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Archive for the ‘epistolary narrative’ Category

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Isobel Bishop (1902-88), how she imagined Austen at work, a drawing

Friends,

In Mary Poppins’s books, Mary’s birthday is referred to as “the Birthday.” I have wracked my brains to say something new about Austen for her birthday, or offer an appropriate poem, some tribute as yet not well known as I have done previous years, as how “How she loved to dance” (clips and music); her poem written on her birthday (it seems) to her friend, Mrs Lefroy who died on that day four years before; and what she said about Tudor Queens, especially Katherine Parr (her attitude and remarks not well known). And finally I’ve come up with two, last night I remembered an unassuming ironic commentary, and this morning discovered a new chamber music style opera of Mansfield Park.

When Dora Carrington (1893-1932) designed and decorated Lytton Strachey’s library in their second home together in southern England, Ham Spray, she painted an extra unused door — going nowhere as sometimes happens in endlessly renovated houses where there is not quite enough money literally to alter the structure of the room (vestigial elements). She disguised it as a bookcase, complete with projecting spines from imaginary books. She carefully titled these imaginary books: A Catastrophe, by Tiberius (her cat); Oeuvres by Le Conte Lytoff (Lytton Strachey); The Empty Room by Virginia Woolf; Deception by Jane Austen; and False Appearances by Dora Wood, her own alias.

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Here is a drawing by Carrington for an actual bookplate

Each of these titles serves as a ironic summing up comment on some aspect of these authors’ lives or works (as seen by Carrington). For Tiberius: cats knock things over? end up victims? And however, tongue-in-cheek Carrington places herself as a woman artist between two writers she evidently regarded as supreme (after all they got to be in Lytton’s library, close at hand). In a note she wrote to her great friend and sometime lover, Gerald Brenan, she coupled Austen with “Emily Bronte and her sisters [Charlotte, Anne] and Sappho.

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Again Carrington, imagining an 18th century woman playing music, tinsel on glass (Lytton was a lover of 18th century literature and Carrington may have read or had read to her Julie de Lespinasse and Madame Du Deffand’s letters)

We know Jane Austen loved to dance and so what better picture than this contemporary picturesque (gussied up) illustration of Manydowne, one of the wealthy people’s houses where she regularly danced, and she could have been mistress of had she accepted the marriage offer of its heir, Harris Bigg-Wither, but then we would not be remembering her birthday or have her powerful fiction.

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Music and Manydowne, a large country house, doubtless not far from the size of Mansfield Park, can segue us into the other offering I can make for Austen’s birthday: Douglas Murray’s essay, just published in Persuasions On-Line, Fanny Goes to the Opera: Jonathan Dove and Alisdair Middleton’s Mansfield Park.

Douglas says the opera he saw was performed for the first time in the Indianapolis Opera in March 2016. The perspective is one commensurate with an ensemble structure, with Fanny (to quote Douglas) “a part of the complex community known as Mansfield Park, only one in a multiplicity of cacophonous voices: “the opera thus creates a musical/dramatic analogue to Austen’s characteristic narrative technique: her ability to display simultaneous narrative consciousnesses within a narrative context.” The opera uses a post-modern outlook: critical irony, distance; it also has a section which might be called “operatic epistolarity” (as in filmic epistolarity). I have argued that Mansfield Park is a much revised pushing together of two draft MPs: one about a play (written first in 1797 or so) and another a semi-epistolary story whose central focus is Fanny’s visit to Portsmouth where she writes to her frenemy Mary Crawford.

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From the 1983 BBC mini-series (scripted Ken Taylor), the young Fanny writing to her brother William (at sea?), and the older Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) reading a letter (from Mary Crawford?) while in Portsmouth

I’ve a hunch my favorite moments would still be those coming out of Fanny, her abjection, her painful solitude, her uneasy re-integration: it is out of her point of view that the subversive perspective and questioning of her society and its people comes.

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Here we have Mary Crawford sliding Henry’s necklace around the unsuspecting Fanny

Indeed the way many people read Austen (it seems to me) is to take seriously her surface Deception, endorsed by those of her characters who lived unexamined lives. This would be the way I read Carrington’s retitling of Austen.

Ellen

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Hardy, Under Beachy Head

Dear friends and readers,

This is the sixth and last of my reports on the the Charlotte Smith conference this October, to which I will add a lecture given by Carole Brown on the history of St John’s Church in Guildford where Charlotte Smith was baptized and lies buried. The first I told of of the building, grounds, the social world of the conference; the second, my paper on the post-colonial Ethelinde and Smith’s The Emigrants (as well as plans for women artist blogs, Anne Killigrew, Dora Carrington and Remedios Varo); the third was on the Elegiac Sonnets; the fourth on Smith’s poetry again, this time from the point of view of the marketplace, natural world, and the use of paintings in her novels; the fifth, Smith as a novelist and playwright. We began and ended the conference papers with her poetry. Desmond and the places of her birth, upbringing, wandering and burial were part of this last phase.

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Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Demolition of the Bastille (1789)

On Saturday afternoon of the second day of panels, there were two papers on Smith’s Desmond. Grace Harvey presented a group of ideas she was working out. She talked of Desmond as the most important radical novel of the era; it was the first to present the French revolution, and in is earliest phases, and made a strong case for radical reform. She had trouble finding a publisher. An epistolary novel, it has two central voices in the dialogues about revolution, which are connected to Desmond’s choices in life and couched in terms of their friendship: Desmond is the idealist “voice of reason,” his arguments show William Godwin’s influence; Bethel, the older man, is the “voice of experience, primarily there insistently to counterbalance and modify Desmond’s arguments. Desmond is unable to embrace Bethel’s advice, which takes the form of warnings, his own idealism untempered will become a source of unhappiness for him. Smith’s later books for children show the double voice again but in different terms: Mrs Woodfield, the teacher urge repression of discontent, cheerful submission to what is, a sort of Bethel attitude; but she also checks flippancy and superficiality in Henrietta and Elizabeth, urging on them a kind of serious earnestness. Grace didn’t mention how strongly Smith was influenced by Rousseau in both all these books, especially Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise (for the novel) and Emile (for pedagogy)

Katrin Roder contextualized Smith’s Celestina and Demond with a discussion of sensibility in the era: her radicalism is rooted in ideas associated with the feelingful character of sensibility. These novels centrally question unconditional obedience to authority. They show how social sympathy creates human bonds; how important concern for others, for one’s home,and the limits of interpersonal support. Desmond loves his house too. she quoted interesting passages where Celestina attempts to help her servant Jessie, and Desmond listens to Geraldine, whose husband has sought to sell her and whom he marries at the end of the novel, where both identify and sympathize with these intelligent victims. Typical patterns for the sentimental novel show a hero’s suffering rewarded, morally superior victims who obey patriarchal norms. In Smith’s novels suffering is not inevitable, there are salutary reward, but the happy ending is often an afterthought. The reflections of the characters and narrator and what happens during the fiction of more important. Characters endure internal and external exile. In the discussion afterward it was remarked that if you cut Smith’s endings off, stop say at a penultimate chapter, they are deeply pessimistic.

