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Archive for October, 2021


An eighteenth-century mask

Friends and readers,

Another report on the papers and panels at another virtual conference, this one the fall EC/ASECS, to have been held at the Winterthur Museum, with the umbrella subject matter: “Material Culture.” Happily for each time slot there was only one panel, so I missed very little. On Thursday evening, we began our festivities online with Peter Staffel’s regularly held aural/oral experience. Excerpts from two comedies were dramatically read, and various poems. I read two sonnets by Charlotte Smith, and probably read with more feeling the first, No 51, because I thought of Jim and how I have dreamed of going to the Hebrides and got as far as Inverness and a drive around the northern edge of Scotland where across the way I saw the isle of Skye (or so I tell myself it was):

Supposed to have been written in the Hebrides:

ON this lone island, whose unfruitful breast
Feeds but the summer shepherd’s little flock,
With scanty herbage from the half cloth’d rock
Where osprays, cormorants and seamews rest;
E’en in a scene so desolate and rude
I could with thee for months and years be blest;
And, of thy tenderness and love possest,
Find all my world in this wild solitude!
When Summer suns these northern seas illume,
With thee admire the light’s reflected charms,
And when drear Winter spreads his cheerless gloom,
Still find Elysium in thy shelt’ring arms:
For thou to me canst sov’reign bliss impart,
Thy mind my empire—and my throne thy heart.

The next morning at 9 am we had our first panel, Jane Austen Then and Now, chaired by Linda Troost, and I read my paper “A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen”.

Next up was Elizabeth Nollen’s “Reading Radcliffe: the importance of the book in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. After the publisher had held onto the manuscript for six years, she wrote an angry letter, but he refused to return the manuscript unless she paid back what he had paid her brothers (£10); her family wouldn’t fork out the money. Nollen retold Udolpho in a way that emphasized its comforting and inspirational components. Her argument was Austen was re-writing Udolpho to make Radcliffe’s book into a bildingsroman. In Northanger Abbey we go with a heroine on a journey into womanhood. Henry and Eleanor Tilney, kind and unselfish friends, invite Catherine to back with them to their ancestral home. Ms Nollen (to my surprise) at the close of her paper inveighed against Catherine marrying Henry, finding in him much offensive man-splaining, seeing him as a man who will domineer over her. Catherine is exchanging one boss for another was her take, and that Catherine’s new future life is that of a dependent. (I feel that at the novel’s end, we are expected to feel how lucky Catherine is to have married such an intelligent, cordial, for the most part understanding man — and at the young age of 18, but of course it could be the narrator’s closing words are wholly ironic.)


Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland escaping her friends and social duties by reading (paratexts from the ITV Northanger Abbey)

B. G. Betz’s “Pride and Prejudice and Its Sequels and Variations: a Gift to the Humanities.” She began by asserting that for Elizabeth Bennet is the favorite heroine of most readers, that Elizabeth and her novel provoke a passionate response in people. Why else the endless retellings of the E&D story? I’d say this is certainly so in the film adaptation Lost in Austen. (Here’s the plot of Pride and Prejudice to refresh your mind.) She then told us she travels around to libraries doing Library Hours (reading books to younger children) with the aim of getting more people reading, reading Jane Austen and also all the modernizations and adaptations, and appropriations of Austen books into written sequels, other (related?) romances, and many many movie adaptations. BG emphasis was “As long as I get them reading!” She probably is alive to Austen’s distinctive language and intelligent text, but what she aims out is to re-engage common readers with books, using Austen and romance. She went over several lists of sequel-writers (naming them, citing titles), told of which characters did chose this or that as central to the story line of a particular novel or series of novels, and the dates of publication. (I sometimes wonder if I miss out because I so rarely read sequels, and admit that the most recent Austen adaptations [heritage as well as appropriation] do not attract me because the film-makers seem no longer to assume the viewership includes a sizable population who have read Austen’s novels).

