Archive for the ‘historical novels’ Category

Chun Castle, West Penwith, 3rd ofr 2nd BC for that contains evidence of smelting

Dear friends and readers,

My Poldark class finally met on Monday and we had a good session. Spurred by this I thought I’d put onto my 18th blog a recommendation for books on mining and smuggling (they are linked) in Cornwall, especially 16th through 19th century.


In his Story of Mining in Cornwall, Allen Buckley tells the story of southwestern Cornwall as a center of industrial capitalism as it was practiced for real between the earliest times (pre-historical records) to now, where from the 16th to later 19th century Cornwall was a central driving place for the industry of mining and how it exported its products and know-how around the world. We see evidence for the the trades routes from Cornwall down to Marseilles and out from the Mediterranean really go back a few thousand years. In classical times evidence of archeaology shows that most mining was kept to the surface.

Smuggling began as soon as the powerful began their attempt to tax — documents from the early medieval period.

The easier tin had been used up by the beginning of the 18th century century and people sought to find other minerals to make money by. Only when picking and washing it off the ground did people begin to dig down and build these tunnels and invent unwatering machines, and the whole man-based technology – wood mostly – emerge. There were different kinds of jobs, from what was done in the surface, to tributers – these were people given a space if they were individual enterpreneurs and what they could make depended on how much tin, copper they could pick off.  An interesting aspect of mining was that the individual worker was a sort of small enterpreneur. He was called a tributer.  A man who showed himself able to find and with a pic pull out ores was paid individually. A cost book was kept.  In the 19th century attempts were made to turn these people into salaried workers, but in Cornwall the ancient families held on to their land to some extent and so monopolies were not so extensive. Also the way of working, a single man hard at it many many hours would work more if he saw himself in control. No one tried slaves (who you would have had to whip and beat and the work was dangerous). Time and again owners tried to bypass this system and treat the workers ruthlessly, but a complicated set of realities – including the need for skilled people stopped that.

Companies and wealthy groups outside Cornwall ran a monopoly to keep the price of the ores down — they would buy the ore at low prices, smelt it, and then send it abroad. In the novels, Ross seeks to break the monopolies created by local thug-families, families with ruthless aggressive successful types at their heads and the English — who treated the Cornish as if this was a colony (not part of them). He seeks to find copper, mine, smelt it as the Carnemore Copper Company; there was a Cornwall Copper that did the same and also was beaten down by bankers calling loans in, the greater pockets of the non-Cornish — who though did not lose out altogether. Some of these rich outsiders who mined elsewhere (Yorkshire) are well-known by name: “Child, “Elizabeth Montagu, Bluestocking Businesswoman,” in Reconsidering the Bluestockings Edited by Nicole Pohl and Betty A. Schellenberg (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2003), 153-73. The idea of local combines meant that people within Cornwall would get to decide which mines were to be closed (if they were not profitable enough against the overhead) and which kept open. Mining in Cornwall was finally beat out by lodes and availability of ores in several colonies in South American, South Africa and other places. Cornwall turned to China clay and slate quarrying. In a way Cornwall extracted all it had from itself that was easy and then hard to get out, and then it sent its people to teach and work for others.

You can learn a lot from reading this book — about banking, real practices, ores, Cornwall too. About working places, why and how they rebel, riot, make combinations, how they are thwarted again and again and then exploited. A pro-slavery tract published around 1790 was dedicated to the “Starving Tin Miners of Cornwall.” The writer goes on to lambast abolitionists for ignoring inequities at home (i.e., the situation of the miners) in order to chase “foreign” issues. Mining undermined (pun there) people’s health badly; characters grow weak, sicken and die; they drown. They work hard long hours, and their lungs go. Some turn to agriculture or become servants but there is less money there. There was money in mining and not much money anywhere else — farming was hard and yielded poor results (see directly below). They also fish but there are apparently laws set up to control this so as to make sure the money to be gotten from it in large amounts goes to the powerful in the area. One scene late in Ross Poldark shows Ross and Demelza going to watch some fishing in the early dawn because that’s when the fish return from somewhere to other and also to evade these authorities. I can see why people preferred to smuggle, but it was dangerous. To offset starvation people also poached. For that they were thrown in jail to die if they were caught.

Cornwall has however for a long time been a poverty-sticken place. Why? It’s not good for growing things, and it’s not good for farming cattle in ways that make money. Corn – or bread (corn was the generic word for grain) riots occurred everywhere in the UK periodically as people were left to starve. Famine is sociologically engineered – it is the result of the food level in a given area going down where a large number of people have a precarious access to it – people can starve and huge amounts of food be shipped abroad. These corn riots, harsh repression and hanging occurred until the corn acts were passed in 1840

The focus of the book is especially the later 17th through 19th centuries where many new techniques and forms of mining emerged.. Beautiful pictures and informative box type articles on some of the pages on people and where scholarship is to be found. Buckley’s book is the result of not only personal decades of scholarship; it builds on a century of real serious effort by geologists, scholars, politicians, miners.

We learn of many important individuals, I’ll mention Thomas Bear for his inventions; wealth, connections and yourself being a “venture capitalist” and politician is found in Sir Francis Basset, Lord de Dunstanville of Tehidy (1757-1853).  In the second trilogy of the Poldark novels he figures as someone Ross is able to work with and borrow money from to form a combination against enforced bankruptcy.

1778 William Pryce illustrated one method of mine ventilation: moving air to a tunnel end

Its subtitle is “A world of payable ground.” It’s about more than mining. Through the experiences of people who mined from the working miners to the people who owned the ground and exploited them insofar as they could to the powerful kingly type players, he illuminates economic and political relationships of the time with real insight, lucidity and deep humanity.

Also very worth while: A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, The Cornish Miner. I’ve written about Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground (neolithic Cornwall, its mythic penumbra) on my Sylvia blog.


Mary Waugh Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall, 1700-1850. This excellent concise book shows the trade occurring all over the coasts of England where serious fishing and mining occurred. How widespread and (yes) violence on both sides (the smugglers and all the local people helping them) and the preventionmen (and the establishment on their behalf with their prisons and punishments like hanging, transportation) were — especially in Kent and Sussex. (The picture people have of Austen’s world as a gentle one is just ludicrously wrong). It was known companionably as the free trade.

