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Archive for the ‘Andrew Davies’ Category

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Paul Sandby (1731-1809) The Magic Lantern

Dear readers and friends,

My second report on the papers and talks I heard at the recent EC/ASECS conference (see Money, Feeling and the Gothic, Johnson and The Woman of Colour). I’ve three panels, a keynote speech and individual papers to tell of. Of especial interest: a paper on hunger towers (the use of hunger as a political statement has reversed itself); on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (favorable!) and Mary Shelley’s Valperga, out in a good new edition; it’s about (among other things) a struggle between tyrannical autocracy and liberal democracy … just our thing …

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1861 Illustration of Dante’s Inferno: Ugolino grieving over his starving dying sons

For the last session on Friday (Oct 28th), I went to the “Adaptation” panel chaired by Peter F. Perreten. Erlis Wickersham’s “Goethe’s Use of Traditional Hunger Tower Motifs in Gotz von Berlichingen. The historical background of the motive brings out the astonishing reverse use made of death through hunger today. Hunger towers were a visible symbol and reality that told people looking at them that the powerful family (or group) or political person has imprisoned someone so that he (or she) shall die a horribly painful death from slow starvation. Erlis said they were common in medieval landscapes. A very cruel form of murder. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is in Dante’s Inferno: Ugolino who was imprisoned with two sons and two grandsons. Schiller’s play is less complex than what happened historically, which was an instance of torture, of unspeakable inhumanity during the last days of the feudal system. Schiller alters this so that it becomes a chosen hunger strike. Schiller is showing us a new state of mind, a way of conveying a deep disapproval, a rejection of life as then lived. Kafka’s early 20th century story, “The Hunger Artist” presents a scene of people watching a man die for entertainment, a sort of paradigm mirroring aspects of humanity. The most recent example is found in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games: she depicts a grimly impoverished society, a dystopian culture. Those who win a primitive unfairly manipulated contest receive more food and comforts. Its heroine, Katniss Everdeen represents the strength of idealism. Hunger becomes a weapon against oppression, a defiance of the existing social order. Escape though seems to be impossible in this hunger-haunted world. Of course what should happen is ample food be supplied to all.

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I had not realized the expressions on the faces of the actors in promotional shots for Hunger Games might suggest they are hungry ….

Sylvia Kasey Marks,”What did Playwright Arthur Miller do to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?” Helen Jerome was the screenplay writer for the first of the film adaptations of Jane Austen in 1941, a fairly successful P&P. The typescript is in Texas. At the time Miller was between jobs, his greatest plays had yet to be written, and one way he made money was to write radio plays He does not seem to have known much about the 18th century or its texts, and he used this Jerome adaptation in 1945 to write an hour-long radio show. Sylvia felt Miller had not read Austen’s novel: he is unaware of Elizabeth and her father’s warm relationship, of the witty use of letters. Miller made many more changes, some silly (Lydia gets drunk on raspberry punch), and a few subtle cruelties here and there. Miller also panders. But the play has as its theme a willingness to reject the past; the characters say that they never told the truth in this house for 10 minutes. We need to have a ruthlessness against the past that holds us.

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Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot grieving over her letters (2007 Persuasion, scripted Simon Burke, it’s just possible to see Persuasion as a breaking away from the past that holds us in its grip)

Linda Troost gave an insightful account of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I enjoyed her paper because when I wrote my blog I could not find one review or blog which took the movie at all seriously or praised it; most people could not get beyond its mockery of aspects of heterosexual romance, and seemed to regard the piece as inane trivia. I reviewed it as a flawed work (see my The Violent Turn), which attempts a mirroring of our modern preoccupations with violence as a solution to all our problems; there is some serious gothic: a deep disturbance over the human body, it whips up disgust with nature, and (as Frankenstein, the ultimate origin) has an obsession with death. Linda took it on its own terms, which she appeared to enjoy: Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a great warrior, Wickham’s desire for power, how Elizabeth saves Darcy. I was aware of how many scenes in the film still keep the pivot or hinge-points of the book,and how the costumes quoted other films, Linda brought out many jokes through intertextual borrowing from other films

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The kind of breakfast scene so typical of Austen films

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The familiar Darcy proposal to Elizabeth becomes a violent duel, complete with swords and axes

The day was over; there was a reception for Linda Merians, who had been the secretary of the society for so many years, speeches, drinks, and then I went to dinner at a nearby Asian fusion restaurant with a friend.

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Wm Hogarth (1697-1764), The Distrest Poet (1736)

The early morning session, Bibliography, Book History, and Textual Studies chaired by Eleanor Shevlin was marvelous but I doubt I can convey why because the fun was in the minute changes people make to their texts, the interest complicated questions of profits from copyright, and one woman’s thwarted attempt to sell her book of letters for money.

Jim May discussed Goldsmith’s multitudinous revisions, big and small, in his poems “The Traveller and the Deserted Village.” Jim began with how in the Clarendon edition of Pope, the editors chose to use the earliest possible text, a pre-publication copy, on the grounds that incidentals don’t matter. He then moved to Arthur Friedman’s edition of Goldsmith which shows a feeling for a very complicated text. For Goldsmith writing was rewriting. He rewrote other people’s adaptations, translations, introductory material. He would revise and revise and revise his own texts. He would respond to critics by revising for the next edition. The problem for readers is they don’t understand Friedman’s system of annotation (Lonsdale’s is easier to follow). You can trace Goldsmith’s thought by paying attention to these small changes.

