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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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A recent cover for Agnes Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Branwell Bronte

Ellen

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Vittorio DiMeglio — Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been such a long time since the last selection or couple of poems translated by me from Vittora Colonna’s Amaro Lagrimar (Bitter Crying), as I call her immense sonnet sequence – the phrase taken from her first poem, “Scrivo sol per sfogar l’interna doglia” (Englished by me as “I write to vent the inward pain my heart”) that I’m going to announce this small publication here. A representative from John Wiley wrote me to ask permission for a number of my translated poems to be published in a large anthology they will be publishing, Gender in History: Global Perspectives, edited by Weiser-Hanks. The first scholarly biography of Colonna was written in German, and her complete oeuvre has been translated into German. The Germans and the French too (especially later 19th century Romantics) have been drawn to Colonna’s poetry. I admit I know little about it, but then I knew little about the two Master’s theses that have used my translation or the two festivals at which another few were read, or even the couple of other anthologies they have appeared in. Most of this some 20 years ago, for a couple of years after I put them online.

I am encouraged and chuffed because it’s a sign my poetry is still read. Jim (my late husband) had some software program where he kept track of how many hits different part of my website attracted and there was a time there was frequent interest in these poems, and also the poetry of Veronica Gambara, Colonna’s contemporary, and my brief portrait biography of Gambara and chapter on Colonna. Nowadays I think the interest that my website draws is towards the material on Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, Anne Finch, and various individual papers, people, subjects (e.g., Poldark).

I spent nearly 20 years working on Colonna and Gambara and Anne Finch before I put my work on the Internet, and remain fascinated by translation (theory, practice, individual works) and in love with much of their poetry.  Now and again I’ve returned to Gambara.  For Anne  Finch I’ve worked more conventionally within academic conventions and parameters (see two blogs).  So anytime anyone contacts me on any of this, I feel my contribution is valued.

Here then are three of those chosen: the first of the sequence (this is common), a highly erotic one (ditto) and one connecting her to Michelangelo.

I write to vent the inward pain my heart
feeds upon–I seek nothing else–surely
no-one can think I mean to add to the
splendor this buried gladiator cast.

I am right to obey my urge to mourn;
though the thought I damage his fame hurts me,
I am leaving to other pens, wiser
heads the task of saving his name from death.

May rooted loyalty, love, and a weight
of sorrow, this anguish neither reason
nor time can lessen–excuse me to each of you.

Bitter crying, a song which is not sweet,
bleak sighs, a disquieted voice: I’ll boast
not of my style but of my suffering.

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Like a ravenous bird who sees and hears
the whirr of his mother’s sheltering wings
as she descends, embraces, and feeds him,
who loves the food and her, and is happy

inside the nest, but frets too, consumed by
his yearning to follow and fly like her,
and so thanks her by singing such songs as
seem beyond the tongue’s power to release,

am I when God’s sun strengthens my heart with
a warm ray–like the lightning’s flash felt
and vanished before we have half-glimpsed it–

the pen moves, pushed by a surge of love from
within, and without realizing quite
what I’m saying, I write in praise of God

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That which the human mind can comprehend
of eternal truths we can teach ourselves,
through long study, guided by rare insight,
I believe your soul has comprehended,

so it’s not that I mean to add a prop
or light to your massive near unique faith–
so obvious to anyone who learns
from your work that there is another world–

in offering you this image of Christ
offering his heart up to the spear as
he hangs on the cross to stream holy life

from His body to you, but because, Sir,
a more learned book was never opened–
this will give you your immortality.

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As I read over my poetry, I can see it is very beautiful, a true projection of the spirit and meaning of Colonna’s poems in appropriate modern English.

This is what I have to say about my choices and arrangements of the poems:

For Vittoria Colonna there are over 50 different manuscripts which contain sizable numbers of poems; there are considerable variants between individual texts and orderings. Unlike Alan Bullock who has taken what A. E. Housman calls an uncritical stance by choosing one copy text and mostly sticking to it — I have studied all the texts available to me, including the many studies and analsyses of Colonna’s poetry that have been published since 1538 and Ruscelli’s important first commentaries. I can here only refer the interested reader to the recent work of Tobia R. Toscana (Sonetti : in morte di Francesco Ferrante d’Avalos marchese di Pescara: edizione del ms. XIII.G.43 della Biblioteca nazionale di Napoli / Vittoria Colonna [1492-1547] (Milano: G. Mondadori, 1998) who has herself returned to the manuscripts, carefully examined Bullock’s tables and arguments together with new evidence and studies by Carlo Dionosotti and Danilo Romei (whose work on Colonna I have not been able to see); she concludes that Bullock’s edition is flawed by his decision to follow a single manuscript for the opening phase of Colonna’s poetry and is not substantiated by Tordi’s studies (as Bullock had simply assumed). I studied all the documents Tordi and Reumont had unearthed; referred myself to their texts for Vittoria’s life. I also used the newer studies (e.g., Carlo Ossola, Mila Mazzetti, Paolo Simoncelli, Massimo Firpo) placing Vittoria’s poetry in the context of evangelism and politics of her period and the poetry of her friends. In many cases I have followed Visconti: his texts are frequently exactly those of Bullock with different punctuation or grammar. In those cases where they are not, they are sometimes superior. When Bullock’s are more precise, more polished, I chose Bullock’s as my main copy text, but always kept Visconti in front of me. When Visconti has a “bad” text that clearly contain mistakes, I follow Bullock. Uniformly the first Italian line quoted at the top of my pages and in my index is from Bullock’s edition: this is for the convenience of the reader who may own Bullock’s 1982 edition.

I also arranged them for the first time. I divided the poems into those in which Vittoria is communing with herself; and those where she addresses herself to imagined others. For the first part, I followed a slow trajectory of emotion which can be discerned in the sequence from erotic enthrallment to disillusion, to a turning to God and after many struggles with despair, a conversion experience and some tranquillity and health. For the second I followed the discernable story of Vittoria’s life within her family, in public, and as a writer. I made it much easier for readers to find those poems which are directed to her friends and written in response to other poems by putting them in groups in accordance with their interlocutors. Her devotional meditative sequences are similarly arranged. Finally, Vittoria made several starts as a poet: all those poems which justify her sequence, which apologize for it, and are intended as prologue are placed first; those poems which show the early planning of the sequence, and are close literary imitations are placed just after her husband’s death. While my arrangment is subjective, the result of long reading and translating these poems and documents on Colonna’s life, I think it is makes sense of the relationships among the poems and between the poems and Vittoria Colonna’s life for the first time. I am convinced that the present disarrangement, the result of happenstance and mistake, is one of the reasons Colonna’s poetry is not more frequently read and not thought well of. At last a reader will be able to find a poem by knowing something about its provenance, who is its interlocutor, or its nature

Here is my theory of translation as applied to Gambara and Colonna. Simply put, I gave them everything that was in me at the time.

I have been re-studying Italian once again by reading Elena Ferrante’s Storia di chi fugga e di chi resta (The Story of Who Leave and Those Who Stay), about which I hope to write eventually (how the Italian is far superior to the English, which smooths out, modernizes somehow, simplifies and loses the original densities). I had given the studying up once again as the term started, but now I’ll hold out for an hour a day.

Last spring I had begun to read carefully the most recent biographies, Ramie Targoff’s conventional safe Life of Vittoria Colonna (but accurate in the main) and Maria Musiol’s brilliantly empathetic and daring portrait of the woman out of the poetry as well as the life, Spurs and Reins: Vittoria Colonna: A woman’s Renaissance. I will now try to get back to them — perhaps in December so I can write a dual review.

Ellen

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An eighteenth century trunk — probably more elegant than a woman’s typical “box” where she carried her things with her


Virginia Woolf’s writing desk

Dear friends and readers,

I have been wanting to report two more virtual conferences I’ve attended online, both stimulating and about two women writers who are strongly connected to Austen’s work, and who, coming from the same milieu and similar large families, evidence real parallels in how they lived their daily lives, both writers of genius too: the annual International Virginia Woolf Society’s conference was held in mid-June (2021), originally intended to be at Vermillion, South Dakota, it was instead transmitted online through the University of South Dakota’s software and auspices; and the Frances Burney Society’s AGM, early June (it just ended today, and I am not sure where it was launched from). Both were for me extremely enjoyable — and instructive.  I’ve written many blog-essays on Woolf and Burney, and published professionally on Burney.

It was the first Virginia Woolf conference I have ever attended (though many years I did go to their sessions at MLA and attended a party one evening where there were many Woolf scholars), and it was of great interest to me to see the people who are today in the forefront of Woolf scholarship, to participate in the atmosphere and listen to the kinds of papers/talks they gave. Here is the Society website. I was very touched by the openness with which they discussed the difficulties facing anyone who wants to have a well-paid career and do serious writing and editions and a myriad of kinds of work promoting the work of Virginia Woolf.

Two papers stuck out for me, one by Catherine Hollis, on the relationship of Woolf’s forms of life-writing and her attitude towards privacy.  Hollis argued that Woolf tended to favor impersonal writing, not telling intimacies, partly because she saw that as more respected, partly her own unwillingness to reveal aspects of her experience she didn’t want to or couldn’t deal with directly. The other paper, by Diane Reynolds, was on allusions to Austen in Between the Acts, one skein connecting the pageant to Austen’s poem upon St Swithin’s day, and the other connected Miss LaTrobe, the spinster who writes the pageant to Miss Bates. It is, then, yet another novel where major components connect back to Jane Austen. One I cannot find the attribution for (perhaps by Shelby Dowdle) was on To the Lighthouse, and how its melancholy poetry is deeply expressive and an underlying series of events make a parallel with Jane Eyre (as when the women are drained by the egoism of others).

There were a number of personal ones, where the speaker connected something in Woolf or her work back to the speaker’s life, especially during the pandemic: one woman who was nurse talked of how she now reads Woolf’s accounts of mental illness (in Mrs Dalloway for example) and death, and her own scary ordeal where so many were gravely ill or died in front of her. I began to contribute to the talk then: I told of a number of books I’d assigned to students in my “Adv Comp in the Natural Sciences and Tech” over the years about doctor training, about the realities of illness and medicine put into human language rather than obscuring abstractions; how necessary to get emotionally involved to understand a patient and help.


Fanny Burney, an engraving by John Bogle (1786)

I have been to Burney conferences before: once in NYC, a stand alone like this one, and a few times as coupled with the JASNA, the EC/ASECS, and ASECS; but I know they have smaller conferences across the year, and this one was like those, more intimate, with long-standing friends and fellow editors attending. I know the kind of work they tend to do (coming out of the kind of writing Burney and her family and associates left, heavily life-writing), but this these three days were a kind of retrospective, with papers on the history of the creation of the society (Paula Stepankowsky), carrying on expanding the purview to other Burneys so papers on Frances’s brother, Charles, in Scotland (by Sophie Coulomumbeau); on her brother James, as a midshipman (Geoffrey Sills), on her father, Charles’s use of his antiquarian tours for his history of music (Devon Nelson); much this time on the Court journals and journals themselves in lieu of focusing on the novels (a more common approach). Of papers on Burney’s novels, Alex Pitofsky argued the raw violence in Evelina is meant to criticize the characters who inflict this on others (all women).

By the third day everyone had begun to relax – the group was small (say 25 at most), and we descended to gossiping about Stephen Digby, one of the courtiers, hurt Fanny by his wavering non-courtship of her, and then one of the males defended him — he was driven away from Fanny by his family who wanted him to marry money and high rank.


The house in London where Frances Burney was born, 35 St Martin’s Street

Here, though, one interesting paper has at last made me think of a paper I can give at the coming (virtual again) EC/ASECS this October: using Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, Francesca Saggini took us on a tour of the houses (and larger buildings) Fanny lived in across her life, showed how details from these figure in her imagination and writing, how much each of her homes meant to her, especially of course Camilla Cottage, which she had built with the money she made from her novel, Camilla, and was (even tragically) driven from because she did not own the ground it was built on and had depended on the Lockes to retain at least the length of her life. It was the detail about how Burney kept her papers, and how much the Professor “would give” that we should have some of the actual furniture the D’Arblays used in their writing life that set my mind working.


Amanda Vickery reading Dudley Rider’s diaries (At Home with the Georgians)

Ever since watching Amanda Vickery’s At Home with the Georgians and reading her Behind Closed Doors I’ve remembered the scene where she points out how the average women owned or controlled very little of her own space. Even married women had to owe as a privilege her husband provides her bedroom, her parlor. Unmarried women carried their very identities (all the things that made up their lives and which they cherished) in a box. She showed such a battered box (one from the 18th century), and I remembered the scenes in Wolf Hall (book and film) where Anne Boleyn, having to go to the tower, fills her box with her cherished things. I returned to Lucy Worseley (Jane Austen At Home) who would not have such a melancholy slant, but offers much material for demonstrating one. How Austen moved about and about, sometimes staying in castles and sometimes in houses near destitution (not far any way, as on Trim Street, how little control she had over the space she had access to or lived in.


Sydney Place, Bath, today, a holiday rental — where Austen lived with her family in Bath while her father was alive (from Lucy Worsley’s At Home with Jane Austen)

And no one would think to save such a box — this kind of true relic of a specific person does not come down to us — .

Title: “The importance of Her Box.” Women did not own the spaces they lived in; they could not control what was done with their papers after they died. So how could they form an identity: it is not to be found in the furniture they had around them but inside precious things (like a desk) or the box itself they put their things in when they moved about. I shall write about this as the core of an essay on Austen and her heroines moving about.


One of the papers at the Burney conference focused for a time on a pair of elegant lady’s shoes: well here is another ….

Vickery has written a number of essays on clothing and bags and shoes women wore — -these I have and they will be grist for my mill.

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Jocelyn (an Emma) reading for February (Jane Austen Book Club)

I do have plans for August. Since I won’t be going away and the two OLLIs I teach and attend courses at will be closed, I should have time and will try to discipline myself. Like I’ve seen other bloggers do, I will carve out such and such week, or these several days, read away consistently a set of books and then post about them.

