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From the 1981 Sense and Sensibility: Irene Richards as Elinor is seen drawing and walks about with art materials (BBC, scripted by Alexander Baron)

Friends,

I found myself unable to reach the Jane Austen and the Arts conference held at Plattsburgh, New York last week. I have told why in my life-writing Sylvia blog.
Happily for me, the conference organizer was so generous as to offer to read the paper herself, and had it not been for a fire drill, would have. Two of the sessions, one mine was supposed to be part of, were sandwiched together so she read from the paper and described. I was told there was a good discussion or at least comments afterward. Since I worked for a couple of months on it — reread all six of the famous fictions, skimmed a lot of the rest, went over the letters — and read much criticism on ekphrastic patterns in Austen and elsewhere, the picturesque in Austen, her use of visual description, not to omit related topics like enclosure, a gender faultline in the way discussions of art are presented, I’ve decided to add it to my papers at academia.edu.

Ekphrastic patterns in Austen.

I hope those reading it here will find my argument persuasive, and my suggestion for further work on Austen using her discussions of visual art and landscape useful.


From the 1983 Mansfield Park Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price gazes at the maps her brother, William has sent her as she sits down to answer his latest letter or just write herself (scripted by Ken Taylor) – her nest of comforts in her attic includes window transfers of illustrations

Ellen

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1800Romanceofforest
A 2 volume 1800 edition of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

Written near a port on a dark evening

Huge vapours vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night on the Ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Or rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen in the anchor’d bark that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “Strike the bell,”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the Pilgrim—Such the dubious ray
That wavering Reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Charlotte Smith, appeared in her Young Philosopher, her last novel

Friends and readers,

As I sit here reading the Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith, edited by Judith Stanton, and find myself just devastated by what the life of a woman sold off, gotten rid of to a ruthlessly abusive and extravagantly egoistic spendthrift gambling heir — not to omit terrifyingly violent and sexually promiscuous — to a great property could be, all 800+ thin pages, with annotations, biographies, notes, locations, I find myself remembering back to a time in the 1970s when the most that could be found in print by Charlotte Smith was two of her novels in staid Oxford University Press editions (Emmeline and The Old Manor House). What a difference 40 years can make.

I asked myself, how did I first meet this woman author? and in what form was my encounter with another equally important author for me from the 18th century, Ann Radcliffe. I did once before my recent moving back into memory to remember first encounters with Jane Austen, write about how I first met Fanny, now Francis Burney, Madame d’Arblay. Unlike most recent and mostly women readers, it was not in college because I was assigned Evelina (or as a graduate student, Cecilia say). No it was a single abridged volume of her journals and letters that will soon reach 24 thick fat volumes. As I said, I was led to seek out some longer version, as it happened a 3 volume one, in a bookstore on 59th Street, a stone’s throw away from Bloomingdale’s, The Argosy because (perhaps unbelievable today) at the age of 23 or so (my first year of graduate work) around on the open shelves of the Brooklyn College library I had found a 1797 3 volume edition of Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest. Even then I thought it was crazy to have such volumes on the open shelves. It was an entrancing visceral experience to read in that form. No illustrations, but the original type, the yellowing pages, the delicate elegant lady-like volumes. I have since written a lot about this book and led a group on line reading and discussing it.

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Alfonso Simonetti, Ancor Non Torna, illustration for 19th century Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

In contrast to Burney, Radcliffe, and a number of French epistolary and life-writing women (cited in my first encounter with Burney, and eventually Julie de Lespinasse, Madame du Deffand, the memoirists of the reign of terror), Smith was nowhere to be found in used bookstores. One just couldn’t find her by chance. I began reading her as part of my dissertation project on Richardson’s Clarissa and Grandison. There was no romance in these acqua hard-back volumes. Nonetheless, I immediately found myself gripped by the opening of Old Manor House, and found the book sustained itself until near the end. Then for all her reasonable intelligence, Ann Ehrenpreis’s introduction didn’t do it for me. Ehrenpreis didn’t discuss issues that mattered. Smith also had a simplistic character for her heroine:

sensiblevolume

Yet I was drawn in by the hero, by the radical politics of the book, by its acid corrosive anger. I fell in love when I began to go to the Library of Congress, one and two nights a week, and all day Saturday and read in a microfilm form (!) the first edition of her Elegiac Sonnets. It was in 1984, I had had a second baby and was seeking to find some place where I could commune with minds like my own in books. I was 37. Scrolling down and turning the wheel on one of those machines I read her poetry for the first time. Then I found on the shelves below the reading room (which in those day “readers” with cards could explore) equally elegant volumes of Smith’s novels.

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A reprint of a 19th century illustration of Old Manor House (found in a recent edition)

I can no longer remember which novel I put on my very own shelf (each reader had a shelf he or she could keep books in behind the rotunda of the reading room), only that it was an uncommon one I did not have to read as a a microfiche, and in an early later 18th nearly 19th century elegant lady edition. I do remember becoming so intensely engaged. It was a heroine I could identify with, one with adult thoughts. Could it have been Marchmont? Then shockingly (to me) I came one day to find my three-volume set gone. I was desolated and worried I would be blamed. Had someone stolen “my” books? I was told by a blasé clerk, “oh no, not to worry, no blame, someone did probably take them.” He seemed confident that they would not leave the library but I was not. What was true was I had lost access to this book. I was at the time not teaching in colleges as yet, I had not gotten any shelf at the Folger, I was cut off from college libraries.

I sat in my chair and cried. This wouldn’t do, people around me were uncomfortable. So I phoned Jim and he came by car and picked me up. Rescued me as we used to put it.

That night he read aloud to me a story by Kipling, and encouraged me not to give up hope, but return — I had begun my study of Vittoria Colonna and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea’s poetry. He urged it was time to brave the threshold of the Folger Library and get a pass; there I could probably be sure my shelf of books would not be tampered with. I did and my entry ticket was my George Mason employment ID. I didn’t need a letter of introduction or reference (whew!)

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Genlis at 50 by Pulcherie (or Caroline?), her daughter by Sillery-Genlis (her husband)

Enfin, songez, mon cher Porphire, qu’il n’est qu’un temps de la vie pour ecrire & pour travailler, & que ce temps s’ecoule avec une extreme rapidite [remember there is only one time in life for writing, for working within, and it flows away oh so swiftly, relentlessly], Adele et Theodore, Felicite de Genlis

I now have an extensive library of both Radcliffe (48 volumes, including xeroxes) and Smith books (36, including hand-written extensive notes), primary editions in facsimile, modern paperbacks, older hardbacks, and marvelous secondary studies for them both. I have elegant lady editions too of novels of Sophie Cottin, Madame de Genlis, and Isabelle de Montolieu (plus an array of later 19th century hard backs, facsimiles, secondary critical works and xeroxed books and essays).

Readingchallenge (Medium)
There are now “reading challenge” blogsites where 18th century women authors (including Smith and Radcliffe) are emphasized

I’m not going to attempt to say what The Romance of the Forest and then Old Manor House together with Elegiac Sonnets meant to me then as I was no longer at the impressionable age I “met” Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. The truth is in some moods I prefer The Mysteries of Udolpho to Austen’s Emma.

