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Archive for the ‘theater’ Category

indiahodges
William Hodges (1744-97), An Indian Village with a Man seated in the Foreground

Dear friends and readers,

My report on the panels and papers given by the Burney society on 20 October 2016, the day before the “official” beginning of the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of America) meeting and on the panels and papers of the JASNA AGM has been much delayed, and I regret to say will be less specific and shorter than my previous conference reports. I got lost on the way to Trinity College where the Burney Society was holding its meeting, and missed much of the keynote address, and in any case (as I’ve said) my ability with stenography permit me only to record the gist of most of the papers; the JASNA group had but four (!) break-out sessions (astonishing) and two serious speeches on the Friday and Saturday (the 21st and 22nd) I was able to attend. There was one lecture mid-morning Sunday on an edition of Emma (1816, Philadelphia, by Juliette Wells) as part of a breakfast set-up and nothing else; since I wasn’t staying at the expensive hotel, and was teaching on Monday I could not take out the time for one book history talk. I’ve described the places and ambiance the two different societies met in when I came home lest I forget the experiences (scroll down; or read the material transferred to this blog in the comments section).

Here I cover two-thirds of papers on Burney. These papers placed Burney in contexts she claimed she didn’t wouldn’t talk about, but was in fact subject to all her life and is central to her books and life’s experience: the colonialist, patronage “system” and familial politics of her era.

I came in at the end of Tara Ghosal Wallace’s detailed talk on “Burney and the Politics of Empire,” which focused first on the hypocritical, corrupt, ferocious political in-fighting among factions in India, which through her male relatives, and attachment to George III’s court influenced Burney’s daily existence. Prof Wallace gave a history in detail of local English politics and office holders attached to and in India; she thought Warren Hastings caught between cross-fires (whom Burney obtusely absolved from any guilt or responsibility without ever giving any cogent details); she described the nuances of party politics (Indian and British individual and office alliances) amid the sexual courtship and humiliating scenes of Burney’s time at court; and the politics of empire in The Wanderer. Burney was under “intolerable psychological pressure from contradictory points of view, all of these personal to her.”

The first panel was called “The Stormy Sea of Politics,” and all three papers were on French and national politics. Geoffrey Sill discussed how Frances differed from her father’s arch-conservative reaction to the French revolution: Charles was for continuing absolute monarchy, saw the idea of the rights of men as absurd. Burney, as we know, lavished praise on her father, but we can see where she differed: she thought a king was as limited by law as any man; she was horrified by the misery she saw in France. She was not sceptical about the needs of people demonstrating. Anne-Claire Michoux discussed how the female body was represented in Burney’s diary-journals and The Wanderer. Burney’s work is deeply invested in social issues; she published a pamphlet on emigres, and admired Mme de Stael. In Evelina women are victims of physical violence, of psychological assault; in her fiction, her heroines are oppressed through their bodies, they have vulnerable incomes too. Brian McCrea seems to have received harsh reviews of his book on Burney where he presented her as a conservative: he argued that Burney was terrified of the French revolution. Burney writes wryly but also as apolitically as she can, and defends the patriarchal feudal world. Doody saw affinities with Wollstonecraft and Jacobin novels, and argued the character of Elinor in The Wanderer stands for the revolution as a noble flame. McCrea argued this is to misread; Burney’s Admiral Powell’s views are those validated.

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Hubert Robert (1733-1808), A servant brings papers to an aristocrat intent on renovating his garden with classical structures

After a coffee break, the second panel of the day was “Ruling Politics.” Lori Halvorsen Zerne discussed authoritarianism in The Wanderer. Juliette stands for “the other,” and is treated with hatred by some; many in the book are uncomfortable with the ambiguity of her identity. Good characters in the novel are cowardly while the bad are audacious. Hannah Messina’s paper title was “Politics at Home: Uncomfortable Domesticity in Cecilia.” Class, gender, charity and debt are among the novel’s topics; the conflict over last names confirms patriarchal tyranny. We learn that outside the home Cecilia is in danger; she needs a place to be secure. Her guardians interfere, her friends wreak personal catastrophe (the auction) on themselves. Cecilia had hoped for a quiet time with her friend, Mrs Harrell, but instead finds herself fleeced. One problem is it’s impossible for Cecilia to avoid or opt out of this society yet she herself can be thrown out and made a homeless beggar. After Delville’s uncertain and jealous treatment of her, she collapses. The novel shows the nature of a character’s domestic space is crucial to the development of an identity. Sara Tavela concentrated on Burney’s presentation of the medical and psychological sufferings of George III in her journals. Burney shows us there is no effective control over the king’s illness, and that the Queen is left without helpful information.