I’m going to set aside one week for Austen sequels or post-texts. I want to reread Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, Jo Baker’s Longbourn (wherein I try to think about what makes a good post-text), and for the first time read Diana Birchall’s The Bride of Northanger. I read a first version many years ago, and she is my friend so I shall try to remember the first for this last. I recently read a review of another post-text by Baker (she makes a business of these), and as for The Jane Austen Book Club


An appropriate figure by Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun

I watched Robin Swicord’s Jane Austen Book Club with a friend for the first time in a long time about a month ago. It seems more innocent post-Trump, post-pandemic. Mary Lee her name, appeared to enjoy it mightily She had read the 6 once each, but was able to remember them enough, for she remarked that you would not get anywhere near what you could from the movie unless you’ve at least read them all once or most of them. I said it was a movie that like Austen could take several viewings to get it all. I’d say the central ones to the movie are Emma, P&P and Persuasion — which are today’s most popular — you can’t miss NA (the gothic stuff), & Mansfield Park is directly quoted and attached to a character; Sense & Sensibility once quite popular has lost ground but clearly there explicitly for the mother and daughter and the same daughter and her female lovers. There have been many movies of S&S, at one time almost as many as P&P— though Emma is beginning to outstrip S&S, especially when the basic content is stripped from it (like the latest true travesty) and then others (alas) follow suit.


Rachel Cusk — photograph by Adrian Clarke

For another week I’ll read all three of Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos. Here’s Heidi Julavitz’s review for the New York Times. I had registered for a course at Politics and Prose to get myself to read them, but when I could see the course was going to be taught by an irritating fool (I tried one of her two Jumpa Lahiri sessions), I said to myself, you are the fool. The young woman, though said to have an MFA or some degree like that (her real qualification is she sets up lectures from acceptable/popular authors for P&P stores), approached the stories without so much as suggesting any overview of the author, any perspective on her work, but plunged into intense reactions on her part, and encouraged the others to do the same — as if her subjective “annoyance” with this character’s deeds for that character’s ideas is literary criticism or knowledge. I know people do this online all the time, often in unrationalized sudden bursts, but not the better responders. This is no way to conduct a class in literature so I dropped the course and will attend to no more of her solemn subjectivities.  I’m listening to the third of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay) and maybe I’ll be into the fourth of four by that time, and I can compare the two sets (roman fleuves?)

So gentle reader, how shall I end this summer blog? By telling you I have returned to my review of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Anne Finch (I now have both volumes), and will thread this in too — though I imagine this will take several months, even — if I am to do it right. Today I began again to go over the major manuscripts and printed books and the minor ones and other sources for the poetry, in order to clarify it all for myself. This time I will take good notes. I don’t doubt Finch had a box too, for as a girl, and again as a maid of honor at the Stuart court, then Capt Finch’s lady, she went on many a trip before she became Lady Winchilsea — and not a few afterwards.

So much to live for I have to remind myself as I look at a beautiful book called Virginia Woolf at Home (by Hilary Macaskill). Tonight I’m retiring to Jenny Hartley’s Millions like Us: British Women’s Fiction of the Second World War (I’m loving it), one of the first non-fiction books on women’s literature that Virago published — this press was among the first to build something called Women’s Literature as an idea and then an imagined true reality.

The truth is I have been despairing these last weeks as I watch others go out and know I won’t and can’t the way they do; I should instead write blogs like this where I write myself into apparent cheerfulness, encourage myself to go on. I have no long-term projects any more because they are impossible without Jim’s help in traveling or merely compositing documents to the level demanded by most editors. I am bereft of joy and the deep sense of security he gave to me. I’m with Maggie Smith in this: since her husband died about 25 years ago (the marriage lasted 25 years), she says “it’s seems a bit pointless, going on on one’s own, and not having someone to share it with.”

Ellen

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Dahlia Ravikovitch 1997 photograph (1936-2005)

A tweet I read tonight on twitter: “Tonight I put the kids to sleep in our bedroom. So that when we die, we die together and no one would live to mourn the loss of one another” Eman Basher @sometimes Pooh.” This reminded me of what I was told of a cousin of my mother’s in WW2. She chose to accompany her 6 children into the gas chamber rather than let them die alone.

Dear readers and friends,

This is an unusual foremother poet blog for me: most of the time I do not choose a woman poet because of the immediate political relevancy of her work; here in this time of another slaughter of Palestinians, yet more destruction of the open air prison they are forced to endure existence in, and the apparent indifference of all those in charge of gov’ts with the power to stop this shameless horror, I put forward Dahlia Ravikovitch’s poetry where she as a native-born Israeli, Hebrew-speaking and writing, eloquently cried out against what the Israeli gov’t (and the people who voted it in) inflict on a people whose country they seized by war (1948, 1967). Unless otherwise noted all the poems are translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld:

In this poem Ravikovitch identifies as an Israeli woman watching as a young female Arab is about to be destroyed

Hovering at a low altitude

I am not here.
I am on those craggy eastern hills
streaked with ice
where grass doesn’t grow
and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope.
A little shepherd girl
with a herd of goats,
black goats,
emerges suddenly
from an unseen tent.
She won’t live out the day, that girl,
in the pasture.

I am not here.
Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain
a red globe flares,
not yet a sun.
A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly,
revolves in that maw.

And the little one rose so early
to go to the pasture.
She doesn’t walk with neck outstretched
and wanton glances.
She doesn’t paint her eyes with kohl.
She doesn’t ask, Whence cometh my help.

I am not here.
I’ve been in the mountains many days now.
The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me.
Nothing can amaze me now.
I’ve seen worse things in my life.

I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover
very close to the ground.
What ever was she thinking, that girl?
Wild to look at, unwashed.
For a moment she crouches down.
Her cheeks soft silk,
frostbite on the back of her hand.
She seems distracted, but no,
in fact she’s alert.
She still has a few hours left.
But that’s hardly the object of my meditations.
My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably.
I’ve found a very simple method,
not so much as a foot-breadth on land
and not flying, either—
hovering at a low altitude.

But as day tends toward noon,
many hours
after sunrise,
that man makes his way up the mountain.
He looks innocent enough.
The girl is right there, near him,
not another soul around.
And if she runs for cover, or cries out—
there’s no place to hide in the mountains.

I am not here.
I’m above those savage mountain ranges
in the farthest reaches of the East.
No need to elaborate.
With a single hurling thrust one can hover
and whirl about with the speed of the wind.
Can make a getaway and persuade myself:
I haven’t seen a thing.
And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,
her palate is dry as a potsherd,
when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her
without a shred of pity.

This one makes explicit the aim of the Israeli gov’t and settler colonialist “ethnic cleansers”

Get out of Beirut

Take the knapsacks,
the clay jugs, the washtubs,
the Korans,
the battle fatigues,
the bravado, the broken soul,
and what’s left in the street, a little bread or meat,
and kids running around like chickens in the heat.
How many children do you have?
How many children did you have?
It’s hard to keep the children safe in times like these.
Not the way it used to be in the old country,
in the shade of the mosque, under the fig tree,
where you’d get the kids out of the house in the morning
and tuck them into bed at night.
Whatever’s not fragile, gather up in those sacks:
clothing, bedding, blankets, diapers,
some memento, perhaps,
a shiny artillery shell,
or a tool that has practical value,
and the babies with pus in their eyes
and the RPG kids.
We’d love to see you afloat in the water with no place to go
no port and no shore.
You won’t be welcome anywhere.
You’re human beings who were thrown out the door,
you’re people who don’t count anymore.
You’re human beings that nobody needs.
You’re a bunch of lice
crawling about
that pester and bite

If you are still reading, two more:

A Mother Walks Around

A mother walks around with a child dead in her belly.
This child hasn’t been born yet.
When his time is up the dead child will be born
head first, then trunk and buttocks
and he won’t wave his arms about or cry his first cry
and they won’t slap his bottom
won’t put drops in his eyes
won’t swaddle him
after washing the body.
He will not resemble a living child.
His mother will not be calm and proud after giving birth
and she won’t be troubled about his future,
won’t worry how in the world to support him
and does she have enough milk
and does she have enough clothing
and how will she ever fit one more cradle into the room.
The child is a perfect izadil« already,
unmade ere he was ever made.
And he’ll have his own little grave at the edge of the cemetery
and a little memorial day
and there won’t be much to remember him by.
These are the chronicles of the child
who was killed in his mother’s belly
in the month of January, in the year 1988,
“under circumstances relating to state security.”

The Story of the Arab who died in the Fire

When the fire grabbed his body, it didn’t happen by degrees.
There was no burst of heat before,
or giant wave of smothering smoke
and the feeling of a spare room one wants to escape to.
The fire held him at once
—there are no metaphors for this—
it peeled off his clothes
cleaved to his flesh.
The skin nerves were the first to be touched.
The hair was consumed.
“God! They are burning!” he shouted.
And that is all he could do in self-defense.
The flesh was already burning between the shack’s boards
that fed the fire in the first stage.
There was already no consciousness in him.
The fire burning his flesh
numbed his sense of future
and the memories of his family
and he had no more ties to his childhood
and he didn’t ask for revenge, salvation,
or to see the dawn of the next day.
He just wanted to stop burning.
But his body supported the conflagration
and he was as if bound and fettered,
and of that too he did not think.
And he continued to burn by the power of his body
made of hair and wax and tendons.
And he burned a long time.
And from his throat inhuman voices issued
for many of his human functions had already ceased,
except for the pain the nerves transmitted
in electric impulses
to the pain center in the brain,
and that didn’t last longer than a day.
And it was good that his soul was freed that day
because he deserved to rest.
— Translated from the original Hebrew by Karen Alkalay-Gut

**********************************

To be accurate, Dahlia Ravikovitch’s oeuvre as a whole is not dominated by poems of protest on behalf of the Palestinian people or other groups the Israelis or their allies have decided to “take out.” While she appears to have been a peace activist, and sincere political humanist from the outset of her career, much of her earlier poetry is written in styles and imitation of Biblical and archaic verse; for a secular poet and independent woman (married twice, with her son born from a lover she did not marry), her allusions and content are (to me) jarringly from patriarchal sources: her mother had been a graduate of a religious teachers college who went on to train as a teacher of Jewish studies, and Dahlia herself became a a student immersed in Hebrew, Biblical, and Jewish studies. She also wrote prototypical “women’s verse” at first (fantasy, presenting herself as overwhelmed by the world) and only gradually does feminist verse emerge. While courageously outspoken against all the forced evacuations, land and house confiscation, abuse of Arab women and children in ordinary discourse and the groups of people she demonstrated and worked with, her earlier targets were the abuse of language, power and powerlessness itself.

For myself I find her poetry direct, forceful, but, except for the personal autobiographical poems, curiously detached from modern reality until half way through her oeuvre. My feeling is it was over time that she became passionately horrified by what she saw the state she lived in did to non-Jews living on the land mass it controlled. It was as she grew older she grew angry at the norms many women obeyed. Perhaps it was after she lost custody of her son (1989, a great grief for her), that she began her moving poetry about mothers.

She was born in 1936, the daughter of a Russian born engineer who emigrated from Russia to Palestine via China. When she was six, her father was run over by a drunken Greek soldier in the British army; one of her early successful (and a characteristic) poems registers the trauma she felt when two years later her mother first told her that her father was dead:

On the Road at Night there stands the man

On the road at night there stands the man
Who once upon a time was my father
And I must go down to the place where he stands
Because I was his firstborn daughter.

Night after night he stands alone in his place
And I must go down and stand in that place.
And I wanted to ask him: Till when must I go.
And I knew as I asked: I must always go.

In the place where he stands, there is a trace of danger
Like the day he walked that road and a car ran him over.
And that’s how I knew him and marked him to remember:
This very man was once my father

The use of repetition, the simple stanzas, rhymes, monosyllables, and plain blunt sarcasm are central to her most memorable shorter lyrics and feminist poetry, as in

Clockwork Doll

I was a clockwork doll, but then
That night I turned left, right, round and around
And fell on my face, cracked on the ground,
And skillful hands tried to piece me together again.

Then once more I was a proper doll
And all my manner was demure and polite.
But I became damaged goods that night,
A fractured twig with only tendrils to prevent a fall.

And then I went invited to dance at the ball
But they cast me me with the writhing dogs and cats
Though all my steps were measured and true.

And my hair was golden, and my eyes were blue
And I had a dress printed in garden flower sprawl,
And a trim of cherries tacked to my straw hat.

She must have been a difficult (as the common adjective used) child from the first. Her mother took her and her siblings to live on a kibbutz after the father died, but at age 13 unable to cope with the collectivist conformist atmosphere of such a place, Dahlia left and moved from foster family to foster family. She was lucky to meet and be mentored by a literature teacher in high school Baruch Kurzweil who praised the way she blended archaic and contemporary modes; with high grades (a story of an intelligent reading girl) and the encouragement of Avraham Shlonsky, the leading poet of the pre-State Hebrew Moderna, and Leah Goldberg, a major woman poet of the time, her verse was published when she was 18; she went to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was awarded a scholarship for Hebrew studies at Oxford.

For a woman whose work received so many prizes over the years, she did not do well (I am not surprised) in the academic or publishing marketplace when it comes to positions or jobs, and at the end of her life she was living in what is described as “a modest apartment in Tel Aviv, near the Mediterranean, barely ekeing out a living” as a journalist, TV & theater critic, high school teacher, writer of popular lyrics. She translated into Hebrew poems by Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Poe and others, as well as children’s classics, such as Mary Poppins. She is said to have suffered from severe depressions; when she was found dead in her apartment, it was at first assumed she killed herself.

Medically speaking it was determined she died of heart irregularities (“sudden death”) but surely her serious emotional breakdowns, lack of a secure family life, peripetatic lifestyle, several relationships, and underlying moods in her poetry (justifiable anger, bitterness, anguish and just strong passion for whatever she is feeling) and poverty (which she is said to have worried about) helped bring on a relatively early death. Not that she was spiritually alone or neglected; she collaborated with other poets, musicians, and respected public figures seeking peace, justice, and equality for all in Israel.

