sofonsiba and Lucia Anguissola (1535/6-1625; 1546/8-1565), Sober, contemplative and self-aware portraits; and Mary Beale(1633-99), An unknown famous Restoration painter. As in the first series I can’t ignore altogether those women artists whose work has been paid a great deal of attention to, at least at times, and if not uniformly respectfully. So we come to Angelica Kauffman, one of two women to help found and be inducted into the Royal Academy of Art in England.

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A self-portrait In the Traditional Costume of the Bregenz Forest (1781)

The complaint has been, her work is all “soft femininity,” weak in drawing, no sharp aggressive action (how can this be a history or heroic painting?), her men silly, coy, effeminate, her women utterly dependent.

How the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. What was used to dismiss and marginalize her work is now central to the arguments for its value. Angelica Rosenthal (AK: Art and sensibility) shows how Kauffman disssolves gender polarities, achieves fluid sexuality; provides an imaginary realm for exploring female sexuality, domestic women who choose to be soft, virtuous, civil; built a network of female patrons and painted them; shows us affectionate ties, androgynous forms; “pictorially mines a broad array of possible gender identifications; does not emulate scandalous and illicit behavior but rather is intent on producing figures who are heroic and feminine/effeminate;” we have a “”masquerade” that “uncovers women’s dissatisfaction with the roles they play in the world and their desire for power.”

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Tremor and Inibaca (1772, from James Macpherson’s Ossian)

More: the lasting fame that Angelica Kauffman had achieved by the end of the nineteenth-century was as the betrayed victim heroine of a sentimentalized liar husband, all the while she loved and was loved by David Garrick. Anne Isabel Thackeray Ritchie (Wm Makepeace’s daughter, 1837-1919) wrote the novel, Miss Angel (1875) and Margaret Isabel Dicksee (1858-1903, sister of Frank) painted the picture: Miss Angel is the title of Godden’s biography:

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Angelica Kauffman Visits Mr Reynolds’s Studio

Nowadays Kauffman is seen, along with Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun (1759-1842), her contemporary peer, as contriving her paintings to attract patrons from what we may call luxurious and prestigious marketplace niches.

None of these perspectives is simply an artefact out of what’s fashionable this decade: Kauffman did lead an unconventional private life where she trusted to men, fathers, lovers, husbands, and to follow the outline of her life is to follow a series of astute career choices. At the same time the now numerous respectful studies of her work show her to be creating & choosing a sympathetically female-centered aesthetic and narrative moments the equivalent of l’ecriture-femme in visual art.

In two previous blogs (Women Artists: a few thoughts on “the obstacle race”, Linda Nochlin’s “Why have there been no great women artists?”), I reprinted masterpieces which show her extraordinary talent for color, expressionism, and individual thought where we see her attempting to escape the wanted soft-core porn perspectives imposed on her by popular classical-historical stories,

Kauffmann, Angelica; Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses; National Trust, Saltram; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/penelope-taking-down-the-bow-of-ulysses-101590
Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses (1788)

most often altering these images strikingly to make a contemplative, meditative, an imaginary space outside male control (their “inner orient”), liberating because meant for women to identify with, images to satisfy the female gaze and female patrons.

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A Turkish Lady Reclining, Gazing at a Miniature (1773).

Wendy Roworth (A Continental Artist in Georgian England) is not so keen on “soulscapes”, but rather shows us a woman determined to defy her customers who (in England at any rate, where she spent her 15 most productive celebrated years) wanted portraits and landscapes (preferably showing off their wealth), which in the case of portraits she did comply with, viz.,

Angelica_Kauffman_-_portrait_of_Lady_Elizabeth_Foster
Lady Elizabeth Foster (1785).

Now I want to do a portrait life, with some characterization of the pictures. Overlooked has been her strong personal feeling for the subject (particular woman) in some of them. We will look at her as a professional woman artist, but also see how she would read and use (talk about) her reading individually, to express herself.

To begin, Kauffman was a magnificent colorist, but when we see the picture just through the lines we see she does give women bodies, strength and her lines are central to her effect:

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Lady Bingham

What’s more Lady Bingham is there to project a determined defensive stance over her position among the various objects signalling art and imagination.

Kauffman persisted in stories from classical history, allegories of art and the imagination in order to aspire and train herself to do what men did (use perspective, large group compositions, chiaroscuros), and to put women (versions of herself in the men’s places, so she painted witty, thoughtful, portraits successfully (through commissions), but portraits which often displeased the sitters, e.g., the Goethe below.

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Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764)

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John Byng (1764) — we see Coriolanus beseiged by his mother and wife in the book

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1787/8)

Goethe registered signs of an ambivalance in herself towards her ambition, desire for fame and need of money that he observed:

Jordi Vigue (Great Women Masters of Art): “[Goethe] is captured as a young, wide-eyed dreamer. He thus recalls Werther … a symbol of the spiritual movement of sentimentalism … he read his play Iphigenia, from which [she] painted several scenes, for the first time before a large audience at her house on Via Sistina, 72, Rome … she visited galleries with her husband, Goethe, and other friends … In 1787 Goethe wrote ‘she is not as happy as she deserves to be for her outstanding talent and heritage which increases daily. She is tired of painting to sell. Nevertheless, her husband finds it only too lovely to cash in on so much money for such easy work. She would feel more satisfied if she could work with more tranquility, care and study.'”

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

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One of many idealizing self-portraits (they begin in her earliest years as a painter and continue to her last years)

Contemporary information and documents about her begin with in her first biographer, Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi, an Italian friend from her years in Rome, a contemporary commentator Joseph Farington, and reviews and documents from her extensive activities across England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland. She was born in Chur, Switzerland in 1741, her father a painter, Joseph Johann Kauffman, early recognized her talent and spent much of his life teaching, enabling, living with this daughter. Her mother (about whom little is said) died in 1757. Her father and she traveled in Italy, she copied paintings in Milan galleries, went south to enable her to study works in Parma, Bologna, and Florence (1762). She copied in Uffizzi galleries and was accepted as member of Florentine Accademia del Disegno; in 1763 they were in Rome, and she got a commission in Naples to copy paintings so lived there until 1764 when they returned to Rome. In Rome she met neoclassical male artists there: West, Dance (it’s said she was engaged to him for a time), Winckelmann. She saw or knew about the excavations in Herculaneum and Pompeii just outside Naples. She was musical and received musical training and in a well-known painting modeled on the story of Hercules choosing between virtue and vice, she records by a painting how she was torn between the two; I like better this quiet drawing of a Female Figure as Music:

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She was also a great reader; her love and knowledge of books comes out in the variety of books she takes from, in her choice of more obscure subjects, and the details of her allegories.

