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“She stood on the pavement, a thin shabby figure, so insignificant in her old hat and coat, so forget of herself in her enjoyment of the scene, that she might have been wearing a cloak of invisibility” (Virago, Chapter 1, near the beginning of the book).

Down in the drawing-room, Charles and Harriet sat without speaking. The wireless usefully filled in the gap. Charles read Persuasion — his favorite book, to which Harriet imagined he resorted when wounded … ‘What a novel to choose,’ Charles thought. ‘Only the happy in love should ever read it. It is unbearable to have expression given to our painful solitariness, to rake up the dead leaves in our hearts, when we have nothing that can follow … except in dreams, as perhaps Jane Austen herself never had but on the page she wrote’ … (Elizabeth Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek. 1951), quoted in Katie Trumpener’s The Virago Jane Austen

Friends and readers,

This is a book that deserves a blog all to itself. Ending sometime last month, over a three week period a group of people on The Way We Read Now face-book page, read it three chapters a day seemingly (of course everyone is invisible on the Net) together. How many participated I do not know; I don’t know how many summarized the different chapters. I “did” the penultimate trio, Chapters 35-37 out of 40. During the course of the read, I sent along two essays on Miss Mole or E.H. Young, which I thought would give some desperately needed context within which to understand this woman’s realistic novel masterpiece: Kathy Mezei’s “Spinsters, Surveillance and Space: The Case of Miss Marple, Miss Mole and Miss Jekyll” and the chapter from Deirdre Lynch’s Janeites: Jane Austen Devotees and Disciples by Katie Trumepener” about the Virago “Jane” books of the 1930s. I discuss and link in these at the end of this blog. The one other of Young’s novels I’ve read is her Jenny Wren, a re-write or post-text to Sense and Sensibility. I once knew a woman who was planning to write a literary biography: Maggie Lane, who has produced four excellent books on Austen and one on Fanny Burney.

I cannot find a plot-summary anywhere: doubtless the result of repressive censoring spoiler warning policing (not to say terrorists, for you can be thrown off websites for telling any literal detail of a book someone might not have read). But if anyone would be kind enough to supply one I’d insert it into this blog. I just don’t have the patience, for the delicate and subtle twists and turns of the plot-design, are central to the experience. So just the main thrust:

Miss Hannah Mole is a lifelong unmarried woman. She survives by hiring herself out as a companion and/or housekeeper where her salary is so small, that if she is fired, she cannot carry on for very long w/o becoming destitute. She is the only daughter of a working class farmer, and housewife, who left her a cottage, where (we learn in the last quarter of the novel) for a time she lived with a WW1 veteran who fooled her into thinking he cared seriously for her. She has not been able to move him out and so herself moves from place to place. She is deeply ashamed of this secret, fears exposure would render her jobless for life. One female relative, Mrs Lily Smith-Spencer, is a 20th century version of the obnoxious harridans of Austen’s fiction: Mrs S-S won’t give Miss Mole a position herself but provides “character” references. During the course of the story Miss Mole becomes housekeeper to a dissenting minister, Mr Corder, a second mother to his daughters (his wife has died), Edith and Ruth, is fallen in love with by a man, Mr Blenkinsop, living in the house she previously was employed at (where she saved someone from suicide). Her greatest satisfactions come from playing the role of a strong mother/friend to the people in Corder’s household. She loves being alive, walking in th natural world. She seems not to enact a malicious or envious thought all novel long. Her reward is to be taken in as a partner (marriage is assumed but not enacted) by someone with whom she finds herself congenial. There seems to be no way for her to be independent. In life Young worked as a librarian, fell in love with a married man and lived with him and his wife until the wife left them. She never married. You can view her life and writing career here.

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So here are my contributions as I read the book with others:

Miss Mole has gotten through life by masking; by in effect leaving others to assume she thinks or feels like them when she doesn’t. What she needs is a real job, real profession and salary but her original start position is such there is little hope of escape except by marriage. And I can see why she wouldn’t want that. She would not be able to get herself fired. We are told she is thin, unattractive, shabby with sensible non-stigmatizing shoes (her one self-indulgence). She has a trick of immersing herself in the natural world and reveling in it.

From Chapter 5:

“Money was one of the best things in the world, used properly, used by Miss Hannah Mole, and all the way down Prince’s Road she was buying annuities for people like herself, settling some thousands of pounds on Mrs. Ridding” (‘the woman who seemed so ungrateful for the help Hannah gave her baby and her suicidal husband.). “The wind had risen strongly as night came on and Hannah crossed the Downs under swaying branches and swirling leaves. The football-players, the riders, the children had all gone home; lamps edged the roads, but, where Hannah walked under the elms, there was a stormy darkness. The branches creaked lugubriously or with shrill protest, and those which still kept their leaves were like great flails, threshing the winds, maddened by their sterile efforts, for it was the wind, threshing harder, that produced the harvest, whipping it from the trees and driving it before him. Hannah was driven, too; a wisp of a woman, exhilarated by the noise and the buffeting”. Chapter 7: “The image of the funeral procession at the beginning of this chapter is powerfully sad. “This was a very melancholy procession, a detachment of an army of women like herself who went from house to house behind their boxes, a sad multitude of women with carefully pleasant faces, hiding their ailments, lowering their ages and thankfully accepting less than they earned.”

Chapter 8: a large part of the meaningful content of this book is conveyed by its ironic tone. That likening of Miss Mole’s transplanting of herself from Mrs Gibson (her previous employer) where she felt some warmth towards herself as she’s there as a friend) to Mr Corder as a funeral procession is powerful: “a detachment of an army of women like herself who went from house to house behind their boxes, a sad multitude of women with carefully pleasant faces, hiding their ailments, lowering their ages and thankfully accepting less than they earned? What became of them all?” this and the rest of the paragraph (upon dying “a craving that there should be at least one person to whom her disappearance would be a calamity.”

In the context of Mrs Gibson, Mrs Rider, and the two daughters, the story of Miss Mole seems to me there to show us how marriage and children were forced on women. You were given few options other than that which might be fulfilling and to reach those you needed to be middle class definitely, and better yet well connected. Miss Mole rebels by her continual ironic abrasions; she knows some release that way (reminding me of Elinor Dashwood in Austen’s S&S). But the descriptive metaphor brings out the tragic undertones of this bleak vision. There is a complexity in these half-hidden stories too. The problem we have reading this book is its particular women’s tradition and 20th century context (like so many others from other eras where women similarly coerced) has been erased. See The Virago Jane.

Chapters 9-11 and 11-14: I felt that Chapter 11 took us past the kind of rebarbative suggestive scenes we’ve had and provided important background for Mr Corder. We have had Miss Mole’s past history and something of her cousin, Mrs Spencer-Smith but Corder is (like the widow before him) the linchpin person in this house, the one with control over money and who does what. He is our self-blind selfish patriarch; it’s a wonderful irony that his sister’s marriage was forgiven to the extent she was given enough money to live on and supply him. He has been something of a rebel but he sees everyone as there to serve him.

I found myself warming to Miss Mole in these chapters as she tries to make existence more comfortable for others and perhaps (gasp! — imagine this group having an Xmas party) happier. The incident over the child Ruth having candle lit in her bedroom as she falls asleep is indicative. The father wanted to stop it though its costs are negligible, I’d say on the grounds he is supporting a deeply punitive culture. It is brave of Miss Mole to stand up to him. I feel we as readers don’t get the full nuance that is referred to here without this context of women’s position and literature in protest at the time. I remember when I first read one of these: The Gentlewoman by Laura Talbot (a pseudonum for Lady Ursula Chetwynd-Talbot) and how I loved its seeming strangeness.

Up to Chapter 20. I see much of what Miss Mole says or does as ironic. She does not seriously entertain any thoughts of any love affair with Mr Blenkinsop or Mr Samson. She much prefers Mr Samson because he is unconventional but as to becoming any man’s, that’s not for her. Whatever happened between her and Mr Pilgrim (whom she fears will tell of her time with the WW1 vet, she wants no boss. Think of all the mortified heroines in Austen – her pride was hurt. To me the real feelings she has are for Ruth and Edith and herself as foster mother (we might call it). She does say to herself, quite seriously, “for the sake of one good baby, she would have paid for than that:” she is thinking of Mrs Ridding where the price for the baby was a neurotic husband.” But she, Miss Mole, can function as a mother through her position as housekeeper, and in these three last 3 chapters, we see her suddenly worrying lest she has insulted Mr Corder (by her abrasive irritated wit) and lose the place. I take her thoughts of doing what Mrs Corder would have done seriously. This, like many of these Virago books at the time, are a protest against demanding a woman marry and giving her no alternative. That’s why the heroines are so often life-long single women.

As to language, and what is a book but words, this book is pre-feminism the second phase (starting 1970s) when for the first time a vocabulary to discuss sex from a non-religious and women’s POV starts to emerge. It’s pre-Simone de Beauvoir. So the books have to use a vocabulary which is antithetical – the authors fall back on understood paradigms. One of the more moving moments occurs when Edith says how dreadful not to have a mother, and Miss Mole thinks of “all the women who waited for words they would not hear.” That is not a marriage proposal but some decent respect and understanding they are not secondary objects (coming alive only in relationship to men). These words Edith longs for – her mother’s understanding – will never come from her father or any ritual Christmas nonsense.


Anna Madeley as Mrs Hall

There is a Miss Mole among the current crop of TV shows from the UK: pay some attention to Mrs Audrey Hall in All Creatures Great and Small. The portrait of Mrs Hall shows how much ground feminism has lost since Miss Mole or the 1980s. She is not presented as a woman who has never married. For all we know she’s a widow. Her estrangement is also from her son, who we learn has done some criminal act which she turned him in on. So the establishment and its forms of punishment are endorsed here. Yet the outline of her life is that of the Virago heroine of the 1930s. None of this is in Herriot’s book, and in the 1970s series she was presented as impersonally there, a woman who needed a job. I will say the interest in her, the desire to give a woman a central role in and of herself, not there as a romantic interest shows the mild feminism of the series. She helps Herriot, she is the central staff of the house (metaphorically) and a very good person. But she is not driven to irony; she accepts her lot as Miss Mole does not.

Christmas time, 1st season, we learn that Mrs Hall’s husband came home from war a changed man, and not for the better. This is why we find her going from house to house as a servant. Her son did something criminal (funny how it’s not specified too – he stole something) and she, his mother, told on him. Maybe they were both servants somewhere – a typical job for lower class people especially women at the turn of the century. Son went to jail. He has never forgiven her. During the course of this conversation, Mr Farnon shows himself to be better than Cordelia near the end of Lear. Of course he will keep Mrs Hall on; he would not know what to do without her. He stands by her in church holding her hand as they sing, for this son did not turn up for Christmas.

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Painting by Harold Wright: an image supplied by one of the people who was part of the group read as Miss Mole

A second angle obviously there is class. Mr Corder is not CofE, but a dissenter of some sort (I use very old fashioned language) and part of what makes him so intolerant and seeming dense, is he feels he has to hold onto parishioners and is fighting a continual invisible fight with those who might just look down on him. See Margaret Oliphant’s Carlingford novels – if you have the patience.

Chapters 18-20: the “dirt” Mr Pilgrim (the name is now ironic) has is he sexually harassed Hannah, and she fears that whatever happened between them he can use to make her seem to be at fault. #Metoo. ome of her behavior might seem to compromise her and in a culture like this of course, he, the man, the guest, would be sided with. So we have here in this novel an early half-hidden story of sexual harassment, which no matter what the woman does is a threat to her position in the world and peace of mind. She was a sexually harassed woman in flight and at risk of being hurt by the very person who treated her with contempt and insult. Mr Pilgrim (the name allegorical of course) found out something about her and went to her house because as a preacher, he wanted to teach her the error of her ways… However he never got near her because she shut the door in his face… The last part of this trio is a poignant. Hannah is afraid to kiss Mr Corder’s youngest most candid and sincere daughter, Ruth. Is she inwardly fearful of becoming too close to this family because, again, she may have to leave them (just as she left her previous positions)?

Her relationship with these two girls is moving. She is acting as a replacement for Mrs Corder she tells us. Looked at from a distance, Miss Moles’ life is pathetic (filled with thwarting) but she will not acknowledge this openly. Maybe that funeral metaphor. Some day she could be broke with the tiniest of pensions.

Me: My mother-in-law was a lower governess in a great house just after WW1, sometime in the 1920s. It was like slavery. Up at 5, never given a moment to herself except when eating and then under constant surveillance. Woolworth’s in the early 1930s, 6 and 1/2 days a week with a real salary was liberty and some power (because you had some money, could even chose you own meal every two weeks). No you were to have no followers.

