Archive for the ‘historical novels’ Category

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

A Syllabus

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

Description of Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of the grounds open to tourists (2002)

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

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

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

Relevant blogs on movies:

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

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

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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


Francis and Ross meeting Nicholas Warleggan

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



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

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

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


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


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

Crystal Leaity carries it off pitch perfect

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


Verityhappy (1)
My favorite hat and male hair from the 2015 series: Verity (Ruby Bentall) in lovely hat with pink flowers and Captain Blamey (Richard Harrington in his own hair or wig to look like his own, with naval hat and ribbon too) upon marrying (Episode 7)

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


A Winston Graham Reader: links to other sites

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

The Poldark novels in context: a syllabus

Winston Graham: the writer and his A Forgotten Story

Historical Fiction: Graham’s Poldark, the first phase

Ross Poldark: Ends restoratively; concluding notes

Demelza, the novel: Developing an Eighteenth Century World

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

Consuming costume historical adaptations: Poldark and Wolf Hall

2015: one of countless mining shots


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

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

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

The new incarnation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poldark 5: transition and contradictory characterization

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

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

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

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


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


Harvesting pilchards

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

Poldark re-booted, 40 years on

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

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

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

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

Finale (2)
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, hurrying from beach (Episode 8)

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


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


to the high elegance of Elizabeth’s bridal veil:


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


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


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



And Keren boasts a headscarf too:


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


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


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


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

Jud snatches an apple

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



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


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


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


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


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

See what you missed, Ross

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

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


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


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

who sports feathers and discreet jewels in a high class wig

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

and a clutch of pearls around the neck

Verity has gone all out (expecting Blamey):


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


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


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

plain cloth version — there is this lace one too:


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


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

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Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are some flaws:

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

Clarke concludes:

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

are far from obsolete.


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mary Boleyn (a contemporary Tudor portrait)

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

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

Anne Boleyn (contemporary portrait)

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

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


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

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


Ana Torrent as Katharine eschews cant piety, and

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He can dance but no more …

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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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

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


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

Short-listed — an almost Booker Prize

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

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

Brilliant parody with parodic cover

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

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

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

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

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

I often like Virago covers best

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

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

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

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


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Patient power: The physician leaves in a huff because patient prefers services of apothecary

Dear friends and readers,

While discussing Winston Graham’s Poldark novels this term, I’ve had occasion (as I’ve said) to delve into central aspects of 18th century economic, social and political in order to appreciate the novels, make their themes understandable. Alongside my lectures on Graham, Cornwall and Ross Poldark, I’ve discussed mining in Cornwall, something of smuggling, and Nickianne Moody’s essay about how these economic and social realities were available as a usable past for the later 1940s (post WW2) historical fiction writer, Winston Graham, and how in the 1970s with the first crisis and turn around from hope in economic equality and prosperity, the 197s Poldark mini-series appealed widely.

Well with Demelza we come first to the topic of medicine, far more central to the Poldark novels than has been acknowledged. In the first 1940s quartet (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan) we are channeled through medicine in the 18th century (and its relationship to the 1940s) through the character of Dwight Enys. In the 1970s trilogy (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, The Angry Tide) this channeling will be seen in the treatment of mental shattering of Morwenna Chynoweth, coerced in marriage with the sadistic Rev Whitworth and the crippling of Rosina Hobyns from an abusive father; the subject widens out into disability itself with the appearance of autistic and other kinds of disabled character in the second 1980s quartet (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword) and finally animals rights in the last 2003 coda to the series (Bella, one of whose central presences is an orangutan). With Jeremy Poldark and the trial of Ross for instigating a riot, we moved into the history of crime and courts in the era and corrupt elections.

L0034242 Five surgeons participating in the amputation
A surgeon

The simple unhappy truth about medicine in the long 18th century was there was little practical progress, little change in the way physicians (the most respected, with degrees), surgeons (worked with their hands and were dentists too), and apothecaries (regarded as quacks by some but produced compounds people in desperation bought).