How this relates to Poldark novels

After Ross is found not guilty of inciting a riot in Jeremy Poldark, he turns to smuggling: the scenes of lugging the goods on animals are fairly realistic

In Demelza Ross is trying to start a business that will support him as a gentleman through mining.  Ross’s problem is he is not going to get enough money for copper; among the reasons for this is there is a monopoly by the bankers and outsiders who buy the copper and sell it to foreign markets. Eventually what emerges is Ross in secret (he’s allowed) takes the small company he has begun, calls it the Carnemore Copper Company, based on something that really occurred, it was called the Cornish Copper company; a group of Cornish people attempted to wrest smelting of copper, selling and trading it abroad to get decent prices.


The death of Francis Poldark from drowning — this is done with psychological depth and individuality in the books

and 1970s mini-series, but it was actually a not atypical accident

He’s up against the difficult technology: how dangerous it was. and early on because he does not have enough money to build safe enough structures, a mine collapses. He is heroic trying to save all he can, but one character who has become familiar to us and has a family dies. The Poldark novels were written the later 1940s-50s in the UK where the labor gov’t made an attempt at building a progressive society. They reflect this time.

A worthwhile essay by Nickianne Moody:  “Poldark Country and National Culture.” She opens dryly and her tone is academic austere but she makes good points about the reasons for the success of the novels and the first mini-series. She means us to compare this need for nostalgia and reassurance in 1945-53 and again the 1970s against a bleak backdrop of post World War Two and economic hardship and decline and the ruthless policies of the Thatcher era with the astonishing success of Downton Abbey in the 2nd decade of the 21st century with a similar backdrop of economic hardship, and sense of betrayal and ruthless social policies, only as Moody points out the Poldark books are not complacent and not supporting the oligarchy.

Inexplicably Moody does not refer to the one-off movie of the 8th book, Stranger from the Sea, that was made in 1996 and was a flop: due mostly to the fanatical energies of the Poldark Appreciation Society whose anger at the exclusion of Ellis and Rees from the new production knew no bounds, and which Nickianne Moody treats with a certain unqualified (too much) respect. People are afraid of fan groups.

The essay comes from Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Elia Westland and has two opening essays on the history of Cornwall , 16th to 18th century and 19th to 20th, on various writers (besides Graham, Virginia Woolf, Daphne DuMaurier, the poet, John Harris, Thomas Hardy, and aspects of Cornwall (geography, the railway, regional differences)

While Ross supports his failing mining ventures by smuggling, Demelza (Angharad Rees) fishes … (1975-76 Poldark, Part 11)

I wonder if the new 2015 Poldark series will have time — allow for the necessary meditative quiet pace and coherent dialogue — to do justice to the treatment of mining, attempt at breaking a monpoly, the smuggling and fishing and farming to survive the way the 1970s series did. I doubt it. I will be writing on the new film adaptation after all 8 episodes of this year’s coverage of the first four novels (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan) conclude.


Read Full Post »

Duchess2 (2)

Duchess2 (1)

The Duke (Ralph Fiennes) raping the Duchess (Keira Knightley) and a moment afterward (Saul Dibbs’ and Amanda Foreman’s The Duchess, screenplay Jeffrey Hatcher 2008, one source for which is The Sylph, published 1778)


Our anonymous heroine witnessing one of countless rapes in Anonyma (2008), adapted from Marta Hiller’s A Woman In Berlin (first published 1945)

Dear friends and readers,

The last few weeks I’ve been immersed in two books which ought to be better known to English readers, Georgiana Spenser, the Duchess of Devonshire’s one novel, The Sylph, published anonymously in 1778, and the German diary now Englished as A Woman in Berlin and known to be Marta Hiller’s one book, also published anonymously 167 years later. They extend our understanding, our definition (if you will), the terrain of rape.

About four years ago I finally wrote the paper I should have written in 1980 (when I wrote my dissertation) on Richardson’s Clarissa; it took me 30 years to get to the point where I could discuss what riveted me when I first read Clarissa at age 18: “Rape in Clarissa,” which I subtitled from its heroine’s words, “What right have you to detain me here?”, surely not that you have raped me once? (it is that first rape that makes Lovelace assume he has the right to detain Clarissa).

In this recently thoroughly researched paper (if I do say so myself), I outline the two basic types of rape that most discussions of rape are subsumed under:

1) simple rape: an event where someone is compelled to submit to, or participate in, a physical sexual interaction which includes fucking, sodomy, fellatio or cunnilingus. Central is a loss of agency or control which occurs when the first onslaught is an event that goes well beyond the target’s expectations;

2) aggravated rape: a situation where the rapist uses extrinsic highly visible violence (weapons), where there are multiple assailants, a high degree of brutality and/or beating, or where there is no prior relationship between victim and rapist.

The problem is these definitions both demand the woman reject the sex, they both assume she has agency. All too often she does not. She cannot just say no. This is of course true of chattel slavery. But that condition is often ignored as now over with. In The Sylph and countless rapes in A Woman in Berlin, Georgiana and Hillers present two other all too familiar set of circumstances today where saying no is ignored: when a woman is married and cannot get out of the marriage; during war.

From the appalling experience of sex shown us from Georgiana’s POV on the first night of her marriage to the Duke

Georgiana Spencer’s novel was regarded as scandalous for many reasons; one not discussed is that in several scenes sex is forced on her heroine when she clearly does not want it; she has been insulted by seeing her husband with one of his mistresses; he has attempted to fool her into going to bed with Lord Biddulph, his fellow-rake, now a creditor; he has himself insulted and berated her when she does not hand over the rest of her jointure or refused to go to bed with this creditor once again. Her heroine, Julia, married of her own free will but in an arranged way, as an exchange of property and money between her father, Sir William Stanley, and after some months when she has been treated corruptly she clearly does not want to have sex with him, and it is forced upon her. In the scenes in the novel where Biddulph attempts to have sexual intercourse with her, had he succeeded might fall under the rubric of simple rape, except the situations have been set up by Stanley is Julia as payment for a debt. So they extend the definition of marital rape.



From a scene as the armies invade: the women flee into a basement; they are heckled as “Frau Hitler” and raped …

The nameless journalist heroine of Hillers’ book tells of the entry of the Russian armies into Berlin in late April 1945, and takes us into mid-June when the war is declared over. Yes there are countless (truly) rapes where women are beaten into complying, brutalized, humiliated, but there are as many where the women seem to comply, do not fight the men off and yet others where they allow one man to take over their body nightly in return for food and protection from ceaseless rapes by other men, but all the while writhing within, silently bearing it until the war situation comes to an end. This presented by Hillers as continuous rape. After the declaration of war new rapes occur less often, but the women are still answerable with their bodies. For weeks afterward they are driven like animals to do heavy physical labor by the occupying males (who while supervising, needle, heckle and try to get them to have sex with them in return for favors) for food. Sex slaves. In both sets of cases, the scenes are dramatized so that we shall see the woman complies at the same time as what is happening is rape.