The opening of Chapter 23 is beautiful in thought and form (Virago, pp 166-67) Her acceptance of what is includes a reveling in the nature world, and through a Wordsworthian (maybe that’s a good term) perspective therapeutic. Complex poetry in prose. We can have a character very bad at heart, and Corder is at the present time (loss of his wife hurt) a mean and petty man in many ways. The sentences do that twisting and turning so it is hard to grasp where Young herself stands. Her dark dress reminds me of the sober Jane Eyre. She is comfortable with Blenkinsop but why?

Miss Mole has won me over for many reasons; here she is very ambivalent Christmas and it’s not only for the homeless and those w/o families. Well, me too. She is so tenuously connected to society; she’s not far from homeless and that may be why the group comes to mind. Where is her family? She might be looking to marry: Mr Samson is not that bad a choice if they are congenial and he has enough money to support them (and loves his cats). She is a prisoner in effect: her work never stops; she is not appreciated by the person who pays her; she endlessly has to worry about impressions she makes. There’s not much best in Mr Corder to be seen insofar as she or his daughters are concerned. He is a man intensely concerned with his status, resenting the money he does get because it’s from an older sister.

I’ve usually felt and experienced Christmas as an ordeal and Young is conveying this, and a very fraught one at that. Not everyone is good lying, and some people never get the knack, nor is it easy for them to see through the lies to what might be a sort of truth. Miss Mole is very clever in that way, but she is not a domineering bully so does not manipulate only self-protects through lying – and her lies are often kind jokes. Her stories (the non-existent burglar) are kind moral exemplums. Young conveys that the patriarchy, class status and the ability to bully put Corder and Mrs Spenser-Smith in charge but many of the other characters have such better traits than they and what’s valued in this book is kindness. I was struck how one of these boss-mistresses says to Miss Mole she has no trouble with servants because she never tolerates an iota of discontent: the servant is fired on the spot. Yes I am seeing that perhaps Young is setting up a suitor-courtship paradigm between Miss Mole and Mr Samson and between Miss Mole and Mr Blenkinsop. Alas. And a Cinderella paradigm is emerging: up to now Miss Mole is seeming very plain and she never gets to go out; suddenly she is elegance itself and cannot be kept out. It would seem she cannot live in her own cottage because she needs money to keep it up — beyond someone living there who does not pay her rent. So marriage is the way out of living on the edge of destitution.

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Young lived for a long time in Clifton, Bristol where several of her novels are set

As the story turns and Hannah has a worthy suitor at last, I offer the idea that nonetheless, Hannah’s blindness over Mr Blenkinsop’s intentions is a device – and to me improbable. Young felt his book needed suspense. So the suspense is we are to sit on the edges of our seats worrying whether Hannah will somehow ruin her chances with Mr Blenkinsop before he has a chance to propose (and thus reveal – our hearts are all pit-a-patting now – he loves and wants to marry her). And we are supposed worried about what Mr Pilgrim can tell (sexual probably given that Hannah has open-minded views about sex) to ruin her with Mr Corder.

Mrs Spenser-Smith is one of the more obnoxious characters in this book. Hannah has to placate her because she needed her for this job and might need her again. But she is awful – in Jane Austen’s hands we’d recognize her for the Lady Catherine de Bourgh she is. Will say anything outrageously insulting. She shows her power by doing things like paying for Howard’s education at Oxford. So he has escaped her too. On the shoes, we have to remember how shoes – poor shoes on people’s feet, especially children – were once a sign of poverty. Also you need good shoes to be comfortable. So Miss Mole having good shoes is a way of avoiding a stigma and being comfortably shod for her incessant work – in the house mostly but no less work than that. Have a look at Mrs Hall’s shoes in the latest season of All Things Great and Small. Attractive and sensible.

Hard to comment on the ambiguity of what we are reading until finally the two secrets — Blenkinsop’s pursuit of Miss Mole (or Hannah as she was called in the BBC film adaptation) and what happened sexually to Miss Mole (not clear with whom or how her giving up of her cottage to a tenant who does not pay his rent relates to this) – are revealed. But for my part I find Ethel sympathetic, all at sea as a teenager, and Mr Corder a male version of Mrs Spenser-Smith without the monetary resources. I compared her to Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh; the closest male I can think to him is the selfish, obtuse, blind, fatuously cruel John Dashwood. What does it matter if John Dashwood does not know how he hurts his family members and those directly in his power? In both the essays I offered as context I have not read all the texts cited (I can’t stand Ivy Compton-Burnett and the only Christie I’ve been able to finish is her superb autobiography), but I’ve faith if I knew more of these Virago Jane authors (or remembered more of those I’ve read) I could cite parallels.

The self-reflexivity of the story is made plain. EH Young lived with a man she was not married to for many years and here he is indicted, though not named and a somewhat literally different story offered. The nameless cad at the center of the fiction in real life was married. I have to go outside my purview to cite what I feel is the moral of the book (by no means adequate to what it dramatizes about our lives in ordinary society, especially when it comes to women) and at work in this chapter – I’ve cited it before: “I believe unkindness is the worst sin of all” (Ch 38). My critique of this idea: it may be what is so excruciating in a daily way but it is not what has made the situation for all of them: apparently under Corder, Mrs Spenser-Smith and the other lying bullies of the book.

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So, in this chapter (35) we are told what happened between Mr Blenkinsop and Miss Mole on her day out with him. In a nutshell (I’m not going to paraphrase piece by piece) Mr Blenkinsop is taking Miss Mole back to where her child- and young girlhood occurred to the house she owns. He means to take her there and confront whatever it is. She goes to pieces. The chapter is really made up of her thoughts. She is remarkably unmalicious.

Some people might think to go over ground you once were traumatized by is to overcome it – I’m not in that school of thought myself nor EH Young. We see some of Miss Moles’s obsessions. The paragraph beginning “Ah, she thought, things were easy for people with an income they had not to earn.” She ceaseless broods (all book long) on how tenuous her position is, her dependence, her material bonds. I feel for her – I remember ceaselessly in the middle years of working as an adjunct (I did it for 27 years) how I’d brood. I forget why I stopped: I put this down to getting onto the Internet and beginning to write and then to publish so I had other things on my mind that overcame this position. There is nothing in Miss Mole’s life to provide a strong distraction of satisfaction. Mr Blenkinsop is presented thinking how he came to this house by accident. This is the sort of thing that irritates me. He cannot have come here by accident. But he is kind (see above) and does not press himself on her. He feels terrible he has made her so hysterical within. She thinks also about the people she thinks depend on her: the Corder children.

At the end of the chapter Mr B suggests why not start a boarding-house of your own. You could escape this perpetual distress. She says she’s thought of it but she hasn’t the money and has been told she’s too young.

At last the beans are spilled. She retires to her room and sits by the fire. I think of all the many Victoria illustrations of women sitting by the fire (or out on the moor) thinking of their miseries


Miss E Taylor’s depiction of Kate Vavasour, left with her arm probably broken by her brother, George.

We learn at length what was Miss Mole’s horrifying sin, which apparently Mr Pilgrim knows (and my guess from these three and before and after) that’s because she also offended him (by leaving his church?) What happened is during WW1 Miss Mole inherited a house and a man who had fought in the war came to live with her and became her lover. There you have it. His reasons for such behavior remind me of what (summed up) Willoughby told Elinor Dashwood were his motives for smashing Marianne Dashwood’s peace of mind (I refer to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility): “at no stage in their intercourse had he considered her as more than a temporary inconvenience.” Willoughby claims that he grew to love Marianne and felt remorse when his patroness, an aunt, kicked him out for impregnating another girl and deserting her . Right. The way he showed his remorse was to engage himself to an improbably wealthy heiress. Young’s fiction is more probable. Miss Mole does not have the strength of character that believing in yourself, having self-esteem, and backup in other’s people’s support would give. She can’t throw him – or couldn’t. So did the next best thing when she discovered what he was. She left. They had some agreement he would pay her rent and he never has. I’ve seen situations analogous to this.

Meanwhile Mr Pilgrim decides it’s in his interest to tell this tale to Mr Corder. Why? Maybe he thinks she’s in the way of his gaining control over (oops – marrying it’s called) Ethel. Luckily, Mr Corder’s very nasty mind on the surface rejects all Mr Pilgrim has to say as vile calumny just in character.

Since it’s through Miss Mole’s mind realizing what happened (we don’t get this – note that) we get some half-ironic thoughts about God engineering all this and how God and she, Miss Mole, know one another. Hannah gets some peace of mind thinking this but it’s as much exhaustion. This technique is third person indirect discourse so the author is there in and out talking to us too. It’s remarkable the metaphors Miss Mole uses for herself: she refuses to be the dog with the bad name …

Yes I think the double-self is a directly self-reflexive comment: of course Miss Mole has no cousin who has been living her secret life alongside er; the cousin is Hannah Mole herself, and not even a dream alternative but what lies under Edith Hilda’s own reality. Did she pretend to be the housekeeper when living with her lover lover and his wife? I agree with her that Uncle Jim is ruthless. I’d be careful what I told him too. I agree Howard is kept at a great distance. We cannot tell if it is good for him that he got away (gave up the position Mrs S-L got for him at Oxford) as we don’t know enough about his inner life or what he was experiencing at Oxford. Corder cares more that they are seeming to insult the benefactor (if she is that), Mrs Spenser-Smith than his boy’s future or even presence.

What a heartless crew many of these believable adults in this novel are, and Miss Mole knows it. It is not uncommon in 18th century novels for the housekeeper to be the master-owner’s mistress; it’s a cover or disguise. These novels often present the female character without sympathy.

Ethel returns who has been to see Patsy Withers (another of the book’s awful people): Miss Withers wanted to take over the club and certainly would like to see Miss Mole fired. Miss Mole asks why go to a woman who tells lies about you; Ethel says it’s because of that she went. People just gluttons for punishment. It’s here we learn something of the connection of Pilgrim (ironic allegorical name) to Miss Mole (also an allegorical name) Miss Mole was going to chapel at the time of her relationship with the nameless cad.

Miss Mole becomes intensely aware of how Mr Blenkinsop is walking about outside – it seems for hours, in quite a state. She goes out – to let him off the hook. To be kind. She tells him don’t worry, she’s fine – manifestly untrue except that it’s become obvious that Mr Corder is willing to overlook the past and keep her anyway. Well, gee thanks.

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Here is a typical picture of am English country cottage at the beginning of the twentieth century – much popularized as art by Helen Allingham, part of her worlds of women

Chapter 36: Mr B says he was told about the house by a colleague at work… he had not seen it before but thought it might be a good place for the Riddings, and wanted Hannah to see it with him to help him decide if it was appropriate … As soon as Hannah saw the chimney tops, she knew it was her house and could not stomach the idea of her story being revealed to him in all its sordid “glory”, so she ran off in the opposite direction with him following behind totally confused as to what she was running from … She was running from her past to keep the story sacred for as long as she could…it was only later that the scales fell from her eyes and she realized that it was no longer sacred…it was time to put it behind her for good…

“Then shame swooped over her like a great flapping, threatening bird, and the robin piped his gay derisive note.” The events in that cottage were deeply traumatic. It was much more than her lover refusing to marry her. As is very common with trauma victims, she blames herself. For allowing it to happen.

And for being romantic and believing him in the first place…she was a girl though and had no experience of men like him…she believed they would marry eventually while he had no such intention… Women beat themselves up like this even today…”why didn’t I know, why couldn’t I have seen etc.”

A wonderful interlude in this chapter is the conversation with Wilfred. “I think I’ll change my lodgings. My poor dear mother doesn’t pay three guineas a week to have her son’s nerves shattered.” I hope he does go to Mrs. Gibson. Her house is definitely the refuge in this novel.

Chapter 37: This chapter is interesting both for what it shows about Young’s art (by this time we can discern this) and what happens in it.

The opening has Hannah (she has become Hannah far more often than Miss Mole) grieving intensely over this lost love, this betrayal of some ideal of love and companionship embodied in the house or home . She remember how she disobeyed everyone and held onto her house (again we see how society is working to undermine her independence and not allow her to think she can have any, fixed it so beautifully and how the man she invested all this in felt none of it. She was no snob in choosing him. He was an ordinary soldier and farmer. So EH Young does not fool herself with DHLawrence and gothic reveling (remember the Mary Webb books – her dreams are actually nightmares) about getting back to nature and “real men.”

As is so often with this heroine, she sees the best (she reminds me of Austen’s Jane Bennet who tells Elizabeth she sees the best because the pain of seeing the world, here Darcy and Bingley’s family – sisters – and everyone else as heartless and mercenary is too much to endure). So she tells herself this man never understood how much he hurt her.