One familiar way of telling this is that at the time of the Renaissance, Shakespeare’s time people in Europe believed in a world made of four substances: water, earth, air and fire; these corresponded to four humors in our bodies: phlegm (white stuff), bile, which was yellow (must’ve been pus), blood and black bile; each corresponds to four temperaments: which dominated made someone’s personality; when you were ill you were out of balance. The way to cure was to excrete or bleed a person – beyond that they did attack specific things with herbs (some real knowledge of for example digitalis goes way back). They though the air carried diseases in it: miasma, bad air causing disease. They were looking outside the human body for symmetrical forces impinging on it that made neat sense. A roman could send his servant to the doctor instead of himself because what was needed was an astrological chart to predict what would happen. What is the configuration of the stars. Basically we are talking of a magical world. Traditional societies look to god or the Gods.

The problem with this neat paradigm is it explains nothing, not why those people who knew about these theories continued to believe in them nor why what was done carried on when it was clear to most people doctors of whatever status could help very little. In a nutshell, that easy paradigm of humors erased and the theory of miasma in the air does not explain why it held nor why it dissolved away.

A slow accumulation of knowledge led to the framing of disease, an understanding of the relationship of the body to the natural world over the course of some several hundred years from the early Renaissance to the early 19th century. Progress in science can exist only when the whole society, especially the influential members (not necessarily the richest or most powerful), changes the way it looks at disease. Doctors cannot get too far ahead of their patients. Without the powerful organizations that have arisen and now control medicine (see Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine) what you can get (prescriptions), what your treatment is, who you can complain to (sue) and on what terms, power lay in the hands of the disease processes and the patients.

Well in a lesser way lots of individual things understood and I’m sure Wm Heberden (an important late 18th century clinician working on London) would have said wonderful progress in the last twenty years. It may not seem so anymore but the doctor is not the only powerful element in the relationship: there is patient power because there is disease power. The patient needs to believe the doctor is helping or can help.

This is the burden of Edward Golub’s The Limitations of Medicine.The roots of modern medicine lies in European responses to the spread of disease in cities – rise of cities created epidemics. Plagues, epidemics, social unrest. The development of trade, of small industry, of cooperation. There was a slow dissolution of the magical world beyond the earth when it was understood that the earth went around the sun. You were to test something to see what happens, trial and error, and when you saw that something didn’t work, get rid of it. Try again. Scientific theory is an approximation of the truth which we are ever improving. People are terrified of sickness and disease and were unwilling to let go of what they had; doctors wanted to protect reputation and too did not want to let go of what they thought they could do. People would not change their ways nor respect doctors until they saw a man could make the sick well. With the changing social structure of the society, how people were employed and the education needs, the way people regarded themselves changed to individualism in the early modern period – the self, with an individual body and mind being your identity and existence. People wanted to know how their bodies worked, their minds; the magical God-filled world was placed at a distance and with the coming of the new astonomy dissolved away. Le silence eternel de ses espaces infinis m’effraie (Pascal). And we have gone deeper and deeper into the body until now we are dealing with our DNA, RNA.

Doctors still resist sharing information, drug companies certainly. Trade Secrets. This refusal to go beyond individual interest is part of what so retarded any progress (as well as patient ignorance and fear). So women died for 150 year more than they had to because forceps delayed. Midwifery had begun to be somewhat scientific in the later 17th century in Paris; in the later 18th century in London (note great gaps in time), John Hunter (still respected and celebrated as one of the great surgeons in history) described and drew a series of remarkable depictions of the embryo in 1790s, the way it developed, how the baby had to turn (to do this he had to perform vivisections on animals and corpses), and yet when it came to getting it out, not so easy. Forceps invented in first half of 17th century Chamberlain brothers, Huguenots who came to England and Pierre said to be inventor; we can find definitive descriptions in 1634. Chamberlain became obstetrian-surgeon to Henrietta, the French Queen of Charles I. It was held as a trade secret for 150 years. They would not disseminate; obstetricians carried on with their bleeding. I was forceps baby; today it’d have been a C-section. I would not be here – babies just do not always come out, they reverse themselves. Today doctors rush to C-Sections lest they be sued; because it’s more convenient, but after a C-Section the mother or woman is seriously at risk for every further pregnancy. Bleeding, hemorrhage a great killer.