In 1766 she was invited to come and set herself up in a studio, showroom in London. She did make a bad false step within a year. She was induced to entangle herself in a secret marriage with a Count Frederick de Horn; luckily, that he was an imposter came out quickly, and the marriage was annuled, with little harm to her reputation, for within a year she was named with Mary Moser as a founding member of the National Academy of Art; Nathaniel Dance painted her portrait. However, emotionally she must have been shocked by the experience. Rosenthal tells of her experiences in her studio where she could not avoid being seen as flirting, as trying to seduce a man or being seduced by him by others. Rumors about her and Reynolds circulated (and are given novelistic life more than a hundred years late in Ritchie’s novel). At any rate, if she wrote about this brief marriage or any of these denigrating rumors, nothing of the intimate resonances for her within has survived. We can see her ambition and continual hard work carried on.

A third full-length 20th century book, Angelica Godden’s Miss Angel, is a muddled biography (poorly organized), but attempts a more personal approach. There’s a review in the online Independent by Clare Colvin who discusses this rare “Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, London, February 1, 1766. To Miss Anne Sharp.” A Miss Willen sold the original letter in one of her auctions 15 years ago.

I am indeed infinitely obliged to Miss Anne Sharp for the remembrance she is so Kind to have of me, and thank her for the very pretty present she has been so good as to send me. I received it abought [sic] ten days ago, and would have made this acknowledgment sooner had I not been prevented by hurry of a removal and my having begun some Portraits which take up my time a good deal. The miniature was a triffle [sic] not worth your mentioning, but if it gives Miss Anne pleasure I am happy I hade [sic] the honor to paint it—I hope all your Family are in good health. Lady Wentworth was perfectly well a few days ago when I had the honor to see her—I am with the greatest respect Miss Anne Sharps’ [sic] most obedient and most humble

Servant
Angelica Kauffman.

Here is what Willen wrote of it:

“If dukes and duchesses may look at a painting, plainer men and women can at least look at an autograph. This is, then, our sole consolation at not having been born am English aristocrat with an Angelica Kaufmann hanging in our picture gallery. And while nothing can adequately explain how we came to be what we are, this letter vividly illustrates how Angelica Kaufmann got to be what she was: hung in the finest collections in England, the darling of Queen Charlotte and George III, and one of the most commercially successful artists of all time.

In deference to the cognoscenti, we note that when Miss Kaufmann penned this missive, she was newly arrived from Venice, and the protégé of Lady Wentworth. This prodigious lady, they will know, was instrumental in the meteoric ascendancy of Kaufmann’s career.”

There was a trip to Ireland in 1771 where she produces etchings with the man who would become her brother-in-law, Giuseppe Carlo Zucchi. It may be conjectured her relationship with her future (much older husband), a Venetian painter, Antonio Zucchi, began around this time. He was distinguished, took over selection, purchase of materials, enabled her to be much freer because he took on organization tasks. She probably began more and more to lean on him. Meanwhile, alongside Joshua Reynolds, Nathaniel Dance, James Barry and Giovanni Battista Cipriani, she is selected to decorate St Paul’s cathedral with history scenes. The project is never realized.

She was also made fun of: what is a woman doing taking herself seriously in this way: the headgear is intended to suggest she must be mad:

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An anonymous print after Robert Dighton, The Paintress: the Proper Study of Mankind (172, a mezzotint).

Unexpectedly, Nathaniel Dance modeled (or anticipated) his defense of her on the same kind of arrangement and thin figure:

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Angelica Kauffman Drawing a Torso (1767-70)

In 1775 she’s seen as a threat in Nathaniel Hone’s mocking Conjurer. Here Kauffman successfully demanded the picture removed from submission to the Royal Academy. In 1780 she completes the prestigious commission for four magnificent ceiling paintings, Invention, Composition, Design and Colouring, for Somerset House, home of the Royal Academy (Ill. 31-34). W. W. Ryland exhibits 146 engravings after her paintings. This is the height of her fame.

AngelicaKaufmannMuseofComposition
Composition (a detail from a soft-colored version)

Invention
Invention

She did portraits, scenes from novels, erotic allegories erotic (from Tasso); work by her and Benjamin West are today found in Burlington House at Piccadilly from this period. Throughout her career she was involved in the production of decorative art. Some of this or versions of what she executed as designs to be copied by others can be found on sale today:

KauffmannPottery
Beautiful pottery

China
Wedgewood China?

Soldtoday
The picture at the bottom is modelled on a Kauffman-like designs — these still sell

There are roundels (Lady Jane Grey imploring Edward IV); chimney pieces; paintings on furniture. She takes advantage of new mechanical processes, using the stipple dot method (colors could be blended, acquatint plates), and her work is used in the explosion of a print market in this era.

One should mention here the famous Nine Living Muses of Richard Samuel, of whom Kauffman is one:

Portraits_in_the_Characters_of_the_Muses_in_the_Temple_of_Apollo_by_Richard_Samuel
They are in the Temple of Apollo (1777)

She is the only non-English woman among them: Anna Laetitia Barbauld is there for poetry; Elizabeth Carter, for scholarship; Elizabeth Griffith as a playwright, Charlotte Lennox, an author of prose fiction, letter editions, critic; Catharine Macaulay, the historian. Elizabeth Montagu, a leader of society (the word bluestocking must be brought in); Hannah More there as religious writer and playwright, and Elizabeth Sheridan, for music, a singer.

In 1781 she married Zucchi, and with her father, they returned to Italy, at first living in Venice. Following the death of her father in 1782, they moved to Rome and she began a flourishing career there and in Naples. It’s during this time she paints a number of male artists, various aristocratic men and women who come as tourists, courtiers. The comment from Goethe comes from this period. Her palette becomes more austere, and she produces more somber historical pictures: Virgil writing in epitaph in Brundisium; a painting of Cornelia pointing to her children as her treasures:

cornelia

The picture does not emphasize the wealth of these women, the necklace is not central to the feel of the figures.

