Archive for the ‘historical novels’ Category

Put upon, weary Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) (1995 Persuasion)

I cannot flourish in this east wind — Jane Austen

Dear friends and readers,

From the end of 1814 to fall 1815, what’s left are 5 more fragments, bits of letters accidentally survived, or deliberately mostly destroyed. We discover Mary and James Austen’s daughter, age 9, was then also engaged in imitating the writing aunt, and appears to have been trying to write (under Jane’s influence) imitations of Austen’s wild juvenilia (as the family apparently saw them, dismissing the content as totally non-serious).

Caroline Austen, younger sister to James-Edward Austen-Leigh and half-sister to Anna Austen Lefroy

Anna is still trying to persuade her aunts and grandmother to visit her, at the same time as she moves out of her husband’s family’s house (where she seems not to have been made comfortable — a child of the other family is bothering her) to a place closer to Chawton and Anna becomes pregnant for the first time.

Austen reveals how she goes about with servants: this time at Grafton House it was Manon, a French maid.

The interest of this time could be said to be what is kept silent about in the extant letters is Austen’s writing & revision of Emma, creating a fair copy for publication, and beginning Persuasion. While I never went on to revise my original calendar for Emma (but may find I have the time now), I am persuaded (like many others), that while there might have been snatches of drafts, this is Austen’s perhaps first novel that we have that did not exist in some large version in a previous draft that was thoroughly revised. Though Mansfield Park was not wholly epistolary, my calendar shows it represents two different phases of a book as it were smashed together with the calendars never adjusted: a novel growing out of the play which climaxed in the later elopement; a secondary narrative woven in about Henry’s courtship of Fanny; the two dovetailed into Portsmouth. My calendar for Persuasion (also unrevised) shows it too is not a revision of an earlier extensive draft, and the scheme line organizing the projected third volume (where the characters were to go to a play on a Tuesday night, doubtless to see Captain Wentworth mistakenly assume Anna is to marry Mr Elliot).

So she is hard at work at the first hot level of creation and intensely rapid revisions to ready it for the press.

It could also be said that however fragmentary, however kept from us, across all 7 fragments and the one long letter to Fanny Austen (see also 111-112, 118; letters 113-114) we see her emotional investment in her nieces.

The two fragments left of letters to Caroline:

#115, to Caroline Austen, Tuesday 6 December 1814. Jane Austen had just returned from London to Chawton the day before she wrote this letter.

My dear Caroline

I wish I could finish Stories as fast as you can. — I am much obliged to you for the sight of Olivia, & think you have done for her very well; but the good for nothing Father, who was the real author of all her Faults & Sufferings, should not escape unpunished. — I hope he hung himself, or took the sur-name of Bone or underwent some direful penance or other. —

Yours affec
J. Austen

#119 to Caroline, not Anna, ?Thursday 2 March 1815?.

… we four sweet Brothers & Sisters dine today at the Great House. Is not that quite natural? — Grandmama & Miss Lloyd will be by themselves,I do not exactly know what they will have for dinner, very likely somepork [?-Do you know that … ]

Diana Birchall:

At this time, Caroline is only nine years old, and this is a kind letter to a child, with the compliment, “I wish I could finish Stories as fast as you can.” Even so, she can’t resist a word of authorial advice, “I am much obliged to you for the sight of Olivia, & think you have done for her very well; but the good for nothing Father, who was the real author of all her Faults & Sufferings, should not escape unpunished.” And a joke, another of her “hanging” jokes — “I hope he hung himself, or took the sur-name of Bone, or underwent some direful penance or other.”

Not quite sure I get the “Bone” joke, but it is interesting, isn’t it, that the nine-year-old imitates her older sister in trying to write stories like Aunt Jane. And Caroline was supposed to have had writing talent, too. Perhaps someone who’s been reading her reminiscences lately, can tell us a little more about her writing?

A letter to a 10 year old. What’s striking is Caroline has been writing novels too, and Austen sees them as versions of her juvenilia. Did Caroline read the juvenilia? Austen had copied them out? Perhaps they circulated in the family. She is ever self-deprecating: Casssandra wrote the greatest letters; she will soon not be able to keep up with the quality of her nephew; now Caroline writes faster. And what does Austen encourage her to do to her characters. Hang them. Brutal summary action. So I wonder what was cut out (as ever), what we are missing. Maybe something not as inconsequential as LeFaye’s annotations want us immediately to conclude.

The younger sister might also be imitating Anna. Jane Austen is not chary of punishments, and here harsh ones — perhaps she reminded of her Juvenilia. Bone — how about Bone-y as in Napoleon Bonaparte; the abbreviated name was used as a kind of bugbear to frighten children with.

Caroline around the time she wrote My Aunt Jane, an old unmarried woman (whence the headdress)

Do we have here yet another gifted niece? I think so, as with Anna, minor gifts. There are two texts, both like her siblings’ dedicated to remembering Aunt Jane. 1) Reminiscences of Caroline Austen, beginning in 1804 and ending 1874, the latter part sometime just brief diary like annotations; and 2) My Aunt Jane Austen. My Aunt Jane Austen, slender as it is and unfinished has some startlingly suggestive remarks. Looking at the later years well after Jane Austen’s death, Caroline writes of the events she has before her “they are distractions, and the clue is lost amongst them.” The clue was the presence of Jane Austen with her genius interacting with the gifted members of her nuclear and their nuclear families. It is Caroline who tells the story of the tyrannical Mrs Craven, and probably one of the sources for the portrait of Lady Susan vis-a-vis Fredericka. She describes the nervous invalid Mr Lloyd commandeering his daughters to play cards with them, and says “I fear he lived in their memories chiefly as a nervous hypochondriac, as the shadow cast over their young life.” Mr Woodhouse. Caroline also tells incidents in the family life with vividness; her anecdotes are novelistic.


James Gillray, High-Change in Bond Street (everyone impolite)

#116. To ?Anna Lefroy? ?late December 1814 (it’s undated)

[recto] … Thank you for the history of your morning in Town, You know I enjoy particulars, & I was particularly amused with your picture of Grafton House; it is just so. — How much I should like finding you there one day, seated on your high stool, with 15 rolls of persian before you, & a little black woman just answering your questions in as few words as possible!- … [verso] … for your very kind invitation, but we are [?afraid it is] quite out of our power to accept it. We are going to [?Henrietta St] only for a fortnight, which will not allow of any other visit being taken out of it, and therefore you must not impute it to want of inclination, but of ability. — We shall be much [?disappointed] if we do not see you somehow or other, & shall … [nearly all the next line missing] … st be …
[No address, date or direction]

This is painful one (if it was Anna who cut it up I am not surprised): I take Austen’s remark at face value: while she does not want too many particulars clogging up a novel, throughout the letters she has been hungry for details of life lived from her sister, from anyone who writes. To extend her world. I take it she enjoyed Anna’s scene — and found it to be accurate from her experience of this fun shopping place. It’s sometimes suggested that shopping as a leisure activity for ladies with stores catering to an impulse for socializing in prestigious surroundings begins at the turn of the 20th century (Selfridge’s for example). But in the instances Diana so generously finds, we see this kind of enjoyment made a large part of shopping expeditions.

And then the overdone (transparently awkward) apologies for not coming to visit Anna who apparently has been so keen to have these visits and yet her aunt cannot find even one half day out of a fortnight

Diana Birchall:

This is a fragmentary letter, and the first part is a reply to a letter of Anna’s, which told “the history of your morning in Town.” Jane Austen says in friendly chatty mode: “You know I enjoy particulars [but not in Anna’s fiction, perhaps, where we recently saw that she famously said Anna gave too many particulars!], & I was particularly amused with your picture of Grafton House; it is just so.” Then she gives a picture of her own:

“How much I should like finding you there one day, seated on your high stool, with 15 rolls of persian before you, & a little black woman just answering your questions in as few words as possible.”

I suppose customers had high stools, so they might sit and wait, as Elinor and Marianne had to do at Gray’s in Sackville Street: “On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to attend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at the end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession.” They might remain seated while looking at the fabrics, in this case persian. The Regency and Georgian fashion glossary website defines persian as “lightweight plainweave silk lining fabric printed with large floral patterns; in use from !8th century.”

The “little black woman,” we may assume, is the clerk, dressed in a black gown, though why she would be so monosyllabic with Anna we don’t know. Actually, I’d always thought shopgirls in a big concern like Grafton House would be more common a century later; but evidently not.

Grafton House is actually of some interest in Jane Austen, and if you look you’ll see it is mentioned quite a few times in her letters. Here are some of the quotes, but darn Deirdre anyway, why doesn’t she have the mentions of Grafton House in her index, for heaven’s sake? I had to find them by the hateful useless online Brabourne, whose numbers don’t match up with LeFaye’s, and which is completely unsearchable anyway:

From Letter #87, Sept 1813 – Thursday Morning, Half-past Seven. — Up and dressed and downstairs in order to finish my letter in time for the parcel. At eight I have an appointment with Madame B., who wants to show me something downstairs. At nine we are to set off for Grafton House, and get that over before breakfast. Edward is so kind as to walk there with us. We are to be at Mr. Spence’s again at 11:05; from that time shall be driving about I suppose till four o’clock at least. We are, if possible, to call on Mrs. Tilson.

From Letter #88, 16 Sept 1813 – I hope you will receive the Gown tomorrow & may be able with tolerable honesty to say that you like the Colour; – it was bought at Grafton House, where, by going very early, we got immediate attendance & went on very comfortably. – I only forgot the one particular thing which I had always resolved to buy there – a white silk Handkf – & was therefore obliged to give six shillings for one at Crook & Besford’s.”

A silk handkerchief was expensive in those days! And clearly prices were good at Grafton House. Such shopping was no doubt something of an event to the sisters, who lived in the country, and all the particulars were of keen importance and interest to their enterprise, experience, and budgets.

Same letter: “We must have been three quarters of an hour at Grafton House, Edward sitting by all the time with wonderful patience. There Fanny bought the net for Anna’s gown, and a beautiful square veil for herself. The edging there is very cheap. I was tempted by some, and I bought some very nice plaiting lace at three and fourpence.”

And from an earlier Letter, #70, 18 April 1811: “Wednesday was likewise a day of great doings, for Manon [LeFaye identifies Manon as Eliza’s maidservant] & I took our walk to Grafton House, & I have a good deal to say on that subject. I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too…We set off immediately before breakfast, and must have reached Grafton House by half past eleven; but when we entered the shop the whole counter was thronged and we waited full half an hour before we could be attended to. When we were served however, I was very well satisfied with my purchases.”

LeFaye in a note does identify Grafton House as “probably the premises of the drapers Wilding & Kent, which were on the corner site of Grafton Street and 164 New Bond Street.”

Emily Hendrikson’s Regency Reference website gives a little description: “Although Bond Street wasn’t the most elegant looking street, it was deemed the most fashionable. Jane Austen liked to shop at Grafton House, 164 New Bond Street, as did many other ladies.This was a linen-draper’s shop where fabrics for gowns, trimmings, and accessories could be bought. Accompanied by a maid or footman, the ladies shopped there in the late morning hours before the street became the province of the gentlemen from two until five.” We have seen that she went with the French maid, Manon.

The rest of Letter #116 is merely a very half-hearted excuse for not visiting Anna. The phrases are rote, more so than I have seen in almost any paragraph by Jane Austen anywhere; it’s so tepidly written she almost resorts to cliches (!) “…your very kind invitation, but we are [afraid it is] quite out of our power to accept it…you must not impute it to want of inclination, but of ability. – We shall be much [disappointed] if we do not see you somehow or other, & shall…” Somehow or other?

As close as the 1995 film gets to showing the child climbing on Anne Elliot’s back (Amanda Root) and taken off by Captain Wentworth

#117: To Anna Lefroy ?between early February and July 1815

[top of p. 3J … from the first, being born older, is a very good thing. — I wish you perseverance & success with all my heart — and have great confidence of your producing at last, by dint of writing … [nearly all the next line missingJ … work. — Shall … [top of p. 4J … If You & his Uncles are good friends to little Charles Lefroy; he will be a great deal the better for his visit; — we thought hima very fine boy, but terribly in want of Discipline. — I hope he gets a wholesome thump, or two, whenever it is necessary. [nearly all the next line missingJ … [?J with us when we … [No address, date or direction]

Basically LeFaye has no idea when this was written either. From No 118, which follows hard upon it, seems to me Austen has grown closer to Anna and is treating her — writing to her — in the same open spirit as to Cassandra. It may be that Anna was complaining about the way she was treated vis-a-vis her other siblings and Austen reminds her she is at least oldest (Austen was the younger sister, and nearly the youngest of the Austen children). Austen has gotten to know some of the tensions in that household is the way I’d say this. Austen says thump the child — it may be the child is allowed to do what he wants with his age as an excuse; I’d want to know who was the mother and how his presence impinged on Anna’s. Why this was permitted? Anna not standing up for herself to me foreshadows Anne Elliot overwhelmed by her sister, Mary Musgrove’s children and needing help from Wentworth. Remember how he pulled the boy off Anne’s shoulder? Perhaps little Charles was a climber …

Diana Birchall:

The first fragment is so very fragmentary as to be almost unintelligible. (There. Is that not a Jane Austen-like observation?) Deirdre does some detective work to show that the undisciplined child Charles Lefroy was probably staying at Hendon with Anna, Ben and his brother. Jane had been visiting George Lefroy (Madam Lefroy’s son) and his family at Ashe, and was familiar with the naughty five-year-old. “I hope he gets a wholesome thump,” she says cheerfully, if not very kindly.

#118 To Anna Lefroy, ?late February – early March 1815.