If the interested reader wants to know more, I list in the comments a couple of websites beyond 5 more blogs (by me), and a few reviews of Szobel’s book. For this blog I read Hovering at a Low Altitude: The Collected Poems of Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (where most of the poems here come from) and A Poetics of Trauma by Ilana Szobel. I find Szobel’s psychoanalytic and close reading approach to Ravikovitch’s poetry to be illuminating, useful — she will help the reader appreciate Ravokovitch’s poetry in all its layering. See The Poetry Foundation, Jewish Women’s Archive, an obituary from The Guardian.

*********************************************


From a series by Martha Rosler: House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home

So here are a few of the poems I find most successful and appealing. This first one is said to have been a favorite with her; and is often reprinte

Dress of Fire (The Dress)

You know, she said, they made you
a dress of fire.
Remember how Jason’s wife burned in her dress?
It was Medea, she said, Medea did that to her.
You’ve got to be careful, she said,
they made you a dress that glows
like an ember, that burns like coals.

Are you going to wear it, she said, don’t wear it.
It’s not the wind whistling, it’s the poison
seeping in.
You’re not even a princess, what can you do to Medea?
Can’t you tell one sound from another, she said,
it’s not the wind whistling.

Remember, I told her, that time when I was six?
They shampooed my hair and I went out into the street.
The smell o shampoo trailed after me like a cloud.
Then I got sick from the wind and the rain.
I didn’t know a thing about reading Greek tragedies,
but the smell of the perfume spread
and I was very sick.
Now I can see it’s an unnatural perfume.

What will happen to you now, she said,
they made you a burning dress.
They made me a burning dress, I said. I know.
So why are you standing there, she said,
you’ve got to be careful.
You know what a burning dress is, don’t you?

I know, I said, but I don’t know
how to be careful.
The smell of that perfume confuses me.
I said to her, No one has to agree with me,
I don’t believe in Greek tragedies.

But the dress, she said, the dress is on fire.
What are you saying, I shouted,
what are you saying?
I’m not wearing a dress at all,
what’s burning is me.
— translated by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch

She can express sheer sensual delight and pleasure; here is sonnet using the same devices of repetition and simple words and natural imagery:

Delight

There did I know a delight beyond all delight,
And it came to pass upon the Sabbath day
As tree boughs reached for the sky with all their might.
Round and round like a river streamed the light,
And the wheel of the eye craved the sunwheel that day
Then did I know a delight beyond all delight.
The heads of the bushes blazed, insatiable bright
Sunlight striking the waves, igniting the spray.

It would swallow my head like a golden orange, that light.
Water lilies were gaping their yellow bright
Mouths to swallow the ripples and reeds in their way.
And indeed it came to pass on the Sabbath day
As tree boughs lusted for the sky with all their might,
And then did I know a delight beyond all delight.

There is a series of poems where she expresses raw feelings as a woman involved with men who don’t treat her that well and whom she herself accepts because there is nothing better to calm herself with. I’d reprint “Cinderella in the Kitchen” but it is long so here is a shorter one from this type or series:

At Her Own Pace

A woman is holding a small photo.
She is no longer in her prime.
Travels a lot. Airplane. Suitcase.
For months on end, she stays
with relatives of hers.
“At your pace I couldn’t,” she says.
An introverted woman,
gentle in her ways.
People give in to her. She gives in too.
She’s on the move again. Airplane. Suitcase.
Nothing was set in advance.
The phone rang. She was flooded with a joy
that could tear the heavens open. He’s a man who’s not hers
in the full sense of the word.
She walks from room to room alone. An endless calm.
In the innermost circle of her being, she’s torn to pieces.
On the outside she’s calm. Doesn’t really seek
to take possession.
A small passport photo in her hand.
He’s wearing a tie. A featureless face,
I would say. For her he’s really
the world entire.
Apart from that, outside the innermost circle
she’s calm and recoiling
at her own pace.

Her poems on mothering are intertwined with her protests against brutal war — she saw mothering in war zones:

The quieter intense lasting grief of loss (this also includes typical sarcasm):

What a Time She Had!

How did that story go?
As a rule she wouldn’t have remembered so quickly.
In that soil no vineyard would grow.
A citrus grove stood there,
sickly,
stunted.
The single walnut tree blooming there bore no fruit
as if some essential life-giving element
were lacking in that soil.
Hard green lemons.
A balding patch of lawn.
A great tranquillity.
On the western side, the hedge went wild
and there was a honeysucker, of course
(today we’d call it a sunbird)
-if he were still alive
he’d be twenty years old.
In the valley, the army was hunting down human beings.
Fire in the thicket.
Summer’s hellfire blazing as usual.
Evening mowing down shadows, merciless.

Now she is a mother: On the Attitude towards Children in Times of War

He who destroys thirty babies
it is as if he’d destroyed three hundred babies,
and toddlers too,
or even eight-and-a-half year olds;
in a year, God willing, they’d be soldiers
in the Palestine Liberation Army.

Benighted children,
at their age
they don’t even have a real world view.
And their future is shrouded, too:
refugee shacks, unwashed faces,
sewage flowing in the streets,
infected eyes,
a negative outlook on life.

And thus began the flight from city to village,
from village to burrows in the hills.
As when a man did flee from a lion,
as when he did flee from a bear,
as when he did flee from a cannon,
from an airplane, from our own troops.

He who destroys thirty babies,
it is as if he’d destroyed one thousand and thirty,
or one thousand and seventy,
thousand upon thousand.
And for that alone shall he find
no peace.

Author’s note: This is a variation on a poem by Natan Zach that deals [satirically] with the question of whether there were exaggerations in the number of children reported killed in the [1982] Lebanon War.
Lines 1-2, He who destroys: cf. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:5: “He who destroys a single human soul. . . , it is as if he had destroyed an entire world.”
Lines 16-17, As when a man: Amos 5:19, about the danger of apocalyptic yearnings.

This is the concluding poem in the volume translated by Boch and Kronfeld:

The Fruit of the Land

You asked if we’ve got enough cannons.
They laughed and said: More than enough
and we’ve got new improved antitank missiles
and bunker busters to penetrate
double-slab reinforced concrete
and we’ve got crates of napalm and crates of explosives,
unlimited quantities, cornucopias,
a feast for the soul, like some finely seasoned delicacy
and above all, that secret weapon,
the one we don’t talk about.
Calm down, man,
the intel officer and the CO
and the border police chief
who’s also a colonel in that hush-hush commando unit
are all primed for the order: Go!
and everything’s shined up like the skin of a snake
and we’ve got chocolate wafers on every base
and grape juice and Tempo soda
and that’s why we won’t give in to terror
we will not fold in the face of violence
we’ll never fold no matter what
‘cause our billy clubs are nice and hard.
God, who has chosen us from all the nations,
comforteth with apples
the fighting arm of the IDF
and the iron boxes and the crates of fresh explosives
and we’ve got cluster bombs too,
though of course that’s off the record.
Serve us bourekas and cake, O woman of the house,
for we were slaves in the land of Egypt
but never again,
and blot out the remembrance of Amalek
if you track him down,
and if you seek him without success
Blessed be the tiny match
that a soldier in some crack unit will suddenly strike
and set off the whole bloody mess

From Bloch and Kronfeld’s notes: “The Fruit of the Land” (Hebrew, zimrat ha-arets), zimra means singing; in biblical Hebrew it can also mean “produce, bounty”. Block and Kronfield capture the macho voice of the defense types we constantly hear in the media rhapsodizing about Israel’s superior firepower. But nowadays they wouldn’t acknowledge they have “more than enough” and would have answered the opening question – ” You asked if we’ve got enough cannons” – with a demand for more funds for the military. There is much allusion to the Bible.

Central to the poem is the reality that things do not have to be this way. Armaments ever worse do not have to be the fruit of the earth

I pull out separately this rare more cheerful poem: New Zealand is a colony which succeeded: not all countries founded by colonizer end in cruelty, brutality, hatred; we see in this poem her early Biblical allusions, her use of repetition, her personal voice, the irony and sarcasm, and a late turn to acceptance.

Two Isles Hath New Zealand

Africa’s not the place to go right now.
Plagues, famine — the human body can’t bear it.
Brutality. They flog human beings with bull-whips.
Asia — it would make your hair stand on end.
Trapped in the mountains, trapped in the swamps.
The human body can’t bear it,
There are limits to the life force, after all.

As for me,
He shall make me lie down in green pastures
in New Zealand.

Over there, sheep with soft wool,
the softest of wools,
graze in the meadow.
Truehearted folk herd their flocks,
on Sundays they pay a visit to church
dressed in sedate attire.

No point hiding it any longer:
We’re an experiment that went awry,
a plan that misfired,
tied up with too much murderousness.
Why should I care about this camp or that,
screaming till their throats are raw,
spitting fine hairs.
In any case, too much murderousness.
To Africa I’m not going
and not to Asia, either.
I’m not going any place.

In New Zealand
in green pastures, beside the still waters,
kindhearted folk
will share their bread with me.

****************************************************


Al-shifa Hospital, 2014

Which other women have written powerful political verse, including directly about war successfully (whose work I know)? Charlotte Smith, Anna Barbauld, Simone Weil, Alice Oswald. Who have pictured it? Martha Rosler. Novels and plays and memoirs: Ann Radcliffe (in her Summer Tour), Olivia Manning, Iris Origo, Lillian Hellman, Suzy McKee Charnas, Marta Hiller, Margaret Atwood, Adhaf Soueif

Ellen

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I have listened to Nadia May (Wanda MacCadden is an alternative pseudonym) read aloud Jacob’s Room & find this the most appropriate of all the covers I’ve seen for this book

Friends and readers,

Last Saturday I had the privilege of listening to Alison Hennegan give a talk that took well over an hour on Jacob’s Room for the new Cambridge online (virtual) lecture series on the works of Virginia Woolf. Woolf and her writing is not the only topic Cambridge is developing different streams for: an upcoming one starting in spring is to be about Women Writers.  It includes May Sinclair (Life and Death of Harriet Frean), Sylvia Townsend Warner (Lolly Willowes), Elizabeth Bowen (The House in Paris), Rosamond Lehmann (Dusty Answers), 10 women authors altogether, 10 books; there is to be one on Jane Austen. I gather there are series organized around topics (I attended a separate virtual conference on African Literature this morning), courses, single books, themes. If this one by Prof (I assume) Hennegan is typical of the close reading, and the one on African Literature (about the history of publication in all its phases and angles), I wish I had the time and money to go to many many. A friend told me the sessions on Woolf’s Voyage Out and Night and Day were as stunningly insightful.

It’s my experience when I go to listen to a lecture or am part of a class, if I can take good notes and transcribe them afterwards I understand and remember so much more — of, barring that since I no longer can take down in sten what is said, get a copy of the papers at least, make concrete and centrally coherent some of what I remember, what I learned becomes part of my mental universe. Alas, there will be no copies of papers because they wouldn’t want to share individual ideas without the kind of credit accounting that is given someone when they publish conventionally (the peer-edited journal, the book published by the respected or university press). There was a hand-out sent by attachment, and at first I tried to take notes, but it became too much, and I was losing what she was saying as I struggled to catch up with what she had said. Now that I am aware of what are the obstacles (as it were) and what I should try to do, maybe I’ll somehow take out more in future as I’ve signed up for Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse and closer to the time mean to sign up for some of the women writers and their novels.

Here I want to say that she was offering a way of reading Jacob’s Room which went past or ignored the problem of Woolf’s lack of interest in creating vivid living characters so that the text seems filled with memorable people who carry the meaning of the text, embody its themes, shape the inferences and what we learn from the book. She was moving at the level of utterances. She began with general remarks and the sort of summarizing of general themes one does with any novel discussion. So she said Jacob’s Room was Woolf’s first fully experimental novel. She characterized it as “an elegy to Woolf’s brother, Thoby, dead at 26, an elegy with a ghost of a man at its center; a death-haunted novel, which opens with Betty, Thoby’s mother, writing a letter filled with grief, loss, as she is a recent widow. I know when I wrote of this novel on this blog I emphasized how no-one I had read wrote about the book as a novel with a widow at its center, beginning, carrying on and ending with her. To this Prof Hennegan added that it is filled with vulnerable women, several of whom Jacob has liasions of different kinds but to none of them does he give of himself for real or truly. We are made to pick up the suggestions about their absent presences. The novel is filled with presences who are not quite there.

Prof Hennegan suggested that we might take Jacob’s Room to be a reply to Katherine Mansfield who criticized Night and Day for failing to address the war. Jacob’s Room showed is engendered by and continually aware of this war: we are watching this or these (Jacob’s friends and companions) young men, upper class, being exquisitely prepared, for professions, for leading a nation of peoples, for art, for invention, from academic to social education, from travel to building homes, lives for themselves end simply slaughtered senselessly — insofar as any true interest of their own. She thought one redemptive them is art outlast human life; art is the means by which human life is extended. The theme of education is central; she writes a prose thickly laden with literary allusion. Women in the book are presented as weak, unknowable and ultimately terrifying to men who however have all the power to do things women do not. She thought D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster have similar views. (I disagree that Forster presents women this way, but D.H. Lawrence might — to me DHL sees women as objects for men to fuck).