Well, long ago, someone told me that when people say malicious things to you, especially to other people and appear not aware of how much pain they are causing you, that’s nonsense. They know.

At the same time the pain here is worse for her because she is imagining that Mr Blenkinsop (first paragraph of chapter) is working at kicking this guy out and taking the house over because he wants to place Mrs Riddings and her babies in it (she watches Mrs Riddings in the meadow hanging out the clothes – quite like a rhyme). Now again we are to keep our distance and our ironic perspective – we know she’s got it all wrong. Mr Blenkinsop is doing this for her, and we know also from these opening paragraphs and others, she loves him.

Thus we are almost reassured that soon that proposal will be made and she will say yes. We are not permitted utter fevers of anxiety in this book, but we are never left off the hook (think of a hook put into someone’s stomach) and onto security. By this time we know that Mr Pilgrim’s telling Mr Corder will not result in Miss Mole having to return to the obnoxious cousin and find another place to live. Or it’s improbable.

This kind of maneuvering is done throughout the book.

Then we watch Miss Mole work very hard – things she has not done for months. I feel she is doing this to shore up in her mind Mr Corder will not fire her. How could he? And she is busying herself, feeling wanted, needed. On other other hand, surely there is something masochistic in her choosing to turn the sheets, a job she says she hates; she also does not enjoy using the sewing machine.

Ruth who by this time is a fully educated pupil of Miss Mole (worthy of her, intelligent) says of all this activity: it’s “rather like making a will and paying your debts when you think you’re going to die.” We can connect that to Miss Mole’s thinking Mr Blenkinsop is getting her house ready for Mrs Riddings or her worry still Mr Corder will or can fire her. Miss Mole says, oh, no, I’m “bad-tempered.”

Then they go for a walk. The mood of this walk is very like many of them. Miss Mole rejoices in life, and landscape, and the weather, being alive and activity around her – whether rural or city. Even better she has Ruth by her side. Mother-daughter and pupil-mentor paradigms here. This chapter is also serving to remind us that Ruth can now do without Miss Mole. This is clearing the way for what will become of Ruth once Miss Mole departs – for we do see that Mr Blenkinsop is preparing a halcyon refuge for himself and Hannah. The closing paragraph of the chapter is just beautiful poetry.

But we are not allowed to revel mindlessly because what metaphors does Hannah use to show her understanding of her place in this: the small ships alongside the big ones remind her of “sad widows in their pathetic dignity under their bare masts and yards, and tugs were like the undertakers, at a fuss about the funeral.” Maybe (like Alice Vavasour at the close of CYFH?) Miss Mole is not to be taken as moving into some kind of paradise when a particular man gets a house ready for her and is willing to live in it with her and support her.

We are also not allowed to forget Ethel. Ethel is in is in the midst of making a bad choice. She has opted for Pilgrim and we are reminded several paragraphs before the final one of this chapter that it was Mr Pilgrim who told Mr Corder about Miss Mole’s past so as to bond himself this way more deeply to Ethel. Wait – he was throwing an innocent woman (never hurt him) literally to possible destitution to place himself better in the eyes of Corder? Ethel sees that Miss Patsy Withers as stepmother is far far worse than Miss Mole as housekeeper (because she is a kind of minor Lady Catherine de Bourgh) and knows it’s in her real interest that Miss Mole stay

Finis. I’ve kept up and have finished Chs 38-39. So now (somewhat out of order) we are told what Mr Corder responded to what Pilgrim said It interests me that Ethel sees what a shit Pilgrim is, agrees she should not snitch on Miss Mole but then goes ahead to become his erotic target and to tell even the obnoxious Mrs S-s. I feel that Young means us to forgive and feel sorry for Ethel — too much a dullard to get beyond all conventions even when her mind can acknowledge they are stupid. There is no hope she can see these conventions are there to control and subdue women to men’s wills. We are seeing Ruth emerge to take control: Howard had a farm to escape to; she has Uncle Jim. Miss Mole has too much pride to crawl to Mr Corder and imagine what her existence would become on these terms. So are we are at the end of her tether and in the streets. Why can’t she go to Mrs Gibson? I don’t get it: because she saved Mr Riddings?

Some intuitive instinct now takes Miss Mole or our Hannah to Blenkinsop’s door. I remember Robert Louis Stevenson: two short stories, A Lodging for the Night, and Sire de Maltroit’s door — the poet Villon, homeless, happens on them and is taken in. So our heroine is happening on Mr Blenkinsop’s door. As Austen says at the end of NA, the “telltale compression of pages” informs us “we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.” Only unless you have not paid attention, this final refuge, however it could end in happiness, is a desperate compromise.

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This is a distinguished, uniquely written protest novel on behalf of women and vulnerable men in deeply punitive capitalist relentlessly repressive patriarchy. In these scenes Young shows she knows how people behave and she captures their obtusenesses to themselves very sharply — by having made Miss Mole so very perceptive and with a desperate need and impulse (from years of training) to make do and compromise. Not altogether perceptive because (reminding me of Austen’s Emma), she does not see (improbably given how sharp she usually is) Blenkinsop is trying to court her. A difference from Austen is that Austen would have let Mr Pilgrim be told somehow he had made a fool out of himself (like poor Miss Bates of Austen’s Emma). None of them would like to be seen through. We should remember at this point that Hilda was E.H. Young’s second name.

I find myself wanting to bring in (and read) yet another book: Elena Ferrante’s Lying life of Adults. I’ve often felt that the way a lot of people get through being with others is lying, little lies, big ones; perhaps the difference for Miss Mole is hers are not only self-protective and kind but when alone they shore her up. We’ve seen that with the tales she tells Ruth. Austen’s Catherine Morland: “But why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? …” (Northanger Abbey)

An essay by Kathy Mezei (“Spinsters, Surveillance and Speech”) should also be of interest to anyone who reads books by women written after WW1 and into WW2, especially once again published by Virago. This essay includes an Agatha Christie and Ivy Compton-Burnett book beyond EH Young’s Miss Mole. In all three the life-long unmarried and deliberately-set up vulnerable woman is defended but at the end of both books the establishment (as it were) closes in on them again. So they are mild protest novels. For my part the problem is the acceptance of the class, religious and capitalist system these characters live in a corner of. The author does show how awful the top accepted male is in all three cases. He’s murdered in at least one of them. What I liked about the essay is situating Miss Mole with two other spinsters, or life-long unmarried women — one a famous detective by a famous author, the other a dark caustic author. It helps pick up the intended tone or nuance.

More important for the large perspective is Kate Trumpener’s “The Virago Jane” in Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees, where she analyses a group of novels published by Virago in the 1930s, and shows how they are in continual dialogue with the deepest and more superficial aspects of Austen’s fiction. As I’ve written above reading Young’s book continually brought to mind analogues from Austen and by extension other women writers influenced by Austen. Trumpener supplies the full nuance and depths in Austen through these books, which the reader ca then (as it were) take back into Young’s books. There are two pages on Chatterton Square.

It is a real loss here is no single study of E.H. Young. The woman I knew slightly (still have a sort of memory acquaintance unless she’s dead), Maggie Lane (who has written and published 3 books on Jane Austen, 1 on Burney) said she was working on but never came through. She also said she was working on a book on Fanny Burney and Hester Thrale as “frenemies.” Not all things we study become books. The quietude mixed with profound disquiet of this book cannot attract any kind of wide audience now – but gender, class and money are still key factors for women who are still often made “secondary creatures” as Simone de Beauvoir wrote.

A stinging woman’s novel. Rosamond Lehmann wrote a great novel, woman’s novel type, called The Weather in the Streets (1930s, heroine has abortion and recovering reads P&P as a fantasy that cheers), available as a Virago. The group at TWWRN went on to read Chatterton Square:


Note how covers and titles resembles those on better women’s books today (her Curate’s Wife title puts me in mind of Joanna Trollope’s Rector’s Wife)

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It was made into a BBC 4 part serial drama, Hannah, but that has vanished decades ago. Have I mentioned that she worked for the women’s suffrage movement and was an air-raid warden during WW2. See Heavenali for The World of E.H Young: Upper Radstowe, with images from the cover illustrations of the green Virago editions of Young’s novels


A photo of Young in later life

Ellen

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From a recent essay on Brooks by Doreen St Felix (New Yorker, 2018)

To Prisoners

I call for you cultivation of strength in the dark.
Dark gardening
in the vertigo cold.
in the hot paralysis.
Under the wolves and coyotes of particular silences.
Where it is dry.
Where it is dry.
I call for you
cultivation of victory Over
long blows that you want to give and blows you are going to get.
Over
what wants to crumble you down, to sicken
you. I call for you
cultivation of strength to heal and enhance
in the non-cheering dark,
in the many many mornings-after;
in the chalk and choke.

Dear Friends and readers,

We cannot let Black History Month pass by on this blog without remembering, praising, attempting to characterize the wonderful poetic oeuvre of Gwendolyn Brooks.

What I want to say about her is I was all wrong, and the reason I want to start this way is to suggest to for many readers, and probably white especially, it’s possible the poems you have come across are from her earlier poetry more seemingly (and in truth) conventional in values and stereotypes than her middle and later periods. When it’s a case of one or two poems in an anthology or on a page of selections, inevitably you read her “the mother:” today it prompts anti-abortion religiously-rooted utterances, insisting on the centrality of motherhood to women, without any memory or awareness of how powerless women as mothers are in reality, and especially Black women whose sons and daughters can still be casually killed on the street with impunity. One comes across poems which, when read in isolation, seem to portray a picture of young colored girls sheltered from reality, seeking the most obvious treats, stereotypes which belong in a 1930s movie.

To me some of these early poems seem to accept the impoverished life inflicted on Black people. They are often written from a child’s point of view.

A song in the front yard (from her earlier period)

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

In later years she was sarcastic over her Anniad (still said to be modeled on Virgil’s Aeneid, when in form and imagery it’s surely Chaucerian and reminiscent of medieval European romances): in one interview I’ve come across she says she won the Pulitzer for it and Annie Allen because its learning was snobbery. She calls its allusive techniques (which surely she worked hard on) pompous; she says to her the Pulitzer is a pleasant salute.

Brooks evolved; when you’ve read her middle and last poems, in retrospect these earlier ones read quite differently — she is first of all writing “seriously the inner lives of young Black women: their hopes, dreams and aspirations;” depicting how they become part of a community (painfully); the “day-to-day struggle” within European forms, genres. In her interviews and some quotations from her scattered prose, I find that like many another brilliant person, she hated going to parties, and struggled to find her own voice, and people she was compatible with, to discover what would be a good time for her. She also fits into Annie Finch’s perspective and defense of the poetess tradition of white American women from the 19th through mid-20th century — rhymes, strong formal elements, strong sentiment.

So I’ll call the sonnet-like sequence called Womanhood middle period and invite the reader to read and listen to this vimeo

These poems on womanhood for Black women are not paid enough attention to. What is preferred are the shorter poems or those about Black man.
They are superb and present a continuum of Black manhood as experienced in the US. Read her Negro Hero: to suggest Dorie Miller: the man who lived and died, a reading of the poem. She can take on a male voice, and speaks for central Black young men in the 20th century.

Paul Robeson

That time
we all heard it,
cool and clear,
cutting across the hot grit of the day.
The major Voice.
The adult Voice
forgoing Rolling River,
forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge
and other symptoms of an old despond.
Warning, in music-words
devout and large,
that we are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business:
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

Malcolm X
———
for Dudley Randall

Original.
Hence ragged-round,
Hence rich-robust.

He had the hawk-man’s eyes.
We gasped. We saw the maleness.
The maleness raking out and making guttural the air
And pushing us to walls.

And in a soft and fundamental hour
A sorcery devout and vertical
Beguiled the world.

He opened us –
Who was a key.

Who was a man.

And also in rage:

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

In her last phases (last quarter of 20th century), she became a plain-spoken quietly angry, sarcastic poet, pithy, vivid, chronicler of African-American life using both its own development within literature, in the contemporary social roles chosen and inflicted, with an awareness of Black music (jazz) and visual art. I now find her a deeply moving urban poet, terse, epigrammatic, using free forms, speaking symbolically, allusively.

Read her Primer for Blacks.

To those of my Sisters who kept their Naturals
Never to look a hot comb in the teeth.

Then this late poem:

To an old Black woman, Homeless and Indistinct

1.
Your every day is a pilgrimage.
A blue hubbubb.
Your days are collected bacchanals of fear and self-troubling.

And your nights! your nights.
When you put you down in alley or cardboard or viaduct,
your lovers are rats, finding your secret places.

2.
When you rise in another morning,
you hit the street, your incessant enemy.

See? Here you are, in the so-busy world.
You walk. You walk.
You pass The People.
No. The People pass you.