In her last ten years she has a diminishing output, especially after her husband died in 1795. A cousin was then living with her: Anton Joseph Kauffman, but it seems she felt the loss of presence.

Clara Colvin’s review of Gooden’s book directly contradicts what Germaine Greer (The Obstacle Race) asserts confidently: Greer says that Kauffman’s second marriage was a love match, deeply personally fulfilling for her, and that Kauffmann was devastated at the death of Antonio Zucchi. Greer also presented Kauffman as having lived somewhat estranged from both her parents because she wanted to present a more upper class image than their literal presence would allow. Who is to say? It seems to me she was reliant upon her second husband and father for essential career help while working enormously hard herself to be the best painter and mistress of drawings and designs she could.

But when her husband died, Kauffman was again subject to rumors and worried about her private papers. It’s said that she destroyed the majority of them around this time. Perhaps she grew more inward; you can follow her keeping up with excavations in her letters. She wishes she could visit England “to which my heart so much attached.” She died at 66 and was buried in same church as her husband.

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She drew all her life as a matter of course: this is a girl reading

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From these later post-England years: Johann Friedrich Refiffenstein

Parallels and contrasts with LeBrun: LeBrun also was thwarted in marriage; she learned to be self-dependent prudent, a businesswoman in a traveling vein, and she poured herself into her brilliant journals (which I’ve read in an unabridged French 2 volume edition). The relationship which mattered most eventually was with her daughter, whom she painted again and again. I will write about LeBrun in my third series

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I close on some personal thoughts and reactions: As in this picture taken from Paul de Rapin-Thoyras’s History of England (1726-31), she was capable of startling implicitly sexually transgressive conceptions.

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The Tender Eleanor Sucking the Venom out of the Wound (1776)

She was not made uncomfortable about sex. If she avoids salaciousness, it’s out of respect for her characters, audience and purchasers:

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This death of Adonis could come from Shakespeare, Spenser.

Unfortunately among her most popular images are the sentimental ones, like this from Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey of a mad Maria being comforted:

SterneInsaneMaria

We should be paying attention to her rich inventiveness and personal intensity: She lost her mother at a young age, had no children herself; there was a niece. Yet there are so many depictions of women as mothers longingly loving their children,how often she will turn a story that does not on the face of it seem to yield such a conception: the title of this is Papirius Praetextatus Entreated by His Mother to Disclose the Secrets of the Deliberation of the Roman Senate.

Papirius_Praetextatus_Entreated_by_his_Mother_to_Disclose_the_Secrets_of_the_Deliberations_of_the_Roman_Senate_by_Angelica_Kauffman

Her self-reflexivity is often discussed. Here she is as Design listening to Poetry:

KauffmannDesignLeft (Medium)

On the following:

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Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia

Vigue comments:

“the principal figure of this painting is not, as the title could lead one to believe, the Latin poet Virgil, nor the Emperor Augustus, but his sister, Octavia. As if in a play, the scene represents Virgil on the left reading the last part of the hero Aeneas’s vicissitudes.” [But here is not a story of the founding of a nation or heroes.] Through Virgil’s verses, Octavia becomes aware of the premature death of her son Marcelo and faints from grief. Her servants hold her up while Augustus fearfully rises from his throne to help his sister. The compassionate Virgil gazes at Octavia with consternation. Kauffman unites two determining factors of her work in this historical painting.

Three women are at the center of this picture. The composition is made harmonious, balanced, with a classical landscape glimpsed through the arch.

I’m attracted to how underneath the classical costumes she presents real scenes from life from a woman’s point of view: she is expressing herself through the popular seasonal motifs of the time, she shows us women with their children trying to keep warm in:

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Winter

My favorites remain her still contemplative figures drawing, reading, dreaming. Sometimes they feel silly, overdone, but this is the unconscious security of a neoclassical artist suffused by the newly allowed emotions of sensibility:

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Fame Decorating the Tomb of Shakespeare

The finest are often of her women patrons, her friends, where she uses “Turkish” or “oriental” imagery:

AKauffmanMorningAmusement

It doesn’t hurt to see Lady Bingham again, this time in color:

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Ellen

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1800Romanceofforest
A 2 volume 1800 edition of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

Written near a port on a dark evening

Huge vapours vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night on the Ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Or rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen in the anchor’d bark that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “Strike the bell,”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the Pilgrim—Such the dubious ray
That wavering Reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Charlotte Smith, appeared in her Young Philosopher, her last novel

Friends and readers,

As I sit here reading the Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith, edited by Judith Stanton, and find myself just devastated by what the life of a woman sold off, gotten rid of to a ruthlessly abusive and extravagantly egoistic spendthrift gambling heir — not to omit terrifyingly violent and sexually promiscuous — to a great property could be, all 800+ thin pages, with annotations, biographies, notes, locations, I find myself remembering back to a time in the 1970s when the most that could be found in print by Charlotte Smith was two of her novels in staid Oxford University Press editions (Emmeline and The Old Manor House). What a difference 40 years can make.

I asked myself, how did I first meet this woman author? and in what form was my encounter with another equally important author for me from the 18th century, Ann Radcliffe. I did once before my recent moving back into memory to remember first encounters with Jane Austen, write about how I first met Fanny, now Francis Burney, Madame d’Arblay. Unlike most recent and mostly women readers, it was not in college because I was assigned Evelina (or as a graduate student, Cecilia say). No it was a single abridged volume of her journals and letters that will soon reach 24 thick fat volumes. As I said, I was led to seek out some longer version, as it happened a 3 volume one, in a bookstore on 59th Street, a stone’s throw away from Bloomingdale’s, The Argosy because (perhaps unbelievable today) at the age of 23 or so (my first year of graduate work) around on the open shelves of the Brooklyn College library I had found a 1797 3 volume edition of Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest. Even then I thought it was crazy to have such volumes on the open shelves. It was an entrancing visceral experience to read in that form. No illustrations, but the original type, the yellowing pages, the delicate elegant lady-like volumes. I have since written a lot about this book and led a group on line reading and discussing it.