She felt the natural world is strong throughout the novel, that we watch boundaries between phenomena dissolve, everything intertwined, what people feel, do, do think, all dissolve. In my comment to her (which we were encouraged to write in the chat area) I offered the idea that I found in Woolf’s words and all they conjure up (characters, things, events) levels of past suggested, so that we continually find ourselves plunging into older and older eras, and then can leap to the present, that the words also take seriously the tiniest little object or piece of life and perceive it as attached to the largest and just as important and through our apprehension of this as we read the paragraphs we move through time and space sensually — geologic as well as historical, cultural, geographic, geologic. She appeared to like my idea, and I told of how hard it was to make people in a class like Woolf, enjoy her and that I tried to attach this texture of Woolf’s — which I found very emphatic but also tied to characters and stories in Jacob’s Room, The Years and Between the Acts. I had tried to make them see this and appreciate the texture by the students’ strong tendency to read looking for people or events that spoke to them in their lives. But as we talked (this was only a couple of minutes as she went on to the next person’s comment) and she said reading aloud Woolf was the best way to enjoy her, or imaginatively reading aloud slowly, I remembered this summer how well the short fiction had seemed to come across when I read it aloud and really emphasized close reading the utterances for themselves. Just bringing this home to myself made the two hours very worth while.

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Roger Fry, Carpentras, Provence (1930) — I include pictures by Bloomsbury artists, which I find consonant with Woolf’s fiction

In the body of her talk, Prof Hennegan went over various critics’ reactions to Jacob’s Room, and used these as jumping off points occasionally to show how the given critic was looking for something that Woolf did not want to supply, but more often how what they did write was perspicacious. W.J. Courtney thought Woolf unlike any other writer except Dorothy Richardson, in the discernment of nuances of character, “keen discernment of those small, inessential things which go to the making of a life … scores again and again. Her art is “impressionist” and influenced by “jazz”! (“in its tense syncopated movements, its staccato impulsiveness”). Gerald Gould found “beauty,” “lyrical passages — one, in particuar, about crossing Waterloo Bridge in a wind: she can make us feel what she calls ‘the ecstasy and hubbub of the soul'”. He did feel Woolf wrong not to help “the simple-minded reader” to make “connexions” in the fiction “clear.” An anonymous reviewer complains of “no narrative, no design above all, no perspective: [the book’s] dissolving views come before us one by one, each taking the full light for a moment, then vanishing completely.” Vanessa Bell’s cover illustrations were not liked because it did not represent anything seen in the novel. She included all Leonard Woolf’s notes on how many copies were printed by Hogarth Press, after the second impression how many had sold altogether, how much money they made on the book: £42 4s 6d which would today be
£2,402.32

Then 14 passages from the novel were discussed as examples of her techniques, themes, modes — on the ram’s skull; Mr and Mrs Plumer; women in King’s College Chapel; Betty Flanders pondering the nature of her dead husband; the problems of gender, the effect of sex … ; Sopwith entertaining graduates in his room, then years later these men, now mature, remember Sopwith; Jacob’s view of Florinda; an insoluble problem of beauty, in Florinda; the light over King’s Collee Chapel, the Women’s College garden at night; the poignant closing paragraph and sentence of the novel. She repeatedly came back to showing how boundaries of all sorts in the book dissolve away. I shall save these to study — I suppose the method is rather like Matthew Arnold’s “touchstones.”

I suppose I can bring forward here what I wrote elsewhere in this blog on the book when I first finished it:

Jacob’s Room begins as a widow’s story. No where is this mentioned in the literature. Mrs Betty Flanders’ husband died in an accident it feels like years ago, leaving her with three children — one so young it cannot have been that many years. But we are made to feel her husband’s death happened a long while ago to her. She is in Cornwall for the holidays and writing a Captain friend, Barfoot (he’s married so safe) in Scarborough. There is a painter about whom Woolf writes in similar ways to what she says of Lily Briscoe, color, and lonely people who don’t fit in: Mr Steele. On the beach, a little later Mrs Flanders hears the waves, the ship — her husband died of an accident at sea. We are told he left her impoverished, but Woolf’s idea of poverty is different from some of us it seems. She has a nanny, doesn’t cook her own supper, doesn’t have to work for money. But she is at a great loss with these boy children, hanging from her….

Woolf continually moves from inward presence to inward presence and by so doing uncovers a real feeling of living life which includes sex bought from prostitutes by our hero. Many of the presences come from utterly different classes in different areas of life. We also experiencing Jacob in a large variety of social worlds and deeds. Suddenly too the narrator will go into deep dream time on the place where the narrative has settled and allude way back in time so it becomes a movement through centuries, deep history embedded in people today One aristocratic lady likes such-and-such food because her ancestors have been enjoying it since their death, this partial recreation. The novel of manners or social life is left far behind.

Jacob’s Room is as de-centered as un-heroic as Roger Fry (her biography) as de-centered as The Waves, Between the Acts. While we can believe in Jacob, he is just a center knob in a wheel where all the spokes — all the many living presences and places come out of. I just love how he loves and thinks in terms of the Greek classics. This morning I listened to how Woolf manages to bring in tandem a sense of a desperately homeless (near) prostitute trying to get into the house where Jacob lives and other street people and the people at a party he went to — when he came home he thought how delightful to be with 10 new people (themselves beautifully captured), and we find a long reverie on the books at the British library, all by men, Jacob is spending his evening’s reading.

3/4’s through I began to worry about Jacob. I’ve read somewhere that he dies at the end — perhaps that’s why people say (carelessly) this book is about her brother. Jacob is the central node of the book, but it is in space equally about many people whom he comes across and spends time with. Especially women who are vulnerable. I am so touched with those women Jacob goes to bed with — this is indicated discreetly. They are the models paid to strip naked by his friends or at the Slade: ignorant, even dumb, without a chance in the world for respect or security or comfort. Prostitutes. His mother, the widow, whom the book opened with hardly goes any where in her life, hardly meets anyone outside her narrow class sphere and local area.

By near the end of the book Jacob has fallen in love with a married woman he meets while touring, but he has not connected deeply with anyone (not her either). He is not married. It’s hinted people think he’s homosexual and he writes to a male friend Bonamy. I can’t see any other ending but death. Probably in World War One. The book takes place just earlier. At the end of The Voyage Out Rachel dies. In the middle of To the Lighthouse Mrs Ramsay dies, and in the last third we are told of three other deaths of characters who meant something. I wonder if anyone has written about this urge to death in Woolf’s novels — probably, this one seems the saddest of all. We cherish this character as we are told his close friends do. Others say he is the best person they ever met. He never hurts anyone. He has truly intelligent (sceptical) attitudes towards politics. Acts with compassion and courtesy. The book is about life itself as a stream of feeling; she feels equally intense over say a crab or some other creature endlessly trying to say jump over something and it cannot.

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Carrington, The Baroque Harmony in the ice off the Labrador Coast, Tinsel in Glass (1929) =- part of the strange beauties in The Voyage Out are Woolf’s descriptions of the South American land- and seascapes our characters encounter

I wish Cambridge would put online the lectures on The Voyage Out and Night and Day that I missed. Since I can find nothing on Prof Hennegan’s lecture on Night and Day that seems to me interesting, let me say briefly it is much better until the very end (when there is a jejeune depiction of a love proposal and courtship so hot-house, idealized, naive, I was embarrassed by it), with some of the most interesting parts, the Mary Datchett story (a spinster who loves the hero and is carving out a life for herself dedicated to liberal political causes), Ralph Denham’s character and world (modelled on Leonard Woolf), and the meditations (in effect) on the problems of writing biography (the heroine, Katherine Hilbury is said to be helping her mother write a biography of her father, now dead, once a super-respected poet. I am very much looking forward to the the lectures I’ll go to on Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

Ellen

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Elizabeth Bishop and her cat in a car

Dear friends and readers,

Of the many women poets I’ve written a foremother blog about, just now Elizabeth Bishop may be the best known — both for her poetry and about her life and letters. There is a recent consensus about her importance and transcendence (if that’s not too pompous a word). She is reprinted everywhere (though maybe her refusal to allow her poetry to be printed in all women anthologies has slowed down the dissemination); dozens of articles, several individual books, two biographies (at least). For this blog I recently read Megan Marshall’s partial autobiography, Elizabeth Bishop: a Miracle for Breakfast, and Zachariah Pickard’s Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetics of Description. It’s easy to learn supposedly little-known facets of her talent too: such as she also drew and painted, as in William Benton’s “Elizabeth Bishop’s Other Art” (New York Review)

It seems most of her pictures are of her travels; she liked to draw the places she lived in as a sort of visitor, or temporarily, her domestic spaces, and typical woman’s objects: so still life flowers presented from a overtly plain life angle:


Daisies in Paintbucket

From a very young age, she began to pile up awards— even when she had published little outside college newsletters or a slender number of poems. She is likened to the finest poets in tradition: as Emily Dickinson, about whom she wrote in a “poignant and pointed” review of a book of letters by Dickinson that has survived (Emily Dickinson’s Letters to Doctor and Mrs Josiah Gilbert Holland and also of Rebecca Patterson’s Riddle of Emily Dickinson (the riddle is Dickinson was lesbian). There she is also with Helen Hunt Jackson, Muriel Rukeyser, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath (in Vivian Pollak’s Our Emily Dickinsons: American Women Poets and the Intimacies of Difference). I’ve now attended and myself led two zoom get-togethers of poets and readers happy to spend two hours and more close reading Bishop’s poetry. In both we felt we had hardly started and gotten through too few poems.

Paradoxically, this means I can write rather less than more about her, and the way perhaps to add to what is known is pick slightly less frequently printed poems.

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Again with her cat

About her life, I think it important to know that she was the daughter of New Englanders, one of whom, her father, was from a wealthy and well-connected (Brahman) family, from whom she inherited a legacy that kept her afloat (precluding the necessity of work for higher wages), and enabled her to go to good schools where she made the right connections: Walnut Hull School to study music as a girl led to Vassar College (1929) where she wrote and met (among others) Mary McCarthy, Eleanor Clark (whose Rome and A Villa is one of the most brilliant meditative books about a place I know), and Marianne Moore who became a dear friend (never a lover apparently), who mentored Elizabeth and helped her publish. Like Bishop, Moore avoided controversy by erasing references to her gender beyond the obvious, steering well clear of telling anything explicit about her personal life, or overtly political. According to Kathleen Spivack, like many women writers of her generation, Bishop internalized the misogyny of the 1950s. I can understand why she would want to protect herself against prejudice and the judgmental tendencies of the wider public.

She had a difficult childhood: her father died when she was very young, and her mother was institutionalized; she lived with different relatives and it took time for these people to realize and act upon the apparent reality that the child was more comfortable with her maternal relatives though they were the less educated, and not part of forward-thinking circles. From her young adulthood on, she suffered badly from depression and alcoholism (she alienated people, she lost time from serious work), and her history includes several liaisons, some longer, some shorter, with the most important woman a Brazilian woman from a pre-eminent political family, Lota (Maria Carlota) de Macedo Soares. Bishop lives with Soares in Brazil for years; alas, over this relationship, Soares killed herself. An important friendship with a male poet was with Robert Lowell; Elizabeth became involved with his troubles with his wife, the writer Elizabeth Hardwick (whom Lowell treated very shabbily and whose letters he plagiarized). Very late in life Elizabeth became deeply involved with a woman much younger than herself. There is an equally complicated history from her young to her later years of academic appointments.

She not only does not write free verse; from an artistic point of view, hers is a highly patterned poetry, using formal and stringent rhyme schemes, stanzaic forms, with continual subtle uses of assonance, alliteration (sometimes she seems to drill down into rhythms of anglo-saxon prosody across a line). Annie Finch has written about how this formality, love of patterns, is a characteristic of l’ecriture-femme, women’s poetry (see Finch’s The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self and A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women). Sestinas, villanelles, double sonnets, repeating tercets (a poem using just three rhymes). Her poems with the most moving content convey their ideas and articulated feeling through close visualized description and the verse musical refrains. She is a foremother poet’s poet, loving repetitive structures, imitative sounds for moods and evocations.

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I’ve chosen a few poems where I kept my inability in this blog to replicate stanzaic forms demanding indentation visual pictorialism in mind, and which I fancy might be less known and are not too long.

The first, as a Trollope scholar, her brilliant meditation on the part of Trollope’s North America where he visits Washington, DC, during the civil war and projects the depression and despair Trollope felt while there, partly a result of what he saw in the city.


South National Mall, Washington, D.C. 1863

From Trollope’s Journal

As far as statues go, so far there’s not
much choice: they’re either Washingtons
or Indians, a whitewashed, stubby lot,
His country’s Father or His foster sons.
The White House in a sad, unhealthy spot
just higher than Potomac’s swampy brim,
— they say the present President has got
ague or fever in each backwoods limb.
On Sunday afternoon I wandered, – rather,
I floundered, – out alone. The air was raw
and dark; the marsh half-ice, half-mud. This weather
is normal now: a frost, and then a thaw,
and then a frost. A hunting man, I found
the Pennsylvania Avenue heavy ground …
There all around me in the ugly mud,
— hoof-pocked, uncultivated, — herds of cattle,
numberless, wond’ring steers and oxen, stood:
beef for the Army, after the next battle.
Their legs were caked the color of dried blood;
their horns were wreathed with fog. Poor, starving, dumb
or lowing creatures, never to chew the cud
or fill their maws again! Th’effluvium
made that damned anthrax on my forehead throb.
I called a surgeon in, a young man, but,
with a sore throat himself, he did his job.
We talked about the War, and as he cut
away, he croaked out, “Sir, I do declare
everyone’s sick! The soldiers poison the air.”

John Bowen argues that Bishop’s double sonnet gives us an epitome, the core quintessence of Trollope’s North America: Trollope’s mood, central attitudes to the war. Bishop saw the same city many years later and had the same take on it. It is not a cynical perspective but an accurate response to aggressive militarist people, an unpretentious disquieting vision. She takes words from Trollope’s letters and wove them into her verse.

The next poem inspired a novel by Lisa Weiland about Bishop.

Paris, 7 A.M.

I make a trip to each clock in the apartment:
some hands point histrionically one way
and some point others, from the ignorant faces.
Time is an Etoile; the hours diverge
so much that days are journeys round the suburbs,
circles surrounding stars, overlapping circles.
The short, half-tone scale of winter weathers
is a spread pigeon’s Wing.
Winter lives under a pigeon’s wing, a dead wing with damp feathers.