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491
JMW Turner, The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach (1802)

Yes. The landscapes of Radcliffe and Smith provide the occasions, the impetus for the thoughts. No matter how hard the revisionist readers of Austen argue only in Persuasion and the gothic moments (these hedged in by ironies) of Northanger Abbey does this happen and then she’s not political. I find in Smith all the radical politics that Austen is said to have and doesn’t. I can say I was in both cases led into the volumes from the melancholy of the tone, the feminine structure of the sentences, the nightmares of Adeline, and the poetry of Smith, which to this day sustain me still, and think the images found in Angelica Kauffman’s work “match” thematically and aesthetically what is found in all these women.

In the case of Radcliffe, I was at the end of graduate course work and teaching; in the case of Smith, I was post-doctorate. Since then I’ve written extensively about them both, here on the Net, in my blogs (Radcliffe, Smith), and in published and conference papers too.

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Fame Decorating Shakespeare’s Tomb (Kauffman)

Next time I shall return to my women artists. I’ve delayed too long but first up we’ll be in the eighteenth century for that feminist businesswoman par excellence, Angelica Kauffman.

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Athra and Theseus (Kauffman)

And I hope not to long from now to be in a position to discuss Smith’s letters and life in a way I’ve not begun to do, not having experienced what I just have in reading her letters.

Although out of season, as this is not a well-known or familiar poem to Radcliffe’s readers or romantic scholars (let alone a wider audience), I’ll end on an unusual moment in print for her: she is cheerful (!), at home, on a winter evening, with light, music, books, with her favorite dog, Chance.

Welcome December’s cheerful night,
When the taper-lights appear;
When the piled hearth blazes bright,
And those we love are circled there

And on the soft rug basking lies,
Outstretched at ease, the spotted friend,
With glowing coat and half-shut eyes,
Where watchfulness and slumber blend.

Welcome December’s cheerful hour,
When books, with converse sweet combined,
And music’s many-gifted power
Exalt, or soothe th’ awakened mind.

Then, let the snow-wind shriek aloud,
And menace oft the guarded sash,
And all his diapason crowd.
As o’er the frame his white wings dash.

He sings of darkness and of storm,
Of icy cold and lonely ways;
But, gay the room, the hearth more warm,
And brighter is the taper’s blaze.

Then, let the merry tale go round.
And airy songs the hours deceive;
And let our heart-felt laughs resound,
In welcome to December’s Eve
— Ann Radcliffe, First found in Clara Frances McIntyre’s Ann Radcliffe in Relation to Her Time

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Angela Pleasance playing Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park (1983, scripted Ken Tayler), upon meeting Fanny

Ellen

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Grace Elliot (Lucy Russell) from Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke (based on her Ma vie sous la revolution)

‘Real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.’
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of weeks ago I was pleased to be asked to contribute to a series of memories for Diane Reynolds’s blog, Jane Austen and Other Writers where people are asked to describe their first encounters with Jane Austen’s novels and why they read her still. As luck would have it, around the same time I had agreed to give a lecture on Lady Susan to a group of students in a BIS program at University of Virginia. I’d told the story of my coming to Austen in bits and pieces before, but now having brought all but the role of specific critical books together, I thought I’d talk on a blog as an addendum to first encounters about my recent re-encounter with Lady Susan.

I was around 50 the first time I read Lady Susan. I am not alone in this belatedness: the text itself was not published until 1870, 53 years after Austen’s death, and (if I am right in saying the book was written between 1804-5), 65 years after she wrote it and copied it out in a beautiful fair copy which is a kind of imitation of the publication denied her. The first recorded Austen film adaptation was in 1940, since then there have been at least 35, so it’s taken 76 (!) years to film it.

If you look at mainstream fan sites, it’s hardly ever mentioned.

What can be so wrong? well it’s lumped together with late “fragments” (unfinished work, nothing more discouraging except to a devoted reader), and it breaks so many taboos that Jane Austen is thought by so many Janeite fans to have upheld, is written in an amoral tone, with an ironic presence at the center that I know (since reading Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones so carefully) the closest character to Fielding’s Lady Bellaston we have, except ever so much meaner, self-conscious and gayly morbid. Marvin Mudrick in his JA: Irony as Defense and Discovery thought in this one text alone Austen shows herself fully and we should use it as the lens by which we understand say Mansfield Park.

I discovered upon this re-reading (and I’ve read it several times since I was in my fifties, especially when I studied it to bring out its underlying calendar), that I did not (as I had expected) approach the book with so many pre-framings. I simply did what I have probably always done since age 12-13: felt an intensely primal response along my pulse as I came into contact this exhilarating woman. It is a truism (“a truth universally acknowledged”) that reading the same book years, decades later can have a very different effect on us.

So for me I remember when I read Lady Susan the first time I was strongly put off. I especially found her mockery of her daughter, and complete antipathy to Frederica’s kind heart, desire to read books for their content alone, lack of an ability to cope with the abrasive world or perform hateful. I laughed at her sending up of Alicia’s husband and marriage, but saw that the world around her of pious feeling was mawkish and somehow false. But she was the blight.

This time through I still saw that she must not be allowed to “mother” Frederica; that she would corrode the girl’s gifts and heart, Lady Susan was exhilarating. Far more so than Thackeray’s Becky Sharp at the opening of his Vanity Fair. I saw the that Frederica was in the narrative from the outset and underlying the book was an ongoing relationship of a mother and daughter who needed to get away from one another, but there was no doing it as the world is not organized that way, but I reveled in Lady Susan. This was release for Austen. I flaws in the others too or far more continually: Reginald, what a self-satisfied, easily deluded non-thinking fool! He’s a weathercock who believes the last person. Mrs Vernon was all suspicion and leading a boring, stultifying life: what she offered Frederica was calm from repression and never trying anything out of a small round of pious acts. She was working to marry her to Reginald because that would keep them close and thus to her “safe.” I could see that Alicia was not so enamored of her friend, and rightly didn’t trust her but where was she to turn for safety? She seemed to be living a life of lies.

The real problem in the novel is there are no good choices. I wished we had had scenes of Lady Susan with Manwaring so I could see if she had any gratification with him: was the sex good? Was he another clinging person? It seems that to survive one must marry a dense idiot (Sir James perhaps a version of Mr Collins). I saw the dark book Murdock in his Irony as Defense and Self-Discovery had, a book in the tradition of Tom Jones as I recently began to see it. Where was Jane Austen in all this? D. W Harding’s finding a release for anger is not enough. She wasn’t sending up the outrageous behavior of the rest of the world (as he rightly says she does in the four books she published before she died). There is a quiet desperation here, a disjunction between the stereotype she found in her culture and what she wanted to say.

I did not say the above directly in presenting the novella to students. One can’t. It’s not allowed. One must present an impersonal reading; the kind of talk that’s respectable is context and tropes, biography, sources. So much of my introduction came from framing (dating specifically) and is found in my remarks next to my timeline for the novel.

