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Elizabeth Moss as Offred, and Martha (cannot find actress’s name)

Friends and readers,

I’m over a week late in writing about the finale to this year’s film adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (see Episodes 1-3, 4-6, 7-9), but I want to offer some closure and a comparison with Atwood’s novel’s close.

This was another intensely grim and cruel episode: every human feeling that is natural and loving is thwarted; all the people living under this regime who are said to be powerful are seething with frustration; there seems to be no kindness anywhere until near the end of the hour when Moira-Ruby reaches Canada, and when Nick seems to enable Offred to at least leave the dead souls (man and wife) now at the core of the Waterford home. The only natural people are Nick, the Martha (who tells the story of her son’s death during the war they lost, for whom she grieves still).

As in the first episodes, the film-makers are past masters at coming up with the most terrorizing kinds of moods — Offred is to be punished with the other women — she showed she had power in the previous episode when she had to be turned to to persuade Offwarren not to throw her baby over the bridge: she is viciously hurt with that electric prod; she is taken and something seared in her ear; then Mrs Waterford is beating the hell out of her for the adultery she has endured in the Commander’s bed — Mrs Waterford has found her dress, and then dares to challenge her husband, which gets her nowwhere (as he answers to God, so she answers to him, a rephrase of Milton’s famous: he for God, she for God in him). What saves Offred momentarily is she is found to be pregnant and that overcomes all he transgressions (no, I will not use the verb “trumps” as it is now peculiarly ruined, sour) — except Mrs Waterford tells the commander it’s not his. That this does grate on him is seen when he questions Offred and elicits from her the misinformation of course the child is his. In fact, we have good reason to believe it’s Nick’s, and without sufficient explanation it is Nick who somehow engineers her escape from this home at the end of the episode into a shut truck which may be taking her into worse darkness or into the “light” (liberty)


Nick’s response when he realizes that Offred is pregnant and it is probably his

Offred now entitled to a good breakfast, but after witnessing the above scene of natural affection between Nick (glad of the pregnancy — this idea of children, sentimental behavior to them is not challenged by the series) and Offred takes her and cruelly shows her Hanna from afar without letting Hanna get close. Offred is locked in a car with strong windows and she cannot reach her child sitting on a school’s steps. Offed goes mad with frustration. Mrs Waterford re-enters the car and threatens to kill Hanna if this baby that Offred is carrying does not survive. Or she Mrs Waterford does not somehow become its mother. In a review I did some years ago of a study of the function of discarded children, nowadays abortions, dead babies, child-abandonment or murder, I discovered that such events are often at the core of searing novels (from Christina Stead’s The Man who loved Children to Winston Graham’s Marnie, an image not mentioned much in all that has been written about Hitchcock’s film) Offred, terrified because she cannot control nature (guarantee her pregnancy will go to term), tells Mr Wwaterford about his wife’s threats; he refuses to believe her. Meanwhile the man whom Offwarren had had to service and exposed as seducing he is humiliated and the egregious hypocrisy of a council leads them to use science – one of these hideous operations to which our society subjects people — to cut the man’s arm off. This “operation” is classic gothic (used in Branagh’s Frankenstein): one of the motifs of gothic is exposing science as inhumane, cruel, used for perversion. I have reason to know tonight egregious operations are performed in dentistry too.

Late that night Offred tries to visit Nick and he seems not to be there His house is shrouded in darkness, — or he’s not coming out in the night. Tired, she returns to her room and opens the package that Jezebel had delivered to her, and discovers it is brim full of hundreds of notes telling the dire stories of the different handmaid’s. We watch her reading these with a kind of joy, and then carefully stowing them away. Near the close of the episode they are rescued as evidence by one of the hand-maid’s.

Woven into the episode (across it, like a tapestry) Ruby-Moira’s escape to Ontario. We see her toil across snow and ice, avoid shots, and finally arrive at a bleak garage like room where she is taken in. Switch to a hospital like place where she has been fed, redressed, is asked if she has any family, and when she says no, is provided with a family from Offred (her husband Luke) and then (wonderful to an American) given insurance cards; welcomed warmly, given warm close and looks about her to see pictures of other invented families on the boards of the hospital corridor. Humanity conquers biology.


Luke in corridor in Canada

The final perversion in Gilead is the handmaid’s are led into a circle to stone someone to death and discover the person is Offwarren, subject to such brutality and from their hands for endangering her baby. First one brave handmaid refuses this outrage and a guard beats her ferociously, but then Offred steps forward into the circle, and drops her tone on the ground, “sorry Aunt Lydia,” and all follow suit, one by one. Lydia seems to feel here is a battle she should yield on (however temporarily). So she gives in, but says ominously “there will be consequences.” The girls return home as a group in triumph, each off to “her” home.

Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) confronts Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) over cradle

These are seen at the ending as Offred remembers a happy moment with Luke after she is first pregnant with Hanna or has given birth (marveling over the child’s hands). This contrasts with a scene between the Waterfords where she and he attempt to reach one another humanly, to make love, but are intensely stiff, and seemingly fail emotionally. They must first admit and resolve their new perverted emotional lives, hers one of extreme resentment, frustration and probably self-blame, his still obtuse hypocrisy and reveling in power.

Then the ambiguous ending: as before Offred is woken in the middle of the night, pulled out of bed, dressed but as she comes down the stairs, she finds that both Mr and Mrs Waterford are desperately protesting and cast aside. There is Nick telling her to get into the truck, and she is locked in, the truck driven away. The camera focuses on he inside and for reasons that do not seem reasonable she is filled with hope and triumph (yet says she does not know what is ahead). The episode is called “Night.” Many of the episodes are filmed as if in night’s darkness. The 1999 film has Offred escaping with Nick and he daughter to a landscape of refuges, now pregant, rather like Julie Christie at the close of Heat and Dust finds peace in a refuge center high on a mountain where she comes to give birth. I am not eager to watch next season unless Atwood herself writes the script — I fear that the hard satire at the center which came from Atwood’s extraordinary book would not be kept up.

Atwood’s book’s ending is utterly different from both films: it is a piece of astonishing sleight-of-hand utterly skeptical of all we have read – not we did not experience it, but that we are led to see it as a manuscript from a time a century or so ago whose truthfulness we cannot check. Atwood times travels for her close. We are at a conference where the male professors are discussing a manuscript from another time and place. So fast forward to the future and the past looks very different, not so searing as here we are today, presumably safe and sound. This coda is a satire on academics, and their pretenses at humanity. The patriarchy reasserts itself too. The story in the book is more persuasively real than either film because psychologically credible throughout with the characters having inner complexities, especially Offred in her relationship with Mr Waterford (though this tends to excuse him, it even handedly shows sympathy for males caught up in patriarchy).

Here’s a personal take: the vision of this society is of imprisonment. Inside Gilead all are in prisons, prisons made of mind-sets, prisons dependent on punishment, prisons of hypocrisy, prisons of power. Supposedly competition is eliminated for some greater good, but the greater good is for the very few and is itself hedged by ideas that natural pleasures are sins.

We are in prisons or what we’ve built from our pasts; my neighbor-friend told me once when I was first friendly with her, that she felt when her husband died, her past had been wiped out, it was as if it didn’t exist. She was talking of personal memories, and the reality that they were diplomats and moved around the world so she first took root again in DC — luckily for she had a good job at the German institute, a private educational place serving the public (like so many in the US part private) teaching foreign languages to people going to and coming from abroad (then English), but much of her life is the product of her past. I’ve tried hard for 3 years to create a new existence for myself but find I cannot escape my past and to make something new and new relationships, create a new self at 70 well nigh impossible. My beautiful house, the books — if I move and reject them, then I have nothing. Both parents dead, no siblings, a couple of cousins and aunt who lives far away. As we age, we are prisoners of time and our bodies and these a product often of years of interaction, some considered and more free, others subject and subjected. The series is about enforcing pregnancy and regimenting the body. Power in it is based on paining bodies. Others are imprisoned in other ways — social life’s customs and patterns deeply fixed, regiments. Even the weather here — now ceaselessly hot — keeps people in who are not at the beach or taking trips.


