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Archive for June 8th, 2016

HelenAllinghamCowParsleyandBluebells
Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Cow Parsley and Bluebells

AH, hills beloved!—where once, a happy child,
Your beechen shades, “your turf, your flowers, among,”
I wove your bluebells into garlands wild,
And woke your echoes with my artless song.
Ah! hills beloved!—your turf, your flowers, remain;
But can they peace to this sad breast restore,
For one poor moment soothe the sense of pain,
And teach a broken heart to throb no more?
And you, Aruna! in the vale below,
As to the sea your limpid waves you bear,
Can you one kind Lethean cup bestow,
To drink a long oblivion to my care?
Ah no!—when all, e’en hope’s last ray is gone,
There ’s no oblivion but in death alone!
— Smith, Sonnet to the South Downs

The galley slave may sing when he is unchained, but it would be uncommon equanimity which could induce him to do so when he is actually bound to his oar — Walter Scott on Charlotte Smith

Dear friends and readers,

Considering the condition of women in the 18th century, the way law rendered wives powerless, it is remarkable how few depictions of wife abuse survive; even fewer stress the consequences for children. When not blaming the wife, they are stilted, observe decorum, refuse to convey the distress of the woman:

wifeabuse

When I reviewed Mary Trouille’s remarkably thorough (and therefore important) Wife Abuse in Mid-Eighteenth-Century France for the Intelligencer, I discovered how few texts apart from court cases written up, give any idea of the nature and prevalence of wife abuse (which is emotional, mental and social as well as physical) literally over the centuries. This relatively graphic (yet caricatured) illustration to a text by Retif de la Bretonne may be accounted for because probably he or his daughter, Agnes wrote a rare candid account of the degrading treatment, including the sexual experience, in Ingenue Saxancour, ou La Femme Separee.

UnworthyHusband

Ingenue Saxancour is a painful book to read today because Agnes’s husband forced her to do disgusting things. I find it literally terrifying because the people around her seeing her having been beaten, hysterical, nonetheless insisted she return to this man, even tried to trick her into returning to him — as I discovered was Smith’s case many years after she has left her husband, Benjamin, when she was already crippled; it was insisted she come to Egremont’s house and there she found Smith with others where the aim was as to pressure her to accede to his wishes (or live with him again?). I had not realized the importance of Retif’s subtitle until I read Smith’s letters: The Separated Wife. In fact, Retif’s text is told from the wife’s point of view after Agnes separated herself from her husband, not just to justify herself, but to point out how her lack of access to any money controlled her behavior, kept her with him; the book is powerful argument on behalf of divorce and secure settlement (we’d call it alimony).

HeEvenSoldTheirBed
French caption underneath: He even sold their bed!

Smith’s case is precisely parallel; instead of framing her as an anticipation of the characters in Dickens’ Bleak House, we should frame her as a wife who separated herself from her husband, and who had no right or access to money (even money she earned) unless he would allow her to be given any or give money himself to her or their children (when they pleased him). That these two women separated themselves from abusive men is central to their later abjection. The society punished women hard who dared to do that.

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Smith
Charlotte Smith in the early 1990s

The story of Charlotte Smith’s immiseration, her writing to live (literally from hand to mouth in later years), and her abusive husband has been told by numerous Smith scholars and biographers. Having just read all 800+ pages of Judith Stanton’s heroic achievement, The Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith (the letters were scattered in all sorts of places), I’ve realized that with a few honorable exceptions (e.g., Susan Wolfson, “Charlotte Smith: ‘To Live Only to Write & Write Only to Live,’ HUntington Library Quarterly, 70:4 [2007]:633-59; Antje Blank’s biography in the on-line Literary Encyclopedia, 23 June 2003), the emphasis on the source of her misery is mistakenly put on the 4 decade-long court case. It’s put that because her father-in-law drew up his will without legal advice, and attempted to bypass Benjamin, who was his oldest son, and leave the property to her children. Charlotte Smith, it’s implied was therefore unable to obtain enough money to live with minimal gentility and comfort, without constantly literally running out of money. She was subject to dunning and harassment, could not for lack of money educate her sons and place them in appropriate gentlemanly occupations or provide dowries for her daughters. The (understandable) literary focus of most essays is on what Smith’s ambivalent attitudes towards her desperate writing for monthly sums to live on (and especially the publication of novels and prose works) her circumstances does to the quality and content of her work.