Here is what I told them out of that. Linking the class to the coming movie by Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship, I suggested to them if it’s that Stillman presents the novel as witty juvenilia, a moral send up of say self-indulgence, solipsism, egoistic romance like Love and Freindship, that’s a mistake which will trivialize the book. Lady Susan is a mid-career book; not a so much a product of the regency era reacted against (the thesis of their course), but an inverted protest novel by a woman, and coming out of a tradition heavily influenced by French novels and most often taking the form of epistolary narrative. Here is a little of what I told students for nearly 2 hours.

I suggested we couldn’t elucidate the content that mattered in it, close read its details through the regency period except to say the frank amorality of the heroine can be linked to the era. In a letter she wrote she detested the regent and when he prosecuted his wife for adultery, she was on the wife’s side simply on grounds she was a woman.

I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter,” Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad. — I do not know what to do about it; — but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. —- 16 February 1813

Lady Susan fits just as strongly with what she wrote in her History of England (a juvenilia) about Tudor queens (among them, Ann Bullen, Katherine Parr).

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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in proud procession

She is passionately on the side of several of them. She looks out on the world unashamedly from a woman’s perspective. As Mrs Vernon, Lady de Courcy, Fredericka, Alicia and Lady Susan herself. All of them. She rejects the regency as presented in books as devastatingly, stupidly patriarchal

My suggestion was it’s a radical inverted protest novel. Austen is getting away with protesting her own and other women’s situations through presenting a heroine all will detest. There were ways for women to express themselves “contra mundi”: I saw her as turning to a sub-genre or kind of book that allowed this. Epistolary narrative, and French amoral anti-heroines. She can express herself through such a heroine as a mask. This was an era when spinsters were harshly criticized and mocked in conduct books, sent up cruelly in novels. She was despised for not having sex, but as a woman with little money and no power she’d be worse ostracized and punished for admitting knowing about sex, much less trying to live a pleasurable life of sex on her own without a man controlling her. This is the type of woman we find in these novels, only they are often widows or domineer over husbands and lovers, or simply living independently (if they had wealth somehow).

Think about her life I said. In 1805 Austen was herself 30, in 1809 34. Lady Susan is 35 inflected by her peculiar undercurrent of grave melancholy. She was a poor spinster, dependent on relatives, hamstrung; if hearsay be true, having rejected an offer from a local squire, owner of Manydowne (which would have provided for herself, sister, mother, friend, Martha Lloyd), and, together with her sister, having decided to present herself as a spinster. All her brothers but Henry (who was out on his own, as a fourth son, as yet floating on banking) were provided with careers, niches; her oldest the house she had grown up in, so she and they and her sister had gone to live in Bath (where there was a marriage market, not too kind to women without dowries).

She had begun to write as a young girl, her first texts called juvenilia go back to 1787 when she was 12 or 13. She wrote endlessly and this includes rewriting her texts for years and years, but her first published book sees the light in 1811, 24 years after she started. She did try for publication, once a long version of Pride and Prejudice, probably an epistolary novel, in 1796: the letter by her father to a reputable publisher was returned that day. On her own she tried to publish a version of Northanger Abbey she called Susan in 1803 and had to get the manuscript back in 1815, unpublished to start working on it again. What a release this narrative might have been and like Nabokov she is allowed because the irony protects her from her own self-censor.

Epistolary narrative is a complicated form. Its main attraction is it enables the novelist to delve the human psyche. The 18th century was a revolutionary era, and one of the transformations of values that went on was to look at one values and norms as coming from individual psyches, and understand that truths were relative. Each person’s understanding of what happened would be the result of his outlook. The relativity of norms across cultures and inbetween people was central to the satiric mode of the period.

I quoted the outstanding voice of the first half of the era, Alexander Pope from the first of the four Moral Epistles. Moral Essay I: to Richard Cobham, Of the Characters of Mankind:

Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human Actions reason though you can,
It may be Reason, but it is not Man;
His Principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his Principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
Ye lose it in the moment you detect.
    Yet more; the diff’rence is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All Manners take a tincture from our own;
Or come discolour’d, through our Passions shown …
    Nor will Life’s stream for Observation stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark the way …
    Oft in the Passions’ wild rotation tost,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
Tir’d, not determin’d to the last we yeild,
And what comes then is master of the field,
As the last image of that troubled heap,
When Sense subsides, and Fancy sports in sleep
(Tho’ past the recollection of the thought)
Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought:
Something as dim to our internal view,
Is thus, perhaps the cause of most we do … (1731-35)

Some of the most famous of the epistolary novels were this kind of delving: Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), boy meet, rapes girl, girl dies, boy dies. 2 million words. Samuel Johnson said a reader would hang herself who read it for the plot

But you can do other things with epistolary narratives. You can expose characters satirically; we can see them not meaning to pour their heart out and by seeing the difference between the action of the story and what the characters think of it, witness all sorts of psychological and moral states, from hypocrisy to self-delusion, to someone strategizing to manipulate someone, we can see spite, vanity, performances of all sorts.

Two important features of epistolary narratives: they are free from chronological time because people in their minds can jump back and forth. Therefore you can juxtapose letters very ironically. We watch “innocent characters being duped” because we know the reality of the other characters. We are looking at these minds on a stage; different voices come out interacting. It is also done in the present time so the characters do not know what is going to happen next and are all in the midst of anguish about it. We are dropped down into the midst of a mind in the throes of a present moment worrying what to do, what will be, what will happen, what should I do next. Lady Susan is a slender book and I don’t want to give it more density or value than it has, but Austen uses these techniques if in an epitomizing form.

Which books of the era is it in dialogue with or comes out of memories, an experience of. LaClos’s Dangerous Liaisons (1782) with its central amoral heroine, Madame de Merteuil – if you’ve not read it and want to have a quick acquaintance to start I recommend Stephen Frears’ film with Glenn Close as Madame de Merteuil and John Malkovitz as Valmont, the rake who is done in by the end. There was a full translation immediately and it was read and influential.

Merteuil
Close playing the innocent

Merteuilclose
Alone in thought

Madame de Stael’s Delphine (1804), with its cold mean calculating mercenary mother whose name is Madame Susan Vernon, both epistolary books. We know Austen read and much admired Stael’s Corinne; there’s a passing phrase in one of her letters which can be understood as suggesting she prefers Corinne to Milton’s Paradise Lost. As who wouldn’t? Madame Susan Vernon is especially cruel to her emotional daughter; she hounds her to marry a horror of a man for money. Bad mother type. And Austen’s Lady Susan is not only in herself mean, cold, vicious, cruel, she hates sincere people, wants to stamp out genuine feeling; aspirations for real learning (in her daughter) grate on her; vulnerable people exist to be preyed upon so she despises them. Stael’s anti-heroine’s values are slightly different but the complex of attitudes is analogous.

The frank amorality of Lady Susan can be found in much French literature through out the 18th century – Austen read French and the two countries traded books incessantly. Translations came out immediately, French books were published in London.

But there are English novels where the same pattern may be discerned or is a sub-plot.

