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Glastonbury Tor, Sometsetshire

Dear friends and readers,

This is another blog of lecture notes for a course I’m teaching at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at American University. As happened last spring, the second week I was supposed to teach, the first class was cancelled (not the course itself, we will begin meeting next week for 10 weeks), this time because the church the organization rents the space from scheduled a massive funeral for today. Thus once again, I’m putting my lecture notes for the first session on-line in a place where they will be readily available so the course might start this week without a meeting. The aim of the course is to read and to discuss Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together from points of view that bring out its meanings and larger significance accurately so readers might enjoy it, see its relevancy, appreciate it. Nearly three weeks ago I put the syllabus online here at Austen Reveries; anyone not in this class wanting to read this blog can read that as an explanation for this first set of lecture notes.

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Fountain Court, Middle Temple — Fielding a law student here in late 1730s

How to get past some of the obstacles of reading Tom Jones:

As we set out together on our journey through the single massive volume that is Tom Jones, I feel I have to preface where I usually start a reading together and class on a book, the author’s life story insofar as we know it, and especially those aspects of that life which fueled the particular book, by talking of the difficulties or barriers this text presents.

A book is after all made up of words and Fielding’s idiolect may be very foreign to today’s readers. It is larded with his reading and memories of not only the Latin classics and contemporary (by which I mean 18th century) writing. Looking things up is tedious, and once you have had to explain a joke, it loses its humor; often an allusion to be deeply understood requires that we’ve read and remember the original text. As either Keymer or Wakeley tells us in the few paragraphs preceding the glossary of Latin tags, Partridge often misapplies or has misunderstood the texts he quotes from; at one point Tom (who we are asked to believe has become well read despite his appalling pair of tutors) grows very irritated over one such misapplication. What’s more Fielding assumes the importance of the classical tradition; in his introductory chapters he will go on about places in Aristotle where he Fielding disagrees with Aristotle. But who today cares about Aristotle? Aristotle’s treatise on tragedy which is really an explication of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex applied to all tragedy was hopelessly inapplicable in Shakespeare’s time.

Determination, diligence, and if you have a respect for intelligence, what has been considered beautiful and thoughtful ideals, can overcome some of this. What cannot be overcome but must be (as it were) eaten (like one of the dishes he opens up with talking about) or read intensely through is his abstract style, his use of general words and formal syntax to convey real psychological experience that is particular to a scene or character. People today might have a tendency when they see an abstract style not to visualize what the author wants us to see; we are so used to “a talking style” where sentences are short, and concrete particular words are used, and especially an emphasis on the pictorial, communicating through images where we are shown emotionalisms, we are in danger of not bonding with characters’ emotions and their situations which despite the slippery ironies within ironies of the text that Fielding does want us to take seriously. It may sound mad but my advice to someone reading this book is to try to treat it each paragraph as a 10 line poem, pay alert attention to what the words signify.

When we are told in general words that Sophia feels anguish, we are endow her with the anguish a 21st century heroine might know although the words would be particular. Wholly at random, I turned to p 320 in my edition, Book 11, Chapter 5, where Harriet Fitzpatrick is telling of a devastating experience she had as a married woman. Men were allowed to lock up their wives; they could beat them; a woman was supposed to obey, and people did marry for money sheerly (it was the only way to become rich if you were not born to it). Harriet tells Sophie her “companions” were “my own racking Thoughts, which plagued and and in a manner haunted me Night and Day. In this situation I passed through a Scene, the Horrors of which cannot be imagined …” – a childbirth alone, and childbirth in this period was a hard ordeal often ending in death.

We are not only to laugh hard, and the laughter in this book is not benevolent, it’s Swiftian – very like Jonathan Swift – but feel hard. Lethal hatred is what swirls everywhere either there already or easily erupted in Paradise Hall. By Book 7 Tom is homeless, without any money (he has been given a considerable sum by Mr Allworthy but in his anguish he did not realize he dropped the pocketbook and the money was taken by Black George), a bastard, despised by all, a vagrant. This is a book about a vagrant. The narrator’s perspective is, philosophical distanced and ethical, I had almost said judicious except that the narrator is often satirized too. So at this crux of poor Tom’s career we get an essay on how people in life are like performers on a stage, p 289, Book 7, chapter 1 – but for all that we are given a situation meant to be taken fully which we are to care about. Feel the rage, the bitterness, and puzzled bewilderment, the hurt, the fear. This is an era where torture (especially of animals) is a form of entertainment.

The narrator is not Fielding. The book as a whole intensely mirrors the particulars of Fielding’s experience of life and like most great novels is a disguised autobiography, but it’s displaced. My sense is from other recent readers is the more you see real history of the era here and Fielding’s real life here the stronger the book becomes for you. The narrator is a cover-up for this, a device that enables Fielding to hide himself. He is continually half-wrong; he’ll give us five views of something and say View 5th is the right one, but I suggest not so, for if we were to dismiss views 1-4 why give them? We need both to believe things he says and dismiss him. In one of his chapters Fielding says something may seem to be irrelevant to have nothing to do with his text but everything in it pertains, it’s designed. It’s nowadays thought the book was long in the making and writing, at least a few years.

First chapter he tells us the content of the book is human nature, pp 35-37, Book 1, Chapter 1. He is not here to present any particular animal but animalness as such. His story is prism. But then he says true nature is very hard to find in authors or books – and for good reason and the difference between authors is how the dish is set out. The second idea contradicts the first. Fielding is never plain though he does loathe “affectation” – in our terms phony self-presentations, a subdivision of hypocrisy (knowing lies people understand they can get away with). By these means he will induce us to read on forever – this is a joke, though in the latter part of the book it’s clear Fielding does want his book to live beyond his time.

So what have I said, what does this amount to? Get past the language, read it as you have other deep feeling dark books written in a modern idiom. The narrator is an ironic device: in Jonathan Swift’s famous treatise, “A Modest Proposal,” his narrator says the way to stop the Irish from starving is for them to kill their babies and eat them. This not only solves the problem of producing food, but will reduce the population. He’s deadly serious; he says it’s what the English want. So much that this narrator says is deadly serious and it’s also a deep expose of outrage and preposterousness.

The narrator and his discourses and introductory chapters are also intended as Fielding’s way of making respectable long prose narratives so that they – his especially – can form another genre than those hitherto respected (tragedy, comedy, satire, romance): the novel. We can’t talk of everything this novel requires to understand it even in one term, much less the first day so I put off describing what passed for novels and romances from the 1st-3rd century AD to the middle 18th century for next week. Another thing this book is doing is inventing a form of novel which was taken up by other great writers of the era (mostly male, this is a very male book, a male’s book and outlook) and then transformed in the 19th century, first by Scott into historical fiction.

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Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Brian Blessed as Tom Jones and Sophia and Squire Western (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

A word about the movies: the concentration or emphasis will be on the books. For a start the films distort the books; they present a false common misunderstanding which was prevalent in the mid-20th century and has not gone from us today: that this book is a pastoral erotic romp – Tony Richardson and John Osborne’s movie. That’s certainly on the surface of the book. Or that it upholds common normative values – the BBC movie which comes closer in attempting to bring out the moral devastation now and again, a real rape. Lots of people want their books to validate their worlds and movies which are popular do this. This one does not.