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Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Near Beachy Head — this feels so appropriate as until they grew older Smith would often have had her children with her

One could say the last part of the day was devoted to Charlotte Smith’s unfinished (it’s a long fragment) poetical masterpiece, Beachy Head. Three excellent papers dependent on close reading, followed by a recital in the nearby St Nicholas church. Melissa Cow began with how Beachy Head, Smith’s most ambitious poem, lacks clarity of vision. The poem shows the inadequacies of science, geology, history, paleontology which are difficult to assemble produces a sense of strangeness. She begins with a strong sense of locality: the narrator is at the top of Beachy Head, and looks to see what is buried under his feet. While in Gilbert White we feel nature is a system, a good one which can be comprehended, Smith’s questions complicate and upset what we know. She goes beyond her reading of Erasmus Darwin to anticipate modern ideas about extinction; 17th century ideas about the immensity of the earth, catastrophes that have occurred, fossils of mammoth elephants. Her poem works through a range of associative leaps. Samantha Botz suggested Beachy Head invites pivotal readings of history as well as implied politics. Wordsworth saw himself as a man speaking to men, someone with a more lively sensibility, led to create in his mind what he does not find in the world. Smith gives us wandering silent fugitive figures, a contemplative antiquary, a lively anecdotal voice, as well as a critically analystical one, with visible nature showing contingency, and the vanity of science’s boasts.

Amela Worsley’s “‘Death Alone: Charlotte Smith’s hermits” provided a fitting close to the conference and a lead-in to the musical setting of the poem. The idea of a poet as a lonely figure begins in the later 17th century, solitary introspective males in a landscape, to which the sublime is added in the later 18th. The lone woman is ever at risk of sexual assault. Her multiple solitaries are male hermits whose outlook she likened to that of Milton’s Comus, the unknown poet of the “Elegy written in a country churchyard,” Mary Robinson’s “Anselmo, hermit of the Alps. Amelia said Smith uses geology to de-familiarize the local. She offered a careful comparative readings. The figures seek safety and run great risk (psychological too), know intense suffering and rhapsody, and often end in the peace of death. This is one of the passages she dwelt upon:

    Then, of Solitude
And of his hermit life, still more enamour’d,
His home was in the forest; and wild fruits
And bread sustain’d him. There in early spring
The Barkmen found him, e’er the sun arose;
There at their daily toil, the Wedgecutters
Beheld him thro’ the distant thicket move.
The shaggy dog following the truffle hunter,
Bark’d at the loiterer; and perchance at night
Belated villagers from fair or wake,
While the fresh night-wind let the moonbeams in
Between the swaying boughs, just saw him pass,
And then in silence, gliding like a ghost
He vanish’d! Lost among the deepening gloom.—
But near one ancient tree, whose wreathed roots
Form’d a rude couch, love-songs and scatter’d rhymes,
Unfinish’d sentences, or half erased,
And rhapsodies like this, were sometimes found—

    Let us to woodland wilds repair
    While yet the glittering night-dews seem
    To wait the freshly-breathing air,
    Precursive of the morning beam …

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John Constable (175-1837), Derwentwater, Cumberland (where Ethelinde is set)

I can’t speak too highly of the music of Amanda Jacobs, singing of Janet Oates, and recitation of the poem by Elizabeth Dolan at St Nicholas Church. Amanda and Beth had divided the poem into several emotional sequences conforming to the phases of the day that the poem charts. We moved from morning to afternoon to evening, giving us the lines as songs of grief and happiness. As with Ned Bingham, Viscount Mersey’s setting of Smith’s Sonnet, “Written in Bignor Park in Sussex, August 1799,” Low murmurs creep along the woody vale the day before, Jacobs’s music was atonal, dissonant, each line of music fitted to each line of verse, with an overall patterning that was melancholy yet beautiful, and in this case finally uplifting. Very 21st century music. I felt I had understand parts of the poem for the first time, had seen the logic (so to speak) of how the poem was put together. Everyone in the church seemed so moved.

It was evening and time to return to the hotel.

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Sunday was our day of trips, which I mentioned in my first blog. On Sunday we set off around 9:30 am in a chartered bus. The bus-driver was a tour guide himself and told us about some of the landscapes and towns we drove through. Ned Bingham was our generous gracious host in a visit to Bignor Park where we could wander where Smith had grown up, left to marry and later visited, and wandered to write her poetry more than a century ago; a tourist’s trip to Petworth House and Park. The house is now a hollow shell for tourists to wander through with the impressive objects in the house set up somewhat indiscriminately. I could see how the original Earl was determined to set a grand aristocratic framing for each aspect of his house and park too, notwithstanding the beauty of the park and some of the pictures.

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St John the Evangelist, Stoke, Guildford

The last place felt most like a revelation to me, mostly because I had not known anything about Charlotte Smith’s actual birthplace, Stoke House where her mother grew up, the history of the local community at the time (and before and since), as well as the problem of where she’s buried (no one knows the exact spot in the church or grounds). All this and more was covered by Carole Brown, a local church activist, conservationist, and historian, who seemed delighted to be able to inform us of all this and whatever else we wanted to know with as much detail as she could get in in the half-hour walking and sitting tour. The site of the church goes back to pre-Christian times, the building itself (renovated countless times) to the pre-Reformation. She was able to inform us especially some of the other (and more) famous people who attended this church, philanthropists, a good deal about the church in World War One, and the most recent art in the church (Pre-Raphaelie glass windows) and how it is the center of a community of people of all ages doing all sorts of things in the church today.

It was a splendid conference.

Ellen

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Furness Abbey, Cumbria (modern photo)

Dear friends and readers,

A third conference report, our subject this time Smith’s novels, tales and her one play, What Is She?. I’ve described Friday morning and middle afternoon. This time I cover more papers, with some briefer summaries: starting late Friday afternoon, to lunchtime Saturday and early afternoon, the papers were mostly on Smith’s prose fiction. I begin with those where the speaker concentrated on the actual space, places in Smith’s novels and end on her unknown trips to (use of Wales), her use of dialect, and her vampiric lawyer in Marchmont.