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Alfonso Simonetti, Ancor Non Torna, illustration for 19th century Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

In contrast to Burney, Radcliffe, and a number of French epistolary and life-writing women (cited in my first encounter with Burney, and eventually Julie de Lespinasse, Madame du Deffand, the memoirists of the reign of terror), Smith was nowhere to be found in used bookstores. One just couldn’t find her by chance. I began reading her as part of my dissertation project on Richardson’s Clarissa and Grandison. There was no romance in these acqua hard-back volumes. Nonetheless, I immediately found myself gripped by the opening of Old Manor House, and found the book sustained itself until near the end. Then for all her reasonable intelligence, Ann Ehrenpreis’s introduction didn’t do it for me. Ehrenpreis didn’t discuss issues that mattered. Smith also had a simplistic character for her heroine:

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Yet I was drawn in by the hero, by the radical politics of the book, by its acid corrosive anger. I fell in love when I began to go to the Library of Congress, one and two nights a week, and all day Saturday and read in a microfilm form (!) the first edition of her Elegiac Sonnets. It was in 1984, I had had a second baby and was seeking to find some place where I could commune with minds like my own in books. I was 37. Scrolling down and turning the wheel on one of those machines I read her poetry for the first time. Then I found on the shelves below the reading room (which in those day “readers” with cards could explore) equally elegant volumes of Smith’s novels.

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A reprint of a 19th century illustration of Old Manor House (found in a recent edition)

I can no longer remember which novel I put on my very own shelf (each reader had a shelf he or she could keep books in behind the rotunda of the reading room), only that it was an uncommon one I did not have to read as a a microfiche, and in an early later 18th nearly 19th century elegant lady edition. I do remember becoming so intensely engaged. It was a heroine I could identify with, one with adult thoughts. Could it have been Marchmont? Then shockingly (to me) I came one day to find my three-volume set gone. I was desolated and worried I would be blamed. Had someone stolen “my” books? I was told by a blasé clerk, “oh no, not to worry, no blame, someone did probably take them.” He seemed confident that they would not leave the library but I was not. What was true was I had lost access to this book. I was at the time not teaching in colleges as yet, I had not gotten any shelf at the Folger, I was cut off from college libraries.

I sat in my chair and cried. This wouldn’t do, people around me were uncomfortable. So I phoned Jim and he came by car and picked me up. Rescued me as we used to put it.

That night he read aloud to me a story by Kipling, and encouraged me not to give up hope, but return — I had begun my study of Vittoria Colonna and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea’s poetry. He urged it was time to brave the threshold of the Folger Library and get a pass; there I could probably be sure my shelf of books would not be tampered with. I did and my entry ticket was my George Mason employment ID. I didn’t need a letter of introduction or reference (whew!)

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Genlis at 50 by Pulcherie (or Caroline?), her daughter by Sillery-Genlis (her husband)

Enfin, songez, mon cher Porphire, qu’il n’est qu’un temps de la vie pour ecrire & pour travailler, & que ce temps s’ecoule avec une extreme rapidite [remember there is only one time in life for writing, for working within, and it flows away oh so swiftly, relentlessly], Adele et Theodore, Felicite de Genlis

I now have an extensive library of both Radcliffe (48 volumes, including xeroxes) and Smith books (36, including hand-written extensive notes), primary editions in facsimile, modern paperbacks, older hardbacks, and marvelous secondary studies for them both. I have elegant lady editions too of novels of Sophie Cottin, Madame de Genlis, and Isabelle de Montolieu (plus an array of later 19th century hard backs, facsimiles, secondary critical works and xeroxed books and essays).

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There are now “reading challenge” blogsites where 18th century women authors (including Smith and Radcliffe) are emphasized

I’m not going to attempt to say what The Romance of the Forest and then Old Manor House together with Elegiac Sonnets meant to me then as I was no longer at the impressionable age I “met” Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. The truth is in some moods I prefer The Mysteries of Udolpho to Austen’s Emma.

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
JMW Turner, The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach (1802)

Yes. The landscapes of Radcliffe and Smith provide the occasions, the impetus for the thoughts. No matter how hard the revisionist readers of Austen argue only in Persuasion and the gothic moments (these hedged in by ironies) of Northanger Abbey does this happen and then she’s not political. I find in Smith all the radical politics that Austen is said to have and doesn’t. I can say I was in both cases led into the volumes from the melancholy of the tone, the feminine structure of the sentences, the nightmares of Adeline, and the poetry of Smith, which to this day sustain me still, and think the images found in Angelica Kauffman’s work “match” thematically and aesthetically what is found in all these women.

In the case of Radcliffe, I was at the end of graduate course work and teaching; in the case of Smith, I was post-doctorate. Since then I’ve written extensively about them both, here on the Net, in my blogs (Radcliffe, Smith), and in published and conference papers too.

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Fame Decorating Shakespeare’s Tomb (Kauffman)

Next time I shall return to my women artists. I’ve delayed too long but first up we’ll be in the eighteenth century for that feminist businesswoman par excellence, Angelica Kauffman.

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Athra and Theseus (Kauffman)

And I hope not to long from now to be in a position to discuss Smith’s letters and life in a way I’ve not begun to do, not having experienced what I just have in reading her letters.

Although out of season, as this is not a well-known or familiar poem to Radcliffe’s readers or romantic scholars (let alone a wider audience), I’ll end on an unusual moment in print for her: she is cheerful (!), at home, on a winter evening, with light, music, books, with her favorite dog, Chance.

Welcome December’s cheerful night,
When the taper-lights appear;
When the piled hearth blazes bright,
And those we love are circled there

And on the soft rug basking lies,
Outstretched at ease, the spotted friend,
With glowing coat and half-shut eyes,
Where watchfulness and slumber blend.

Welcome December’s cheerful hour,
When books, with converse sweet combined,
And music’s many-gifted power
Exalt, or soothe th’ awakened mind.

Then, let the snow-wind shriek aloud,
And menace oft the guarded sash,
And all his diapason crowd.
As o’er the frame his white wings dash.

He sings of darkness and of storm,
Of icy cold and lonely ways;
But, gay the room, the hearth more warm,
And brighter is the taper’s blaze.

Then, let the merry tale go round.
And airy songs the hours deceive;
And let our heart-felt laughs resound,
In welcome to December’s Eve
— Ann Radcliffe, First found in Clara Frances McIntyre’s Ann Radcliffe in Relation to Her Time

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Angela Pleasance playing Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park (1983, scripted Ken Tayler), upon meeting Fanny

Ellen

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Grace Elliot (Lucy Russell) from Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke (based on her Ma vie sous la revolution)

‘Real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.’
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of weeks ago I was pleased to be asked to contribute to a series of memories for Diane Reynolds’s blog, Jane Austen and Other Writers where people are asked to describe their first encounters with Jane Austen’s novels and why they read her still. As luck would have it, around the same time I had agreed to give a lecture on Lady Susan to a group of students in a BIS program at University of Virginia. I’d told the story of my coming to Austen in bits and pieces before, but now having brought all but the role of specific critical books together, I thought I’d talk on a blog as an addendum to first encounters about my recent re-encounter with Lady Susan.