When I think of some 21st century version of the large world it presents I think of the insanity of the way highways are nowadays configured – after all a lot of this book occurs on the road – two lanes for E-Z passes, two for those who won’t pay ahead and don’t want to pay to exit, when if you are going to divide up to make inequality visual you should have 6 lanes for “everyone else.” The result is a hideous traffic jam for one side of the highway and cars speeding through the other. Why does no one protest? There are surveillance cameras everywhere so if you don’t have an E-Z pass you had better not get on E-Z pass lanes. You don’t want to go before a judge and complain. As in Fielding’s book the characters we see justify what is happening and take petty advantages where they can: the dream here is a small percentage of the take.

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Hogarth’s depiction of a “laughing audience” in the 18th century theater

The 18th century reader knew this was a book which presented amorality as central to life, that whatever the narrator may profess it’s deeply secular (sex in it is far more often like Sade than National Lampoon). I didn’t want to ignore them as that’s to be an ostrich and I’m nowadays a person who writes on and studies film adaptations. If you are having trouble reading the book, they can function like an explication.

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The house at East Stour in Dorsetshire where Fielding grew up

So for the second half of this blog-lecture I’ll present something of Fielding’s life as it relates to Tom Jones. This is mostly taken from Thomas’s and Paulson’s biographies.

A simple pair of metaphors: a book may be regarded as a lamp and a mirror. As a lamp, it is filled with the spirit of the author, his or her feelings, thoughts, memories, imagination as filtered through a genre’s conventions. As a mirror, it cannot but reflect the realities of its era, the issues, laws, customs, mores, furniture, technology, economics, politics of its age and place. This book is a product of southwest England where Fielding was born and spent formative years, and of 18th century London and its environs. Fielding never was a soldier; he lived at the University of Leiden (17828-29), near death (he died at age 47) he traveled to Portugal thinking the climate would be easier on him in his wretchedly sick state, warmer anyway. Maybe he did want to escape at last, he’s buried there.

Fielding was the first child and son of Sarah Gouge, a woman who in position if not great wealth (still part of the 1% of the era) is very like Sophia Western: the daughter of a squire, Sir Henry Gould and Lady Sarah. He was a justice of the peace and magistrate as were at some point many of these landowners in counties. Fielding may not have had Sharpham Park (near Glastonbury), the Gould seat in mind. It’s more likely to have been Ralph Allen’s house near Bath, Prior Park which you can now visit as a tourist, but it was certainly an Allworthy type mansion. Sarah had one brother, David Gouge who inherited the house and rents and legacy of money.

At age 24 she married an army officer, Edmund Fielding, in 1706, they said afterward against their wishes. Within a year Henry was born and back living with her parents. Edmund was a spendthrift, gamester, duellist, and libertine but a man of position and rank: he was related to Fieldings who claimed descent from the house of Hapsburg, and certainly a William Fielding was Earl of Denbigh in 1620, with a son who was an ambassador; there were canons, an Archdeacon and a royal Chaplain to Wm and Mary in the family. So there was this prestigious but distant heritage.

If Edmund imagined he’d get money with Sarah, he didn’t. Sir Henry had made a will which left considerable money to his daughter, £3000 but held in trust by her brother, and tied up in leases so that Edmund Fielding should not get his hands on any of it. Edmund Fielding’s first years of manhood were spent as a fighting soldier, in France, Holland (Liege), on the continent, rewarded for being courageous (£30), proud of his time in Marlborough’s armies. While there were a couple of later periods where he fought again (as late as 1740), basically he spent decades on half-pay. He died trying to escape debtors’ prison, within the jurisdiction of Fleet Prison, leaving considerable debts and assets of £5.

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Woodspring Priory, Somerset (built before the Reformation in honor of St Thomas of Canterbury)

Henry was not a foundling, but he was not an heir and much of his life was spent working for enough money to live in genteel style, with periods of poverty – not like that of say a Black George, more like a character out of Thackeray. Glastonbury in Somerset is a place associated with Arthurian myths, celtic mythology which was known at the time; people believed in ghosts. A remote country place which Fielding knew very well – it’s what Tom travels through in the first part of his walk (in effect), Monmouth had landed not far from there, in Devonshire, a rebellion which ended in savage reprisals at assizes. James II on the throne at the time was Catholic, so in Fielding’s background is a world of understandable anti-Catholicism. When he was three and his mother pregnant for a fourth time, the father-in-law purchased East Stour, a large stone farmhouse in Dorset, with several hundred areas, brew and malt house, coach, and tenants – providing income. Think of this place as Thomas Hardy country. One of his known sisters, Sarah, later a novelist, was born in 1710. Henry grows up there for another 10 years while his father sinks into debt in London; his mother died in 1718. A year later Edmund married a Roman Catholic widow, Anne Rapha, and brings her to East Stour.

And around that time enrolls Henry at Eton. He was early on recognized as gifted, already studying Latin and Greek at a school in Taunton; much later at Exeter College, Oxford. A brother Edmund preferred dogs, guns, hunting. There was a harsh tutor (beat the boy) named John Oliver whom Parson Trulliber is said to be modeled on – from Joseph Andrews. Meanwhile at East Stour stories of the stepmother’s treatment of her husband’s children by his first wife suggest intense conflict too. Henry saw the idle lives of these military officers up-close; one of Henry’s plays has as subplot how a man cannot get a promotion because he will not allow his wife to go to bed with someone who could advance him. There are stories of swindlers of these officers, of Edmund Fielding’s life in London, of how he went to court: fraud and violence abounded.

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Thomas Rowlandson, The Hazard Room

In 1721 the grandmother initiates litigation in the court of chancery to gain control of her grandchildren and their legacy she said her son-in-law was dissipating away. There’s a story of Edmund sending a servant to wrest Henry back from his grandmother and the two barricading themselves in and Henry shouting, but he was also close to his father in his middle or young teen years. For example between 1724 when Henry left Eton for good and 1728 Henry shuttled between London and a house in Upton Grey rented for him by his father; his father had a way of suddenly going up in the world (1727 Edmund promoted to Brigadier general and he gives his son a small allowance). Henry himself resorts to violence to get his way. He was ambivalent about his father, and he really loved the grandmother: when she died in 1733 Fielding the grandson paid to have her body moved to East Stour and buried next to his mother.

One last story of these early years: he fell in love with an heiress, Sarah Andrew, around 1725, said to be attractive but the money mattered too; the match was forbidden: her guardian and brothers did not want Fielding He was assaulted by hired ‘bruisers.” He couldn’t get to her, tried to abduct her, but was thwarted. A repeating theme in his writing is the coerced marriage, and its results.

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Frontage of the Little Theater in Haymarket, where Fielding had his greatest triumphs

Fielding as a man of the theater (cont’d in comments).