When the biography is paid adequate attention to (and it’s central as she kept saying, much to the disapproval of her contemporaries), biographers and scholarly critics focus on rounds of cross-suing and new litigants, generational law, properties coming in the market, to be sold, and (Smith was right here) corrupt lawyers and officials withholding documents needed to secure and receive actual money. Or they tell the crux in terms that do not convey what is meant (Stuart Curran, Introduction, The Poems, xxi: “the principal function of women within [a male preserve] can only be to suffer the consequences over which they have no control”). The story is skewed to the point that at least two critics argue that Smith herself is blamed for persistently trying to get money due her French son-in-law after the death of her daughter: we are told this exacerbated the aristocratic lord, Egremont and those “on her side,” because the marriage was not approved of in the first place by anyone.

This is to highlight a twig in the presence of a towering tree.

The tree is Benjamin Smith. He could not have operated the way he did without supporting ground all around him: these are the laws and customs that made Smith utterly subject to his will. The law and custom (which accepted his behavior towards her) allowed him to refuse to sign to allow her to collect her jointure or the interest that accumulated, decreeing himself (in the first years) she could have 70£ a year and in the later years nothing regularly at all or at all. She had failed to obtain a legal separation from him when she left him in 1787 because she knew he would never sign a document to that effect. Like Agnes, and many other women in the 18th through 19th centuries, if she wanted to leave him, she had to do it without money. Over the years various interim settlements are proposed, where he is to get (a relatively large) sum and she much less, and sums allotted to the children, and he always refuses because it’s not large enough. He wants more. When Egremont and others at first acting on her behalf seem to be about to act despite his refusal to sign, he threatens to sue, and he has the law on his side and would probably win. Everyone seems to fear him and they all respect his right to sue, uphold it.

It is important to note that he continues to be welcome at Lord Egremont’s table as a congenial enough companion. Unfortunately only some of his letters are included in Stanton’s edition; the reader sees how he knew how to make himself plausible, and crucially all how those with power to help Smith are men (some agents distrustful of Smith as an underling, a subject person who they assume is extravagant), and they naturally uphold the laws and customs and gradually grow irritated at her pro-active ceaseless attempts to (as she saw this) obtain justice, equity, and respect as well as money she could count on regularly. They refuse to justify themselves when they concede large sums to him, and won’t even let her access the interest on her children’s legacies for her or them. They think they don’t need to. The patron who she was so grateful to during the time of her writing The Old Manor House, William Hayley, wrote a treatise called “the old maid” which sufficiently delineates misogynistic attitudes that make his later rejection in character.

Charlotte Smith’s life was continually a ruin or near ruin because she had married an abusive man and left him and with the consent of the society around them he maintained full power over her and her money.

It’s true the bulk or early part of her letters manifests this emphasis on legal minutiae (especially to Egremont’s agents) because not until much later when she grows ill, more impoverished, desperate, does she begin to talk openly to these men (seemingly to the reader uselessly and obsessively but understandably) of how her husband hates her, wishes her dead, and is trying to drive her to death. Only in the later letters to a woman friend, does this emphasis on the legalities fall away. After all she is not trying to persuade her friend to act legally on her behalf. To Sarah Rose, she describes (only briefly) scenes of violence when he came to her house and terrified her and made her fear for her life and those of her younger children. Even then she is embarrassed, only alluding to how one day she was breast-feeding one of the children with the others around her, and he was able to terrify them all because of what she was in the act of doing. She just suggests how he would and could break in, violently take her money away and destroy what he pleased. We don’t begin to know what she had experienced except through the poetry. Curran presents her poetry as starting the romantic movement and as strongly feminist; through the letters we see how autobiographical many are as well:

The Female Exile. Written at Brighthemlstone in November 1792.

November’S chill blast on the rough beach is howling,
The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the shore,
Dark clouds o’er the sea gather heavy and scowling,
And the white cliffs re-echo the wild wintry roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger reclining,
Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely seat;
Her eyes fill’d with tears, and her heart with repining,
She starts at the billows that burst at her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart heaving,
She watches the waves where they mingle with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes deceiving,
May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing tresses,
Once woven with garlands of gay summer flowers;
Her dress unregarded, bespeaks her distresses,
And beauty is blighted by grief’s heavy hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
To seek the gloss’d shell, or the crimson weed stray;
Amused with the present, they heed not to-morrow,
Nor think of the storm that is gathering to-day.