Emilee Morrall talked of female identity, interior spaces and narratives of travel in Ethelinde, Celestina and The Old Manor House. She looked at how Smith situated her characters, literally their relationship to windows and doorways, and metaphorically, at liminality in the novel; how characters cross threshelds, when characters remain between two places. Women seem to lack secure access to their own space, we find them at thresholds, standing still. The outside world is dangerous: Ethelinde seeks to return to privacy repeatedly, Celestina shows a better disposition towards independence, showing an ability to move about in the UK (including the Hebrides). Leanne Cane discussed the relationship of Smith’s novels to history (e.g., of Magdalenes in the century), to education as real world solutions to problems (for Orlando in The Old Manor House, for example). Smith shows to read well you must become passionately involved. We can see that in the era readers often did not read through a novel to the end, could break off while being read aloud too. Books were a kind of platforms for conversation with the mother. The following morning I gave my paper on Smith as a post-colonial writer: we see this in her Ethelinde, comparable to Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love; I compared her Emigrants to the poetry of exile and displacement in her contemporary Anne Grant, and in our own time Dahlia Ravikovitch, the Israeli poet, and Margaret Atwood in her Journals of Susanna Moodie.

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An eighteenth century map of Wales

Elizabeth Edwards talked of Smith’s probable (mostly unknown because barely recorded) trips into Wales. Elizabeth described Wales as the place Smith’s fiction begins with: it’s a place of hidden rocks, remote places, mountains and cliffs; Emmeline moves to Swansea, walked along the shore (the passages describing Wales are based on concrete experience), meets Mrs Staffordshire; Delamere hounds her and she flees to the Isle of Wight, then she returns to Mowbray Castle. Desmond too goes to Wales as a borde space, it provides shifting perspectives and moods. In a pre-railway world Wales being by the sea figures escape. In Smith’s letters there are suggestive hints of her going to Wales to flee creditors or to be without her children. Her play, What is She? is set in Wales (a woman is living there mysteriously): a male makes a Welsh maid his mistress, calling his wife a harridan (this reflect Smith’s husband’s behavior). The characters end up in Wales at the close of The Banished Man, and you can map the place. Montalbert they flee to Sicily; in The Young Philosopher to northern Scotland. If you look at the places in her work, they tell you more about her life than is supposed.

In the later morning, Jenny McAuley presented her research into the archives in libraries and registry offices. In her early married life, Smith lived near Hinton Ampner around which swirled stories of ghosts, hauntings, revenge taken. Mary Ricketts gave testimony the place was haunted but the authorities didn’t seem to care whether people read the originals. Her manuscript provides rare pictures of life in and around such a place, an alienated claustrophobic atmosphere. Women live there alone, the men’s activities link them to the West Indies, well outside England. The mansion was demolished in 1793; the Old Manor House and Marchmont have anything even nearly a ghost story. It may have been a place where smugglers met to distribute the profits and decide what they are going to do next. Elizabeth had researched the particulars of smuggling; at Hinton Ampner there was a hidden passageway. A Female servant was caught faking a ghost incident. If we look into the incidents at Rayland Hall in Old Manor House these point to smuggling among the servants and can be aligned with what is known of Hinton Ampner. The subtext of this is equally interesting: poaching went on, the land was being eroded. The Rickets family were related to slave owners in Jamaica, family members there bored and waiting for the old man to die. People include the notorious sadist Thomas Thistlewood (he left a diary of his vile cruelty). You can trace the family from 1760, which houses occupied the site. In this case the local is truly the global.

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A photograph of Hinton Ampner today (cared for by the National Trust)

Orianne Smith talked of the politics of gender and “black” magic in “The Story of Henrietta” (in the Solitary Wanderer). She discussed slave narratives and popular fiction based on these: Obi, or Three Fingered Jack. Henrietta, the daughter of a slave-owner is taken to Jamaica where she discovers she is to be sold (in effect) in marriage, and ends up relying on the help of Obeah women (described as like the Macbeth witches and discussed by Orianne at length), a young African man, her father’s daughters made slaves because the mother is black and a slave. W Orianne found much subversive political content in the witches’ stories. We can see Smith’s attitudes towards black people evolve from Desmond (1792) who looks upon “Negroes” as ontologically different from white Europeans; the Wanderings of Warwick has a kind of dissertation on Negro slavery embedded in it. We are to see how women are reduced to the condition of slaves. Orianne said the Radcliffean gothic in Smith is much influenced by Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman here: magical power then combines with slavery and Christian and revolutionary thought. In the book Edouardo studies superstition; the characters become part of the Anglo-Carribean world (whose written political history Orianne also surveyed). There is no attempt at consolidation of male authority; instead Smith connects with the “other” and European women.

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John Constable (1776-1837), Dedham Vale from Langham

The two papers not connected to specific places in Smith: Jane Hodson is a literary linguist who has been studying the use of dialect in British fiction. British literature is obsessed with culture, history, and class and you can trace all three of these in Smith’s novels to show: who the character is ethically, what kind of self they inhabit. She said that until the 1860s there was little use of genuinely mimetic dialect in Smith’s or anyone else’s novels. Dialect is a sign that the novel is set in the place or among the milieu of people who speak this language. She suggested that Smith is one of the earliest users of dialect. Such utterances are a form of hybrid language. One problem is often the dialect is too stereotypical or cliched. She focused on The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer as these are set in exotic, remote, colonialist spaces. In “Edouarda” the gothic is imported into Yorkshire; his ancestral home is inherited by his mad father who is controlled by a tyrannial priest. Henrietta’s father is a slave owner in Jamaica and she travels there to discover his enslaved daughters, and is helped by a slave who speaks in dialect.

Mary Going discussed the lawyer-extortionist Mr Vampyre (“His empoisoned fangs”) in Smith’s Marchmont. Her thesis was that the vicious lawyer in the novel is both nearly literally a vampire, but seen by Smith as the blood-thirsty money-lender Shylock. She suggested the first literary vampire works and rumor go back to 1739; slightly later Polidori, Byron and Mary Shelley were all writing ghost and vampire stories. We know that Smith read Shakespeare exhaustively and never tires of any of the plays. Mary felt seeing these parallels added a meaningful gothic extension to the novel’s story. Marchmont is a harassed and hounded young man who is in heavy debt when we first see him, and lands in debtor’s prison for a while. She pointed to how Jewish people are linked to early capitalism, an enemy of Smith’s. Edgeworth did read Obi, Kotzebue’s radical play, The Grateful Negro and she was familiar with self-serving texts and plays by and for the plantation owning tax.