Both books are the only books by these gifted women because both anonymous authors were excoriated (vilified) for writing them. For telling. The books show that apparent compliance is no criteria for saying that the act of sexual intercourse was not rape. The women are subject to their society which redefines these experiences of rape so as to by law declare them not rape (marriage) or by custom silence or shame the women who were subjected to them. While some of what the women think in both novels can be aligned to what a hostage is led to mouth when she finds herself the victim of hegemonic values which she takes on as a protection for her self-esteem, the physical acceptance of the act is accompanied by self-alienation, disgust, an intense desire to get away at the first opportunity. At the close of The Slyph Julia knows peace only when she returns home to her father. The anonymous heroine is relieved when her protectors (she takes on two) are gone, but she is immediately confronted by her continuing need for food, an incessant preoccupation in the diary and to return to a profession where she can be independent and eat, she attempts with others to recreate a press and write again, very stressful and against great odds (e.g., not enough paper).

In both cases a film adaptation has now been made. Saul Dibbs’s and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Duchess (with Amanda Foreman as advisor) tell the story of the life of the Duchess using perspectives taken from Foreman’s and Georgiana’s books. For example, when one of Georgiana’s extravagant wigs were set on fire. (In the film she is drunk out of despair and collapses.) They blend easily as The Sylph mirrors a number of events known to have occurred in Georgiana’s life (sometimes represented in a reversal, as in the novel the Duke loses egregious amounts of money while it was Georgiana who lost extravagant amounts). Rape figures centrally in the film: Georgiana’s first night with the Duke is made to feel like a rape (she is his property); he rapes her after she finds him in bed with her paid companion-friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell): the three stills above are taken from that scene where the camera shows us the rest of the house hearing her cries and doing nothing. We feel she is violated when her child by Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) is taken from her. Little of this is discussed in reviews of the film; its genre, costume drama, frames it as romance and it’s easy to find stills of Keira Knightley in fabulous hats from it, often looking virginal. Here is a less familiar pair: the Duchess despairing and drunk just before her headdress is set on fire from a fallen chandelier:


Duchessfalling (1)


I regret to say the 2008 film, Anonyma, written and directed by Max Faberbock loses the value of the book. It has great power and that lies in the opening half-hour where there is recreated what it’s like to be invaded by an army in just these specific circumstances: you are in a city that is ruined by bombing, the people whose “side” you are said to be on have basically lost (Hitler’s suicide is announced about 40 minutes in). The POV is our heroine’s, Anonyma (that’s what’s she’s called) played by Nina Hoss. Faberbock and she and all concerned convey the terror and brutality — rape is what the women suffer hideously — brutal and ugly and slow: these rapes don’t happen all at once; there’s time for women to try to get commanders to stop the men and they refuse (“my men are healthy”). But rape is only one aspect of what’s experienced: filth, destruction, eating filth, destroyed houses, rooms, things, children hidden and sudden and quick deaths as people are simply shot or there is a barrrage of fighting with guns. Faberbock is very willing to use black screens to convey darkness. But what happens within the first 40 minutes is the film becomes a love story — as the diary never does. We are asked to believe our heroine overlooks the way the major who becomes her long-term bed partner refused to stop his men and other horrendous acts when she first met and appealed to him. The film vindicates masculinity conventions and beliefs about women (such as they do not mind rape when not accompanied by harsh beating or death).

From the close of the film where we are presented with a silent adieu between the major who was our heroine’s central protector-rapist

The way Anonyma is described on IMDB is so distorted as to be comical — it imposes this sentimental meaning on what’s happening ludicrously — Lore must save her people; she learns to rely on what she hated. Roger Ebert wrote an intelligent review; so too one appeared in The Guardian. Also I have come across nothing in the press which discusses the sex in The Duchess truthfully, much less any awareness of its debt to The Sylph. So the rest of this blog will be a brief account of The Sylph and A Woman in Berlin as rape stories.

There is much more one could say about both, I am treating them from this point of view as it is central to them.


firstpage (Large)
The first page of the first edition quotes Pope’s Rape of the Lock

The Sylph is a multi-voice epistolary fiction. Sir William marries Julia because he can’t get her any other way and by her letter we see that he is imposing on her values and norms which are a kind of violation of her feelings. He in short is not in love with our heroine — nor is she in love with him. She recognizes he is a stranger to her. when she gets to London, she is immersed in an amoral world and meets Lady Besford who urges her to have affairs, only be discreet: a mild version of Madame de Merteuil who in Les Liasions Dangereuses is enisted by Cecile’s mother to teach her daughter (recently it’s been recognized that Valmont rapes Cecilia the first time and controls her by blackmail — he’ll tell her mother — thereafter). Lady Melford is the helpless good mentor. Georgiana’s is an anti-libertine libertine novel, a critique of the adulterous disloyal world frankly presented. Early scenes with her husband (as Caroline Breashears wrote — she read with me and others) “the complexities and violence of the bed chamber.” A miscarriage is callously dismissed. Julia is taken as a sex object, impregnated, encouraged to have liasions discreetly so her husband can too. He returns from the opera which he attended with one of his mistresses and refuses to account for his long absence, insisting immediately on his marital rights which Julia now find distasteful because done with false words (hypocrisies). The Sylph is an anonymous correspondent who offers to watch and monitor her behavior — to the modern reader he feels like a stalker; there’s something insidious in his demands she reveal to him, a stranger, her inward thoughts. (Admittedly Julia-Georgiana does not take his presence this way, but agrees to subject herself to his judgement in order to protect herself.)

We have several inset stories. One is told early on by Julia’s father about his past and that of her mother. It is an exposure of the evils of primogeniture, marriages arranged sheerly for money. A story of Lord D who finds out his wife, Lady L, had taken a lover and challenges that lover to a duel and is killed by him presents duelling as murder in disguise. In another in-set story Georgiana makes it plain how rape can work. The aristocrat Montague tries outright to rape a lower middle class girl, Nancy; when Montague is thwarted, he removes her fiance by persuading Will to join the army, fomenting rebellion in Will, catching him deserting, and having him flogged — is it any different than say a court intrigue where the king or powerful man manipulates a lower courtier to allow his wife to go to bed with him? This is also a parable against flogging — against the terrible inhumane treatment of the lower classes. We are really made to feel how much flogging hurts.