The gilt, fairy ship, with its ribbon sail spreading,
They launch on the salt pool the tide left behind;
Ah! victims–for whom their sad mother is dreading
The multiplied miseries that wait on mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them with anguish,
Now wanderers with her on a once hostile soil,
Perhaps doom’d for life in chill penury to languish,
Or abject dependence, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors renewing,
O’er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin,
All breathless with haste, half expiring with fears.

Poor mourner!–I would that my fortune had left me
The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But like thine my hard fate has of affluence bereft me,
I can warm the cold heart of the wretched no more!

She is hindered from stating her own case by the same deep custom and shame that prevents women today from telling. Unhappily that shame is not yet gone from our society and is part of the reason scholars are reluctant to pinpoint and discuss how the realities of male abuse were responsible for what happened to Smith and her children. Nonetheless, she offers enough to persuade that he behaves the way he does (refuses to sign, refuses to let her have any money but the most minimal) because he wants to punish her hard and see her die. She attributes his reasoning to his preference for his second common-law wife, menage a trois with the wife’s daughter, and that daughter’s (?) baby. She says he tells her she is in the way.

Underneath a scarcely controlled patina of politeness he manifests a continual seething tone towards her. What he hates is how she has exposed him in public, or, as he puts it, humiliates him. He hates her for telling what he does and what he is. He wouldn’t mind in the least doing what he has, but he loathes anyone knowing. He refers to how she portrays him in her profligate money-squandering violent and arrogant heroes. He was not alone in deeply resenting this exposure: beyond those lawyers she was alluding to, fellow writers castigated (Anna Steward) or distanced themselves. Mary Hays was a rare open supporter. It brings to mind this later 17th century painful picture:

17thcenturybatteredwoman
I found it linked to an on-line site about battered women

It was and is so much more convenient for everyone if the hurting person will stay silent. He also detests her for her high intelligence, reading of books (he sneers at her poetry and at her teaching her children to value poetry) and above all her assuming her rank is higher than his. He loves to sneer at her brother and all her childhood memories of a gentry upbringing (Stanton, pp 325-326n2).

In general his character as it emerges from this book fits that of other abusers. She sometimes looks at him as deranged and so describes him. That causes people to doubt her because when they read his letters we meet a normal man. The experience of abuse from the woman’s point of view is to be yoked to an egoistic, ruthless sociopath. But it is a mistake to take such man as crazy.  Such people are not. They are rational people, knowing what power they are given and what they are allowed to do and take advantage, most of the time hiding what they know others will fear and or abhor them for.

Part of why Benjamin specifically hated Charlotte may make some sympathize with him — her snobbery and unbreakable (in the end she is not broken) self-esteem from her rank, her intelligence and her understanding she has achieved literary greatness in her poetry. She is as proud as the often maligned Clarissa Harlowe (a fictional character but a good example of what can be resented in women). She roused in him all his latent injuries of class — as Richardson’s Clarissa rouses in Lovelace his latent insecurities. In a society where status and gentry manners and education mattered he was left out, nouveau, relatively uncouth. By the time we meet her she does despise his whole idle self-indulgent way of life. (I would too.) She cares for her novels and their reputation. He knows this. She is concerned to make sure there are no errors, and they are packaged highly respectably. He suffers too, he is in debt and desperate for money himself, a much more primal affair and he died ill in a debtor’s prison. she lives in fear of bailiff’s and before, during and after the time she is literally homeless, she fears she will be arrested.

When I think of what her life could have been, much that is marvelous in the novels, eloquent passages of enlightened thought, e.g, real description of what prison was like (in Marchmont, where she also quotes Madame Roland’s Memoir), of what he caused her life to be like, the disproportion of punishment is stunning. She made a mistake when she was too young to realize she should have refused a marriage to a young man she didn’t know at all. At first she was extravagant with him. She says it did not take long for her to wake up to her desolation and frustration — and fate of submission and endless pregnancy living in a tradesman’s milieu. She had done nothing wrong. She followed her society’s demands when she allowed him continual access to her body as long as she lived with him. The money she made on her great poetry was used by him after she negotiated to free him from prison (thus incurring more debts). She obeyed him by following him to France where he took a mistress, and where she almost died giving birth because (as we’d put it) the medical services in rural France were bad. The only way she could free her mind, and herself from physical abuse and emotional exploitation, was to get out. He let her out but not with any means to live, indeed with a determination to get back at her for leaving him publicly.