There’s too much to cover (for details read Roy Porter’s the Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity), but so I’ll just emphasize education: the people who worked in and ran early medical schools were important, e.g., Herman Booerhaave (1668-1738), it’s no coincidence that trade, manufacturing, capitalism banking reached heights in the place where progress in medicine may be seen at least as far as discoveries. Microscope in 17th century can only change the small element of looking; it has to have a context. Edinburgh emerged as the British Leiden (Darwin went there in the early 19th century) when Alexander Monro (1733-1871) was appointed professor of anatomy. His son and and grandson. Very important an influential new body of ethics: what the doctor has to do and when he does not: Jon Gregory (1725-73),Lectures on the Duties and Qualifications of a Physician (written mostly by Thomas Percival); if all doctors follow this, the patients can’t force them to sell quack remedies. One more as an example Wm Cullen, Scots surgeon, lecturer (first half of 18th century) professor of chemistry, pathology and practice. I bring him up because I feel that what we see Graham’s Dr Enys follows Cullen’s idea; you look at the environment of the body, at the sensations which provoke irritation in tissues of organisms – look at spasms and try to moderate and control by diet.

Very practical handbooks began to be published at the turn of the 18th into 19th century. Precursors of Dr Spock. The Poor Man’s Medicine Chest (1791), Primitive Physick (1747) by John Wesley. Porter and his wife also wrote two books just on 18th century: In Sickness and In Health, the profound one and Patient’s progress (how patients felt, comes from people’s diaries and memoirs).

Several things came together in the early 19th century : Paris medicine and use of hospitals: in the 18th century patient put in wooden drawers of beds, four to a bed, head to foot without regard to nature of sickness. In Paris they sorted people into wards and could study an illness. What killed people were underlying lesions, sickness a shade away from health; physicans began like detectives to go on a trail to find patterns. The work of Bayle and Laennec who died of the diseases they studied immensely important; in Germany higher education was taken to real uses and there developed the use of laboratory. Inn practice the development of the stethoscope was revolutionary; there developments in pathology, anatomy, the development of the idea of the cell as a unit. Technological inventions get nowhere without practical application. You lay bare relationships – Virchow on cellular life and organ interaction. Drug experiments.

Does that mean we are in a scientific age? No because most people still don’t think scientifically – if they did the world would be different. Cancer – what you see are tremendous shows of force and radical surgery – they must be seen to be doing something. But they cannot predict whether what they do to you will make you better or die in great misery. Little money given for fundamental research, money for prolonging life and things that make doctors money. It’s denied there is a central paradigm – the way before Darwin it was denied there was a central paradigm for understanding why people and animals and the natural world take the forms they do. However upbeat the Ken Burns film (by concentrating on the few who survive ), fundamental progress on cancer is yet to come – we don’t understand why the central cancer cell begins to multiply and devour us.

To turn to Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan (less so there), Dwight Enys is one of the new men who has moved away from the older view of the world and medicine and is working out a piece by piece reformulation. In the novels, the morbid sore throat is diptheria; prison and hospital fever are epidemic typhus, typhus is to be distinguished from typhoid which is a different bacteria carried by water. Typhus is caused by rickettsia bacteria; it helps to eat oranges. Putrid fever is mostly typhus. Typhus was associated with lice, why Ross wants everyone to wash. Typhoid is salmonella, high fever, aching, rash, carried by feces in water. By the end of the eighteenth century they recognized forms of cancer – but they didn’t know the etiology so often describe a symptom that seems to them salient but is not causative. Apoplexy must have sometimes been strokes, but it was associated with severe bleeding. Gout was a name for all sorts of conditions – gout in the stomach was very bad. Julia dies of diptheria, Jim Carter of a combination of gangrene and epidemic typhus.

Education is central to the Enlightenment project (so to speak): Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous Vindication of the Rights of Women, companion volume to Paine’s Rights of Man (Ross found reading it in the 1970s book), is about education: women have been miseducated and see themselves utterly differently (I’ll write a separate blog on Wollstonecraft eventually).