There is a strikingly similar central amoral character in Maria Edgeworth’s epistolary Leonora (1809). (For this we must accept Butler’s thesis that the novel we have was written or revised into this text in 1809.) Here the heroine is someone whose husband is deep in debt and the way they mean to pay off the debt is she prostitutes herself. This is a reversal of most novels of the era which use this plot paradigm. In Fielding’s Tom Jones he shows that it was common practice for a high officer to pressure the men beneath them to allow their wives to go to bed with them – if you didn’t you were not promoted. But it’s only Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones and Edgeworth’s heroines who themselves are amusingly pro-active in this way. Lady Bellaston writes letters to Tom too. Or characters imitating her in later books.

Joan Greenwood  Tom Jones (1963)

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Joan Greenwood as the supremely plausible Lady Bellaston (Tony Richardson, John Osborne Tom Jones 1963)

This specific trope is a French pattern too. In Louise d’Epinay’s Montbrillant (a mid-century epistolary book) and the Duchess of Devonshire’s Slyph (1777-78) both epistolary again, the heroine is pressured and driven into going to bed with the husband’s creditor. I suggest the life of Grace Dalrymple Elliot and Rohmer’s film and script offer major insight into the context for Lady Susan and what type she stands for.

ReasoningwithEginals
Annette Bening as Madame de Merteuil — she could be Lady Susan persuading Reginald de Courcy to believe her (from Valmont)

If you read Lady Susan as tongue-in-cheek, and someone think that Lady Susan speaks ceaselessly as a conscious hypocrite and never believes a word she says about her emotions, she becomes a wild caricature. It seems improbable to me – you could not find any depth in the novel then. And of the female characters I’ve mentioned, Madame de Merteuil, Madame Susan Vernon are deeply involved emotionally in what she’s doing. If you read Lady Susan’s letters as partly self-righteous, at times fooling herself (as people do), really half-believing herself a misunderstood person trying her best to survive and dealing with a society indifferent to her, and only facing up to her hypocrisy when forced to, Fielding’s Lady Bellaston, the aristocratic amoral mistress of (only she keeps him, not the other way round) is closely similar. (When I taught the book the men in the room really protested against the idea Tom was a male prostitute servicing Lady Bellaston, i.e., the abject characterWe know that Austen read Tom Jones when she was young, and like its opposite number, Clarissa, did not forget it. Her relatives would never mention it, but then they’d never mention any of the others I suggest are where Lady Susan belongs.

To conclude: Austen’s first novels (S&S and P&P) began life as epistolary narratives; MP was in part one in a first draft. Love and Freindship is a crude one (not using all the devices), Lesley Castle an improvement. She wrote an ironic gothic — the gothic was another mode of protest (too long to go into here). She can also write memoirs and, if English, not publish them: we know through Anne Elliot and Austen’s letters to Cassandra Austen read French ones. They were often short as were Austen’s first attempts all. Think of Lady Susan as like Elena Ferrante’s first much briefer deeply frank raw novellas, Days of Abandonment, The Lost Daughter: see my “The Other Side of Silence”.

Eighteenth century women lacked any agency, and any true private space (so letters could function the way the Net can for some women in traditional cultures). That’s why Outlander has been so popular. Diana Gabaldon injected into the 18th century costume drama so frank about sex a woman who all agency, narrator, dreamer, who seeks her own fulfillment, looks at life that way. One thing we see Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser enjoy is sex; she is given liberty to choose as she pleases by her Scots partner, Jamie Fraser over and over again. Saul Dibbs’ and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Duchess show the Duchess of Devonshire writhing under the controls of this world, punished into becoming a girl child-mother at the close. The movie opened with her running with girlfriends in play on the lawn; we last see her running after her children in play on the lawn. See my The Duchess: A Strong Protest Film. Stella Tillyard’s book Aristocrats based on memoirs of women with money reveals the ways in which actual women of the era tried to manipulate their position and yet stay within the confines of their world. Among these were reading and writing books like the above:

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Serena Gordon as Caroline Fox, at her desk bought for her by her husband, Henry (Aristocrats, 1999 BBC, scripted by Harriet O’Carroll).

In the class towards the end we were finding characters in other of Austen’s novels which corresponded to those in Lady Susan: Charles Vernon is a kind of Bingley. Reginald’s behavior that of Edmund Bertram. And lines the narrator uses, say congratulating Lucy Steele at the close of Sense and Sensibility, that are echoed or anticipated in Lady Susan.

The whole of Lucy’s behaviour in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience (S&S, Chapter 50, the last, towards the end)

Whether Lady Susan was, or was not happy, in her second choice — I do not see how it ever can be ascertained — for who could take her assurance of it on either side of the question? The world must judge from probability. She had nothing against her, but her husband, and her conscience (Lady Susan, Postscript)

They joined in on finding and reciting their favorite lines from Lady Susan and other of Austen’s novels.

Ellen

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‘It is so cold, so very cold — and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out to-day … Emma to Mr Elton during the afternoon from the book named after her, Emma, I:13, 110)

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Alexandria, Va, around 8 in the evening, Wednesday, 1/20/16 (from my porch) — the reality

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Edward Gorey — a lurid gleam is seen

Dear friends and readers,

Over on Sarah Emsley’s mostly Austen blog, there has been an on-going series, Emma in the Snow; prompted by this, paradoxically inspired by Diana Birchall’s summery comic Mrs Elton’s Donkey, and compelled by the present dire situation here in the Washington D.C. area I put before you a Sortes Austenianae. Who knows not the entrenched tradition in medieval European times: if in doubt, about what’s to come, if in doubt about what to do in response to what’s to come, pull out your trusty Virgil. We are speaking of The Aeneid here. Open up at random, look down and interpret from what has been vouchsafed. Sortes Vergilianae.

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I put in the second disk of the 2009 Emma (scripted by Sandy Welch) and came upon the Knightleys playing with John and Isabella’s children in snow around Highbury

We are in the Washington DC area in need of some wisdom from Austen’s Emma. You may have heard of our coming Great Snow Storm. Last night there was probably something like 3 inches! perhaps more. I doubt I need to remind my readers of what Mr Woodhouse said when Frank Churchill informed Mr Woodhouse that people catch colds when dancing in over-heated places with the windows open, and replied that that neither Frank’s “‘

‘Dancing with the windows open! — I am sure, neither your father or Mrs Western (poor Miss Taylor that was) would suffer it.’
‘Ah! sir — but a thoughtless young person will sometimes step behind a window curtain, and throw up a sash, without its being suspected. I have often known it done myself.’
‘Have you indeed, sir? — Bless me! I never could have supposed it. But I live out of the world, and am often astonished at what I hear (Emma, II:11, 252)

We have been having a Mr Woodhousian lead-up to this fearful Winter Event in the past 48 hours. I wondered to myself what would my fellow citizens do if they had bombs falling on them daily as the much reviled immigrants and refugees of the Middle East have had to endure for years.

You see we have been told (it’s Thursday) we shall have our first winter storm tomorrow, Friday in the PM, and perhaps it will be a blizzard. 2 feet of snow is promised, but maybe less. Last night we had a light dusting as confirmation. And I have come across many a local blog recounting from previous years their and others’ ghastly adventures in the snow and ice, hours and hours getting home, accidents leading to higher insurance rates.