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Nancy Mace asked if Robert Falkener was aanother music private or a principled revolutionary, bringing otherwise unaffordable music (sheets) to “the masses?” It’s a story of 18th century conflicts between open access and protection of private property (musician and composer’s profits). In 1760s we find Falkener’s name on harpsichords as a builder; then then begins to produce music sheets. Printers had preferred to use engraved pewter plates; Falkener recognized printing from movable type was much cheaper. Music had been selling for shillings and so many pence; Falkener sold his sheets for a penny a piece. Music trade brought suit three times and courts sided with plaintives. It was in 1777 music regarded as texts was covered by copyright. Falkener used arguments like Handel’s work had been in the public domaine, he raised the troubling question (by then) of monopolies. She looked at the case of Love in a Village which led to a series of lawsuits, claims and counterclaims (Bickerstaffe, or Walsh or Pyle)and finally the; court more or less sided with original or first owner. Meanwhile Falkener had lost but he carried on printing: 8 of the most popular sheets, from a popular operetta). The problem with claiming his purpose was to reach more people falls down when you realize these people could not afford even the cheaper sheet music.

Michael Parker discussed “the unknown career of Harriet Woodward Murray, a Maryland Woman of letters. Prof Parker edited the poetry of Edmund Waller and is now working on a biography, and in a letter by Alice Mary Randall he read of her friend, Harriet Woodward (1762-1840) who produced a book called Extracts. He then came across a 2 volume set of Extracts attributed to someone else, which he recognized from the earlier description. The book reflects the preoccupations and tastes of genteel American who is a great reader; she moves from gaiety to piety, to trying to help impoverished and African-American people. She includes Shenstone and poetry of sensibility, Shenstone himself had gathered poems by his friendsHe told of her parents, who she married, the planation where she grew up, where she lived later upon her marriage, her good friend, Catherine Nicolson Few (1764-1854). Harriet’s husband had lost a great deal of money, so Harriet wrote this book and Catherine attempted to get up a subscription list of 380 individuals for 456 copies, 156 of which were women. Frederick Green of the Gazette printed it. The friendship between the two women seems to have lapsed, and Harriet tried to sell the books herself. In fact few took their copies, mostly family members and the profit was $30. In this century most of the copies were destroyed by a descendant by mistake. The family was related to the family behind Daisy in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.

The room was full and there was a lively discussion afterwards — about American culture, the realities of selling books by subscription, did writers stay with the same printers? Nancy reminded us that music was a luxury business: middle class people learned to play instruments, and most money was made selling instruments. The audience did not care about the quality of the printed sheets. The composer had to sell his music through a fee; there were no royalties then.

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Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), Staircase by Night (1848) — I felt an appropriate image for Wright’s poems (see just below)

Catherine Ingrassia’s keynote address, “Familiarity breeds Contentment: (Re)locating the Strange in 18th century women writers” was basically about how to go about changing the canon so we can bring in 18th century women writers hitherto not studied. The new technology and editions make it possible to study minor women writers for the first time: we can have the texts from ECCO and Pandora online. She had two lists of words: those signifying familiarity are pleasant; those signifying strangeness, hostile. The period saw the first editions by women of their poetry, first biographies; they were attacked too. But obstacles to a woman writing are many, from family obligations, to impoverished widowhood. To use the old anthologies is to repeat the same mistakes as often editors rely on a previous edition. Now we have tools to use like the Cambridge Companions to Women’s Writing: books which offer ideas on how to approach the texts we have. There were anthologies of women’s poetry, miscellanies by individuals, often writing in solitude without much opportunity to make money. Catherine read aloud to us poems by women of the 18th century, one a widow with 2 daughters, another by a spinster. She chose a poem about a battle, about Culloden (great defeat and slaughter), about a riot in Bristol; women wrote poems about widowhood, homelessness, hungry children, wives thrown into prison with their husbands (not male topics). Among the better known women mentioned were Mehetabel Wright (about the death of a new born child). I’ve written a foremother poet essay on her life and superbly strong verse. Catherine ended on Eliza Haywood as a good candidate for major treatment in a course, highly topical, daring in her treatment of same-sex relationships. There is a six volume set of her works; an Approaches to Teaching volume.

The discussion afterward did not turn on the question of the quality of Haywood’s work, but rather the problem that since in many colleges, there will be a course given in eighteenth century literature and/or history at best once every two years, which of the traditional authors should you eliminate so as to make room for Haywood? It’s not as if the canon which is so recognizable and familiar to us is at all familiar to the undergraduate, who you might like to attract to a study of 18th century literature, culture, art. It was then time for the business lunch.

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It was at this point I found myself unable to take substantial enough notes to report on the afternoon consistently. So I’m going to conclude on noting for those like myself interested in three papers on women writers or artists, with brief summaries of three papers in the last session. Alistaire Tallent’s paper was on “Stranger than Fiction: How a Slanderous Novella Made Mademoiselle Clairon a Star of the Parisian Stage (I know how important these memoirs are for actresses’s careers and reputations — see my The Rise of the English Actress); Joanna M. Gohmann’s “Paws in Two Worlds: The Peculiar Position of Aristocratic Pets in 18th century Visual Culture” (especially as a cat lover I regretted not hearing this one) and Caroline Breashears, “Novel Memoirs: The Collaboration of Tobias Smollett and Lady Vane” (Constantia Phillips, Lady Vane’s life appears as an interlude or insert in Smollett’s Peregrine Pickle, utterly non-conformist, an instance of scandal life-writing).