In the question period afterward people pointed to the use of dialect in a number of 18th century novels (Edgeworth, Burns, Scott) well before or around the time of Smith, Loraine Fletcher said in Shakespeare especially. Stuart Curran felt that Smith was breaking new ground in her poetry as well as her novels: her lawyers sound like lawyers; she uses Sussex dialect frequently. There is a problem with her use of Negro or African English: it is too generalized and condescending at moments. Still the point holds: Smith experiments using voice among her characters. Jane was interested in how nationalities emerge, how politicized the representation of speech is and by whom. On the depiction of Vampyre in Marchmont, I asked Mary if she thought Charlotte Smith was anti-semitic; she said no. Smith mentions Jews in her letters (mildly unfavorably). I then asked if many lawyers were Jewish people as in the UK since no Jew could go to the universities or hold remunerative public office. It emerged that few lawyers were Jews. The argument was made in another thread that people can be in a culture but not “of” it, and some of the characters in her novels and Smith herself is such a person.

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The Tiber at San Giovanni dei Fiorenti by Van Wittel (an 18th century fantasy in the manner of Hubert Robert only much grimmer)

There was another excellent paper on place in Smith’s novels after lunch: Jeremy Davidheiser on Smith’s “Wandering Lover:” Chivalry, Geography and Gender relations in Smith’s Political novels. Smith repeatedly has idealist young men who transcend worldly considerations and rescues the heroine. In Desmond the type becomes part of her discourse on political and romantic passion; they are drawn to complicated women whose intellectual and moral development sets them apart from others. The men are expressive but they are also intensely possessive. A dynamic of chivalry can moderate this, as in Desmond whose generosity leads him to seek the good of others he cares for first. His generous friendship provides a way out for Geraldine to escape her aristocratic dissolute husband who would literally sell her. In The Young Philosopher when the heroine is parted from her husband and taken to a place outside society, she cannot cope with predatory people. In this novel Glenmorris wants to protect but not control his wife and daughter but when he is out of the way men who behave ruthlessly aggressively win out. His wife Laura is shattered, and indefatible tenderness cannot bring her back to real strength. In the novel women need protection once they move into places controlled by predatory men and women who isolate them. In this novel too lawyers often make life more dangerous. This is a bleak novel where the characters resign themselves to living in a refuge periphery where if they hold together they can protect one another.

Of his paper’s content, it was said afterwards that if you ignore the happy ending that is often tacked on to the novels you find how limited is the strength of even super-good interpersonal relationships. As in her poems, nothing can repair the suffering. In the novels there is a continuing argument for radical transformation of values to bring about social change.

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George Morland (1763-1804) — in the history of cat depiction one of the earlier anatomically accurate depictions

Ellen

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Remedios Varo, Spiral Transit (1962)

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By contrast? Carrington’s Artist Home and Garden

“as woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” – Woolf, Three Guineas

Dear friends and readers,

As I’m just coming up for air after having attended three conferences in a row (Charlotte Smith, her place in literature at Chawton Library, a Francis Burney conference on Burney and Global and other politics in DC, and a JASNA AGM on Emma also in DC), and about to attend a fourth (an EC/ASECS at Mary Washington College which is billed as “the Strange and Familiar”), I’ve no time to begin doing my conference reports on Smith or Burney or the JASNA. will begin them by the end of November’s first week. I’m also working on 2 coming woman artist blogs: Dora Carrington (1893-1932) and then Remedios Varo (1908-63); not to omit eventually a brief appreciation of a paper by Maureen Mulvihill on Anne Killigrew and return to the poetry of later 17th and early 18th century women poets (aka Anne Finch, who used to be known as Countess of Winchilsea).

But in the meantime I don’t want to leave the impression this blog is falling into desuetude. Rather a brief hiatus.

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Paradise Cats — my favorite of all Varo’s paintings

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Carrington: Woodcut for bookplate, a stylized or semi-artificial image of a particular cat she knew

So I thought for now I’d share just the paper I gave at the Smith conference by placing it on academia.edu. (I will add a select bibliography in due time.)

Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and her Emigrants as Post-colonial texts

My argument was that Charlotte Smith’s work placed alongside post-colonial writing, from the 18th century into our own era, reveals post-colonial patterns. Smith’s disparate range of forms and digressive reflections come together to make sense once we regard Smith as helping to invent the post-colonial text. Her writing also belongs to in an unhappy tradition of texts by women who have been abused. She participates in the creation of the post-colonial text in the later 18th century. Her novel, Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, can be seen in conversation with, parallel to, texts like Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love (1999, short-listed for the Booker Prize); her poems, The Emigrants helped to give rise to Grant’s The Highlanders and shows uncanny likenesses to the poetry of the Israeli poet, Dahlia Ravikovitch and Margaret Atwood as well as the writing of the 19th century Canadian memorist, Susannah Moodie.

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Remedios Varo, Souls of Mountains (1938)

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Carrington – another house, with graveyard (there is a lot more known to be by Carrington than is realized)

Ellen

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

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angelica Kauffman Visits Mr Reynolds’s Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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Lady Bingham

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

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

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Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764)

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

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1787/8)

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

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

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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:

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

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

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Angelica Kauffman Drawing a Torso (1767-70)

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

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

Invention
Invention

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

KauffmannPottery
Beautiful pottery

China
Wedgewood China?

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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:

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They are in the Temple of Apollo (1777)

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

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

cornelia

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

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

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

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

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

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From these later post-England years: Johann Friedrich Refiffenstein

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

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

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

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

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This death of Adonis could come from Shakespeare, Spenser.

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

SterneInsaneMaria

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

Papirius_Praetextatus_Entreated_by_his_Mother_to_Disclose_the_Secrets_of_the_Deliberations_of_the_Roman_Senate_by_Angelica_Kauffman

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

KauffmannDesignLeft (Medium)

On the following:

virgil
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:

famedecoratingshakespearwestombkauffman
Fame Decorating the Tomb of Shakespeare

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

AKauffmanMorningAmusement

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

binghamincolor

Ellen

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

Written near a port on a dark evening

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

sensiblevolume

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491
JMW Turner, The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach (1802)

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

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

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Fame Decorating Shakespeare’s Tomb (Kauffman)

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

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Athra and Theseus (Kauffman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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HattieMorahanAsElinorDashwood.jpg

“But you must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy the ancient housekeeper up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. . . . [Y]ou listen to the sound of her receding footsteps as long as the last echo can reach you—and when, with fainting spirits, you attempt to fasten your door, you discover, with increased alarm, that it has no lock.” (Austen, Northanger Abbey, 158-59).