As the novel progresses and Sir William gets deeper and deeper into debt he successfully pressures Julia to give up a proportion of her settlement (what she is supposed to live on in widowhood, and what could support them if he becomes a bankrup); it does no good, he is not grateful; he does not pretend even to love her — she no longer deludes herself his lust is love. Another sex as rape scene is implied and he returns to the gambling tables. On one level this is a portrait of unhappy marriage, what a marriage for sex and at a price ends end up in. As such, it may be an original novel — is there any other that in a middle class type novel shows this level of reality — deeply distraught and disillusioned young woman does not know where to turn. There is an allusion to Pamela Andrews as a pernicious book because it leads women to believe they can win a worthy man by withholding sex; we can also assume Georgiana was thinking of this central English novel. Julia finally encounters the Sylph at a masquerade ball and it becomes apparent he is a male who is after her too.

It is when she goes home thinking she is with Sir William she discovers he has sent Biddulph in his place in an attempt to delude her into going to bed with this man. William is then enraged with her for refusing Biddulph. part of the scene where Biddulph is disguised comes from the old canard that sex is the same in bed in the dark and it doesn’t matter what individual you are with. It’s an old bawdy joke, masculinist, and presented misogynistically in the Renaissance chapbooks and fabliau from the 15th through 18th century. Shakespeare uses it in Measure for Measure. We see it in comic plays where people jump into bed with the wrong people and have sex with them. Behn uses it. Since the conventions of verisimilitude are in play in The Sylph too, Georgiana does try to account for this by having Biddulph try to imitate Stanley’s behavior and Julia be puzzled. But she relies on her acceptance.

When Stanley comes in enraged and now demands that Julia turn over the rest of her settlement (jointure) he is particularly corrosive over her “prudery.” Stanley comes as close as he dares to offering Julia to Biddulph in lieu of the money he owes Biddulph: “I have but one method (you understand me) though I should be unwilling to be driven to such a procedure” (p 177). To do this break all norms for masculinity. Note he is willing to force sex himself on Julia anyway – no respect for her chastity, for himself as a proud male owning females, no concern for any pregnancy she might have. Let us acknowledge this is another form of rape – the selling of one’s acknowledged “woman” (wife) to another man and coercion of her. This motif turns up in novels otherwise not in imitation of one another: the wife in D’Epinay’s Montbrillant find her husband’s creditor in her bed and her husband waxing violent when she refuses to have sex with this man; in Edgeworth’s Leonora the vicious heroine plots to go to bed with someone to pay her debts (she is married). How common then was this? In Georgiana’s case it was she who was deep in debt so it might not be herself she is pointing to: her husband openly had Lady Elizabeth Foster, her companion so it seems reversed.

The novel is brought to an end when confronted with bankruptcy, and unable to cope with negotiations and an utterly (to his thinking) shamed life, Stanley kills himself and Julia returns home. If the novel had ended at this point we would have a very anti-marriage novel. Caroline wrote: “Moreover, it would be a convincing novel inspired by events in Georgiana’s own circle. In the introduction by Jonathan Gross, he notes that Lord Stanley’s gambling debts and suicide were inspired partly by the debts and death of John Damer (husband of Georgiana’s friend Anne), who shot himself in August 1775. Instead we have a sudden turn into idyllic romance, with Julia’s friend and sister marrying ideal young men and the Sylph turning out to be a suitor who had been rejected by her father because he had not the rank and money of Sir William. This is not Millenium Hall where the women built a life out of a female community together.

2005 edition, translator Philip Boehm

Continued in the comments: a parallel reading of A Woman in Berlin: first half; second half; denouement.


General thoughts placing both books in a woman’s tradition of books. For the 18th century:

Georgiana’s Sylph is a book much influenced by French novels and is a critique of the ancien regime too. If we posit there is such a thing as a libertine novel, (say — I came across this title this morning –, Crebillon’s Le Sofa, or Diderot’s Le Bijou (about a necklace’s adventures) — this one shows us the attitudes of the libertine novel and world, but is critiquing it. That is what LaClos claimed to be doing: he claimed he was not on Valmont or Madame de Merteuil’s side but exposed them to enable us to condemn them. This recalls Richardson’s writing outside his novel about Lovelace, and Georgiana’s Stanley and Biddulph are clearly modelled on Lovelace.

But it is Madame Riccoboni’s novels I call attention to where one heroine is raped while unconscious (drunk), another commits suicide; and most significantly in the decade after The Sylph: Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichfield is nowadays available in English translation on line is significant here. Isabelle de Montolieu did the astonishingly brave thing of showing a girl coerced into marriage refusing to go to bed with the man that night. It made open and clear in novels for the middle class that coerced marriage is rape. The man is a Colonel Brandon type (S&S is based partly on this novel I am convinced of it) and so does not force her, but he could. Montolieu punts by having his looks improved and them fall in love by the end (heroine betrayed by a Willoughby type). Trollope has heroines commit suicide rather than go to bed with a man distasteful to them, but he makes them so bad looking, and the women forcing it so sadistic, it does not seem ordinary as it is in Caroline de Lichtfield. The only other novel I know of that does this in the 19th century is Sand’s Valentine, and there the young man does try to force her. She throws him out and finds herself a pariah. Caroine de Licthfield is a 1780s novel — again after the Sylph, but not much after.

In both the 18th century and until today it is common for novels to be about women who fake rape; only very recently have women written about real rape (see my bibliography and notes for “Rape in Clarissa”).

As to Hillers’ book it belongs to European books written after WW2, often in the middle to later 1940s: all extraordinary, especially the journals by women (and men, Primo Levi’s for example) from Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia, 1943-44 to Elsa Morante’s Historia, to Ingeborg Bachman’s poetry and Christa Woflf’s Cassandra and Four Essays. They were often either ignored upon first publication, or heavily criticized, framed by some aspect of the woman’s life. None of these are about rape, though Morante includes it. The European women’s books often rise to a level the UK people don’t — bombs are not the same as occupation (which as we know can bring genocides): I don’t mean to to be frivolous but I read the first Poldark novels coming out of UK in 1945 after Graham’s years as a warden on the beaches of Cornwall; Simone de Beauvoir’s is another extension of the kind of book WW2 prompted. Here are some reviews first published years later,


From Joseph Kanon:

That population was largely female and the dramatic events here are rapes — repeated rapes, group rapes, violent rapes, accommodating rapes. It has recently been the fashion to think of rape as a military tactic (as it was in Bosnia), but here it appears in its more familiar aspect: crude men seizing their spoils of war, as barbarous as Goebbels had promised. The most commonly accepted figure for rapes committed in Berlin during the first weeks of the Russian occupation is around 100,000 (calculated by hospitals to which the women turned for medical help). ”A Woman in Berlin” shows us the actual experience behind those abstract numbers — how it felt; how one got through it (or didn’t); how it brought its victims together, changing the way they saw men and themselves; the self-loathing (”I don’t want to touch myself, can barely look at my body”); the triumph of just surviving.

from Ursula Hegil:

A Woman in Berlin is an amazing and essential book. Originally written in shorthand, longhand and the author’s own code, it is so deeply personal that it becomes universal, evoking not only the rapes of countless German women in 1945 but also the rape of every anonymous woman throughout war history — the notion of women as booty. The book’s focus is not on the Nazi rampage across Europe but on its aftermath, when 1.5 million Red Army soldiers crossed the Oder River and moved westward. More than 100,000 women in Berlin were raped, but many of them would never speak of it. “Each one of us will have to act as if she in particular was spared,” Anonymous writes. “Otherwise no man is going to want to touch us anymore.”