Look down into the courtyard. All the houses
are built that way, with ornamental urns
set on the mansard roof-tops where the pigeons
take their walks. It is like introspection
to Stare Inside, or retrospection,
a star inside a rectangle, a recollection:
this hollow square could easily have been there.
—The childish snow forts, built in flashier winters,
could have reached these proportions and been houses;
the mighty snow-forts, four, five, stories high,
withstanding spring as sand-forts do the tide,
their walls, their shape, could not dissolve and die,
only be overlapping in a strong chain, turned to stone,
and grayed and yellowed now like these.

Where is the ammunition, the piled-up balls
with the star-splintered hearts of ice?
This sky is no carrier-warrior-pigeon
escaping endless intersecting circles.
It is a dead one, or the sky from which a dead one fell.
The urns have caught his ashes or his feathers.
When did the star dissolve, or was it captured
by the sequence of squares and squares and circles, circles?
Can the clocks say; is it there below,
about to tumble in snow?

Written in 1937 while for three weeks in Paris Bishop seeks to capture the architecture of the place she is living in, uses the image of a star inside a circle to recreate the way Paris grew out from itself (as Hugo has it in his Notre Dame de Paris) here like a star-fish. We have the present grim winter time (the Nazis were making their inroads on Europe, whence the reference for a need for ammunition), with Dickinson’s image of hope now “a dead wing with damp feathers.” I love the way the registering of the fleeting and transient (a child’s snow fort becomes a child’s sand castle) becomes something eternally remade over the seasons, with the image of stone signalling Paris’s long history, its eternity in stone in its ancient buildings. The idea of time is carried through the second stanza: “can the clocks say; is it there below?” What there?

And for a last, this sonnet where I find Bishop keeping herself calm by making order and harmony through making a poem which can harnesses the very rhythms of her heartbeat and body as she writes and we read it. This is the way I read Jane Austen’s novels, say Emma: the orderly rhythm of her sentences, their elegance and deeply felt content within patterns soothes and keeps me calm, strengthens me. This is what Bishop is doing through her very finger-tips, her lips, her whole body healing. Is there any more beautiful evocation than that “moon-green pool” which reminds me of lines by Pope and Anne Finch [to be cited, and linked in]

And this Sonnet (1928)

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

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I conclude with a YouTube of Elizabeth Bishop reading a group of her poems at the 92nd Street Y in NYC in 1977.

Ellen

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From the East Central region, American Society of 18th century Studies site: Art and Rarity Cabinet c. 1630 by Hans III Jordaens


Cassandra’s portrait drawing of Jane Austen graces the JASNA home page

Dear friends and readers,

Since 2000 I have gone almost every year to the East Central (regional ASECS) meeting, and I have gone to a number of the JASNA meetings. In view of the covid pandemic (now having killed 223,000 people in the US, with the number rising frighteningly daily), this year EC/ASECS decided to postpone their plan to meet in the Winterthur museum to next year and instead do an abbreviated version of what they do yearly.

By contrast, the JASNA Cleveland group did everything they could to replicate everything that usually goes on at at JASNA, only virtually, through zooms, videos, websites. It was an ambitious effort, marred (unfortunately) because (why I don’t know) much didn’t go quite right (to get to somewhere you had to take other options). It was “rolled out” something like the usual JASNA, a part at a time, so you could not plan ahead or compare easily or beforehand; but now is onsite, all at once, everything (at long last) working perfectly. I visited (or attended or whatever you want to call these experiences) two nights ago and last night, and can testify that since I usually myself go to listen to the papers at the sessions or lectures, I probably enjoyed the JASNA more than I usually do at the usual conference. If you didn’t care for what you were seeing or hearing for whatever reason, it was very easy to click away; you could see what was available all at once, watch far more than one intended to be given at the same time. You can skim along using your cursor …

IN this blog I offer a brief review of both conferences.

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A detail from one of Canaletto’s paintings from around the Bacino Di San Marco, Venice: a lady and gentleman

In our “Brief Intermission,” for EC/ASECS, on Friday, in the evening we had our aural/oral experience, a couple of hours together where we read 18th century poetry and occasionally act out an abbreviated version of a play; during the later afternoon we had one panel of papers, this one about researching unusual subjects itself. Saturday morning, there was one panel of papers by graduate students competing for the Molin prize (given out for excellence to a paper by a graduate student each year); than at 1 pm there was the business meeting (sans lunch unless you were eating from wherever you were while you attended the zoom), and the Presidential Address: this year a splendid one, appropriate to the time, John Heins describing the creation, history and grounds of Dessau-Worlitz Park (Garden Realm) in Eastern Germany, a World Heritage site, with the theme of trying to experience a place fully although you are not literally there by its images, conjuring up in one’s mind, the place we might like to be but are not in. I didn’t count but my impression was we had anywhere from 25 (the aural/oral fun) to 37/40 people for the four sessions. I enjoyed all of it, as much (as other people said) to be back with friends, see familiar faces, talk as friends (chat before and after papers).

I will single out only a couple of papers from Friday’s panel. First, Jeremy Chow’s paper, “Snaking the Gothic” was in part about the way animals are portrayed in 18th century culture, focusing on snakes. It seems the identification as poisonous (fearful) led to their being frequently used erotically. I found this interesting because of an incident in one of the episodes of the fifth Season of Outlander where a bit from a poisonous snake threatens to make an amputation of Jamie’s lower leg necessary but a combination of 20th century knowhow, and 18th century customs, like cutting the snake’s head off, extracting the venom and using it as an antidote becomes part of the way his leg is saved. In other words, it is used medically. Ronald McColl, a special collections librarian, spoke on William Darlington, American physician, botanist and politician whose life was very interesting (but about whom it is difficult to find information).

People read from or recited a variety of texts in the evening; I read aloud one of my favorite poems by Anne Finch, The Goute and the Spider (which I’ve put on this blog in another posting). I love her closing lines of comforting conversation to her suffering husband.

For You, my Dear, whom late that pain did seize
Not rich enough to sooth the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay
Nor yett so poor to fright the Gout away:
May you but some unfrequent Visits find
To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind,
Who by a tender and officious care
Will ease that Grief or her proportion bear,
Since Heaven does in the Nuptial state admitt
Such cares but new endeaments ot begett,
And to allay the hard fatigues of life
Gave the first Maid a Husband, Him a Wife.

People read from novels too. This session everyone was relatively relaxed, and there was lots of chat and even self-reflexive talk about the zoom experience.

The high point and joy of the time to me was John Heins’ paper on Worlitz park: he had so many beautiful images take of this quintessentially Enlightenment picturesque park (where he and his wife had been it seems several times), as he told its history, the people involved in landscaping it, how it was intended to function inside the small state, and the houses and places the different regions and buildings in the park are based on. He ended on his own house built in 1947, called Colonial style, in an area of Washington, DC, from which he was regaling us. He brought home to me how much of my deep enjoyment of costume drama and BBC documentaries is how both genres immerse the viewer in landscapes, imagined as from the past, or really extant around the world (Mary Beard’s for example). He seemed to talk for a long time, but it could not have been too long for me.


Amalia’s Grotto in the gardens of Wörlitz

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Andrew Davies’s 2019 Sanditon: our heroine, Charlotte (Rose Williams) and hero, Sidney Parker (Theo James) walking on the beach …

I found three papers from the Breakout sessions, one talk from “Inside Jane Austen’s World,”, and one interview from the Special Events of special interest to me. (Gentle reader if you want to reach these pages, you must have registered and paid some $89 or so by about a week before the AGM was put online; now go to the general page, type in a user name and password [that takes setting up an account on the JASNA home page]). The first paper or talk I found common sensical and accurate (as well as insightful) was by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, on Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. They repeated Janet Todd’s thesis in a paper I heard a few months ago: that Austen’s Sanditon shows strong influence by Northanger Abbey, which Austen had been revising just the year before. Young girl leaves loving family, goes to spa, has adventures &c. They offered a thorough description of how Davies “filled in the gaps” left by what Austen both wrote and implied about how she intended to work her draft up into a comic novel. They presented the material as an effective realization and updating of Austen’s 12 chapter draft, ironically appropriately interrupted and fragmentary. I will provide full notes from their paper in my comments on my second blog-essay on this adaptation.

The second was Douglas Murray’s “The Female Rambler Novel & Austen’s Juvenilia, concluding with a comment on Pride & Prejudice. He did not persuade me Austen’s burlesque Love and Freindship was like the genuinely rambling (picaresque) novels he discussed, but the characteristics of these as he outlined them, and his descriptions of several of them (e.g., The History of Charlotte Summer, The History of Sophia Shakespeare – he had 35 titles), & James Dickie’s study of cruelty and laughter in 18th century fiction (Doug discussed this book too, with reference to Austen), were full of interesting details made sense of. Of course Austen’s heroine, Elizabeth, as we all remember, goes rambling with her aunt and uncle in Derbyshire and lands at Pemberley just as Darcy is returning to it.


There have been some attempts at good illustration for Catherine, or the Bower

Elaine Bander’s paper, “Reason and Romanticism, or Revolution: Jane Austen rewrites Charlotte Smith in Catherine, or The Bower” interested me because of my studies and work (papers, an edition of Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake, many blogs) on Charlotte Smith. She did not persuade me that Austen seriously had in mind Smith for the parts of her story (was “re-composing” Smith’s novels). But hers is the first thorough accounting for this first and unfinished realistic courtship novel by Austen I’ve come across, and on this fragment’s relationship to an 18th century didactic work by Hannah More, to other of Austen’s novels (especially the idea of a bower as a sanctuary, a “nest of comforts”, character types, Edward Stanley a Wickham-Frank Churchill). I draw the line on the way Elaine found the aunt simply a well-meaning dominating presence: Mrs Perceval is one in a long line of cruel-tongued repressive bullying harridans found across Austen’s work. Austen is often made wholesome by commentators — I find her disquieting. Elaine suggested that Juliet McMaster (who gave a plenary lecture, and told an autobiographical story for the opening framing of the conference) in a previous Persuasions suggested a persuasive ending for the uncompleted book. Her talk was also insightful and accurate in her description of Smith’s novels, their mood, their revolutionary outlook and love of the wild natural world: “packed with romance and revolution, bitterly attacking the ancien regime, injustice, describing famous and momentous world events, including wars — quite different from Austen (I’d say) even if in this book Austen does homage to all Smith’s novels.

As to “Special Events,” I listened briefly to an interview of Joanna Trollope and her daughter, Louise Ansdell (someone high on a board at Chawton House – why am I not surprised?): Trollope, I thought, told the truth when she said young adult readers today, let’s say having reached young adulthood by 2000 find Jane Austen’s prose very hard to read. What I liked about these comments was they suggest why it is so easy to make movies today that are utter travesties of Austen’s novels (the recent Emma) where say 30 years ago movie-makers were obliged to convey something of the real mood, themes, and major turning points of Austen’s novels.

“Inside Jane Austen’s world included talks about cooking, what to put in your reticule (and so on). Sandy Lerner re-read a version of her paper on carriages in Austen’s time that I heard years ago (and have summarized elsewhere on this blog). Of interest to me was Mary Gaither Marshall’s discussion of her own collection of rare Austen books, including a first edition of Mansfield Park (she is a fine scholar): she told of how books were printed (laborious process), how the person who could afford them was expected to re-cover them fancily, the workings of the circulating library &c. She said her first acquisitions were two paperbacks which she bought when she was 10 year old.

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This last makes me remember how I first read Austen, which I’ve told too many times here already, but it is a fitting ending to this blog.

On Face-book I saw a question about just this, from the angle of what led someone to read Austen’s books in a “new” (or different way), without saying what was meant by these words — as in what was my “old” or previous way of reading her. I can’t answer such a question because my ways of reading Austen or eras do not divide up that way. But I like to talk of how I came to study Austen and keep a faith in the moral value of her books despite all that surrounds them today, which go a long way into producing many insistent untrue and corrupted (fundamental here is the commercialization, money- and career-making) framings.

So I wrote this and share it here: Years ago I loved Elizabeth Jenkins’s biography of Jane Austen, and that led me to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I must have been in my late teens, and my guess is I found the Jenkins book in the Strand bookstore. I had already read (at age 12 or so) Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility; and at age 15, Mansfield Park. Nothing inspired me to read the first two (part of this person’s question), but that the first two were there in my father’s library among the good English classics. The third I found in a neighborhood drugstore and I was led to read it because I loved S&S and P&P. MP was not among my father’s classic libraries The first good critical book I remember is Mary Lascelles on the art of the books, then Tave’s Some Words of Jane Austen. So as to “new way of reading her” (intelligently), when Jim and I were in our thirties at a sale in a Northern Virginia library Jim bought a printing of the whole run of Scrutiny and I came across the seminal articles by DWHarding (a revelation) and QRLeavis. I do not remember when I found and read Murdock’s Irony as Defense and Discovery, but it was the first book to alert me to the problem of hagiography and downright lying (though Woolf very early on gently at that (“mendaciou”) about the Hill book on Austen’s houses and friends).

When I came online (1990s and I was in my forties) of course I was able to find many books, but the one that stands out attached to Austen-l, is Ivor Morris’s Considering Mr Collins, brilliant sceptical reading. There are still many authors worth reading: John Wiltshire comes to mind, on Austen-l we read together a row of good critical scholarly books on Austen. Today of course you can say anything you want about Austen and it may get published.

I saw the movies only years after I had begun reading, and the first I saw was the 1979 Fay Weldon P&P, liked it well enough but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The 1996 Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee/Emma Thompson) was the first of several movies to change my outlook somewhat on Jane Austen’s novels, in this case her S&S.

Since Jane Austen has been with me much of my life, of course I welcomed a chance to experience some of the best of what a typical JASNA has to offer, since nowadays I & my daughter are regularly excluded from these conferences. After all those who have special “ins” of all sorts, I am put on the bottom of the list for what room is left. I regret to say she has quit the society because she loves to read Austen, is a fan-fiction writer of Austen sequels, enjoyed the more popular activities, especially the dance workshop and the Saturday evening ball. She is autistic and rarely gets to have social experiences. She had bought herself an 18th century dress and I got her a lovely hat. They are put away now.