Here’s a Rich Girl marching briskly to her charms.
She is suede and scarf and belting and perfume.
She sees you not, she sees you very well.
At Five in the afternoon, Miss Rich Girl will go home
to brooms and vacuum cleaner and carpeting,
two cats, two marble top tables, two telephones,
shiny green peppers, flowers in impudent vases,
visitors.
Before all that there’s the luncheon to be known.
Lasagna, lobster, salad, sandwiches
All day there’s coffee to be loved.
There are luxuries
of minor dissatisfaction, luxuries of Plan.

3.
That’s her story
You’re going to vanish, not necessarily nicely, fairly soon
Although essentially dignity itself a death
is not necessarily tidy, modest, or discreet.
When they find you
your legs may not be tidy nor aligned.
Your mouth may be all crooked or destroyed.

Black old woman, homeless, indistinct —
Your last and least adventure is Review.
Folks used to celebrate your birthday!
Folks used to say ‘She draws such handsome horses, cows
and houses.’
Folks used to say ‘That child is going far.’

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

Wikipedia includes an account of her life and awards: all I can do in brief space is highlight a few events. She was born in Kansas, and brought up in Chicago, which remained her home, and to its cultural worlds she belonged all her life (like August Wilson remained a Philadelphian). She began to read and write well at an early age; her earliest poetry (as a young girl was published in the Chicago Defender (Black newspaper founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott). She did not fit easily into high schools; one too white, one where she was ostracized as too Black for the place; finally she settled in an integrated school, Englewood. Sending her work out brought her to the attention to James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. She found a place with other Black writers in 1935 in WPA groups, e.g., Illinois Writers Project. In 1935 she went to Kennedy Key (?) College, joined the South Side Community Art Center; was married to Henry Blakeley Jr in 1939. From her you can slowly trace her ever-expanding circle of friend-writers and publications. A landmark was the 1945 A Street in Bronzville. Richard Wright wrote a commentary on her work. From this one we have

Kitchenette Building

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

She was often the first African-American to receive this or that award. Her last years she is going to conferences, teaching at universities. She finally made public her own struggle for racial self-acceptance. She urged writers to create young Black protagonists who go counter to commercial  or best-selling tropes. In 1968 she was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois.

She nurtured and mentored others; her very last volume was about children, poetry seemingly for them (they are bold, revealing for example, the problem of incest where males are encouraged to be aggressive and at the same time marginalized and poverty-stricken), Children Coming Home.

The standard biography seems to be by George Kent, A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. The Library of Congress has brought out a slim volume of her poems edited and introduced by Elizabeth Alexander: The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks.


The Field of Angels memorial at the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, honoring the 2,200 enslaved children who died in St. John the Baptist Parish between 1823 and 1863

Ellen

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Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) Ethiopian girl living in Beirut (Capernaum)


Madeline (Martine Chevalier) and Anne, her daughter (Lea Ducker) — (Deux of Two of US is not just about the love of two aging lesbians, but the daughter of one of them)


Heloise (Adèle Haenel), Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (it’s a three-way relationship at its height: wealthy young girl to be sold to a husband, painter, and pregnant maid)

Animals welcome
People tolerated …

Friends and readers,

I’ve just spent four weeks teaching a course where we read two marvelous books by women, Iris Origo’s War in the Val D’Orcia, an Italian war diary, 1943-44, and Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays, and want to observe, commemorate, act out Wolf’s argument (proved) in her book that there is a real body of literature by women, separate from men, superior, filled with alternative values, following different genre paradigms, only permitted to thrive in Europe and her cultures since the 18th century and that in marginalized ways, but there and wonderful — deeply anti-war, anti-violence, filled with values of women, a caring, cooperative, preserving, loving ethic. What better day than V- or Valentine’s, better yet against Violence Day, especially when aimed at women. A day yesterday when much of the US in the evening sat down to watched a violent-intense game, interrupted by celebrity posturing, false pretenses at humane attitudes, and glittery commercials (the Superbowl).

Last night I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire (which I’ve written about already here), and the 6th episode (Home Truths) of the second season of All Creatures Great and Small (ditto), and the fifth episode of the fourth season (Savages) of Outlander, Her-stories (adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn)


Anne Madeley as Mrs Hall (housekeeper, and vet)


Helen (Rachel Shelton) and James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph)


Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Adawehi

I delighted in my evening:

Home truths: shamelessly sentimental and ratcheting up lots of angst, yet nothing but good happens. Why? I’ve decided it’s a show with women in charge — for real. Mrs Herriot gives up James to Helen, Mrs Hall and the woman with the perpetually nearly mortal cows. Mrs Pumphrey is the local central goddess, and Tricky woo, her animal. A new woman came in, an aging gypsy who lives with stray dogs. Parallel to Mrs Pumphrey. I love it.

The men are the Savages: the crazed German settler who thinks the Native Americans are stealing “his water” so when his daughter-in-law and grandchild die of measles, he murders the beautiful healer of the tribe — they retaliate by murdering him and his wife and burning down his house. Claire had been there to help bring the baby into the world. The coming problem that most counts is measles. Jamie and Ian discover they can’t get settlers while the Governor and his tax collectors are taking all the profits from settlers and using it to live in luxury, and Murtagh is re-discovered. Very moving reunion with Jamie and Claire — keeping the estates, feeding animals. She functions as Mrs Hall.

The three women eat, walk, sleep, talk together; the two upper class ones go with their maid to help her abort an unwanted pregnancy among a group of local women meeting regularly to dance, talk, be together where they sit around a fire — here they are preparing food, drink, sewing ….

A brief preface or prologue to two fine women’s films: Capernaum and Two of Us, with some mention of Salaam Bombay and Caramel, ending on Isabelle Huppert as interviewer and Elif Batuman as essayist on women’s film art:

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

Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) and Rahil’s baby, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole)

One of the courses I’m taking this winter at the same OLLI at Mason where I teach is one recent fine movies, and the first we saw Capernaum directed by Nadine Labarki. She has another remarkably memorable film I saw years ago, Caramel, the stories of five women whose lives intersect in a beauty parlor). She and two other women wrote the screenplay. It’s an indie, in Arabic, set in the slums of Beirut: the title refers to a place on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee and forms part of the Jesus Christ stories. The word also means chaos. It makes Mira Nair’s Saleem Bombay looks into the semi-lark it is: both center on a boy living on the streets of desperately poor area who is cut off from any kind of help from parents. Nair’s film ends in stasis: with the boy on the streets still, having stabbed to death a cruel pimp who preyed on a prostitute who is one of the boy’s friends, and took her small daughter from her.

People write of Capernaum as heart-breaking but most of their comments center on the boy (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian). It’s done through flashbacks. The gimmick complained about is the boy is suing his parents for bringing him into the world. Basically the boy, Zain, exposes the cruel treatment his parents have meted out to him — real emotional, social and physical abuse too. In fact, Hilary Clinton proposed many protections for children, a couple of which aroused the ire of conservatives because she proposed to give children rights which in effect included complaining about parental abuse. I remember how she was attacked fiercely for her proposals on behalf of children. As eventually passed it was about adoption procedures and administration, whether she succeeded in making the child’s welfare count for real I don’t know

What is seriously relevant is the continual filming of dire poverty and the imprisoning of helpless (stateless) immigrants, refugees with no papers and how the need for papers is used by criminals and some lower base businessman to punish and demand huge sums from these people willing to buy forged documents. Astro, the film’s villain, is trying to take Rahil’s baby from her so he can sell the baby, and we discover at the film’s end he had no good parents and home for the baby, only a transitory prison. Labarki takes the viewer through the jails such people end up in and the conditions there — although this is Beirut, you could easily transfer this to the borders of the US. I find the supposed secondary character, a young single mother end up separated from her child as important as the boy, Zain — the fantasy of the movie is this boy takes real responsibility for the child. We also see how Zain’s sister, Sarah was sold to a man when she was 11 and dies of a pregnancy, how his mother is endlessly pregnant with no way to make any money to feed her family or send anyone to school. We se how desperate circumstances have led the boys’ parents to behave brutally to him and to one another, to in effect sell Zain’s sister, their daughter, Sarah, age 11, who dies in childbirth (too young for pregnancy).

It’s an important movie for our time — Biden is continuing many of Trump’s heartless and cruel policies at the borders — not the separation of families. There is no excuse for this. This movie does have a sudden upbeat happy ending (sort of). See it.

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Then very much a Valentine’s Day film: Two of us, also on this film course’s list.


Nina (Barbara Sukowa) — much in love with Madeline, she has no family around her


Isabelle Huppert more recently (see her in the interviews just below)

Very touching. It’s about two lesbians who have grown old and one is nervous (Madeline), frightened of her two grown children (Anne and Frederick), never ever admitted how she loathed her bullying husband (who made a lot of money if her apartment is any measure). Nina lives across the hall and yes people outside them think they are just friends. But they are deep lovers and as the movie opens, Nina is pressuring Madeline to sell her apartment so they can move to Rome permanently, Rome where they have been so happy.

What happens: Mado has a stroke, and is parallel to a movie so long ago, The Single Man, for which Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar where two homosexual men have deep true life and one dies (Matthew Goode) and the other (Firth) is closed out by the family. Goode leaves everything to Firth, an English teacher. Goode’s family know about the gay life style and enjoy spitefully excluding Firth and beating back the will. Firth comes near suicide, pulls back, just in time.

Here the women hid, and Nina has to break through a caregiver who loathes her as competition. There is much inexplicable imagery. As the film opens, Nina has a dream of herself as a child saving Madeline as a child. Black birds or crows come and go. Nina becomes violent and axes the daughter’s care to get the caregiver in trouble and fired. Gradually the daughter realizes there is something special here. When she first sees a photo of the two women together in Rome, she is revulsed, and puts her mother in a home where the mother is drugged into compliance. The caregiver and her son come and threaten Nina, and when she is out, destroy her things in her apartment insofar as they can and steal what money she has. My mother had a caregiver just like this desperate hard angry woman. Anne witnesses her mother try to come out of her stasis to reach Nina, and Nina try to run away with her. Anne thinks again, and chases her mother and her mother’s lover back to her mother’s apartment, where they are quietly dancing together. The movie ends with Anne banging frantically on the door, saying she didn’t understand.

There is hope. Anne has brought a kitten for her mother while the mother was with the caregiver. We see it in the hall and may hope Madeline’s money will be enough and they will be left alone again. Such movies do show up the ratcheted up cheer of All Creatures and Small – how much truer to life this. Real anxiety Real trouble. It’s about aging and loneliness. There are as fine reviews of this as The Lost Daughter.

And two thoughtful interviews conducted by Isabelle Huppert (a fine French actress. One with the director, this his first film. The other between Huppert and Sukowa: listen to two actresses talk shop It’s very unusual to talk candidly about the problem of enacting, emulating having sex in front of a camera.

Don’t throw your evening out to become an object sold by one company to another to sell awful products at enormous prices.

I conclude with an excellent essay-review by Elif Batuman of the film-oeuvre of Celine Sciamma. Batuman shows how Sciamma is seeking out and inventing a new grammar of cinema to express a feminist and feminine quest for an authentic existence as a woman experiencing a full life: Now You See Me. I quote from it on The Portrait of a Lady on Fire:

The “female gaze,” a term often invoked by and about Sciamma, is an analogue of the “male gaze,” popularized in the nineteen-seventies to describe the implied perspective of Hollywood movies—the way they encouraged a viewer to see women as desirable objects, often fragmented into legs, bosoms, and other nonautonomous morsels. For Sciamma, the female gaze operates on a cinematographic level, for example in the central sex scene in “Portrait.” Héloïse and Marianne are both in the frame, they seem unconcerned by their own nudity, the camera is stationary—not roving around their bodies—and there isn’t any editing. The goal is to share their intimacy—not to lurk around ogling it, or to collect varied perspectives on it.

Mira Nair (filming A Suitable Boy) and Celinne Sciamma

.

Ellen

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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Days: Wednesday mornings, 9:40 to 11:05 am,
Jan 26 to Feb 16
4 sessions online, zoom meeting style (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Virginia) 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course: F407 is Retelling Traditional History & Tales from an Alternative POV

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Irish Origo (a British-Italian biographer and memoir-writer, and literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her estates in Tuscany during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author who won numerous German literary-political prizes) tells the story of Troy from Cassandra’s point of view, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet. The second book was written after the war was over and after a trip the author took to Greece. The immediate context for both books is World War Two; long range, they are anti-war (a particular aim in Cassandra is nuclear disarmament): they tell history from a woman’s standpoint; one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

During the time covered by Origo’s diary, she takes in and creates a school for 23 refugee children; she and her husband hide partisans, and protect various disconnected endangered people; a real problem is the German disproportionate and terrifying reprisals & their dropping of landmines everywhere across Italy. So one BBC serial (1979), Danger UXB, we will discuss is made up of a story of a bomb disposal unit and I may suggest watching a couple of episodes (TBA); among other parts of her life, Christa Wolf was coerced into becoming an informant for the Stasi, so I will urge people to see the powerful film, The Lives of Others directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck by the fourth week of term; the heroine’s story is said to be partly based on Christa Wolf.