It was not quite lunch-time and so time for discussion of all we had heard up to then. Someone suggested that Burney created a template in her novels by which we can see how women are left without resources, are not listened to. Society dictates to them who they are. Women in authority are not granted full respect, find themselves in a liminal space.

There was a talk during lunch. Laura Rosenthal asked “what do we do with Sir Jaspar.” Laura saw the home as having theatrical spaces; commodities are props by which we construct our artificial selves. Burney resists desiring interiors and exteriors. Marilyn Francus suggested that in Cecilia we see how people talk to one another with the norms of social desires break down. Sociability crumbles in Cecilia; at the close the heroine crumbles too. Alex suggested that male characters also experience discomfort in their homes (e.g. Belfield).

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Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), The Sense of Sight

After lunch, the third panel was on “Celebrity and Material Culture.” Laura Engel talked about the three best portraits of Burney: Edward Frances Burney (1782) where her hands are on her waist.

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Edward Francesco Burney’s portrait of her (1784) sporting an enormous hat

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and John Bogle’s miniature (1785) of her with a pinched face; it seems the truest to her features

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An enlargement so you can see her facial features

Portraits, Laura said, represent the remains of a life’s performance; we can see the exaggerations of her dress and hats; all three provide much insight. In the first and third she gazes at us, interacting with us. Croker, a hostile reviewer, described the way Burney looked late in life cruelly: she was an old coquette. Butterworth found another image said to be of Burney at 15, up-close, intimate somehow. Laura compared these images to verbal descriptions of the heroines in the novels; and then to other portraits by painters of famous actresses (Siddons, Robinson), duchesses (Georgiana Spenser). These gorgeous hats as props keep re-appearing. Laura felt Burney probably preferred the miniature.

Kirsten Hall’s paper title was “Burney and Ciceronian Celebrity.” She talked about how celebrated Ciceronian ideals and how classical figures were depicted affected Burney’s fiction and attitudes. Cicero’s Moral Offices (obligations, duties) showed a world of reciprocal relationships, favors, and services. It was thought reading this book was good for people. we can see how widely deivergent rules for social behavior can be from what an individual may want or feel to be right. Kirsten then showed how the characters of Mortimer and Cecilia fit in; what she owes him, how they behave to one another (in an imagined bookshop). She also went over real behavior in a real library, and what we see suggested is Burney lived (like most of us) by compromise.

Since the last two papers took a somewhat different direction, I’ll stop here as this blog is long enough.

Ellen

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Isobel Bishop (1902-88), how she imagined Austen at work, a drawing

Friends,

In Mary Poppins’s books, Mary’s birthday is referred to as “the Birthday.” I have wracked my brains to say something new about Austen for her birthday, or offer an appropriate poem, some tribute as yet not well known as I have done previous years, as how “How she loved to dance” (clips and music); her poem written on her birthday (it seems) to her friend, Mrs Lefroy who died on that day four years before; and what she said about Tudor Queens, especially Katherine Parr (her attitude and remarks not well known). And finally I’ve come up with two, last night I remembered an unassuming ironic commentary, and this morning discovered a new chamber music style opera of Mansfield Park.

When Dora Carrington (1893-1932) designed and decorated Lytton Strachey’s library in their second home together in southern England, Ham Spray, she painted an extra unused door — going nowhere as sometimes happens in endlessly renovated houses where there is not quite enough money literally to alter the structure of the room (vestigial elements). She disguised it as a bookcase, complete with projecting spines from imaginary books. She carefully titled these imaginary books: A Catastrophe, by Tiberius (her cat); Oeuvres by Le Conte Lytoff (Lytton Strachey); The Empty Room by Virginia Woolf; Deception by Jane Austen; and False Appearances by Dora Wood, her own alias.