When was I first aware there was an 18th century? when I watched the 1940s movie, Kitty, with Paulette Goddard — you might not believe me, but even then, at the age of 14-15 I went to the library to find the script-play and I did, and brought it home and read it. I fell in love with the century as a set of texts to study when I first read Dryden, Pope, and the descriptive poetry of the era — just the sort of writing that describes places like Worlitz Park.

Ellen

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A miniature portrait of Anne Finch when still young

You, when your body, life shall leave
Must drop entire, into the grave;
Unheeded, unregarded lie,
And all of you together, die;
Must hide that fleeting charm, that face in dust,
Or to some painted cloth, the slighted Image trust.
Whilst my famed works, shall through all times surprise,
My polished thoughts, my bright ideas rise,
And to new men be known, still talking to your eyes.
— in imitation of a fragment of Sapho’s

Friends and readers,

Well it was on June 30, 2020 that I posted a description of the four major sources of Anne Finch’s poetry as the foundation for my review of the new standard edition of her poetry by Jennifer Keith (and others), the opening of summer and hoped that in a few days I would post a description of the several other sources of her poetry that are known today. It’s now September, end of summer, with days shortening, temperatures dropping some, fall on the way. I have worked on and off all summer on this and (about a month and a half later) another review of an anthology of essays on Jane Austen and the arts. (I did teach and worked on projects, read with friends on line, wrote on the Net daily.) My problem with the review is the same: I have not the second volume, and thus many of the questions I have about the first I am told are answered in the second.

Some fundamental disagreements have led me to go back to all my original material so I can work from these if I must concentrate on just the one volume — I’ve very much enjoyed some of this because I’ve read in Anne’s sources for poetry (she writes many translations, imitations from the French as well as Italian, not to omit the Bible and fables), about women’s plays in the era, poetry by her women contemporaries, a few known to her and a few her friends. These sources are often printed texts by other people or individuals. For this blog I describe the other manuscripts and printed books which contain further poems by Anne Finch which are not found in the major four sources or are found in different forms. I re-read and/or skimmed the books and articles I knew of, and read carefully for the first time the articles that have been printed since, especially a couple by Keith (which I found to be very good).

I’m nonetheless especially troubled by Keith’s refusal to accept as by Anne Finch unattributed poems outside the acknowledged sources, even where there is good evidence and several people (besides me) have argued in print are by her. I assume they do not print these at all in the second volume (as they do not print any in the first). On this what I can say is this erasure and refusal makes my site not obsolete; it is and will for some time still perform its original purpose: to add to Myra Reynolds 1903 edition (drawn from 3 sources, MS Northampton or FH 283, MS Folger, 1713 Miscellany, plus what she knew of of the minor others sources) and the Hinnant-McGovern edition of the MS Wellesley what cannot be easily found otherwise.

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Eastwell Manor (as it’s now called) today

The question is, what order should I list these sources in? group them as manuscript and then printed book? and within that, which seems the most important — to include poems clearly by her, some of which are remarkably good and/or interesting? in chronological order insofar as we can tell when they were produced or printed, or insofar as we can tell whether the poems by her found in them are early or late. On my site I attempted chronological order of their production/printing even if the book or ms appeared or was made late and still contains an earlier poem by Finch. I couldn’t tell when a manuscript was begun to finished so if it contained an early poem by her I listed it early. I’ll repeat that though it obscures interesting thematic connections as it’s the least subjective way of doing it.  In a way I do what Keith does in her new standard: I am content to put the ms’s and books in the order they themselves came and forget trying to date individual poems (except in commentary)

Click on the links as you go because I have not written out all over again the detailed information on my website but linked it in here. This is the summary of all the findings from the minor sources that I neglected to write up in one convenient place at the time Jim and I built the website and I put all the materials I had on it. You will find some fine poetry by Anne and links to further poetry placed in the alphabetical index on the website.

I begin with a text and source and book I didn’t know of until I began this review, it is one that Keith will not accept as by Anne Finch:


From a modern production of Venus and Adonis — this is a highly sexual sensual work of art (see other images)

1683, an anonymous libretto for John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, a pastoral opera-like masque, French influenced, nowadays an online copy exists; everything about this piece you might want to know, especially if you are interested in its probable author, Anne Finch, may be found in James Winn’s “A Versifying Maid of Honor:” Anne Finch and the Libretto for Venus and Adonis, The Review of English Studies, 59:238 (2008):67-85.  It is very sexy but then so are her two plays.

1693, The Female Vertuosos by Thomas Wright, with a dedication to Charles Finch, third Earl of Winchilsea (Heneage & Anne’s nephew): 1 song, “For the soft Joys of Love no longer last”

1696 Miscellanea Sacra or POEMS on DIVINE & MORAL SUBJECTS. Collected by N. Tate, Servant to His Majesty. “Tis not that which First we Love,/But what Dying we approve”: Mr. Waller. London. Printed for Hen. Playfor in the Temple Change in Fleet Street. MCDXCVI. 12 poems set off from the others surrounding them by style and topic. After the 6th, the printer suddenly skips the “by the same hand”, and then returns to it for the eighth. Six are found in the manuscripts; I am firmly convinced the 6 others are also by her

1701 A New Miscellany of Original Poems On Several Occasions. Written by the E. of D., Sir Charles Sidley, Sir Fleetw. Shepheard, Mr Wolesly, Mr Granvill, Mr Dryden, Mr Stepney, Mr. Rowe. And several other Eminent Hands. Never before Printed. London. Printed for Peter Buck, at the Sign of the Temple in Fleet Street; and George Strahan at the Golden Ball over against the Royal Exchange in Cornhill. 1701. Attributed to Charles Gilden. According to Cameron, this volume appeared in July 1701. The editor could have equally been Nicholas Rowe, friend to Anne.

A very important and curiously put together anthology (someone has pulled sheets from it). There are 7 poems by her here, one deliberately (mis)attributed to Charles Finch (“The First Edilium of Bion”), and one anonymous (“The Retirement”). 2 more may be by her (To Mr Granville, A Dialogue). Several poems by Rowe, one to Catherine Fleming (Flavia) praising Finch’s “Spleen.” John Irwin Fisher has persuasively argued that the Bion translation from the French is by Anne Finch, “‘In Pity to the emptying Town,’ Who’s Who, Where’s What, and Who’s the Poet,” Reading Swift: Papers from the Fifth Muenster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, ed. Hermann J. Real (Muenchen: Wilhelm Fink, 2008):286-305; Iola Williams, Some poetical miscellanies of the early 18th century, The Library 4:10 (1929):233-37

MS Portland, Vols 19 & 20. Vol 19: 5 poems by Anne, one found no where else, written in her own hand, profoundly depressed (“The long the long expected Hour is come” — the visit was too short, Lady Worsley hurried away). These are earlier or pre-1713 Miscellany poems; this has the better version of “I on Myself Can Live.” Vol 20: 3 by her, possibly a 4th; my guess is these come post-1713 Miscellany or later in her life (when generally more cheerful)

1714 POETICAL MISCELLANIES, Consisting of ORIGINAL POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS by the best Hands. Published by MR. STEELE. LONDON: Printed for JACOB TONSON at Shakespear’s Head over-against Catherine-street in the Strand. MDDCXIV. 7 poems by Anne. Nos 1, 3-5, 7-9. No 11 (an 8th, and Sapho poem) possibly by her, and Nos 6 & 10 also. One poem to Catherine Fleming (Flavia)

MS Additional 4457: 7 poems by Anne. Around the time of the 1713 Miscellany, one dated 1715. This has a better version of the Twelfth Night poem. 2 appeared in Birch.

1717 Poems on Several Occasions, published by Bernard Lintot, London. Reprinted 1935, Pope’s Own Miscellany, edited by Norman Ault. Of 89 poems, 9 are by Mrs. Finch, 1 is placed separately, then 6 (1st calls her Mrs. FINCH, the third Lady WINCHELSEA), then an eighth attributed to her as Mrs. Finch, probably therefore an earlier poem by her which Pope took from a different manuscript collection. 3 to or for Pope. Especially beautiful “An Invocation to the southern Winds inscrib’d to the right honourable CHARLES Earl of WINCHELSEA, at his Arrival in LONDON, after having been long detained on the coast of HOLLAND” By the honourable Mrs. FINCH, pp. 118-123, found nowhere else.

MS Harleian 7316 10 poems by Anne, not all firmly attributed. Nos 1-3, 5, 9-10, 12-15. 3 poems to Catherine Fleming.

MS F-H 282, Heneage’s diary, written into a 1723 almanac. 1 poem. “A Fragment of a dessign’d Poem upon Pitty, found in a little paper written with in her own hand:’Pitty, the softest Attribute Above,’ unfinished, among her last verses. Very touching his copying it out side-ways 3 years after she died.

1724 The Hive. A Collection of the Most Celebrated Songs. Reprinted a number of times. No new poems, but found among others by Finch (attributed elsewhere) are Love’s Relief (also unattributed in 1714 Steele), 1 from M Harleian I find uncertain, and ‘Ye lads and lasses that live at Longleat’, pp. 262-4 (in MS 28101, it resembles her gay ballad to Catherine Fleming).

MS Additional 28101. 1 poem. On a Gentleman’s sitting upon a lady’s Cremona fiddle, pp. 262-64, “Ye lads and ye lasses that live at Longleat …” Possibly by Anne (see directly above).

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One of the source books Anne Finch poured over: Madame Dacier’s brief essay on and translations from what was known of Sappho

Now here I bring together these printed books and manuscripts, with attributed and unattributed poems by Anne Finch (and a couple mis-attributed, as by Charles Finch or by a young child) in them all; some found in the major 4 sources or sources here (with attribution material), some found nowhere else; I see that in fact the number is not overwhelming. They are deal-able with. Having made this list in a single page format is firm groundwork, which will help enable me review the Keith volume.  There are 13 volumes, of which 7 are printed books, and 6 manuscripts.

I could make a blog listing all the anthologies that Finch’s poetry has appeared in over the years and which ones, but I doubt anyone is that interested in the history of the printing of her poems — Keith’s second volume contains an essay which appears to be based on a study of this anthology tradition, which I assume will be accurate.  I did list them on my website. But there is an essay by Rachel Bowman in Volume 2 which will be sure to supersede mine even if it cites less anthologies.

I could make a blog about her sources, for the sake of bringing out what she read and how large the number of her works are derived from her works (translations). She lived in worlds of words — among books and written landscapes, imagined and real. She also kept her memories; and her latest poetry is embedded in the imagery and art and experience of her youth before and moving into her worst depressive years (mid-1690s to 1702 or so).  This will not make her  admired.

I am gathering the few important mistakes I made, which can no longer be corrected because I am now afraid to touch my website lest I goof.  These with the two new attributions, Venus and Adonis and a poem called “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale” announced in an essay by Gillian Wright, “The Birds and the Poet” (The Review of English Studies, 64:264 (2013): 246-66 will form a third blog for sure.

I will say this refusal of Keith’s to include anything without firm attribution suggests a turning away.  It has the effect of making my website’s original purpose still alive — I’m including the poems not included in standard editions.  Reynolds embraced a perception for real of Finch’s vulnerable depressive wounded personality. I shall write about this de-personalization as an insistent erasure that disables us from making a consistent and vivid sense of Finch’s life and work.  It is only by facing the full woman (however painful a successful academic woman scholar finds this) that we can take in the full resonances of such a poem as the following free translation, adaptation.

The Goute and Spider. A Fable. Imitated from Mon sr de la Fontaine And Inscribed to Mr Finch After his first Fitt of that Distemper

When from th’infernal pit two Furies rose
One foe to Flies, and one to Mans repose,
Seeking aboue to find a place secure
Since Hell the Goute nor Spider cou’d endure.
On a rich Pallace at the first they light
Where pleas’d Arachne dazzl’d with the sight
In a conspiccuous corner of a Room
The hanging Frett work makes her active Loom.
From leaf to leaf with every line does trace,
Admires the strange convenience of the place,
Nor can belieue those Cealings e’re were made
To other end than to promote her Trade.
Where prou’d and prosper’d in her finish’d work,
The hungry Fiend does in close Ambush lurk,
Until some silly Insect shall repay
What from her Bowells she has spun that day.
The wiser Gout (for that’s a thinking ill)
Observing how the splended chambers fill
With visitors such as abound below
Who from Hypocrates and Gallen grow
To some unwealthy shed resolues to fly
And there obscure and unmolested lye.
But see how eithers project quickly fails:
The Clown his new tormentor with him trayles
Through miry ways, rough Woods and furrow’d Lands,
Never cutts the Shooe nor propp’d in Crutches stands,
With Phoebus rising stays with Cynthia out,
Allows no respitt to the harass’d Gout.
Whilst with extended broom th’unpittying maid
Does the transparent Laberynth invade
Back stroke and fore the battering Engin went
Broke euery Cord and quite unhing’d the Tent.
No truce the tall Virago e’re admitts
Contracted and abash’d Arachne’ sits.
Then in conuenient Time the work renews
The battering Ram again the work persues.
What’s to be done? The Gout and Spider meet,
Exchange, the Cottage this; That takes the feet
Of the rich Abbott who that Pallace kept,
And ’till that time in Velvet Curtains slept.
Now Colwort leaves and Cataplasms (thô vain)
Are hourly order’d by that griping traine,
Who blush not to Prescribe t’exhaust our Gold
For aches which incurable they hold.
Whil’st stroak’d and fixt the pamper’d Gout remains
And in an easy Chair euer the Preist detains.
In a thatched Roof secure the Spider thrives
Both mending by due place their hated liues
From whose succeeding may this moral grow
That each his propper Station learn to know.
For You, my Dear, whom late that pain did seize
Not rich enough to sooth the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay
Nor yett so poor to fright the Gout away:
May you but some unfrequent Visits find
To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind,
Who by a tender and officious care
Will ease that Grief or her proportion bear,
Since Heaven does in the Nuptial state admitt
Such cares but new endeaments ot begett,
And to allay the hard fatigues of life
Gave the first Maid a Husband, Him a Wife.
(MS Folger, pp. 276-77, from La Fontaine,
La Goutte et l”Araignée, III:9, pp. 92-93)


Bifrons Park, Kent, 1695-1700 (unknown artist)

Ellen

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Knole, Kent, the house, begun in 1456, greatly extended c.1603, on a frosty December day

Winter. Blackout.