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Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), Le chat angora — those familiar with later 18th century painting will be familiar with paintings of women aristocrats with their pets (not always accurately rendered, often placed in the position of a child or among children)

XIR64477 The Cat's Lunch (oil on canvas)  by Gerard, Marguerite (1761-1837); Musee Fragonard, Grasse, France; Giraudon; French, out of copyright
Another Gerard: The Cat’s Lunch

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Mary Beale (1633-99)
, Portrait of a Girl with a Cat — the salacious ones are remembered but the appearance and accuracy of most (like this) testify rather to how animals were increasingly treated as companions to owners and their children

“Giving Voice to the Persecuted” (3:30-4:45 pm) was the last session, and chaired by Sayre Greenfield. Ted Braun gave a full description of Olympe de Gouges’s L’Escavage des negres, and its first production (deliberately played badly). He also placed it in the context of Gouges’s passionately-held revolutionary beliefs: it might fail as theater (it’s an excessively sentimental heroic romance), but not as an anti-slavery tract. Gouges asked direct resonating questions (how can we behave so miserably, deplorably to these people?!). She spoke on behalf of the oppressed, revealing the worst cruelties, asked for equality for women. For her efforts, she was reviled and guillotined.

Jennifer Airey’s paper, “A temper admirably suited to Enthusiasm: Sexual Violence, Female Religious Expression, and the Trial of Mary-Catherine Cadiere (1731)” was about a young nun who was probably taken gross advantage of by her confessor; she sued him for rape, he was acquitted and then accused her of witchcraft. She was using a relgious vision to give her cultural authority. It was a cause celebre, pornographic pamphlets, and anti-catholic propaganda appeared. Both people were in danger of fierce physical punishment. The real story ended in his death and her disappearance from the world’s stage; but Mary Shelley re-worked the story fictionally in her Valperga in the characters of Beatrice, an orphan who becomes a prophet, and Castruccio, a tyrant prince (see Mary Seymour, Mary Shelley, pp 251-53). After a prolonged sexual assault Beatrice goes into violent convulsions, and has visions which Shelley sees as empowering her. Shelley also flirts with heresy by suggesting an actively malevolent God.

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An excellent new edition by Stuart Curran is reviewed in Romantic Circles — “the novel dramatizes a struggle between autocracy and liberal democracy that spoke to its era and now our own

Christine Clark-Evans’s “Colbert’s Negro/Negres Slave Mothers and Montesquieu’s Climatic Mothers: Motherhood in the Code Noir and Of the Spirit of the Laws,” was the last paper of the day. She spoke of the harsh treatment of enslaved mothers (no right to anything, least of all their children) who were abused concubines, forced back to work immediately after giving birth. Theories of mothers and motherhood (Roxanne Wheeler has a book on this) ignored. Montesquieu was against slavery and in his work said that only through vicious slavery could you clear the land and produce sugar at a profit; he described the horrible treatment of enslaved black women.

We stayed to talk though we had run out of time. Ted said one problem with her play is decorum deprives her slave characters of authentic voices. Jennifer suggested Shelley asks if nature is inherently evil, with God an incompetent adminstrator. Shelley’s Last Man we find God treated as love.

And so a fine conference ended.

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One of the worst things that happens to Greer Garson as Elizabeth is she gets mud on her shoes and dress (this in 1941) — this is after all a Jane Austen blog

Ellen

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Ensemble scenes predominate

Dear friends and readers,

The play of Sense and Sensibility by Kate Hamil, produced at the Folger under the direction of Eric Tucker is every bit as marvelous as the reviews have been claiming. Jayne Blanchard does justice to how it uses a technique of presentation, symbolic, spare, with actors playing several roles first found in the RSC TV mini-series Nicholas Nickleby. While Blanchard mentions what happens to the characters of Marianne and Elinor on stage has “emotional impact,” like most others, her emphasis is on the comedy, the high-spirited visual high-jinks which are fun to watch and make a live performance so viscerally electric in the way a film cannot be: laugh-aloud, heart-warming, carousing is what the Folger wants us all to remember and say. It’s as if the one thing everyone in the cast dreaded was that the audience should be re-confirmed (if they had though this) in the idea Austen is stilted, or grave, or somehow a tea-cosy experience.

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Perhaps they overdid the swirling about of people on chairs

The one demur I have is that the relentless of the noisy hip-hop and other 21st century pop music before the play began and in the intermission.

The production is often funny in language and visually, but what makes it so good is the play combines strong comedy with strong trauma, precisely the difficult mix that we find in Austen’s novel. Hamil is true to Austen and Tucker too: I was especially impressed by how they made the scene of Lucy informing Elinor that she, Lucy, has been engaged to Willoughby for four years the concluding scene of Act I and give full weight to the nearly silent trauma of Elinor:

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We see the searing deterioration of Marianne after Willoughby’s desertion as the play progresses from Barton to London and finally to Cleveland, with the production (like the 2008 S&S by Andrew Davies) following Emma Thompson’s brilliant insertion of Brandon as a desperate man of disillusioned sensibility when he emerges at Barton, rescuer of the drenched suicidal girl, but at the same time remembering Denis Constanduros’s 1971 adaptation and not bringing Brandon forward early on so that a more delicate nuanced slow courtship over books is provided in the final scenes at Barton. Yet James Patrick Nelson as Brandon could not have been as resonant without memories of Alan Rickman: Nelson’s costume and colors were modelled on Rickman’s:

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Brandon receiving the letter about his ward found at last and interrupting the party

What was to me most surprising is that after (since 1971) seven movies (and probably other plays I’ve never seen) Hamil came up with a new and fresh interpretation of Elinor’s controlled or constrained emotional pain. Maggie McDowell as Elinor reminded me most closely of Joanna David in the 1971 mini-series, but the language used was not praise for self-control and prudence, the emphasis in Alexander Baron’s 1983 mini-series with Irene Richards in the role, whose costumes McDowell’s reminded me of