I was around 50 the first time I read Lady Susan. I am not alone in this belatedness: the text itself was not published until 1870, 53 years after Austen’s death, and (if I am right in saying the book was written between 1804-5), 65 years after she wrote it and copied it out in a beautiful fair copy which is a kind of imitation of the publication denied her. The first recorded Austen film adaptation was in 1940, since then there have been at least 35, so it’s taken 76 (!) years to film it.

If you look at mainstream fan sites, it’s hardly ever mentioned.

What can be so wrong? well it’s lumped together with late “fragments” (unfinished work, nothing more discouraging except to a devoted reader), and it breaks so many taboos that Jane Austen is thought by so many Janeite fans to have upheld, is written in an amoral tone, with an ironic presence at the center that I know (since reading Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones so carefully) the closest character to Fielding’s Lady Bellaston we have, except ever so much meaner, self-conscious and gayly morbid. Marvin Mudrick in his JA: Irony as Defense and Discovery thought in this one text alone Austen shows herself fully and we should use it as the lens by which we understand say Mansfield Park.

I discovered upon this re-reading (and I’ve read it several times since I was in my fifties, especially when I studied it to bring out its underlying calendar), that I did not (as I had expected) approach the book with so many pre-framings. I simply did what I have probably always done since age 12-13: felt an intensely primal response along my pulse as I came into contact this exhilarating woman. It is a truism (“a truth universally acknowledged”) that reading the same book years, decades later can have a very different effect on us.

So for me I remember when I read Lady Susan the first time I was strongly put off. I especially found her mockery of her daughter, and complete antipathy to Frederica’s kind heart, desire to read books for their content alone, lack of an ability to cope with the abrasive world or perform hateful. I laughed at her sending up of Alicia’s husband and marriage, but saw that the world around her of pious feeling was mawkish and somehow false. But she was the blight.

This time through I still saw that she must not be allowed to “mother” Frederica; that she would corrode the girl’s gifts and heart, Lady Susan was exhilarating. Far more so than Thackeray’s Becky Sharp at the opening of his Vanity Fair. I saw the that Frederica was in the narrative from the outset and underlying the book was an ongoing relationship of a mother and daughter who needed to get away from one another, but there was no doing it as the world is not organized that way, but I reveled in Lady Susan. This was release for Austen. I flaws in the others too or far more continually: Reginald, what a self-satisfied, easily deluded non-thinking fool! He’s a weathercock who believes the last person. Mrs Vernon was all suspicion and leading a boring, stultifying life: what she offered Frederica was calm from repression and never trying anything out of a small round of pious acts. She was working to marry her to Reginald because that would keep them close and thus to her “safe.” I could see that Alicia was not so enamored of her friend, and rightly didn’t trust her but where was she to turn for safety? She seemed to be living a life of lies.

The real problem in the novel is there are no good choices. I wished we had had scenes of Lady Susan with Manwaring so I could see if she had any gratification with him: was the sex good? Was he another clinging person? It seems that to survive one must marry a dense idiot (Sir James perhaps a version of Mr Collins). I saw the dark book Murdock in his Irony as Defense and Self-Discovery had, a book in the tradition of Tom Jones as I recently began to see it. Where was Jane Austen in all this? D. W Harding’s finding a release for anger is not enough. She wasn’t sending up the outrageous behavior of the rest of the world (as he rightly says she does in the four books she published before she died). There is a quiet desperation here, a disjunction between the stereotype she found in her culture and what she wanted to say.

I did not say the above directly in presenting the novella to students. One can’t. It’s not allowed. One must present an impersonal reading; the kind of talk that’s respectable is context and tropes, biography, sources. So much of my introduction came from framing (dating specifically) and is found in my remarks next to my timeline for the novel.

Here is what I told them out of that. Linking the class to the coming movie by Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship, I suggested to them if it’s that Stillman presents the novel as witty juvenilia, a moral send up of say self-indulgence, solipsism, egoistic romance like Love and Freindship, that’s a mistake which will trivialize the book. Lady Susan is a mid-career book; not a so much a product of the regency era reacted against (the thesis of their course), but an inverted protest novel by a woman, and coming out of a tradition heavily influenced by French novels and most often taking the form of epistolary narrative. Here is a little of what I told students for nearly 2 hours.

I suggested we couldn’t elucidate the content that mattered in it, close read its details through the regency period except to say the frank amorality of the heroine can be linked to the era. In a letter she wrote she detested the regent and when he prosecuted his wife for adultery, she was on the wife’s side simply on grounds she was a woman.

I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter,” Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad. — I do not know what to do about it; — but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. —- 16 February 1813

Lady Susan fits just as strongly with what she wrote in her History of England (a juvenilia) about Tudor queens (among them, Ann Bullen, Katherine Parr).

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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in proud procession

She is passionately on the side of several of them. She looks out on the world unashamedly from a woman’s perspective. As Mrs Vernon, Lady de Courcy, Fredericka, Alicia and Lady Susan herself. All of them. She rejects the regency as presented in books as devastatingly, stupidly patriarchal

My suggestion was it’s a radical inverted protest novel. Austen is getting away with protesting her own and other women’s situations through presenting a heroine all will detest. There were ways for women to express themselves “contra mundi”: I saw her as turning to a sub-genre or kind of book that allowed this. Epistolary narrative, and French amoral anti-heroines. She can express herself through such a heroine as a mask. This was an era when spinsters were harshly criticized and mocked in conduct books, sent up cruelly in novels. She was despised for not having sex, but as a woman with little money and no power she’d be worse ostracized and punished for admitting knowing about sex, much less trying to live a pleasurable life of sex on her own without a man controlling her. This is the type of woman we find in these novels, only they are often widows or domineer over husbands and lovers, or simply living independently (if they had wealth somehow).