The morning’s second panel, Women in the World: Shaping Identity through Objects and Space included four papers. I can offer only the gist of three of them.
The chair, Andrea Fabrizio’s paper, ““Small Town Travel and Gossip: Earthly Obstacles and Spiritual Agency in The Narrative of the Persecutions of Agnes Beaumont, was about a slender book, that because of my lack of knowledge of the topic and perspective, was difficult for me to follow. It’s short (only 50 pages) and vindicates a woman’s right to a spiritual choice. The general issue is one of control. A young woman’s father will not allow her to belong to a Bunyan-like church group, during their perpetual struggle, he dies and she is accused of murder (!) and then acquitted.

Ruth G. Garcia’s “‘Affect nothing above your rank’: Social Identity and the Material World in Conduct Books for Servants” focused on Edgeworth’s Belinda as a novel. Ms Garcia sees the novel as one which manifests and explores anxiety over servants sharing space with their employer (Belinda is Lady Delacour’s companion; another servant is insolent). The novel might seem to uphold conduct books which insist on controlling servants (in among other areas dress), but we are shown how servants have little right to live. Lady Delacour’s is a troubled marriage and accedes finally to Belinda’s influence. By contrast, Lady Anne Perceval is an exemplary character who is her husband’s partner. She cited Carolyn Steedman’s Labours Lost, an important book about women servants. (I have read essays which interpret this novel quite differently, seeing it as a lesbian text, as about a mother-daughter relationship.)

Xinyuan Qiu’s “Affection or Affectation: An Alternative Way of Reading Pamela Provided by Hogarth’s London Milkmaids” is described by its title: she used Hogarth’s satiric depictions of milkmaids (which do resemble the ways Richardson dresses Pamela) to argue that the text is salacious but not to satirize or critique it in the manner of Fielding but rather to argue that the milkmaid figure used erotically challenges traditional hierarchies.


A drawing by Hogarth featuring a milkmaid — this is a more chaste image than several of those examined

I could take in more of Elizabeth Porter’s ““Moving Against the Marriage Plot: London in Burney’s Cecilia because I have studied Burney’s Cecilia, as well as her journal writing (and of course read Evelina). This seemed to me a study of Cecilia as an instance of urban gothic used as a critique of the way this young woman is treated. As defined by Ms Porter, urban gothic, associated with the Victorian gothic, presents a state of disorientation in urban spaces; male authors tend to write this kind of gothic (I thought of Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White and No Name.) It is a development out of Radcliffe (whom I remember Burney commenting upon in her journals). Cecilia ends in a psychic breakdown running around the London streets, near the novel’s close she experiences horror, imprisonment, living in darkness. In marriage laws and customs where women lose personhood in marriage, which provides a happy ending which seems more like succumbing. We are left with feelings of stress, strain, haunted regret, resignation.

I was able to attend to only one of the papers on the third afternoon panel, a miscellany of papers, “Susan Howard’s “‘Born within the Vortex of a Court’: Structural Methodologies and the Symbology of Possessions in Charlotte Papendiek’s Memoirs. This was a reading of Papendiek’s 1760s Memoir. Her father had been a servant in Queen Charlotte’s court, and Charlotte constructs a dual narrative telling about her private life as a child and grown woman at this court. Ms Howard read material realities as manifesting aspects of social realities. Things, and especially gifts, are emissaries between people. She discussed Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of the queen and of this Assistant Keeper of the Queen’s wardrobe (as well as Queen’s reader). After her talk (during the discussion) Ms Howard talked about the problem of gauging how far what Papendiek wrote was literal truth, but suggested if it wasn’t, the journals are as valuable for telling us of the values, norms and general events at the court. (I feel the same holds true for Burney’s journals and diaries, which have recently been shown by, among others, Lorna Clark, to be often highly fictionalized.)

I came in at the end of Jessica Banner’s “Women behind the Work: Re-Thinking the Representation of Female Garment Workers in Eighteenth-Century London,” which was a study of the realities of the lives of female garment workers in 18th century London (methods of production, pay, who and where were they located?, their re-organization between the 1790s and 1815). There is a Liverpool directory, an alphabetical list of names.

The second day ended with an hour-long very enjoyable talk by Deborah Harper, Senior Curator of Education, Winterthur Museum and Library, working there for over 30 years. She took us on a tour of the keyboard instruments in the Dupont collection at the museum, focusing on 18th century elements and what seems to be one of the most cherished treasures of the collection, a 1907 Steinway owned and played upon by Mrs Ruth du Pont (nee Wales, 1889-1967); her husband, Henry Francis Dupont was the Dupont who developed the museum into the premier collection of American decorative art it is today. Although not mentioned by Ms Harper, his father, Henry Algernon du Pont, was a US senator for Delaware, a wealthy Republican businessman and politician who promptly lost his seat when senators were no longer appointed but elected. I wouldn’t presume to try to convey the rich detail and explanations in this talk (accompanied by interesting images). Ms Harper covered what are harpsichords, pianofortes, owners, collectors, specific histories of the different keyboards, how they fit into the culture of their specific place and era, stories of estates, individual players, where the keyboard has been and is today in the buildings. One group of people mentioned, the Lloyd family who owned Wye house and Wye plantation, owned large groups of enslaved people, among them Frederick Douglas.

The longest section revolved around the Steinway at present in a beautiful front room, and how it was loved and used by Ruth du Pont, who, Ms Harper said, loved musicals and Cole Porter songs. Ruth du Pont is described on the Winterthur website as “the Lady of the house,” “a social figure, talented musician, and hostess of four houses” and “devoted wife” and mother. “Photographs and documents from Winterthur’s vast archive document Mrs. du Pont’s life of hospitality, music, and travel.” I found elsewhere a full and franker life of high privilege than you might expect (with many photographs). She had to endure various tensions throughout her younger years (in each life some rain must fall), and later in life would go into angry tirades at FDR as “a traitor to his class.” So she would have resented my having social security to live upon? It also seems that her husband didn’t like the color of her piano; he wanted to paint it gray-green to match the 18th century colors of some of his collected furniture. When he decided against this (wisely, or was persuaded not to), he kept the piano from view for a long time (placing it for example in a concert hall for a time).


Used for Christmas concerts today

One of two blogs,
Ellen

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18th century writing-slope: sometimes called a writing-box, or writing-desk

Hans Mayer had written: “Identity is possible only through attachment.” Christa Wolf responds: “What he does not say in so many words but knows from experience is that identity is forged by resisting intolerable conditions, which means we must not allow attachments to deteriorate into dependency but must be able to dissolve them again if the case demands it (Wolf, Parting with Phantoms, 1990-1994)

Austen could not dissolve these attachments but resisted mightily and yet without admitting resistance. This idea can be also applied as a general summation of part of D W. Harding’s famous essay on Austen’s satiric comedy, “Regulated Hatred.”

Dear friends and readers,

You may be yourself in your own life tired of virtual life and longing to turn to in-person life: I am and am not. Over the past two weeks I had a number of wonderful experiences on-line, virtually, which I would not have been able to reach in person: a London Trollope society reading group, a musical concert at the Smithsonian, a good class at Politics and Prose, held at night when I cannot drive. I also longed to truly be with people too — it’s physical places as much as communicating directly with people, casually, seeing one another’s legs and feet, but for even most the alternative was nothing at all. I think I am enjoying these virtual experiences so because they are laid on a groundwork of memory (I’ve been there or with these people), imagination (extrapolation), much reading (shared with the other participants) and visual and aural media.

All this to say I’ve been attending the Bath250 conference, officially held or zoomed out from the University of Liverpool, for several late nights and for the past evening and two days I’ve attended a full virtual version of the EC/ASECS conference. I’ve gone to EC/ASECS almost every year since 2000, and since Jim died, every year. This is the second year in row we (they) have postponed the plan to go to the Winterthur Museum for our sessions, and stay by a nearby hotel. Our topic this year has been what’s called Material Culture: A virtual prelude, but there was nothing of the prelude about the papers and talks. I will be making a couple of blogs of these in order to remember what was said in general myself and to convey something of the interest, newness and occasional fascination (from the Educational Curator of Winterthur) of what was said — with one spell-binding Presidential talk by Joanne Myers, “My Journal of the Plague Year.”


18th century lined trunk

For tonight I thought I’d lead off with the one talk or paper I can given in full, my own, which I was surprised to find fit in so well with both what was said at Bath250 and the topics at EC/ASECS, from costumes in the theater as central to the experience, to libraries and buildings, to harpsichords and pianofortes now at Winterthur. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned this paper, but it has undergone real changes (see my discussion of early plan and inspiration), and is now seriously about how a study of groups of words for containers (boxes, chests, trunks, parcels, pockets) and meaning space shows the significance for Austen of her lack of control or even literally ownership of precious real and portable possessions and private space to write, to dream, simply to be in. I’ve a section on dispossessions and possessions in the Austen films now too.

I’ve put it on academia.edu

A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Identity in Jane Austen


Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) packing her writings away in the trunks in what was their Norland bedroom (2009 Sense and Sensibility, scripted Andrew Davies

At the last moment I added a section on women’s pockets and pocketbooks in the 18th century and as found in Austen’s novels. An addendum to the paper.

And a bibliography.

Ellen

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Anne Bronte by herself, drawn as a girl seeking, looking out

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of week ago now I wrote out some notes I took on two separate occasions, a talk on zoom from the Gaskell house and Haworth cottage on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte, and two talks from an Anne Bronte conference (which also included material on Patrick, Charlotte, Emily and Branwell) on September 4th Well tonight I want make a second installment of notes on talks on Anne Bronte herself, her poetry, and mostly about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I thought I’d begin backwards, with Anne Bronte herself as discussed by the award-winning journalist, Samir Ahmed, and here I’ll point out to how she won a suit against BBC for paying her derisory sums.

Samira began by telling everyone how early as a teenager, she was “blown away” by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (this made me remember how much Austen’s Sense and Sensibility has meant to me since my teens). Ahmed felt that Anne had an awareness when very young of injustice. As a graduate student, Ahmed’s dissertation was on “Property and Possession in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” She agued the book was written as a popular call that could be intertwined with a romantic novel story. In her preface she says she cannot understand why a woman cannot write what a men might want to and a man a woman. Her aim is to tell the truth.

In both Agnes Grey and Tenant there are experiences our heroines have, which are burned into their brains. Agnes Grey humiliated and berated for not controlling children allowed to become frantic and savage. She is giving testimony ever bit as surely as Christine Casey Ford. Anne was an intelligent woman with a need to speak. A mind seeking justice. At the time of the novel Frazer Magazine one could find awareness of the equivocal nature of the place of the governess. Agnes is paid barely enough to live on. Anne like the “fly” on the wall in a documentary for both her books. She claimed that you find in her books abhorrence towards hunting and going out to kill animals as a sport (I must carry on re-reading Tenant, which I’m doing just now; then turn back to Agnes). Both books too play upon the exploitative power children can give an adult — to oppress the adult, or to terrify her if she is the child’s mother.

She quoted Andrea Dworkin to align lines of hers with those of Anne Bronte. The last lines of Agnes Grey speak to an anti-materialist socialist idea:

Our modest income is amply sufficient for our requirements; and by practising the economy we learnt an harder times, and never attempting to imitate our richer neighbours, we manage not only to enjoy comfort and contentment ourselves, but to have every year something to lay by for our children, and something to give to those who need it. And now I think I have said sufficient.

I have omitted much that Samira Ahmed said about contemporary feminism, modern movie-making (the good Wuthering Heights films and the 1996 Tenant film), some actresses who have involved themselves in good causes, trafficking in women, alcoholism (with respect to Branwell). I wanted to concentrate on the central theme of her talk. What I loved best was she concentrated as much on Agnes Grey as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.


Anne Bronte as drawn by herself by a family dog
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This edition is by Stevie Davies:

Davies was known to me previously as a superb historian of women and original inventive fiction: her Unbridled Spirits is a part imagined history of 17th century British women – -during the civil war they gained freedom, agency and lived some of them remarkable lives; her Impassioned Clay brilliant historical fiction where the insight that what we are doing is ghostly, bringing back dead people becomes central (insofar as Gabaldon is aware of this, and so too the better writers of the TV serial there is invested in the series a ghost-like apprehension of the past).

Davies has gotten herself an academic position and edits Tenant of Wildfall Hall expertly. Alas, there is no manuscript. This happens with Austen’s novels. It’s not until way after mid-century (except for Scott) that writers save their manuscripts: they apparently gave them to the printers to devour. What we have here is the first edition of Tenant before Charlotte could abridge or tamper with it. Davies simply adds on the preface Anne wrote for the second edition.
Davies’ introduction is superb Among other things she brings out the subjective nature of the text, the ambivalence in the way Gilbert Markham is treated; she shows that many aspects of this book are a kind of inverse for Wuthering Heights. There are a lot of characters with H names in both. She finds a lot of the Gondal stories in both; she has Jane Eyre as another alternative in the same kind of vision about women artists, Rochester contrasted to Arthur Huntington.

There were five talks on Anne’s fiction, mostly on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, for which I have some brief or merely representative or summary notes.

Marianne Thormählen,”Literary Art and Moral Instruction” in Anne Bronte’s novels. She wanted to show us is how modern critical dislike or moral judgements and dislike of didactism has marginalized her novels. Juliet McMaster is one of those alive to lapping multilay humor, wit, a kind of low laughter, amid real pain and bruises. Josephine McDonagh brings out the actuality of the body in Tenant; how the body and soul are both threatened. The structure of the book has put off others: Markham for the first time, then Helen as an inset diary. I like her bringing up Antigone. You must learn to distrust what flatters you, look at what makes us uncomfortable — for my part I see little.

Amy Bowen presented Tenant as a horror of “gothic realism: about real imprisonment, a woman trying to escape an abusive husband (where she has no rights or power). The focus is the interiority. Enclosed imagery reflects the hard world outside. Helen resists engendered discussions about education: that boys are taught to be inconstant, indifferent to the pain of others; women taught to be constant with no knowledge of an abrasive world.


19th century painting by an unknown woman of herself as a painter

Emily Vause’s themes were female authority, authorship and one’s identity. Charlotte was conventionally female, and she insisted her sister hated Tenant (because she, Charlotte, did). Anne draws adults with discerning eye to her apparently widowed adult female. Vause’s paper delineated the excruciating interactions Helen has with Arthur’s guests; she has to withdraw herself from what she hates: the male gaze fixed on her. She denies him access to her bedroom and he is dumbfounded (May Sinclair said the resounding of that door echoed across women’s minds). In effect he had been raping her. He means to corrupt the boy to spite her, and she flees with him. Her autonomy as a woman she never gives up, nor her authority as his mother. Her authority by her art allows her to escape to self-sufficiency. At one point he casts her painting supplies into the fire. Vause saw a parallel between Markham and Huntingdon, and was disappointed to find at the end of her story Helen becomes subject to a new husband.

Jordan Frederick discussed gender, custody and child-care, a genuine issue from what I’ve seen and heard from ordinary readers reading the novels today. I find today that many readers are put off by Helen’s wanting to keep her son close to her, her refusal to let him be educated into alcohol (she makes it associated with bad tasting medicine. To protect your child as a woman was legally impossible (he cited the series of reforms, 1839, division of wardship; 1873, giving a woman custody of her baby and young child; 1886 guardianship of children). Not until his deathbed does Arthur exhibit any remorse; she must turn to Gilbert in part. The temperance movement, methodist magazines (ideas of bearing witness) and Anne Bronte’s experience of her brother also lies behind this book. Anne is questioning toxic masculinity; Helen actively criticizing and fighting against this formation of the male psyche. He talked of how the gothicism here is realistic and the setting itself; society itself is the threat. Her feelings isolate her. Here he agreed with Any Bowen. He felt much irony in the book but thought at the end Gilbert will behave in a way that allows Helen not to be entrapped again.

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A recent cover for Agnes Grey

Maureen Kilditz’s “Walking and Health.” Perhaps the most interesting paper for the group (from the way the talking went – this was just after the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan) was about walking as an act of liberty. Kolditz began with a quotation that indicated women were not seen walking in the street unless accompanied by a chaperon. Agnes Grey must find someone to walk with; not permitted to examine the employers’ garden. How can a woman obtain a position for work if she is not allowed to walk about casually (she would be mistaken for a prostitute and then arrested for vagrancy). Walking is a function of our mobility in the natural world. How to get to your destination if you don’t have a horse? Strolling was discouraged: when Mr Western sees Agnes walking he suspects something — a kind of latent sexual nuance lingers over this act. So walking is perilous — it represented “unfettered female agency.” At the quiet contented ending of Agnes Grey, Mr Western comes with his cat to invite Agnes to come out with them. Here it is pleasurable; not a sign of poverty or struggle.

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Wildfell Hall in the engraving by Edmund Morison Wimperis (1873)

I conclude with three of the four talks, which were on Anne Bronte’s poetry: Quinnell: ‘Tis strange to think there was a time’: Romantic Echoes in Anne and Emily Brontë’s Poetry; Ciara Glasscott, “Is childhood then so all-divine: representations of childhood, innocence and romantic imagery in the poems of Anne Bronte: and Dr Edwin Moorhouse Marr: “Even the wicked shall at last Be fitted for the skies:” Anne Bronte’s Poetry and the Hope of Universal Salvation.” I don’t want to repeat what they said lest I transcribe it correctly because much was subtle and attached to specific lines in poems. I omitted Sara Pearson on their afterlife because I couldn’t take precise enough notes. I’ll call attention to those poems the talks pointed and make some general remarks from what they said:

“Tis strange to think there was a time\
When mirth was not an empty name,
When laughter really cheered the heart,
And frequent smiles unbidden came,
And tears of grief would only flow
In sympathy for others’ woe;

When speech expressed the inward thought,
And heart to kindred heart was bare,
And Summer days were far too short
For all the pleasures crowded there,
And silence, solitude, and rest,
Now welcome to the weary breast … (see the rest of the poem where you clicked)

This and others were said to emphasize a loss of early innocent childhood; then silence, solitude and rest is what was wanted; now night the holy time is no longer a place of peace. A grieving and regretting here that goes beyond Wordsworth. There is real fear in her “Last Lines” “A dreadful darkness closes in/On my bewildered mind”). In “Dreams” she imagines herself to a mother with a young baby, fears finding herself unloved afterward. There is a Blakean idea of unqualified innocence, an idealized nostalgia (it is highly unlikely Anne ever saw Blake’s poetry). There is great affliction in her poetry partly because she wants to believe in salvation for all. It was very upsetting for her to think of Cowper lost in hell. If he is not saved, what hope has she? She sought individual comfort; there is a deep seriousness about them all, and then quiet contemplation. I’m not unusual for finding Bluebell, one of her finest

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

It seems to me we have been misreading these poems by framing them in evangelical and sheerly religious contexts. We need to take seriously, the strong dark emotions as well as her turning to the beauty of the natural world and real and imagined memories of childhood.


Branwell Bronte

Ellen

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