Required Texts (in the order we’ll read them):

Origo, Iris. War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, introd. Virginia Nicholson. NY: NY Review of Books Classics, 2017.
Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays, trans. from German Jan Van Heurck. NY: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1984.

Note: War in the Val D’Orcia has not been out of print since it was first published in 1947; there are a couple of other editions, which could cost less, but this one has an introduction, notes and photos. Cassandra also has not been out of print since first published (1983, German) but this is the only edition; what’s happened is there are editions of just Cassandra available (same translator) but you miss a lot about the book if you don’t read the four afterpieces, two travelogues, one diary, and some thoughts on the book and other 20th century European women writers.


Iris Origo in later life


Christa Wolf, 2007 (Berlin)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Jan 26: Introduction: Iris Origo, Life and Work, the Diary in the context of the war all around the estate

Feb 2: Her earlier diary, A Chill in the Air, an Italian War Diary, 1939-40; her essays on the fascism build-up in Italy; other diaries, e.g, Norman Lewis, Naples ’44; Eva Figes, Little Eden, A Child at War. The reprisals and landmines (Danger UXB)

Feb 10: Christa Wolf’s Life and Work, Cassandra and Four Essays, in the context of usual tellings of Iliad/Aeneid story, including Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (play where Cassandra and Agamemnon are killed by Clytemnestra), Euripides’s Trojan Women, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

Feb 17: More discussion of Wolf’s Cassandra, the four afterwards (especially travel in Greece and diary); women’s novels & memoirs from the era (historical fiction); The Lives of Others: on an autocratic gov’t and society (Wolf’s Patterns of Childhood, what living in a fascist dictatorship is like).


An actress playing Cassandra from recent translation of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, as translated by Robert Fagles

Suggested outside reading or watching (a bibliography):

Du Maurier, Daphne. The KIng’s General, introd. Julie Picardie. 1946; rpt. London, Virago, 2006. Historical fiction retells history of seige of Menabilly and war in Cornwall 17th century.
Duras, Marguerite. The War: A Memoir, trans. Barbara Bray. NY: Pantheon, 1986.
Feder, Lillian. A Handbook of Classical Literature. 1964; rpt NY: Da Capo, 1998. Very accessible.
Figes, Eva. Little Eden: A Child at War. NY: Persea, 1978.
———–. The Seven Ages [of Women]. NY: Pantheon, 1986. Fantasy retelling of all history in England, from Neolithic to 20th century by unfamous central women types (e.g. midwives, one is an aristocratic woman, Lady Brilliana Harvey who really held out in 17th century siege of her castle-like manor house)
Finley, M. I The World of Odysseus. Middlesex, Eng: Penguin, 1954; 1984; rpt. Ancient History: Evidence and Models. NY: Viking Penguin, 1987.
Finney, Gail. Christa Wolf. Boston: Twayne, 2010. Short biography and survey of her writings.
Holden, Inez. Blitz Writing: Night Shift and It was Different at the Time, ed Kristin Bluemel. 1941; rpt. London: Handheld, 2017.
Lewis, Norman. Naples ’44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1978
Lochhead, Liz. Medea: After Euripides. London: Nick Hern, 2000; rpt. Glasgow: Theater Babel, 2007.
Moorehead, Caroline. Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia: A Biography. Boston: Godine, 2002.
Nightingale, Florence. Cassandra, introd. Myra Stark, epilogue Cynthia Macdonald. NY: Feminist Press, 1979.
Origo, Iris. A Chill in the Air, An Italian War Diary, 1939-40. introd. Lucy Hughes-Hallett. NY: NY Review of Books classic, 2017.
———–. Images and Shadows: an autobiography. Boston: Godine, 1970.
———–. A Need to Testify, foreword Ted Morgan. NY: Books & Co, 1984. On history of biography, and portraits of people she knew in the 1930s, who worked as anti-fascists
Wolf, Christa. Medea: A Modern Retelling, trans. John Cullen, introd. Margaret Atwood. 1998; rpt. NY: Doubleday, 2005.
————-. Quest for Christa T, trans Christopher Middleton. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1970. Semi-autobiographical.
————-. Parting with Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-93, trans, notes Jan Van Heurck. Univ. Chicago, 1997.
————-. Patterns of Childhood (sometimes titled A Model Childhood), trans. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1980.

Movies:

Danger UXB. Developed John Hawkesworth and John Whitney. Various writers and directors, based on stories by Maj A.B. Hartley. Perf. include Antony Andrews, Judy Geeson. Available on Amazon Prime.
A French Village. Developed by Frederic Krivine, Phillipe Triboit. Various writers & directors. 7 year French serial set in occupied Vichy France, 1941-1946, with fast forward to 1975; 2002. Amazon prime, also to buy as DVD sets.
The Lives of Others. Dir. Script. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Perf. include Ulrich Mulne, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch. Independent. Available at Amazon Prime, as DVD on Netflix, to buy as DVD
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Dir. Jonathan Miller. Perf. include Benjamin Whitlow, Anton Lesser, Suzanne Burden. BBC 1981 movie. Available on Amazon Prime.


Montepulciano, town, commune (history begins in the medieval and Renaissance eras) close to Origo estates, to which everyone who can flees & takes refuge during a particularly dangerous period

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A double stock flower (tagetes patula?)

Dear friends and readers,

After all I have something for Christmas this year: it’s a beautiful poem that Anne Finch wrote and sent to Lady Selena Finch Shirley (1681-1762), a graceful compliment also meant for Lady Selena’s daughter, also called Selena.

Finch says looking upon the flower in its ripe prime (paradoxically during winter) reminds her of the time when she “That beauteous maid wou’d view/The green house where I liv’d retired;” that is, between 1700 and 1703 when Anne lived at Wye Shirley Finch would come to visit her in a green house or garden near Wye. This was when Finch was enduring the aftermath or getting over one of her intermittent depressive breakdowns, this one partly brought on by the anxiety over the flight of the Stuart court, Heneage’s attempted flight with them, and his arrest, bail, and threatened trial for Jacobitism, and a conviction of treason. In the event he was freed and left to live quietly (no office for him of course).


Here is Wye, now a college in Kent, where Anne wrote some of her most beautiful poetry, much of it melancholy and personal

This time included the first years of Lady Selena’s life with her husband, Robert Shirley, Lord Ferrers (1650-1717); married to him in 1699, she went on to have ten children. She was a daughter of George (and Jane?) Finch; thus a relative of the Finches (whom Cameron located living at Wye College in the early 1700’s). One woman recovering from mental distress and trouble, and the other incessantly pregnant, they made a pair together. Now fate or destiny has made Selena a widow and placed her in the country, and made Anne a Countess too, most unexpectedly also placing her in town (both the result of the inheritance by Heneage of the earldom when his nephew, Charles, died so young), in town where she is in need of the rejuvenating presence of her friend.


This is apparently an image of Lady Selena Finch Shirley when young

Writing the poem and imagining the flower brings together in Anne’s mind the two women’s minds together, makes them alive to one another through the medium of these words in a verse epistle. These are sentiments Anne expressed in her In Praise of the Invention of writing Letters).

Gentle reader, you must read it aloud slowly, savoring the tones of this renewal of friendship at a distance between the two friends

How is it in this chilling time,
When frost and snows the season claim,
This flow’ring plant is in its prime,
Which of July assumes the name?

But since we poets speech bestow,
And form what dialogues we please,
With animals or plants that grow,
And make them answer us with ease.

Tell me (said I) prolifick stock,
Which do’st these fragrant treasures bring,
What is it can such stores unlock,
At Christmas as outvie the spring?

Thus ask’d, the flower of tinctur’d bloome,
Soon blush’t into a deeper dye,
Cast stronger odours round the room,
And sweetly breath’d out this reply.

Tis true, all plants of my nice sort
Have not such license to appear,
But wait till Phoebus keeps his court,
In the hot circle of the year.

Whilst I a brighter influence own,
Than is imparted from the skies;
Nor take my blossoms thus full blown,
From summer, but Selena’s eyes.

Her cheering smile, her modest air,
Did me to this perfection charm;
For nothing droops when near the fair,
But all is lively, all is warm.

That beauteous maid wou’d often view
The green house where I liv’d retired,* *Wye
Who did such early graces shew,
That I to suit them was inspired.

Sometimes a sprig from me, I thought,
Might happily adorn her hair,
Or pardon me if ’twas a fault,
Might rest upon her bosom bare.

My soft perfumes for her design’d,
I ev’n from Zephyrus withdrew;
Unless when that obliging wind
Wou’d shed them round her as he flew.

Delighted when by me she stood,
I wish’d for some transforming art.
For had I then been flesh and blood,
I should have told her all my heart.

Yet I to Flora softly pray’d,
To hasten my disclosing day;
Who doating on the fairer maid,
For her does now my buds display.

But from a strange reverse of fate,
She to the country, I the town, *Anne in town
Have sadly been remov’d of late,
And neither to advantage shown.

Then let none blame you, if my flower
Beneath your roof is faded seen,
But know that such enlivening power
Is only granted to fifteen.

I for Selena shall repine,
And when some noble youths you see,
Bow their dejected heads like mine,
Think in our passions we agree.

What farther answer cou’d be made,
Or father question could I try?
Then let her come, and cheer our shade,
Or men and plants in town must die.

On this fourth of January 2022, two days before twelfth night.


Melissa Scott Miller, A Dusting of Snow at Islington Gardens, 21st century (don’t miss the cat)

Ellen

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Sisters, 1891, Elin Danielson-Gambogi (Finnish), 1861-1919. Quiet female friendship is such a rare topic (except the woman painter be painting discipleship) for fine painting, one must go to novel illustrations and I can’t think of any of sufficient beauty for my purpose

From the Circuit of Appollo, a poem by Anne where she names (unfortunately using pseudonyms) other women poets she knew in Kent:

Appollo, as lately a Circuit he made,
Throo’ the lands of the Muses, when Kent he survey’d,
And saw there that Poets were not very common,
But most that pretended to Verse, were the Women
Resolv’d, to encourage, the few that he found,
And she that writ best, with a wreath should be crown’d …

But now to proceed, and their merritts to know,
Before he on any, the Bay’s wou’d bestow,
He order’d them each, in their several way,
To show him their papers, to sing, or to say …

When Alinda began, with a Song upon Love.
So easy the Verse, yett compos’d with such art,
That not on expression, fell short of the heart …

If Laura, not quickly a paper had read,
Wherein she Orinda, had praised so high,
He own’d it had reach’dhim, while yett in the sky …

‘Till Valeria, withdrew him a little from thence,
And told him, as soon as she’d got him aside,
Her works, by no other, but him shou’d be try’d;
Which so often he read and with still new delight,
That Judgment ’twas thought wou’d not passe ’til ’twas night …

Dear friends and readers,

This is not the first blog I’ve written in the spirit of trying to understand something which I’m having trouble making clear to myself because various sources for the topic are confusing. It is also not the first blog I’ve written about women’s friendships, especially women poets for one another, as seen in letters or novels — or just life, using other documents left from the relationship. Anne Finch’s crucial relationships as a woman and poet or woman poet may be divided into 1) real living women she knew we know were themselves poets, and to whom Finch wrote poems, and whom the poems interchanged show a deep relationship’; 2) poetry by women Finch read whom she interacted deeply with as her predecessors, and I take these to be Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips; 3) real living women, to whom Finch was very close, often related to, to whom she wrote poetry or whom she put as figures in her poems, but who themselves did not write poetry and who may not have been intellectual at all. This blog presents the first two groups.

I gather together first what we know of her and Catherine Fleming (Flavia) then move on to women Anne got to know as or through relatives, who loved who understood and wrote poetry too, e.g, Frances Thynne Seymour, Lady Hertford (Hartford).

There are altogether five poems from Anne Finch to or for her apparently close and much valued friend, Catherine Fleming. We can date the friendship from the 1701 Gilden’s Miscellany when Nicholas Rowe’s epistolary poem to Flavia in priase of Ardelia is printed; he was probably not the first and certainly not the last to urg Finch to overcome her reluctance to publish. Anne’s friendship with Catherine Fleming lasted to the end of Finch’s life, as their last poems are exchanges in 1718.  One of these poems is another of these dreadful paraphrases of the Bible; it is clear that Finch is reluctant; her reluctance to do this kind of thing any more (it’s seen in the Northampton and Folger ms’s), shows she knows how bad they are. In the Wellesley MS generally speaking her religious poetry has become brief concise lyrics using some of the techniques she practiced in her nature poetry and may be seen in her free adaptations of fables and translations (found in her published poetry after 1709).