All day today from early Thursday morning Fairfax county schools were closed, and they are closed all day tomorrow; much in Northern Virginia began to close down this afternoon. I confess I dared to go out and found the air mild, all snow melted off my car; it was well above freezing. I went to the cleaners when I didn’t need to (but I am as reckless as Mr Churchill), then to the supermarket lest Isobel and I run out of bananas, then to a local bread store where all that was left was Challah bread. I had it sliced and came home. Uneventful. Except that the parking garage was a madhouse, far too many cars in tight space so several attendants were directing traffic between pillars. Thus there are others like myself and Frank Churchill.

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Thursday morning daytime — a friend’s backyard (in middle Virginia)

Just about all in DC and Virginia is closing early tomorrow or not opening at all. My daughter, Isobel told me when she got home the Pentagon is thinking of shutting down at noon precisely, only then there will be terrific traffic jam as usually people leave that mammoth building in staggered periods. Virginia Dash buses will stop running at 3 tomorrow. The Metro shuts down promptly at 11 pm. On Saturday the Smithsonian has cancelled all activities and lectures, local community centers are not boarding up their windows and doors, but all classes are cancelled. You are advised to stay within.

A controversy has erupted about the storm’s name in the public media: Jonas. (Not taken from the story about the man who got stuck in a whale.) Since when do we name Snow Storms? What is it with people? If everyone else jumps off the roof, do you jump off the roof? But I am getting ahead of myself.

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Leaving the entrance hall of Highbury (1972 Emma, scripted Denis Constantduros)

In this urgent snowpocalypse, I turned to Sortes Austenianae, but resorted to hurried measures, and instead of opening Emma at random I remembered the hysteria at Randolph when on Christmas eve and John and Isabella Knightley together with Mr Woodhouse and Emma, Miss Bates and Mr Knightley came to Randalls for a dinner party. John Knightley foresaw what was to be early on as they set forth:

Inthecarriage

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Medium range shot of the carriage with Emma and John Knigthley in it; inside shot of him talking (1996 A&E Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

The cold … was severe; and by the time the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time. … ‘A man,’ said [John Knightley], ‘must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity — Actually snowing at this moment! — The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home — and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it; – -and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can; — here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse; — four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home’ (Emma, I:13, 113)

You will instantly recall that with such an anti-social gloomy attitude, it was no surprise to John Knightley when after some small tension-lade conversation both before and after dinner, and Mr Woodhouse began to get restless, a reconnoitre revealed it had been snowing steadily for the past couple of hours!

Mr. John Knightley now came into the room from examining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of the ground being covered with snow, and of its still snowing fast, with a strong drifting wind; concluding with these words to Mr. Woodhouse: ‘This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir. Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow’ (Emma I:15, 126)

Reasoning the way the people in Northern Virginia and Washington DC have been he continued with his admiration for Mr Woodhouse’s pluck in coming forth, and cheerily predicts:

‘I dare say we shall get home very well. Another hour or two’s snow can hardly make the road impassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak part of the common field there will be the other at hand. I dare say we shall be all safe at Hartfield before midnight’ (126)

His intrepid wife whose every thought is for her children’s safety, determines to set out directly

‘if we do come to any thing very bad, I can get out and walk. I am not at all afraid. I should not mind walking half the way. I could change my shoes, you know, the moment I got home; and it is not the sort of thing that gives me cold … ‘ (126)

But instead of admiring her spirited reaction, her husband (reasonably enough) worried about the state of her ‘prettily shod’ feet. She had not brought pattens. But then the fear was not of mud and dirt, but snow. Would she make it home? she might have to stay at Randalls, stranded from her progeny.

Now here we reach our important “sortes.” Our true hero, Mr Knightley’s brother (appropriately named George) rushed out while all this was going on and what did he discover: he

‘came back again, and told them that he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home, whenever they liked it, either now or an hour hence. He had gone beyond the sweep — some way along the Highbury road — the snow as no where above half an inch deep — in many places hardly enough to whiten the ground; a very few flakes were falling at present, but the clouds were parting, and there was every appearance of its being soon over. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend’ (128)

But for the mentally distressed Mr Woodhouse this could not be enough reassurance because (Mr G. Knightley says) he will “not be easy:” (as I fear many of my neighbors are not). So, turning to Emma:

Mr K: ‘Why do you not go?
Emma: ‘I am ready, if the others are.’
Mr K: ‘Shall I ring the bell?’
Emma ‘Yes, do.’ (128)

It’s at such moments we glimpse the compatibility of her heroine with our hero and begin to think she might have some common sense after all.

And as fervent devotees of Downton Abbey know, bells fetch capable servants. Coachmen are waiting.

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Emma and Mr Elton are handed in by servants who hold umbrellas over their heads to go home (1996 Miramax Emma, scripted and directed by Douglas McGrath)

So what has Austen’s text taught us tonight? Do not over-react. It may be there will be less snow than is envisaged. It may be you will be able to cope. Take heart. Remain calm.

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This Gorey family put their Christmas tree outside their house and calmly proceeded to decorate it in the dark — how one family coped

I will be told that in the DC and Virginia area the local government authorities are very lax when it comes to cleaning roads, and are tardy to remove ice. They won’t spend the taxpayers’ money in such ephemeral moments. No, we shall wait for the sun to come out. And everyone have a day off. Well everyone whose boss does not insist they come in if they can. I will be reminded that the statistics for accidents in the snow suggest that mortal and harmful accidents occur at higher frequency than say rain or fog. That the weather bureau is not dependent on a crystal ball and tomorrow a blizzard will come. And also we could lose power as often enough happens in storms. So it’s well to get out and bring back candles, batteries, food supplies.

But none of the above comes from nature. It is man-made. The roads could be cleaned early in the storm and salt put down. None of this is being done. The electricity companies have been improving their service, but much much more could be done (and spent) from tax-payer money and their customers’ monthly payments.

We shall see. But was there really any necessity to start closing down two days ahead? I suspect many people enjoy this excitement as John Knightley did in reaction to finding himself grated upon by life’s demands. Many want the day off pay or no pay. US people get so little holiday time. That’s an actuating motive to why citizens accept this situation where they know they can find themselves stranded, in an accident, or without power. I confess I had rather have gone to the gym these past two mornings, have preferred to have a usual quiet Friday routine, preferred to see the Smithsonian people wait until Friday to cancel the Vermeer Saturday lecture. And strongly would follow John Knightley’s advice to Jane Fairfax about the post office’s potentials: when you pay people, they will do the work if you set them to it.