Poachers in prison awaiting a pardon (both contemporary 18th century prints)

From Gentleman and Poachers by P.B. Munsche on the English Game laws. To chose the subject of the game laws and have Jim Carter sent away for 2 years to one of these pestiliential hellholes (transportation for 10 was death sentence) is a tactful version of Jean Valjean stealing a piece of bread so as not to starve and being put to hard labor for 20 years in Les Miserables. Or it’s comparable to the opening of Dickens’s A tale of Two cities: it was the best of times, the worst of times, and the attack of the population on one of the symbols of this ancien regime, the Bastille, in which astonishingly (but it happens) the soldiers joined the people. Seven people found there, and Dickens has Mr Manette clearly unjustly imprisoned – no gentler, kinder soul ever existed than Mr Manette. In Death Comes to Pemberley which aired last year, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James has as substory a young boy hung for poaching.

The poaching and gaming laws were egregiously unfair and like many or even most laws in the UK at the time administered unfairly, unevenly, defendant not allowed to defend themselves in court; it was who you knew, who put in a good or bad word; you were flotsam and jetsam. Now when someone had committed a serious crime as people sometimes did, it was not so. Propertied people wanted the exclusive right to hunt game in England because they wanted to own all the animals on their property. That’s reductive but that’s it. People in a subsistence world, corn prices artificially high; of course they poach. It’s also fun to poach. They are not protecting the animal but their ownership of it, particularly tenacious over pheasants and deer. What could happen was poaching gangs arose – a kind of class war over property rights under the guise of food. Because everyone knew this was egregious, the administration of the law was sometimes harsh and sometimes you could be let off. You hadn’t really done anything wrong. Had Ross gotten to Brodugan early in the morning, maybe he could have stopped him, but Brodugan is a spiteful man. the Rev Halse is a narrow rigid one. Nicholas Warleggan a just man but has little heart. By not making it a piece of bread, Graham makes it subtler and more accurate – it’s actually accurate and not until the 1830s were these laws abrogated. Then it became a matter of fox hunting, and laws to preserve foxes (considered vermin, attack chickens) but wanted for hunting.

Policing and punishment early modern London

To talk of poaching as to talk of smuggling is a subset of the important slow changes over the long 18th century in Crime and the Courts and Policing and Punishment (the two magisterial books are by J. M. Beattie).
Basically what had happened was early in the 18th century few people were caught, hardly any police, but those were subject to hideous deaths when juries could be got to declare the defendant guilty. A huge growth in cities made crime looked upon as serious, something you really did have to take seriously and do something about. Conscious efforts to improve. Limits of terror seen. So over the century first efforts to set up working police, effective magistrates – Henry Fielding and his brother John involved. And juries were reluctant to convict so imprisonment (without any reform of prisons) and transportation were substituted. In our own time terror has come back, in states (long imprisonment, torture) in those rebelling against the states ferocious partly because of lethal weaponry of states.

William Hogarth, The Bench

In the court system too changes and reforms slowly made. Between the earlier 18th century, say 1730 and later period 1770 and after the use of a defense counsel was permitted, a defendant could speak and defend himself. A giving over from torture itself. With the increase of people in prison, the prison system lagged behind: they were still death traps most of them. Highly uneven reform: see John Howard’s An Account of the present state of the prisons and houses of correction in the home circuit (1789) We see these changes in Ross’s trial for instigating a wreckage riot. Absolute contradiction: for hundreds of years the custom was that flotsam from a wreck was available to all the people in a community; this was illegal; people were supposed not to take what was thrown on the beach but leave it to soldiers and owners. On top of this excise men (prevention men and their informers) stopping smuggling were hated. The judge and prosecution was the jury to make an example of Ross whether he was personally guilty of what he was charged with or not; it was enough that he approved. They want to use him as an instrument for state terror. Instead the jury either listened to Dr Enys and accepted that Ross was not himself, heard Clark, understood Vigus and Clemmen’s were liars. Jud helped in a small way – he had been bribed, intimidated. Or they saw Ross as themselves and wanted to vindicate the ancient peoples’ customs.