I’ve cited and discussed this one in the earlier blog linked in above; and I suggested that it ought to be placed earlier. Here I’ll comment on Laetitia Hawkins. Hawkins was the daughter of Sir John, long-time friend and important biographer of Johnson, an early rival to Boswell, who knew a lot about Johnson from their early shared lives together. She was also a strongly conservative writer, anti-Jacobin, and may be allied with Hannah More, Jane West, Elizabeth Hamilton &c. Roseanne might indeed have been tediously didactic. Austen did not like to be coerced. There are two articles on Hawkins beyond Isobel Grundy’s short life for the ODNB. One is on her letters to Helena Maria Williams a mild Girondist type, living a modern free life relatively (she was a journalist, lived with a partner, wrote remarkable letters from France favoring the revolution and then at least its principles and then further travel books as she too fled …), a conservative riposte: Steven Blackmore, Revolution and the French disease: Laetitia Matilda Hawkins’s ‘Letters’ to Helen Maria Williams, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 36:3 (summer 1996), p 673 ff. The other is a review of Kate Williams, Lisa Wood’s Modes of Discipline: Women, Conservatism and the Novel after the French Revolution, The Modern Language Review, 100.3 (July 2005):790ff


“We have got ‘Roseanne’ in our Society” – refers to a novel by Laetitia Matilda Hawkins, “Roseanne, A Father’s Labour Lost,” 1814. It was dedicated (Deirdre says) to the Countess of Waldegrave, in praise of her practice of “pure Christianity.” I will content myself instead with mightily enjoying Jane Austen’s epigrammatical and wittily apt phrase of criticism: “we…find it much as you describe it; very good and clever, but tedious.” Mrs. Hawkins’ great excellence is on serious subjects. There are some very delightful conversations and reflections on religion: but on lighter topics I think she falls into many absurdities; and, as to love, her heroine has very comical feelings. There are a thousand improbabilities in the story. Do you remember the two Miss Ormesdens, introduced just at last? Very flat and unnatural. Mlle. Cossart is rather my passion.”

And we know how Jane Austen feels about “improbabilities” in a story. (“Bad, very bad,” as Mr. Knightley said.) The only reason I’d want to read “Roseanne” is to find out who was Mlle. Cossart who is her passion!

She returns to ordinary gossip, writing to Anna much as she writes to Cassandra. Miss Gibson has returned to the Great House, “and is pretty well, but not entirely so.” According to Deirdre, Miss Gibson had been nursed through an attack of measles at the Cottage by Mrs. Austen and her daughters. I’m still not sure who she is; a sister of Frank Austen’s wife Mary Gibson, perhaps. Captain Clement wanted to drive out Miss Gibson, but they have not done so yet. He may be Henry’s banking partner, but why he’s a Captain eludes me.

“I cannot flourish in this east wind which is quite against my skin and conscience,” Jane Austen protests. She will see “nothing of Streatham while we are in town” – a reference to her friend Mrs. Hill, nee Catherine Biggs, married to the Rev. Henry Hill, and living in Streatham, where she is about to lie in. Jane Austen writes, “Mrs. Hill is to lye-in of a Daughter early in March – Mrs. Blackstone [a family connection] is to be with her. Mrs. Heathcote & Miss Big are just leaving her.” The knowing the sex of the baby was a joke; Alfred-Wither Hill was born March 14.

She finishes this fragment with another bon mot: “the latter writes me word that Miss Blachford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers. And one may as well be single if the Wedding is not to be in print.”


Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) braves the mud to reach a sick Jane at Netherfield (1995 P&P)

120. To Anna Lefroy. Friday 29 September 1815, Chawton.

My dear Anna

We told Mr Ben Lefroy that if the weather did not prevent us, we should certainly come & see you tomorrow, & bring Cassy, trusting to your being so good as to give her a dinner about one 0′ clock, that we might be able to be with you the earlier & stay the longer — but on giving Cassy her choice of the Fair or Wyards, it must be confessed that she has preferred’ the former, which we trust will not greatly affront you; — if it does, you may hope that some little Anna hereafter may revenge the insult by a similar preference.of an Alton fair to her Cousin Cassy. — In the meanwhile, we have determined to put off our visit to you till Monday, which we hope will be not less convenient to You. — I wish the weather may not resolve upon other put-offs. I must come to you before Wednesday if it be possible, for on that day I am going to London for a week or two with your Uncle Henry, who is expected here on Sunday If Monday therefore should appear too dirty for walking, & Mr Ben Lefroy would be so kind as to come & fetch me to spend some part of the morns with you, I should be much obliged to him. Cassy might be of the Party, & your Aunt Cassandra will take another opportunity —

Your GrandMama sends her Love & Thanks for your note. She was very happy to hear the contents of your Packing Case. — She will send the Strawberry roots by Sally Benham, as early next week as the weather may allow her to take them up. —
Yours very affec
My dear Anna
J. Austen
[No addressJ

Seven months have passed since Letters 117 and 118, and Anna has moved to Wyards. Cassandra’s note tells us Austen finished Emma March 29, started Persuasion August 8. Diana remarked that from other letters and documents we know that in September the manuscript of Emma was at John Murray’s, and his reader William Gifford famously wrote to him on 29 Sept, “Of Emma I have nothing but good to say.” All this should have been in notes to this letter; none of it is.

Much in such fragments and amid the gaps left depends on how we read the tone. To me this one is much much friendlier, warmer, less stilted in language (“My dear Anna” and “yours very affectionately” feel loving). Yet Austen may be using Cassy’s preference as an excuse (and we know a child’s preference can be over-ridden when it’s a case of a wanted visit) not to come herself. And we should remember from earlier letters that Cassy at first feared Cassandra, and both aunts showed some indifference to her plight aboard a ship. There is the word “affront.” Austen is parrying here: by saying that they hope Anna will not be greatly affronted, they make it hard for her to complain. My guess is she saw through the excuses in previous letters, and hurt, complained. Yet there is real affection in the words, and literally too Jane offers to come on Monday. The insistence on some need of a vehicle against the dirt (and possibly poor people on the road who would bother them, or gasp! unknown men) suggests she is not adverse to coming for a visit. And Austen says she must come before Wednesday so is not using the coming visit as an excuse not to come (they’ve no time) but a reason to set a specific day before leaving.

These Austens are not a forgiving lot – or remained sternly against Ben as not fitting their idea of a husband who would rise in the world (and whatever else they held against him). It seems that Anna was not comfortable with his family as she has moved into lower status quarters to get away, to get some independence and privacy. She is sliding away from gentility into that middle area which includes farmers, laborers, servants even. And is seven months pregnant. I prefer to think this development — moving out, perhaps moving down, pregnancy has elicited some of the original relationship, but it seems Cassandra does not want to come. The grandmother may not want to traipse through mud, but September is still a good month in the UK and there is some exaggeration here. OTOH, Mrs Austen is glad to know some things Anna was wanting have come. Sally Benham is a village girl used as a servant.

Here is Austen cheerful on the surface, making do, trying to cover up tensions (not make them worse as she was when she wrote Fanny nastily over Anna’s pianoforte &c). And herself looking forward to her London visit, now the busy and to-be-paid author. It might strike her how far Anna is from herself knowing anything like this now she’s pregnant, something Austen usually does not forget. She has identified with Anna from the time we saw her say Anna does not get to go to balls anything like those she, Jane, went to.

Diana has the last word on this letter:

There has been a gap in letters from March to September, and now at the end of that month Jane Austen writes a note to Anna, who has moved from Hendon to Wyards. This was a large farmhouse just outside Chawton, “belonging to an Alton shopkeeper, one end of which was occupied by a sort of bailiff or foreman with his family, and they rented the remainder.” Since Anna was now so close by, it would seem that there was no need for correspondence between them. This is only a note about possibly going to see Anna and bringing Cassy “trusting to your being so good as to give her a dinner about one o’clock,” but then the child is given the choice of going to the Fair or Wyards, and she chooses Wyards. A typical Jane Austen riposte, in which she hopes that the insult will be revenged someday if a young cousin of Cassy’s should prefer a fair to visiting her. They will come Monday instead; it must be before Wednesday, since then she is going to London with Henry. “If Monday therefore should appear too dirty for walking, & Mr. Ben Lefroy would be so kind as to come & fetch me to spend some part of the morning with you, I should be much obliged to him,” Jane writes, reminding us once again of the difficulty of transportation in the neighborhood, or any neighborhood, at that period. The smallest trip involving “solitary female walking” involves anxious study of the state of the road – it’s all just dirt of course, and raining as much as it does in England, the muddy roads thick with horse droppings would have been something fearful. When Elizabeth Bennet’s petticoats were inches deep in mud, we must remember she was bringing horse dung into the Netherfield drawing-room.

Cassy was Charles’s eldest daughter, whom Caroline Austen wrote that she lived at her Grandmother’s “for a time, under the especial tutorage of Aunt Cassandra.”


“These fragments have I shored against my ruin.” We are at the high point of Austen’s all-too-short career and time in London. In Nov 1796 the publisher by return of post rejected her manuscript, sight unseen; now an important publisher, Murray, does not let time slip before he has a respected reader read the text quickly and comment on it. A dedication to the Prince as a patron is not seen as inappropriate! And yet Miss Austen’s real relationships (those that count) remain embedded in her intimate family group. These include female communities (so by extensive other women novelists and writers of memoirs and letters).

Jane (Olivia Williams) sitting up with the ill Henry in London, 1816 (Miss Austen Regrets, 2009)

Since we are reading these letters with the knowledge of what’s to come, I’ll mention the poignancy is also that Henry would become ill — he was probably straining intensely by this time and I suggest the illness was connected to the crash (ultimately connected to Napoleon’s fall), which crash also meant Austen had to return to Chawton. She would also crash when the uncle died and disappointed them all — the sense is he had led them to expect legacies — it’s suggested that her Hodgkins’s Disease (a cancer, a lymphoma) was helped along, brought on, by Austen’s distress (registered in a later letter).


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From Fortunes of War (Part 2)

After some moments, he smiled his old ironical smile and began: ‘I was in my office upstairs, innocently reading Miss Austen, when I heard a fracas down here. Half a dozen young men had burst in and started smashing the place up.’ — The Spoilt City

Jane Austen sgives “a truer picture of human nature than the wicked Mr. [Oscar] Wilde could ever do” (1945 Introd to Northanger Abbey), yet she “really had no conception of what men talked about when they were away from women … ” [to Francis King, quoted in Deirdre David’s Life)

Friends and readers,

I’m here to recommend the WW2 trilogies of of Olivia Manning’s, yet another confessedly Austen-influenced powerful and perceptive woman writer who however differs from Austen by her wide range of perspective, and stance of objectivity when it comes to reportage which much of her novel is. If you are among those who think women do not write sagas, can’t write impersonally and want an absorbing novel which has much to teach us today about the corrupt ideologically self-serving politicians and regimes running this earth, this is the salutory one for you.

Accompany it by — I reveled in — the 1987 film adaptation scripted by Alan Plater, famously featuring Emma Thompson as Harriet and Kenneth Branagh as Guy Tringle as our central married couple,

The first shot of them looking away from one another captures the ambiguity of their relationship

and you will find the inward personal perspective of somewhat Austenian heroine who remains loyal to a unacknowledged wholly unconventional marriage despite (as made more evident in the films) the pain Guy’s distancing himself from her and promiscuities cause her.

Still, it is remarkably strong, compelling, vivid and stays in the mind. She has gotten down how war is felt or experienced from a civilian standpoint — and a particular woman, Harriet, a version of herself. I found I could put The Great Fortune down for more than 2 weeks and then pick it up where I left off and it’s just as if I had put it down 5 minutes ago. It stays with you. The same goes for The Spoilt City.

My main critique stems from its strength. As someone might experience war it’s a series of bulletins, tales told now and again and scares, sudden nights out and then hide away. AT the same time not to give us Harriet’s inner life creates a vaccuum. She is a reflector who doesn’t reflect. I realize this is Manning protecting herself and Guy – but she has embarked on this recording of her real experience and real people who led semi-exciting lives.

In short, it’s got everything. I admit I’ve read but two of the first 3 novels, The Balkan Trilogy: The Great Fortune and The Spoilt City, but feel I will go on for the third, Friends and Heroes (the title echoing a fellow Anglo-Irish woman, Elizabeth Bowen’s novel, Friends and Cousins).

The film adaptation provides a kind of evocative counterpoint, so it’s two versions of the same events, one bringing out the inward and Harriet as central consciousness, so that for example, Harriet’s adoption of a kitten as a metaphor for humanity in this war is made poignantly visual and as important as the other events which the novel with its sense of proportion does not do. The extermination of thousands, ruthless take-over of a state and its resources and immediate impoundment of all its resources, wealth, positions, the state of eastern Europe in 1939 of course takes up much more room in the book, so the kitten might be overlooked. An image speaks to us, especially when we are told at the close of Part 2 the kitten has probably been spitefully allowed to fall to its death off a high balcony.

Like so many of these film adaptions in the heritage mode, it begins with a powerful anonymous train, only this one is going into fearful dark territory (see near closing still of Part 1)

Rumania — it was shot on location, including the beautiful buildings of Bucharest that survived the war

Instead of the train as a small toy old-fashioned object in a pretty place (Month in the Country) or the beautiful speed demon in gorgeous landscape (Downton Abbey), this is a scary older one which crushes as it moves. The wheels are photographed, it’s photographed from underneath.

Fortunes of War is almost like another novel next to the same one, the angle of vision is so resolutely on the private story and away from the politics of the book which is its central strength. Yet the private story as developed by Plater is — up to a certain point — so good that it’s like being in a second novel about the same story and characters. Here too I’d like to record a rare superiority in the film adaptation of Poldark to this and treatment of the heroine which I put an essay on this list about (Miriam Burstein on the depictiins of Anne Boleyn) in the film adaptation, partly becuase it’s so central to the novel Demelza commits adultery with her lover; in the film adaptation of Fortunes of War this is not permitted and it’s a severe weakening of the material

Its strongly typical features (from Brideshead Revisited to Downton Abbey) include long shots, the announcement & experience of a tough war Britain won (at great cost), witty suggestive dialogue, and even a play within a play. The music is nostalgic wistful, alluring — out of kilter with a war film, but not to the heritage film as we sometimes see Guy and Harriet walking in the colonades (as did Amy Dorrit in Little Dorrit) of this physically old beautiful city — evidence it was once prestigious are all the grand mansions


Since this is an Austen blog I’ll tell first of some Austen parallels in these two novels and then briefly of the action and themes of the first two books and their corresponding three parts in Fortunes of War.