Turning then again to Austen’s Emma, I find that winter evenings Mr (G) Knightley sits by his twilight fire alone (so he is not all that unlike his brother John), reading Cowper “Myself creating what I saw” (Emma III:5. 344)

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Downwell Abbey in snow (2009 Emma)

Ellen

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KatharineParrQueen1stMasterJohn

KatharineParrComicalActress
An actress in semi-comic imitation of Catherine Parr as she appears in a portrait that anticipates several of her stepdaughter, Elizabeth’s (attributed to “Master John”)

Dear Friends and readers,

In previous years when I’ve sought to commemorate Austen’s birthday, I’ve placed on the blog something she wrote or something written about her novels, usually poems; e.g., the beautiful elegy she wrote in 1808 commemorating the death of her friend, Mrs Lefroy four years ago before; Anne Stevenson’s poem, Re-reading Jane: “To women in contemporary voice and dislocation/she is closely invisible …”

This year I’ve been reading biographies of Tudor women as I watch movies based on what I call “The Tudor Matter.” I have noticed before that Austen’s entries in her parodic History of England include queens and any ladies Austen can find involved in this time frame whom someone included or neglected to include in their history, or female figures in novels of Austen’s era about these Elizabethan women. Her entry on Henry VIII is an extended defense of the two women he beheaded with some remarks correcting a date (so she does care about dates), and a final comment on Henry’s last queen which shows she had read enough about Catherine Parr to know she too came close to being beheaded:

It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of this King’s reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving them the task of reading again what they have read before, and myself the trouble of writing what I do not perfectly recollect, by giving only a slight sketch of the principal Events which marked his reign. Among these may be ranked Cardinal Wolsey’s telling the father Abbott of Leicester Abbey that “he was come to lay his bones among them,” the reformation in Religion, and the King’s riding through the Streets of London with Anna Bullen. It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the Charges against her, and the King’s Character; all of which add some confirmation, tho’ perhaps slight ones when in comparison with those before alledged in her favour. Tho’ I do not profess giving any dates, yet as I think it proper to give some and shall of course Make choice of those which it is most necessary for the Reader to know, I think it right to inform him that her letter to the King was dated on the 6th of May. The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned, (as this history I trust has fully shewn;) and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous deprecations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive of his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for Ages been established in the Kingdom. His Majesty’s 5th Wife was the Duke of Norfolk’s Neice who, tho’ universally acquitted of the crimes for which she was beheaded, has been by many people supposed to have led an abandoned Life before her Marriage — Of this however I have many doubts, since she was a relation of that noble Duke of Norfolk who was so warm in the Queen of Scotland’s cause, and who at last fell a victim to it. The King’s last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it. He was succeeded by his only son Edward (Cambridge Juvenilia, ed PSabor, 180-82, notes 461-63)

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Catherine Howard by Holbein

To imitate Austen’s own sweeping confident tone, her manifest numerous errors (such as Henry had no religion, he did have one if a typically wholly subjective one for his own personal justificatory need), absurd characterizations (her pronouncing the brutal sycophantic Norfolk noble), lack of knowledge (alas Catherine Howard did have a lover before her marriage, one she remained entangled with afterward) of which I have now given sufficient proofs are by modern readers of Austen explained away by saying that this is irony, that the very purpose of her book is to show that written history is not possible if your aim is objective truth. Or they point to her intuitive summations which are very much to the point: Henry VIII’s crimes and cruelties; there is no excuse for the savage barbarisms of the man, and here and there she does highlight some significant aspect of the personalities she mentions: Wolsey’s gift for performance and ability to deeply feel and express such feeling.

Austen is a strongly partisan reader and literary critic. If she is on your side, she defends you unqualifiedly, sees whatever happens in ways that redound to your credit. If someone were really to try to write an adequate explication and background for each of her assertions from the literature of the era, it’d be the chapter of a revealing book about her reading, attitudes and the books of the era others read and responded to and how this is part of a tradition we still participate in today, as witness the continuing films and books.

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As witness: Claire Foy, Damien Lewis, Mark Rylance, Charity Wakefield as Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and Mary Boleyn in street procession (2015 Wolf Hall, scripted Robert Vaughan out of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy)

Like mine author, I am not in a position to do all that would be necessary. So I will double down on the general attitude of mind in the passage that reflects the attitude of mind of the whole small history and then one sentence towards the end. The attitude of mind is Austen’s form of feminism. She looks out at history from the point of view of the experience of the 50% of humanity often left out: women. Most of the passage is about the women Henry married and then slaughtered or nearly slaughtered. We all remember how Austen wrote of a similar set of accusations about Queen Caroline of Brunswick:

— I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter,” Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad. — I do not know what to do about it; — but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. —-

A timely online article from Persuasions On-line worth your perusal is Martha Bailey’s “The Marriage Law in Austen’s Time”

This appears at the end of a letter to her beloved friend, Martha Lloyd 16 February 1813, the one relationship most fans of Austen and scholars too choose not to go into deeply. While Martha Lloyd has been suffering all the miseries of a single woman with no income (having to be a similarly underpaid companion/toady) and Austen mentions that Martha must’ve suffered particularly from the raw cold damp (Martha’s room was not adequately heated), and herself as a prisoner of her mother’s supposed ill-health. Her letter to Martha also includes an allusion to Eliza dying and in great pain, Henry active in his banking business, and three indirect allusions to Mansfield Park (which we surmise Austen was writing at the time): Martha has not been able to answer her friends questions about Northamptonshire, and (a seeming non-sequitor), Austen is so aware of “the tricks of the sea,” and is aware of how Lady Keith’s sister could not have enjoyed herself at a ball because she is “shy and uncomfortable in a crowd of Strangers.” The associative threads here lead us all back to Mansfield Park. The specific allusions of the letter are a melange of details of women’s lives into which Jane and Martha must fit.

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Lucy Davis as Charlotte Lucas eyeing the constrained Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet as Charlotte tells Elizabeth she is quite satisfied with her lot, as look at this room she gets to sit in, and most of the time alone (1995 Pride and Prejudice, scripted by Andrew Davies)

So there is Austen’s form of feminism before us all — she is strongly partisan for the individuals and groups of individuals she feels sympathy for, identifies with — that is how she behaves or feels. She looks out at the world unashamedly from a woman’s perspective; her loving friendship (with lesbian overtones or experience included at times) with Martha gives her the liberty to express her views on Caroline and adultery openly. The same we see in her History of England, written many years later.

So the sentence I mean to parse:

The King’s last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it.

Austen’s gift for concision has enabled her to say in one sentence what it takes Linda Porter a chapter to discuss adequately in her felicitously written and beautifully informative Katherine the Queen: this is a perceptive book on the phases of Katherine Parr’s life as Katherine moved from child- to girl-hood, through four marriages and finally death in childbirth (her one and only pregnancy, Thomas Seymour the begetter) and the aftermath of her absence in the lives of the others she lived amongst and left remnants of herself to (as well as problems to cope with). Austen knows that Katherine Parr did not just passively or luckily outlive Henry; she had to work to escape arrest and death at least once. Henry’s suspicions were aroused and then worked up to a near estrangement and then fury because of Katherine’s political and religious views – and worse yet, poor woman (as mine author might say) she translated and paraphrased and published (!) three works: Palms or Prayers taken out of Holy Scripture (1544); Prayers or Meditations (1545) and posthumously, The Lamentation of a synner (1548).