Fielding’s reading and other works before Tom Jones, more briefly his life up to and beyond the writing of Tom Jones: hack writer, journalist, barrister, magistrate (cont’d in comments)

Ellen

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Wm Hogarth, The March to Finley, a scene from the ’45’ Rebellion (1749) (click to enlarge)

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Ten Monday afternoons, 1:00 to 2:50 pm
St Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 2815 36th Street, Northwest, Washington DC
Dates: Classes start Sept 28th; last class Nov 30th, 2015.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

For ten weeks the class will read and study Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together.  We will read a few essays on Fielding in the context of his age and several careers (dramatist, attorney-magistrate, journalist, novelist). Why was the book was called “immoral” then and how does it emerge from and today belong to strong satiric and erotic schools of art (from Swift and Hogarth to Richardson and Sade). Why in the 20th century it was adapted into oddly innocent films first filled with wild hilarity and sexual salaciousness, when it’s a deeply subversive and disquieting book. We’ll focus on the slippery narrator, the evasive nature of the text, and discuss themes like where power, sex and commerce; and the masks of social and psychological life. Can you imagine a world without novels? This is one of the books that established the genre

Required Text: Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, ed., introd., notes Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. London: Penguin, 2005 (975 pages). An alternative recommended edition: The History of Tom Jones, ed. R. P. C. Mutter. NY: Penguin, 1983 (911 pages)

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Tom’s Journey Across England (click for clear comprehension)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 21: No class but it’s asked that everyone start the book, and read for the first week: TJ, Bk 1, Ch 1 though Bk 3, Ch 4 (pp. 35-119). If possible, please also watch on your own one of the films and have come to the ending of either by Oct 5th.
Sept 28: First class: An introduction: Fielding’s life, learning & plays. Read for next time: Bk 3, Ch 5 through Bk 5, Ch 4 (pp. 119-201).
Oct 5: In class: the narrator, obstacles to enjoyment.  Read for next time: Bk 4, Ch 5 through Bk 7, Ch 2 (pp. 201-294) & Stevenson’s “Black George and the Gaming Laws” (chapter from his book or an essay).
Oct 12: In class: as a novel; crime (poaching, game laws), punishment, injustice, class in Tom Jones. Read for next time: Bk 7, Ch 3 through Bk 8, Ch 8 (pp. 295-383) & Simpson’s Popular Perceptions of Rape in 18th Century England: The Press and the trial of Francis Charteris in the Old Bailey, 1730,” and his “The Blackmail Myth and the Prosecution of Rape and Its Attempt in 18th Century London: the creation of a tradition.”
Oct 19: In class: Ethics & sex in 18th century life and art & TJ. For next time read Bk 8, Ch 9 through Bk 10, Ch 2 (pp. 383-466); Stevenson’s “Stuart Ghosts” (chapter from his book or an essay; Gene Koppel’s “Sexual Education and Sexual Values in Tom Jones,” Confusion at the Core,” Studies in the Novel, 12:1 (1980):1-11.
Oct 26: In class: the journey, sentimentality, gyspy kings in TJ. Read for next time Bk 10, Ch 3 through Bk 12, Ch 2 (pp. 466-550). Martin Battestin, Tom Jones and “His Eygptian Majesty, on the Gypsy King. PMLA, 82:1 (1967):68-77; J.Lee Green, “Fielding’s Gypsy Episode and Sancho Panza’s governorship,” Atlantic Bulletin, 39:2 (1974):117-21.
Nov 2: In class: history, politics, war in TJ; read for next time Bk 12, Ch 3 through Bk 13, Ch 8 (pp. 551-634). Thompson on Personal Property and Money in Tom Jones, Eighteenth Century Fiction, 3:1 (1990):21-42; Amanda Vickery’s “‘Mutton Dress’d as Lamb’: Fashioning Age in Georgian England,” Journal of British Studies, 52:4 (2013):858-886.
Nov 9: In class: Money, personal property, the London sections:  funny or nihilistic? Read for next time: Bk 13, Ch 9 through Bk 15, Ch 8 (pp. 634-719); a chapter from Laura Rosenthal’s Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in 18th century Literature and Culture (on Tom as prostitute). Also sent Terry Castle’s “Matters not fit to be mentioned: Fielding’s Female Husband,” ELH, 49:3 (1982):602-22; Fielding’s The Female Husband (first published 1746), and A Clear Statement of the Case of Elizabeth Canning (first published 1753).
Nov 16: In class: The masquerade, the theater in TJ: Read for next time: Bk 15, Ch 9 through Bk 17, Ch 8 (pp. 720-801). Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried:” Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” Modern Language Review, 95:2 (2000)324-35; & Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.” Review of English Studies, new series 61:251 (2010):572-90.
Nov 23: In class: Tom Jones discussion continued: London and Tom Jones. Read for next time Bk 17, Ch 9 through Bk 18, Chapter the Last (pp. 801-875). John Richetti, “A review of Lance Bertelsen’s Henry Fielding At Work,Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 101:4 (2002):578-80; and Robert Erickson, “A review of James Turner’s “Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London,” Eighteenth Century Fiction, 17 (2005):269-76.
Nov 30: Tom Jones and pornography; libertinism, sex and power, Partridge and Hamlet; as a conduct book too. How does the book speak to us today? Late Fielding, magistrate and journalist. Read Ira Konisberg, “Review of 1966 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 4:4 (1992):353-355; Martin Battestin, “Tom Jones: Fielding, the BBC, and Sister Arts,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 10:4 (1998):501-5.
Dec 7: Final class. Last two books of TJ. Class watches clips from MGM Tom Jones (Osborne/Richardson); from BBC/A&E Tom Jones (Burke/Harrison).

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A contemporary print of Ralph Allen’s Prior Park just outside Bath (click to enlarge)

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Photograph of the grounds open to tourists (2002)

The films, a website & selection of books (the articles all sent by attachment):

Bertelsen, Lance. Henry Fielding At Work: Magistrate, Business and Writer. NY: Palgave Macmillan, 2000. Full of real interest: he connects the real life legal cases Fielding worked on and how his career in the employment cases and reveals fresh and persuasive ethical ways of reading Fielding’s fiction in context.
Campbell, Jill. Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding’s Plays and Novels. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. Heavy-going but persuasive on Fielding’s sympathetic attitudes towards women across his work and life.
Hume, Robert D., “Fielding at 300: Elusive, Confusing, Misappropriated, or (Perhaps) Obvious?”, Modern Philology, 108:2 (2010):224-262
Mayer, Robert, ed. Eighteenth-Century Fiction on Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Dated but good for the era and films covered.
Thomas, Donald. Henry Fielding. NY: St Martin’s Press, 1990. Much better on the life and Fielding’s basic attitudes than the reviews have been willing to concede. Very readable.
Paulson, Ronald. The Life of Henry Fielding. NY: Wiley/Blackwell, 2000.
Smallwood, Angela. Fielding and the Woman Question: the Novels of Henry Fielding and the Feminist Debate. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. Makes Fielding into an advanced feminist (!).
Stevenson, John Allen. The Real History of Tom Jones. London: Macmillan Palgrave, 2008 All the articles by him are chapters in this book; there is too much academic jargon but he’s rich in insight and information.
Tom Jones. Dr. Tony Richardson. Writer John Osborne. Perf. Albert Finney, Susannah York, Edith Evans. MGM/1963.
Tom Jones. Dr. Meteyin Husein. Writer Simon Burke. Perf. John Sessions, Max Besley, Samantha Morton, Ron Cook, Brian Blessed, Frances de la Tour, Benjamin Whitgrow, BBC/A&E/1997.
Wikipedia: life and works of Fielding, with links

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A bust of Fielding carved after his death (click to see beauty of the piece)

Relevant blogs on movies:

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon & Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones: compared
Affectionately Dedicated to Mr Fielding: the 1997 BBC/A&E Tom Jones
Poldark books and films: Handy list (some on subjects found in TJ)
La Nuit de Varennes: serendipitous life, 18th century style

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Partridge kisses and hugs Tom upon learning who the stranger is (one of my favorite moments from the 1997 TJ)

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Aidan Turner as Ross at the close of the 8th episode (2015)

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, opening of 8th episode (2015)

Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander)

Dear friends and readers,

I had thought to make one more blog for this year comparing the 1975 to the 2015 Poldark mini-series, this one in response to Anibundel on the male hats and wigs and women’s hats, wigs, hair ribbons of another survey of the earlier series.