Anonymous was an editor and journalist. Her voice is unlike most other voices from that period: She probes, refuses to look away. Nearly half a century ago, when her diary was first published in German, it challenged the postwar silence and all it concealed: guilt, lies, defensiveness, denial. . . .

The others hardly discuss the topic of rape; one is a slur, attempting to suggest the book is a work of ficiton. All life-writing is dramatized, shaped by themes and aesthetic considerations


The above are mostly in German; the last two by women discuss rape centrally, Linda Grant discussing “mass rape”; Cressida Connolly how the women talked together and coped with the situation by talking of it in ways unthinkable usually (undoable), as jokes; Joanna Burke tells us of a survivor.


Atina Grossman’s academic paper sets the book in the contexts of real documents from the time — showing by the way the book is non-fiction, telling an accurate truth as the author experienced it.


Read Full Post »

Luckington Court, Wiltshire: Longbourn in the 1995 P&P (scripted Andrew Davies)

Dear friends and readers,

Back from my trip to Boston to watch the US National Ice-Skating Championship, and am delighted to report that the book that most helped me get through a long wait for an airplane to go to Boston, long hours in our hotel room when I had caught a bad cold and could not attend the skating was Jo Baker’s Longbourn. Unlike the several sequels to Austen’s novels that try to create something new within the close confines of sticking mostly to Austen’s original characters and stories, Baker’s Longbourn is alive with effective powerful characters, presents a story that is persuasive, holds your attention, has passion and unfolding subtlety.

She has performed this considerable feat by using the same method or ploy as Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (out of Hamlet) and Valerie Martin in her Mary Reilly (out of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Essentially we stay totally with the characters mentioned in the margins of the original fiction, in this case a butler, Mrs Hill, two housemaids, and James, the coachman (all explicitly mentioned), in their world upon which the highlighted strongly remembered events of the original fiction impinges as its story moves along. All three new texts (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Mary Reilly and Longbourne) depend on your knowing the story in-between, or enough of it to make do with the sketch of this other story upstairs more or less merely suggested. (I’ve an idea Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is another example of this kind of sequel.) So Baker is not in the position of having to herself re-invent or bring to life a character Austen dwelt in, because the main characters of Austen’s novels are only seen or felt in passing, and Baker is clever enough to use the original words from the novel whenever possible.

Longbourn is also a text that emerges as much from the Austen film canon (especially the 1995 A&E P&P) as it does from the two Upstairs/Downstairs (U/D and Downton Abbbey) long running serial dramas. So the rules of how footmen dressed, how people behaved at table, and much else owes much to the dream books (printed on art paper, plenty of colorful stills) that accompany the films as historical paraphernalia.

Sarah first seen in novel doing hard heavy morning chores the way Daisy is seen here (Sophie McShea)

The whole conceit of taking us downstairs is an outgrowth of the Upstairs/Downstairs patterning of so many and recently the Downton Abbey pattern. Arguably, Daisy from Downton Abbey is central to the central characters of Longbourn: Mrs Hill as a girl servant when she got pregnant, and now Sarah, Mrs Hill’s protegee, an orphan rescued from a poorhouse. The P&P film most in mind is the 1995 one where there is most information. The long sequence of James’s adventures and ordeals about 3/4s the way through the book (his back story) are closely reminiscent of Darcy’s ordeal (played by Colin Firth) in the 1995 P&P. There’s even a scene where like Darcy, James consults a girl of the streets who is clearly willing to give him sex for the money or expects to, and he does not ask this at all but feels for her.

Darcy and woman in streets (his ordeal test)

I felt numerous of Baker’s scenes were sketched with a movie in mind: James, her hero does not move into anguish where we are invited to experience this with the character; instead most of the time we see him and others from afar and are left to imagine his inner world. The effect of reading a number of her scenes is that of a screenplay where the dialogue and descriptions of settings have been thrown into the conventional prose of a novel. The way the characters we are with watch the upper class characters live their luxurious easy lives has the effect of watching a super-rich costume drama at a distance from us. It’s self-reflexive. We are also continually made aware of how the point of view in costume drama as a genre is that of the upper class or privileged because suddenly the troubles of most of such characters (even the downstairs set) seem as nothing to the threat of homelessness, starvation, pressing, flogging, rape, ruthless exploitation such as the group of characters who inhabit the kitchens of both Longbourn and Netherfield in this book know.

Within its own terms Longbourn often makes us piquantly see Austen’s novel from an angle many of us would not have considered before. I’ve read countless times how wonderful it is that Elizabeth Bennet goes traipsing through the fields and mud to reach Jane, not caring about how her dress fared: we are to admire her physical stamina, prowess, nerve. What’s omitted is how the maid might feel about such a petticoat and nice pelisse getting filthy. We see Sarah’s raw hands, how hard she must work with a few chemicals, rubbing, beating, boiling garments to make them spotless (ahem) again. I suppose I most enjoyed re-seeing such acts from the servants’ point of view. When Sarah passes by the young man being flogged, we are made to see and feel the full humiliating horror and pain this man is subject to.

Still, Longbourn is (like Mary Reilly and Wide Sargasso) a woman’s novel, for it’s a heroine’s text mostly. The movies it comes out of are genres rightly identified with women. Nothing to be ashamed of; these are genres of great art. I enjoyed Lonbbourn as much as I did Emma Donoghue’s magnificent powerful Slammerkin (which I’ve now read twice too).