Samira Wiley who plays Moira-Ruby — off hours, out of character

Atwood is showing the imprisonment rituals and ways of life are perverse in our world by her exaggerations of our world in her Gilead. At the time there were other female dystopias about wars between the sexes (one by Suzie McKee Charnas) where the women win or they lose. There is no gain for real from it. Interesting all the non-Gilead pasts in the min-series are of a hard brash difficult commercialized world where happiness is snatched at home from tiny nuclear groups attached to one another. It’s not really a Nazi or fascist vision, but simply capitalist and militarist in all the buildings and appurtenances we see. Food is associated with women who are cooks both in the past, outside and in Gilead; it is women who give birth but the outcome of this process intensely controlled.


Atwood herself in an authorized photo

Of course Margaret Atwood is a foremother and present-day poet of great achievement and stature. From her rich poetic writing, here is the appropriate (for Handmaid’s Tale)

Werewolf Movies

Men who imagine themselves covered with fur and sprouting
fangs, why do they do that? Padding among wet
moonstruck treetrunks crouched on all fours, sniffing
the mulch of sodden leaves, or knuckling
their brambly way, arms dangling like outsized
pajamas, hair all over them, noses and lips
sucked back into their faces, nothing left of their kindly
smiles but yellow eyes and a muzzle. This gives them
pleasure, they think they’d be
more animal. Could then freely growl, and tackle
women carrying groceries, opening
their doors with keys. Freedom would be
bared ankles, the din of tearing: rubber, cloth,
whatever. Getting down to basics. Peel, they say
to strippers, meaning: take off the skin.
A guzzle of flesh
dogfood, ears in the bowl. But
no animal does that: couple and kill,
or kill first: rip up its egg, its future.
No animal eats its mate’s throat, except
spiders and certain insects, when it’s the protein
male who’s gobbled. Why do they have this dream then?
Dress-ups for boys, some last escape
from having to be lawyers? Or a
rebellion against the mute
resistance of objects: reproach of the
pillowcase big with pillow, the tea-
cosy swollen with its warm
pot, not soft as it looks but hard
as it feels, round tummies of saved string in the top
drawer tethering them down. What joy, to smash the
tyranny of the doorknob, sink your teeth
into the inert defiant eiderdown with matching
spring-print queensized sheets and listen to her
scream. Surrender.

Ellen

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Photograph of DuMaurier at her desk

Dear friends and readers,

I’m relieved to be able to report that at least among a group of 50+ year olds (some 25 or more) Daphne DuMaurier’s fiction is not obsolete. Someone could say in reply, well, of course not, the production of film adaptations of her books has far from ceased. Two recent very well-done film adaptations, Jamaica Inn (2014, scripted by Emma Frost), a three part mini-series, featured Jessica Findley Brown (she of Downton Abbey fame), as Mary Yellan, with corresponding middle-range box office fine actors in the others, and My Cousin Rachel (this summer 2017, scripted by Roger Michell who’s done several Austen films), featured Rachel Weisz as Rachel dressed very like Olivia de Haviland in the famous Hitchcock film, and no less than Simon Russell Beale as the lawyer. Both were closely faithful to the original book –most unlike most previous film adaptations of DuMaurier. Very recently The Scapegoat has been filmed with Matthew Rhys as the hero who wants to take over another character’s identity. Nonetheless, a film is not a book, and a film may lend itself to a popular film genre and be re-made because it’s so well-known. Does the book itself still speak to readers?


Jessica Findlay Brown as he masculine Mary Yellan (Jamaica Inn, 2014)

Yes on The King’s General, from my own re-reading (decades after the first time when I was in my teens) and from the class discussion where several class members produced much subtler thorough analyses of the characters than I had, saw few flaws (transcending stereotypes), understood the underlying perspective of the book: much of the book dramatizes war as women experience it, battles, sieges, deaths, crippling, and especially the use of starvation (still very much with us) as a toolr from woman’s point of view. DuMaurier herself had just gone through a war (WW2– Cornwall was bombed) this in Menabilly, the mansion she lived in for decades as a renter, renovated, and was finally kicked out of, famous today as Manderley from Rebecca. The one element in the long sequence of chapters of the seige and sacking of Menabilly (7-19) omitted is rape (admittedly a central part of civilian women’s experience in war zones but one not admitted to in any of incriminating detail until World War Two. DuMaurier bases what she depicts after the seige of Menabilly (Honor Harris’s flight to another family mansion in Cornwall, Radford, and then another, Mothercombe on the book’s shaping insight that war for women does not end with any truce. Why not? People have died, and one person gone can change all, everyone left imitating themselves; people maimed, crippled for life, whole households destroyed and how do you bring back land, re-furnish a house. A woman who has been gang raped or coopted into concubine doesn’t forget, her memories don’t go away,see Marta Hilliers’ Women in Berlin, for which she was ferociously attacked for exposing war gang-rape and concubinage: we are supposed to swallow that, not shame ourselves (why are victims the shamed) and of course not the great warriors.

The 17th century in Europe provides us with our first documented replacement of men with women, women who themselves could write, so we stories of sieges from women from the English civil war era (see Lady Brilliana Harley in Eva Figes’s Seven Ages of Women); the closest non-fiction I could compare these to is Iris Origo’s War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-44 (extraordinary book); in fiction of course Gone with the Wind (siege of Atlantic, sacking of Tara).

We also see it’s a conscious decision to allow the countryside to be ravaged, ransacked in an attempt to win a war: winning the war, killing, is more important than what happens to those living in its countryside. And we see whichever side wins, the people lose.

The book is remembered (when it is) for its crippled heroine, but what emerged from our talk is how disability is a theme throughout the book: from the way Richard Grenville’s possibly homosexual son is abused from a young age for his lack of aggressive masculinity to the point he is abject and cannot defend himself (it’s not your disability that kills you but society’s response to it), to the maiming and destroying of valuable characters one by one as the battles are told.

The idea of the course I’m reading and teaching this book in is to show the contrast between historical fiction after say 1980 and before 1960: as the story goes, in the early part of the 20th century historical fiction had reached an all-time level of scorn. It has been regarded in the 19th century as the highest form of fiction, requiring serious research, about serious political issues and a tremendous imaginative input: Walter Scott was respected; George Eliot’s Romola set in the Renaissance; the most admired of Thackeray’s books was not Vanity Fair, but Henry Esmond set in the civil wars in Scotland in the later 17th century. In early 20th century until near WW 2 and just after still historical fiction was seen as bodice rippers for silly women and boys’ adventures stories for men who wanted to fancy themselves manly heroes. This way of looking at them is not gone from us and historical fiction and romance are still written in this mode sufficiently to be mocked. What are seen as women’s novels and women’s films are particularly susceptible to mockery.