So we may assume from the text before us and all we know of Austen’s other texts (novels and letters) that she admired and liked Catherine Parr, took her side as a woman no matter what. Parr’s near catastrophe was the result of her attempt to disseminate information and texts from the evangelical Protestant reform movement and even persuade Henry to alter his hierarchical and Catholic political views (such as work, deeds are necessary for salvation); Austen overlooks, she passes pver that. In this History, Austen is adamant that in these lethal Elizabethan politics she favors the Roman Catholics: thus the lines about Norfolk and her passionate partisanship, she says, for Mary Queen of Scots. I am adamant that much that Austen writes in this early text is written straightforwardly; or, to put this another way, her irony is directed at previous historians, and at human behavior as she catches it on the fly, but not the literal general content of her history, meaning the general outline she presents. A series of victims of a brutal man. She is often pro-Catholic but here what’s at stake is to defend a woman: as she defends the regent’s wife, Caroline so she defends all the women in this particular passages — on the grounds they are women and get a raw rough deal. It’s telling for those who might still assert Austen ignores sex that three of the cases I’ve just mention swirl around adultery; and for those who might still assert (or believe in their hearts that Austen ignores or is not interested in or mum on politics), the fourth is thicket of religious, dynastic and party politics (family clans the parties that mattered then).

I found the most interesting part of Porter’s book the section on Katherine’s writings where I found as I have discovered several (countless) times before that intelligent reading women of this period read evangelical writing, and were deeply taken by it: from Italian (Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara) to French (Jeanne d’Albert and Margaret of Navarre) to English (Anne Boleyn and now the mother-surrogate to Elizabeth Tudor, Katherine Parr). Katherine also like the women of letters of this era used translation as a way of self-expression, some of which by Katherine Parr show closely similar attitudes to that Elizabeth Tudor (I that was to come) in her translation of Margaret of Navarre’s Prisons. There is something in this material sensitive, educated women cannot resist — and communicate to one another through ( I can much better understand women reading Rousseau). Also men close to power but without it (e.g., Anne Boleyn’s brother, George). Anne Seymour, nee Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, Katharine’s rival, her fourth husband’s brother’s wife (Edward Seymour who became protector when Henry died) is also deeply drawn to this material. I mention Katherine’s sister-in-law because she was one of Parr’s enemies.

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Katherine, from the years of her second marriage, to a much older man, John Neville, Lord Latimer who got into serious trouble during the Pilgrimage of Grace (explained lucidly by Porter), with Katherine held hostage for a time — to my mind she looks intelligent and shows fortitude (women in the 18th century wrote novels featuring heroines with fortitude)

It was due to Katherine’s reading, the friends she made (Cranmer who was a strong influence on her religious beliefs, Porter, 203-4, 234-35) and life-long associates, and translating that Henry began to listen to people who wanted to replace Katherine with a candidate of their own. He had had enough of strongly intelligent women in his first and second wives: Katherine of Aragon who fought him successfully and Anne Boleyn who could not (not having the connections her predecessor had.) He had had enough of royal women after Katherine of Aragon. Enough of highly sexual women after Katherine Howard. Parr was beginning to fit into these paradigms. In Porter’s book we see Katherine intelligently deflect these accusations by falling back on her previous entire loyalty to Henry. Lucidly and persuasively Porter analyzes central events of Henry’s reign during Parr’s years as queen from a correctly skeptical point of view. When Henry VIII goes off to one last battle in France he destroys so many people and places, he spends huge amounts of money — and everyone around him, including and especially Katherine are all praise. Parr tells of the intensely affectionate home-coming Parr gave him. Blame her? Well mine author would understand.

So on the occasion of Austen’s birthday, I provide a brief exegesis of a passage in her History of England, and a footnote to one line — remember nowadays people write reams on the smallest phrase Austen utters so I’ve precedent — Linda Porter’s excellent Katherine the Queen supports Austen’s contention.

As to Porter’s book in general in relationship to Austen: Porter writes a biography where the novelistic technique of pretending to be inside the central subject’s mind is used at times (Austen condones this through Eleanor Tilney’s critique of the way men write history), but this is not overdone, and as to factual basis, Porter footnotes all she says and clearly has read all the extensive literature on Henry’s reign and Katherine’s life. Porter is concise, engaging, not cliched in her conclusions, for example, arguing either that Katherine is a person of high integrity and learning, or that she is seeking power, influence for herself sheerly, or that she was passive flotsam and jetsam upon the seas of life. If married to a much younger man with a close family connection when she was in her early teens, and then to a much much older man to obtain money, power and land for her family again, Parr held her own and lived usefully in her second and third marriages. She could not avoid Henry VIII; she may have been mistaken to love Thomas Seymour, something of a boasting lout-rake, who molested her stepdaughter with more than her complicity, but Katherine then paid the ultimate price.

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Katherine’s own bedroom in Sudeley Castle, from her very last years

Katherine’s correspondence with Henry’s three children shows a decently considerate step-mother. Parr left letters and paraphrases of reformist texts, a trail of documents because she married so often, was widowed thrice, and attempted to mother other people’s children in two her marriages. The one drawback is Porter doesn’t quote Katharine enough. I’d like to believe Porter’s interpretations of her unqualifiedly, but for her argument about Katherine’s religious politics, the center of the later part of Porter’s book I need more documents. I know publishers discourage close reading, and to ferret out Parr’s individual voice from guarded letters, paraphrases and adaptive translation, micro-analysis on Porter’s part would have been necessary.

What does emerges is how ordinary Katherine Parr was, how the outlines of her life fit the lives of these “elite” women traded (trafficked?) by men in these power- (land, money) hungry families: her life experience feels so typical, even in her death from her (one) pregnancy. No one woman friend emerges (which is common if you are paying attention), but she was fortunate in some of her male friends and mentors. She appears to have loved and been loyal to her brother, William Parr and he reciprocated. Reminding me of Cromwell, Cuthbert Tunstall, diplomat, churchman, found of children, a writer, humane, even approved of by Thomas More, was Katherine’s father’s friend, and constantly there for her in Katherine’s life:

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Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559) when young

The relationship with Henry of course is what brings Parr into the terrain of Austen’s history and warrants comment: he was an insecure man, fantastic as it is to say this of this terrifying beheader tyrant, deeply duplicitous man (as so many of these absolute monarchs and today totalitarian leaders become). Porter persuaded me that Parr was still very attractive at what was then middle age (an age that most novels and histories and still movies today do not admit women as having because they will not hire women that age to play women that age) and that Henry wanted her sexually, hoped for children from her, and assumed she would be an obedient (no talk back) woman who would submit and yet be companionable. He didn’t mind a mother for his children as long as she didn’t take their interests over what he deemed his.

Porter succeeds in showing more than Eric Ives on Anne Boleyn that Katharine wanted an image of herself to provide her with enough respect to protect herself with, some power to be able to act individually, and to that end she kept having herself painted with the regalia of her “office” — in abstract patterns too like her stepdaughter for a while would and used ritual successfully.

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Katherine late in the marriage to Henry

I don’t know what I am so attracted to this woman (as I take it Austen was to single her out); like Mary Boleyn, Jeanne d’Albret, Katherine Parr’s story compels me. I have next on my TBR pile an excellent biography for d’Albret meant for academic and non-academic readers alike: by Francoise Kermina (in superb French, she too a wonderful stylist). Kermina’s biography of Madame Roland is the best text on her there is in print and some of her brief sketches are equally good. In typology I’d make Mary Boleyn into a Marianne Dashwood type with Katharine Parr Elinor.

In each case of the books I’ve been reading since last fall – began with Anne Boleyn – the woman’s death is by no means the end of the biography. Her life in each case is so interwoven with these men who are powerful and clans and it was these people who in general destroyed and twisted these women – there are occasional winners and outliers and they end these books. Katharine had been and was becoming one again (a winner), but childbirth did her in (as it did so many women) Mary Boleyn was an outlier who survived. She had not sufficiently surfaced in the histories so Jane”s history omits her.

So this is how I honor Austen: her feminism, her intelligence, her understanding of others’ books, her writing. Austen is with Katherine Parr all the way and read whatever was available about her — and the other Elizabethan women and characters she treats of — with care and perception.

Ellen

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COLOUR PORTRAIT Tara Bergin
A color photo of Bergin

Dear friends and readers,

It’s not often I come across a new good poem about Jane Austen, so I’d like to share Tara Bergin‘s

Appointment with Jane Austen

Blushing in a manner out of keeping with my age
(my graying hair, my falling face)
I entered Greyfriar’s Inn.
I was blushing, and out of keeping with my age.
In I went, making my foolish entrance,
folding down my umbrella self-consciously — 
aware of the locals at the bar with their gin
and their small talk — 
and walked right up to the barmaid,
somewhat brazenly, I thought. One glass of beer,
I said to her, and she, smiling kindly,
pulled it. I stood and waited.
I waited for them all to stop their fond,
drunken reminiscences,
for them to stop putting forth their opinions,
and to turn to me and say — in an accusatory way — 
What are you doing here? On a Wednesday night?
Unaccompanied?
With an accent we can’t quite identify?

I waited ready:

Why am I here? I would say.
I am here as an imposter, an outsider,
a reluctant admirer of your lovely daughter Jane — 
I am here for my Lecture in the Picturesque,
to learn of sidescreens and perspectives,
to learn of window tax and syntax — and “ha-has” — 
for harmless gambling in the parlor,
wearing mittens and handworked collars and a pretty amber cross — 
I am here to steal a pistol and a spoon found underground,
to rob the peacock feathers streaming from the silly boy’s crown — 
I am here, I would say, for sensation — 
For sensation? they would say, and I would say:
Yes! Painful sensation of restraint or alarm!
Oh ye patrons of Greyfriar’s Inn, I would exclaim,
I am here to meet your high-waisted Jane,
to embrace her as my comrade; as my brother-in-arms!

I stood and waited. But the good patrons of Greyfriar’s Inn,
they never said a thing; just continued talking amongst themselves,
quietly reminiscing. I paid the barmaid and turned my head.
I looked out at the wet; I looked out at the southwest rain,
and the redbrick houses. I watched the famous silhouette,
gently swinging back and forth above the gate.
I raised the glass to her impassive, sideways face.
Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

The poem was first published in September 2014 in the Poetry Magazine, and may now be found at the Poetry Foundation.

One reading: the poet presents herself as an outsider to things Jane Austen, the Jane Austen world and usual topics. She has come “here” to learn about the picturesque, of the realities of her Regency world which we can attach to her novels and life (window tax, “ha-has”), the things that we read of in her novels and that we are told she wore, the foolish fashions of her time.

womenshats
18th century style hats for women

People are even excavating where Steventon was (finding spoons underground?) She wants somehow to get close to Austen, to be her inward friend, a comrade in writing say. But she fails. The people who are Austenites that she came to be with carried on talking to one another, among themselves, their own insular talk, remembering experiences they had had with, through, in Austen. None of this helped her. The “picture” provided is not even one of Cassandra’s pictures but a silhouette (the one with the sharp nose?) which swings like a sign above the gate. Austen is abiding all these people’s non-questions; they are not looking at Austen somehow, perhaps that is to say her books. Maybe they don’t want to look.

An extrapolation, looking at inferences: I suggest a metaphor is at play here. Bergin suggests she learned nothing worth knowing about Jane Austen from this slide lecture about one aspect of Austen’s sources. Nor the things of her world, nor in her books, nor what she wore. Point taken: what passes for Austen studies in 2015 — well one kind of Austen studies — are source and influence studies, what we may call the wild surmise school of biography bolstered (justified?) by theoretical practice.

Is it close reading of the books themselves that we do not dare venture? one where we eschew the old moralizing themes but instead look to see how the world of the regency era operates in Austen’s novels, how her characters build that, react to it, and to one another, where she seems to stand.

I would not recommend going back to the close readings uninformed by self-examination and deconstruction of social norms, but perhaps the suggestion is some new break through is needed through daring to read the books out of a contemporary world perspective.

Or is that she went to find Austen among those said to know about and love her and couldn’t find her there at all.

****************************

vlcsnap-331051
From the cartoon paratexts of Fay Weldon’s 1979 BBC First Impressions (aka P&P): we the cartoon room layered over blurred image of Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth coming inside …

Well, I just listened to a similarly Austen-empty BBC radio program. Melvyn Bragg interviewed three Austen scholars on Emma: Janet Todd, John Mullan, Emma Clery. What was most striking is how empty the talk seemed: the usual biography trotted out, a description of the story for listeners who cannot be presumed to know Austen. Bragg tried to upend the cant of usual views: one of three said how by the time of Emma Austen had found her art, viz., in one letter she wrote of how she draws together most delightful, three or four families in a village.” Another that nonetheless (?) “everything” and “nothing” is in Emma. He replied (in effect) “really?” and then, so “what is in the book?” as ten minutes had gone by and no one had said.

So one of those interviewed started the stuff about how Emma is about the disturbed milieu and the time, and he countered, “the book is all about the relationships of these characters,” and asked about the characters. So Todd it was who tried to tell the story and describe the characters which took some disentangling. She did say how malicious Emma was early on to Mr Martin. It might be that this kind of forum, the semi-pop quick question-and-answer radio show does not lend itself to revealing this author. The problem here seemed to be the surface nothingness of Emma. So Mansfield Park was mentioned as full of critiques. Hmmn.

Could it be an environment that for the last 4 decades (since say the 1990s) all stories on TV or film are presented in some ratcheted up super-excited plot-design lush format or in a bath of emotional warmth? No wonder Emma is a lost case when the actual text is paid attention to.

Here and there someone managed: One person admitted openly how unusual Austen was for the literati of the time to know no one, to go to no parties of literary people, even to avoid the one occasion we know of when Austen could have met someone. That was refreshing. Another in reply to the demand for the content of the book said that Austen’s book is about a young women utterly hemmed in by her invalid father — though (qualifying) the heroine does not seem to mind. Then we heard “the theme is boredom,” but then (the qualification was irresistible it seemed) is common in this era in novels …

Had Bergin been sitting there, she might have produced the same poem.

Ellen

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Cover

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are some flaws:

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

Clarke concludes:

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

are far from obsolete.

Ellen

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