His male pride before his society is central. Had he let her out, and allowed her her jointure, and left her alone, she would have walked away. But she might not have written the offending novels and many prefaces.

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halehall18thcenturyOldManorHouse
18th century print illustration: an old manor house

We are overlooking an important book that belongs to the history of wife abuse and how laws and customs were set up to deprive women of any independence, any control over or real means to protect their body. Wolfson remarks that Stanton’s edition, especially with its subtitled chapter headings,

1765-83: The Horrors of the Abyss
1784-90: To Live Only to Write & Write only to Live
1791-92: Hope Long Delay’d
1793: A New Course of Suffering
1794: A State of Anxiety
1795: Overwhelmed With Sorrow
1796: A Wanderer Upon Earth
1797: A Necessitous Author
1798-1800: Lord Egremonts Extraordinary Kindness [ironic]
1801: Domestic Miseries
1802: Perry Duns & Continual Want
1803: An Houseless Beggar
1804: The Best of the Bunch [ironic]
1805-1806: A Prison & A Grave
Epilogue: Nothing But the Wind

constitutes a fifteenth volume, another central story in the complete edition of Smith’s works published by Pickering and Chatto. But it is not fiction. Not even gothic — for there is nothing supernatural here. Nothing unexpected if you know anything about life. What is unusual is the candour with which she details what happens to her. As a biographer in principle Samuel Johnson should have approved.

I grant that if one wanted to make a popular book out of her letters, it would be a hard sell. Smith’s continual need of money and her fight to obtain it is repetitive (as eating and paying the rent and laundry, and getting coals in for heat, and keeping your furniture in good condition and from creditors is repetitive). During the early part of the book when she is still writing novels, she is endlessly using her booksellers as a kind of bank, drawing money from them before she is due the sums. Her tones are most often weary, indignant, exasperated, half-controlled as she endlessly re-reasons her case, attempts to negotiate with booksellers she knows are making a good profit on her books and sometimes pretending not to. She becomes bitter, she recriminates, she repeats Benjamin Smith’s and Egremont’s insults (“a diabolical liar,” Smith said); she is tenacious over the same details; and finally she turns vehement. She and her husband fight over their children: he spitefully seems to favor the youngest daughter and it grates on her when they resemble him or when they seem to side with him (especially after he has refused to help them or her with access to money). There is tedium, but on the whole this book is letters is the most devastating, fascinating and at moments deeply compelling book I’ve read in a long time.

Charlotte Smith’s is a tragic story of an admirable woman who achieved much against all odds, but at the price of comfort and joys she yearns for: the story of a woman whose heart was broken but instead of going to pieces, she holds on to try for what life she can for herself and her children. If not urbanely gallant, she is eager to reach people. Perhaps most poignant is that she never meets face-to-face the few people who befriend her in her later years. The death of Henrietta O’Neill, deeply compatible, whom she did see in physical space, was a great loss to her.

From the elegy Smith wrote:

Like the poor ghost the night I seek;
Its hollow winds repeat my sighs;
The cold dews mingle on my cheek
With tears that wander from mine eyes …

While each sad month, as slow it past,
Brought some new sorrow to deplore;
Some grief more poignant than the last,
But thou canst calm those griefs no more ….

Wit, that no sufferigns could impair,
Was thine, and thine those mental powers
Of force to chase the fiends that tear
From Fancy’s hands her budding flowers.

O’er what, my angel friend, thou wert,
Dejected Memory loves to mourn;
Regretting still that tender heart,
Now withering in a distant urn ….
— written September 1794, about a year after her friend’s death

Sarah Rose’s reluctance to visit is attributed to how Smith’s having left her husband is regarded as scandalous. Some live far away: the Rev Joseph Cooper Walker, an Irish antiquarian. Others have busy lives and not much money or time to travel to her: she writes Mary Hays when Hays writes for permission to tell Smith’s biography and uses the opportunity to ask Hays to tell Eliza Fenwick (author of Secresy) she admires her books.