Hard to pinpoint when this changed and the process was slow. I’d say a new form of historical fiction – or a return to higher norms, ideals, serious history begins just after WW2. Mostly people wanted to write about the war and found masquerade made this easier. The “jump” – changeover – begins to gather steam and many books in the 1970s: I’d date for convenience with Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, written between 1965 and 75, and called at the time of finishing “a landmark of post-war fiction. He won a Booker Prize for its coda, Staying On (which I’ll teach in another course on Booker Prize books this fall at the OLLI at AU). In short, the books got longer, they were seriously researched, they were political , and by the 1990s deeply anti-colonialist – the Raj Quartet occurs during the breakup of the British Raj and its complicated politics, ethnic identities, fierce hatreds leading into and out of World War Two. It’s very accurate if you can accept the Anglo- perspective. Salmond Rushdi could not.

It’s important to stress there is no hard and fast difference between the two eras, especially that there is a lot of romancing in the current books. All of them intersect the past with the present, realism with fantasy; it’s a matter of emphasis I suppose – Sontag gives her book, The Volcano Lover, the subtitle: a romance. The difference is an attitude of mind towards how your novel is going to function socially and historically. But what we discovered is while King’s General is not post-colonial, nor does it mean to undermine our Enlightenment ideals, it is seriously researched, accurate and implicitly political. Specifically DuMaurier is a Tory, and she sides with the Royalists against the oppression of the Parliamentarians after (in the book) Cornwall is taken by Parliament and the Protectorate confiscates property and attempts to impose its notion of a moral order (which included by the way secular marriage ceremonies, allowed for liberty of the press, decent trade agreements, better tax system).


Menabilly in the landscape

Within that slant, she really recreates the civil war as it played out from place to place in Cornwall. And many of the individuals in the Rashleigh family, Cornish gentry, and our hero and heroine are based on archives (albeit some of them in the Menabilly attic). DuMaurier cared about Cornwall. Cornwall was a place where the royalists made a last stand against the Parliamentarians – they had the sea at their backs, and they were with great difficulty slowly defeated. It was a royalist stronghold, rotten borough later on. At the end of the war when she wrote KG, she had already been living in Menabilly (Fowey, Cornwall) for some 8 years and even though just a renter had begun to renovate. The ancient house and grounds burnt into her soul. World War Two was coming to end and it seems the owner was seriously ill and perhaps dying; if he died, there was no guarantee his heir will renew the lease. He didn’t die, and the first of several such crises was over. But almost losing it, made her aware of the house. It was indeed sacked to the nth degree during the civil war; the family members, most of them (not sure about Honor Harris) said to be there in the novel were there. It was a linchpin house the way these huge houses were politically. She did serious research into the family and their papers – she found the Rashleighs were not as keen to be memorialized as she had thought. The various family members who is married to who, the names of the children, where they are, and how they end up are accurate in outline and to some extent their characters.


Godolphin House, Cornwall (one of the ancient ruins)

There was an Honor Harris, a Harris family (Honor’s oldest sister, Mary, did become the second wife of the oldest Rashleigh male, Jonathan. Honor left a memoir, and that’s the basis of this 1st person narrative, melancholy and somber in tone as it begins where the book ends, 1653, close to Honor and her brother, Robin’s deaths (they are living on charity), and her character (highly educated as she had the time to become so). The crippling by a hunting accident (Honor falls from a height to stones below) is DuMaurier’s addition. DuMaurier says of the crippling in a letter that she saw a wooden wheelchair from the 17th century once and it stayed in her mind and that she identified with this heroine – as with Mary Yellan. “Honor Harris beame an extension of the author, my persona in the past.” She had felt powerless as a woman in the war.


Early wheelchair — 17th-18th century

The outlines of Richard Grenville fit the portrait of the real man who did take money and supplies from Parliament telling them he would fight for them in Cornwall and then returned immediately the royal side. He was so violent to his wife Mary Howard left him; there were two lawsuits, one from her and another with her kinsman, the Earl of Suffolk. He did escape from prison and go to Germany for 6 years. A lot of the detail about the battles is accurate. He behaved very badly, enacting ruthless aggressive sociopathic behavior (like Trump no concern for other lives), hanging some men unfairly, even carelessly, extorting money, using war contributions for himself. He would not obey Royalist commanders; he was imprisoned more than once. St Michael’s Mount. Spent time in Launceston, and when released went to Italy. Excepted from Pardon in 1648, he found his way to Charles II. He accused Hyde deeds he knew that Hyde did not do. He wrote an account of the period war and it was published and used by DuMaurier, a vindication of himself. Hyde as Clarendon incorporated Grenville’s history straight into his own. As in the book, Grenville died a fugitive, disliked, looked upon as not worth trust (because he would not keep his word) in 1658, and buried in Ghent.

In her Enchanted Cornwall DuMaurier remarks there are no Grenville around now (there are Rashleighs) and while one man did write a vindication of him, there was no one around to become indignant in 1946. You think they wouldn’t? Think again. As with Max de Winter and a number of DuMaurier’s villain heroes, she meant us to be appalled by his behavior. Grenville descends from Jem Merlyn in Jamaica Inn: his cruel streak is visited on his illegitimate son in the book of whom he is fond: the Parliament king Joe Grenville where they know the execution will be seen by as many characters as possible.

It is also a gothic romance. It was in 1824 when some alterations were made to the house, the Rashleigh at the time he found in a redundant buttress skeleton in clothes of cavalier in civil war clothes, a stool, a trencher – a secret roo This incident, merely read about, was part of what drove her to write King’s General. Grotesque freakishness (which we see in Richard’s son Dick, rather like Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge) – these are typical of the gothic.

The same patterns emerge across DuMaurier’s books too. I’ll mention just two: in King’s General another mean domineering, near murderous female –- it’s Richard’s twisted sister, Gartred, who partly causes Honor’s accident. Readers have assumed that DuMaurier identifies only with the abject heroine, but from what she says we find she identifies with these rebellious angry types too; maybe in irritation at her readership, he almost sneers at the second Mrs De Winter whose name we are never told. She was conservative politically – common among the more popular romance and historical fiction writers (Winston Graham an exception to this rule – very progressive if you’ve been watching the mini-series or have read the books). Like other women before WW2 she will say she has two people in her, a loving wife and mother, and then this rebellious masculine self, hidden, giving power to her creativity.


Cornwall’s slate cliffs and hills (from Claude Berry’s Portrait of Cornwall)

And the centrality of Cornwall: many of her books are set there, and she writes two super ones on Cornwall: Enchanted and Vanishing. It is a periphery, a place outside the central boundaries. To the Lighthouse — PD James has a tale set in Cornwall which uses a lighthouse too. Later in life she was almost wholly in Cornwall, fought to protect it from tourist ravages; she was forced of Menabilly but lived no far away in Kilmarth. She maintained her privacy as far as she could but would break it with autobiographical memoirs which she is said to have regretted.

She was bisexual, probably more strongly lesbian and the two great loves of her life were Gertrude Lawrence and Ellen Doubleday. She also had a loving companionship with Christopher Puxley during the war which had to be brought to a close when DuMaurier’s husband returned. Forster says in her letters she shows herself to be homophobic and her children did and do what they can to squash the true story of her sexual life — told by Margaret Forster. I doubt they liked the movie, Daphne, based on the biography. The DuMaurier family are angry at Margaret Forster and today deny she ever knew their mother.