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Here is a drawing by Carrington for an actual bookplate

Each of these titles serves as a ironic summing up comment on some aspect of these authors’ lives or works (as seen by Carrington). For Tiberius: cats knock things over? end up victims? And however, tongue-in-cheek Carrington places herself as a woman artist between two writers she evidently regarded as supreme (after all they got to be in Lytton’s library, close at hand). In a note she wrote to her great friend and sometime lover, Gerald Brenan, she coupled Austen with “Emily Bronte and her sisters [Charlotte, Anne] and Sappho.

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Again Carrington, imagining an 18th century woman playing music, tinsel on glass (Lytton was a lover of 18th century literature and Carrington may have read or had read to her Julie de Lespinasse and Madame Du Deffand’s letters)

We know Jane Austen loved to dance and so what better picture than this contemporary picturesque (gussied up) illustration of Manydowne, one of the wealthy people’s houses where she regularly danced, and she could have been mistress of had she accepted the marriage offer of its heir, Harris Bigg-Wither, but then we would not be remembering her birthday or have her powerful fiction.

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Music and Manydowne, a large country house, doubtless not far from the size of Mansfield Park, can segue us into the other offering I can make for Austen’s birthday: Douglas Murray’s essay, just published in Persuasions On-Line, Fanny Goes to the Opera: Jonathan Dove and Alisdair Middleton’s Mansfield Park.

Douglas says the opera he saw was performed for the first time in the Indianapolis Opera in March 2016. The perspective is one commensurate with an ensemble structure, with Fanny (to quote Douglas) “a part of the complex community known as Mansfield Park, only one in a multiplicity of cacophonous voices: “the opera thus creates a musical/dramatic analogue to Austen’s characteristic narrative technique: her ability to display simultaneous narrative consciousnesses within a narrative context.” The opera uses a post-modern outlook: critical irony, distance; it also has a section which might be called “operatic epistolarity” (as in filmic epistolarity). I have argued that Mansfield Park is a much revised pushing together of two draft MPs: one about a play (written first in 1797 or so) and another a semi-epistolary story whose central focus is Fanny’s visit to Portsmouth where she writes to her frenemy Mary Crawford.

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From the 1983 BBC mini-series (scripted Ken Taylor), the young Fanny writing to her brother William (at sea?), and the older Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) reading a letter (from Mary Crawford?) while in Portsmouth

I’ve a hunch my favorite moments would still be those coming out of Fanny, her abjection, her painful solitude, her uneasy re-integration: it is out of her point of view that the subversive perspective and questioning of her society and its people comes.

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Here we have Mary Crawford sliding Henry’s necklace around the unsuspecting Fanny

Indeed the way many people read Austen (it seems to me) is to take seriously her surface Deception, endorsed by those of her characters who lived unexamined lives. This would be the way I read Carrington’s retitling of Austen.

Ellen

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L'Opera Seria zie www.reisopera.nl Photo: Marco Borggreve
Netherlands’ Nationale Reisopera — L’opera seria

Dear friends and readers,

Although Kim Witman’s crew has been vigilant to prevent photos of the production this summer of Florian Leopold Gassman’s mid-18th century parody of the conventions of an opera subgenre since the 20th century dubbed “serious opera” from reaching on-line sites, I thought I’d recommend seeing almost any version of this opera anyway. (It’s hard to convey in a review the experience of a production or film without a few varied pictures.) If her superbly inventive, beautifully sung, and richly amusingly staged L’Opera Seria is re-mounted anywhere rush out. The opera has been revived over the past couple of years in Europe (she watched a pirated one from Berlin before deciding), and Witman hopes to see more revivals than hers, but also hers again.

There have not been many reviews, but these have praised the production lavishly (Pat Hilary Stroh, Opera Marseille). In the pre-show talk Witman talked of how hard it had been to get the orchestration of the opera, and that the opera demands virtuouso singers with a varied range unusual for opera companies. These are formidable obstacles in mounting it. She also said its title misleads us: in fact the term “opera seria” for pre-Mozartian serious opera was a 20th century critical invention. She worked to universalize at the same time as using the allegorical roles to refer to a living directors (and other specific individuals in the opera world). Even in this updated version (modern references are substituted for contemporary ones, modern costumes and modern mores in pantomimes), she has provided an enjoyable education in 18th century dramaturgies, opera assumptions and history (which comes into it), gentle but ceaseless satire on the commercialization of art (this then an old trope).

Act I shows everyone discussing, deciding to do, planning the production, enunciating ideals and norms, and ego assertion; Act II the rehearsals

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Jonas Hacker, Alasdair Kent, Clarissa Lyons, Scott Suchman

and Act III a portion of the enacted sung opera. The central act is a marvelous funny rendition of 18th century theatrical, marital, sex, and writing/rehearsing/art norms. They were bold in their use of imagery: Alexandra Flood as Porporina had to sing absurd lines about dolphins and fish battling and fornicating, and the stage business included two actor-singers playing stage hands donning dolphin outfits at their stomach and back, lending a good deal of salaciousness to the moment. Act I was not quite as funny to a 21st century audience as it could have been (it was too staid), and Act III is in danger of boring the audience as it’s just this endless hieratic ending. The first was offset by concentrating on how each participant from ballet master to costume designer was in the throes of protecting their property. For the last some of the actor-singers were in the audience to shout boo, and cheer them on, make startling remarks, and the costumes were just so outrageous, and so many, that the audience was not permitted to lose itself elsewhere. Izzy thought the opera needed the intimate atmosphere of the house for us to get the nuanced but swiftly moving depictions of each of the principals.


A trailer on-site

This was our only time at the Barns for an Opera at Wolf Trap this summer, but it was well worth the drive and money. The other two productions were La Boheme (at the Filene Center). a popular warhorse, concerts by the Filene artists, and Britten’s Rape of Lucrezia. The reviews of the other two productions and the concerts have been highly favorable — and seem not to be just hype. I’m told the story of Lucretia is thought to “put people off,” be “too gloomy,” what they would rather forget, but I have seen it at Castleton Festival and know Britten’s take is deeply humane and feminist. The performance brochure included a perceptive, semi-angry essay by Germaine Greer on “the Necessity Narrative of Evil” (about the nature of rape testimony and the necessity to tell).

Ellen

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LutzBronteCabinet

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Dear friends and readers,

It feels wrong to have an Austen reveries blog where of late I so rarely post on Austen herself: yes, she’s a cynosure, sign under which women’s art, l’ecriture-femme, women writers may find sympathetic hearing; yes, if she be not an 18th century writer, I know not where an 18th century writer is to be found. But since I finished the reading and discussion of Austen’s letter and at least the opening of the Austen papers, I’ve not found much occasion to write something useful or (one of my goals for this blog) insightful on Austen’s texts. I hope to remedy this a wee bit tonight.

This week I went to a splendid lecture at the Smithsonian museum by Deborah Lutz out of her book, The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which reminded me of the methodology of Bryne’s finest accurate book on Austen where she finds 18 small (and larger) objects to dwell on: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. When I asked a couple of questions and commented on Lutz’s lecture, as did many others (she was generous enough to stay for a full half-hour and addressed herself sincerely to the questions), she confirmed that the core idea of her book, what shapes its presentation, was Byrne’s book. She also credited Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame, for her sceptical outlook over the Austen’s family’s attitude towards her published writing. I can confirm all three are lucidly written, perceptive, and the first two especially offer a wide range of the sense of life of the era through material objects and intimate doings and norms.

Lutz talked of museums as places which preserve relics secularly conceived. In this pre-photography period where death was so ubiquitous, and paper so expensive, people turned to objects to preserve the life they had loved and made theirs meaningful. Her lecture was thus about death, and how the Victorians did not flinch from body parts even if an increasing number of people lacked a religious sensibility. Lutz discussed how Charlotte specifically but Victorians in general meditated the relics, scrapbooks, drawings, relics they all created. It was a lecture about death, Victorian ways of accepting and living around and through the omnipresent reality, especially strong in this family. Gaskell thinks we are centrally taught about life through death.In the Brontes’ case they preserved plants, flowers, the person’s hair, hand-written lines of poetry, small furniture, the dogs’ collars. Charlotte was a superb visual illustrator and they preserved her drawings of the places they had been and objects acquired. Byrne concentrates on objects found in the novels, and especially how they were acquired by the Austens in life and related to what they were doing then and are transmuted indirectly into the novels. It is a deeply secular book as befits Austen somehow. Things here and now and found in the novels as allusive objects. The opening phase of Harman’s book is similar: how do we relate what we read what’s in the family poetry, memoirs, with what we know literally of Austen’s life at that point. She shows how little respect Austen had at first, how her brother was jealous, and how the legacy grew from James-Edward Austen-Leigh whose book she rightly concentrates on.

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I’ve been thinking about Austen’s relationship to the theater of her time — you could call this another aspect of the real life and things surrounding Austen (not so much the Brontes who lived so far off from the “center”). Are there not enough playbooks to pile them up readily on tables in Mansfield Park? Marianne Dashwood has a TBR pile. Anne Eliot a veritable library of life-writing and texts to help one through grief and depression, to rebel with? We must remember the novel did not become ubiquitous until near the end of the 18th century. People read sermons, they read texts to help with emotionally distraught states designed as ways to resign yourself religiously, to cope with death. For entertainment and subversion, throughout the 18th century people continued to read plays the way we might today read a novel. The wealthy in great houses acted them out. Mid-century the novel was just emerging as a popular form and circulating libraries would not have a substantial stock until later in the century. Respectability came with Scott and later for women Austen and her followers. The unspoken reality of plays was their lack of respectability didn’t matter, was their raison d’etre. These books of plays were often several single plays bound together. You can find them in research libraries. I own a 5 volume set — beautifully done — printed in 1804. It has learned essays at the opening of the 2 volumes of comedy (on comedy), the 2 volumes of tragedy (on tragedy), and 1 volume of farce, burlesque and opera (ditto for 3). The volume of comedy is about 1/3 from the restoration and early 18th century.

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Mrs Siddons as Southerne’s Isabella with her son as Isabella’s child (Wm Hamilton)

It’s probable Austen read this sort of thing, that her father had versions of it in the library. Let us recall the recorded reality that among the gentry people acted out amateur plays. I’ve always wondered what they did for individual scripts – – someone had to copy parts out. A guide to what people were willing to discuss and quote are two books which record what plays people did.I really recommend reading (for fun) Robert Noyes’s The neglected muse &Thesian Mirror. The neglected muse is about Restoration and 18th century plays played; Thespian Mirror is sheerly Shakespeare. He has taken into account people did the revisions that were popular (Garrick’s where Romeo and Juliet wake up first and then die; Tate’s Lear). He’s read about 900 novels and tells the stories of productions in these novels, or quotations found in them, allusions, but mostly productions. Edgeworth has her characters in Patronage act out Aaron Hills’ transation of one of Voltaire’s popular plays — that reminds us that people read and watched French (and Italian too) drama in translation (when they were translated). In the 1790s books of German plays were translated: the Folger has a whole bunch of these, and I’ve read in them. Much better translation of Lovers Vows than Inchbald’s by a man named Thompson. Also plays made out of novels in the 1790s were available: there’s two from Radcliffe, one from “Monk” Lewis.

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Mrs Young as Hortensia

The way to gauge what Austen might really be alluding to is to see the plays she openly cites: look at the ones cited in MP: the interesting thing is how many come from the later 18th century, and how many are mixed (tragi-comedy). Tom wants to do The Heir at Law: there Austen is alluding to his unfitness because the play has an unfit heir. We can adduce Shakespeare here and there because of Austen’s explicit remarks about her reading and what she thought English people read at the time. She avoids the ribald. We are told by family records the Austens in their barn preferred comedy – -these pseudo-oriental harem nonsense, but that James loved tragedy and sometimes won.