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Demelza first seen is in a boy child hairdo, circa 1970s,

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Angharad Rees as Demelza grown up, Gainsborough subdued, before becoming Ross’s lover

But I’ve discovered true to its origin in the progressive earlier seventies, hats are often eschewed or most often “simply historical accurate” in the plainest of ways. When the actors have hats on, they are tricornes

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Francis and Ross meeting Nicholas Warleggan

Male wigs are the expected historically accurate ones for older males in the series, and they wear their own hair (or wigs made to look like their own), modified for the younger “hero” leads, except for Francis when gambling, and on the prowl for women (something of a rake and not to be wholly admired). Brief ponytails with ribbons holding the hair tight at the nape of the neck or just curled tight natural hair around their heads.

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1Part2Francis

Frank Middlemas as Charles Poldark and Clive Francis as Francis at home, at his best

This is the convention of historical costume drama until recently: the older and less than admirable males wear wigs, the rest natural hair approximating a compromise between the era dramatized and what is admired, popular, fashionable, in the year the film was made.

As to women’s wigs, the model is the 1940s Gainsborough costume dramas, subdued by attention to the poverty of Cornwall and its distance from London, and modified by local realistic Edwardian painting of Cornwall in the 1890s. This combines with we might call “big” hair for four of the women (Demelza grown up, Elizabeth, Verity at parties and Keren). We see alluring cascades of hair, except for Elizabeth whose wig is helmet-like and is a miniature modest version of the piled-up tight curl on the shoulder bone fashion seen in London.

1Episode4Elizabeth

Keren
Angharad Rees and Sheila White as Demelza and Keren wear headscarves but are often bare-headed and boast the curly abundant sexualized flourish of the 1940s minus hats (remember the movie Kitty with Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland; and still influential as in Keira Knightley’s wigs in The Duchess), though Keren can be found to have braided and ornamented hers:

withbraids

Not that the 2015 movie has altogether eschewed the 1940s Gainsborough model: it’s the origin for one of Margaret’s most pleasing extravaganzas:

Margaret
Crystal Leaity carries it off pitch perfect

So I take this last opportunity and fallow time of late summer (no new brilliant costume dramas or film adaptations on the US PBS channels) to offer a handy list of the Poldark blogs I’ve done this season comparing the two mini-series with Graham’s historical fictions set in the later 18th century in the context of 21st century norms for historical fiction and film.

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My favorite hat and male hair from the 2015 series: Verity (Ruby Bentall) in lovely hat with pink flowers and Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington in his own hair or wig to look like his own, with naval hat and ribbon too) upon marrying (Episode 7)

I have a right to choose my own life … Verity, (Ross Poldark, Bk 1, Ch 13)

Prologue:

A Winston Graham Reader: links to other sites

Poldark: studying the novels, the new film adaptation, upon re-reading

The Poldark novels in context: a syllabus

Winston Graham: the writer and his A Forgotten Story

Historical Fiction: Graham’s Poldark, the first phase

Ross Poldark: Ends restoratively; concluding notes

Demelza, the novel: Developing an Eighteenth Century World

Graham’s fiction: haunting gothics and a Che Guevara slant

Consuming costume historical adaptations: Poldark and Wolf Hall

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2015: one of countless mining shots

Topics:

Mining and smuggling in Cornwall, with especial reference to the Poldark novels

The Poldark novels: Doctors and poachers, scavengers & elections aka property wars

Rape in the Poldark narratives: from Upstairs and Downstairs, British Costume Drama, Forsyte to Downton

The new incarnation:

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Ross’s wife, Demelza, supplying food and drink to the miners (Episode 4)

” …. to give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil-minded … It would be a mistake for you to give life to the story by taking notice of it …” Ross to Jinny, Bk 1, Chapter 14, p 118 in Sourcebook ed

Poldark 1: 2015, 1975 and Graham’s Post WW2 novel

Poldark 2: novel reconceived as mining and proto-feminist story

Poldark 3: 2015, 1975 and Graham’s novel: recasting class & injustice

Poldark 4: lyric (2105 and 1945) and theatric (1975): the problem in evaluating a beloved vision

Poldark 5: transition and contradictory characterization

Poldark 6: between book (Graham’s Demelza) & films (1975 & 2015): the audiences and screenplay writers

Poldark 7: Betrayal of the group; or A Higher Fidelity of the Heart, 3 versions

Poldark 8: how to make new mythic matter, Poldark re-booted 40 years on

Jeux d’esprit: the state of the millinery, 1975 Poldark.

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I will be teaching Ross Poldark and Demelza in the fall term of the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at George Mason University this coming semester, and hope to deal with more 18th century historical topics and watch and blog on the new 10 episodes (again scripted by Debbie Horsfield), and to top it all off, have sent off a proposal to a coming 18th century conference on the 18th century on film:

Pilchards

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Harvesting pilchards

A proposal for a paper for the panel, Eighteenth Century on Film, at the coming ASECS meeting, March 31-April 3, 2016

Poldark re-booted, 40 years on

The new Poldark mini-series (2015-2016) is being watched as an entertainment and historical construction of an on-going national British culture and past. Its surging popularity suggests it has overcome its status as a sequel to the previous immensely popular Poldark (filmed 1975-76, 1977-78), watched yet again (re-digitalized and selling) as a regional Cornish romance adaptation of a specific set of seven historical-regional novels by Winston Graham (written 1945-53,1973-77). Since this first Poldark TV series aired, Graham concluded his cycle of historical fiction with five more books (written 1981-84, 1990, 2003), so the new film-makers have twelve novels, four dramatizing the reactionary and colonialist politics of the 1980s into the 1990s, and a twelfth, recent concerns with animal rights, and disability. They may also take advantage of a transformation of TV dramaturgy and screenplay writing in the last 40 years, and audience tolerance for film intertextuality and self-reflexivity.

Using just the first two books, Ross Poldark and Demelza, I will follow one actuating line of argument. We will contrast dramas meant to be historically accurate and novelistic (1975, eight episodes), with pictorial cinematic montages meant to display a new mythic British matter (2015, a comparable eight). We will see how Graham’s novels’ recreation of a progressive and proto-feminist usable past (for an economically depressed and conflicted post World War Two world and a 1970s generation), fit the perspective and art of the previous film adaption, a typical product of in the mid-1970s era of progressive BBC films. Then we will turn to the present films, products of a complacent sensibility catering to anger and distress in a reactionary era, within the confines of a Thatcherized BBC film industry where ratings and profits are incessantly monitored. By contrast we will observe head-on clashes with the materials of the same two books, often kept to more literally but overturned or reversed when it comes to underlying message.