Geraldine Somerville as Daphne (2007)

The family has been gifted. Her grandfather was a Victorian illustrator, George DuMaurier, who late in life wrote two best selling novels: Trilby with its mysterious “oriental” character, Svengali was one of them. Her father Gerald DuMaurier was a prominent actor-manager in London, brilliant man about whom she wrote a wonderful biography. She met interesting people from her earliest years; a privileged existence; her parents connections got her publication early. Her sister, Angela also wrote, another sister, Jeanne painted. Family had journalists, her mother an actress, Muriel Beaumont. She’s described as uncomfortable, unhappy in the social whirl of London; she married a man she was not quite compatible with, but a good match, Frederick Browning and after WW 2 she was Lady Browning: he was himself a sensitive intelligent type (became attached to Philip Duke of Edinburgh and we may see him enacted in The Crown if it takes us back to World War Two, and forward to the 1960s, which I expected it will). DuMaurier was not a nice person – if you read about her behavior to her servants she could be deplorable, exploitative, especially of a governess who however was very loyal to her. She presents herself and others say she was distanced from her 3 children, Tessa, Flavio, Christian (Kit). If so, their later life shows them fiercely loyal to her, writing memoirs, nurturing her reputation.

Later in life she was almost wholly in Cornwall, fought to protect it from tourist ravages; she was forced out of Menabilly but lived not far away in Kilmarth. Her husband spent his last years at Menabilly too; he died in 1965. She maintained her privacy as far as she could but would break it with autobiographical memoirs which she is said to have regretted; she characterized herself as suicidal, sympathetic with why people have this impulse. She lived until 1989.

To conclude (as I don’t want the blog to be too long), when I looked at the Mason database for scholarly articles on DuMaurier, I found not a single one. On some of the Hitchcock movies made from her book, yes. Even Winston Graham (the Poldark author) and Diana Gabaldon (DuMaurier’s closet modern granddaughter, only Gabaldon is much less transgressive and subversive, disquieting) have a few scholarly articles. So when I began by rejoicing that for some readers (and probably some of those who persist in going to the DuMaurier films) is not dated, not obsolete, it’s true that with the exception of a few feminist critics (Nina Auerbach, Avril Horner, Sue Zlosnick), biographers and her children (and cousin) who wrote memoirs and edited DuMaurier’s letters and memoir, DuMaurier is still dismissed.

Ellen

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johnadeyreptonformrshenryleighbathhousebyadlestrop
Bath House, for Mrs James Henry Leigh by John Adey (1755-1860, Humphry Repton’s son)

“Those cottages are really a disgrace. The church spire is reckoned remarkably handsome. I am glad the church is not so close to the great house as often happens in old places. The annoyance of the bells must be terrible. There is the parsonage: a tidy–looking house, and I understand the clergyman and his wife are very decent people. Those are almshouses, built by some of the family. To the right is the steward’s house; he is a very respectable man. Now we are coming to the lodge–gates; but we have nearly a mile through the park still. It is not ugly, you see, at this end; there is some fine timber, but the situation of the house is dreadful. We go down hill to it for half a mile, and it is a pity, for it would not be an ill–looking place if it had a better approach — Mansfield Park, Chapter 9

“… the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood — ” Persuasion, Chapter 11

Dear friends and readers,

I thought before going on to notes from my last conference this fall, “EC/ASECS: The Strange and Familiar,” I would devote a working blog to my project and thinking about “Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen.” After all this is supposed a blog focusing on Jane Austen.

For the past month, I’ve been slowly making my way through Austen’s famous six novels alongside many studies of the picturesque in landscaping, about landscape architects in her era and their debates, on how literary people, gardeners, historians have approached the mode (especially different when it comes to the use of enclosures to take the land from the propertyless and vulnerable), and how writers about Austen in particular place her and her novels in these debates. One might expect her outlook to change because the worlds of her books have different emphases, and since her stance towards life changed over the years: from (generalizing) a mildly rebellious, personally acid (as a woman) point of view to seriously politically grave and questioning, to acceptance, ever with irony, mockery of the very gothic mode she had loved, to late melancholy over what she wished she had known, and a new valuation of the sheerly aesthetic.

Yet I find broadly across the thirty years of writing life (1787-1816/7) a sameness, a steady holdfast to a point of view. This may be voiced as a strong adherence to judging what is presented as aesthetically pleasing or true by its usefulness. How far is what is created useful for those who live in or near it — use includes how much comfort and pleasure an individual can have from art, which seems to depend how far it works with the natural world (or against it, destroys the natural world), at what cost does this use come, and she counts as cost not only the removal of people and destruction or neglect of their livelihoods (especially in Mansfield Park and Emma), but how far it erases history or the past which she sees as giving meaning to the present through group memory and identity. She excoriates those who seek only status through their purchases and efforts, shaping what emerges from this motive as hypocritical at least as regards joy in all the aspects of the natural world, and disrespectful of animals, plants, whatever has been built. There’s nothing she despises more than someone who professes to love something because it’s fashionable — as say the gussied-up cottage. She has little use for celebrities: partly she is too snobbish and proud to chase after someone whose work so many profess to admire but in fact understand little of. To appreciate any art, no matter what it is, from drawing, to singing and playing an instrument, to curating (as it were) an estate, you must do it diligently and caring how it will turn out for its own sake, not for the reward you might personally get.

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John Linnell (1792-1882), Gravel Pits in Kensington (1812)

This is what I found to be true of the implied author’s attitudes and to account for the treatment of pictorialism wherever it be found in her works. I began with the idea that she found very funny viewers, readers who approach art and judge it insofar as it literally imitates what happens in life: walking in the autumn or death of the year, sitting in a garden in the cool fall, working in a kitchen, aboard a boat — these three are the subject of aesthetic conversations, however brief, in, respectively Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion. Now I see she partly wants to take aboard critiques from characters who never forget the practical realities of life, so remain unable to engage with improbable conventions of design, typical scene drawing, and what’s left out and/or assumed. The aesthetically naive or obtuse reaction has something direct to tell us about what is the relationship of what is seen to person seeing. I originally saw in the gap between artistic convention in a medium and what it’s representing in real life as allowing for enjoyment in contemplating how the convention is just a convention and we could presumably choose another. So we are free in art. Now I’m seeing the importance of going outside convention, our own enjoyment of whatever it is, to understand ourselves better. Then we can do justice to others who may not be able to respond imaginatively on a sophisticated level but have other valuable traits.

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John Crome (1768-1821), A Heath

This is a very serious or moral way of putting this matter but I think in what seems to be the beginning of an era of indifference to the needs of others, to previous understood relationships, to truth anything less is a further betrayal.
I found myself so strengthened by Austen as I went along (as I have been before) this time because in contrast our world outside is seeing remorseless attacks on the natural world, most people inhabiting the earth, worship of pretension, competition for rank and accumulation of money at whatever cost to others and group loyalty (never mind what to). A different version of these latter probably dominated the world-centers and made the later 18th century world the suffering-drenched place it was, but there were at the time groups of reformists, revolutionaries who were (to use FDR’s formulation) for a much better deal for all, even including animals.

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George Morland (1763-1804), The Artist’s Cat Drinking

I’m going to hold back on working this thought pattern out in close reading of appropriate places in Austen’s books for my paper, and here just briefly survey one old-fashioned book published surprisingly recently (1996) for the way Austen is treated as knitted to and writing for her family.  Matey belongs to those who read Austen’s books as non-critical of her era, to some extent unexamined creations (staying away from “politics”), belonging to a closed small world of what I’d call rentier elites. I thoroughly disagree with most of this; I think Austen’s outlook to be so much larger than this, and critical of her world and family too, but Batey understands what is provable by close reading and relevant documents (which recent published critics seem not to). Matey’s book is good because Matey uses the particulars of Austen’s family’s lives and their neighborhood (and its inhabitants), their properties and how they treated them wisely.  She looks at how authors that Austen is known to have read or from her novels probably knew and how their topics and attitudes are treated in Austen’s books. Her documented sources  are books Austen quotes, alludes to, or are unmistakably part of her text). She researched about these common sensically and with discrimination, ever thinking of what is Austen’s tone as Batey decides whether this or that text or garden place or drawing could be meant to be part of Austen’s discourse.