The central character whose consciousness we are in for 3/4s of the novel is, as I’ve indicated, a kitchen-housemaid, Sarah, whose work and characters are more than a little reminiscent of Daisy in Downton Abbey. Mrs Hill took Sarah from the poor house after her working class family died, was kind to her, but also works her hard as she works herself. The second character is Mrs Hill herself, from the same milieu as her Sarah, so we have an older woman’s perspective: as the novel unfolds we discover Mrs Hill was once as young as Sarah and at the time had a liaison with Mr Bennet (before he married Mrs B), which Mrs B, dull as she is, senses when she turns, as she does several times, to Mrs Hill to persuade Mr B to do this or that, assuming that Mr B will listen to Hill. Alas, from Mrs Hill’s point of view, Mrs B exaggerates her power over Mr B: he is as much his own man, as obdurate, irresponsible, and unable to control some of his family members or reality as Mr B in Austen’s novel.

Tom Jones (Max Beesley) looking back at the house at the moment of ejection (1997 Tom Jones)

The third character is James, the hired footman; he lurks to the side once he turns up, and only in the last third of the novel does his consciousness take over as we move into his past as Mr Bennet’s illegitimate son by Mrs Hill, and then a volunteer in the army who ended up enduring and perpetrating the horrors of the peninsula war, where driven by the cruel injustices of the time (including flogging, coercing him to murder animals as well as whoever gets in the way), he commits an act regarded as an unspeakable crime in the era, and deserts. Thus turning up a few chapters after the book opens as a newly hired coach and footman in one. I suggest Baker consciously meant this novel as a Tom Jones story where Tom is until the near end deprived of any just deserts from the place which ought to be his home.

Baker’s work is close to Stoppard’s because she stays with the original characters and invents as few extra characters as Baker’s plot-design requires, no more. A wholly invented character who stays within the confines of Austen’s fiction and opens it up suggestively for us is Mr Ptolemy Bingley: a mulatto who was born on one of Mr Bingley’s father sugar plantations and whose handsomeness, good education and good treatment by the Bingleys suggests an unacknowledged but understood half-brother. We see where the Bingleys got their money; and this sheds light on the supposed humane Bingleys attitudes towards people “beneath them” — the master’s generosity and limitations.

In the case of Baker this is still or also one of her limitations. Unlike Martin, she does not invent an idiolect or style which is a genuine living imitation of an earlier century’s speech naturalistically transposed (which Winston Graham is so superb at in his Poldark series), but basically uses a clear simple (but not vulgar) style — and she lacks the high poetic genius of a Stoppard (as seen say also in his Arcadia). This means her novel cannot quite be read (as Mary Reilly can) as a historical novel in its own right which happens (so to speak) to collide into or cohere with an earlier story.

Baker also does not thoroughly think or imagine things through to give her book the wider franchise of history: for example, the book includes an illegitimate son for Mr Bennet but rather than imply or build up the many complicated reasons within a patronage and family network system why a man like Mr Bennet might continue to refuse to recognize in any way his illegitimate child would not be recognized — not just shame, but as the father of the illegitimate would be pressured into providing for him or her and any spouse he or she married; given the interwoven kinship system, be repeatedly subject to appeals for money, seen as responsible for any wrong-doing his son or daughter did. Baker has Mr Bennet merely ashamed; it’s too thin. There is not the kind of serious research into an era one feels in say Graham’s Poldark novels or Emma Donoghue’s Life Mask. What there is research and knowledge of is Austen, Austen’s novels, the Austen film canon, though even there the focus is the fiction, not Austen’s life or letters. This last lacunae makes the novel old-fashioned as most newer sequels take into account a mirroring in the novels of Austen’s life. Some of the latest ones prefer the letters as text (e.g., Lindsay Ashford’s The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen).

So this remains a sequel, but a strong one. She stays with most traditional interpretations, including later ones that have grown dominant. She makes strong case for Mr Bennet’s selfishness as well as the stupidity and vacuity of Mrs Bennet. He will accept Lydia after someone else supplies the money, but he will not lift a real finger to help his only son. We see him guilty and remorseful by the end of the novel, but unpunished and carrying on in the usual way.

Benjamin Whitlow as Mr Bennet here fits the bill

We see the kindness and well-meaning gifts of Jane and how after she gives Sarah a present she dismisses her from her mind. Wickham’s uglyness of character is considerably deepened (as is Mr Bennet’s); Darcy becomes the powerful rich man who pays little heed to the lower world. We don’t see enough of the others except perhaps Mary who we feel for. Mr Collins is made sympathetic by taking on Tom Hollander’s sensitive rendition. One can see some of the actors in Austen’s characters’ roles taking over here.

One of Baker’s great strengths is the ability to be really inward inside a character. So when James goes off to the Peninsular war we hear of no larger issues. Graham re-imagines the peninsular war from the perspective of a wide and far (not too far) landscape where this side wins here and that there; I assume Baker did serious research into the battles of the war as you can trace James’s trajectory through a series of battles that did occur, but once this outline is established, the fiction returns to the older mode of say French heroic romance: wholly private happenings with no world-stage characters or events recorded.

The modernity or contemporaneity of the novel resides in its violence: we witness atrocities (horrible) not only in Spain but at “home,” the home counties where Austen’s action takes place. Sarah passes by the man who is flogged (and mentioned in passing as so much news by Austen’s ironic narrator) and we are made to feel the scene from his point of view, rather like a novelist who is writing a novel against capital punishment shows us the indifference or hostility of all to the person murdered from the man’s point of view. Of course after such a scene, what matter a lack of roses on dress shoes?

Perhaps most interesting are the ways this perspective turns things discussed so intensely in Austen criticism, into sheer selfish talk of the over-indulged. Darcy’s high pride (or arrogance) appears merely as the way a super-privileged young man might walk by the wholly unimportant maid: when at the close of the book Sarah has been made a lady’s maid to Elizabeth at Pemberley and finds the life of stifling and wants to leave it, Mr and Mrs Darcy sit down with her to ask her (puzzled) why? has she not everything she could want? no hard work. They cannot see she wants a life.

And tellingly the life she choses or ends up with is reminiscent of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. James has been forced to flee in the night when he tries to protect a young girl servant from the depredations of Wickham. Wickham is presented as a false treacherous man here (and unlike Lost in Austen it’s no joke), and as James once refused wantonly to destroy some horses and ended up committing a murder himself, so he intervenes, to be told by Wickham, Wickham has suspected him all along and will have a quiet word with someone to investigate James. (There was no liberty for the lower orders in earlier centuries either). Sarah leaves Pemberley to seek James out.

And then we get our fairy tale idyllic ending, the dream that Naomi Schorr defended in her book George Sand’s fiction as the way women’s novels critique our lives by presenting the fulfilled dream. At the close of Indiana, the two lovers flee to a paradisal island; the ultimate paradigm is the ancient romance of Daphnis and Chloe, the 18th century version, Paul et Virginie. Sarah goes seeking James and finds him amid a crew of working agricultural laborers and joins them.