Quiet. The tick of clock
Shall bring you peace,
To your uncertain soul
Give slow increase.

The blackened windows shut
This inward room
Where you may be alone
As in the tomb.

A tomb of life not death,
Life inward, true,
Where the world vanishes
And you are you.

War brings this seal of peace,
This queer exclusion,
This novel solitude,
This rare illusion

As to the private heart
All separate pain
Brings loss of friendly light
But deeper, darker gain ….
— from The Land

Friends and readers,

It is truly hard to know by what image to represent Vita Sackville-West. If popular culture is our lens, she’s the wealthy gardener of Sissinghurst,


Sissinghurst Gardens

thrown out of Knole (above), after a long bitter fight to hold onto it; a lesbian about whom bad movies are made (Vita & Virginia, and The Portrait of a Marriage, not much better — except, and it’s an important except Janet McTeer intuitively and with probably study does manage to capture the inner better qualities of Sackville-West).  Despite the best efforts of lesbian and feminist scholars to help us appreciate the lesbian motifs of her art (see Lisa Moore’s Lesbian Arts, the Erotics of Landscape), and lip-service paid to acceptance of LGBTQ people, in fact lesbians in the public mind (if movies be any criteria) are seen as ludicrous somehow.  She loved Nicholson, her children, wrote poetry, explored earlier women, aspired to be trusted and respected by Woolf, but was an outsider:


Janet McTeer (Portrait of a Marriage)

The woman-in-the world, promiscuous self-indulgent aristocrat with the scandalous grandparents, parents, vehement liaisons, glamorous enough at age 26:

is at the center of Victoria Glendinning’s biography, which, in my view because she omits the literary part of Vita’s life (!), on the grounds the book would get too long, produces a thoroughly unlikable, not to say obnoxious, deeply reactionary woman.

But if the lens be what she wrote seriously, what she built (renovated) and gardened away on, her identity emerges quite differently; at a minimum caring for others she imaginatively identified with.  She is not primarily or just a novelist.  As with Woolf, there are big diaries, much travel writing, the book about Knole and the Sackvilles (before abridgement), and a book about country house, another on her garden and the land (in verse this time). She goes over the courtyard of Knole, showing how each element was functional at the time it was built, how beautifully appropriate the shapes, angles, and how they fit into another, into the earth’s landscape around them, and then carried on functioning across time. There are the remarkable non-fiction biographies, from Joan of Arc (long with a firmly built up world of 15th century France),

I was startled to realize what the point was. I tried to read it years ago in a mind-blind (?) heteronormative way. Sackville-West is drawn to this girl as a transvestite, as a lesbian, probably somewhat butch. Having watched the film Carrington (see my blog on the artist) the other night I am persuaded the way Emma Thompson looks early in the film – chunky, boyish, dense, determined — would be perfect for Sackville-West conception of Joan of Arc too. It is as a absolute underminer of female sexual conventions that Sackville-West is writing with sympathy and admiration. Similarly her portrait of Anne Clifford, the superpower Duchess in the 17th century. Maybe S-W would have loved Thatcher — for she is also politically profoundly reactionary.

to Aphra Behn, and Lady Anne Clifford (here I’m thinking of her edition of the diary and her unearthing of this woman who controlled and renovated castles in Northern England), Pepita (a biography, half fantasy, half hard headed of her grandmother). Among the best of this non-fiction work, her books on houses, and her literary criticism (particularly her defense of rhyme and formality in poetry, of the use of deeply personal felt material in a poem — contemporary poetry is too afraid of ridicule –, and the odd unusual angle or focus).

I particularly admired her analysis of what’s wrong with contemporary poetry: it was a Bloomsbury perspective: modern poetry (1928, a lecture she delivered) is inhibiting people from from producing the raw inward feelings that drive them — by its demand for balance, its strong embarrassment, so critics ridicule what distresses them about humanity. I know one complaint about the Bloomsbury people at the time is who wants to read about cripples, people mentally distressed &c. Beyond the fear of ridicule, the focus of contemporary read poetry and critics is too central, mainstream. What is wanted is a new angle, something oblique and truer to the inward material itself. Last there is too much worship of free verse; free verse itself uses rhythm, word assonance, all sorts of subdued patterns. She is justifying her own poetry but this manifesto reminds me of others by other Bloomsbury people. Last I love her call for “the dignity of pessimism.”

Then there are her literary biographies (shorter, one on Andrew Marvel), and fiction, and Georgic poetry of the seasons (her Virgilian book-length Land and Garden, once a best seller) .  She is a compelling, deeply appealing, strong artist, a major woman writer of the first into the second half of the 20th century. Worthy to study alongside her lover-friend, and sometime admirer, Virginia Woolf, and definitely belonging in the circles of Bloomsbury people.


Virginia as photographed by Ottoline Morrell, 1926 — caught as glamorously as Morrell could manage

To suggest how to get to know about the Sackville-West who matters in a blog, I’ll put the matter this way: first read Suzanne Raitt’s Vita and Virginia: The Work and Friendship, then Louise DeSalvo’s study of their writing in terms of one another’s aims, outlook, style, then the literal books by Woolf (Vita gave Virginia the dog, Flush, about whom Virginia wrote her marvelous biography; and Virginia wrote her fantastical biography Orlando, an experimental novel, as a way of expressing the complex realities of Vita’s life and art (“Lighting the Cave”). Then read all of Mary Ann Caws’s Selected Writings of Vita Sackville-West: she has picked out the highest moments of genius in the best works and beautifully described many others.

As a pair in life, they met in the early 1920s, became lovers for a while, 1925-28, traveled together. Vita made money for Hogarth Press, wrote best-sellers in not only fiction but life-writing – about herself, the famous ancient house she lived in (thought she should have inherited but excluded as a girl, quite like Austen’s Bennett sisters) and her grandmother. As of 1970, The Land and the Garden sold 100,000 copies (alas not printed by Hogarth Press as too big & complicated a book). In both their books we see their love of animals, and immersion in the natural world, deep respect for the past, deep past, architectural, geologic (Virginia), geographic (Vita)

Vita’s books are as central to the diptych. Sackvlle-West’s biographies and scholarly editions of the work of earlier women, beyond those I’ve mentioned, a life of the first successful female playwright, Aphra Behn, two of whose plays are still done — The Rover and The Widow Ranter (about a woman who lived in the colonies) – with the first truly readable novel about an enslaved man, Oroonoko. What Virginia called for in her Room of One’s Own, what her Memoirs of a Novelist asked for (what Virginia’s Miss Rosamond Merridew wanted to do for her brilliant memoirist, Mistress Joan Martyn), Sackville-West did for several early modern women. She brought them back from oblivion.  On her Anne Clifford and Woolf, see Nicky Hallett’s Ann Clifford as Orlando: Virginia Woolf’s historiology and women’s biography,” Women’s History Review, 4:4 (1995):505-23/

The subjective style, tri-partite structure, themes of Sackville-West’s gem novella, All Passion Spent are pure Woolfian, especially the central section, part two where we get these anguished memories of Lady Slane of how she came to marry Henry, what her life was like, that she loved him, but was defrauded of the life she wanted to lead. She was one who lived her life as a category: great man’s wife, she came with the luggage, was there to manage house, have children, and look good at dinners. Could not escape. So let me concentrate however briefly on this novel, offer another poem and then have done.


Wendy Hiller as Lady Slane, on her own at last – she plays the part of the gradually frailer woman impeccably

The novel is about someone who is suddenly (as it were unexpectedly, almost with surprise) feeling emancipated at age 88. As with Maurice, there is this gap between the outward life imposed on Lady Shane (that she lived) and the one we find ourselves in in her mind. How was it that she led the life she did? How as she led into it? Why did she stay? he was coerced, made to feel that her deepest desires were absurd, utterly unsuitable for a life’s quest; by her husband, not even given a studio to work at painting as an art (perhaps watercolors, he says, thinking perhaps of a kit on a table?). Funny how Henry never had to give up any of his hobbies – any of the things he enjoyed most. All Passion Spent is a strongly feminist book. In the case of Forster’s Maurice, the deeply troubled childhood and early manhood dramatized before us is something that could happen to a heterosexual male; it can be felt by any girl or women growing up who cannot conform, cannot understand she is (to paraphrase Alec Scudder) being “taught what is not the case” in order to get her to behave certain ways — performatively I’d call it. In the case of All Passion Spent, what happened to Lady Slane and also Genoux is particular to women. Men are coerced into doing things but often they lead to power, and positions in public life. Deborah, Lady Slane was made into a man’s instrument – she was lucky he was rich and powerful but everything was owned by him. Her body was his, where she lived, how she spent her time. No one ever gave a thought of any kind to Genoux; she was to be a servant of her siblings, and live a life of hard work, filled with trauma. She escapes to Lady Slane. Genoux loves her lady because we are shown Lady Slane was all kindness. It has flaws. It’s pastoral, an idyll, a kind of courtly entertainment in which there is no threat but the ultimate death. (Et in Arcadia Ego.) All the people Lady Slane meets are all courtesy and truth. There is a kind of dripping condescension towards Genoux. The attitude towards money is improbable (a function of S-W having been so rich).

From Winter once again

What have they,
The bookish townsmen in their dry retreats,
Known to December dawns, before the sun
Reddened the earth, and fields were wet and grey?
When have they gone, another day begun,
By tracks into quagmire trodden,
With sacks about their shoulders and the damp
Soaking until their very souls were sodden,
To help a sick beast, by a flickering lamp,
With rough words and kind hands?
Or felt their boots so heavy and so swere
With trudging over cledgy lands,
Held fast by earth, being to earth so near?

Book-learning they have known.
They meet together, talk and grow most wise,
But they have lost, in losing solitude,
Something — an inward grace, the seeing eyes,
The power of being alone;
The power of being alone with earth and skies,
Of going about a task with quietude,
Aware at once of earth’s surrounding mood
And of an insect crawling on a stone …

Nocturne:

Now die the sounds. No whisper stirs the trees.
Her patten merged into the general web
The shriven day accepts her obsequies
With humble ebb.

Now are the noiseless stars made visible
That hidden by the day pursued the track,
And this one planet that we know too well
Mantles in black.

Then, from the thicket, sang the nightingale,
So wildly sweet, so sudden, and so true,
It seemed a herald from beyond the veil
Had broken through.

The common earth’s confusion all unseen,
But worlds revealed in broad magnificence, —
That unembodied music third between
Sprang hence, or thence?

Nothing remained of the familiar round,
Only the soul ecstatic and released
Founted towards the spheres in jets of sound,
And died, and ceased.

But plangent from the thickets of the thorn
Broke other voices, taking up the choir,
While Cancer interlaced with Capricorn
In silent fire,

And all the harmonies were joined and whole,
Silence was music, music silence made,
Till each was both or either, and the soul
Was not afraid.

It was produced as a beautiful book with illustrations redolent of medieval woodcuts (subtly modernized).

                               Duncan Grant — Parrot Tulips (this image fits Lisa Moore’s ideas on erotic lesbian art ….

For my part, there is nothing I love more than to read for hours books by and on early modern to later 18th century women.  So I here support all Woolf’s efforts in the area of retrieving women’s lives and texts and Vita’s successes.

Ellen

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Frances Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford by Allan Ramsay

Come calm Retirement! Sylvan Power!
That on St Leonard’s lov’st to Walk,
To lend along the thoughtful Hour
And with the gentle Hertford talk …
— James Thomson

Gentle readers,

I don’t know how many years ago it was, probably nearly forty when, having fallen (so I thought) in love with the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and come across a poem by her, to her niece, Lady Hertford (shorthand for the above longer form), so grateful for encouragement, companionship, and Lady Hertford’s love of poetry and poets, that I bought from a catalogue an old-fashioned biography by Helen Sard Hughes, The Gentle Hertford: Her Life and Letters. When the old then sturdy blue book with its yellowing pages, and (to me then) delightful content arrived, I couldn’t put it down. It is made up of hundreds of documents, mostly letters and journals written by, shall we call her Frances or Seymour (that would be the modern style) to her mother, sister, friends, poets she supported, and many of theirs to her, which altogether transmit to the reader one of the kindest of women, gentle Hertford indeed, beloved (it seemed) by mother, husband, Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford, beloved son, George (who alas, died at age 19), and her long-lived daughter, Elizabeth (who eventually became a Duchess of Northumberland).


An early 19th century print, picturesque framing of St Leonard’s Hill, Windsor

Although a more moral set of people (as presented in these letters) you would have a hard time finding, the letters are not sentimental, foolish, or ignorant, but filled with wit, and the lively activities of an intelligent group of people living out the privileged lives of aristocrats in early to mid-18th century England. What I especially enjoyed were Lady Hertford’s letters to and from her friends, Henrietta St John Knight, Lady Luxborough (a quietly sceptical, proto-feminist picturesque poetry writing amusing women (who dared to leave her husband (who accused her of having an affair) and live for a while in a house without glass windows or closed doors, a poet in her own right, sister to Bolingbroke, and member of the Shenstone circle; and Henrietta Louisa Fermor, Countess of Pomfret, much duller, a seemingly boring woman, but for reasons I didn’t quite understand (I wasn’t there when they were face-to-face) very well liked by Frances and eliciting from her all sorts of trusted confidences. These women also exchanged verse epistles.