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Contemporary illustration: Box Hill

Each of the chapters is attached either to a period of Austen’s life or one or a group of her texts; they all have beautifully appropriate reproductions of picturesque landscapes; they all pick up on some aspect of debates on the picturesque in the era, often closely attached to, coming out of the particular Austen texts (but not always). “The Background” (1) tells of Austen’s family’s life briefly, how they lived in picturesque landscapes, how Edward the third brother was adopted by a rich couple who gifted him with immense wealth in the form of two country mansions and wide lands with all the patronage, rents, and power and education that came with that. The Austen family is presented as highly intelligent, wanting few personal relationships outside themselves (unless it be for promotion) and their gentry world. Austen wrote for her family is Batey’s assumption. We learn how Austen grew up inside “The Familiar Rural Scene” (2), loved Cowper, band egan her first long novel as epistolary narrative .  Batey dwells on Austen’s love of Cowper and how his poetry educated her into the kind of writing she did. Cowper is much quoted, how Marianne is passionate over his verse, Fanny has imbibed it in the deepest recesses of feeling and memory.

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Selbourne today —

Batey swerves slightly in “Agonies of Sensibility” (3): as she is herself politically deeply conservative, she makes fun (unexpectedly given how she’s presented Austen thus far) of the writers and the texts she says influenced Austen profoundly: Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther (where, I suggest, the hero kills himself as much because he has to live in a sycophantic court as any love affair he has), Charlotte Smith’s deeply depressed poetry and more desperate novels (highly critical of the social and political arrangements of the day): as with Cowper, Batey quotes at length and Smith’s poetry does justice to itself. Batey shows how the family paper, The Loiterer mocks “Rousseau’s half-baked” (her words) ideas. She goes over the juvenilia she can link directly to the family members: “Henry and Eliza” where she uses names and places of people close by:

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Lady Harcourt’s flower garden in Nuneham Courtenay (based on precepts in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise)

The same paradoxical pull-back shapes her “The Gothic Imagination” (4):  Batey talks of “the whine” of this material: the graveyard poets, the grand tour, Ossian, Blake. Batey does not take seriously any of this as deriving from contemporary anguish; her perspective is that of the aesthete (very 1950s American); she discuss the sublime from Burke apolitically, the lucky landowners, and even (or perhaps especially because ever sceptical). Samuel Johnson is hauled for his sceptical assessments (no sign of his Journey to the Western Islands). So Batey’s outlook on Northanger Abbey is it is about this “craze” which Austen saw through. Nonetheless, she quotes tastefully, and you can come away from this chapter with a much richer terrain and Austen text than Batey herself allows for. And she combines, so Smith’s Emmeline now comes in. She quotes from the effective presence of the abbey, the Tilney’s conversations on the picturesque and history, Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest as found in Austen’s text (amply quoted with illustrations appropriate).

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Thomas Jones (1742-1803), The Bard

Batey has not heard of feminism but she does know these are women’s texts and includes a reproduction of an landscape by a woman I’d never seen before but alas tells nothing of the artist, not even her first name:

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Lady Leighton, a watercolor of the gothic seat at Plas Newyd where the ladies of Langollen (a famous lesbian couple) read Ossian together (it was said).

I must start to condense. “Enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque” (5) and “The Beautiful Grounds at Pemberley” (6) contain a valuable discussion of Gilpin, who he was, how he came to wander all over England and write books on landscape and accompany them with evocative illustrations. She goes over the flaws in these (they are semi-fake, omitting all that is unpleasant, like exhausted hard-working human beings, and “eyesores” like mines), his theoretical works, of course the mockery of him (Batey is big on this). She does tell how Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price exposed the way these landscapes avoided showing how exploitative of the people and landscape products (for use) these enclosures and picturesque-makers were, but does not apply this to Austen: rather she quotes Marianne either engaged with the sublimely or critical of hypocritical cant. For the Sense and Sensibility discussion (where Batey stays on the surface again) she includes many lovely black-and-white and grey illustrations of real landscapes (ruins that real, i.e., crumbling buildings), tourist sites (Netley Abbey to which Austen’s family came). The productions for Pemberley are gorgeously colored: a Turner, a Joseph Wright of Derby, photographs of vast green hills. For Pride and Prejudice Batey simply dwells on the visit to Pemberley saying how unusually detailed it is, without asking why. She does notice Darcy has left much of the original placement of streams in place, and invites gentlemen to fish there; but how is it that every window has a gorgeous view from it, how did this come about, were these specifics originally related to some discussion (in a previous longer P&P) of how Darcy made the landscape never crosses her mind.

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Batey thinks Ilam Circuit walk gives us a sense of what was to be seen outside Pemberley windows

No matter how much was “lopp’d and chopp’d” says Batey, we have all in place that we need.

Batey approves of the chapters on Mansfield Park, “A Mere Nothing Before Repton (7)” and Emma, “The Responsible Landlord” (8), because there is so much serious criticism of the picturesque which Batey finds herself able to enter into in the first (land should be useful, should honor history, the church). She has a fine thorough discussion of Stoneleigh Abbey which Mrs Austen’s cousin tried to take over when its owners died so took his aunt and her daughter with him, possession being nine points of the law: the letters are quoted and they feel like a source for Northanger Abbey. Repton’s work for the Austens as well as generally is done far more justice to than Mr Rushworth ever understands.

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Stoneleigh Abbey before (Batey includes an “after” too: all the animals, the gardening work are removed as unsightly)

Batey believes Mr Knightley is modeled on Austen’s wealthy brother, Edward, who did work his own land, who valued his cows, who was conscientious — within limits: she does not bring out how later in life Edward was among those who refused to pay for a share of improvements of roads as he himself would not profit from it (we can’t do that, must not share). She does not seem to realize the earlier portrait of John Dashwood is also Edward nor that Edmund (whom she also identifies with Edward) is more than a little dense. But yes Mr Knightley is our ideal steward of land, working hard to make sure all can get something from nature (though, let me add, some do get more than others as the pigs in Animal Farm said was only right), and has not bowed to fashion, kept his trees, his house in a low sheltered place, has not spent enormously for “an approach.”

It comes as no surprise that Batey’s last chapter, “The Romantic Tide” (9), does not concentrate on Persuasion or Sanditon. These do not fit into her idealization of wealthy mansions, landscapes of and from power (I’d call them) . The aesthetic debates of MP and Emma set in a larger social context do not reach her radar. Thus that the Elliots have lost their house as Austen’s sixth longer book begins, the money basis of the economy, of war (Wentworth’s business like William Price’s is when called for killing and grabbing the property of others) and increasingly transient nature of existence for the fringe gentry are not topics here. We begin in Upper Cross but move to dress and harps in Mansfield Park (Regency costume enables Batey to bring in Fanny Knight and Austen’s times together in London). The furor over cottages orne probably represents an association from Mary Musgrove’s house, but the details are now all taken from the satire on Robert Ferrars’s despising of large buildings, worship of cottages and hiring Bonomi (without further context) in Sense and Sensibility. Sanditon‘s seaside gives way to “the insufferable Mrs Elton’s” lack of a real abode, her origins in trade in Bristol, and Lydia Bennet’s vulgarity. Batey’s text turns snobbish itself.