Again Ellis this time with Angaryrd Rees as Demelza: the two outcasts regarding the rest of the world as the junyard that does not matter, a world well lost — still come home at their close in each book (Poldark)

The novel picks up speed and it’s a few years and maybe a child or so later, and we are on the road with the pair of them coming home. Home is where? Yes Longbourn – for all along in the novel to James Longbourne and its world with all its hardships presents beauty, quiet order, routine, and yes a father he does not know is his father; it’s where Sarah knew a family as an infant and had some kindness from Mrs Hill, still there. It’s a moving moment as the pair near, and one that’s nowadays added onto to costume drama: the latest, the film adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu’s Wyvern Mysteries where our heroine and her child return to a house, place, landscape they knew some comfort, peace, refuge in. Other non-reactionary versions: Patrick O’Connor and Simon Grey’s film adaptation of J. L. Carr’s Month in the Country (with an early great role for Colin Firth as the nearly destroyed anguished artist), both sets of Cranford Chronicles with its communitarian ideals. Downton Abbey as a place of refuge is the heart of its appeal; it’s not its unreality which many people are aware of, but the dream itself asserted that its audiences and Jane Austen audiences want.

Opening shot of Downton Abbey

Rumor hath it a film adaptation of Baker’s Longbourn is “in the works,” one which uses the tropes of upstairs/downstairs as found in Downton Abbey heavily. I read somewhere that James Schamus, producer of many an Ang Lee movie is involved. I can hardly wait to see the mini-series film adaptation of Death comes to Pemberley featuring Anna Maxwell Martin (as Elizabeth) even though I’ve been told the P.D. James’s book is poor or disappointing; with a good book behind it, a decently humane politics, perhaps the coming film adaptation (if it’s still on), Longbourn will be a another fine movie to join the Austen canon.


Read Full Post »

Temple of Concord at Green Park (for this and the other French engraved landscape I am indebted to Susanne Alleyn)

Dear friends and readers,

The second of two reports on the conference of 18th century scholars I attended 3 weeks ago at Philly. While “Retirement, Renewal and Reappraisal” comprised the central theme of the gathering, other themes engaged panelists. I heard a marvelous plenary lecture on the male classical ideal of retirement, attended three panels whose focus was women writers, women’s books, women’s issues (a festschrift for Betty Rizzo, violence towards women so retirement as recovery, re-evaluating retirement) and, in lieu of attending, read a couple of the papers on “the empty nest syndrome,” which brings together aging and women’s experience’s of (forced) retirement.

Give me Great God (said I) a Little Farm
in Summer shady, & in Winter warm
where a cool spring gives birth to a clear brook
by Nature slideing down a mossy Rock
Not artfully in Leaden Pipes convey’d
Or greatly falling in a forc’d Cascade …

— Mary Wortley Montague, Written January 1718 in the Chiosk at Pera overlooking Constantinople


The plenary speech on later Friday afternoon by John Richetti, “Retirement or Retreat” was particularly fine. He began by remarking that retirement was not understood then as it is now. Today if someone here were asked, “Are you retired?” that would be asking (if you are an academic) “if you have stopped teaching, but carry on doing everything else” (research, writing, meetings, civic duties). In the 17th and 18th century what would be meant might be, “Have you retired to the countryside? away from the world.” Two words are significant here. “Otium” means to be free from public duties, “negotium” is the Latin word for business. Defoe never sought otium for himself; otiose today implies a lazy nature, practically speaking ineffective behavior. People then honored the contemplative life. The puritan sensibility includes winning a good life (peaceful, moral) but distrusts not carrying on a battle against evil.

Prof Richetti then went over a number of key texts. Pomfret’s “Choice” was enormously popular, a banal poem about a wholly self-indulgent man whose women seem to be paid prostitutes. This type of poem is studied in the old-fashioned foundational text of Rostvig on “The Happy Man” where Pope is frequently quoted; his “Windsor Forest,” a sort of retirement community for the well-connected, central. By contrast, Dryden’s work (translations and original texts on this topic) shows a real philosophical perspective on contentment.

Prof Richetti then suggested that the era’s novels reject retirement throughout the long 18th century (and again in our 20th to 21st century books). In novels characters want to change their environment and circumstances. Robinson Crusoe lives in a world of expanding economic opportunity; he cannot stay still; he is too busy to fall into depression. In Fielding’s Tom Jones the hero is betrayed by the Man on the Hill. Tom Jones implies the man is utterly selfish and amoral. Tristram Shandy makes mocking use of the classical ideal of retirement. Rasselas meets failed hermits going mad.

In the course of the lecture, Prof Richetti discussed various individuals and comments about them. For example, Pope’s relationships with various writers: Bolingbroke acted out the happy man retirement trope for public consumption, but he had been fired, exiled for treason, and his reaction was misanthropy. Mary Wortley Montagu’s “Constantinople: Written in the chiosk at Pera overlooking the reality of Constantinople is in the classical mode of Pope’s, though her poem project how alone she feels. He mentioned poems that show disorder results from retreat (Mary Leapor’s Crumble Hall). Pope recognized in Defoe a different spirit: “restless Daniel” of the “unceasing movement;” but Swift carelessly (posing) snubbed him as “the fellow that was pilloried, I forget his name.” Prof Richetti talked a lot about Swift and his relationship with Stella: Swift in his verse jeers at women seeking retirement (in 20th and 21st day off), for he combines attitudes: leisure is unearned privilege, yet he celebrates retirement when he imagines it with Stella: they will built a private alternative of mutual affection and rest from the world; Stella herself has lived a worth while life, reliant on her self.

pont-neuf and the pump houseblog
Pont Neuf and the Pump House

In the discussion afterward, it emerged that Richetti felt the ideal for retirement as understood in the 18th century is possible for only upper class males, even though it’s a fiction. Female experience, he suggested, does not allow for retirement; it is too different (female friendship may part of a woman’s version of retirement) and impossible to fit in.

Print of ideal Scottish Drawing Room: all learning, making music together

Three women’s panels. At 8:30 Saturday morning, the “empty nest” panel had two remarkable papers. Rosemary Wake talked of the life of Beatrice Grant, apparently a cousin of some sort to Anne Grant: hers is the story of a woman who was quietly unconventional and when both her children left her and then pre-deceased her, turned to writing as an outlet, advice sort of books where she recreates the presence of her son especially. Frances Singh’s paper was filled with highly original research into the life of Jane Cumming, an illegitimate and mixed race Scotswoman the phases of whose existence show her to have been very hurt at how she was treated and to have taken a little understood revenge. Her experience and the accusations of sexual misconduct she accused two of her teachers of became the basis for Lilian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour.