There is also one poem by Nicholas Rowe to Catherine Fleming where he addresses her as Finch’s friend who understands the value of Finch’s poetry.

Finally, there is one poem by Fleming to Finch thanking her for attempting the paraphrase of the last chapter of Ecclesiastes.

So altogether seven poems.

No letters. I adhere to Sarah Sard Hughes’ explanation: after her exhausting bouts with melancholia, Finch was left with a trembling hand; to which I add no one wanted to leave clear evidence of her struggle against depression while she was under its power, only what she wrote of her experiences afterwards.

I place them in the order I surmise they were more or less written.

Not a single one by Finch nor was Fleming’s one poem was published — yet Finch’s epistolary poems (or ballads as they are called in some ms’s) are so appealing, indeed fun and wonderful in so many ways: Nos. 4, and 5 represent her at her best, esp. “From me who whileom sung the town.”

1) Ms Wellesley, pp 57-58.  “Oh! friendship, how prevailing is thy force?“, from “To Flavia. By whose perswasion I undertook the following Paraphrase” (“The last chapter of Eclesiastes . . . In the full strength, of thy created frame” Described in my first blog upon beginning this review project; but the poem also appears in Ms Harleian described here. So I think this series of three earlier than Ms Wellesley.

2) Ms Harleian, 71-81, “The Preacher thus, to Man, his speech adrest,” “The last chapter of Eclesiastes Paraphras’d Inscribed to Mrs Catherine Fleming.” This also occurs in Ms Wellesley, pp 59-65, which since it was created by Heneage and Anne should be the chosen copytext over Ms Harleian because I believe Ms Harleian to have been collected before MS Wellesley, though not much before.

3) Ms Harleian, 44-46, “To Coleshill, Seat of Noble Pen,” “For Mrs Catherine Flemming at ye Lord Digby’s at Coleshill in Warwickshire,” also called “A Ballad” in other manuscripts. Poem also occurs in MS Portland, XX, 10-11 (highly unclear, squeezed in, looks like Heneage’s hand in old age), which is described here; and MS Additional 28101, 163v-164r (clear attribution: “By the Countess of Winchelsea”). So I suggest this poem is also somewhat earlier than those copied into the Ms Wellesley.

4) Ms Wellesley, “‘Tis now my dearest friend become your turn,”, “An Epistle to Mrs Catherine Fleming at Coleshill in Warwickshire but hastily perform’d & not corrected. London October ye 8th: 1718.” Not printed until 1988 Ellis d’Alessandro prints Wellesley text, 109-11; McGovern & Hinnant, 42-44.

5) Ms Harleian, 47r-48v, “From me who whileom sung the Town”, “A Ballad to Mrs Catherine Fleming in London from Malshanger farm in Hampshire.” Also occurs in MS Wellesley, 89-91, which then takes precedent as a copy text; however it is notable that this poem and “To Coleshill, Seat of Noble Pen,” occur in tandem in the MS Harleian, which seems to me the right way they should be published, and unless someone does another selection where taste and consideration of who Anne Finch was as an individual and what her best, finest, genius poetry is about, this will be the only place the reader can find them together.

Catherine Fleming’s one poem to Finch:

1) Ms Harleian, pp 77r-77v. “My heart ov’rlow’s with Gratitude and Joy,” “By Flavia: To the Rt Hon ble Ann Countess of Winchelsea on her Obliging Compliance with my request to Paraphrase the last Chapter in Ecclesiastes.” Also occurs in MS Wellesey, p 59. Fleming’s inner life of “baffled cares” revealed.

What appeared in print:

1) 1701, “An Epistle to Flavia,” on the Sight of two Pindarick Odes on Spleen and Vanity. Written by a Lady to her Friend. by Nicholas Rowe. Flavia, to you with safety I commend. p. 53, introduces long section of poems by Finch. 1701 New Miscellany, described here. This one with 5 poems by Finch, one of which remains explicitly denied her in the Collected Poems. Note too the only published poem is by a man.

Here are three of Finch’s typical light social poems, the last of which is arguably a masterpiece, and none of them saw the light of day or came under readers’ eyes until 250 years later and all are now presented in forms where the reader is prevented from being able to respond properly to them because they are out of context.

What do we know about Catherine Fleming?

So Keith in her 2nd volume of the Cambridge Works, at the back, as part of the notes to “Oh! friendship, how prevailing is thy force?” tells us Catherine Fleming died in 1736 (so 16 years after Finch), was daughter of Robert Jefferson and wife of Archdeacon Sir George Fleming (1667-1747), who eventually became Bishop of Carlisle (c 1708?).  Then as part of the notes to the paraphrase, that Catherine had three daughters who lived to adulthood and one son, a William Gibson (why the change of last name is not explained). To give them their due, the chronology of Anne’s life in both volumes in front does single out these women as events in Anne’s life. Catherine Fleming is also mentioned in “Advertisement for the Gazette …” “whereas ’tis spread about the town,” as well as her sister (?), Ann Fleming. McGovern and Hinnant tell us that Fleming was also a friend of Lady Scudamore, cousin to Robert Digby, friend to Alexander Pope; it’s she that Catherine Fleming went to visit; the Flemings are part of the Digby clan. Fleming was Pope’s friend too. In her life of Finch, McGovern cites her name as a friend, and tells us nothing at all beyond citing these poems.

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


A still from a film, Dyke Pussy (2008) where Allyson Mitchell’s sculptures are seen: or, more plainly, two cats as friends who mirror one another

After Catherine Fleming, the second most in number and seriousness of feeling are to Francis Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford (1699-1754), about whom I’ve written a blog. The three include a masterpiece (“Hartford ’tis wrong …”), and one very touching, oh so poignant (“Of sleeplesse nights, and days with care o’ercast”) showing Anne assumed real understanding and sympathy from her great-niece (the line: first her grandmother, Francis Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth (Ephelia), and then Lady Weymouth’s daughter-in-law, Lady Hertford’s mother, Grace Strode Thynne (Cleone), see my next blog on poems to women who were not themselves poets). Lady Hertford is once referred  to as Aspasia.

1) No MS; 1741 Birch, X, 179, “Of sleepless nights, and days with care o’ercast,” “To the Right Honorable the Countess of Hartford, with her volume of poems

2) MS Additional 4457, p59r, “Joy from a zealous pen Ardelia [therefore ascribed] sends,” “To the Countess of Hartford on her Lord’s Birthday.

3) MS Wellesley, 72-6, “Hartford ’tis wrong if Poets may complain,” “To the Right Honourable Frances Countess of Hartford who engaged Mr Eusden to write upon a wood enjoining him to mention no tree but the Aspen & no flower but the King-cup.”

There is one to a Mrs [Grace] Randolph who is Laura in “The Circuit of Apollo,”. These two poems sound like women who know each other distantly, let’s say through their work, but are not yet friends; we may hope that by “The Circuit of Apollo,” Finch and Grace Blome (1674-1750), from an established Kent family; married to Herbert Randolph on June 27, 1700, Randolph had 12 children (!), but is known to have written three creditable poems besides the one to Finch (Keith, Vol 1, pp 534-35). There is real warmth in both poems; they felt an affinity and mutual respect and understanding. The first by Anne is one of her fine poems.

1) MS Folger, 48-49, “Madam, ’till pow’rfully convinc’d by you,” “An Epistle, from Ardelia, to Mrs Randolph, in answer to her poem upon her verses,”

and one from her:

2) MS Folger, np (2nd poem in tribute in the opening section), “Madam, As when the Macedonian Conqu’rour dy’d,” “An Epistle, from Mrs Randolph to Mrs Finch; upon her presenting her with some of her poems”

A second poet from “The Circuit of Apollo” identified by Anne Finch as Valeria, could very well be Sarah Dixon, about whom both Ann Messenger (Pastoral Tradition and the Female Talent) and Deborah Kennedy (see below) have written; Kennedy identifies Dixon with Finch’s Valeria in the poem where the poet’s lack of physical beauty is compensated for by her inner beauty. The selection chosen by Roger Lonsdale in his Eighteenth-Century Women Poets does far more credit to Dixon than those discussed so anodynely by Kennedy. Sarah Dixon’s years were 1761-1765; her published poetry is all in the 18th century mode (Poems on Several Occasions, 1740, with a large list of impressive subscribers). It’s not certain she never married; there is evidence to suggest she was a widow. She came from an important Royalist family in Rochester in Kent; her grandfather, Sir Robert Dixon (1614-88), was a published writer himself who served Charles I during the civil; he was rewarded by Charles II with the Prebendary of Rochester Cathedral.  “The agreeable” suggests a genuine understanding between two women (for otherwise would Finch have dared to go on about Dixon’s lack of attractiveness?). While “Clarinda’s Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty” suggests a dialogue with the self (that is, Finch is Clorinda), nonetheless, the theme so insisted upon is found repeatedly in Dixon’s poetry and I suggest is understood better when seen in the context of women’s bitter discussions on the importance of fleeting physical beauty, and while probably not by Finch, the existence of “Cosmelia’s Charms” in a later ms with a row of Finch’s poems brings alive how these women related to one another empathetically.

1) Ms Wellesley, p 95. “She is not fair you criticks of the Town,” The Agreeable [second poem so titled in Wellesley MS].

2) MSs F-H 283, Folger 13, “Now age came on and all the dismall traine,” Clarinda’s Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty [Folger, a later copying over of a another censured title]. A deeply felt and angry poem (even if it’s embarrassing)

A third poet from “The Circuit of Apollo” had been identified: Alinda or Olinda is Elizabeth Wythens (nee Taylor), later Colepepper. She is also alluded to in “Ardelia’s Answer to Ephelia,” in a deliberately obscured but sympathetic way. Alinda/Olinda was daughter to Sir Thomas Taylor, a baronet at Park House, Maidstone, Kent (and thus a Kentish poetess), forcibly married to a man very much older than she (Sir Francis Wythens) in 1685 to stop a love affair with Sir Thomas Colepepper. After the marriage, she seems to have quickly left Wythens to live with Colepepper, eventually living with him in his villa (and bringing with her children by Wythens whom Colepepper eventually successfully sued for support); Wythens died in 1704 (note the many years Elizabeth endured a marriage, for the husband would visit her), upon which Elizabeth and Colepepper married. She died in 1708. The story is told by Germaine Greer, in her notes to Elizabeth Taylor’s poetry, all well chosen, with an understandable animus against male behavior that reveals the milieu of Anne Finch’s early songs (Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of 17th Century Women’s Verse, pp 294-98). Taylor is alluded to by Keith, but only insofar as is absolutely necessary to identify her as Alinda (Vol 1, pp 461-62, and 529).

1) MS Folger, 6-11, “Me, dear Ephelia, me, in vain you court,” Ardelia’s answer to Ephelia, who had invited Her to come to her in Town–reflecting on the Coquetterie & detracting humour of the Age,” as brilliant as that of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, both of which find an ultimate source in Boileau’s Satire III (itself an imitation of Horace’s Satire I, ix). The poem is to Francis Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth, but these lines are a sort of defense of Elizabeth Taylor Wythens Colepepper:

Can I dislike I cry, what all admire,
Discreet, and witty, civill and refin’d,
Nor, in her person fairer, then her mind,
Is yong, Alinda, if report be just,
For half the Caracter, my eyes I trust.
What chang’d Almeria, on a suddain cold,
As if I of your freind, some tale had told?

No, she replyes, but when I hear her praise,
A secret failing, does my pitty raise,
Damon she loves, and ’tis my dayly care,
To keep the passion from the publick ear.

I ask, amaz’d, if this she has reveal’d,
No, but ’tis true she crys, though much conceal’d,
I have observ’d itt long, but wou’d betray
But to your self, what now with greif I say,
Who this, to no’ne, but Confidents must break,
Nor they to others, but in whispers speak;
I am her friend, and must consult her fame ….

More was she saying, when fresh objects came,
Now what’s that thing, she crys, Ardelia guesse?

Finch is identifying strongly with Alinda as someone who has behaved in ways their societies use to ostracize them (Finch’s transgressive is probably her depression).

It’s arguable that Elizabeth Rowe, Philomena, meant a great deal to Finch: she was so much better known, and respected than most women poets; perhaps they saw one another more often, having connections with people each of them were close to. Finch singles Rowe out twice in her poetry as part of a “celebrity” so-to-speak poetic world; there is evidence they moved in the same circles in Kent and southern England.