Where originality comes in again is not the sublimity of the sea, but in how the Austens enjoyed themselves in summer after summer of Austen’s last few years on the coast, “undeterred by threats of invasion.” Batey thinks the source place for Sanditon Bognor, which made a great deal of money for its entrepreneur, something what we have of the fragment suggests Mr Parker will not do. Anna Lefroy’s apt continuation has him going broke but for brother Sidney, a hero only heard of in the extant text. Jane Austen, we are told, disapproved of challenges to the traditional way of life, was against exploiting sickness and hypochondriacs like the Parker sisters. Batey seems to forget Austen was herself dying but includes the idea she “had little time for the socialistic propaganda of William Godwin”! In Sanditon Austen is harsh towards Burns and (we know from her letters) was strongly enamored of Crabbe — he has a hard look at nature and the rural landscape. A Fanny Price, name and character type, the story of a couple separated as imprudent with no retrieval are found in Crabbe. However, as Batey acknowledges in her book’s last few paragraphs, in Persuasion Austen revels in Charmouth, Pinny, Lyme.

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William Turner, watercolor of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth — Austen stayed there in 1803 and 180 and Anne Elliot discusses romantic poetry with Captain Benwick there

Batey’s is a useful book if you don’t look in it for any perception of why Austen was compelled to write and the full complicated nature of her texts. If it seems to be, it is not much different from Janine Barchas’s comparable History, Location and Celebrity, recent, respected: Barchas’s book is not filled with matters of fact in Austen, but in other books (of genealogy), in Barchas’s case buildings Austen never mentions (interesting if lurid), in amoral people not connected to her except by chance of first or last names (of which Austen does not have much variety). A “proof” can hinge on a number: Thorpe and Catherine have driven seven miles to one place, well seven miles in another there is this other gothic place, and Barchas has her subject matter. Both give us historical context, and between the two, Barchas remains speculative, a matter of adding one speculation to the next, and then crowding them around a text that never mentions them; Batey has the merit of writing about texts and movements Austen discussed, alludes to, quotes from, places we know for sure she visited, lived in. Both have good bibliographical references and you can use them as little encyclopedias.

Ellen

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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French caption underneath: He even sold their bed!

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

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Charlotte Smith in the early 1990s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Female Exile. Written at Brighthemlstone in November 1792.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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halehall18thcenturyOldManorHouse
18th century print illustration: an old manor house

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

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

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

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

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

From the elegy Smith wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was more than remarkable.

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

manor_house_illustration
A modern illustration

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

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

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

Ellen.

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

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Isabel Dicksee-MissAngelblackandwhite
Angelica Kauffman Visits Mr Reynolds’s Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angelica_Kauffman_-_portrait_of_Lady_Elizabeth_Foster
Lady Elizabeth Foster (1785).

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

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

ladybinghan
Lady Bingham

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

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

winckelman
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764)

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

goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1787/8)

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

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

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

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

musicfemalefigure

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

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

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

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

Servant
Angelica Kauffman.

Here is what Willen wrote of it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

dance
Angelica Kauffman Drawing a Torso (1767-70)

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

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

Invention
Invention

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

KauffmannPottery
Beautiful pottery

China
Wedgewood China?

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

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

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

Portraits_in_the_Characters_of_the_Muses_in_the_Temple_of_Apollo_by_Richard_Samuel
They are in the Temple of Apollo (1777)

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

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

cornelia

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

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

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

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

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

kauffman_angelica-johann_friedrich_reiffenstein.jg
From these later post-England years: Johann Friedrich Refiffenstein

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

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

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

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

deathofadonis
This death of Adonis could come from Shakespeare, Spenser.

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

SterneInsaneMaria

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

Papirius_Praetextatus_Entreated_by_his_Mother_to_Disclose_the_Secrets_of_the_Deliberations_of_the_Roman_Senate_by_Angelica_Kauffman

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

KauffmannDesignLeft (Medium)

On the following:

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Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia

Vigue comments:

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

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

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

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Winter

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

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Fame Decorating the Tomb of Shakespeare

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

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

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Ellen

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A View of Box Hill, Surrey (1733) by George Lambert

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember. Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years. (Opening voice-over of Outlander, from Gabaldon’s novel, script Roger Moore)

Dear friends and readers,

This series of blog notes on the talks I heard will be even less representative than usual since I arrived late Thursday afternoon, too late to hear any of the Thursday sessions, and left Saturday afternoon before the women’s caucus luncheon ended. I was driving myself to Pittsburgh, a five hour plus trip for me, so did not try to come after teaching ended later Wednesday afternoon, but rather set off on Thursday around 11 am. I knew I should aim to return before dark on Saturday. I did enjoy two lunches and two dinners with friends, went to both receptions, renewed acquaintances and made a couple of new friends. I bought Norma Clarke’s Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street. For my own records and if anyone wants to peruse heads of topics within panels, and some details of some of the papers I heard, I offer two blogs’ worth of notes.

Thursday (March 31st) while I was driving there: I regretted missing “Literary History and Life Writing: The Development of Non-Fiction in the 18th century” (the panel began 8 in the morning, and had papers on theatrical biography and lives of Johnson); “In the 1720s …” (this was a panel beginning at 9:45 am, had 8 speakers, and must’ve revealed intriguing set of connections); “Widows and Working Women: Making a Living in the 18th century” (11:30 am, panel I would have loved to hear for the topic and especially a paper on “the widowed Anna Dorothea Therbusch,” a woman artist). In the afternoon I would have chosen one of the two panels: “Psychological Trauma in the Long Eighteenth Century” (II, 2:30 pm). The first included how to express trauma; on war, torture, Burney’s masectomy; Goethe’s Werther, and on people who might be considered failures). The second was called “Women in Motion: The Figure of the Female Traveler in 18th century Literature and Culture” and had papers on Sophia Lee’s Recess, Lady Anne Barnard’s orientalism, Indian women travelers, and Burney’s Wanderer). How I would have enjoyed and profited from these. I reached the hotel while the last panel I would have chosen was just about ending: “”Inside the Artist’s Studio” (4:45 pm, in Rome, the art marketplace).

But I was up bright and early on Friday (April 1st) and listened to the round table panel “against the novel” (8 am, chaired by Scott Black and Andrew Jarrell). I chose it unlike many of the round tables, the titles of the participants’ papers were cited, so I had an idea of what might be discussed. My interest was stirred because too much is still perhaps made of the realistic novel in literary studies. The session suggested among younger scholars, this is no longer true.

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Ian Watt’s famous book is still at the center of discussions: this is the cover of the first paperback edition

Two stood out among the short papers. Nicole Wright discussed an emergent genre at the close of the century: (ostensibly) non-fiction lives of lawyers, and one in particular, the anonymous Life of a Lawyer, which is a sort of Horatio Alger story, boy begins as orphan and ends Lord Chancellor and is presented plausibly, a believably imagined individual. These reveal that the professional lawyer often came from below high gentry. Ms Wright suggested these faux and real autobiographies are preoccupied with the problem of facts: is this factual, can you know what is, with the lawyer practicing scrutinizing facts. I’ve read of the sweeping changes in the court system where at the opening of the century lawyers were not regularly present at trials, to the end of the century where attorneys for the defense and prosecution and the rigamarole we are used to, with defendants making statements on their own behalf had begun. Rachel Carnel talked about how students today relate to secret histories. Ms Carnell suggested such back stories, digressions, fragmentations, non-linear narratives, anecdotes attract readers today. Since I have been reading and teaching Fielding I was very interested in Ms Carnell’s use of Fielding’s theorizing of the novel where he seems to veer towards realism (at least probabilities, consistent time, space) all the while he speaks ironically and himself practices many devices which treat his book as a book in front of the reader.