Think about her life I said. In 1805 Austen was herself 30, in 1809 34. Lady Susan is 35 inflected by her peculiar undercurrent of grave melancholy. She was a poor spinster, dependent on relatives, hamstrung; if hearsay be true, having rejected an offer from a local squire, owner of Manydowne (which would have provided for herself, sister, mother, friend, Martha Lloyd), and, together with her sister, having decided to present herself as a spinster. All her brothers but Henry (who was out on his own, as a fourth son, as yet floating on banking) were provided with careers, niches; her oldest the house she had grown up in, so she and they and her sister had gone to live in Bath (where there was a marriage market, not too kind to women without dowries).

She had begun to write as a young girl, her first texts called juvenilia go back to 1787 when she was 12 or 13. She wrote endlessly and this includes rewriting her texts for years and years, but her first published book sees the light in 1811, 24 years after she started. She did try for publication, once a long version of Pride and Prejudice, probably an epistolary novel, in 1796: the letter by her father to a reputable publisher was returned that day. On her own she tried to publish a version of Northanger Abbey she called Susan in 1803 and had to get the manuscript back in 1815, unpublished to start working on it again. What a release this narrative might have been and like Nabokov she is allowed because the irony protects her from her own self-censor.

Epistolary narrative is a complicated form. Its main attraction is it enables the novelist to delve the human psyche. The 18th century was a revolutionary era, and one of the transformations of values that went on was to look at one values and norms as coming from individual psyches, and understand that truths were relative. Each person’s understanding of what happened would be the result of his outlook. The relativity of norms across cultures and inbetween people was central to the satiric mode of the period.

I quoted the outstanding voice of the first half of the era, Alexander Pope from the first of the four Moral Epistles. Moral Essay I: to Richard Cobham, Of the Characters of Mankind:

Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human Actions reason though you can,
It may be Reason, but it is not Man;
His Principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his Principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
Ye lose it in the moment you detect.
    Yet more; the diff’rence is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All Manners take a tincture from our own;
Or come discolour’d, through our Passions shown …
    Nor will Life’s stream for Observation stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark the way …
    Oft in the Passions’ wild rotation tost,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
Tir’d, not determin’d to the last we yeild,
And what comes then is master of the field,
As the last image of that troubled heap,
When Sense subsides, and Fancy sports in sleep
(Tho’ past the recollection of the thought)
Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought:
Something as dim to our internal view,
Is thus, perhaps the cause of most we do … (1731-35)

Some of the most famous of the epistolary novels were this kind of delving: Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), boy meet, rapes girl, girl dies, boy dies. 2 million words. Samuel Johnson said a reader would hang herself who read it for the plot

But you can do other things with epistolary narratives. You can expose characters satirically; we can see them not meaning to pour their heart out and by seeing the difference between the action of the story and what the characters think of it, witness all sorts of psychological and moral states, from hypocrisy to self-delusion, to someone strategizing to manipulate someone, we can see spite, vanity, performances of all sorts.

Two important features of epistolary narratives: they are free from chronological time because people in their minds can jump back and forth. Therefore you can juxtapose letters very ironically. We watch “innocent characters being duped” because we know the reality of the other characters. We are looking at these minds on a stage; different voices come out interacting. It is also done in the present time so the characters do not know what is going to happen next and are all in the midst of anguish about it. We are dropped down into the midst of a mind in the throes of a present moment worrying what to do, what will be, what will happen, what should I do next. Lady Susan is a slender book and I don’t want to give it more density or value than it has, but Austen uses these techniques if in an epitomizing form.

Which books of the era is it in dialogue with or comes out of memories, an experience of. LaClos’s Dangerous Liaisons (1782) with its central amoral heroine, Madame de Merteuil – if you’ve not read it and want to have a quick acquaintance to start I recommend Stephen Frears’ film with Glenn Close as Madame de Merteuil and John Malkovitz as Valmont, the rake who is done in by the end. There was a full translation immediately and it was read and influential.

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Close playing the innocent

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Alone in thought

Madame de Stael’s Delphine (1804), with its cold mean calculating mercenary mother whose name is Madame Susan Vernon, both epistolary books. We know Austen read and much admired Stael’s Corinne; there’s a passing phrase in one of her letters which can be understood as suggesting she prefers Corinne to Milton’s Paradise Lost. As who wouldn’t? Madame Susan Vernon is especially cruel to her emotional daughter; she hounds her to marry a horror of a man for money. Bad mother type. And Austen’s Lady Susan is not only in herself mean, cold, vicious, cruel, she hates sincere people, wants to stamp out genuine feeling; aspirations for real learning (in her daughter) grate on her; vulnerable people exist to be preyed upon so she despises them. Stael’s anti-heroine’s values are slightly different but the complex of attitudes is analogous.

The frank amorality of Lady Susan can be found in much French literature through out the 18th century – Austen read French and the two countries traded books incessantly. Translations came out immediately, French books were published in London.

But there are English novels where the same pattern may be discerned or is a sub-plot.

There is a strikingly similar central amoral character in Maria Edgeworth’s epistolary Leonora (1809). (For this we must accept Butler’s thesis that the novel we have was written or revised into this text in 1809.) Here the heroine is someone whose husband is deep in debt and the way they mean to pay off the debt is she prostitutes herself. This is a reversal of most novels of the era which use this plot paradigm. In Fielding’s Tom Jones he shows that it was common practice for a high officer to pressure the men beneath them to allow their wives to go to bed with them – if you didn’t you were not promoted. But it’s only Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones and Edgeworth’s heroines who themselves are amusingly pro-active in this way. Lady Bellaston writes letters to Tom too. Or characters imitating her in later books.

Joan Greenwood  Tom Jones (1963)

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Joan Greenwood as the supremely plausible Lady Bellaston (Tony Richardson, John Osborne Tom Jones 1963)

This specific trope is a French pattern too. In Louise d’Epinay’s Montbrillant (a mid-century epistolary book) and the Duchess of Devonshire’s Slyph (1777-78) both epistolary again, the heroine is pressured and driven into going to bed with the husband’s creditor. I suggest the life of Grace Dalrymple Elliot and Rohmer’s film and script offer major insight into the context for Lady Susan and what type she stands for.