Still, I can find no real closeness, no intimacy recorded between Anne Finch and Elizabeth Rowe. There is but one letter by Rowe and that to Grace Strode, telling Strode to thank Finch for sending a copy of a poem, apparently in response to some sign of recognition by Finch to Grace Strode (Sarah Sard Hughes, and McGovern, AF and her poetry, pp 118-19). The lack of direct communication, and tone of the letter does not signal a close relationship; only if the following is by Finch, can we posit a certain amount of intimate camaraderie and friendship.

1) Ms Additional 28101, “Prithee Friend that Hedge behold,” “To a fellow Scribbler. By Lady Winchilsea,” may be to Elizabeth Rowe, as Cameron surmised, so the felt personal connection makes sense — it’s through shared anger at the way women poets are treated. The evidence that this poem is to Rowe includes that it occurs in an ma with two poems to Lady Hertford, one by Finch to Grace Strode, and one by Rowe, grieving intensely a year after her husband died, and two to Lady Arabella Marrow — all part of a narrow circle of friends.

Prithee Friend that Hedge behold
When all we rhiming Fools grow old
Who in vain Florish Life have spent
Amidst it stands a rivall’d Tree,
Now representing sixty three
And like it you and I shall be.
The bare vine round about it clings
With mischievous, intangling Strings
The night Shade with a dismal Flow’r
Culrs o’er it, like a Lady’s Tower
Or Honesty with feather’d Down
Like grizled Hair deforms its Crown
Luxuriant plants that o’er it spread
Not medicinal for Heart or Head
Whch serve but to amuse the Sight
Are like the nothings that we write
Yet still ’tis thought that Tree’s well plac’d
With beauteous Eglantine imbrac’d
But see how false Appearance proves
If he that Honeysuckle Loves
Which climbs by him to reach the Thorns
The rival Thorn his Age derides
And gnaws like jealousy his Sides.
Then let us cease, my Friend, to sing
When ever youth is on the Wing
Unless we solidly indite
Some good Infusing while we write
Lest with our Follies hung around
We like that Tree & Hedge be found
Grotesque & trivial, shun’d by all
And soon forgotten when we fall.

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The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain by Richard Samuel, 1779. The sitters are (standing, left to right): Elizabeth Carter, Anna Barbauld, Elizabeth Sheridan, Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox; (seated, left to right): Angelica Kauffmann, Catherine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Griffith …

Moving into women poets before her time, poets Finch didn’t know well or not at all but were famous in her time:

With the best will in the world towards their books, which I have loved parts of and honor: Deborah Kennedy has written an admirable book, Poetic Sisters: Early 18th Century Women Poets, where she has chapters on Anne Finch, Elizabeth Rowe, Francis Thynne Seymour, Sarah Dixon and Mary Jones (see my foremother poet blog, 1707-78, Chantress), but while she unearths information and poems, she does not use poems by these women that discuss or are about these women’s relationships, or vocations, or real life problems, and when she discusses the women or their lives, it’s done in such a vein of optimistic naivete I just cannot take what she asserts about people’s relationships seriously.

Carol Barash, English Women’s Poetry, 1649-1714: Politics, Community and Linguistic Authority, wants us to believe that the poetry of Anne Killigrew, of Mary Chudleigh, and Sarah Edgerton, and prose of Mary Astell influenced and were important to Finch, but there is no evidence for this in their different bodies of poetry. I look for some allusion, some reference, and find none. Germaine Greer’s anthology of 17th century women’s poetry (I would very much like to link Anne Wharton’s poetry to Finch but find nothing) and her Slipshod Muses if read astutely can yield much but it would be all speculation. Finch’s predecessors in English who meant a lot to her for sure, were Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips, both their highly sexualized poems (by which I mean the erotic and lesbian poetry too, their translations) and their witty ones.  We have many lines of poetry by Anne which attest to this: praise of them, imitations, using them as models.

Anne Finch was much moved by the plays and actresses of her era, and left a poem for Anne Oldfield to speaks as an epilogue which expressed her response to the tragic-queen plays of the era: see my “I hate such parts as we have plaid today. I see little influence on her by the female playwrights of her era, I am sorry to say, and we cannot know what she read in manuscript of earlier and contemporary women’s plays (except those she might have mentioned and we have no mentions). And her translation studies led her to Sappho as presented by Anne Dacier. There are a least three blogs here, but I have outlined what I intend to say. The poem that I want here to allude to that is important (when we think about the possibility she wrote the libretto for John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and the intense sexuality of her Italian via the French translations) is Behn’s “The Golden Age,” and her adaptation of “A Voyage to the Isle of Love.”

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So I’ve here identified Catherine Fleming, Francis Thynne Seymour, Grace Randolph, Sarah Dixon, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elizabeth Rowe as her contemporary peers and friends; Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips as her predecessors in English. We’ve seen she was part of circles where there were other women poets. Elizabeth Tollet (1694-1754) wrote one of the earliest tributes to Anne Finch; Tollet was following Finch she felt, but the poem does not suggest any friendship. Here is poem by her from my foremother poet blog about her. You will find there a ballad by Tollet very much in the vein of Finch to Fleming, where Tollet also pays tribute to the importance of friendship for her

Adieu my Friend

Adieu my Friend! and may thy Woes
Be all in long Oblivion lost:
If Innocence can give Repose;
Or gentle Verse can please thy Ghost.
No pious Rite, no solemn Knell
Attended thy belov’d Remains:
Nor shall the letter’d Marble tell
What silent Earth the Charge contains.

Obscure, beneath the nameless Stone,
With thee shall Truth and Virtue sleep:
While, with her Lamp, the Muse alone,
Shall watch thy sacred Dust and weep.

Blue Violets, and Snow-Drops pale,
In pearly Dew for thee shall mourn:
And humble Lillies of the Vale
Shall cover thy neglected Urn.


Angela Kauffman (1741-1807), A girl reading a letter

Ellen

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Thus even in sleep conscience’s anxiety/pounds the heart awake — Christa Wolf, translating Aeschylus, Cassandra (p 216)

Dear friends and readers,

Today I returned for a third time to my project to read carefully, review and evaluate and then write a comprehensive accurate review of the new Cambridge edition of Anne Finch’s poetry. What strikes me most is “what lengths of time” I have been about this project: beginning sometime in April and then writing on June 30, 2020 on a first phase — that’s a year and six months ago — ; having had to put it down because of press of other work, and starting again, probably in August, and writing up my findings on September 20, 2020 — that’s three months later –; and now here I find, astonishingly, another whole year and six months have passed again, as I once again begin.

You will say this must be procrastination, and yes it is partly that. I am intimidated; I am referred to in the volumes in a sublimely impersonal condescending way, and I’ve been snubbed by this editor, perhaps unconsciously.  I cannot say she recognized me, though it was in a zoom where I spoke and I cannot believe she does not remember my name as she mentioned my work quite a number of times throughout the first volume, at one point taking out paragraphs to argue with my view, and I’m cited as a key source in both volumes. So I am working to be utterly accurate and when I disagree (which I will) want to make my case in a way that she will not be able to dismiss me (or others who agree with me), especially on some of the unattributed poetry.

But it also has been that it was not until this June (2021) that I actually got my hands on Volume 2. That is when I began work again, and produced two lists of Finch’s poem, each representing work done individually and comparatively. I went over manuscript cultural studies, caught up on all the new studies of Finch that had been written about since I reviewed the Hinnant-McGovern edition of the Wellesley ms, and wrote a couple of papers for 18th century conferences.

Gentle reader, I began with Anne Finch so long ago: really it was 1980, shortly after I finished my dissertation. I took up two women when I moved to Virginia: Charlotte Smith and Anne Finch, two 18th century English poets whose poetry I loved. Then after I spent some years translating Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, I studied Finch as a translator in 1993-94, then I tried writing a Life but put it on the Net unfinished in 2004 as I On Myself Can Live because I learned of McGovern’s biography, and understood I didn’t have the connections, money, social wherewithal to do it right. Then I got involved with a musical quartet, Apollo’s Muse, 2001 I wrote again a shorter Later Life. What lengths of time.

Well now I will not give over. I have promised myself not to volunteer for any more papers, or any more reviews until I’ve finished writing this and sending it to the editor of the 18th century Intelligencer. I will not take too many courses; I’ve done a lot of the basic work towards the courses I will be teaching for the coming winter, spring and summer — I can read more of course and will. But I will weave Anne Finch in. I’ll work on Austen slowly and continuously but as for a blog (I’m reading Sheila Johnson Kindred’s Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: the Life and Letter of Fanny Palmer Austen as a central text to review here)

What I want to do tonight beyond marking this date for myself is add another poem by Anne Finch and sum up my findings thus far concisely.

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A photograph of a singing nightingale

Yes a new poem definitely by Anne Finch has been found, which is not on my website; I’m sorry I cannot add it there, but I can describe it here and tell where it may be found — beyond the New Complete Poems. Vol 2, pp 215-16, with annotations pp 458-64. It is another bird poem, a fable, and about song: titled “The Nightingale & the Cuckoo,” it was found by Gillian Wright in another of the Northamptonshire Record Office’s manuscripts, MS 258, deposited there as part of the Finch archive in 1930, by the Earl of Nottinghamshire and Winchilea. Like the other unattributed poems I found in other ms’s, it is part of a row or list of poems, all known to be by Anne Finch. The 8 page manuscript is described, its history told, the other four poems in the ms, all by Anne Finch for sure, cited; the text of “The Nightingale and the Cuckoo quoted as it appears in the manuscript and then interpreted by Wright, all in her “The Bird and the Poet: Self-Representation and the Early Editing of Anne Finch’s poetry,” in The Review of English Studies, New Series, 64:264 (2013):246-66

“The Nightingale & the Cuckoo” is not a neglected masterpiece.  It’s a wry tale or fable, a little awkward towards the end, and Finch uses imagery and ideas found in her poetry elsewhere.  “The Musicians of the Wood” had long provided music for young men to “mollify their loves” without payment. It was “nois’d in every tree” that “Men resolv’d at last” to “pension” “the sweetest Voice.” Now this winner, the Nightingale (so she or he thinks) would no longer be hungry, “When Barns lock’d up the Grain.” The Nightingale, though, was assuming “merit Awards can raise,” but “not a Cuckoo left untry’d/Her Title to the Bays,” and in the end the “few” who understood the beauty of the Nightingale’s song “their Thoughts conceal’d,/Nor wou’d oppose the Crow’d.” The moral is “real Wits” who “contend with an ill-judging Age/Thus do You all your Labours spend” uselessly:

In vain, You wou’d sublimely write
An Epigram, a Punn;
A foul Burlesque gives more Delight,
King Charles’s days are done.

I agree with Keith that Wright’s idea in her essay that this unprinted poem was meant as a gift to Heneage, to thank him for being her amanuensis, is not convincing, and find Wright’s elaborate reading of the poem in the context of print publication over-reading though she does show how reluctant Anne Finch was to print anything that could be construed into mockery. But equally Keith’s invented narrative, concluding based on speculation (as she often does) about the relationship between Anne and her nephew, the heir, and between “The Nightingale & Cuckoo,” and the four other poems, that it was meant for Charles Finch, as a way of complimenting him as “real wit,” seems to me slightly off.

Keith has decided that Charles Finch wrote “The First Edilium of Bion English’d by the Right Honourable the Earl of Winchilsea,” partly on the basis of her idea he was a fine serious learned poet, and seriously encouraged Anne Finch to write poetry, to publish her work, for which she was earnestly grateful. We had three poems by her where she directly and indirectly addresses Charles. It seems we now have a fourth. On the translation of Bion James Woolley and John Irwin Fischer have decided (as have I) it is by Anne Finch.

The first poem we know of that was written to Charles Finch, who became fourth Earl of Winchilsea, was in response to his return to the UK from Holland in spring 1703 to take up his position as apparent to the Winchilsea estates. It seems to me she doesn’t know him very well as yet but is of course taking a hopeful view, and lavishing praise on him. It is an intendedly beautiful ode, and reads like a poem intended for circulation, impersonal (unlike the third, below), “NOW blow, ye Southern winds, with full release,” 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. There is no ms, and it first appears many years after in Pope’s Own Miscellany, 1717, long after Charles himself had died.

The second is an apology for “trying his patience” with reading aloud some of her tragedy, Aristomenes, here called “a tedious Play.” She pleads her loneliness at “Godmersham … Not sure to be endur’d, without the Muses.” She begs his pardon rather abjectly, and promises this play or poem read aloud will be the last time she does this. On Charles’s behalf it is apparent that she also tried to read aloud one of her plays to Pope over a dinner and it went down very badly (see below).