The talk afterward included Max Novak inquiring why one of the panelists thought Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel (a target in this session) came out of the cold war, and was told that the book is “suggestively anti-communist” because it promotes individualism. Prof Novak said, to the contrary, Watt’s book is itself Marxist, and was written in the context of the Leavis’s close reading, high moral elite approach to reading. I admit that for me it seemed the panel’s tendency was too strongly to dismiss the value of all gains in psychological, social truths, and shapely art of the “new novel” partly because the panelists themselves favored or were working on non-realistic fictions. One audience member reminded everyone that continental criticism valued the English novel because it observed people in their everyday life, the intimate, particular, is seen as valuable to know about.

As I am just now also reading about on disability, and would like to study its representations in 19th and 20th century fiction and life-writing much more, the four longer papers given in “Disability Narratives” (9:45, chaired by James Farr and Stan Booth) engaged me.

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A recent Oxford edition of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year

Erin Peters discussed texts that presented what we might call post-traumatic stress disorder after the English civil war. Writers were paying attention to invisible wounds, looking to how to cope with trauma. No longer was attributing such suffering to God’s punishment enough. Ms Peters read soldiers petitioning for pensions. They are looking for therapeutic remedies to avoid “self-murder.” Advice includes friends’ care and frequent conversation with trusted friends. Psychological impairment may be said to be central to Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Inward care is needed to relieve the distressed mind. These writings show people taking such afflictions seriously, and trying to construct stories for relief of trauma the way people do for grief in our era.

Travis Chi Wing Lau discussed Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year as an early groping towards immunology theory. HF moves from stories to statistics and back again, describing quarantine crews, burials. The problem for the world of the book is all forms of prevention seem to fail: religious beliefs and rituals and what was called medicine didn’t work. Daniel Crouch discussed how typography, uses of punctuation, blank spaces on a page were used to represent disability in several texts. Francis Hopkinson had written about fonts and sizes of letters and symbols used expressively so this idea was understood. Mr Crouch showed where the architecture of a page itself was set up to record feelings about disabilities.

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Anne Elliot visiting Mrs Smith and Nurse Rooke (1995 BBC Persuasion)

Maureen Johnson’s paper on Austen’s Persuasion used the word disability to discuss how Austen shows certain social disabilities function like stigmas in society: these include Anne as an older haggard spinster; Captain Benwick as a grieving semi-widower, Hargrave grieving over the death of a friend. The novel has aging people, and people who fake illness (Mary Musgrove) and we have one seriously physically disabled character: Mrs Smith seems unable to walk; her condition is exacerbated by her poverty and widowhood, two more social stigmas or disabilities. Corey Goergen’s paper focused on the unbearable sadness, the emotional pain of debilitation in the later writing of Dorothy Wordsworth as found in her journals.

A prisoner in this quiet room
Nature’s best gifts are mine
Friends — books — and rural sights and sounds
Why should I then repine? —

She had Alzheimer’s or some form of senile dementia but her writing also has many of the expressive features of women’s writing, which included reflecting through structure a fluid concept of the self. Dorothy is not anxious about her identity; she writes with great spiritual intensity. We must avoid reading her as if she was some Shakespearean holy fool. She is communicating obliquely “more than 35 years of close intellectual and imaginative companionship” and writing startlingly accurate poetry about her state of mind. This set of verses comes near the end of her papers:

My tremulous fingers feeble hands
Refuse to labour with the mind
And that too oft is misty dark & blind.

The talk afterwards added much to what had been said already. Chris Mounsey asked if words have to be reshaped to reflect disabilities?. To Erin he said the movement she is describing is from demonizing to therapy, and we should look to see how the tone of a piece changes, and tone towards the person suffering when the language of blame disappears. One problem in Defoe we see is how the readers can misinterpret in terms of what they already know. Chris suggested at the core of the problem of writing disability is the use of the word “normal.” Another member of the audience suggested that a study of the history of medical narratives shows mostly narratives of triumph where the person is cured. He said we need to overturn these falsifying patterns, see pain as normal, and that all personalities are at some level fragile.

I’ve been so interested in Scottish literature and Scottish identity the last few months that I went to “Upstairs, Downstairs in Scotland through the long 18th century.”

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Kinross, the house as photographed when it was recently sold once again (for a huge sum)

I stayed for two papers. Clarisse Godard Desmarest described the life of Sir William Bruce (1630-1710), a Scottish gentleman-architect, who built a grand house famous today: Kinross. Bruce was rewarded for his loyalty to the Stuarts after the Restoration, and plans were set afoot to build a beautiful house, and surround it with remarkable gardens. He was founding a family dynasty. She then covered what is left of the letters of Bruce’s first wife, Mary Halkett, to show us that a great deal of the successful implementation of the owners’ scheme is owing to her force, diligence and tact. Ms Demarest covered many details of what was built, planted, what trophies are there.

Mark Wallace’s paper on “High Life Below Stairs” was on the intersection of class conflicts: while he began by describing Edinburgh clubs and elite social life, his focus was eventually on how the upper classes ended the customs of giving servants vails (big tips). Mr Wallace described changing attitudes of mind towards pleasure and workin Edinburgh; that volunteerism was part of its social ethos. The Edinburgh clubs promoted philanthropy, reading and writing; they worked to mitigate some of the miseries inflicted on people during lowland clearances, and the destruction of the highland culture. They wanted their organization to outshine the English. At the same time they were seeking shore up the hierarchies that kept them in power. The claim was giving vails disrupted social intercourse (especially visiting) between the upper classes (because they cost too much, because servants drank too much when given money), and the practice was with rigorous repression discontinued. Hypocrisy cannot be denied as these clubs (however decorously) used alcohol themselves during festivities which were seen as enacting masculine bonding. For these elite groups it was a question of how to manage servants (repressing pride and any “licentiousness”) so as to network comfortably and conveniently in their own houses, but we and the middle and lower classes then could see brought to the surface class tensions and how servants lived disciplined marginalized lives. Mr Wallace described an often-cited and often-performed farcical play, Garrick’s High Life Below Stairs which presented these problems through satiric parody, in effect making light of serious issues. I thought of the falsfications of the enormously popular Downton Abbey while at the same time it dramatized class conflicts and showed us the vulnerability of the servants to the power of their masters and mistresses.

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The Lisbon Earthquake (1755, modern representation)

I then hurried to the poster session on the 17th floor lobby area and walked from poster to poster talking to and listening to innovative interactive ways (using software programs) the various instructors/professors were teaching students how to do research, about the 18th century. After lunch, Felicity Nussbaum read aloud the Presidential address by Srinivas Aravamudan, “From Enlightenment to Anthropocene.” I feel sure this post-colonial and cosmopolitan meditation on geological epochs, different philosophical approaches to history (including the popularity of vast tomes of encyclopedic books), geology and geography (climate change), and time itself, centering on the figure of Giambattista Vico while along the way writers from Voltaire to Montesquieu, the Lisbon Earthquake, the formation of the European mountains, were discussed, will be published. I’ll say only that I was attracted to the outlook of read text, which seemed justifiably pessimistic in the way it approached the time when (perhaps) earth’s people will have so changed the earth that our species can no longer survive on it and go extinct. The contemporary illustrations chosen were illuminating as also portraits of individuals less well-known now.

The long day ended with the panel on which I gave my paper: John O’Neill’s “The Eighteenth Century On Film” (4:30-6:00 pm).