During 1790s there was a fierce repression by Pitt – included paying mobs to make riots and destroy houses of known reformists and sympathizers; there were treason trials with treason being what someone said was treason. In Johnston’s Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of alarm and the lost generation of the 1790s and Jenny Uglow’s In these Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815, you have the background to the last quarter of Demelza and the first half of Jeremy Poldark. They are books of stories, told very readably in Johnston’s about ruined lives, about what people could have been. Johnston shows how a mass movement was put a stop to for another 40 years – the demands which gained traction in the 1840s such male franchise, reforming corrupt districts, regularly elected parliaments were all there. It’s about destroyed lives and the argument is individual lives count: they can matter to the society as a whole and of course they matter to the people living them. How reform movements fail and why. Uglow is about atmosphere and how people felt as they lived through this ear.


From Hogarth’s Election series of prints: Polling

Elections were in the modern sense utterly corrupt – Cornwall one of the more egregious districts because of the poverty of so many; its status as a Duchy and laws pertaining to that. I admit I don’t know specifics of these lawsor if there were in 1790 two mayors in Bodmin, but I believe it could have been. We see in our time times competing groups saying they are the true representatives of a district (in 1972 in the Democratic National Convention who represented Mississippi an all-white group or a predominantly black and poorer whites). During polling there was much violence until the the passing of the secret ballot in 1872. The Duchy of Cornwall was predominantly royalist from the point of view of who could vote, 2 members from country in 1294 but by 1821 fifteen additional towns and villages received the franchise because the electors were Tory. In 1832 Cornwall one of the most notorious for rotten boroughs, 14 boroughs eliminated., and Bodmin was one of those represented with few people in it compared to other places in Cornwall in 1885 still. One man one vote is not our way in the US today either; we are severely gerrymandered; the senate is deeply undemocratic if you regard state lines as artifices of history. Demelza protests why can we bribe electors and I am risking Ross’s acquittal if I try to talk to a judge and present some accurate truth to him, not the totally false lies of Warleggan — which in the event might have hurt the prosecution’s case as none of the better witnesses would vouch for these.

Norma Streader as Verity Poldark asks Ross to enable her to meet and get to know Captain Blamey (which her family would prevent) (Poldark 1975)

In my essay on Liberty in the Poldark novels. I point out and discuss the use of a theme throughout the Poldark books one central to 18th century history, Enlightenment, the 3 revolutions, our own constitution: civil liberty. People in the 18th century were against tyranny and superstition. Upper classes feared methodism as it attacked the church, but many were joined in the dissolution of magic, of astrology. Your civil rights – we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. In Demelza we see how class works to prevent her from coping adequately with men because they think she has no rights – it’s not a matter of political liberty here, but the value of the human being as such herself. Graham’s treatment is unusual for popular historical fiction, not so much any more because the books that win the Booker and Whitbread and other prizes are progressive. Pultizer prize in the US not yet given to historical fiction. Graham and these new 1990s and recent historical fiction (Paul Scott in Raj Quarter is another earlier exception) shows how laws and customs get in the way of men too exercising liberty and rights, and how central is self-esteem, the belief you have the right and ability and will not be further punished if you try to exercise your legal right. If election nullified to start with, what good to vote? P 1. Women made abject in society and in the 2015 mini-series they are showing that. I go over the stories and contexts of the first 7 novels.

The word liberty occurs regularly often in ironic contexts. Women do not use this language. They do not feel they have rights. Or they only have a right to disobey or break away if the male has broken an understood set of taboos. Men were allowed to beat women, but not to death. Elizabeth cannot break away from Warleggan as he stays within bounds so cannot protect Morwenna; flight not a good option. There is no or little opportunity for female agency. After the death of her sadistic husband, Morwenna manifests a rare assertion of her right to freedom: because she can give the hated son to the mother-in-law and as widow is under her own control. Later books economic monopoly curtails political and social liberty of those subject to it. We have that today: homelessness, rack renting, bankruptcy of small holders. In Jeremy Poldark and Demelza fairy tale finding of copper or someone gives you a big loan. Not the later books where political arrangement and compromises are worked out.


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