The above images two remain my favorite of all the stills of Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood: Jennifer Ehle walking along in the countryside meditatively, with a melancholy retreat feel into nature (1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies); Hattie Morahan looking out to sea and painfully enduring what seems a long loneliness ahead (2008 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies). The passage from Austen’s NA, probably using Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or a Tale of Others Times as part of what is parodied and yet taken seriously is also one of my favorites

Friends and readers,

Since I wrote about Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy, or the Ruin on the Rock (1795) here (some months ago), I’ve been wanting to recommend two further later eighteenth century epistolary novels I and another friend on my small WomenWritersAcrosstheAges listserv @ Yahoo read together last year on their treatment of women’s issues in the 18th century still of relevant today, Sophia Briscoe’s Miss Melmoth; or the New Clarissa and the anonymous Emma, or The Unfortunate Attachment: we read them because they have both been linked to Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, whose The Sylph (1778) we also read.

Sylphcover
The latest The Sylph cover and edition

Prompted by the appearance of two new Austen films, P&P and Zombies and Love and Friendship (aka Lady Susan) as well as shoverdosing on a Scots TV production of Gabaldon’s Outlander, in reaction almost against, I recommend these 18th century epistolary narratives as well as The Sylph and Sophia Lee’s powerful gothic, The Recess (1783) as a better way to acquaint yourself with Austen’s world and context.

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MissMelmoth

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Hermione Lee reading one of Clarissa’s letters, a perfect image for “the New Clarissa” as it is all writing and receiving of letters (1991 Clarissa, scripted by David Nokes)

The first in time is Miss Melmoth; or, The New Clarissa (1771) by Sophia Briscoe, about whom little is known beyond that a second epistolary novel written in the following year was attributed to her (The Fine Lady, 1772), that The Sylph has attributed to her (a receipt for payment is in her name) and that the Critical Review and Monthly Review commended these novels as superior to some average they disdained, “entertaining,” amusing,” “not corrupting,” “instructive” and capable of “arousing powerful emotion.” She is also sometimes said to have been Scottish. Unfortunately no one has yet published a summary, and although I made intense notations on the letters (and they are in the archives at Yahoo) as we went through them (two novels which we read over some 6 weeks), I never put them together coherently.

Mixedphotos
A jumble of stories within stories, images left in the mind, something of the feel of Miss Melmoth (from an exhibit of 18th century women writers, including Austen, held at the NYPL, NYC)

What was most remarkable were not so much the on-going front continuous unfolding of the main characters, but the inset back-stories as it were, what was told all at once and intensely when one woman would sit down and tell her history to another, or one of our heroines report what she had heard of a new character in the novel’s history. I was struck by how seriously the novel took death emotionally; how the loss of a close relative or friend affects someone’s life irreparably. The front stories projected a sympathetic account of how women needs other women friends.

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Whit Stillman includes such an image in his Love and Friendship (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, both in his previous Austen movies, and Beckinsale played Emma for Andrew Davis’s 1996 Emma)

One of the inset histories was a hostile depiction of a woman whose elopement with a rake turns out so badly that she is driven to become a lady’s maid who then betrays her young mistress by marrying that mistress’s domineering shallow father and becoming herself a tyrannical step-mother; another, a deeply empathetic depiction of a stranded widow. The novel reveals a tenuous security for all eighteenth century women of whatever rank. A desperate need for marriage however painful that condition may turn out.

Emma

The second in time was published anonymously, Emma or, The Unfortunate Attachment (1773); it has (probably wrongly) been attributed to Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, and the modern edition by Jonathan David Cross continues the attribution. We agreed that all three novels (Sylph, Emma, and Miss Melmoth) were written by different people because the styles were so different. Emma; or the Fatal Attachment has far more stilted and wrought style than either of the other two, and its central story is the plangent and tragic one. This novel has many Richardsonian twists and turns, and again I wrote about the letters as we went through, ironic and juxtaposed section by section (and these annotations are in the archives). Its subject is coerced marriage; in this novel a previous attachment has gone so deep and the new relationship despite all efforts on the part of the heroine and reinforcement of social norms by her relatives and friends a violation.

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Saskia Wickham as the harassed Clarissa stopped in the streets, hounded for debts she doesn’t own (1991 Clarissa)

Beyond what Gross writes of it, in her “Richardson and some Richardsonian novels,” Isobel Grundy (Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, edd. M.A. Doody and P. Sabor) writes of how the heroine is harrowed by the death of the previous man, shows she is capable of loving two men at once, includes a friend who offers “a strongminded feminist critique of wifehood,” and depicts a retreat to “a desolate domestic wasteland” (pp. 227-29). Again a deep sense of precariousness in life for women is conveyed.

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Both Miss Melmoth and this Emma (as well as The Slyph) have multiple correpondents who write to one another and receive responses; both happy endings (as does The Sylph) but what happens along the way is not negated. A chime of many voices and presences.

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Catriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall now Fraser (2015 Outlander, variously scripted & directed) — upon her finding she has been transported to 18th century Scotland

I’ve been prompted finally to describe Miss Melmoth and Emma, or the Unfortunate Attachment and refer back to The Sylph because I’m almost finished with the 16 part mini-series film adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels as the closest thing I’ve come across to Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times, a journalistic epistolary novel (the letters very long and only by the two sisters), to my mind the first self-conscious genuine gothic in English literature (1783). (This wikipedia article will lead you to good material on Lee and her novel, which deserve a long blog of their own. I also read it with a another friend on Eighteenth Century worlds @ Yaoo, and postings are in those archives. I have no room here lest this blog become overlong.)

Gabaldon’s book (or books) are a kind of cross between Frank Yerby “The Border Lord” type romances, with time-traveling fantasy taken from Daphne DuMaurier’s House on the Hill; a Dorothy in Oz longing to return to Auntie Em turned into a resolute desire to stay (Claire is told to click her shoes before the stones and recite “there is no place like love” in her efforts to return to modern England); and a plot-design which exploits overall Scottish history, Highland cultural artefacts and the Jacobite 175 rebellion and patina of 18th century English politics. They read somewhat woodenly but if you have watched the mini-series for a while and go back, you find they make good script ideas and dialogue for a TV film. If you want to understand Gabaldon’s Outlanders the books to read are Helen Hughes’s The Historical Romance and Diane Wallace’s The Woman’s Historical Novel. The distance between Gabaldon’s book and the literate eloquent script and remarkable realization reminds of the distance between the 1978 mini-series Love for Lydia, and H.E. Bates’s sub-Lawrentian novel.

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Craig Na Dun (the magical stones which hurl the heroine back in time)

The mini-series reaches out to contemporary wishes for spirituality by involving megalithic stones and the natural landscape in its depiction of “spirituality” and the nature of its characters. The central character, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser (two husband’s names) is a nurse from WW2 – this seems all the rage on these mini-series, nurses – is presented as pro-active and strong, a female hero who is as effective in action-adventure and yet needs rescuing, all the while doing a woman’s jobs of caring. Then you get plenty of blood, death, violence for the men. This is precisely what we find in Lee’s two heroines, Elinor and Matilda, Mary Stuart’s long-lost daughters, who learn to love as abjectly and erotically as Claire. The Scottish landscape and myths about the Highlands serves both Lee and Outlander.

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Castle Leoch (an actual ruin in Scotland)

The mini-series and Lee manifest the same attempt at an exploration of male high adventure (Lee is much influenced by Prevost) through the cyclical art, use of voice-over (daringly by the men too) so sensibilities of l’ecriture-femme movie-style. Some of the scripts were written by a woman who was also the executive producer, Anne Kenney. I do love all of this, Lee and the mini-series, the Scottish landscapes captivate me too.

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Very popular in French: Le Souterrain, ou Matilde (1788)

I like to think and even assume that Austen read all three of these semi-realistic epistolary novels; there is some evidence in Northanger Abbey to suggest that Austen had the fantasy The Recess in mind when Henry Tilney produces his mock-gothic narrative for Catherine as they ride into the Abbey.

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Felicity Jones and J.J. Feilds as Catherine and Henry approaching the abbey (2008, Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

I was also prompted to tell of these novels finally because two new Austen movies have just come out, the utter nonsense of Burt Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a film adaptation of Seth Graham-Smith’s burlesque gay mash-up, and Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, a blending of Austen’s Lady Susan with her juvenilia burlesque, Love and Freindship. I link in a group of reviews in comments.

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Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet could easily be slotted into Outlander, or be either of Lee’s heroines

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Lady Susan in mourning

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When I’ve seen the two new movies, I will write about them, but from what I’ve read thus far, you will learn far more about Austen’s world, get closer to her values and assumptions by reading any one of these four novels. And yet how close, how alike are the photos, the pictures stemming from both movies to the appropriate photos and covers of these four later 18th century novels, and stills from movies made from and appropriate illustrations for Austen’s novels. At the same time some essential element of sanity, of ironic perspective, of true ethical compass is either not there or muted. See comments for full disclosure or elaboration on this.

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Again Jones and Feilds as Henry and Catherine, with Catherine Walker as Eleanor Tilney between them, this time all discussing Ann Radcliffe and “real history” as they walk through a real wood (this one happens to be in Scotland where most the film was done).

Ellen

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Wybrand Hendriks (Dutch painter, 1744-1831) Old Woman Reading
Wybrand Hendriks, Old Woman Reading (Dutch, 1744-1831)

Dear friends and readers,

I almost made a Freudian slip and typed as the the title of Goodman’s bok, Becoming a Woman of Letters in the 18th century, for that is what this book is about. It’s just the book I needed to put together a paper on Anne Grant, Elizabeth Grant Smith and if not Anne Home Hunter, Anne Radcliffe — who also wrote a journal book and left a journal-diary whose entries are letter-like. I may substitute Radcliffe for Anne Home Hunter if my emphasis moves from Scots women to women forging connections as such. Naturally,I recommend it.

The cover picture of Goodman’s book is the same tired image I’ve seen on so many 18th century books about French women, Adelaide Labille-Guiard‘s Portrait of a Woman, so despite its appropriateness and lovely colors,

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I led with a much less familiar image of a woman avidly reading — as if her life depended upon this.

A review of Goodman’s book appeared in the latest issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 48:4 (546-47). I want to emphasize from Aurora Wolfgang’s brief account, that writing was for women of the 18th into 19th century “a transformational practice,” where they both developed a consciousness for themselves (an identity we might say) and spoke to both private and public worlds out of their own private world (writing self) and public knowledge. Goodman debunks the stereotype of women as reading and writing love letters primarily; she developed her role as a teacher, mother and legitimized active participation and autonomy. The writing desk, her closet, the learning what are one’s innermost thoughts through the use of language, using reason, knowledge (her reading), and sensibility. Sensibility is only one part of this even if this is a “gendered sense of subjectivity.”

Goodman covers the manufacture of supply too: pens, paper, furniture for the modern person (like a desk), books of illustrations to study.

The writer and reader reached out to embed themselves in social networks of friends and family and book illustrations too.

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Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) — and woman illustrator

Goodman analyzes over a 100 such illustrations; her central women writers are Genevieve de Malboissiére, Manon Phlipon, Catherine de Saint-Pierre, and Sophie Silvestre.

Other reviews: Maire Fedelma Cross, French History 24:2 (2010):292-93; from Cornell’s website.

A small connection which may seem foolish but is a defense of good historical. In Graham’s Poldark novels when Demelza learns to write and uses her skill to connect Verity to Blamey, to communicate with others, to be herself, she is enacting what Goodman claims for women of this era. I regret to say I’ve not been able to locate any snaps or stills of Eleanor Tomlinson teaching herself to read (they are probably fleeting). These are taken from Graham’s book. What is emphasized in both historical films is Demelza teaching herself to play the piano. Reading is still a suspect activity?

I’ve bought the book used from Amazon, and await its arrival eagerly.

Ellen

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A contemporary illustration (John Edmund Buckley) for Marmion (Scott used to be seen as Austen’s rival)

Dear friends and readers,

A third short blog, just to announce I’ve put onto my site at Academia.edu, a copy of the comparative review of the two Cambridge Companions to Jane Austen (1997 and again 2011) I wrote for ECCB, which will appear in due time (I hope), either this fall or next spring.

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Another of the Cambridge Publications

I’ve already blogged on the individual essays in the two volumes, summarizing and evaluating them individually, but have been asked for a quick overview several times now so thought this pre-publication appropriate.