Guy as chorus (Branagh)

Central to the concluding sequence of the first novel, The Great Fortune (“The Fall of Troy”), the characters put on Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida. Manning shows us this is great saturnine play, with brilliant cynical and tragic commentary and scenes on war. The way she did this reminded me of Mansfield Park (though I know other 18th century novels did this) when she brought out the roles and inner natures of the characters in the “real” world by giving them parallel characters in Shakespeare’s play. Austen may have kept Fanny out of the play instinctively both (Harriet & Fanny) become a Jamesian reflector.

So like MP, the play within a play has characters who roles, parts, highlight and reinforce the personalities and significance of the characters. Harriet is a modest Fanny Price type; at first she seems a natural for Cressida as Guy’s wife, but Guy hurts her feelings by implying she’s not good at it, and will be busy with costumes (giving the part to the woman who was at least once his mistress, Sophie) but then she is intensely relieved. Like Fanny, she is on the side, helping out, watching, everyone’s audience. Sophia is perfect for Cressida. Guy is chorus. Inchcape, the ex-headmaster and head here is Ullysses. Fox Lederer (a ruthless murderer military type much admired) is Achilles. Yakimov makes a brilliant Pandarus. And Thersites the drunken crippled English hanger-on who amuses all. The men who are journalists (and the actors are same crew who were in Tinker Tailor at this time — they must’ve crossed from set to set) are suspicious but effective truth-finders.

Harriet expects it to fail; in Rumania where Jews are being deported, a frightening place, Germany’s invasion nearer every day she is taught people will have a good time if they can. Everyone turns out all dressed up and the play is a great success. Guy’s gregariousness and hope is vindicated again. He is a good communist and (like Frederick Wiseman in Central Park)has brought a communitarian feel back. Clarence, a “friend” of Guy’s propositions Harriet to return home with him, but she refuses to join in with his nihilism.


Brilliances of the film: we see parts of the play filmed with the audience watching, especially Harriet with an escaped prisoner she and Guy are hiding in the box (improbable yes). and this is intertwined with powerful footage from WW2 — people being killed, tanks, the entry into Paris of the tanks, battlefields over which we hear these practiced British actors speaking Shakespeare’s lines – not in the book. We see the after party of them all as real people in these costumes — not in the book.

The Scots conscientious objector and cynic Dubebat appropriately played the angry Thersites

To conclude the comparison of Austen and Manning: both cool customers, both deeply sceptical, see through false posturing, are bored when things are so tedious (that’s why so much is omitted and we keep jumping from occasion to occasion in the text), but there is also a great difference.

Austen just does not come near the political perspective. Manning is no liberal, and questions Guy’s generosity in effect (shows it up), but there is a larger political and cultural world captured here. Compare for example the reach of the Lovers Vow play and that of Troilus and Cressida. Even the choice of play says something. Austen does pick a second rate (at best) work, and not the best translation (it’s not) of Kotzebue, and the best one was available in editions that made the circulating library (Thompson was translator of many German plays); Manning not only picks a genius, but a great work whose psychology-as-political meanings are not very often done justice to.

The Great Fortune, the first book

Harriet and Guy in the car arriving at Bucharest

It’s an excellent book and clearly closely based on actual historical people and events. The way the art structure works reminds me of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, meaning she lurches from one time to another, not long apart, but in order to bring us to a new point of theatrical scene which delivers impact of inward minds too. The inbetween is not Proustian in Powell’s way: she is determined not to write a woman’s novel and yet she does because her point of view is Harriet’s.

An extraordinary section called “Snow,” reminding me of Orphan Pamuk’s Snow.

A central character we return to continually for the whole of Balkan Trilogy is “Prince” Yakimov, the drone time-serving falsely attached treacherous hypocritical and yet ever so vulnerably human with his perpetual need for food and drink, ever the outsider, identifying with every- and therefore no one. Ronald Pickup as this characters stole every scene he appeared in.


That he is a central character in the book, suggests its unusual perspective: for he is a nobody to the implied author and everyone about him, and yet he’s endessly there, the Pander. It’s his amoral unqualifiedly selfish (only wants to feed and drink himself luxuriously, live luxuriously, do nothing – an extreme of Tolstoy’s Oblonsky) point of view she wants to use.

The mean hard sordid treacherous desperate happenings amid this excitement, heightened life reminds me of Elizabeth Bowen’s war fiction (especially Heat of the Day). Sharp, hard, disillusioned precisely seen, this is great historical fiction – the history more than accurate, insightful, the fiction profoundly evocative of the mood and meaning of what's happening. Olivia Manning is Anglo-Irish, and this is part of her power that she does not identify with any country or party, is an outsider by birth, a nobody who belongs with no one. Among her singleton novels is The Wind Changes. set in Dublin in 1921.

I re-watched Part 1 of the movie and was even more impressed by its depiction of this ugly time with its throwing up of truth of how things work and the great beauty of many a mise-en-scene at the same time. Plater does not have to resort to continual brutal violence to reveal the brutality of the way things operate. I find I understood more in Part 1 by the reading I’ve done about the leaders of Rumania, the Nazi take-over and novels 1 and 2 since; there are planted in Parts 1 & 2 (=Novel 1) foreshadowings to what’s to come (Novels 2 & 3 at least).

The Spoilt City, the second book

The wealthy financier Jew, Druckner, seemingly powerful robust, is simply imprisoned, beaten continually, last seen broke, nearing his death by execution (still from Part 3 of Fortunes of War)

Harriet and Guy are surrounded by a world going to pieces, very dangerous: no food to be found, people fleeing, wild violence on the part of the powerful. If I did not know that this is based on a real story, I’d say it’s improbable that they stayed. The improbable does often happen, so the question I ask is Why? Why does Guy stay? She stays because he does and his job is his excuse, but it’s a farce the job.

She tries to save Drucker’s marked son, Sasha by asking her erstwhile lover, Clarence (who’s leaving) to provide papers. He says no flat out. It’s troubling — were this the non-fiction — that she does not ask for herself. Sasha is like her red kitten; she is her red kitten

Did Manning make this a fiction to disguise the troubled nature of her private life and the staying on?

I suggest one temptation for these books must be to use them as mines of history. It’s so much more fun than reading deliberately veiled newspapers or bureaucratic boilerplate intended to hide rather than reveal quite what’s happening. Manning is coolly showing us how the world works — and how in WW2 the raw working of powerful people (revealed to Harriet in the intimate moments between people she glimpses) is made itself manifest in the large public lies. Again and again Manning shows how Guy gets along in the world is simply to like so many people and seem to be doing all he can for them, so her attitude constitutes a basic threat to the fundamental way he manages to survive.

Despina, the Rumanian servant’s falling for every untruth stands for the Rumanian people but I think this is probably a slur (in effect). And now the Blitz in London has begun.

It’s very effective writing and as she goes she does show the falseness of the political world, how little it rides on, the floating world … Complicated politics are sorted out for us, how the queen came back too and why …

It seemed to me that Wikileaks and the people revealing the sordid under reality of powerful people had nothing to tell Manning. She exposes the shallow people, the adulation of the peasants (uneducated) for the Nazi types, as partly a result of the wholly inadequate help the “king” with his “humanity” offers anyone. So all this stuff about “captains” is bullshit.

It’s a closed class system is shown repeatedly. The black irony is what can hold the English summer school open (which provides Guy’s job) is this upper class prestigious (why are they numinous) is coming to lecture on Byron. And everyone defers.

We see also some feminism in this chapter if back-handed. The male teachers who want to band together to stay urge the three unmarried females to go home — women without men can’t take care of themselves. Manning shows how they are dependent on the salary they get and how such a thing can really keep people on a place they are at risk of being killed from (by deporting to extermination camps). Nafisi is like the rich lady-in-waiting at court, insulated; not Manning’s women.

Plater has Harriet with genuine confidantes, here Bella — whom the heroine cannot usually afford

I did read that Manning as Harriet has no women friends and could have tried to show one or invented one. She is in a way giving us autobiography and it seems she was not an easy woman to get along with. She does stick to Guy and his (male) friends. All the women she comes across function as rivals in reality — take Sophie as Cressida.

As to Yakimov he is pushed by his alliance (I would not call it friendship) with the newsman to go to Transylvania briefly by train, stumbles on an old Nazi ally, gives away a map he found in Guy’s apartment (left over from a useless speculative and now dangerous dialogue about blowing up a bridge on a river) to placate the man who scares him momentarily, and then returns to the Pringles. Yakimov sees revolution about to happen in the streets — the outside, the impulses are despair at injustice, starvation, turning them into slaves, and grabs his best coat, suitcase and off to Istanbul with the money (form bribes) given him by this official.


The captain is the king, now killed by the Nazis – who said how bad he had been

I’m just at this time reading Trollope’s Macdermots of Ballycloran where we are given an intimate picture of how revolutions form from within (in Ireland, 1830s), who begins it, how, who joins in, why, the first cells so to speak (angry, desperate poverty with no hope for change in sight, flagrant injustice arousing intense angry, hatred for hypocrisies).

The two books work in tandem for me.

Mooney says that Spoilt City is his favorite of the 6 novels — and yet it’s apparently less on film than the others because less outward things happen. At its close she suddenly flees, and without Guy, for Athens (for Friends and Heroes) and Levant Trilogy occurs in Cairo and Egypt (Is it Cairo Judy) – where some will remember The English Patient) was set.


The equivalent of the whole of The Spoilt City is Part 3 of the films. Part 3 thus has an imitable part for Alan Bennet, as the only apparently detached absent-minded woolly professor (in reality, narcissistic) come to Bucharest to give a lecture on Byron (he is as dangerous as anyone else it turns out:


Too much is piled into this part so it offers atmosphere – the travelogue, the fearful haunting public scenes, emblematic. yet the film part again enriches and corrects the book (for example making interwoven and much franker the unconventional relationship of Harriet-Olivia to Guy-Reggie), the book fills out what the film cannot show in its visual way — the mean hard sordid treacherous desperate happenings amid this excitement, heightened life reminding me of Elizabeth Bowen’s war fiction. Sharp, hard, disillusioned precisely seen, this is great historical fiction – the history more than accurate, insightful, the fiction profoundly evocative of the mood and meaning of what’s happening.

On the other hand, it has the kind of flaws one often finds in heritage films. My friend, Judy Geater accurately sums it up:

I did feel the whole theme of hunger and poverty which dominates large sections of the books is underplayed in the series, and in the books everybody is also increasingly ragged – Yakimov’s grand fur coat is falling to bits. Of course it would be difficult to show all this fully, as you can’t starve your actors, but the desperate beggars in the streets are a constant presence in The Balkan Trilogy and almost never seen in the series.


I wanted to recommend a short essay I found in a book I’ve recommended before: Thomas Staley’s Twentieth Century Women Novelists which has unusually original (not cant filled, not jargon, not fashionable) essays whose subjects even show the genuineness of the collection: among them Drabble, PD. ames, Muriel Spark, Susan Hill – and Olivia Manning. It’s called “Witness to History” and is by Harry J. Mooney Jr. Mooney also thinks very highly of The Levant Trilogy, the second six books). Mooney really gives a rare fair frank assessment of the type one hardly ever sees, concise, beautifully written. It’s like turning back to the world of Scrutiny, minus the elitism.

Also very good: Mary Salmon, “Nowhere to Belong the Fiction of Olivia Manning,” The Linen Hall Review, 3:3 (Autumn, 1986):11-13
Salmon bring in how Manning’s first novel was The Wind Changes: she begins by writing a political book and again divides the perspective to a dual perspective, a woman like Harriet who feels she belongs nowhere, and the other an Irish male revolutionary. This is one of a series of Irish novels — she was Anglo-Irish — where she buys into the delusions of the British empire and perhaps not openly meaning to exposes them. Her central character is a woman is a painter.

It is really difficult or expensive to buy a biography, her books except for those filmed in Fortunes of War are often not in print — or libraries. Deirdre David’s biography is jargon- and careerist-driven, but it is feminist and Margaret Drabble gives it strong if qualified praise. I’d like to read Manning’s Extraordinary Cats; after the failure of her one pregnancy, she became very fond of cats. (The fetus partly a baby by that time, thought not viable, died in the 6th month and she was forced to carry it to term stillborn and never tried again). The book is said to be very good. Super-expensive. I realized why I could get into her adult novel about love: School for Love centers on a young boy. What a cop-out — and it makes Annie Ernaux stand out; Jelinek too. She did published under a male pseudonym or using initials and I can see is not exactly fond or empathetic with female characters particularly — Harriet is given no female confidante. But Olivia did have a few in life, e.g., Stevie Smith.

Austen did not mention cats (or pets) much; a rare occasion is her letter from Bath May 1799: “a little black kitten runs about the Staircase.”

Judy remarked of Friends and Heroes (which I’ll start next):

In the novels Harriet also starts to look after a second cat later, which is half-starved, at a time when the characters are all desperately hungry – this cat didn’t feature in the series. While reading the books I felt as if both of the cats were possibly doubles for Harriet, playing out what is going on in her mind, as her thoughts become increasingly “fierce” and desperate and then later she is starving for both food and love and with nowhere she can call home, like the second stray cat.

Kitten Gone


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Verity Poldark and Captain Blamey dancing together

Dear friends and readers,

I know it’s absurd of me to come back to this listserv community on historical fiction and its film adaptations I’ve been trying to title, set up as a group and attract people to, but I’ve not given up. After my initial enthusiasm for one series, I’ve renamed it yet a third time, this one I hope reflecting accurately what I’d love to find more people in love with sufficiently to want to read, watch movies and maybe discuss the pairings together. After all the Graham 18th century historical Cornish novels are but one example of the type; Austen films which I’ve studied so closely are another.

I’ve opened a listserv for anyone who is interested in this genre as such — historical fiction and film adaptations and invite anyone who loves them too to join:


Thus far on this listserv we’ve discussed the Poldark series, Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, Upstairs Downstairs, A Tale of Two Cities, and now Fortunes of War, how central is our love for characters in which books we love, how this is what makes casting so important, different versions of the same book, how to reach the BBC through an American computer (the software is Expat Shield).

Barton cottage (2008 S&S by Davies)

Mrs Austen, Elinor and Marianne arrive

Another version of S&S.

So come one, come all, or none.


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Excellent Letters; & I am sure he must be an excellent Man. They are such-thinking, clear, considerate Letters as Frank might have written …

Aunt Jane (Olivia Williams) and Fanny Austen (Imogen Poots) conspiring
(Miss Austen Regrets 2008)

Dear friends and readers,

Another two weeks, another letter. Two days have passed since the last letter, and we have an even more snowy journal letter. It consists of four entries over 4 days; she begins on Saturday, and for the next three days, the day she sits down again is underlined: Sunday, Monday,Tuesday. This time it’s confusing to go strictly chronologically (close read in the order of the letter) as the letter is disjointed, moving back and forth associatively and according an immediate stimulus; but to go thematically altogether loses the sense of context. So I move back and forth.

Topics include: personal relationships that count, two court cases, snowy weather, literary remarks. This is interwoven with telling of social visiting (or entertaining the courted Fanny Austen Knight), theater going, visits, walking, shopping and clothes.

Here is the full text.

The particular interest of the letter is Henry is reading Mansfield Park and Austen watching him keenly; he tries to please her. She has begun Emma; Emma is on her mind and we see her going to the theater where she sees plays that influenced her conception and shows familiarity with a number of actor and singer’s careers; Robert Wm Elliston, Edmund Kean, Catherine Stephens.

Robert Wm Ellison

It may not be a coincidence that she named her secondary heroine, Miss Smith, after seeing a Miss Smith on the stage.

Young men are courting her niece, Fanny, and she must stand by, be chaperon, facilitator, watch Fanny make choices she would not make, go out in the snow to keep Fanny active. Edward is involved in two court cases and writing a woman friend. She is famously unimpressed by Byron’s Corsair and plots her and Cassandra’s movements around what they surmize Henry wants and, together with Madame Bigeon, are sure to get raspberry jam for him.

I am again close reading with Diana Birchall.


Ford Madox Ford, The Corsair’s Return (1870): Pre-Raphaelite painting of an episode from Byron’s The Corsair

We might compare this rapid getting down of journal entries, to be sent to her sister, to Frances to her sister, Susan. The comparison falls down here, though, as I do not recall Fanny Burney ever apologizing to Susan for writing to her or deprecating her anger or scolding for writing too much. “Do not be angry with me for beginning another Letter to you.” Jane and Cassandra’s relationship is still fraught with opposing attitudes and needs.

Diana remarked: “It is two days since the last letter, and Jane Austen is still at Henrietta Street. And she begins with one of her most famous sayings: ‘I have read the Corsair, mended my petticoat, & have nothing else to do.’ This is usually taken to mean that she was not overly impressed by Byron, and we can easily imagine it would have been a very Sir Walter Elliot/Admiral Croft situation (“reciprocal compliments, which would have been esteemed about equal”).

Since the poem quickly became well-known and was seen as seethingly exciting & lurid, Austen is making a statement by making it the equivalent of mending her petticoat. Maybe Austen senses what others feel are false titillation while they sit in their secure parlors.

Diana: “Nasty weather, “Thickness & Sleet,” and “Getting out is impossible,” but yet social life goes on. Young Wyndham Knatchbull accepts an invitation and is thought of as “he may do for Fanny,” but she will later marry his older brother, whose wife will die first. They are to see friends, Mrs. Latouche and Miss East, and to avoid Miss Harriet Moore, friend of Henry’s. A domestic detail: Henry is out of Raspberry Jam, Madame Bigeon offers some – so will Cassandra bring a pot when she comes?


They are expecting and on Sunday considerably after four o’clock Edward and Fanny arrive. For their sakes young Wyndham has been invited (for Fanny), they are stuck going to Mrs Latouche and [her daughter] Miss East in two weeks. She groans (half-dreading it already), and is not made more sociable by Miss H. Moore’s (Harriot’s note) apologizing for not returning Jane’s visit and says they (Henry and Jane) can come this evening. “Thank you says Jane” ” but we shall be better engaged.” Not keen on any of it as usual.

Edward (Pip Torrens) talking amiably with Jane (Olivia Williams (Miss Austen Regrets 2008)

In this letter we see that Fanny Austen Knight was the object of courtship by three suitors: Wildman, Wyndham, and Plumptre — not to omit the presence of George Hatton hanging around at a distance. She was an heiress, young, very conventional, pretty enough. What’s not to like? for a similar kind of male.

First, it seems that the niece did not share her aunt’s taste in men. We’ve seen this before and the first candidate is reacting to what happened before: Jane on Saturday: “Young Wyndham accepts the Invitation. He is such a nice, gentlemanlike unaffected sort of Man, that I think he may do f for Fanny; — has a sensible, quiet look which one likes.” Fanny had discouraged the young man previously, for on Sunday we read: “This young Wyndham does not come after all; a very long & very civil note of excuse is arrived. It makes one moralize upon the ups & downs of this Life … ”

As Jane turns away from, dismissed Byron’s Corsair with remarks on mending her petticoat, so on Sunday what appears to me her own disappointment — she would have enjoyed the conversation of an intelligent young man — is turn off by talk of clothes. I have determined to trim my lilac sarsenet with black sattin ribbon just as my China Crape is, 6d width at bottom, 3d or 4d at top. — Ribbon trimmings are all the fashion at Bath, & I dare say the fashions of the two places are alike enough in that point, to content me.” The “me” is underlined in the original. The whole utterance connects back. She, Jane, is content with this fashion, but not Fanny is what’s implied — just as Fanny didn’t want Mr Wyndham but Jane had looked forward to him.

But note Diana’s reading of the break aways in Jane’s later talk on the theater: “Then the inevitable topic of finery arises again, and it is amusing that a letter or two ago she was talking of how vulgar women are who wear veils, but as is only human, she now proposes to buy one herself! … More finery – lilac sarsenet, black sattin ribbon, China Crape, and the bon mot, “With this addition it will be a very useful gown, happy to go anywhere.”

Then on Sunday, the two Austens, Henry and Jane, waited until after 4. Imagine them watching clock as they sit and say read (Henry reading Mansfield Park) or write: Jane writing Emma and letter to Cassandra: a “grand thought” for her and Cassandra’s gowns (Cassandra not forgotten). The “roads were so very bad! as it was, they had 4 horses from Cranford Bridge [expensive]. Fanny was miserably cold at first, but they both seem well” — – No possibility of Edwards’s writing.” Now recall Austen has just apologized for writing again so soon, so it’s she not Cassandra who is expecting this writing. He’s had enough apparently.

The court case: Robin Vick (N&Q)explains that James Baigen, “the boy,” was 10 when he stabbed Stephen Mersh who did not die; James’s father was a yeoman farmer. Wickham who sent a letter advising a second prosecution against Edward’s view was a Rt Honorable, served on the Grand Jury under Sir Wm Heathcote for 1814 summer assizes (he’s in the DNB, diplomat, gov’t minister), recently retired a few miles from Chawton. There was no second prosecution. Chapman though there was but the later trial Austen mentions is of her brother, Charles, a court martial.

We may speculate it was two boys fighting; it’s obvious the right thing is to let him off; he’s 10 and prisons were terrible places (you could get a disease; you had to have money for food). We don’t know how old Mersh was but he was okay at the time of the trial. Mr Wickham’s letter which so entranced Jane might have been a philosophical punitive point of view (from which perspective hard to say). Wiser heads prevailed. Quietly again and again we glimpse a Tory/conservative Jane (imperialist, anti-Rousseau new ideas about children). Austen calls him and “Excellent Man” and says just such a letter would Frank have written. It might be he concedes a humane point of view well. Frank I recall was a flogger to the point he was warned he had better restrain himself.

“Excellent Letters; & I am sure he must be an excellent Man. They are such thinking, clear, considerate Letters as Frank might have written.” Were I Marianne and this an utterance by Elinor I would find her cause for starting to ask about the state of my interlocutor’s heart. Frank’s letters (those left) are simple and direct; he’s another “not clever enough to be unintelligible” so Austen would like that, and he is often humane when he writes — he remarkably writes eloquently against bombing as particularly vicious (you don’t risk yourself, you kill non-combatants who don’t have a chance against you) which is however the opposite of what Jane’s admired Paisley advocated.

There is one cross-out — it’s a reference to a Bridges named Edward. So here we have this antagonism to Edward Bridges again, this needling souring of a romance once he married his “poor Honey” (Austen’s famous nasty slur) and then seemed to show up as a flirting man to Jane. In context “Edward is quite [About five words cut out]” is not a reference to Austen’s brother but the party coming.

Frank an excellent man through and through and Edward Bridges a grating annoyance.

Frank as reflected in Jane’s Persuasion (Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth talking of Benwick to Anne Elliot)

Bridges as seen in Miss Austen Regrets: from Nokes’s reading of the letter via Gwynth Hughes’s script (Hugh Bonneville as Bridges)

So much for the aunt’s imagined male love life.

Because Edward and Fanny have come there is therefore much theater-going, visiting and visitors, which requires fixing clothes and shopping with local news from Edward and his worries over a coming lawsuit seeking to unseat him from Godmersham, indeed take all his income. Looking ahead thematically to the other court case mentioned later in the letter: Austen was not correct as Edward did not escape the lawsuit; his opponents did not “knock under” easily but had to be paid a cool 20,000 pounds before they would go away. Before Wyndham’s letters arrives, it is good to see both Edward and Jane agreed on not prosecuting the boy further. I note Edward is friendly first with Fanny Cage and now Louisa. He keeps writing to Louisa. I take it he did think about remarrying, but 11 children and one dead wife was enough (as we are told in the family hearsay)

Diana on Sunday: “Some observations of Fanny, how she liked Bath, the play, the Rooms, the company, the accounts of Lady B. After a break, Jane writes, “Now we are come from Church, & all going to write.” She continues, remarking that everyone has been in mourning (for the Queen’s brother), “but my brown gown did very well.” Another mention of General Chowne from the last letter, “he has not much remains of Frederick,” she says, belaboring the joke that probably refers to his playing that part in Lovers Vows. Young Wyndham makes his excuses after all, and Jane exclaims mock-melodramatically, “It makes one moralize upon the ups & downs of this Life …

Back to domestic matters – buttonholes, travel (Cassandra will travel post at Henry’s expense), a rise in the cost of tea, and inquiries about the Mead and a cook. Then she moves on to Monday …”


Temple of Bellona, kew Gardens, London in winter

In numerous passages in this letter Austen registers the state of the snow.

Sunday as they wait: “Getting out is impossible. It is a nasty day for everybody. Edward’s spirits will be wanting Sunshine, & here is nothing but Thickness & Sleet; and tho’s these two rooms are delightfully warm I fancy it is very cold abroad.”

Monday: “Here’s a day! The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us?– we were to have walked out early … Mr Richard Snow is dreadfully fond of us. I dare say he has stretched himself out at Chawton too.”

Gentle reader, have you ever been on a vacation or holiday with people about whom you are kind of burden you must entertain and the weather gets in the way. What shall she do with Fanny who wants thrills and people. Go out anyway. And close reading has turned up another negative use of Richard. I should add that to my blog on negative Richards in Austen’s fiction and non-fiction (from clergyman to Dick who if the Musgraves had any sense they are better off without)

They went as far as Coventry anyway but that was it; they had to put a visit to Spensers off: “It was snowing the whole time”.


becoming jane henryblog
Henry Austen (Jo Anderson) takes his sister, Jane (Anne Hathaway) to the theater (Becoming Jane, 2007)

It’s in this section we again have signs of this awkwardness between her and Henry or Henry and everyone. He does not say what he wants to do. They cannot just ask him it seems. They must listen carefully for hints. Now Jane realizes by this “careful listening” that Henry really wants to go to Godmersham for a few days before Easter & has promised to do it.”

This being the case Cassandra need not worry she’ll have to stay in London after Adlestrop and she must hurry to come. Indeed it might work out easier if she Jane does not return from Streatham to meet with Cassandra to go home to Chawton but rather Cassandra can join her at Streatham.

Such a “great comfort” to “have got at the truth.” Really? She means temporary relief.

They are very chary around this prickly Henry. And she falls to working out that Henry cannot leave for Oxfordshire before the Wednesday which will be the 23rd — we are talking two weeks ahead and more and he is a mercurial man. That I do agree, mercurial is the word for him (reminding me of Henry Crawford in these movements of his). If he does, they will still not have many days together. It seems she would like to enjoy London with Cassandra and this is not something the sisters are openly willing to admit. They are to be used by others first.

Henry is meanwhile omnipresent as he is in all the letters — coming down the stairs — where she lives with him. She’s intently aware of his presence. Maybe he’s only mentioned twice, but we are to recall (as Cassandra would) that Gen Chowe is a Tilson, and therefore Henry’s business partner. He makes the second directly literary remark of the letter:

— Henry has this moment said that he likes my M.P. better & better; he is in the 3rd vole. — I believe now he has changed his mind as to foreseeing the end; — he said yesterday at least, that he defied anybody to say whether H.D. would be reformed, or would forget Fanny in a fortnight.

Jane pleased; he’s gotten the point. The novel is built on real life contingency, and Henry from all we’ve seen no one to trust at all. Despite her fears that the first part of the novel, the play acting, would be seen as far more entertaining, Henry has in fact liked the courtship and ball part and Portsmouth too. he says “better and better.” That must have pleased her too.

No raspberry Jam for the master of the house says Mme de Bigeon. Cannot Cassandra bring a pot? She is still recording Henry’s state of health as dubious: as he comes down the stairs, “seems well, his cold does not increase.”


Edmund Kean as Shylockblog
Edmund Kean (1787-1833) as Shylock

Austen jumps about as usual (writing associatively) and when Henry comes over “just this moment” to make his remark about MP which means he’s reading it while she’s writing this late Sunday entry (late in the evening we must imagine) her mind reverts to “Kean” who “I shall like to see again excessively, & to see him with You too; it appeared to me as if there were no fault in him anywhere; & his scene with Tubal was exquisite acting.”

So she’s moved by the man’s loss of his daughter. This is a new attitude (I did talk today of how there is no monolithic 18th century).

Sarah Smith Bartley by Samuel Lane

We were quite satisfied with Kean. I cannot imagine better acting, but the part was too short, & excepting him & Miss Smith [Sarah Bartley], & she did not quite answer my expectation, the parts were ill filled & the Play heavy. [We were too much tired to stay for the whole of Illusion (Nourjahad) which has 3 acts;-there is a great deal of finery & dancing in it, but I think little merit. Elliston was Nourjahad, but it is a solemn sort of part, not at all calculated for his powers. There was nothing of the best Elliston about him. I might not have known him, but for his voice.-

Diana: “A spirited discussion of an evening at the theatre; about Kean she says enthusiastically “I cannot imagine better acting,” but apart from that “the parts were ill filled & the Play heavy.” They were too tired to stay and see another spectacle, “the whole of Illusion (Nourjahad) which has 3 acts; – there is a great deal of finery & dancing in it, but I think little merit.” Theatrical evenings must have been lengthy! She writes animatedly of the actor William Robert Elliston. “Elliston was Nourjahad, but it is a solemn sort of part, not at all calculated for his powers. There was nothing of the best Elliston about him. I might not have known him, but for his voice.” Jane Austen has seen him before, more than once; and we may satisfy our curiosity on the subject because the “Austen Only” blog has an excellent piece on him and what Jane would have seen and known.

I’ll add that Nourjahad would be one of these oriental allegories, perhaps ultimately from Francis Sheridan. Kean was in temporary decline by this time. We see in the life Diana said how hard life was for theater people. Theater was a many-hour experience, with the first play, afterpieces — often mocking. She did not like the performance of MofV except for Shylock, “heavy”.

Catherine Stephens

On Monday they went again and saw “The Devil to Pay” a comic farce. “I expect to be very amused. — Except Miss Stephens [later Countess of Essex], I dare say Artaxerxes will be very tiresome.” so she saw Dora Jordan who was said to be inimitable in farce (Coffey’s Devil to Pay). She’s not keen on the pantomime or famous clown cited by LeFAye, but now likes the actress she expects to see best.

Penny Gay and Paula Byrne in their respective books about Jane Austen and the theater have written about this farce and the comedy. Gay provides a picture of Dora Jordan in the role (p 21). Remember she was then living with the prince and often pregnant; so this is idealized. Bryne goes on about Jordan and makes much much more about Austen’s remarks on the play here. I see nothing in Austen’s letter to justify saying that she is using her time at the theater as a point of reference. The point of references are the people around her who matter to her, their strong concerns (next time Fanny and her beaux) and hers (her book which Henry is reading, Edwards’ problems and doings, with Frank as our star to aspire towards).

The last reference to the theater is on Farmer’s Wife by Dibdin which again has Miss Stephens, the entry is Tuesday . Read the lines: Austen is going to see Miss Stephens and does not think the interest she feels warrants a Box which Henry wants:

Mr J PLumptre joined us the later part of the Evening — walked home with us, ate some soup, & is very earnest for our going to Covent Garden again tonight to see Miss Stephens in the Farmer’s Wife. He is to try for a Box. I do not particularly wish him to succeed. I have had enough for the present.

Mr J. Plumptre is one of the suitors vying for Fanny’s hand. Wildman, Wyndham, Mr Plumptre. He was the suitor used in Miss Austen Regrets as he did get further and they were serious for a while — we will see this in Austen’s later letters. Plumptre clearly wants to go to the theater to be with Fanny and he is getting a box to please Fanny and her family. As the article cited by LeFaye in the notes will tell you it’s not The Farmer’s Wife that influenced Emma, but The Birthday which is a translation from Koetzbue anyway, not a farce either.

Byrne does deal with The Birthday, but Margaret Kirkham’s section on Emma on both Barrett’s burlesque novel, The Heroine, and Koetzbue’s play and Dibdin’s free translation is much more to the point. See JA, Feminism and Fiction

Dora Jordan as Rosalind by John Hoppner

Not to say that Dora Jordan is not of real interest as a performer and for her life story as a woman of Austen’s time (see Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography). She worked very hard, lived well for a short time, very well, but she was providing the ready money, and then she was dumped, was badly treated at the end, her children taken from her. She had no rights that were respected at all. But Austen does not mention her name. It’s Miss Smith who disappoints her and Miss Stephens whom Austen says goes to the theater for — as well as Edmund Kean.


From Diana’s conclusion: “By a little convenient listening,” she tells Cassandra candidly, “I now know that Henry wishes to go to Godmersham for a few days before Easter, & has indeed promised to do it.” This gives Cassandra fore knowledge, so she and Jane can better contrive and make plans. “It is a great comfort to have got at the truth,” says Jane. A very clear glimpse of what maneuverings and uncertainties surround their movements.

Now who gave her the ermine tippet? “You cannot think how much my Ermine Tippet is admired both by Father & Daughter. It was a noble Gift.” Father and daughter being Edward and Fanny I suppose.

A knitted tippet for ladies

A brief mention of the lawsuit Edward would become involved in, not amounting to anything yet. In the next sentence she anticipates seeing The Devil to Pay, and expecting to be very much amused. Artaxerxes she dares to say will be tiresome. More finery – “I have been ruining myself in black sattin ribbon with a proper perl edge; & now I am trying to draw it up into kind of Roses, instead of putting it in plain double plaits.” This has to do with Caps, very fancy affairs at that date.

Now she hastily and effusively thanks Cassandra for a letter, and passes on news and messages from Edward – he is amazed at “64 Trees,” and gives directions about a Study Table that is to arrive at Chawton. The evening has been rather tiresome: “Mr. Hampson dined here & all that,” and she was “very
tired of Artaxerxes,” as she thought she would be, though “highly amused with the Farce, & in an inferior way with the Pantomime that followed.” Mr. Plumptre wants them to go to Covent Garden the next night to see Miss Stephens in The Farmer’s Wife. “He is to try for a Box. I do not particularly
wish him to succeed. I have had enough for the present,” Jane Austen finishes.

Her appetite for plays and London is evidently not insatiable.


Fanny and Mr Plumptre (Tom Hiddleston) dancing at Godmersham, Jane in background (Miss Austen Regrets 2008)

If you go through the thread of just this you discover that much of it is the result of trying to entertain Fanny amid the persistent snow and the mentions of clothes come up either as a way to turn away from the disappointed romancing (Jane is the one sometimes disappointed as when Wyndham doesn’t come) or fill out where she is bored or to address Cassandra.

skating lovers after Adam Buck 1800blog
Skating Lovers, around 1800

So Jane is not only trying to satisfy Fanny but is soothing Cassandra whose letter arrives the very moment they return from the theater and she hastens to thank her. So good of her, “Thank you thank you.” Casssandra home with Cassy with those fleas. There might seem to be a disconnect here because at the opening Jane is so worried lest Cassandra get angry at her writing. But there is not.

What we have in Austen in this letter is someone trying to please others. No wonder she didn’t get to write as much as we’d like (or she would have).

In this letter the underlying temperament is closer to Fanny Price and Anne Elliot than many would be willing to acknowledge … she is trying to get out of the time there what she can. She likes Miss Stephens, she likes Kean, she likes the landscape. She does not tell us about her writing Emma – that’s hers to keep unspoiled. She is working with Madame Bigeon and Cassandra to supply Henry with raspberry jam.

There Jane did not have to produce acquaintances, she could make them up. There her satire could make her powerful — within limits for after all the NA manuscript was not returned. I sympathize very much.

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen taking deep pleasure in seeing her books


in the prince’s library as laid out kindly by his librarian, Mr Clark (Miss Austen Regrets 2008)


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Funestes ont été pareilles dispersions et pareil abandon (Emile Lauvrière, Brève histoire tragique du peuple acadien, Paris 1947)

Dear friends and readers,

Every once in a while I read a book, do a review on it, which requires much reading in books I’ve never gone into before, and I come away with a new perspective that enables me to see much that I had been reading before or studying in a new light, from a point of view that I hadn’t considered before and opens up whole new ways of looking at books and art and life too.

Such a book was Christopher Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora, which has had a (mildly) transformative effect on me, not so much for itself, but for the whole outlook it belongs to, the set of books, I had to read to understand it, including the Cambridge Companion to Post-Colonial Studies, ed Neil Lazarus. So you can imagine how chuffed I am to see it in print — it’s just been published in the (18th century periodical) The Intelligencer. From my restatement of one of the many insights of Hodson’s book:

Hodson thoroughly undermines the argument that we can explain what happened to the Acadians before and since 1755 (and by implication that of other peoples so dispersed) by examining their technological know-how (referred to as level of “sophistication” or “civilization”), willingness to work hard, or cultural norms (family values, religion, particulars of an ethnicity). Once people are dispersed, displaced, divided up, we see how easily people’s cultural norms, their local social capital (to use Bourdieu’s term), sentimental ties dissolve, or are bypassed … We see how technological abilities are blocked or made counterproductive … Hodson demonstrates that for individuals and family groups with only small or no property, no connections they can call on to enable them to overcome local exclusionary customs, and no military to support them, the ability to control their circumstances and future is extremely limited (169-71). He shows that “ordinary people’s safeguards” are long-standing and recognized commercial and familial relationships and also known and understood local economic environments that cannot be misrepresented to them ..

If you read the review, you’ll see summaries and references to the central books I read — much worth reading. I particularly enjoyed Marie-Therese Humbert’s epistolary La Montagne des Signaux:


Margaret Saunder’s Rose of Arcadia:

(try to glimpse the lovely later 19th century painting),

and the French history of the Acadian “derangement” by Emile Lauvrière. Very important was an early “straight” history of Trinidad by V. S. Naipaul, The Loss of El Dorado which in context (for me) read like a more imaginative passionate version of Acadian Diaspora. The same motives, the same savagery (barbarity), the same delusions led to analogous disasters and cruel societies on the coast of Latin and South America. Both encompass colonialism across a wide swath of the earth during the long 18th century and then focus in on specific concrete instances (some of these overlap). Naipaul’s begins with Ralegh’s Discovery of Guiana.

I didn’t, though, mention one I will probably continue to cherish, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival and only mentioned in passing his The Loss of El Dorado. I’ve been wanting to write to tell of my new discovery and sudden real love for at least one side of V.S. Naipaul’s writing but have not known quite how to do it. The content of Enigma of Arrival, its subjective outlook made it tangential to my review-essay. That’s why I never mention it, let alone describe it, and and yet it centrally helped cause my new understanding and the use I can make of the post-colonial point of view in my writing and thinking.



The Enigma of Arrival has no central story line that quite makes sense, and its individual anecdotes of the lives going on around our narrator are not individuated, often the people are not named, only the outlines of their fates and some sense of the meaning of these fates told. It’s partly autobiographical, partly fictionalized: a writer brought up in Trinidad, of Indian ancestry, comes to live in a cottage not far from Stonehenge on the English Salisbury plain — where to him it seems cold and to snow a lot. His stories of getting used to England reminded me of my experience: of cold, yukky, pub drinking and music, and how I went from a dreamy reader of English books to a stranger wandering about to being at home in England, finding an identity I was given that I could live with there, in Leeds especially. it was one where I was left alone to join in with others or not, given a lot of individual social liberty.

The Enigma of Arrival is a deeply meditative book which through memory and imagination takes us back to neolithic time in the UK, through to the hardships of Elizabethan and 18th century history in Latin America and India, and fast forwarding to the moment in the mid-20th century when the narrator is taking his walks and interacting with his neighbors (workmen and others in cottages) and landlords. I identified with his quest for an identity different from the one imposed on him, his attempt to read and write and re-form a history he could endure to place himself against. Of course that’s what I did too when I came to England. He is telling us of how he became sort of English, while remaining at-home nowhere like all around him, and yet rootedly local. Funny, poignant (sometimes tragic as people kill themselves) with people half-mad the way they are in life. Writing strengthens him. Me too. I’ve felt the way he does when he’s up in planes and landing here and there on the earth.

In these meditations he made post-colonialism a new vital area of understanding for me, one I now see which relates us all to one another today — as the US gov’t acts out the latest elites’ will.
When do we arrive? when we reach a landscape, how do we become part of it, its past, a part of its people? when we begin to understand what? He says he leaves South Wind unread for a long time: it’s a book of conversations on an island off Italy by ex-pats. Gradually he feels he contains in him the worlds he creates and reads, and it’s not that there is no love between people for real (as Rushdie mistakenly thinks, a sad pastoral); rather that all of the characters and our narrator are seeking love and meaning and he finds it by seeing back in time and across in space to find stories like his (and mine and yours) everywhere.

The calm achieved he talks of is one I’ve found in Trollope. I’d like to think the Mr Harding of the book, a boarding house manager, is an allusion to Trollope. Much more likely Naipaul chose the name for the reason Trollope did: it’s quintessentially English.

The Acadians were chased all over the Atlantic; they are us too.

I’m happy to put a copy of my review on my website.


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Romola Garai as Gwendoleth Harleth in Daniel Deronda (2002 scripted Andrew Davies, directed by Tom Hooper, George Eliot’s 19th century then contempoary masterpiece) — Garai is found in historical films from all sorts of sources

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to report that I’ve written twice more about Winston Graham’s Poldark novels: a new slant and real qualifications about what I said the first time round on his second quartet, or, to put it another way, Upon rereading The Stranger from the Sea and The Miller’s Dance; and then Rereading and Outlining The Loving Cup and The Twisted Sword. I then linked both blogs to my Winston Graham mostly Poldark website.

I’m almost there with a second reading of Graham’s Bella, which I’ve discovered almost makes a central use of history: both about the discoveries and importation into the UK of great apes, the training of singers and the nature of a career on the stage at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century and how the frequent pretense of legitimacy for children born to mothers whose fathers were not their claimed legal fathers and bigamy existed in tension with the family-patronage, private property through primogeniture systems of the era.

I tried to write about the centrality of history in the later Poldark books at their society message board or facebook site said to be about these novels, the first two mini-series. But unhappily have discovered myself thwarted on both sites. There has been no serious talk about these books ever on either it seems (nothing scholarly, nothing academic) and the people are not used to it. I wrote of the hybrid nature of historical fiction (part actual history which can be trusted), of the particularly disquieting use of unconventional transgressive sex in the books. Clowance sustains a bigamous relationship; another how all 12 novels imitate 18th century novels’ plot-designs, type scenes and characters and themes while presenting tactfully realistically psychological support, then adjusting to today’s norms in popular visual media — as 18th century films imitate one another.

Garai as Barbara Spooner Wilberforce’s wife in the (since Mrs Siddon’s portrait in upper class lady’s clothes) signature Gainsborough studio hat, an extravaganza (from 2006 Amazing Grace)

Quickly a petty tenacious bully resentful of my (to her) apparently offensive (I can never figure out what’s offensive) postings on the facebook was able to delete my last posting on the message board on the grounds it was off-topic. Ah, I then realized that the playful pseudonyms which seemed so delightful to me also can allow non-accountability. “Nampara Girl” used the same paragraphs as Karen Knight on facebook so was none other than the woman in the other bit of cyberspace who managed to sneer at me and impugn my character when I said I would no longer post — “what you don’t want to be challenged?” says she in this self-righteous tone. On the facebook page I spoke back forthrightly saying she had written an insinuating (I didn’t use the word snide) remark when I had never said anything about her character and was attacking my honesty and sincerity. So she was getting back. All I could do then on the Literary Board was point out I was on topic, describe the nature of her behavior, motives and power and (so to speak) walk away.

Positions are all in cyberspace communities. Who can control, censor, withhold, delete a message. At core (as can be seen in Austen studies, in various cult groups), it’s virtually impossible to wrench a body of writing out of its popular readership’s use of it. Winston Graham found this when he tried to persuade the larger indifferent public that the 1996 film adaptation of his book was a worthy new start for filming the later books; he writes in his Memoirs of a Private Man that he could not get beyond the vilification of the new film by the cult tenaciously wedded to the 1970s mini-series. An important social lesson about how what one writes is taken from you once you put it out in the social world and encountering intransigent cult readerships.

So the dream of doing a genuinely historical handbook (a la Patrick O’Brien books) is out. If I’m to write about this I must stick to blogs and my website for now, but eventually (or again) look out for panels and groups who study historical fiction and then how how the Poldarks enact and brilliantly transcend the two also. And I can try my historical fiction of Elizabeth’s Story. A third outlet is to try to write something on the novels in the semi-popular essay kind for History Today. Here I know no one (a usual situation for me) and experience in publishing articles shows me the truly “blind article” submitted and chosen is a myth.

I set aside a unit in my library, a shelf all their own for historical fiction and women’s historical fiction. I repeatedly have trouble remembering my books since I often do not recall the author or even the exact title of the book, but simply that it’s on the subject of historical fiction from this or that angle.

Right now these are:

Beasley, Faith. Revising Memory: Womens’ Fiction and Memoirs in Seventeenth Century France.

Bird, Stephanie. Recasting Historical Fiction: Female Identity German Biographical Fiction.

Fleischman, Avrom. The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf.

Groot, Jermone de. The Historical Novel.

Harman, Leah. The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England.

Hughes, Helen. The Historical Romance.

Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archives in Contemporary British Fiction. Also her “The Historical Turn” in James E. English’s Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fictionn.

Looser, Devoney. British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670-1820.

Lukacs, George. The Historical Novel.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel.

Sanders, Andrew. The Victorian Historical Novel, 1840-80.

White, Hayden. The Content of the form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation.

Zlotnick, Susan. Women, Writing, and the Industrial Revolution.

Graham writes about his use of historical fiction in his Poldark’s Cornwall and I’ve discovered that other historical novelists write about theirs. He identifies three types and my friend Nick added a fourth. Graham does not as some woman have write history books as personal travel writing, a subject I’ve never seen treated in any essay. Of possible interest too are studies of historical films: Pam Cook, Fashioning the Nation: Costume and Identity. David Ellis, Hollywood’s History Films, Andrew Higson, English Heritage, English Cinema. History writing is ever sliding off into writing about people in costume, writing political novels (you are looking for a usable past for the present).

Garai as Sugar in Crimson Petal and White (from Michael Faber’s 20th century neo-Victorian novel) – this one I note has that strange thing done to it, bits pulled out and re-strung to highly romantic music which sentimentalizes the mood & degrades the film’s meaning

As you can see, I am especially interested in how women writing historical fiction has changed its nature, downgraded its respectability — by the injection of romance and feminist thought in which Graham participates by the way and also various mystery-suspense motifs and formula. In rewritten novels as projecting the history of a previous era. Again these later are seen far more heavily in the last 5 novels (almost not at all in the first 7). I am also interested in the serious use of film for history and how its costume aspects make it relevant to us today, speak to us today. I’ve this past months been steadily watching first all 26 hour long episodes of the 1967 Forsyte Saga and now I’ve just finished Part 8 of 13 parts of the 2002 version. For each one making summaries and saving stills.

So that’s where I am tonight. Tomorrow we are going off to the annual East Central 18th century conference, our 11th, this one in Baltimore, the Inner Harbor and I hope to come back with much to tell of what I heard and learned.

Garai, the much (unfairly) punished & poignant Briony in Ian McEwan’s 2007 Atonement (anti-Clarissa rewrite of Richardson’s Clarissa)


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Richard Glover, Cattle Watering

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve gone on with my project for Valancourt books to produce an edition of Charlotte Smith’s second original novel, Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1789). The state of present availability: There is no standard scholarly 20th century edition of this novel available for an affordable cost. The novel has been reprinted by Elibron in a 5 volume facsimile of the 2nd edition of 1790 (corrected by Smith) and as part of the horrendously expensive 20+ volume set produced by Pickering and Chatto. You cannot buy the volumes separately. I have the Elibron reprint, have downloaded from ECCO a second copy of the same edition text printed in 3 volumes. I’m told I can google and put together an e-text that way. It would save me typing and I could correct against the other three copies I have, for I do have the volume in the Pickering and Chatto from a university library.

It’s a startlingly good book, strong, despite its languors the result of over-the-top emotionalisms, especially when a character is deprived of some treasured project (that can be marriage too). Thus far all the friends I’ve told about it, they come back grateful for now knowing a new author to turn to. This is the fourth text by Smith I’ve read in the last few months. The others; translation and adaptation of Prevost’s Manan Lescaut, of Francois Gayot Pitaval’s and Francois Richer’s, published court cases, Celebres et Interessants (1735-44), and her late long Rousseau-supporting novel, The Young Philosopher) A year ago before that, Montalbert; and just before, skimming Banished Man. I have read Desmond (a long time ago), and Old Manor House (twice, and I remember it). I need to reread Emigrants and Beachy Head.

What follows is a summary, evaluation account of the novel as I read it in the context of the politics of the era, its economics, Smith’s own life, and the aesthetics of the novel. In the comments are an explanation of one way of reading it as a picturesque novel. Landscape is central to the text morally as well as aesthetically.

I know my deep abiding interest in this book comes from its tone: one of corrosive reflections (a phrase which echoes throughout). I don’t deal directly with this aspect of the book here.

Volume 1 & 2:

Richard Westall, Harvest Storm

It opens with impressive beautiful descriptions of Cumberland — using a technique of glimpsing visibility and intertwining eyes seeing something and movement in a landscape that has been attributed to Radcliffe:

At length they came within view of Grasmere Water, and passing between two enormous fells — one of which descended, clothed with wood, almost perpendicularly to the lake; while the other hung over it, in bold masses of staring rock — they turned round a sharp point formed by the root of the latter; and entering a lawn, the abbey, embosomed among the hills, and half-concealed by old elms which seemed coeval with the building, appeared with its gothic windows, and long pointed roof of a pale grey stone, bearing every where the marks of great antiquity. The great projecting buttresses were covered with old fruit trees, which from their knotted trunks seemed to have been planted by the first inhabitants of the mansion. In some of the windows, the heavy stone work still remained, and they were totally darkened at the top by stained glass: in others, the sashes had been substituted; and the windows had been contracted by brick work, to make them appear square within; but, even in these, the stained glass had been replaced, which generally represented the arms of Newenden with those of Brandon.

Smith’s hero, Sir Edward Newenden is unhappily married to a narrow cold shallow society type (think of a cross between Fanny Dashwood and Lady Middleton), and slowly falls in love with her cousin, Etheline Chesterville. It’s a story of adulterous love. Etheline is innocent of such feelings, but she is their cynosure. Desmond tells a similar story but in the case of Desmond the married woman with children loves a man she is not married to (Desmond, the hero).

Smith is very good at depicting uncongeniality, misery, hurt — no one does mismarriage better than she, though she does not develop the outlines quite inwardly enough in the way of a 19th century novel. Then again respectable 19th century novels don’t tell this tale.

The recluse of the lake, Mrs Montgomery, the mother of the hero who appears suddenly and saves the heroine in much the manner of Willoughby in S&S, though she is saved as was Jane Fairfax from drowning; the moment resembles the first meeting with dozens of heroines saved o the brink of disaster (see Caroline with hers in Caroline de Lichtfield). This is utter archetype.

Mrs Caroline Montgomery has had a chequered history (begins Pickering & Chatto, Curran edition, Vol 1, Ch 6, p 46). Her mother (the present Charles Montgomery’s grandmother who remains nameless throughout) had been married to a Douglas, a wealthy nobleman killed fighting on behalf of Charles Edward in 1745; she was cast off and ignored by her husband’s family, the Douglas clan, and could not get them to pay her jointure nor did she have means to force them. This is reality in the period. In London she is mistreated by her own brother, now a merchant, whose wife encourages him to treat Caroline’s mother as a servant and worse. One day she meets Lord Pevensey, a kind man, another younger son of the Douglas clan, who had been forcibly married to someone else (described as malign, a misery to live with); they fall in love and she goes to live with this Douglas in Paris — as a financial support and protector and has two further children (sons) by him.

Lord Pevensey dies, and now her legitimate daughter by her first marriage (our Mrs Montgomery) and sons by her second long-term relationship have no resources or connections without begging and harassing his family; a male friend of her now dead beloved Douglas, takes them in, a Mr Montgomery, age 27, a member of a Scottish regiment fighting for France. The new Lord Pevensey, harsh, just 40, cold, Caroline’s mother’s partner’s brother brings a lawyer, demands all the jewels the now dead Pevensey had given her; Pevensey had left a will leaving Caroline’s mother an annuity of 800 pounds a year, and a thousand each to his sons, 2 thousand to Mrs Montgomery. The now Lord Pevensey disputed this in court. He then attempts to seduce Caroline (that is Mrs Montgomery, the older who is telling the story to Ethelinde) as the daughter of someone who fell from rectitude can demand no respect. Her (still nameless) mother dies, regretting intensely what had been her choices (but we are supposed to see she did the best she could in the circumstances she had). Caroline’s mother encourages her to marry this new Mr Montgomery; Montgomery sucours them and helps them, and Caroline falls in love with him; he will become the father of her son, the present Montgomery — and they marry. This Mr Montgomery (Charles’s father to be) is Catholic so he cannot hold an office and has little money. Lord Pevensey returns, enraged that Caroline is now legitimately married, he threatens Mr Montgomery; they duel and Montgomery wounds his adversary dangerously but himself survives. Dying Pevensey, remorseful, restores the promised rights to Caroline and the new couple have just, barely enough to live upon.

The problem now is the present Mr Montgomery has to earn a real living and meet signed obligations, and so must go fight in wars. So our Mrs Montgomery follows him despite a pregnancy — a great violent war between France and England is going on and Mr Montgomery must go to fight in Germany. It’s the Seven Years War again dramatized by Smith in Old Manor House (in the fields of North America). She gives birth to Charles, Ethelinde’s lover, at the beginning of campaign of 1759. It is on the field of the battle of Minden that with the help of an officer she wanders through atrocities, with her new born baby; she spots a jewel Lord Pevensey her father had given to her mother and the mother had given to Montgomery. But she searches on; she finds him declared dead but insists he is not and he is saved, just: a fracture on his arm, deep wound in the breast, loss of so much blood; he could have been regarded as a prisoner since he was fighting on the side of the French (even though Scottish) and the English had won, but the friend generously helped convince people Montgomery was a British subject (doubts on the basis of his Scottishness). So Smith is exposing the absurdity and uselessness of these battles to those who actually fight in them. (Others might think of winning money and promotion; she shows the price and rarity of this.) He returns a cripple. They did have some months together; he consents that his son be brought up a Protestant (no bigot Catholic) and dies of a violent and sudden illness.

She returns to England on the promise of some relations of her own and Montgomery’s that they would help and procure a commission for her boy (not that this kind of life was what she wanted), but after months of fatiguing useless attendance and solicitation, they retired to the cottage in Scotland which she could afford and she brought him up regretting nothing but that “his talents and virtues are lost to society.” In fact all she sees of society makes her glad to return to their cottage where Charles has been brought up proficient in music, languages, other sciences (ends on p 64).

So by the time Ethelinde meets this second generation, the present Mrs Caroline Montgomery (the recluse of the lake), her beloved husband is dead and she too has been refused sucour and endured insults by someone who offered to keep her in a relationship which would subordinate and humiliate her (“Pretty affectation in a girl who has been brought up on the wages of prostitution”). Mrs Montgomery is another words a parallel figure to Ethelinde.

I admire Smith’s analysis of family as well as social life. She delves more deeply than Austen in the way she takes account of sexual motivations and the clarity of the class and money clashes underlying her characters behavior. I feel her working with a sense of ideal hope that this book will be good and meaningful and speak to people — after her two successes (The Romance of Real Life and Emmeline). Not yet at this point has she begun insistenelty to pretend she doesn’t care about her novels and is writing them but for money. Maybe later she did write on and no where as carefully in her desperation and after attacks on her for telling the truth about her life and circumstances.

In this sense of giving it her all I’m reminded of Mansfield Park. Desmond would correspond to Emma as attempts to do something new or other from the previous three.

The novel moves slowly and gravely — she worked hard on it. There is an equal weight given to interior life that I miss in her later novels and the transitions are carefully done. Smith is especially good at developing the sort of thing Austen only implies: how bad someone feels when someone else hits at them in teasing or quizzing: so Ethelinde (like Elinor) has to endure teasing, and it’s not good-natured over her love for the impoverished but handsome Montgomery: “uttered in a sort of malicious raillery, as they frequently uttered it, gave her the most unpleasant sensations of impatience and sometimes resentment.” Smith is very daring to enter into Edward’s mind and his love for Ethelinde as a married man.

Montolieu’s remark that Austen’s curious pattern of having a heroine in love forbiddenly, tabooed against utterance for a variety of reasons stops love scenes comes to mind. Smith falls down when it comes to these; the way the characters talk is unreal, something that happens only occasionally and at the close of Austen’s novels when the lovers come together as when Darcy says “by you have I been properly humbled.” Montolieu was aware how hard a love scene is to do — Trollope is unusually good at it.

Smith has set up a pattern of intense marital disappointment and temptations to adultery as well as much else destructive in society; we find ourselves in a world of gambling, drinking, parties which is not at all extravagant (or a vortex of dissipation) but reads as a probable imitation of how the gentry and upper class spent their lives. The very quietness with which Smith traces agons and losses makes them more intense. Once you have read her other novels you realize there is not more variety of patterns (like Austen the patterns obsessively repeat themselves and can be linked to Smith’s life), but the patterns are more active and they bring to the fore genuinely risky behaviors that are part of everyday life and how these continually impinge on women in particular — as well as vulnerable males.

The volume closes with Edward’s misery. He has done the right thing: he has insisted that Danesforth rakish Lord who encourages Maria, Lady Newenden, to gamble and is probably having a sexual liaison with her, leave the house and says if Lady Neweden follows him, she will not be allowed into his house again. He asks her if she thinks about what will happen to her children by him. She appears not to care a jot about them. This is a misogynistic portrait in part: she is made too bad, too one-sided, but her quarrels with her father, Mr Maltravers, who is horrified at her indifference to scandal and then her children are powerful. After all it was her father and mother who pushed her into marrying Edward for money. We feel she is capable of no love for anyone but we do not see her with Danesforte. She is bored by Edward.

Montgomery has not yet gone to India (!); he comes back to the house and leaves with Mr Chesterville and Ethelinde whom rumours about (with Edward) have made it impossible for her to say. Her father continues playing for high stakes (he cannot resist for every once in a while he makes badly needed money even if on the whole he’s losing) and we hear her brother has is a financial burden.

This is a strong book, highly original really, exposing the realities of this world before any reforms that mattered (social programs, redistribution of income) or changes in patriarchal, militaristic hierarchical norms had taken place, even a little. It’s power is in the analysis of the psychology though in these last scenes which are not idealized emotions, Smith rises to the challenge and writes believable enough dialogue.

Volume 3

Canaletto, Lord and Lady (detail)

The heroine’s brother, Harry, is now in debtor’s prison and there have been some remarkable persuasive pictures of his confinement — and his hysteria. The depiction is overtly presented as an argument against imprisonment for debt. It looks forward to 19th century fiction in this.

A few of the men in the book are good to very good, but the rest are bad, rakes, fortune hunters (Davenant, Woolaston) or like Ethelinde’s brother, Harry, weak and selfish — as in Austen’s John Dashwood this is enough to produce awful behavior. Foolish fops: Ludford, one of the mean Bristol cousins who take Ethelinde in. Older sycophantic men who seek clients (Mr Royston) Ethelinde’s father and brother were inveterate gamblers and they bring her to debtor’s prison. We are probably to be appalled at all of them but Montgomery and Edward and Mr Harcourt, Mrs Montgomery’s aging brother (who turns up in the next volume). Smith’s Bath is a different place in this book from the one usually glorified or talked about relatively innocently in other novels: one which includes high gambling, drinking, sex too. (But not sickness, for that we must turn to 20th century novels.) Austen’s heroines never have any such overtly vivid active experiences as Ethelinde or the cousin’s husband, Sir Edward, who is by now the second most dominating character in the book. The ostensible “lead male,” Montgomery who loves Ethelinde and whose mother lives deep in Scotland (and is thus far the only recluse of the lake in sight) are really far more marginalized in the action and scenes and emotion. Edward Newenden is the book’s hero. He endures humiliation at his wife’s taking a lover, Danesforte (a cavalier servente in public) so Smith explodes the idea that’s enjoyable. It’s he who can be reasoned against not duelling (again important in the era). It’s his strength and heart and ethics that are at the core compass of the book — and yet how he longs to leave the wife who withers his soul, ignores his children and go take up life with Ethy.

The women are mostly variously awful but for Mrs Montgomery and Ethelinde. is soulless and without character, hollow, can be turned to behave very badly then. The heroine’s cousin, Maria Lady Newenden, has committed adultery and Edward demanded she leave the lover or he will not have her in his house; he is in love with the heroine and very deeply. Ellen Newenden has no feeling for anyone but herself, no understanding of morality (a horsewoman, but she has a Sancho Panza sense of humor). Mrs Ludford a hypocrite and social climber; Mrs Royston, a Lady Bellaston after Montgomery (she will pay to keep him if he’s willing). She is rather like Lady Newenden, she is presented as amoral, aggressive, and just awful in her adulterous behavior. She seeks Montgomery as a lover and when he refuses her, she is angry. The coarse Mrs Maltravers. I did not go over the life of Victorine’s mother: yet another woman who defies the sexual prohibition before marriage and has had a child by Mr Harcourt. Victorine has no character at all, quite seriously: like Pope’s caricature she follows what others do mindlessly — often chosing the worst luxurious course.

In contrast, Ethelinde is absurdly virtuous to us when she refuses to marry Montgomery because he has no money even after her father recognizes marriage to Montgomery is her only safety, but we might remember how many of us will give up our lives to 5 day a week jobs we might detest or not respect at all at any time in order to make money. Before I get too over-the-top irritated at Ethelinde for refusing to marry Montgomery out of stupendously virtuous concern for what will happen to his finances — I have to remember how I allow the norms of other people to drive me wild and make me feel bad about myself. These are not about sex for me but money and position, but the insecurity and self-obsessive thoughts are the same. Luckily I live with someone who tells me to ignore them and myself know I should. Ethy does not.

“The recluse of the lake” is the hero’s mother, and although she told a moving story of her life in Volume 1, she has not been seen since; all we’ve had is the occasional letter to her son now in London. She does not function strongly enough to stand as a figure against colonialism as she urges her son to go.

An extraordinary energy emerges when Smith flowers in smaller stories, plots within plots, lyrically and simply told. Victorine has become the wife of Ethelinde’s brother, Harry Chesterville, and Victorine’s story is told at length to emphasize her mother who had sex outside marriage. I see this as a pattern in Smith. She does not have the courage to have a central heroine have sex outside marriage, or until Montalbert, a present living women (Rosalie I, see the patterns of Montalbert.) The full story of Victorine’s mother taking place on Jamaica is moving.

The sex outside marriage and adultery theme recurs in Desmond and is deeply felt. In Ethelinde Edward is dissatisfied, soul-worn, withered, made very unhappy; Maria, his wife is frivolous, mean, cares little about their children. It’s done with intense emotion and is persuasive, but this cousin and other females we meet are used to mock women as such. When a male in the book is a gambler or rake or mean, somehow the criticism seems directed at him individually (he is felt for as in Ethelinde’s father and brother — perhaps because Smith felt for her father who managed to lose all their money and by the time she was 15 “had” to marry a rich woman); when an erring female is presented, we get shaping comments which direct the invective at females as such (without bringing in how they are fitting into society).

Smith carries on this delving into the inner lives of people driven by these sexual mores that destroy their very fibre: we get a sense of why characters are so often presented as sickening in novels. Here we see the process. The ending includes: Sir Edward finding that the Chesterville brother-lord type is willing to misrepresent all that has happened: so according to the norms of this society, Smith has ascharacters, the adulterous wife, the woman who abandoned her children (and the tenderness there is Smith remembering how she couldn’t live her children) while her lover, Danesforte, accuses the impossibly virtuous Ethelinde of adultery — this is so appalling to Ethelinde’s brother as well as Edward that Chesterville can hardly contain himself from murderous anger. Edward also wants to murder the man who is now exploiting the sexuality of his vicious wife.

The inability to separate underlying what is protested against here or divorce is not made explicit. Now in some French novels this inference is made explicit — Madame de Stael comes to mind (Delphine especially which Napoleon singled out for particular hate): during the 1790s a more liberal divorce law was put in place by the French Parlement than has been in France until the last 20 years and a huge percentage of women (it was mostly women) filed. It was revoked by 1805.

Most novels that are artful will have a core of repeating patterns or some set of interrelated themes: this one is about the sexual angle of dysfunctional social and familial life as experienced under the inhumane and unjust conditions of the time and our own time insofar as it mirrors then — so we are back to the themes of The Romance of Real Life. Again and again we are shown sexual transgression in all its forms, sometimes moral and understandable, sometimes amoral and cruel.

Money is so central too: when Mr Chesterville dies, Lord Hawkhurst, his older brother at long last shows remorse, but when he attempts or thinks to go to the corpse to give it decent burial and perhaps take his niece and nephew in — he had refused this in life when Montgomery approached him — very like Chapter 2 of S&S his wife argues him out of it (pp. 236-43). The scene is actually stronger than Austen’s because the terms of what she is saying are made more explicit, the underlying vicious impulses and overt social norms brought out. But Austen’s text lives because her dialogue is more dynamic and ironical, less obvious and it opens a book of concise art, while this is lost in the back of Volume 3 after a series of impossibly neurotic (over-the-top) sentimental scenes few but 18th century specialists will endure. Smith exposes the whole patronage system. We are expected to remember young Chesterville cannot save himself and Victorine by going abroad (to India) because he hasn’t begun to have it in him to exert the self-control necessary to rob all the people he comes across through the means the company provides. It is only after Victorine is re-united with her biological father, Mr Harcourt, and they go to the West Indies, they grow rich again — from inheritance and slavery (never mentioned in this book).

Volumes 4 and 5: An attempted rape: the powerless of men and women against the system they find themselves in

Caspar Friedrich, Woman at a Window (1822)

In this volume Ethelinde’s father dies and since he gambled, he leaves her nothing (a reflection of Smith’s father). Her brother, another inveterate gambler who has ends up in debtor’s prison, is freed because the hero, Sir Edward, pays his debt; Sir Edward also helps the brother find a post. The story is presented as Sir Edward’s love for Ethelinde when his vicious wife commits adultery, but the way the action of the plot works out is the reader is worried about Ethelinde succumbing to Sir Edward’s love because she has nowhere else to turn to because of her gambling father and brother.

Smith’s secondary hero, Montgomery, the young man who is justifiably in love with Ethelinde and to whom she is in effect engaged, must travel to India to make his fortune. The hardship of this kind of thing comes out. This is colonialism from the point of view of those who do the work. Austen’s brothers had to go to sea; reading about Rosalie de Constant, a French woman artist of the very early 19th century, you will find a story of her brother who went to India several times and suffered much from loneliness and boredom and the social conditions in India. He came back more than once; he never made anything more than enough to support himself. In Ethelinde our young man doesn’t want to go any more than Rosalie de Constant’s brother did. So Montgomery, is being driven by everyone he knows to leave England, sail for India and attempt to make his fortune there. Every instinct in him finds this course of action repellent, from his knowledge of what making money from India means. to his fear for what will happen to Ethelinde when he leaves her without any source of income or shelter but what Sir Edward can offer.

At the climax of Volume 4, Montgomery turns to Ethelinde and makes an impassioned argument on behalf of dropping out of their caste, of taking a job which requires manual labour which will leave him dependent on a wage (but free of a patron), which will require them to return to Scotland to live very modestly. She is just about yielding, when she is pulled away by his mother who through her experience, her own tiny income (which is inadequate for her own needs and would be pulled upon by these two young people) and her knowledge of what can happen (visions of too many children hover over the text), counsels Ethelinde to urge her Montgomery to go to India. But before she is pulled away, Montgomery erupts into French and quotes a long passage from a text by Rousseau (which I don’t recognize) but which argues for breaking from their caste:

Soyons heureux et pauvres; ah! quel tresor nous aurons acquis! J’ai des bras, je suis robuste; le pain gagné par mon travail te paroitra plus delicieux que les mets des festins. Un repas appreté par l’amour, peut — il jamais, être insipide?

What I don’t understand is why at no point does Mrs Montgomery say stay home: only at the close of the novel does she accept the quiet way of life after so much suffering has been gone through and she is old and frail. Mrs Montgomery is at risk of losing all her money and thus Montgomery must go to India. Smith means to expose the intense hardship and loss the global colonial system inflicts on ordinary people — it only comes out indirectly in Austen say. I keep likening Ethelinde to MP and then Persuasion, only Austen is apparently comfortable with such demands on men. She protests against the forced marriage (sale) of women in India (Catherine or the Bower), but that’s all.

We realize that Montgomery was not wrong, for what has happened is Ethelinde has gone to live with Sir Edward’s sister who is indifferent to her. In her house are living her ruthless amoral husband and a man who attempts to seduce and then brutally to force Ethelinde to have sex with him and become his mistress. The scenes here read as what could easily happen

Then we have the astonishing shake-down savage talk between Sir Edward Neweden and Lady Newenden’s parents, the Maltravers': the frank needling accusatory conversation over who brought what money to the marriage and who owes who what, the open lying of the mother and father are utterly modern. The thought that comes to mind is we don’t experience this so directly in marriage since we have — through our norm of marrying for love — to some extent freed the marital relationship of such viciousness.

I found myself also moved by the over-sentimentalization in a way of Montgomery and Ethelinde and Mrs Montgomery’s goodbye where they think they may never met again. In a way it’s better than Austen’s almost automatic mockery of emotional goodbyes. Why should people not mourn and deeply at such forced emigrations, trips, ejections. It’s Austen who should justify her refusal to acknowledge these destructive wrenches.

This scene between the hero and heroine is followed by one between Montgomery and Sir Edward in which Montgomery tries to enlist Sir Edward to argue Ethelinde into at least marrying him before he goes to India. This climax is to me slightly astonishing because as the emotion between the two men becomes overwrough, Sir Edward confesses to Montgomery his intense love for Ethelinde. This is the equivalent of the Princess de Cleves’s confession of her longing for Nemours to her husband. The Princess’s confession has often been called improbable, but my experience tells me this is not true. It is probable for a certain kind of sensitive sincere person who wants to live a life of candour.

I have come across more modern variants of the Princess’s confession to her husband, e.g., Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?where Lady Glencora Palliser confesses her love for Burgo to her husband. Trollope solves the crisis by having Plantagenet, her husband behave as ideally as Lady Glen: he forgives and blames himself; as narrator, Trollope also suggests to the reader who may doubt this scene an out: the husband is not taking his wife seriously; she does not really want to commit adultery; this enables readers who would get upset at their favorite heroine wanting to commit adultery to dismiss the scene as trivial or non-serious.

I have never before come across it between two men. Mrs Smith, as narrator, is well aware the reader will expect an explosion from Montgomery much worse than the Prince de Cleves inflicted on the Princess. Montgomery almost does this, but he controls himself when he is told by Sir Edward that he will leave Ethelinde with his sister, return to his wife and travel with his wife to Europe. He feels deeply sorry for this man and appreciates his candour. The scene of course enables Smith to pour out what a person who longed to marry another and couldn’t might feel when stuck with someone who is betraying and treating them awfully — and is simply uncongenial.

In Ethelinde, after the scene where Edward Newenden confesses his love for Ethelinde, Montgomery does not know what to do. Certainly it’s an ambiguous gesture; again in La Princesse de Cleves the heroine confesses her adulterous longings to her husband and by so doing destroys his peace; he cannot forgive and understand. She is innocent and means well and perhaps Edward does this to control himself; it also keeps Montgomery’s suspicions at bay.

Edward is an ambiguous figure. As I say, we can’t really feel for his wife since she is presented so negatively but were that not the case and she allowed to speak for herself (we never see into her mind), we might see her as having been sold by her parents for this man with a title. Smith’s Sir Edward anticipates the males which begin to inhabit the books as of Desmond: the selfless older man who does everything for the heroine, loves her and asks nothing. Warburton I remember well in Montalbert was very moving. But they are kept at a distance; this first time she is allowing us to see inside the figure to understand why she is so sympathetic to him.


Henry Fuseli, Romeo and Juliet

Then there is the attempted rape on Ethelinde by Davenent and his salacious friend at Ellen Newenden’s itself. Ellen’s portrait, as horsewoman of a lesbian tendency is one that carries on through the 19th century into our own time. In the last quarter of the Poldark novels, the villain-protagonist, George Warleggan marries such a woman, Harriet, and we see how Harriet’s cold carelessness can destroy a semi-vicious man, Stephen Carrington because he is someone who buys into the class and hierarchical values.

Ethelinde endures a realistic near rape. She flees Ellen Newenden’s house with the help of servants and we see her take lodgings where she pays small amounts of money. We get the sense of what a gentlewoman walking alone in the 18th century might fear. She is driven to take residence in an unpleasant aunt’s (Lady Ludford, see below) where she is despised (this is in the vein of Austen’s books). The whole adventure of escape, including the servants’ fear of the master who wants to help his friend get at Ethelinde is persuasive.

I find this a painful book to read. I end up dreading what’s to come, at the same time as it’s moving, I find grasting the endless passages of mixed distress, and that the characters do what’s expected of them by the society (however vicious it may be). This makes for this pain. So Edward goes abroad ostensibly with his wife (she never appears again on the stage of the novel) but it’s all misery the ugly scenes with her parents he endures. Mrs Montgomery loses all her money so Montgomery must go abroad.

Then what I expected to happen happens. The near rape. Why does no one in the book think of it? The central male of the book, Sir Edward, goes to Europe with his wife, but she finally leaves him for the rake-villain of the novel. Who is to protect Ethelinde? she seems incapable of a job. The book turns to a Clarissa mode where Ellen Newdenden having made the mistake of marrying Woolaston allows Davenant to prey on Ethelinde. Ethelinde of course is as cagey as Clary and she has no problem in rejecting a man she has never felt any attraction to.

This is a bit of improbability surely: given how realistic Smith has tried to be it doesn’t make sense that no one foresees this determined pursuit. I realize Smith wanted it to occur to keep interest up and involve flight with landscape. For myself I found some of this so painful to read, I really hesitated in going on with Volume 5. Once Ethelinde was safe outside the compound which contained Davenant, I was relieved and somehow don’t find the scorn that she receives from Lady Ludford and aroused jealousy from the daughter, another cousin, Clarinthia Ludford, hard to take. I am driven to wonder why. I know there is an analogy with the Clarissa story in that the men at Brackwood (Ellen Newenden, now Mrs Woolaston’s house — or should I say her husband’s) were planning to abduct and one had tried to rape Ethelinde — at least that’s what is implied. But I don’t think that’s it so much (though I was apprehensive lest she should change her mind and not flee). I can read other very painful kinds of stories (recently Doris Lessing’s Grassing is Singing) I don’t feel this.

It’s the peculiar form of feeling in Ethelinde that the humiliation wrests that is probably so hard to take. Her pride so seared by these sexual-social attacks. Her erstwhile protector, Ellen Newendon now become Mrs Woolaston, comes in and asks how dare she be so choosy? What does it matter who she fucks with? or marries for that matter? individually? Partly also that she is so obedient; I can’t stand how she buys into some of the norms used to control and destroy her.


Until this reading of the novel I had the impression it was filled with beautiful landscape and high sensibility. It’s famous for its descriptions of Scotland. In fact while these are good, they are very few and far between. Most of the book takes place in London or in houses in countryside comparable to the ones Austen uses.

It is every bit as realistic as Burney’s Cecilia. For example, as part of the threads in Volume 4 and 5 Montgomery’s mother goes to Lyons when she hears that her income in an investment is threatened by a bankruptcy. A letter comes in which she reports this is what happened. A hard cash mentality is what lies behind most novel-stories and at one point Mrs Montgomery puts to Montgomery what is the problem: can he and Ethelinde live on £70 a year with her and what income he could get given that he has no education to do anything under his caste? It is this sort of hard detail that characterizes numbers of the scenes in Ethelinde and helps make it the strong serious book it is.

But book has a transcendent beauty in the fifth volume — that kept me going. When Ethelinde goes walking along the beaches by herself, into the wilds, Smith writes prose akin to her poetry (see the 2nd edition, 1790, Vol 5, Ch 3, one sequence on pp. 75-76).

Unfortunately when she meets up with an interesting ethical looking man who likes solitude like herself, he turns out to be not another Edward Neweden type (the kind of male heroines meet in the other novels seen from outside) but we are back to the more sentimental improbable tripe: the older man is a long-forgotten uncle, Mr Harcourt seeking out his long lost daughter, Victorine, now in the East Indies with Ethelinde’s brother.

Smith does not register that in the West Indies money is made based on slavery as she does that in India it’s made by wresting it corruptly from the natives (not paying taxes for example). Victorine and Ethelinde’s brother have gone to the West Indies to recoup their fortunes. Perhaps she does not want to make it clear that whatever the characters do to have money they must exploit horribly the unfortunate in these colonialized countries.

The introduction of Mr Harcourt with his huge wealth produces a series of turns and twists in the plot-design which allow Smith to show us how each of her characters reacts to the presence of great money. Her real strength is in just this sort of exposure of the greed and manipulation and hypocrisies of social life.

The Ludfords: Mr becomes obsequious, Mrs intensely envious and raw with resentment, Clarinthia only glad that the money will remove Ethelinde from Southampton where she attracts suitors. Clarinthia rejected a nice man, Southcote, because he was decent, yet when she sees him turning to Ethelinde, she is livid.

They return to London and meet Mrs Montgomery who is presented as unable to lift herself above anxiety; whatever happens in the letters from her son, it’s a new reason to dread the future. Had Smith represented this attitude of mind as what’s engendered by her history and circumstance it would have been effective, but it’s just represented as innate (as kind of typical universal characteristic). Montgomery writes he is well but not making money as he can’t do what’s asked; she worries he is unhappy; he writes to Ethelinde he is and she worries he will sicken, and then he will drown on the way back.

Ethelinde’s brother, Chesterville, resumes his selfish profligate ways and his wife is a vain creature. Another dialogue emerges about sharing the money with their uncle’s half-sister’s son — so Ethelinde’s brother and his wife become just like John and Fanny Dashwood, only much bitterer and more is explained. Ethelinde’s brother does not want to share any of the uncle’s wealth with anyone and he talks in language strongly reminiscent of Chapter 2 of Austen’s S&S. What could his sister and her widowed friend, Mr possibly need more than a tiny income? This suggests Austen need not have heard what her brother wrote in a letter after their father died. This dismissive callous way of talking was commonplace. The brother does gamble and his wife is frivolous: the gambling is a behavior we don’t find in Austen, but an attempt on the part of other relatives to ensnare Mr Harcourt into marriage recalls the marriage manipulations of Austen’s novels. (The analogue in life is again Smith’s father.)


An illustration of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon, 18th century: a prison

The deus ex machina of the novel is money — which has lain at the center of the action all along. Not only does Sir Edward return with his, but so does this long-lost uncle, Mr Harcourt, who turns out to be brother to the widowed mother, Mrs Montgomery of the young secondary hero, Montgomery. Mr Harcourt has grown very rich in the West Indies. This is not a novel where the source of this wealth — slavery — has reached the novelist’s consciousness. So two males with money solve most of the problems of the family.

Some individual bravery and moral decisions come into play. Montgomery himself returns on his own from India after he discovers that the kind of work and behavior he will have to enact in order to become rich is beyond his reach. It’s not put morally but rather in terms of his character. His return occasions some of the suspense of the action. His ship becomes lost and he is thought dead for a while. Ethelinde almost marries Sir Edward. There are several paragraphs which make it clear that the moral of this is the young man and young woman should have married without money. They had something worth taking a risk for and what they thought was out there was not except at terrible moral cost. Further, their concern was over “false” ideas of status. This then takes the theme of Persuasion up (one finds it also in Crabbe, the young couple advised to be prudent who destroy their happiness in life for nothing) very strongly and does not qualify it in the manner of Austen’s novel. The only character to come near this in Austen is Edward Bertram when in Mansfield Park he tells Mary that it will cost him a price he doesn’t want to pay to become rich. And the conversation is buried and all we are really asked to pay attention to is Mary’s deflating and mockery of him to see how her moral character is wanting.


Wm Turner, Abingdon

While some of Volume 4 takes place in a countryside and among houses very like what we find in Austen’s P&P, a good deal now takes place in Scotland. This includes a sequence out in the landscape which has some brooding lovely poetry, and two near visions one of which takes place in a church burial ground. These visions are not ghosts but are projections of Ethelinde’s loneliness and distress. She almost sees her dead father and has a sense of Montgomery’s presence. These two sequences are very well done.

Montgomery miraculously survives and returns to marry Ethelinde; they get enough money from Mr Harcourt, Mrs Montgomery’s fantastically rich half-brother, and Sir Edward Newenden whose wife has died. We are not told of the hinted terrible circumstances: miscarriage, abortion (?) childbirth, Danescourt beating the hell out of her, or tossing her into the streets to survive as a prostitute. Even Ethelinde’s brother begins to behave when he sees that Mr Harcourt might marry a cold-hearted gold-digger, conveniently part of the Hawkhurst family. Woolaston has spent all Ellen Newenden’s money and fled so again Sir Edward comes forward to do the right thing for his sister.

It’s in some of the realistic working out of the stories that the novel manages to hold this reader. I had remembered Ethelinde’s visit to her father’s tomb. That is a gothic-picturesque scene – and is found in other women’s novels of the era, to my memory close is a scene in Sophie Cottin’s Amelia Mansfield. Again Austen skirts this (her NA).

I was most moved by Sir Edward who when he thinks that Montgomery is dead offers his hand in marriage to Ethelinde. Of course she refuses: her reason is not unsound: Montgomery has become ‘interwoven” in her existence,” Vol 5, Ch 13, p 294. She is so aware of his moral nature and goodness and pressure is about to consent to stay by him as friend and semi-sister. They also have the one believable love dialogue: for a moment she almost yields and says “Sir Edward, my dear Sir Edward — ” and he “Dear! …” (p. 296) One of the few believable erotic love gestures is that of Ethelinde and Edward as they say goodbye after Montgomery has returned. She does respond at last: “almost involuntarily she lifted his hand to her lips …” (and then a paragraph follows of their quiet gestures and his departure) (Vol 5, ch 13, p 305).

So much better than all the verbiage the novel subjects us to. Real feeling for a moment. He is the presence in the novel that most moves me — a variant on Smith herself who seems ever to have dreamed of finding some mate in marriage when it was closed off forever by her terrible marriage. It’s been suggested that Smith did have a chance to have a partner after she left her husband, but refused this because it would hurt her children’s future.

I was involved enough to hope that Montgomery was dead and Ethelinde and Edward would marry. But I knew it was hopeless. Smith would not permit it — as she knew that this would be unacceptable. I don’t know that people would see it was her, but she just couldn’t let herself go.

It ends in a mood or atmosphere that is reminiscent of Austen: a few close good people make a small circle of friends, the center of which is a wedded couple, or the qualified happy ending at last.

And so it ends with the same sort of language of quiet resignation and happiness with a qualifying note that one finds at the close of several of Smith’s and Austen’s mature books.


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