I did promise myself one day I would write about Lady Luxborough, and if I never wrote the essay she deserves (she has to her credit five sparkling poems, & one longish accomplished Georgic), I wrote a foremother poet blog where I reprinted of her three poems (she was called Asteria) you won’t find in print elsewhere, two of which are beautiful and filled with a rare depth of emotional intelligence. And I wrote about Lady Hertford and Lady Pomfret’s creation of a counter-universe, places for them to resist gender and other pressures, not an alternative life but a life inside a shared community of private identities.

Tonight I want to re-create the foremother poet blog for Frances (or Seymour, or Lady Hertford) I can no longer reach (until such time as I remove my ad-blocker). I began with her two best poems, first her rightly best known and savagely (or tragically ironic) story of startlingly cruel betrayal. It is even relevant for it is based on primal racial injustice: Inkle is European, rescued by Yarico, who is African as the tale begins:

Story of Inkle and Yarico: A Most Moving Tale from the Spectator (No 11).

A YOUTH there was possessed of every charm,
Which might the coldest heart with passion warm;
His blooming cheeks with ruddy beauty glowed,
His hair in waving ringlets graceful flowed;
Through all his person an attractive mien,
Just symmetry, and elegance were seen:
But niggard Fortune had her aid withheld,
And poverty th’ unhappy boy compelled
To distant climes to sail in search of gain,
Which might in ease his latter days maintain.
By chance, or rather the decree of Heaven,
The vessel on a barbarous coast was driven;
He, with a few unhappy striplings more,
Ventured too far upon the fatal shore:
The cruel natives thirsted for their blood,
And issued furious from a neighbouring wood.
His friends all fell by brutal rage o’erpowered,
Their flesh the horrid cannibals devoured;
Whilst he alone escaped by speedy flight,
And in a thicket lay concealed from sight!

Now he reflects on his companions’ fate,
His threatening danger, and abandoned state.
Whilst thus in fruitless grief he spent the day,
A negro virgin chanced to pass that way;
He viewed her naked beauties with surprise,
Her well-proportioned limbs and sprightly eyes!
With his complexion and gay dress amazed,
The artless nymph upon the stranger gazed;
Charmed with his features and alluring grace,
His flowing locks and his enlivened face.
His safety now became her tend’rest care,
A vaulted rock she knew and hid him there;
The choicest fruits the isle produced she sought,
And kindly to allay his hunger brought;
And when his thirst required, in search of drink,
She led him to a chrystal fountain’s brink.

Mutually charmed, by various arts they strove
To inform each other of their mutual love;
A language soon they formed, which might express
Their pleasing care and growing tenderness.
With tigers’ speckled skins she decked his bed,
O’er which the gayest plumes of birds were spread;
And every morning, with the nicest care,
Adorned her well-turned neck and shining hair,
With all the glittering shells and painted flowers
That serve to deck the Indian virgins’ bowers.
And when the sun descended in the sky,
And lengthening shades foretold the evening nigh,
Beneath some spreading palm’s delightful shade,
Together sat the youth and lovely maid;
Or where some bubbling river gently crept,
She in her arms secured him while he slept.
When the bright moon in midnight pomp was seen,
And starlight glittered o’er the dewy green,
In some close arbour, or some fragrant grove,
He whispered vows of everlasting love.
Then, as upon the verdant turf he lay,
He oft would to th’ attentive virgin say:
‘Oh, could I but, my Yarico, with thee
Once more my dear, my native country see!
In softest silks thy limbs should be arrayed,
Like that of which the clothes I wear are made;
What different ways my grateful soul would find
To indulge thy person and divert thy mind!’;
While she on the enticing accents hung
That smoothly fell from his persuasive tongue.

One evening, from a rock’s impending side,
An European vessel she descried,
And made them signs to touch upon the shore,
Then to her lover the glad tidings bore;
Who with his mistress to the ship descends,
And found the crew were countrymen and friends.
Reflecting now upon the time he passed,
Deep melancholy all his thoughts o’ercast:
‘Was it for this,’ said he, ‘I crossed the main,
Only a doting virgin’s heart to gain?
I needed not for such a prize to roam,
There are a thousand doting maids at home.’
While thus his disappointed mind was tossed,
The ship arrived on the Barbadian coast;
Immediately the planters from the town,
Who trade for goods and negro slaves, came down;
And now his mind, by sordid interest swayed,
Resolved to sell his faithful Indian maid.
Soon at his feet for mercy she implored,
And thus in moving strains her fate deplored:

‘0 whither can I turn to seek redress,
When thou’rt the cruel cause of my distress?
If the remembrance of our former love,
And all thy plighted vows, want force to move;
Yet, for the helpless infant’s sake I bear,
Listen with pity to my just despair.
Oh let me not in slavery remain,
Doomed all my life to drag a servile chain!
It cannot surely be! thy generous breast
An act so vile, so sordid must detest:
But, if thou hate me, rather let me meet
A gentler fate, and stab me at thy feet;
Then will I bless thee with my dying breath,
And sink contented in the shades of death.’

Not all she said could his compassion move,
Forgetful of his vows and promised love;
The weeping damsel from his knees he spurned,
And with her price pleased to the ship returned.
(1726)

The second I take from another perhaps too long (to modern tastes) epistle, this to the Countess of Pomfret, describing Frances’s life with her husband at their country estate called Richkings, in Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire (acquired 1739)

We sometimes ride, and sometimes walk,
We play at chess, or laugh, or talk;
Sometimes besides the crystal stream,
We meditate some serious theme;
Or in the grot, beside the spring,
We hear the feathered warblers sing.
Shakespeare perhaps an hour diverts,
Or Scott directs to mend our hearts.
With Clarke’s God’s attributes we explore;
And, taught by him, admire them more.
Gay’s Pastorals sometimes delight us,
Or Tasso’s grisly spectres fright us:
Sometimes we trace Armida’s bowers,
And view Rinaldo chained with flowers.
Often from thoughts sublime as these,
I sink at once and make a cheese;
Or see my various poultry fed,
And treat my swans with scraps of bread.
Sometimes upon the smooth canal
We row the boat or spread the sail;
Till the bright evening-star is seen,
And dewy spangles deck the green.
Then tolls the bell, and all unite
In prayer that God would bless the night.
From this (though I confess the change
From prayer to cards is somewhat strange)
To cards we go, till ten has struck:
And then, however bad our luck,
Our stomachs ne’er refuse to eat
Eggs, cream, fresh butter, or calves’-feet;
And cooling fruits, or savoury greens
‘Sparagus, peas, or kidney-beans.
Our supper past, an hour we sit,
And tlk of history, Spain or wit.
But Scandal far is banished hence,
Nor dares intrude with false pretence
Of pitying looks, or holy rage
Against the vices of the age:
We know we were all born to sin,
And find enough to blame within.
(written 1740)


From an old print of a Canaletto like painting (18th century) — called Green Park — as an example of the kind of picturesque painting Lady Hertford’s circle would enjoy

This is probably as much of her longer verse epistles as anyone today cares to read in one sitting. You see how she writes in the 18th century idiom for social verse and grave narrative. She imitates Pope, the popular verse styles of her time, at the edges belongs to the age of sensibility.  She was well-read in the poetry of her period; she will quote popular poems in her circle, refer to known characters in plays (Ariosto, Otway). Also the Bible. Further below, there are some examples of her “nature poetry.”

As to her life,

She was born and brought up at Longleat, child of the children of Thomas Thynne, first Viscount Weymouth (1640-1714), very close friends to (and sometimes monetary support of) Heneage Finch, later 4th Earl of Winchilsea, and husband to Anne Finch. Their son, Henry Thynne married Grace Strode, and Frances was one of their two daughters (the other was named Mary). Henry Thynne died young (1708), and his wife, Grace, went to live near Leweston, where among others, she was friendly with Elizabeth Singer Rowe (another poet of the era). All I have read about Algernon Seymour leads me to see him as a gentle sensitive man (he was later friends with Anne Finch’s husband, very patiently enduring Druidical names as he followed Heneage about in archeaological digs with William Stukeley, a respected 18th century “natural philosopher” also interested in depressive and hysterical states of mind) and I can quite see Algernon falling in love with Frances. While the high rank and political connections of the family in general would attract, their was not much money, and Hughes and others agree that Algernon’s parents loathed their daughter-in-law. They were probably intensely into ambition, prestige, and wanted much more money that she brought. They also resented very much that she would not send her son to a public school, brought him up tenderly lovingly at home – she refused to make a macho male of him.


Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford, later 7th Duke of Somerset by John Vanderbank

She was only 16 when she married him, but proved to be up to the demands of saloniere (a political as well as poetical one). Her husband had served in Flanders in the army, become the a Lord of the Bedchamber for the Prince of Wales, and she was an apparent success (well-liked as usual) as Lady of the Bedchamber to the princess, late Queen Caroline. Although she could manage life in London, she preferred what was called “rural retirement.” The poets she was patron to included James Thomson (The Seasons), and Richard Savage: she intervened to help save his life when he was (rightly) charged with murder. Isaac Watts dedicated one of his pious volumes to her. There exists a playful poem by Anne Finch protesting against Lady Hertford’s orders to the minor poet Laurence Eusden (“Hartford, ’tis wrong … “) commanding him to write a poem about a wood which includes only Aspin trees and King-cup flowers. After Caroline died, Lady Hertford spent more time in the Seymour’s country residences (they had it seems three), and she became more religious after her son died (I mentioned this above), from small pox in during his Grand Tour in Bologna. Her letters to her son are all a woman could be to a son, and knowing he died, they read to me so poignantly. She appears to have disliked violence, and war. There are several extensive correspondences: she loved imaginary friendship through letters. She was loyal to her friends and great-aunt.


“Italian light on English walls” (a line by Wm Cowper): this is a Canaletto reprint of the type this milieu of people might not have chosen — there are no upper class well-dressed groups of people socializing — I reprint it for the light

Are there any shorter poems? Here are some of her verses on the natural world. She uses the artificial poetic diction of her time but I think real feeling and seasonal change, the passage of diurnal time, comes through.  One Hughes quotes written in tetrameter for autumn contains these stanzas:

The changing leaves fall fast away
And all its pride is in decay.
Where blossoms deckt the point thorn
Now hangs the wintry drop forlorn …

Along the last enamel’d mead
No golden cowslip lifts its head;
Scarce can the grass its spires sustain,
Chill’d by the frost, or drench’s with rain.

She wrote Lady Pomfret during a period of illness (1741), some verses entitled To the East Wind, which include the lambs

But shiv’ring now and dull are seen
Bleating beside the racks for hay:
The blossoms from my pear-trees fall,
And naked leave the western wall.

That wall, which us’d to charm my sight
With varied blossoms adorn’d and gay
Can now afford me no delight,
Whilst you its glories sweep away:
If in my borders v’lets blow,
You bury them in flakes of snow

And as a last pair of couplets: Verses Occasion’d by Seeing the River Kennet Frozen Over:

Poor stream! held captive by the Frost
They current numb’d, thy Brightness lost;
Compell’d thy journey to delay,
And on these desart shores to stay …

Gentle reader, you owe this foremother poet blog-essay to a maddening incident that happened to me the other day. Studying Anne Finch’s poetry as I now am, and coming across her poems to Lady Hertford, I tried to reach the foremother poet column (I’ll call it) about her that I had put on a festival of poets sponsored long ago by a listserv called Wom-po, and found that I am cut off from my own work. Yes, the site these postings now appear on goes dark, puts a rectangle in front of me, which demands I remove my ad-blocker before I go any further.

I know that Frances Seymour, Lady Hertford is not a remarkable or wonderful poet — she was a warm, eloquent and supportive letter writer and friend. She was very much a woman of her era, from the Whig liberal super-rich circles. Hughes’s book about her is a labor of love as is this blog — for who she was, and for the values she lived by as seen in her letters and journals. I wish I had a friend such as she was to hers.

Letter to the Honorable Mrs Knight,
September 7th, 1731

Say, can you seriously intend
To deal unkindly by your friend,
And hasting from the peaceful Down
Return to sea-coal and the town
Without a transient visit paid,
To Marlborough’s neglected shade?
You know how welcome you would be
To all the house, but most of all to me.

Without you come you can’t conceive
How solitary here we live;
Yet cheerfulness we still maintain
Nor of the tedious hours complain.
When breakfast’s over out we rove
Around the terraces and grove,
Where flaunting woodbines spread around;
We lift their branches from the ground,
And tie them to some neighboring lime
Round which they may securely climb;
Or end the rose-trees, and divide
The suckers from their parent side.
Sometimes, where slow the river creeps,
And Babylon’s sad willow weeps,
To see if the new turf will grow
With anxious eyes along we go;
But when we find a sod is dead
Against the bank, or where we tread,
We grieve as much to see it fade
As toasts who find their charms decayed.
Thus we divide our morning cares
Till nine; then come in to Prayers.

Next to my closest we retreat
Where, after each has chose a seat,
I’m busies at my tent, the rest
Still sit or work, as the like best,
While Clavering reads the Gardener’s Toil;
When he should plant, when mix the soil;
The various kinds of flowers and fruits,
Which rise from seeds, and which from shoots,
Sometimes an author more sublime
Amuses and improves our time …

When Clavering till he’s tired has read,
We part, and next I comb my head
Then Beachy comes with careful look
To sing a Psalm and learn his book.

Again at two to dine we meet,
Our fare is plain, our dinner neat;
No seasoned dish allures our taste
To surfeit on the rich repast.
When we have dined we sit and talk,
Our walk concluded in we come
And each go to our sep’rate room.
We seldom work by candlelight,
But read, perhaps, and sometimes write;
Till called again to join in prayer
That God would make our souls his care,
Keep us from sin and all distress,
And our approaching slumbers bless.

Then sup, and with a cheerful heart
Converse an hour and so we part.

Now if our pleasures are not great,
You’ll own at least our life sweet ….
— Frances Seymour, Lady Hertford (1740)


Paul Sandby, Englefield Green, near Egham — this is typical picturesque plus shows us how this group of people liked to see themselves …

Ellen

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