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Jim and Jinny Carter, he dying from his unjust imprisonment (1975-76 Poldark, scene not in the source book nor in 2015 film)

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Captain Blamey and Verity at the ball, he blaming her for not being willing to flee with him (alluding to Wentworth to Anne Elliot, Persuasion, not in the source book nor 1975-76 films)

Mine was the first paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 40 years on.” I demonstrated a plethora of 1960-70s films have been re-made within this time-frame and that with a couple of exceptions, the new films are using real or fantasy history to create a past with different emphases from the one realized earlier in order to project and/or construct an imposed or perceived group identity intended to allay insecurities of our era. I used the Poldark pair as a particularly lucid example of typical changes: the 1970s mini-series series dramatizes exploitative inexorable conflicts along class, political and gender and generation lines. Far from from presenting a strong community identity as way for individuals to solve their lives’ problems, the older mini-series centers on characters presented as individuals escaping – or failing to escape from – invisible coercive and sometimes unjust norms (prisons). The films identify with the radical, the rebel, and take a strongly feminist (sometimes anachronistically so) stance. The 2015 series reveals a single script-writer using film technologies to make mythic matter for an idealized perceived indwelling heroic community identity as a solution to individual problems. The women are now subordinated to, work for their families and working businesses, and their children, wherein they find their meaning and safety. The parallel for the first series is The Onedin Line, where there is much trust in existence itself, high scepticism towards religionm trust in technology; the parallel for the second Outlander where characters live in a spiritualized landscape, what happens in life mysterious, often monstrous, and the future something to be guarded against, potentially dark and grim. The actuating idea is people need to hold together, stay in a single imaginary space, and yet experience is centrifugal, now and again the strength of community as powerful when united against single or small groups of much more powerful individuals is shown to be a delusion.

Jennifer Wilson’s paper was on Alan Bennett’s use of diary materials (Greville’s and Burney’s especially) for his film, The Madness of George III. She suggested he has done this again for his film adaptation of his play, The Lady in the Van.

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Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings as Miss Shepherd and Bennett (Lady in the Van, 2016)

Ms Wilson played clips from The Madness of George III showing how the rhythm of the scenes mirrored the movements of the diaries, and also how effective unusual camera work, close-ups especially. She talked of how Nigel Hawthorne’s performance was much enhanced (as would be Maggie Smith’s).

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The opening prologue and over-voice of Claire, deeply regretful and yet thrilled remembering 1945 from her perspective of 1743 (Outlander 2015)

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Jamie MacTavish and Claire now Mrs Beauchamp (the first of many mutually nurturing rides in extremis together)

Courtney Hoffman argued that Outlander is a “feminist film text,” that the film used voice-over, montage, and a female gaze to break down the strong tendency of action-adventure romance to give us a male story. Instead we have story of female agency, based on a woman’s memory; Claire’s two voices, one from the present which turns into past and the other in the past which becomes the present are in charge, are shaping what we feel and what we see. Claire is pro-active, often controls what is happening. The mini-series overturns our gender expectations.

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From Belle, the white and black heroines sewing together (Belle, 2013)

Steven Thomas’s rich paper covered several eras of films about slavery as well as several types of slave narrative films. There are commercial films meant to please large audiences, often majority white: these include plantation dramas of nostalgia, with the displacement of the fallen south onto a guilty (villainous, trangressive) woman (e.g., Birth of a Nation, Jezebel, Gone with the Wind). There are the evangelical and nationalistic films (funded by religious groups), linear in narrative, with redeemed and/or heroic protagonists (Amazing Grace, Roots, Jefferson in Paris). Some commercial films are aimed at African and African-Americans too: anti-plantation films, Blaxpolitation; they exploit voyeurism, fantasies of violence, “both” sides are transgressive and cruel (Mandingo, Cobra Verde, The Legend of Nigger Charlie). Unfortunately the films least well-known are often the truest to what was the experience of slavery and its politics. These include the 1960s and 70s Marxist films analyzing the political economies, dramatizing corrosive and destructive policies, using complex social antagonisms of all sorts (Tamango, The Last Supper, Burn!). Mr Thomas seemed to think finest as a type are the Pan-Africanist films: these layer memory, history, are de-centered and communal narratives, sometimes African in origin (Ceddo, Daughters of the Dust, Sankofa). Mr Thomas found more hope in the sense of education of viewers in the more widely-distributed “new” movies (very recent costume dramas, combining motifs (Lincoln, Belle, 12 Years a Slave, Toussaint Louverture, Tula: the Revolt). He offered lists of books, and articles on historical films, heritage, films about slavery, black cinema.

Though we did not have much time afterward, what talk we did have was stimulating. People seemed most interested in Outlander. Someone objected to Ms Hoffman’s thesis on the grounds that Claire is continually imperilled, often assaulted, near raped, and repeatedly saved in the old-fashioned way (in the nick of time) by her lover-husband from the past, Jamie MacTavish. I suggested what was strikingly innovative was how Jamie was given the over-voice most of the time in the second to last and penultimate episodes. In these it is he who is imprisoned and tortured (making the film politically relevant today) by Claire’s husband now in the past presented as a repressed homosexual cruel man who whips mercilessly and then seduces, rapes Jamie repeatedly until Jamie’s sense of self is shattered and he is giving in sexually to his abuser. This material transgresses almost every taboo on the presentation of masculinity in most films. People asked Mr Thomas questions soliciting information mostly, but there theme of a black community came up and he praised those films which do show us such communities, how they form and function. He said he is in the midst of publishing a collection of film studies, one of which will be his own paper. A woman came up to me at the close of the session and told me she is publishing a book on film where she has an essay on the two Poldarks where she basically offers the same perspective I did. Hers is not yet published. Mine will soon be up on the Net on a group blog maintained by a consortium of university and commercial groups (ABOPublic is its name).

And so the academic and scholarly sessions of Thursday and Friday that I attended ended.

BAL5239 The Shrimp Girl, c.1745 (oil on canvas) by Hogarth, William (1697-1764) oil on canvas 63.5x50.8 National Gallery, London, UK English, out of copyright
William Hogarth, The Shrimp Girl (1745)

Ellen

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Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) Fairy Tale (A Brooklyn Museun of Art exhibit — scroll down)

Dear friends and readers,

Now that I’ve finished the first round of my project, I want to gather the women thus far before returning to perhaps before the early modern period (Renaissance) to begin again. I will stay within the European tradition as that’s what I know and like, but will try for earlier, more non-English, contemporary and non-white women artists.

Thus far:

Caterina Van Hemmesen (1527/8-1581)
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652)
Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757)
Francois Duparc (1726-1778)
Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818)
Rosa Brett (1829-1882)
Helen Allingham (1848-1926)
Elizabeth Adela Armstrong Forbes (1859-1912)
Marianne Von Werefkin (1860-1938)
Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1909)
Isabel Bishop (1902-1988)
Nell Blaine (1922-2001)

I see I provide a cluster of long 18th century (3) and later Victorian/Edwardian women artists (4!) — that was unexpected and showed me how much I like this period of art. In the next round I’ll also have some parodists:

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Florence Claxton (fl. 1840-79) Women’s Work (mimicking Ford Madox Brown; she also parodied Pre-Raphaelite paintings),

and will return to add on pictures by women artists I’ve blogged about when I read a book about them, especially in a style not commonly associated with them:

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Elizabeth Adela Armstrong Forbes – La Seine pres de la Caumont (her French period, the Whistler influence),

or come across new information, insights on individuals, movements, and recent good surveys or essays or on-line sites.

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Joanna Mary Boyce Wells (1831-61, a Pre-Raphaelite painter ignored in just about every Pre-Raphaelite show I’ve seen or read about — I mean to include her life & work in my next round of women artists; she painted non-white women)

Ellen

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