It’s hard to say what is the most affecting incident. There are so many in life. Smith saw as her greatest loss the death of her beloved deeply congenial daughter, Anna Augusta (from a combination of consumption, pregnancy, and hardship), but she is as distressed over the death of her son, Charles, basically from the bad state of health he was in after he had to have a leg amputated from battle. Charles’s death was astonishingly (to us) compounded because creditors seemed to have succeed in preventing his body from being buried for a time. She writes of the military profession open to her sons: “I have had enough & too much of the trade of blood” (Stanton 649); looks at war as a series of irrational horrors, and is aware that her sons are making money when they go out to the empire by preying on other people more helpless than they. Thus she found herself in conflict with her oldest son, William, who was willing to compromise much more and insisted on taking Harriet, her youngest daughter back to India with him to the marriage market there. In the event, she became very ill, and was sent back to cost Smith much agony and money keeping her alive. William had been sending £100 at regular intervals. He stopped all payments and left her destitute. She had wanted to send her sons to university. It kills her to see her daughter Lucy, repeating aspects of her own experience in an ill-advised marriage, three children and poverty, violence from her husband before she is widowed, and then dependency. It is probable (and fortunate) that the death of George, her youngest son occurred so close to her own, that she died not knowing he had predeceased her.

It also killed her to have to sell her library. Letter after letter has her considering to sell her cherished 1000 volumes of French and English books; when after long holding out, she does, she gets very little. She says her one resource that makes her life individually worth living is gone since she lives where she can meet no people like herself (thinking literary people). She misses conversation. She has no money for coals, little for food (she mentions her loyal servants’ suffering), and writes on against the pain of rheumatism in her hands and because (as she says in the character of Marchmont in one of her books), when one writes “out of duty” on serious matters, it elevates the spirits, takes one out of oneself to another realm. She did not write just for money, or even recognition.

Elegiac-Sonnets-and-Other-Poems
Her poems are available read aloud by ordinary people (Librivox) for free

Her achievements, pleasures, what she took pride in. To return to her children. More than a few times, she admits they are a burden to her, one she longs to divest herself of. She could live much more cheaply, spend her time as she might wish (reading, writing). She dreams of a cottage in Switzerland on her own (if she could get her hands on her jointure). But they are also everything to her, her life’s blood goes into them. She would have and does in her letters regard her sons Nicholas Hankey and Lionel (her second and third son to have survived childhood) with strong pride in their successes and attitudes towards their function in dire post-colonial environments. In her last years they sends her regular remittances as William once did. Lionel rose to high office in the West Indies but continued to find tyranny abhorrent, executed an emancipation of slaves against great opposition. He had a long useful career and died at age 65. Nicholaa’s career in India ended in 1813 when he was dismissed for using armed forces against native Indians; he achieved high excellence in Persian, participated in treaty arrangements and was known for his “hospitality and humanity.” The reader watches the few social and real life pleasures of Charlotte’s last years come out of Nicholas’s relationship with a native woman: she took care of three of his children, and took especial delight in a grand-daughter, Lucenza, for whose education (it’s no exaggeration to say) she wrote her Conversations, Introducing Poetry … for the use of children and young persons (1804).

Although not emphasized in the letters, she had a close good relationship with her oldest daughter, Charlotte Mary, who was her amanuensis, remained single and wanted to write her mother’s life; Charlotte lived apart on the interest she received; she was probably saving her mother money and protecting her private space. She never married. Smith writes of Charlotte’s interests, Charlotte’s life, how she is being cheated of opportunities and daily comforts because money rightfully hers (as Smith sees this) is withheld. Her relationship with her sister, Catherine Dorset is problematic: Catherine was conventional; there was tough litigation between Catherine’s husband and Smith over the legacy; only towards the end of the letters when Smith is mortally ill (she cannot walk for the pain of her uterine cancer) does the love and faithful support of the one sister for the other become somewhat apparent. Early on Smith has the friendship of Georgiana Spenser, Duchess of Devonshire to count on; the Duchess acts practically on her behalf, but the duchess has her own problems and her health gave out before Smith’s did.