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The Place setting for Mary Wollstonecraft from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party (Austen did not make the cut) — How we contextualize her today

Ellen

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Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting (1630)

Her words for herself in a letter dated 1649: ‘Caesar’s spirit in a woman’s soul’

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Judy Chicago’s Illuminated Letter for Artemisia’s place setting (The Dinner Party)

Dear friends and readers,

Though one purpose of these sketches and offerings of images is to call attention to either relatively or just about wholly unknown (erased) women painters and artists, I felt it would be perverse to choose another 17th century painter for my first round. Gentileschi’s pictures are so extraordinary, I have a couple of superb sources (Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque, by a host of art scholars, the catalogue and essays from an exhibition put on by the National Gallery of Women’s Art) and there are plenty of people who’ve never heard of her despite a moving autobiographical novel by Anna Banti (Artemisia, by Lucia Lopresti — yes she used a pseudonym), from which a film was made (by Agnes Merlet); several scholarly biographical and art studies (e.g., Mary Garrard’s Artemisia Gentileschi), individual essays [I will come back later to add a bibliography], a popular American novel (by Susan Vreeland). She even made the cut for Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party:

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The key event of Gentileschi’s life about which there is much documentation is a series of rapes: Agostino Tassi, Orazio Gentileschi (yes a painting father and workshop)’s apprentice or partner repeatedly raped her, her father publicly accused him of rape, and a trial. Mary Garrard reprints the whole of the extant papers and letters (in English as well as Italian) which provide a searing look into the daily behavior and mores of the era. Gentileschi was accused of being “a whore” herself: she did succumb to allowing this apprentice to fuck her again either in the hope he would marry her or because poor girl she had fallen in love with him; it was only months later that her father became aware of what had happened. Also involved was a woman who lived with the family in a role common in this period: a servant as chaperon who was also supposed to help find Artemisia a marriage partner, to broker it. At one point one of Tassi’s hanger-ons attempted to gang-rape Artemisia. As all that happened to her ever after was shaped by this public trial and what was said, for the rest of both their lives, Gentileschi and her father paid for their attempt at restitution and revenge. Artemisia was herself tortured at one point to make her “tell” the truth and test the truth of what she said.

Many of her pictures include violence, trauma, anger and sevral famously behead a man from a story in the Bible: here is her tour de force Judith slaying Holofernes painted after the trial:

Judith-Beheading-Holofernes

What may escape the modern viewer is that here we find Artemisia as the first female artist daring to paint a large-scaled historical and religious subject. I feel a sardonic humor in her choice of a subject which by the definitions of allowable historical and religious she could. Note the man’s agonized face, his terrific reddish color, the wrinkles of his skin, the blood trickling down the sheet, the way he is turned as Judith struggles to behead him.

She had done a Judith and her maidservant dated as just before this, where we find his head in a basket, a sort of image from a mirror, much more subdued lyrical using parallels in details of dress, soft browns, beiges, as the woman look about them, this time Judith fearful at being found out:

Artemisia_Gentileschi_-_Judith_and_Her_Maidservant

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Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome July 8, 1593, Orazio’s first child; like his friend, mentor, rival, the great theatrical Baroque painter Caravaggio, Orazio came to Rome to make a name for himself; his wife gave birth to several sons, three were apprentice painters, but her father saw his daughter excelled them, and trained her in easel painting while he worked on large frescoes. According to Stefania Biancanio, Artemisia “could skillfully grind pigments, boil oils, paint small commissions;” he used her face for portraits. Meanwhile his wife and her mother died in childbirth in 1605.

It was around the time she was 17 she painted Susannah and the Elders:

Susanna-and-the-Elders-A-Gentileschi

As Germaine Greer remarks, the woman is not there to excite sexual arousal; but show us an originally strong, muscular and sensual woman in the prime of life “crumpled against the cruel stone of the coping” (Greer 191), driven into “ruinous complicity” with her vulture enemies.

Unfortunately, Orazio allowed Agostino Tassi to give her more advanced training. Records show that Agostino had already boasted he had murdered his wife, raped his sister-in-law, beat up prostitutes regularly. Yet he was socially acceptable. He resisted Orazio’s demand he marry her. That is when this unheard-of kind trial (her father had to have known how hostile would be everyone to such truths about the way women were treated) began. It is important to remember that against all odds, she won the case; Tassi was exiled. But the public attitude was utterly hostile to these judges, and in 1614 one semi-champion (whom Greer said had been Tassi’s friend), a Florentine, Giambatista Stiattesi, married her and took her to Florence. It was then she painted Judith Slaying Holofernes, and was commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, commissioned her to paint “Inclination” as a ceiling decoration for the Casa Buonarroti.

Biancanio says there were eight years of intense creativity, and she was matriculated into the Academia del Designo, the first woman ever accepted, and of profound importance to her professional career and self-esteem. She was now freed from a need to be part of a guild, she could buy pigments on her own (before she could not), sign contracts on her own; she had autonomy from father, husband, and later her sons. She bore four children, two daughers (Prudentia and Palmira) by Stattsei and moved to Rome to make a living for herself and her children. Her family included her two sisters and two maids. In 1626 she is in Genoa, 127 Venice, and then she dared to try her luck in Naples (a different and southern hispanic Italian culture), in 1630 opening a huge studio. In 1638 Charles I invited her to England. Braving wars, plagues and pirates, she took her household and rejoined her father there and they collaborated on a commission for the Queen’s house in Greenwich. It was an allegory of peace and the arts (now in Marlborough House, London). She is said to have met Anthony Van Dyck in 1622. When her father died eight years later, she returned to Naples. While in England, she had excited ignorant “repellent” gossip (Greer).

The atmosphere of her last years can be called “a twilight” (Biancano’s word) of success and loss: from these years we have letters to a Sicilian patron, Don Antonio Ruffo, who wants a genuine original from her at a cut-down price. Greer says these 1649 texts make “painful” reading: Artemisia complains of poor health, poverty, of how he is cutting her price, of the behavior or her models to her, the poor esteem her work is actually held in from the point of view of how it’s preserved or not. She is “an exhausted woman obliged to court provincial patronage.” From this time comes her series on the life of John the Baptist, this on his birth puts before us a world of women:

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While the baby is bathed, Elizabeth looks tired and indifferent to or unaware of what Zachary is writing down.

Numbers of the attributions of her painting to her have been disputed (by F. Ward Bissell especially) over the years (given to Caravaggio for example). They paintings are said to “vacillate” between her father’s hand and Giovani Baglione, and other minor Italian male painters of the time; this is where Mary Garrard’s work has made a difference: Gentileschi now prevails as the painter of figures of somber women playing music, intent on their musicianship.

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If you look at some of what is said by even more recent critics, you find denigration. This Lute-player made to recall Saint Cecilia is called “naive” because the figure is so in the foreground, too simple, inexpert:

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Biancanio makes a strong case for a work denied Artemisia, an extraordinary Danae

Danae

There are similarities to her father’s work, to a Milan Cleopatra (no certain attribution); it’s on copper (Artemisia did execute works on copper), but apparently it’s the painterly techniques (the shading of skin, the loose bedding, the psychology of the story-telling narrative that is telling: King Agrisius of Argos locked his daughter, Danae, in a chamber after a prophecy that she would bear children who would grow up to kill him. Zeus broke in to the chamber in a shower of gold, impregnated her, and her son, Perseus, eventually killed his grandfather. In the picture she clutches the coins in her right hand, her face look strained, guarded, her legs drawn together as if she is hurting after penetration. I love her maid, with her head covered in the long white scarf, her intense blue garment clutched, as she looks up to the sky and stars from which there is no help. I think of the sardonic comment made to Webster’s Duchess of Malfi as she cries out to God in the skies: “Look you, the stars shine still.”

The motif of the maid as a franker version of herself is found in Holofernes images; now we have an interplay of arms and swords (also a motif in her paintings, and a shielding from the light:

artemisia-gentileschi-judith-and-her-maidservant-with-the-head-of-holofernes

Now the head is on the ground; look at the maid’s alert calm-seeming face.

Her extant work is varied, and some clearly from commissions:

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Greer suggests her male figures in the portraits are femininized; here one man is suppliant and the other withdraws from him.

She depicts tender motherly love in this Madonna and Child:

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But repeatedly we return to this scene where a woman is coerced into sex: here the story of Bathsheba usually presented from the point of view of David and Bathsheba’s cowardly husband, is turned to the reluctant woman: forced marriages are a form of continual rape however submitted to:

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Lucretia, soiled, weary, crumpled despite her immense solidarity, is about to cut her breast off first rather than just pushing the dagger directly into herself:

Lucretia_by_Artemisia_Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi’s story can be made into one of astonishing success: she painted for powerful men, traveled to prestigious courts to execute art meant for public definitions of such people. Her self-portrait (which I led with) shows her in peaceful reverie, intense contemplative state, and her magnificent, Clio , her chosen muse, makes proud to have fame (it may be read as an allegory). Throughout her career she is continually remembering moments of her life through female and male figures:

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But it’s said on her tomb were painted nasty graffiti accusing her of nymphomania and adultery.

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Anna Banti

Banti’s novel is a help in trying to imagine what Artemisia’s life might have felt like: it is a serious historical fiction and set just after World War Two. Banti weaves between an imagined author standing among ruined in a garden after the barbarism of World War Two, with a draft of a manuscript on Gentileschi destroyed and Gentileschi herself: the novel is an explanation of how we see them as the story begins. Artemisia’s story opens with her experience of rape: “Do not cry” (p. 1). Artemisia is ever holding back intense terrible endless crying: “She must wean herself from it if she does not want to die of grief” (p. 26). From the first phase of the novel on Artemisia:

“She did not have the strength to hate her violent, cowardly lover, the go-betweens, the false witnesses, Cosimo, Tuzia, and all the apprentices, washerwomen, models, barbers, painters, parasites: people who seemed to have scarcely ever have noticed her ever since she was a child and who instead had followed her hour by hour, substituting her actions and movements with unrecognizable ones in the presence of the judge. Today she feels guilty, guilty as everyone wishes her to be . . . (1995 Bison _Artemisia_, trans D’Ardia Caracciolo, p. 25)

She is separated off from other women who do not help her. They move away. She is locked in the house as a shameful thing. She wants to stay in the dark — Banti’s imagery returns right back to the beginning of subjective poetry and stories of early modern Europe through 18th century epistolary novels and poetry by women to studies of archetypal imagery in women’s novels today, e.g., “If only the dark would last forever, no one would recognize me as a woman, such hell for me, woe to others” (p. 25).

Well she overcomes that impulse (which Richardson’s Clarissa did not); but it’s not a simple process of repression, but layered. Forced into a hasty marriage, with a man she can’t respect because he doesn’t behave in a powerful aggressive way, calculating and therefore successful, world, because he makes her ashamed because he is of her, she knows others will sympathize with him. It also agonizes her to see him failing.. She lashes out at him and then feels remorseful, but goes ahead berating the man after all, feeling torn all the while.

“His hands look dirty against the white cloth. Dirty but light. This Artemisia remembers and it tears at her heart like something that has been lost; those hands, when they caress, are as light as feathers [she remembers them as beautiful then] She carries on talking, accusing, so as not to feel moved, and sheraises her voice and listens to herself in horror, within these walls which goad her into cruelty and spitefulness” (p. 83)

He leaves her. He runs away in the night. In Florence, she understandably gets into venomous fights with other women because, now separated from her husband, her humiliating sexual reputation is used against her. You could call her behavior self-destructive; the point here for Banti are the parallels with her modern heroine and her own life: There are many parallels in Banti’s life, but she is also allowing her heroine to express anger and anger becomes a driving motive in her ambition.

Always the imagined private life for which we have no record is intertwined so when Artemisia goes to England, it is after Antonio has come with another woman and triumphed over her. In another agon, she sets out though and the metaphors of stone, rock and burning sand as she boards a ship reminded me of Mary Wortley Montagu’s poetry about herself later in life as she set forth for and lived alone in Italy, an exile.

and in the depths of her heart, as on the gray sand secretly disturbed and marked by the waves, she saw the marks left by this thought which she had faithfully kept and inscribed all these years (p. 130).

It’s this idea of stone, of rock, of burning sands, of the mind as this endlessly enduring hard strength.
Her mind is described thus:

She was coming back from such a great distance, where she had received such terrible blows and lightning bolts that her eyes seemed dreamy … p 131).

The modern novel-writing heroine thinks in a contrasting passage: “What terrible masters words turn out to be” (p. 131). These words she is told about her husband drive her into “exile.” It is a tremendous voyage (remember Woolf’s Voyage out); vignettes of the people, of the places, each figure caught and
then Artemisia seen too. She enjoys her trip. I paraphrase from the Italian: She liked not being anywhere
in particular and moving on, the transience of it. She is happy to arrive anywhere too.” This woman’s identification is part of it: “Afterwards she recalled having seen a puppy, no, a small cat, very frightened, at the sparkling carriage window” (from the English translation, p. 167)

We are expected to know she went with her wondrous career but see the price she paid.

When a few women read the book on WWTTA, some were disappointed there was not much on her painting itself, and her public career was not the focus, just the outward framing; I wished there had been more about her household, what she drew from her relationships there. I have read Vreeland’s novel; it is a mainstream American book; a professional reviewer on Amazon writes accurately of The Passion of Artemisia that Vreeland attributes some “decidedly modern attitudes to people who would not have thought that way at that time, and ends on her “triumph as the first woman elected to the Accademia dell’ Arte in Florence” (“in a time when respectable women rarely left their homes”); the focus is equally her career, and family, “beautifully researched and rich with casual detail of clothing, interiors, and street life. She deftly works history and politics into the background of her canvas.”

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I conclude on one of her musicians, which some have tried to argue are not Gentileschi’s: here the face is hers:

Artemisia_Gentileschi_-_Self-Portrait_as_a_Lute_Player

A self-portrait of herself as a lute-player.

Ellen

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