At 10:15 am I attended Jan Stahl’s “Violence against Women, Recovery and Renewal.” Kristen Distel compared the memoir of Hortense Mazarin and her life after she escaped the abuse of her fanatically abusive and controlling husband to the depiction of Pamela and Mr B’s relationship in Richardson’s Pamela,and she discussed solutions for giving women independence and respect in Mary Astell’s work. The Duchess was forced to seem to retire, and the many miseries of her position formed part of the basis of Astell’s project to improve the education of women.

The other three papers were about books where female friendship is central. Tracey Hutchings-Goetz argued the important shaping relationship in Richardson’s Clarissa is that of Anna Howe and Clarissa Harlowe. They would like to escape the roles forced on them as women, and retire together as friends. Ms Hutchings-Goetz saw a parallel between Richardson’s fictional heroines and the real life lesbian relationship of Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill. Mary Harris discussed an American epistolary novel, Leonora Sansay’s 1808 Secret History; or the Horrors of St. Domingo: the back story of one of the heroines is of repetitive terrifying violent abuse by her husband. Finally Chloe Smith’s paper on Charlotte Lennox’s Euphemia, a 1790 epistolary novel provides a diptych of two friends’ perspectives: marriage brings hardship, male tyranny; they cannot choose for their children. The two women recuperate through their correspondence, but need men’s money to help themselves. Buried in this novel is a captivity narrative, recalling Behn’s Oroonoko.

Frances Burney (1785) by her cousin, Edward Francesco Burney — Betty Rizzo edited the 4th volume, 2nd half of the Early Journals

After lunch, there was book launch, a round table chaired by Temma Berg on behalf of a book she and Sonia Kane edited, Women, Gender and Print Culture in 18th Century Britain: Essays in Memory of Betty Rizzo. Eight women briefly described their contributions to the volume where ideally the writers had known Betty and could combine talk about their relationship with her and the shared topic of research. Sylvia Casey Marks discussed Sarah Fielding’s The Governess and paid tribute to Betty as a friend and scholar who wrote about unappreciated authors and books. Betty had given an assignment to Stephanie Oppenheim, a graduate student at the time, which led to Stephanie reading 100 issues of the London Gazette (1750-80) where one can recover the lives women led (travel stories), find bankruptcies they shared in and criminal cases. Beth Lambert discussed the published and unpublished letters of Gilbert Elliot (1751-1814) his wife, Maria Amyand, Lady Elliot (1752-1829); the family estate was Minto; Betty alerted Beth to an interesting love story the family had hidden, Elliot’s relationship with Ann Hayman, a lady at court. Mary Margaret Stewart, another of Betty’s friends, talked about how she and Betty corresponded about Lady Francis Coningsby whose mental troubles and distress led to her being treated as mad, and Francis’s relationship with her caregiver, Mary Trevor (whose letters were unfortunately not saved).

Three people did not know Betty but their interests coincided. Lorna Clarke had written about the lesser known Burney women writers, the whole artistic and writing environment in which they grew up. Frances Singh again talked of Jane Cumming and her relationship with her teachers, about which archival research is the only way to find out anything close to the truth. Lisa Berglund wrote about Hester Lynch Piozzi’s British Synonymy; Lisa said that fortitude is a feminine word (all its connotations and uses). Lisa had had an encounter with Betty on-line where Betty was seeking to work out some charades; later on she was able to move the woman known as Johnson’s great woman friend from the periphery of Johnson studies to a center of her own.

Beverly Schneller seems to have known Betty Rizzo best and gave a portrait of her character and career (the essay in the volume is titled: “A New and Braver Point to Make”) Beverly argued that Betty ran counter to aspects of academic culture and took risks, spending years researching unfashionable authors and topics. She was a scholar who disrupted things, who kept an open mind, followed her curiosity, found unexpected links.

Wybrand Hendriks (Dutch painter, 1744-1831) Old Woman Readingblog
Wybrand Henricks (1744-1831, Dutch): an old woman reading

There was a discussion afterward where people talked of their relationship with Betty and/or her scholarship and work. I mentioned that her editing of the 2nd volume of Burney’s early journals is far more thorough, detailed, and tells of incidents in a dramatic and candid way unlike what is found in the other volumes. I have a story to tell here too (which I didn’t mention in the session): after I came on-line on C18-l, Betty emailed me and said she thought she had met me on the steps of the New York Public Library when I was in mid-20s and at the Graduate Center. She said she had met this young graduate student whose conversation struck her and my photo on my blog made her think that young woman had been me. We then exchanged emails about ice-skating in the later 18th century: why women often didn’t do it and some beautiful sequences of ice-skating in Trollope and the early 20th century novel by H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia.

For the last session of the conference on late Saturday afternoon, two panels were combined under the topic of “Retirement Re-evaluated.” Three papers were on women’s novels. Aleksondar Hultquist discussed Eliza Haywood’s philosophical views on passion and reason as reflected in her novels: amorous inclination leads to knowledge: if you follow our passion, you teach yourself about yourself. Spiritual relationships cannot last, move must move into the body. In the novels, love plays out differently for men and women; ironically, the person who is more intelligent, capable of receiving a depth of impression is at greater risk for pain; love and friendship are positives for women in relationships with one another, with marriage is as generally not beneficial. By contrast, Michael Genovese gave a stimulating paper where he read Eliza Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless against its grain and I can only indicate a couple of the insights he offered. He suggested that a wildly anarchic group of desires are resisted by the novel’s overt teachings: in reality Trueworth is sadistic, aggressive; Eliza enjoys giving pain to men; Betsy is supposed to be learning to choose sensible prudent men when what happens is she enjoys triumphing over male characters.

Catherine Keohane discussed Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall, an novel about exemplary busy retirements for upper class women helping the world’s female victims. The histories told bely what we see: in the world women are powerless, have no control over their lives, suffer. The novel means to offer an alternative to a life where the woman is not valued and is abused. The hall is a place of refuge which becomes publicly oriented, charity behind which the women make a new life for themselves. Rebecca Shapiro’s paper was on how dictionaries address women, specifically Robert Cawdrey’s which dwells on a vocabulary thought appropriate to women’s refined and leisured lives. She also suggested that by being included in the lexicography women gain a status and can seek a way out of the private sphere.

Antoine Watteau, The Signboard at Gersaint (1720)


Read Full Post »

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).


Read Full Post »

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


Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers