Archive for the ‘historical novels’ Category

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

Short-listed — an almost Booker Prize

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

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

Brilliant parody with parodic cover

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

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

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

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

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

I often like Virago covers best

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

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

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

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


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

L0034242 Five surgeons participating in the amputation
A surgeon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Policing and punishment early modern London

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

William Hogarth, The Bench

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

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


From Hogarth’s Election series of prints: Polling

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

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

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

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


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From the 1999 Aristocrats mini-series, scripted by Harriet O’Carroll, directed by David Caffrey, based on Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats

Dear friends and readers,

Just back from the ASECS (American Society for 18th Century Studies) conference in Los Angeles, and having listened to what was said in three sessions on the problem of what is history, conveying it, what is happening to presentations in books and classrooms, and novels, I thought of a proposal for a panel I’ll never send. Perhaps as a group of ideas it might spur others to think about this:

I propose a panel where in papers people discuss where the new historicism and post-modern attitudes have taken us? how has an insistence that history is to be found in the local nuanced often unrecorded doings of relatively powerless people in their personal lives and contemporary highly sceptical attitudes towards the possibility of uncovering a semblance of accurate enough truth affected what is written in respectable histories and what appears in historical fiction? The background includes the dropping of all history courses as a humanities and/or social sciences required course in many colleges. Since much that the ordinary person learns is conveyed through film, what is happening to historical films? The overt self-reflexivity of prize-winning Booker Prize and Whitbread type books and the increasing popularization of costume drama (brief scenes, little coherent thoughtful dialogue), with an increase in romancing and fantasy (time-traveling) influenced the TV mini-series, a central core place for such films. Are uneducated viewers further miseducated or do they view what they see with a sophisticated perspective?  I invite papers on modern monographs, narrative and specialized history, historical fiction in novels and films.

We should remember how people build their identities by their sense of the past and where they get that. The images for Aristocrats find their real origin in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, and he was much influenced by the Gainsborough Studies 1940s costume dramas, for example.


A fancy,

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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.


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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:


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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)


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