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In this scene of the two sisters, Erin Weaver as Marianne also has a dress like that of the 1983 sister, Marianne (played by Tracey Childs)

Hamil’s idea was how Elinor cared for her whole family beyond Edward — the group identity so dear to our time as a goal in life. Some may miss the anguish of Thompson and the inward hysteria of Hattie Morahan (Davies’s heroine) but this production was careful not to over Marianne’s illness, and we were made to see at moment how all but Marianne herself at the close of the play (the play was ceaselessly ensemble acting)

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never noticed, much less care for Elinor’s heroic self-sacrifice. The real difficulty of the book itself, responding to it, is to bring forth these contradictory modes: on the one hand, the intensity of inward gravity as caught best in the scenes between Elinor and Brandon:

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and on the other, the wacky satire on utterly disjunctive individuals tied together. They were able to make fun while being serious:

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The opening death scene done seriously could not quite be serious because of the way it resembled a cartoon

The doubling was inspired: Kathryn Tkel was Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele who are mirror characters in the novel; Lisa Birnham as the nitwit Nancy Steele turns back and forth into the corrosively nasty Mrs Ferrars (not allowed a voice, just facial and hand gestures) and then again the ineffective Mrs Dashwood. Jacob Fishel was the selfish heartless and ever-so-correctly mannered (with glasses on) John Dashwood and somehow fittingly handsome gallant rakish and equally selfish Willoughby:

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Willoughby as the “preserver” leaving Marianne with her family, all looking at him adoringly

Hamil’s use of Willoughby’s confession differed from all the others I’ve seen in having her Elinor pity him — he is no longer part of the group. This was visualized by Ang Lee and Emma Thompson at the end of their movie, but voiced pity is something new. Davies’s Elinor felt contempt for this petty shallow cad. Jamie Smithson as Edward and Robert Ferrars brought out Edward’s awkwardness and kept him more comic. I did wish that Hamil had not been so reluctant to take over Emma Thompson’s lines — I caught only three very effective take-overs — and had Edward use some of the lines Hugh Grant said so poignantly and gently at the close of Ang Lee’s film.

Not everyone had several named roles: the older African-American comedienne, Caroline Stefan Clary was just Mrs Jennings. Following Emma Thompson, her partner in scenes was Micheal Glenn as Sir John Middleton (though the fun about “F’s” was somehow not as hilarious); he was otherwise ensemble. Margaret was there: Nicole Kang also was many ensemble voices. But Erin Weaver (a brilliant Puck in a recent Midsummer Night’s Dream) was just Marianne, and her breathless intensity reminded me of her earlier performance:

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McDowell was only Elinor, but then in this play she is clearly the central character, what individual POV we get is hers — as she is the key subjective voice of Austen’s book.

I very much look forward to when my copy of Hamil’s play arrives on my stoop. I ordered it from Amazon yesterday after seeing the play (a Sunday matinee performance). Hamil twice has a male lover, first Willoughby, and then Brandon cite lines which were finished or concluded by Marianne from poems different from those used in any of the other productions (1983 had some original lines, Thompson had Spenser and Hartley Coleridge, Davies Byron), which I couldn’t catch and thus can’t identity. Again it was Emma Thompson who added these poetry scenes to the one seen here and several others: Edward trying to please Marianne by emoting in this case some (to me) unfamiliar lines. Cowper was mentioned but not quoted (that I could recognize). The choices of verses were all serious and poignant, not rhyming lines either (so perhaps not Pope). (For those interested in the Christianizing and general softening of Austen’s hard (inverted protest). Hamil’s is an adaptation those seriously interested in Austen’s text and new readings of it should not miss.

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NB: Lady Susan by Whit Stillman, the novelization of his film is now out as Whit Stillman’s Love & friendship, In which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan is Entirely Vindicated.

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It seems to me appropriate that as Stillman has transformed the mood of Austen’s text so he has re-named Austen’s mid-career Bath novel.

Ellen

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Dear Friends and readers,

Valancourt Press has published my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake. You can see the book, a description of the story, and places and ways to buy at Valancourt’s on-line site. The artist who painted that alluring suggestive image on the cover is Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835). This is the first scholarly paperback edition. It took me 5 years (on and off) to type, proof-read, annotate and introduce the novel. 136 notes at the bottom of appropriate pages. A select bibliography, and note on the text.

I would describe the novel’s central story differently. Smith’s Ethelinde is centered on a depiction of adulterous love more sympathetic and true to experience on both the novel’s hero, Sir Edward Newenden and his once loved wife, Maria. It is the story of Newenden’s gradual falling in love with Ethelinde Chesterville, the novel’s primary heroine, his physical as well as emotional need for her in the face of his wife’s increasing distaste for him, for his idealistic and ethical values, and for his children; and in the face of her love for the novel’s secondary younger hero, Charles Montgomery. we trace his efforts to repress his longing for the congenial sensitive readerly Ethelinde; and experience the final thwarting of his intensely compelling and sexual desire for Ethelinde. Delayed until the middle of the first volume of the novel and then told as tales within a tale, we have the stories of Mrs Caroline Montgomery, the widowed recluse of the lake, and mother of Charles Montgomery, whom Ethelinde falls in love with, together with a parallel deep past story of Mrs Montgomery’s unnamed mother, who after she was widowed and impoverished, lived happily with a man she was not married to and had two sons by. There are other inset histories about women driven by economic, social, and legal constraints as well as threatened violence to live with men outside marriage. And in the present tense, the story of Charles Montgomery’s failed attempt to secure patronage for a high-paying position, Ethelinde’s father and brother’s accumulation of debt from gambling and extraordinary socializing; Sir Edward’s sister, Ellen, her horsewomanship and rescue from predatory males seeking marriage to control her estate. Houses are symbolic sites: Ludford House for bitter commercialism; the haunted gothicized Abersley, in Worcestershire; the Montgomery cottage and Grasmere Abbey in Cumbria where the novel begins; before the novel ends numbers of our characters have traveled across the globe.

The Recluse of the Lake is not as dominated by landscapes as people sometimes suggest; but what is there is strong, frequent enough, and unforgettable. It was quickly translated into French and there the landscape passages are particularly felicitious too. Charlotte Smith was a great poet.

You can buy it at Amazon.US too: available at Valancourt as a kindle, ebook, and trade paperback. A friend said a notice on Amazon.UK says it will be available as of November 1st.

I think back to those weeks & weeks in the early 1980s in the Rare Book room and in the microfilm and microfiche reading room of the Library of Congress: was spending time reading Charlotte Smith’s poems, and two of her novels. Realizing how little of Smith was in print then, I could not have daydreamed that someday I could be responsible for bringing one of the few (at this point) of Smith’s fine novels not yet back into print in 2016.

I’ve traveled a long way from my days and nights at the Library of Congress. I go to conferences, live and research a lot on the Net, teach literature in non-traditional programs.

I wish Jim had lived to appreciate all this, to see this book made of Smith’s novel and my apparatus, congratulate and gently tease me, and praise the whole performance that is this edition of Ethelinde.

“Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!”

Ellen

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Claire (Catrionia Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) amid the ruins of a Benedictine Monastery (Outlander, Season 1, Episode 3, The Way Out)

Friends,

I am returned from Cornwall and have begun watching Outlander, Season 1 for the fourth time. At midnight usually.

Yes. I have snapped stills from all 16 episodes thoroughly. I have read the novel as a script. I have downloaded all 16 scripts from a site which specializes in TV scripts. I have gotten myself Outlandish, a companion. What could possess me? (Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog.)

Rather than pay money for yet a fourth tier of TV (surely I give Comcast enough money each month), or joining Amazon Prime where it aired on British sites (so I’m excluded anyway), I’ve tried other paths. I asked Daughter No 1 to download the series off Pirate Bay. She doesn’t have the time. Daughter No 2 is very law-abiding. So before I left on my trip, I ordered it on-line and have to wait. But this morning a friend told me she bought a copy of this second season on ebay for $16. I went over to ebay and discovered I must use paypal. Jim told me never to use paypal and I have a vague memory of reading warnings about what can transpire. I have just been fleeced, truly robbed of a lot of money, by Expedia. Beyond that it seems I must participate in bidding. Yuk.

Désolée.

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Mr (Desmond Barrit) and Mrs Allen (Sylvestre Le Tousel) in Andrew Davies’s 2007 Northanger Abbey, come to invite Catherine to at long last try Bath.

Then I remembered Mrs Allen and reread NA, Chapter 6, and found what did more than help; Austen suggestively amused me:

Isabella Thorpe: “It is so odd to me, that you should never have read Udolpho before; but I suppose Mrs. Morland objects to novels.”

Catherine Morland: “No, she does not. She very often reads Sir Charles Grandison herself; but new books do not fall in our way.”

Isabella: “Sir Charles Grandison! That is an amazing horrid book, is it not? I remember Miss Andrews could not get through the first volume.”

Catherine: “It is not like Udolpho at all; but yet I think it is very entertaining.”

Isabella: “Do you indeed! You surprise me; I thought it had not been readable.

I have always remembered this passage as poor Mrs Allen endlessly rereading this unreadable book because not many books come her way.

I no longer feel as alone in my state of deprivation.

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Ellen considering the nature of Austen’s humor and how through her wry irony comfort is on offer, bonding author and reader together.

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Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) while Mr Elton (Dominic Rowan) looks on (1996 A&E Emma, scripted by Andrew Davies)

Ekphrastic: a graphic, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined. From the Greek, “out” and “speak” respectively.

Friends, I’ve been wanting to connect Jane Austen to my series of women artists, or at least pictures in some way since I began the project. Today Diane Reynolds’s delight in Austen’s use of the literalism of Admiral Crofts’s reaction to a sublime picture of tiny individuals watching a ship flounder at sea in a shop window in Persuasion showed me the way. So, a meditative blog on how Jane Austen treats pictures she creates by words and how she treats visualizations, and how in her texts the two are seen to influence one another:

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Admiral Crofts (John Woodvine) amused at the picture he describes to Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) in the window shop (1995 BBC Persuasion, scripted by Nick Dear)

it so happened that one morning, about a week or ten days after the Croft’s arrival [in Bath], it suited her best to leave her friend, or her friend’s carriage, in the lower part of the town, and return alone to Camden Place, and in walking up Milsom Street she had the good fortune to meet with the Admiral. He was standing by himself at a printshop window, with his hands behind him, in earnest contemplation of some print, and she not only might have passed him unseen, but was obliged to touch as well as address him before she could catch his notice. When he did perceive and acknowledge her, however, it was done with all his usual frankness and good humour. “Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend. Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!” (laughing heartily); “I would not venture over a horsepond in it.” (Persuasion 2:6 or 18)

I’m also fond of the passage in Emma where Mr Woodhouse objects to Emma’s painting Harriet without a shawl out-of-doors as all in the family and friends fall to discussing this “likeness” that Emma has taken of Harriet:

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Mrs Western (Samantha Bond) leading the discussion, next to her Mr Elton, to the back Mr Knightley (Mark Strong) and Emma and Mr Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton) (1996 Emma scripted by Davies)

“Miss Woodhouse has given her friend the only beauty she wanted,” — observed Mrs. Weston to him–not in the least suspecting that she was addressing a lover. — “The expression of the eye is most correct, but Miss Smith has not those eyebrows and eyelashes. It is the fault of her face that she has them not.” … “You have made her too tall, Emma,” said Mr. Knightley. Emma knew that she had, but would not own it; and Mr. Elton warmly added, “Oh no! certainly not too tall; not in the least too tall. Consider, she is sitting down — which naturally presents a different — which in short gives exactly the idea–and the proportions must be preserved, you know. Proportions, fore-shortening. — Oh no! it gives one exactly the idea of such a height as Miss Smith’s. Exactly so indeed!”
“It is very pretty,” said Mr. Woodhouse. “So prettily done! Just as your drawings always are, my dear. I do not know any body who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders–and it makes one think she must catch cold.”
“But, my dear papa, it is supposed to be summer; a warm day in summer. Look at the tree.”
“But it is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear.”
“You, sir, may say any thing,” cried Mr. Elton, “but I must confess that I regard it as a most happy thought, the placing of Miss Smith out of doors; and the tree is touched with such inimitable spirit! Any other situation would have been much less in character. The naivete of Miss Smith’s manners — and altogether — Oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it. I never saw such a likeness.” (Emma 2:6)

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Mr Woodhouse continues to be concerned for Harriet’s health

We tend to dismiss these as just literalism made fun of (which they are), or revealing of a particular character’s obsessions (which they do): the criteria of Mr Woodhouse and Admiral Crofts consist of an absurd literalism; we see how the Admiral cannot enter into art conventions at all because he has led a life at sea; Mr Woodhouse is this hypochondriac. Further that no flattery of Emma is too egregious for Mr Elton to utter.

But their egoistic points of reference make us remember how we respond to the conventions of art and forget what precisely is put in front of us visually. We become more conscious of what we are enjoying, and critique whatever conventions are in play: say that of two men contemplating the sea even if in a tempest (which may have been chosen to allure the unthinking view attracted to the sublime).

I suggest we could see these as part of a skein of self-reflexive commentary on art in Austen, often aimed at exposing the problematic nature of romantic texts and images. We also see more deeply what is wanted that escapes explicit conventions:  the drawing of Harriet’s picture is prefaced by a discussion of what makes attractive visualization: it appears not to be accuracy per se, as Emma felt she’d gotten down her sister, Isabella’s and John Knightley’s children well enough. What is to be avoided is the insipid, what sought for vivacity, an energy of a particular individual’s felt life.

We can extrapolate out further: for example, I’d lump with these two, Catherine remembering while on a tour of Northanger Abbey Mrs Allen’s comment that from her reading of gothic descriptions of abbeys and castles, Mrs Allen was often “amazed” to think how the kitchen staff got through all their work with such inadequate equipment. Well, the case is altered in the well-appointed kitchens of the Tilney abbey, which the General is determined Catherine will appreciate:

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Neither NA film shows this in-house tour, and the graphic novel (JA’s NA, Nancy Butler, Janet Lee, Nick Pilardi) pictures non-functioning fantastic rooms, the opposite of what Austen writes and Catherine was awed at

[but] “Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the general allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland’s, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on. They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an abbey! How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself” (Northanger Abbey 2:6 or 23)

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Davies substitutes a development of a few lines where Eleanor Tilney (Catherine Walker) confides in Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) in a woodland walk her mother had loved (2007 NA scripted by Andrew Davies)

In P&P Elizabeth staring at Darcy’s picture is a trope going back to Greek romance: the lover’s state of mind is what is doing the falling in love.

 

It’s when she is planning, dreaming of her coming tour to the Lake District we see something more original: it’s a criteria of specificity, the sort of thing that leads to literalism. What is literal is real, and its a core insistence on getting as close to literal probability that is central to Austen’s structuring of her novels as well as her chosen moods, stories and dramatized events. Readers seem to remember the first half of Elizabeth’s effusion, it’s the second half that leads us to this further path.  Elizabeth is telling us what kind of descriptive travel writing Austen thought worth the writing and reading.

 

Italics Austen’s:

… she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.
“We have not quite determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “but perhaps to the Lakes.”
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “My dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone — we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers, shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers.” (P&P, 2:4 or 27)

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Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) is placed in a clearly delineated landscape (1995 A&E P&P scripted by Davies) and is reminiscient of

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A Gilpin depiction of Dove Dale, Derbyshire (!)

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion have the most complicated aesthetic discussions of Austen’s books, but when her qualified acceptance of the picturesque, the sublime, melancholy and romance, and comments on history are factored in, Austen still demands  of herself as the foundation of her story and its actual events verisimilitude, and accuracy (probability). She is on the side of characters who demand we include an appreciation of what is literally there as part of our criteria for judgement.

To return to Mr Woodhouse, Admiral Crofts, Mrs Allen: it is Austen who mocks these pictures, these descriptions as absurd partly because they show the artist has taken advantage of a lapse of mind in the origin text or viewer. Nothing is being observed from nature. Try to scrutinize and you come up against vagueness, nothing there-ness, non-life. In S&S upon Edward Ferrars’ expressing his dislike of hypocrisy in pleasure (“affectation”) by refusing to admit he has strong preferences too, Marianne tells her objection to popular art (cant):

“It is very true,” said Marianne, “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Every body pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind; and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning.” (S&S, 1:18)

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Unnoticed: a good deal of quiet landscape beauty and talk about art, picturing it together: Elinor (Irene Richards) and Edward Ferrars (Bosco Hogan) (in the 1981 BBC S&S, scripted by Alexander Baron)

In Mansfield Park Fanny Price has to face continual deflation; having no status, her romantic illusions are not let pass; typical is the dialogue in the chapel where Mary Crawford objects to her sentimental mush over prayers, Edmund corrects her too on  soberer grounds (death itself which monasteries are supposed to deal with, graveyards which contain the results from such heroics, the realm prayers attempt to reach and banners glorify):

They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”
“You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements.” MP 1:9)

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Fanny (Sylvestre LeTousel) has to have her own nest of comforts to dream over her and William’s letters and his exquisitely detailed map of his ship (the map not in Austen. 1983 BBC MP scripted by Ken Taylor)

In her letters, where she and Cassandra talk of paintings (the Anglo-cum-Indian painter, Wm Hodges) or pictures in novels (mostly landscape and print, as John Glover) her attitudes are shaped by how she feels about the people involved (very ambivalent over William Hastings and his second wife) or the texts illustrated (Glover of a woman’s novel she has mocked). Is the picture in the exhibit like her own characters? Mrs Bingley’s favorite color.  Mrs Darcy whose image Mr Darcy would keep to himself? Then she enters into what she sees.

Only Gilpin appears to have been exempt from sharp criticism (see Davies’s Elizabeth above), perhaps due to the concrete topography, perhaps that she herself traveled through reading books with illustrations, though here too she will poke fun at too strict an adherence to principles in lieu of capturing the reality. See “Enamoured of Picturesque at a Very Early Age”

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I’m drawn to this reproduction of an actual page in a book: writing in the margins here is not defacing

I’ve been reading Anthony Trollope’s Small House of Allington where Trollope makes similar demands upon and fun of a few famous books — so his narrator as Bell Dale (a version of Elinor Dashwood) says of Pilgrim’s Progress the problem is all the characters are mad, they are not a well lot, half distraught all the time, when they are not rejoicing. Trollope sweeps away the genre of exemplary allegory and applies to this work a sophisticated psychological outlook — like his own. As he does mean to point out the absurdity of what presents itself as teaching profound lessons, so Austen at least in the case of the sublime-picturesque in the art of her era deflates as silly or not thought out pomposity.

she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side-screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape (NA 1:14)

For readers like me (and I daresay others who laugh with delight too) we find the mocking fun infectious, because it’s a form of liberation. Principles must yield to actuality. We are not required to shut off the critical part of our mind. It can also be a joyous release because the conventions of a solemn or vacuous work of art lose their grip.

It’s where Austen catches at what’s jarring, and sees disjunction that we pick up snatches of her intuited theory of verbal and visualized pictures.

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Catherine, Henry (J.J.Feilds) and Eleanor Tilney climbing Beechen Cliff (2008 NA)

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”
“You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprised.
“Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho (NA 1:14)

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Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen on her way down to meet Ann Radcliffe, who Austen read intensely, was influenced by in her creation of a subjective prose style and whose pictorialism I assume she admired (2008 Becoming Jane Austen, scripted Kevin Hood and Susan Williams)

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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From closing frames of S&S (modeled on Andrew Wyeth picture?, Liew, Molinari, Sabino)

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From closing frames of NA (imagery of pastoral intermixed with nightmare, novel as Catherine’s dream, Lee, Pildari, Eckelberry)

Dear friends and readers,

Surely it’s time to write about Austen here again. Long overdue some might say.

Last night I read and perused the latest graphic novel of Northanger Abbey, words chosen and written by Nancy Butler, the artist Janet K Lee; colorist Nick Pilardi, letterer Jeff Eckleberry. It’s a Marvel product and since in just the way the company that produces a film predetermines the shape and much that is indefinably the film so the comic book publisher Marvel predetermines elements of the commodity they sell. Thus it’s no surprise if the other Marvel graphic novel I own, which I also reread and looked at the pictures for far more carefully and deeply than I’ve done before, Sense and Sensibility, also by Nancy Butler, but this time artist Sonny Liew, colorist L. Molinai, Letterer Joe Sabino, showed a strong family resemblance.

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The Dashwood family approaches Barton Cottage (Liew, L. Molinar, Joe Sabino, angle and shot from the 1996 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson S&S)

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Catherine and Isabella exploring Bath (based on general gothic mode, Lee, Pilardi, Eckleberry) Isabella “easy, unreserved conversation” (!), showing Butler can do irony

Both have marvelous large pictures at the close of the most striking of the panels that are smaller inside the story — and here both are highly original or they allude to famous works of art or movie/movie genres.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them — I have a strong tendency to see these books as comic books but under the influence of Simon Grennan’s Dispossession, which I bought at the Trollope conference meeting, and is a graphic novel adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s John Caldigate, I began to look at the individual panels seriously for the first time, and could see they are genuinely art; in these two cases expressionistic, and project a general outlook and mood, not necessarily Austen’s but a reading of her. It’s obvious that Posy Simmonds and Audrey Niffennegger’s graphic novels are art, Simmonds’s images are so distinctive — and Niffennegger’s spun art in the manner of artistic poem books. These Marvel books are not so; they are deliberately set up in frames and use typologies resembling more comic book images — probably not to put off the comic book buyer. I can’t say that all Marvel comics are genuinely good; and I know some of the recent autobiographical graphic novels rich on text are poor on images (which makes them poor graphic novels), but these are worth perusal.