There is no one reason for the last couple of years’ re-booting of quite a number of 40 year old BBC series. But in this case we can see one reason has been an important change in the way film-makers see their films functioning and we can observe different problematic aporia in each kind (romantic film as history, romantic film as myth)

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On the beach, Aidan Turner as Ross waiting for George (Jack Farthing) who has been watching, gathering false evidence (Episode 8)

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Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, hurrying from beach (Episode 8)

I’ve only followed the devices and desires of my own heart …. Demelza, Bk 2, Ch 14, p 341

Ellen

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Demelza in characteristic hat delighted to look at a poster for a troop of actors come to Truro

Dear friends and readers,

As Anibundel suggests, the way to understand and enjoy costume dramas is to look at the costumes. What more indicative than hats?

Spurred on by her fun discoveries of who wears what hat in the 2015 Poldark, I looked at the state of millinery for Graham’s first two novels 40 years ago and found the costume-designers included many more working and lower class head scarves, mob caps, and simple bonnets and flat hats with ribbons, and specific headdresses for ritual occasions.

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For her wedding day (and possibly traveling) Keren (Sheila White) has decorated a simple bonnet with lace

Our female characters moved to forms of cloth hat to signal religious sects. When it came to creating beauty, glamour, suggesting upper class decor, much more attention was paid to wigs (big hair which blended fashions of the 1970s with those of the 1780s through 90s) than hats, but these covered a wider range, from pancake, to wide brimmed decorated, to tricorn, and simply (on your wig, threaded in), feathers, woven braids, and the rare jewel. There were also scarves which fit into political headgear which may be a blend of Jacobin, Cornish and mining community.

What they all show is that in comparison to 40 years on, the earlier series was interested in historical accuracy, yet made no attempt to film and showcase hats separately; each and every still shows a woman character in the midst of doing something that is part of the story or a product of their inner life. They signal class, politics, the personality of the character, and mood of the story line.

This is for those interested in how the 18th century has been depicted and love the old familiar pictures I hope seen anew.

The first hat we see is a respectable traveling wide-brim with ribbon under the chin:

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This actress would play Jane Eyre (1983, with Timothy Dalton)

This opening Part 1 (1783), coresponding to the revenant’s return of Ross Poldark, runs the gamut of Verity with her characteristic mob cap:

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not much different from the servant’s, Mrs Tabb:

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to the high elegance of Elizabeth’s bridal veil:

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and Jinny’s imitation (bridal veil on limited budget):

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And this range is echoed in Part 2, where we move from another kind of head cover, the scarf tied behind the head at the nape of the neck, with cloth fanny out behind, signalling Jinny’s place in the political spectrum:

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We see it women of Jinny’s class, but not character, at a fair, in the streets:

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And Keren boasts a headscarf too:

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Here is another house mob cap, more elaborate as worn by Verity as she asks Ross to help her see Blamey regularly:

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Demelza graduates to her first hat showing she is growing up in Part 3 (1785 or to)

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echoed by Prudie’s similar number as she watches Demelza scrub a table:

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For outdoors, against the wind, and to protect her ears, Demelza in a sturdy kerchief bringing out lunch to Ross and Jud in the fields.

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Jud snatches an apple

Our costume designers turned the pages of their script until they reached the death of Charles Poldark requiring a funeral required elaborate headdresses from the women, of which I choose just two from our central heroines:

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Verity

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Elizabeth

The latter has grown intensely restless, dissatisfied, and soon after tells Ross so in an elegant wide-brim with ribbon under her chin, matching her suit-like outfit:

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Meanwhile Demelza had fled home to her methodist step-mother:

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who must’ve made it clear that similar attire for the head was expected of her stepdaughter:

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Although the stepmother knows by this time that Demelza is with child (by Ross), Elizabeth is still dreaming of running off, and wears a fetching triangle for outdoor love-making (matching the same outfit, thrift, thrift):

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A new book, Demelza, and our heroine has had her baby and there is a christening. We get some elegant headgear now:

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See what you missed, Ross

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A sweeter lace wide-brim for Verity reminds me of 1950s Easter hats

Unfortunately some of the women use their hats to exclude others, to crowd out and stigmatize those without these or who have not their confidence:

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Following the debacle of this christening, the married lady takes heart and plots to help her kind cousin-in-law meet Blamey once again. They go off to shop: Verity in a small pancake, and Demelza in a delicious concoction of pancake, frills and kerchief:

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Some time later our Cinderella goes to a ball, alas hatless, ribbonless, but not Lady Brodrugan:

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who sports feathers and discreet jewels in a high class wig

Margaret with less money, makes do with a large white feather

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and a clutch of pearls around the neck

Verity has gone all out (expecting Blamey):

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There is too much bankruptcy and trouble to foster much millinery in the last parts of Demelza, so we have to make do with troubled women in the street:

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Lady Brodrugan at Christmas in emerald green tricorn (surely meant ironically):

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concluding with Demelza in one of her blends of Jacobin, working class and Cornish scarf:

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plain cloth version — there is this lace one too:

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After all, it’s called costume drama first and foremost, no?

Ellen

P.S. Next up wigs, and what the men wore on their heads.

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Cover

Dear friends and readers,

I want again to report on, share part of a review of a book, this time because I suspect its title, Sentimental Memorials, as well as the marmoreal cover illustration, will put potential readers off. Norma Clarke’s own books are uniformly insightful and informative, and her description of Sodeman’s book is to be trusted (appeared in TLS, July 31, 2015, but not on-line). Clarke suggests that Sodeman shows a direct line from 18th century novels by women to those of women writers of the later 20th and early 21st century. Sodeman discovers

in the novels of Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson a concern with the status of their own writings at a time when literature was becoming professionalized and when the novel, increasingly popular, became downgraded as genre. Women established the new genre of historical fiction, and left to friends the task of including them in their histories, while in fact the participation of women in popular genres was then and still is seen as an embarrassment.

But the most popular works offered debased forms of excessive emotionalism or action-adventure. By contrast, says Clarke,

Sodeman imagines the generation of women writing and publishing in the 1780s and 90s as sharing “a vibrant memory of elite women’s literary accomplishments … while becoming aware that their own efforts were culturally devalued, and that history-writing and and canon-formation were leaving women out. Frances Brooke in 1785 complained that “the road of literary fame” was closed to most women. They were not included in the multi-volume collections; they were not being memorialized. Sentimental Memorials rescues each of its subjects not from obscurity, for they are now much studied, but from negative characterization.

More profoundly, she argues that the establishment of the literary canon itself depended on a sentimental reading of the past shaped by illusions of historical recovery. Historians like Hume and Robertson used the devices of sentimental fiction to fill gaps, inviting readers to imagine what Mary Queen of Scots felt, for example, as she left France. Antiquarians found or forged manuscripts and built invented pasts on these “authentic” fragments. The “found” manuscript was already part of gothic convention when Ann Radcliffe made powerful use of it in The Romance of the Forest (1791). Jane Austen gets a little slap for missing the point in Northanger Abbey: Radcliffe was critiquing a device, not simple-mindedly deploying it to create terror.

Sodeman asks us to consider her subjects as women who possessed a heightened awareness of the historicity of forms, and of the likely obsolescence of their own fictions. It is an ingenious way of reclaiming elements — such as Radcliffe’s use of interpolated lyrics, Smith’s repeated appeals to her readers to sympathize with her as a victim of the legal system — that have dissatisfied stem critics. It leads to a subtle blend of textual criticism with literary history and single-author study.