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Annette Bening as Madame de Merteuil — she could be Lady Susan persuading Reginald de Courcy to believe her (from Valmont)

If you read Lady Susan as tongue-in-cheek, and someone think that Lady Susan speaks ceaselessly as a conscious hypocrite and never believes a word she says about her emotions, she becomes a wild caricature. It seems improbable to me – you could not find any depth in the novel then. And of the female characters I’ve mentioned, Madame de Merteuil, Madame Susan Vernon are deeply involved emotionally in what she’s doing. If you read Lady Susan’s letters as partly self-righteous, at times fooling herself (as people do), really half-believing herself a misunderstood person trying her best to survive and dealing with a society indifferent to her, and only facing up to her hypocrisy when forced to, Fielding’s Lady Bellaston, the aristocratic amoral mistress of (only she keeps him, not the other way round) is closely similar. (When I taught the book the men in the room really protested against the idea Tom was a male prostitute servicing Lady Bellaston, i.e., the abject characterWe know that Austen read Tom Jones when she was young, and like its opposite number, Clarissa, did not forget it. Her relatives would never mention it, but then they’d never mention any of the others I suggest are where Lady Susan belongs.

To conclude: Austen’s first novels (S&S and P&P) began life as epistolary narratives; MP was in part one in a first draft. Love and Freindship is a crude one (not using all the devices), Lesley Castle an improvement. She wrote an ironic gothic — the gothic was another mode of protest (too long to go into here). She can also write memoirs and, if English, not publish them: we know through Anne Elliot and Austen’s letters to Cassandra Austen read French ones. They were often short as were Austen’s first attempts all. Think of Lady Susan as like Elena Ferrante’s first much briefer deeply frank raw novellas, Days of Abandonment, The Lost Daughter: see my “The Other Side of Silence”.

Eighteenth century women lacked any agency, and any true private space (so letters could function the way the Net can for some women in traditional cultures). That’s why Outlander has been so popular. Diana Gabaldon injected into the 18th century costume drama so frank about sex a woman who all agency, narrator, dreamer, who seeks her own fulfillment, looks at life that way. One thing we see Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser enjoy is sex; she is given liberty to choose as she pleases by her Scots partner, Jamie Fraser over and over again. Saul Dibbs’ and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Duchess show the Duchess of Devonshire writhing under the controls of this world, punished into becoming a girl child-mother at the close. The movie opened with her running with girlfriends in play on the lawn; we last see her running after her children in play on the lawn. See my The Duchess: A Strong Protest Film. Stella Tillyard’s book Aristocrats based on memoirs of women with money reveals the ways in which actual women of the era tried to manipulate their position and yet stay within the confines of their world. Among these were reading and writing books like the above:

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Serena Gordon as Caroline Fox, at her desk bought for her by her husband, Henry (Aristocrats, 1999 BBC, scripted by Harriet O’Carroll).

In the class towards the end we were finding characters in other of Austen’s novels which corresponded to those in Lady Susan: Charles Vernon is a kind of Bingley. Reginald’s behavior that of Edmund Bertram. And lines the narrator uses, say congratulating Lucy Steele at the close of Sense and Sensibility, that are echoed or anticipated in Lady Susan.

The whole of Lucy’s behaviour in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience (S&S, Chapter 50, the last, towards the end)

Whether Lady Susan was, or was not happy, in her second choice — I do not see how it ever can be ascertained — for who could take her assurance of it on either side of the question? The world must judge from probability. She had nothing against her, but her husband, and her conscience (Lady Susan, Postscript)

They joined in on finding and reciting their favorite lines from Lady Susan and other of Austen’s novels.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

It feels wrong to have an Austen reveries blog where of late I so rarely post on Austen herself: yes, she’s a cynosure, sign under which women’s art, l’ecriture-femme, women writers may find sympathetic hearing; yes, if she be not an 18th century writer, I know not where an 18th century writer is to be found. But since I finished the reading and discussion of Austen’s letter and at least the opening of the Austen papers, I’ve not found much occasion to write something useful or (one of my goals for this blog) insightful on Austen’s texts. I hope to remedy this a wee bit tonight.

This week I went to a splendid lecture at the Smithsonian museum by Deborah Lutz out of her book, The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which reminded me of the methodology of Bryne’s finest accurate book on Austen where she finds 18 small (and larger) objects to dwell on: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. When I asked a couple of questions and commented on Lutz’s lecture, as did many others (she was generous enough to stay for a full half-hour and addressed herself sincerely to the questions), she confirmed that the core idea of her book, what shapes its presentation, was Byrne’s book. She also credited Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame, for her sceptical outlook over the Austen’s family’s attitude towards her published writing. I can confirm all three are lucidly written, perceptive, and the first two especially offer a wide range of the sense of life of the era through material objects and intimate doings and norms.

Lutz talked of museums as places which preserve relics secularly conceived. In this pre-photography period where death was so ubiquitous, and paper so expensive, people turned to objects to preserve the life they had loved and made theirs meaningful. Her lecture was thus about death, and how the Victorians did not flinch from body parts even if an increasing number of people lacked a religious sensibility. Lutz discussed how Charlotte specifically but Victorians in general meditated the relics, scrapbooks, drawings, relics they all created. It was a lecture about death, Victorian ways of accepting and living around and through the omnipresent reality, especially strong in this family. Gaskell thinks we are centrally taught about life through death.In the Brontes’ case they preserved plants, flowers, the person’s hair, hand-written lines of poetry, small furniture, the dogs’ collars. Charlotte was a superb visual illustrator and they preserved her drawings of the places they had been and objects acquired. Byrne concentrates on objects found in the novels, and especially how they were acquired by the Austens in life and related to what they were doing then and are transmuted indirectly into the novels. It is a deeply secular book as befits Austen somehow. Things here and now and found in the novels as allusive objects. The opening phase of Harman’s book is similar: how do we relate what we read what’s in the family poetry, memoirs, with what we know literally of Austen’s life at that point. She shows how little respect Austen had at first, how her brother was jealous, and how the legacy grew from James-Edward Austen-Leigh whose book she rightly concentrates on.

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I’ve been thinking about Austen’s relationship to the theater of her time — you could call this another aspect of the real life and things surrounding Austen (not so much the Brontes who lived so far off from the “center”). Are there not enough playbooks to pile them up readily on tables in Mansfield Park? Marianne Dashwood has a TBR pile. Anne Eliot a veritable library of life-writing and texts to help one through grief and depression, to rebel with? We must remember the novel did not become ubiquitous until near the end of the 18th century. People read sermons, they read texts to help with emotionally distraught states designed as ways to resign yourself religiously, to cope with death. For entertainment and subversion, throughout the 18th century people continued to read plays the way we might today read a novel. The wealthy in great houses acted them out. Mid-century the novel was just emerging as a popular form and circulating libraries would not have a substantial stock until later in the century. Respectability came with Scott and later for women Austen and her followers. The unspoken reality of plays was their lack of respectability didn’t matter, was their raison d’etre. These books of plays were often several single plays bound together. You can find them in research libraries. I own a 5 volume set — beautifully done — printed in 1804. It has learned essays at the opening of the 2 volumes of comedy (on comedy), the 2 volumes of tragedy (on tragedy), and 1 volume of farce, burlesque and opera (ditto for 3). The volume of comedy is about 1/3 from the restoration and early 18th century.

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Mrs Siddons as Southerne’s Isabella with her son as Isabella’s child (Wm Hamilton)

It’s probable Austen read this sort of thing, that her father had versions of it in the library. Let us recall the recorded reality that among the gentry people acted out amateur plays. I’ve always wondered what they did for individual scripts – – someone had to copy parts out. A guide to what people were willing to discuss and quote are two books which record what plays people did.I really recommend reading (for fun) Robert Noyes’s The neglected muse &Thesian Mirror. The neglected muse is about Restoration and 18th century plays played; Thespian Mirror is sheerly Shakespeare. He has taken into account people did the revisions that were popular (Garrick’s where Romeo and Juliet wake up first and then die; Tate’s Lear). He’s read about 900 novels and tells the stories of productions in these novels, or quotations found in them, allusions, but mostly productions. Edgeworth has her characters in Patronage act out Aaron Hills’ transation of one of Voltaire’s popular plays — that reminds us that people read and watched French (and Italian too) drama in translation (when they were translated). In the 1790s books of German plays were translated: the Folger has a whole bunch of these, and I’ve read in them. Much better translation of Lovers Vows than Inchbald’s by a man named Thompson. Also plays made out of novels in the 1790s were available: there’s two from Radcliffe, one from “Monk” Lewis.

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Mrs Young as Hortensia

The way to gauge what Austen might really be alluding to is to see the plays she openly cites: look at the ones cited in MP: the interesting thing is how many come from the later 18th century, and how many are mixed (tragi-comedy). Tom wants to do The Heir at Law: there Austen is alluding to his unfitness because the play has an unfit heir. We can adduce Shakespeare here and there because of Austen’s explicit remarks about her reading and what she thought English people read at the time. She avoids the ribald. We are told by family records the Austens in their barn preferred comedy – -these pseudo-oriental harem nonsense, but that James loved tragedy and sometimes won.

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While the Noyes’ volumes might be superior for the purpose of understanding the full milieu of Austen’s reading and dramatic allusions, Paula Byrne (again) and Penny Gay’s books on Austen and the Theater jump directly from Austen’s allusions to plays in her letters and what there is in the novel (as well as speculation); the problem here is they do sometimes go on about a play they have little solid evidence in the novel for because they’d like to believe this play is alluded to. They use Austen’s letters — overread them. All you need is one reference and Byrne acts as if Austen memorized the play just about. But as histories of drama gone to, read, familiar in the period, they are useful concrete descriptions of the milieu.

What we do see is the gradual censoring of the ribald, a growth in proto-feminism, at least more strong women in strong roles. There were women playwrights at the end of the era and some of Austen’s comments in her letters and allusions ferreted out by Byrne and Gay show she did favor these in her reading or had read them (like Hannah Cowley’s play).
That Austen read and alluded to drama is so and that allusions are there is so if you base your suppositions on what Austen clearly says (she has no reason to hide the sort of thing she alludes to — she wants her readers to understand her) or alludes to, and her letters if used with discretion are helpful. Also records of what was played in London, Southampton, Bath while she or relatives were there.

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Last the early translations, another way into Austen’s texts: the Francophone world of publishing and the Anglophone were in continual exchange. In London French texts are continually published; English novels are translated into French language — and culture — continually (and find their way to Italy, Germany, even Russia). I rejoice to say the early French translations of Austen’s texts are now all available now in good texts for a reasonable price.

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Some are typed books.  LLC Classic series from Memphis offers the whole book typed, proof read carefully, and evenly distributed from page to page in three columns (rather like Book-of-the-Month club used to do in the 1950s).  I have two copies of two different hard-to-buy books among my Jane Austen library of this type. One is Isabelle de Montolieu’s French translation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — if you buy the commercial copy you will find it’s been doctored, changed by a modern translator to come closer to Austen — which kills the value of the book. The typed version of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Raison et Sensibilite does not include her even more invaluable preface. It was reprinted by Gilson in his magisterial bibliography of 1998. You can purchase a similarly typed version of the early 19th century French translation of Pride and Prejudice by Eloise Perks (1822), Orgueil et Prevention; said by those who have studied the issue the best of the contemporary translations.

Some are facsimiles of varying quality. I cite the ones which are readable, include the complete text, reliable.

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There is a facsimile of the French translation of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Persuasion, La Famille Elliot ou l’Ancienne Inclination, and I rejoice to say it includes her invaluable preface – she explains her choices, tells how Austen was regarded by a serious French reader of women’s books at the time. It’s not beautifully done; it looks like someone just put the book down on a scanner and the pages are smaller than the white page alloted to each but you can read it. ISBN 9781273394805 Elibron does a much better job at this — I love Elibron facsimiles.

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For Mansfield Park, Hachette has produced a beautiful three volume set from la Biblioteque Nationale de France: La parc de Mansfield, ou Les Trois Cousines, translator Henry Vilemain. ISBN 9782012570368

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For Emma there are the beautifully done volumes by Hachette: La Nouvelle Emm, ou Les caracteres angelas du siecle. The translator is unknown. You can now also buy an FB edition, one volume, La Nouvelle Emma, all four volumes in one, beautifully typed ISB 9781503193185.

And for Northanger Abbey, I have the 1946 reprint by classiques Garnier of the very best translation into Frenc of an Austen text that exists:  Felix Feneon’s Catherine Morland, done from prison (he was an anarchist and came closer to her spirit than anyone else ever has). See my essay focusing on this brilliant translation in the context of translations of Sense and Sensibility.

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Another excellent volume I’ve described in earlier blogs

Ellen

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