The third poem about Charles Finch is an exquisitely beautiful landscape poem which includes a reference to a curious story (not fully printed until 1903 by Myra Reynolds) where Finch refers to a superstitious story that attributed the death of Heneage’s father’s second wife and his eldest son to the Earl’s decision to take down a grove of oak. It was the death of this eldest son (Heneage’s older brother) which led to Charles Finch inheriting the property. Finch might have thought he would take this reference as a comical reference as the rest of her poem is an ambiguous compliment to him for replacing the old mullioned windows at Eastwell with clear glass and planting a new garden that mends all the faults (in taste) that “in the Old was found” (presumably one of the reasons the old Earl pulled it down). In her notes to this poem Myra Reynolds registers discomfort over the tactlessness of retelling the family history. At the time in the house was the old Earl’s young widow, with her four children, and the old earl’s oldest son’s widow, with her son, Charles Finch, destined to be heir. In one note I came across it seems the two women sometimes fought over who owned what furniture. (Shades of Spoils of Poynton, only much worse because more than one widow of very different ages, and a new wife to the new heir, Charles Finch.)

I do not disagree it is possible this fable was intended for Charles Finch; if so, and if we pay attention to what Anne’s epilogue to Aristomenes suggests, and the queasy feel of her ambiguous compliments to Finch (which Myra Reynolds were responsible for leaving lines out in the printed version), and the tradition of fables to which “The Nightingale & the Cuckoo” belong, we have our explanation for why it was never printed or re-copied out. There is a description of Charles Finch by Swift where Swift suggests he was a rather coarse ordinary but not ill-natured young man who enjoyed crude jokes. I admit I have yet to re-find it, but I am not misremembering the line; memo to self: I must find the passage in Swift’s complete poetry where I saw this in the notes. Charles Finch wrote no serious verse that we know of. Keith prints none of his letters nor does she quote from any and I have not myself been able to read any.

But I have read several of the fables in the tradition of the Nightingale in competition with birds who sing poorly, or plainly, or not at all (the hawk, the owl, the cuckoo) and those who present a contest where the moral is either against the prideful assumption you will be admired (often the nightingale in this role) or more than half mocks the judge.  The version that is the closest source for this new poem is, as Keith suggests in her notes, L’Estrange’s 414, “An Ass Made a Judge of Music,” 1692 text, reprinted 1704, pp 386-387. I agree the bird fable might have been written with Charles in mind, but not as a way of making him into a serious wit. Rather he was the kind of person who likes epigrams, puns, and burlesques. The solution to why it was never printed is that again someone decided Finch had been tactless and worried lest the poem be misinterpreted as implying Swift’s Charles Finch would have liked burlesque and therefore seen as an insult. I suggest she never forgot that he was bored at her play (as apparently was Pope whose comment about being given a headache by being asked to listen to a play read aloud, where he includes Lady Winchilsea at the table is probably to her Aristomenes). But I doubt she meant an outright insult; it was more in the vein of uncomfortable teasing.

I find that Keith idealizes a number of the people connected to Anne Finch or simplifies them psychologically — she never so much as brings out the considerable tensions between Anne and her husband we find here and there in Anne’s more personal poems. So I suggest that Anne Finch had been made uncomfortable by the nephew’s lack of real appreciation of her poetry — by the time of her reading her play aloud (or parts of it), each of them knew the other was far from sincere in the veneer of politeness and mutual admiration kept up. Yes he urged her to print, but apparently this was a trope among several of her friends and associates. The poem to Charles urging his return home was not published until way after his death.  We should remember she brought no dowry, had had no children. I assume the marriage was tolerated because of her aristocratic heritage and because at the time it would have been thought highly unlikely Heneage would inherit (he was the fourth son). When it became apparent that Charles would have no children, that is when Heneage and Anne moved back into Eastwell because it was seen that Heneage might, now not so unexpectedly by that time, become the heir.

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Visit to the Composing Room (or typesetting) of the printing house/establishment of Clément Pomteux

I sum up my findings thus far this way: This new edition is an edition of the manuscripts and first printed book, so an addition to book history and those interested in the world of manuscript circulation before print took full hold in the 18th century. The team are apparently attempting to give the scholarly reader a close an experience of the four primary sources as is humanly possible in a book format. They also reprint or print for the first time those few poems where the attribution to Anne Finch is undeniable in a format which also imitates the way the text appears in the source as closely as one can do in a book meant to be read.


From the same series as above: attributed to Léonard Defrance (1784)

There is also a conscious attempt to avoid giving a poem a personal or autobiographical motive if this will bring out clearly Finch’s lifelong battle with depression, social anxiety, and troubled existence with Heneage as a non-juror; and thus erase a major complex emotional terrain across her oeuvre that, together with any observation of the traumas she endured with difficulty (as an orphaned child, an intellectual learned dowryless and as it turned out childless woman), would go a long way towards explaining persuasively how all the poems relate to one another. See, for just one example, Vol 1, pp l-li (50-51) where these aspects of her personality are omitted all together, and the silence over the distressing personal content in the two poems Finch partly obliterated but could not get herself to destroy (Vol 1, pp 3-6, 408-13). (Another memo to self: I must find in Keith’s own book and/or essays where she explicitly vows not to present Finch as a weak woman or victim because, as a feminist, she dislikes such treatments of women. Such women are not good role models.)

A Song [for my Br. Les Finch: added]. Upon a Punch Bowl.

From the Park, and the Play,
And Whitehall come away,
To the Punch-bowl, by far more inviting;
To the Fopps, and the Beauxs [sic],
Leave those dull empty shows,
And see here, what is truly delighting.

The half Globe ’tis in figure,
And wou’d itt were bigger;
Yett here’s the whole Universe floating,
Here’s Titles, and Places,
Rich lands, and fair faces,
And all that is worthy our doating.

‘Twas a World, like to this,
The hott Gracian did misse.
Of whom History’s keep such a pother,
To the bottom he sunk,
And when one he had drunk
Grew maudlin, and wept for another.

— Anne Finch, it is telling how she does not forget the importance of money & rank in her poetry; she & Heneage had some lean years; she also did not like the heavy drinking the male Finches indulged in at night, which, of course, she was helpless to stop …
Ellen

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Faye Castelow as Hellena, Joseph Millson as Willmore and Alexandra Gilbreath as Angellica Bianca in Aphra Behn’s The Rover RSC, 2016

Friends and readers,

My third and last blog on the EC/ASECs conference held last month, virtually. The first centered on the Thursday evening and first panel, Friday morning, where I gave my talk on “A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity.” the second blog included a long talk by the present Senior Curator of Education, Deborah Harper, on a history of collectors’ pianofortes, at the Winterthur Museum. For the the third I cover what papers I heard from Saturday morning until later afternoon. (Unfortunately I had to miss some; the titles of these are found on the website and not included here.) The conference ended with a spell-binding coda speech by Joanne Myers, of Gettysbury College near by, likening each phase of her time enduring the social isolation and closed schools of the pandemic to the phases of Daniel Defoe’s experience of a deadly epidemic in London in his famous partly fictionalized book.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We began with a book history panel. I heard two of the three papers or talks. Joseph Rudman explained and described the Editing Aphra Behn Website. He had a good deal of praise for E-ABIDA that website, E-APBIDA. He described what was in the site and how it was a useful tool as well as handy modern and extensively informed device. The general aim of this website is to explain the fine new Cambridge edition. Cambridge is publishing an 8 volume edition of Behn’s works at the same time. He offered strong praise for what the website is providing (there are 15 different editors), will apparently carry on doing for a while (as support for the edition) and suggested that it might stir others to do likewise.


One of the Burney diaries covering these court years

Elizabeth Powers’ presented her paper, “Books Do More Than Furnish a Room: Goethe and Burney in Their Father’s Library.” She chose these two authors because she felt they overlapped in time and despite showed how their different parentage and culture and their writing at the end of literary traditions produced a kind of public discourse which all who participate in this discourse can share in. Burney was secretive about her reading while Goethe was open. Burney was educated mostly at home; Goethe sent away to schools. But both kept journals and dramatized themselves differently in these. Burney shows herself embedded in her society; while Goethe is apart, he is interested in developing a style he will use later to legitimize what he writes down autobiographically. (My view is Burney is partly fictionalizing herself and doing it very effectively through the use of novelistic techniques.)

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Jonathan Groff as George III in Hamilton: nowhere as hilarious on video as when he is in person in front of an audience


Whole outfit

For “Theatre things” I again heard two of the three, these both thought-provoking papers. Jason Shaffer in his ““The Coat and The Cockade: Costuming Elements in Early Republican Drama” centered his talk on costume, and its importance, how an audience is led to suspend its disbelief while looking at outrageously amusing or dramatic clothes; they are delighted to believe in what they see. Then on stage familiar objects interact with a fantasy world built around these. He chose to discuss scenes where characters discuss their clothes. A costume endows an actor with the power of the character and theatrical realized dream vision. We also identify the actor as him or herself for real; that’s part of the thrill, and the familiarity. Mrs Siddons playing Lady Macbeth is both herself and Lady Macbeth. He mentioned how brilliant were the costumes in Hamilton; how they functioned as emblems of complex ideas made visceral. Watching theater on a computer at home loses the sense of audacity in the actor; bodies matter. Clothes too. Watching movies without others in the audience diminishes the thrill. He gave various examples of characters from the plays of the era on the English and American stages. Then how advertising pictures serve to reproduce our memories of, or create longing to join in, the live shared experience.


A contemporary cartoon of the Brunswick theater collapsing

Matt Kinservik in his “The Suppression of the Royalty Theatre Reconsidered” taught a somber moral. Basically the original patentees (ownership and control of these goes back to the early Restoration years, and their heirs (or those who had bought the patents and were present owners) allowed the group to build their theater and then insisted it be shut down. Matt named which people were involved, the hard and difficult work (negotiations) required, who went at first to support friends and/or associates and the various phases of hard work (including getting the materials) and then the advertising. And then the dismay when it was clear the law would be enforced, and how much money was lost when the audience so wanted more legitimate theater. The moral was the worst choice was opted for by those with the power to shut the others down: They let them build the house and then cracked down.


A famous travel book, described as a delightful classic, filled with description of flora and fauna

Unfortunately I missed two of the three papers on panel on natural history, in travel and other writing. I came in upon people discussing local birds.

The third talk, by Rodney Mader, was quite different, riveting even. His topic was Bartam’s Travels and Its baggage, a book written by a man who was a quaker scientist influenced by the romantics poets and Wordsworth’s Prelude. Mr Mader talked about a post-humanist perspective he found himself developing during the experience of trying to write about such a book and writer during this pandemic. He felt all the injustice (violence, lies) he was seeing going on around him — politically, economically, socially — estranged him from dealing with the material as it was presented by the people at the time. These were books compiled by people who dispossessed others, their methods were dependent on their power over others so the natural science was imposed. The man studying plants without regard to all that was going on around him was the son of an international merchant, a farmer who worked enslaved people. Wm Bartram himself found he could not drive or control the 6 enslaved people he was given; there is no evidence of what became of them (there were six including one pregnant woman).

Apparently, if you look at history on the Internet that includes Bartram, you can find the people involved in organizations he would have belonged to practiced, were for eugenics, and today present sign identifying themselves as for environmental conservation. An Alabama Heritage site from 2011 celebrates Bartram and other explorers and writers in botany; there is a photo of a Black ornithologist on their website.

The pièce de résistance of the whole conference turned out to be Joanne Myers’s concluding Presidential Address: “My Year of the Plague. She began by telling us she had long admired Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year and had taught it several times. She reread it this past year, and it helped calm her to read the incidents as her and her two daughter’s lives unfolded around them. She worked and taught from home, and taught her daughters too. She delivered a talk whose emotional trajectory followed that of Henry Foe (the chief character of Defoe’s Journal). Her tone was quiet, controlled, intense; she said she seemed to devour space and time in matter of fact prose. She saw the mistrust, the isolation, and sometimes people trying to help one another. At one point she said she was trying to provide service against the terrors’ dislocations. She teaches at Gettysburg herself so was surrounded by pro-Trump types and (I imagine) made the atmosphere everywhere outside her home more fraught. Defoe himself (in my view too) is a de-mystifier; it was noteworthy to her that Defoe remained a private man amid all he recorded.

Next year EC/ASECS hopes to meet for real or physically at the Winterthur museum in Delaware.

Ellen

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An eighteenth-century mask

Friends and readers,

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

Supposed to have been written in the Hebrides:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Used for Christmas concerts today

One of two blogs,
Ellen

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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


18th century lined trunk

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

I’ve put it on academia.edu

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


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

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

And a bibliography.

Ellen

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