Sentimental Memorials … takes the ephemerality of sentimental fiction and discovers in it a concern for enduring reputation. It examines the uses of autobiographical detail in imaginative prose that depicts national and international concerns while at the same time conveying personal truths that have public meanings … Sodeman is steeped in the critical literature about realist fiction and its relation to facts or history

There are some flaws:

[Sodeman] has little to say about the longer history of women’s writers; and although she quotes Clifford Siskin’s formulation, the “Great Forgetting,” she manages when discussing Mary Robinson as “the English Sappho” to make no mention of Aphra Behn, the most famous “Sappho” in the English tradition… Similarly, Sodeman explains Ann Radcliffe’s interpolated lyrics as a strategy to accentuate artifice and intensify feeling without indicating that many readers would already have associated the device with the sentimental figure of an oppressed woman: Radcliffe was following a model set in the mid-century by Laetitia Pilkington in her Memoirs. In the “Great Forgetting”, it was the so-called scandalous women who were most forgotten. Their works tended not to be realist fictions but memoirs, stories of lived lives that were compelling because they were real.

Clarke concludes:

Writers such as Smith and Robinson owed as much to this tradition as they did to realist fiction. Questions about fictionality, truth, the status of individual experience and the forms in which it was received and believed were crucial to memoir. So, too, for readers, was the mingling of wonder and scepticism. The vibrant memory” of women writers in the ’80s and 90s operated on literary materials that have yet to receive the attention that has been paid to realist fiction and forms which, as seller lists demonstrate …

are far from obsolete.

Ellen

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Cover

It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman [‘Anne Bullen’] was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the charges against her, and the King’s character … The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned … and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinour depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general … (Austen, The History of England, which unfortunately omits Mary Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, doubtless for reasons of space)

Dear friends and readers,

Though my daily presumed following remains at 83 (a mere drop of electrons in cyberspace), and on average I get about 200 hits a day, I here announce a new matter as if it might be influential.

When I studied medieval literature, I was told that imaginative literature did not value (nor was there money in copyright) literal originality of character and story, but everyone took from basic understood matters: 3 central ones were the matter of Arthur (still with us and producing new fiction and art), the matter of Charlemagne or France (this has gradually ceased, and its texts descend from Roland, as Orlando Furioso, Jerusalem Delivered), and the matter of Troy (Greek and Roman mythology and characters, viable until the mid-20th century and opera). The Renaissance and Shakespeare turned to contemporary short fiction in vast collections, mostly Italian in origin, Greek romance of the 3rd century.

I propose a fifth: the Tudor matter. These are all those familiar stories and characters which begin with Henry VIII, his court, his wives, and conclude with the death of Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Tudor I. It encompasses the stories of Mary Stuart (a foremother poet).

All these matters are open to endless re-doing and interpretation. Maybe we should credit the re-invention of this history as so much imaginative matter to Sophie Lee in her The Recess (1783, one of the first gothic and historical fictions), the first to tell the later parts of the Tudor matter as about the rivalry of Elizabeth and Mary Stuart through Stuart’s twin daughters; Walter Scott in several of his novels (Kenilworth, The Abbot, The Monastery), and Schiller in Mary Stuart. I’ve been deeply engaged by Renaissance women since I was 13 when I got my first adult library card and took out two fat tomes from the adult library, the lives of Jeanne d’Albret and Marguerite de Navarre (the latter woman as one of the acquaintance-friends of Vittoria Colonna part of a many years study). And this past couple of weeks in what spare time I had I’ve read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (both, both won the Mann Booker prize), watched and blogged about Robert Straughan’s mini-series (the best PBS has aired in years), and been disappointed by the RSC stage play in NYC.

As everyone paying attention to this cultural phenomena thinks he or she knows, Mantel meant to rewrite Robert Bolt’s untenable idealization of Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons out of a couple of recent decades of scholarship re-formulating our view of Thomas Cromwell as no longer the corrupt complicit thug (as so indelibly played by Leo McKern).

I suggest here she had another source, or at least another kind of inspiration: women’s historical romance and feminist biographies, her stealth heroine out of Eric Ives’s The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, and the idea of re-visioning Philippa Gregory’s bringing out of the shades and into public memory, the almost forgotten Mary Boleyn, not to omit Jane (whom I reserve for anther blog, on Julia Fox’s biography of Lady Rochford). There’s nothing unusual here: women have been crediting as their source prestigious male books from Fanny Burney’s list in her Evelina, to Virginia Woolf who seems never to have read a woman contemporary, to Ann Patchett who attributes her Bel Canto to Mann’s Magic Mountain, when it’s clearly rooted in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. Mantel also followed the rule for success for women writers by having a male hero as her surrogate.

Tonight I want briefly to defend the version of The Other Boleyn Girl directed by Justin Chadwyck, screenplay Peter Morgan, lavish production, done in HD (very early for this) with an expensive cast of brilliant actors, seemingly limitless budget for costumes, production design, locations. A commercial success, it was lambasted by the critics — by contrast to Wolf Hall, which has been praised as much as Brideshead Revisited (to be sure the 1981 mini-series) itself. It’s not a profound or great movie, but it is competent and has enriched and changed some of the directions of Tudor matter ever since.

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The question of course is which Boleyn girl is “the other:” answer, both.

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Mary Boleyn (a contemporary Tudor portrait)

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Scarlett Johansson turned into luscious yet nun-like Mary Boleyn on her way to Henry’s bed (ever obedient to her family’s aggrandizing will)

I’d like to admit that my first reaction as I began to watch was as adverse as the most sneering of the reviewers at the time. The film presented the woman as at once all powerful (machinating openly, and especially both Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) pressuring men by telling them home truths that undermined their masculinity:

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Anne Boleyn (contemporary portrait)

In Columbia PicturesÕ/Focus FeaturesÕ The Other Boleyn Girl, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman, pictured) schemes not only to take the bed of King Henry VIII, but to become queen as well.  The film is directed by Justin Chadwick from a screenplay by Peter Morgan, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory.  Alison Owen produces.  Executive producers are Scott Rudin and David M. Thompson.
Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn actively manipulative schemer to become Henry’s wife

The romance trope also duly includes the idea they are helpless against demands of men that they have sex with them, follow their ambitions, even though they are stronger and smarter and foresee the destruction of what might make their children have long and valued and contented lives: if you are paying attention, there are more “other” Boleyn women beyond Jane Parkman, married off to George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. Lady Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother, who lost her son, daughter and a third daughter exiled in disgrace from court; Sir Thomas, her husband, died two years after the execution of George and Anne

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Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn as the highly intelligent strong faced woman who tells off her feeble corrupt husband, Sir Thomas (played by a weak Mark Rylance) but does not defy him

Gregory and after her, Peter Morgan, turns Katharine from the usual pious resigned stone into a woman who suffers intensely in childbirth and when she sees her Henry take up with Anne Boleyn very seriously asks him forthrightly if he means to break up his kingdom’s order and his marriage because a specific woman has denied him (fucking)

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Ana Torrent as Katharine eschews cant piety, and

Yes the film also followed the exaggerations of the conventions of historical romance since Madame de Scudery wrote her Clelia, giving sumptuous and expensive visual realization to what has been used to give women’s historical fiction a bad reputation.

But as I carried on watching, by the time I came to the end I saw that it had all the considerable strengths and offering to women of characters surrogates which account for the continued strength and relevance to women readers of this form, and of historical biographies of women. This was clinched for me as I witnessed the closely similar unflinching presentation of the beheading of Anne (which I now think Wolf Hall 5 imitated)

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I said to myself, if we (Mantel) can revise Cromwell the ruthless instrument of Henry VIII, turning England into a groups of people seemingly unable to fight back against state terror tactics, into a basically deeply human man, deeply engaged in throwing off the hypocritical cover-up superstitions of a fanatical Catholic regime, why not revise Anne – and Mary, Katharine as a wounded angry woman, bring in the mother of these two sisters, as an intelligent thwarted one who would have done better by her son and daughters — though in this version (as in Wolf Hall) Jane Boleyn is again the spiteful sexually frustrated product of a coerced marriage, and Norfolk a ferocious non-thinking monster (Bolt, I remind my reader, had Norfolk as well-meaning if obtuse, a loyal friend to More, indifferent to religion but not friendship).

Mantel has been doing and taken seriously for what Diana Wallace says most women’s historical fiction does: re-constructing marginal figures, bringing sexuality into play as an unspoken deep motive, extending what affects public life: Anne’s plight in both films, but made more central in The Other Boleyn (as all the births are showns as hardships, dangerous, out of the control of the woman) is she cannot will a healthy boy. The difference is Mantel centered her re-vision on a man who was once in public power and changed the nature of the English state church. Much more important than any woman writhing in childbirth (which we see Anne and Mary do more than once), and weep when either what emerges is stillborn or premature, or for whatever reason is rejected by the father (as when Henry VIII rejects his illegitimate healthy son by Mary Boleyn because he is now intent on gaining Anne).

The depiction of Anne is not one people will admit to finding likable. She is too performative — too amoral. A friend suggested to me she was a kind of Becky Sharp; I thought of Austen’s Lady Susan, Trollope’s Lizzie Eustace.

Another serious flaw derives from the attempt to make the film have wide reach (people who might not know or remember the details of the Tudor debacle). This probably led to the film-makers making the characters far too explicit. It is an exaggeration to present Anne as in councils with men and family members leading some plan — women didn’t do that. Every norm and punishment prohibited it. The explicitness with which sex was discussed was not done, unreal, improbable. What Mantel and Straughan have is literary tact — the difference between Richardson’s Grandison and Austen’s Mr Knightley is literary tact. So in Wolf Hall (the mini-series) Jane Seymour sits in on one council, but it is to ask advice, not to take any lead, and to seem to obey. If she is manipulative and ambitious, we must pick it up from the actress’s face.

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From Wolf Hall, Kate Philips as Jane Seymour appealing to her brother Edward (Ed Speleers) for advice

We might fault Mantel for adhering to the conventions of good woman=docile and loyal (Liz Cromwell), presenting the hardship and pain of parturition discreetly, off-stage.

One might ask (and such romances implicitly do), if Anne is (and in histories seems to have been) ambitious and successfully manipulative (she is implicitly that in Wolf Hall — that’s what Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn is there to tell Rylance as Cromwell), so are most of the men — only this film they are mostly depicted as weak, and with misguided hubristic aims (Norfolk too), with Bernard Cumberbatch as the complicit courtier-husband, Carey,

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He can dance but no more …

and Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford, if well-meaning, equally supporting the Henry regime, at least not active on behalf of either Anne or Mary, but waiting in the wings (as it were) to become good husband material for the remmants left of the Boleyn family rescued by the maternal power of Mary

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This film ends with an exulting intertitle that Anne and Mary won after all when Elizabeth took the throne (another part of the Tudor matter is the story of Henry’s last intelligent wife, Katharine Parr who brought her up too)

Henry (played by Eric Bana who admittedly from the feature seems to have known little of the history) is presented as weak before women, duplicitous, stupid, sexually predatory, with some attempts at different kinds of shots.

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This is the kind of historical romance where you are shown an evil world careless of women and children, where the only decent safe option is retreat. History tells us Mary did this twice in life, first with Carey (who did die), and then with Stafford for which she was severely castigated by her family, funds cut off from the pair, with the implication they were miserable. Well we don’t know that and they did live a long time and died in their beds.

The 2008 Other Boleyn Girl (there is another, earlier, 2003, which I hope to watch and comment on as an added comment to this blog soon) comes with features almost as long as half the film. These showed the care for and beauty of the cinematography (the many angled intriguing and sumptuous shots), how effective the costumes, and the uses of production design far shots in landscape, and heritage places. The actors in both sets of features talked about their roles. The actresses were made to feel central to their characters was their sisterhood; Jim Sturgess was told that the explanation for George’s behavior to Jane Boleyn (he would not have full sex with her) was he was gay, over-sensitive, and was nearly driven to incest because Anne feared that Henry could not give her the healthy “seed” for a boy.

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He is shown as shattered by the pressure and terrified and protesting as the axe came down on him. This differs from the written records of the executions, but are they not biased in the direction of decorousness on behalf of the king’s “justice.” Chadwick said was he was aiming for was emotional immersion in family politics and fierce individual psychologies. As with the contrast between say Winston Graham and Daphne DuMaurier’s Cornish histories, Mantel’s book (like Graham) and Straughan’s film insofar as six hours allows roots and embeds her Tudor in the politics and wider social and economic realities of the Tudor era, while Gregory’s book (like DuMaurier’s King’s General, Jamaica Inn, and both the 2003 and 2008 films) keeps central focus on inward subjective private life.

The film begins with a married pair and three children (Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn walking, Anne, Mary and George playing in the grass) and ends symetrically (William and Mary Stafford walking, Mary’s two children by William or Henry and Elizabeth Tudor playing in the grass). Cyclical like woman’s life writing, like their experience of life. It would have been far greater to show the second set of children later on, but the soft-focus trope of refuge is too urgent.

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Sisters

I agree with Jerome de Groot (Consuming History), Helene Hughes (Historical romance) and the seminal essay by Miriam Burstein (on the typology of women characters in historical romances and history) that the key to the traditional approach to women figures (pre-feminism let’s call it) is to value the woman who is loyal above all, wary, stays in conventional roles, preferably at home; she is rewarded (as is Mary Boleyn by Gregory and in a way by Morgan) unless she drops dead from disease (Mantel’s Liz Cromwell). But I admit I often identify with these women. So part of the revision of Anne’s character comes from that. But by no means all: Anne argues ferociously with Henry in this film — this is born out as a “tempestuous marriage” by older historians like Scarisbrook on Henry VIII and Eric Ives too. Mary attempted retreat with Carey and then with Stafford in the historical record.

As I recently defended the Hampstead novel: women’s domestic themed fiction, women who write primarily to and for other women so as to forge imaginative connections and support, I have here at least explained and briefly explicated this well done women’s historical romance film.

Ellen

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Piers Paul Read, Stonegrave House (1997) (?)

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past year and one half (that long), we’ve had a reiteration of themes in several threads on WomenWritersthroughtheAges@yahoo.com, which I’ve wanted to write about as directly relevant to why women need to continue reading Austen as one of the respectable inventors of the women’s domestic novel: to read her is to arm yourself with some protection, a norm or ideal of self-respecting intelligence which might see you through the worst of heterosexual courtships (and that’s saying something); as an outspoken endorser of “middle brow” novels adhering to realistic conventions (verisimilitude is the term in some circles), and most recently as one of the first practitioners of what was referred to derisorily as “the novel of adultery in Hampstead,” for short, the Hampstead novel (how? adultery? well, you have to understand they don’t have to happen in Hampstead nor include adultery).

I’m moved finally to write about the these briefly as last week in the New York Times (no less) we were told (or it was implied) that there is no such thing as women writing primarily for other women: Cheryl Strayed would like to erase what’s overtly written this way as such domestic themed novels are denigrated by men:  she has discovered and writes against the double standard for evaluating novels by women as contrasted to novels by men.

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Short-listed — an almost Booker Prize

As chance would have it 4 days before (Cheryl’s piece appeared on May 12th), D. J. Taylor (May 8th) wrote about four of such domestic novels, a kind he once (notice he no longer does this kind of thing) wrote himself: “Reprinting the mid-list,” for TLS, pp 19-20. TLS puts it behind a wall, so not online for us all. Taylor has now turned to neo-Victorian Thackerayan fiction (redolent of Dickens too). Taylor says these caricatured novels used regularly to be made fun of (I suspect as woman’s novels), but they are precisely the novels that are often brought back and re-issued. He seems to imply some of these are the best novels of the 20th century; as all four of his choices are by men (a common characteristic found in men’s critical prose for centuries), I’ll confirm that by citing the Australian Christian Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children (far from Hampstead and about an enforced abortion) and Rosamund Lehman’s The Echoing Grove (excruciatingly castigated by Q.D. Leavis for her Dusty Answers), turned into a misogynistic movie alas; Lehman’s The Weather in the Streets is the first middle brow novel where a woman has an abortion (not in the streets, so she can reads Pride and Prejudice before and after).

Over the course of the last two threads (middle brow novels and domestic fiction), our resident fine reader, scholar and lover of the most sophisticated kinds of fantasy fiction today, Fran Z. found for us intelligent descriptions, defenses, summations of what is really meant by middle brow, a call for papers from a European journal, as well as the Hampstead novel, and the Hampstead novel (its unfortunate influence) and an intelligent analysis of its depth and value, and what respected women authors practiced it, by Kate Kellaway (The Observer, 27 December 2008).

SisterNoon
Brilliant parody with parodic cover

I have been thinking about how the outstanding Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel fits precisely (neatly) into the century-long category discussed in Diane Wallace’s The Women’s Historical Novel, British Women’s writing, 1900-2000 because in her historical fiction Mantel turns to disguise (remember Woolf’s idea that women are still veiled) by choosing as narrator, a male, Thomas Cromwell, hitherto or since Bolt, everyone’s favorite ruthless thug (as enacted by Leo McKern in the unforgettable A Man for All Seasons with Paul Scofield and Wendy Hiller). The stealth central figure is of course Anne Boleyn. Further women’s genres include a subset of detective and recently bloody murder thrillers, female gothics (see Anne Williams) ghost stories (which Mantel indulges in too, as in her Black Book). This desire to deny that women write for other women, the way men write for other men, that they may take into account other genders, but that is their prime audience does not need Nancy Miller’s explanation in her Subject to Change: The Poetics of Gender. Like other human beings, women write out of their own experience and it is heavily shaped by their gender.

What I feel compelled to assert is women’s domestic themes novels (Hampstead) are superior to men’s gargantuan wide-ranging and violent ones. Men write Hampstead novels  (from Samuel Richardson to Henry James to Ian McEwan) the way women do some men’s genres (science fiction, bloody murders, the picaro novel turned vast). Women’s novels are popular, widely read as women buy far more novels and read far more of these than men (men having been influenced by the stereotypical fear of being a “reading boy” feel justified if they can tell themselves what they are reading is factual, objective). More importantly, it’s a way of women forging connections with one another across space and time, a way of bypassing isolation and censorship.

coverforchoir
While typical covers (as above) show men in interiors,

RectorsWifeTrollope
occasionally some hired illustrator is encouraged to put a woman there.

I’ve long disliked George Eliot’s “Silly Lady Novelists” because it’s ceaselessly quoted as her statement on women’s fiction and been used to condemn such. But she wrote an essay in which she discussed the origin of women’s novels in the letters, memoirs and conversation of French women writers of the long 18th century (Women of France: Madame de Sable). This is an important strongly feminist essay on the value of women’s conversation and private lives as central to their achievement, what they see, what they know, overlooked partly because of the title: Women in France: Madame de Sable: “In France alone woman has had a vital influence on the development of literature; in France alone the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language”. Perhaps too what she has to say is not liked by feminists sheerly out for power. I just wish someone would write an essay on silly male novelists, on the junk genres males often write in, and the absurdities of their action-adventure stories and films, and sensitive male pride and egoism (D. H. Lawrence comes to mind), and transparent fatuity of their salivating over their heroine’s body parts (Naipaul comes to mind), or pornography disguised as irony (Nabokov).

weatherinthestreets
I often like Virago covers best

The earliest threads first emerged from a discussion of the fiction of Georgiana Spencer (The Sylph), the anonymous Emma, and Sophia Briscoe’s Miss Melmoth, Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy, all of which ended unfortunately when we tried Austen’s Emma: somehow Eliza Haywood came up as an alternative to what we might call the 18th century Hampstead novel in its earliest stages, in my view paradoxically (among feminist women scholars of the long 18th century) a  ludicrously over-rated women writer because she is said to show women’s sexuality frankly: a fair reading of Haywood’s pre-didactic fiction before the mid-century Betsy Thoughtless turns up voyeuristic prurience: the equivalent of the once popular teenage magazine, True Story. Alongside her the scandal-writer, Delaviere Manley, Haywood writes on a crude level of Elizabethan “God’s Vengeance” stories; for me some level of stylistic beauty is required, and is in fact one of the pleasure the Hampstead novel characteristically offered. I’ve been told she speaks out for women but find her unreadable, sycophantic to the powerful, and exploitative of her reader’s appetites with little enlightenment about these. This earlier thread was long and meandered (I can’t begin to do justice to it here — we also discussed a sub-genre of women’s life-writing in the 18th century, “Under the Sign of Angellica”). It can be found on the Yahoo listserv and a few of my blogs (search for Richardson, Spencer, Emma, Haywood). Also on my Under the Sign of Sylvia blog on LiveJournal. Their burden was whether the predecessors or originators of the Hampstead novel (from Clarissa to Betsy Thoughtless, to Burney and Austen, to 19th century women writers onto Virago authors) erase women’s sexuality; I argued at their finest, they present sexual awakening and experience as women know it, in terms that enable them to make sense of it and sometimes cope.

shiekh
An illustration from the Land of the Inheritance by Catherine Tobin (1863), “Incident in the Desert” — you would not want to show a woman traveling alone with servants or guides …

Tonight my purpose is simply to assert the women’s novel exists, it is important to and for women, and a variety of permutations exist from the Hampstead novel to women’s historical fiction, to the types outlined by Diane Philips (n her archealogy of women’s experience, to gothics, to girls’ books. Funnily enough Sayred’s own Wild fits right onto the genre of women’s travel writing (discussed in the same TLS issue as Taylor’s column, Jane Freeman’s review of Penelope Tuson’s Western Women Travelling East, 1716-1916, May 8, 2015, p 21): it descends from Sophie Cottin’s Elisabeth, a very long walk through Siberia, parodied by Austen’s in her late Plan of a Novel.

WesleyJumpingtheQueue
A typical modern cover is a drawing of a woman’s things — for Mary Wesley’s Jumping the Queue

Ellen

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