As with Posy and Niffennegger, one aspect of the enjoyment is the text. In both cases Butler is the writer and she choses wisely to take as much from Austen’s text straight as she can. I once had a publisher tell me when you publish about Austen let your guide by to quote her when you can. You are sure to please that way. So you are reading Austen epitomized, in bits and pieces, sometimes altered and expanded with piquant details, often from the era, but they are well chosen.

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Mr Willoughby and Marianne have their first literary discussion: it’s about Scott

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As Henry and Catherine drive up to the Abbey, it is gothic — purples, greys, angles which are edgy

The pictures matter of course, maybe more than the words. In the case of NA I was surprised to find very dark colors used for Bath itself, Bath made gothic, with overlarge oddly angled depictions of the characters (so we are inside their minds), haunting kinds of shapes for what happens. In the case of the S&S, there are zoom shots, the characters look so overawed and powerless against the screens they are caught in, especially Mrs Dashwood in her widow’s garb, at a kind of great distance angle of shot from on high, very sudden too.

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The page where Catherine receives the invitation to go to the Abbey and discusses it with the Allens

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Fanny Dashwood needling Mrs Dashwood to make her take Elinor away, Mrs Dashwood vowing not to take this punishment

Butler (in a preface) talks of Northanger Abbey as sending up the gothic, but the artist and especially the colorer made Bath into a gothic image, with the characters sometimes looming and scary in context. Everything feels pervasive from colors seeping around to lines — lots of odds oranges, off-color yellows, browns. As if a page is the inner or deeper feeling of Catherine. The lines on the face of John Thorpe make him menacing. Real grit in the S&S: this frame combines the melancholy of the three Brandons: Robert Swann who uses a cane (1983), melancholy Alan Rickman with that brown jacket (1996), David Morrisey brooding most of all:

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(You do have to abandon your critical faculties to the cartoon’s edge into absurdity)

In the S&S panel you see the characters drawn as on a stage from different angles and then squares within squares with faces close up, so tensions from social life come out: in the preface to S&S Butler speaks of the book as about sisters, and outrage over the way the Dashwoods are treated by the laws and when they arrive in Devonshire custom. Butler and Lee’s S&S takes off from the movies.

It’s undeniable that many of the characters are drawn to recall specific actors in either the 1996 Emma Thompson S&S or the 2008 Andrew Davies one; the dresses; the way Colonel Brandon is figured as so strong, manly, and melancholy with a cane. Many of the frames prefer what happened in one or other other of these two S&S than Austen’s more simple lack of particulars. So Barton Park recalls the 2008 S&S grand mansion (even photographed or drawn in the same way) and Barton cottage the 1996 S&S house (as they come up the walk) though the inside is more like the 2008 (as they go through the place, with the same clothes as Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan had on). As this is the third time I’ve read this one I started to see new things, and for the first time recognized some memories of the 1983 S&S film too — in the dresses, in some of what’s emphasized in the choices of text, occasionally a frame resembles a shot in the 1983 film — the script writer for the 1983 film was Alexander Baron, a fine novelist in his own right who did quite a number of the Dickens and one notable Bronte adaptation for the BBC in the 1980s. Mrs Jenkins is even modelled on Patricia Routledge from the 1971 S&S (Denis Constanduros the writer), with this wild page showing Ciaran Maddan as Marianne and Joanna David as Elinor:

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The hairstyle suggest Irene Richards is remembered in the grieving Elinor

Yet at the same time similarly there is a particular interpretation which is Butler and Liew’s own and it’s poignant because of the high shots. It’s more daylight mind (Molinari did the colors) here than the Marvel NA, with normal perspectives on the size of the characters (they don’t overwhelm a page) and the background made into light of the day or quiet of an evening so there is a quieter feel to the work.

I have read a previous graphic novel adaptation of Northanger Abbey (words Trina Robbins, illustrator Anne Timmons): a Gothic classics volume which contains 5 novels so each one is shorter (it includes Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, words Antonella Caputo, illustrator Carlo Vergara); I want to say that the pictures are in black-and-white makes them limited only I know that Posy Simmonds makes beauty, gives depth with drawings on white too. I think it’s the wild angles of the frames themselves, sudden thrusting and most of all that the gothic is kept to throughout.

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Swirling

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Also the use of Austen’s words: in the NA and S&S both occasionally Andrew Davies’s superb perceptive scripts.

I probably enjoyed them strongly because I’ve not been reading Austen in a while and when I return (I am grateful this is so) after having been away for a while, I forget all the outside materials I read about Austen: while some adds and enriches, so much is said or has been that to say something new or different (which is required) mars the experience because it’s so intermixed with the critic-writer’s political/social point of view and my feeling of how this book is supposed to operate for them in the Austen world, or just things that are said that are a new extreme and grate, or simply ignore the book altogether or mock it (in effect it’s so over-the-top in its reactive reading) though the person writing does not always know that.

Post-texts. S&S has the occasional wink as featured in the upper frame of its windowed cover:

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while the NA is not above bats, and allusions to vampires, Udolpho and bookishness (the ancient table the two sit on are held up by fat ancient tomes)

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I should not have been surprised as I love studying film (and films are moving pictures), loved art history and see pictures as endlessly meaningful when well done. In this Marvel NA, we have many narrowed eyes, on the male and female faces, suggestive; in this S&S really detailed developments out of Austen via different movies.

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It’s a small vindication of the readings each perform since Austen’s words are used to pull NA into gothic realms, and easily host images from across 4 S&S films

My daughter Izzy bought the Northanger Abbey one on Sunday, November 1st, and we said it was appropriate to the season and All Saint’s Day — which for me would have been very lonely but for her and my two cats – and Austen and memories of the Austen movies.

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor

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Charity Wakefield as Marianne

Ellen

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