Smith should not be taken at her literal word when it comes to her novels. She cares intensely about her novels as a group and mentions them individually now and again. At least twice years after its publication, she asks if a second edition of Ethelinde is called for. She puts some heart’s blood into its story of a deeply unhappy marriage, sympathy with a husband who longs to commit adultery. She needs her library or access to someone else’s to write them. She speaks in Marchmont of the repressive measures instituted by Pitt’s reign of “alarmists” against “seditious novels” and is aware of how phrases in such are closely monitored to see (as one might today say) de-stabilize the people in an area. In 1802 she can still say she is “never so well pleased as when I have a good deal of [literary] work to do” and her “greatest vexation” is her family affairs draw off her attention. She laughs at herself for thinking her library might be valued because it was hers, but she does not give up the thought.

Her letters in her very last year or so, especially the few months left her of life after Benjamin Smith’s death, become more relaxed. There is also a sense of relief around the time he was put in prison for the second and last time. This suggests to me she continued to live in fear of him (that’s why she didn’t want to meet him and it was cruel to make her) as well as in effect subject to his will. She indulges in literary gossip and begins to send commentary on the latest work of the Lees to Sarah. She feels better because her circumstances are becoming easier because of her own efforts too. After she finally accepts that Cadell and Davies do not want her work, and Low has died, she takes up with John Johnson. Johnson emerges as that blessing, a generous and respectful publisher. She begins to be embarrassed about his advances. Her dismay when she discovers he is not a letter-writer is comical; why is he delaying a publication? He sends money, but why oh why doesn’t he write back? He is stingy with words. Not that she’s not still at it with Egremont: from her bed-couch and in pain her last letter is to him in the third person formal demanding this and that (lots of underlining) to secure for her most vulnerable children what is left. She is still trying to help Harriet to marry a man Harriet is attached to and whom Smith thinks will make her a good husband. She was working on a volume of poetry (left in Johnson’s hands) that included Beachy Head when her letters cease.

An early worshipper at Nature’s shrine,
I loved her rudest scenes-warrens, and heaths,
And yellow commons, and birch-shaded hollows,
And hedge rows, bordering unfrequented lanes
Bowered with wild roses, and the clasping woodbine,
Where purple tassels of the tangling vetch
With bittersweet, and bryony inweave,
And the dew fills the silver bindweed’s cups-
I loved to trace the brooks whose humid banks
Nourish the harebell, and the freckled pagil;
And stroll among o’ershadowing woods of beech,
Lending in Summer from the heats of noon
A whispering shade; while haply there reclines
Some pensive lover of uncultured flowers,
Who, from the tumps with bright green mosses clad,
Plucks the wood sorrel with its light thin leaves,
Heart-shaped, and triply-folded, and its root
Creeping like beaded coral; or who there
Gathers, the copse’s pride, anemones,
With rays like golden studs on ivory laid
Most delicate: but touched with purple clouds,
Fit crown for April’s fair but changeful brow.
— Smith, from Beachy Head

She was more than remarkable.

Smith left an important and extensive oeuvre. It’s hard to say which is her finest novel. The one most in print has been The Old Manor House.

manor_house_illustration
A modern illustration

The opening of Old Manor House comes closest in tone to Austen — more opening sardonic. Its third book contains an long section dramatizing the 1750s colonialist war between France and England as fought in the America – she has a number of such sequences presenting the horrors and irrationalities of war.

Perhaps The Old Manor House is favored because it’s more shapely, feels more planned than the others; I feel Desmond is favored for the same reason. Smith’s novels more often meander and her emotions and thoughts pour out more and more frankly as the novels proceed. The reader has to let go with her, and I find I like them best when I don’t apply novelistic conventional criteria to them, but look at them as compendiums of life-writing, poetry, and political radicalism. Her letters give the reader insight into the background of these texts: literary, legal, social, economic and colonialist society, local town and rural culture from Smith’s woman-centered vantage point. Her family members seem to have tried to thrive by litigating with one another. In her frank presentation of family relationships her letters explain why her second fiction is a translation and abridgement of a set of law cases (The Romance of Real Life) where vulnerable individuals, and especially women, becomes victim of norms which develop everyone’s most hostile impulses. Candour and tenacity, truth-telling is their hall mark and strength, and the core truth is that the physical aspects of wife abuse, or, as the modern phrase is, domestic violence, horrible as that can be, is but one part of a pervasive harm acceptance and indifference allows. This blog can be regarded as an argument for an affordable publication of a selection of Smith’s letters.

beachy-head
A photograph of Beachy Head taken by a friend this summer

Ellen.

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