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While the Noyes’ volumes might be superior for the purpose of understanding the full milieu of Austen’s reading and dramatic allusions, Paula Byrne (again) and Penny Gay’s books on Austen and the Theater jump directly from Austen’s allusions to plays in her letters and what there is in the novel (as well as speculation); the problem here is they do sometimes go on about a play they have little solid evidence in the novel for because they’d like to believe this play is alluded to. They use Austen’s letters — overread them. All you need is one reference and Byrne acts as if Austen memorized the play just about. But as histories of drama gone to, read, familiar in the period, they are useful concrete descriptions of the milieu.

What we do see is the gradual censoring of the ribald, a growth in proto-feminism, at least more strong women in strong roles. There were women playwrights at the end of the era and some of Austen’s comments in her letters and allusions ferreted out by Byrne and Gay show she did favor these in her reading or had read them (like Hannah Cowley’s play).
That Austen read and alluded to drama is so and that allusions are there is so if you base your suppositions on what Austen clearly says (she has no reason to hide the sort of thing she alludes to — she wants her readers to understand her) or alludes to, and her letters if used with discretion are helpful. Also records of what was played in London, Southampton, Bath while she or relatives were there.

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Last the early translations, another way into Austen’s texts: the Francophone world of publishing and the Anglophone were in continual exchange. In London French texts are continually published; English novels are translated into French language — and culture — continually (and find their way to Italy, Germany, even Russia). I rejoice to say the early French translations of Austen’s texts are now all available now in good texts for a reasonable price.

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Some are typed books.  LLC Classic series from Memphis offers the whole book typed, proof read carefully, and evenly distributed from page to page in three columns (rather like Book-of-the-Month club used to do in the 1950s).  I have two copies of two different hard-to-buy books among my Jane Austen library of this type. One is Isabelle de Montolieu’s French translation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — if you buy the commercial copy you will find it’s been doctored, changed by a modern translator to come closer to Austen — which kills the value of the book. The typed version of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Raison et Sensibilite does not include her even more invaluable preface. It was reprinted by Gilson in his magisterial bibliography of 1998. You can purchase a similarly typed version of the early 19th century French translation of Pride and Prejudice by Eloise Perks (1822), Orgueil et Prevention; said by those who have studied the issue the best of the contemporary translations.

Some are facsimiles of varying quality. I cite the ones which are readable, include the complete text, reliable.

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There is a facsimile of the French translation of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Persuasion, La Famille Elliot ou l’Ancienne Inclination, and I rejoice to say it includes her invaluable preface – she explains her choices, tells how Austen was regarded by a serious French reader of women’s books at the time. It’s not beautifully done; it looks like someone just put the book down on a scanner and the pages are smaller than the white page alloted to each but you can read it. ISBN 9781273394805 Elibron does a much better job at this — I love Elibron facsimiles.

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For Mansfield Park, Hachette has produced a beautiful three volume set from la Biblioteque Nationale de France: La parc de Mansfield, ou Les Trois Cousines, translator Henry Vilemain. ISBN 9782012570368

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For Emma there are the beautifully done volumes by Hachette: La Nouvelle Emm, ou Les caracteres angelas du siecle. The translator is unknown. You can now also buy an FB edition, one volume, La Nouvelle Emma, all four volumes in one, beautifully typed ISB 9781503193185.

And for Northanger Abbey, I have the 1946 reprint by classiques Garnier of the very best translation into Frenc of an Austen text that exists:  Felix Feneon’s Catherine Morland, done from prison (he was an anarchist and came closer to her spirit than anyone else ever has). See my essay focusing on this brilliant translation in the context of translations of Sense and Sensibility.

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Another excellent volume I’ve described in earlier blogs

Ellen

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Drinking (Small)
An inn on the road where Tom and the military men at table (Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones, 1963)

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A rare flashback in the two films: Bridget Allworthy when young, waving goodbye to Mr Allworthy as he sets off for three months in Bath: she is pregnant, the man who impregnated her dead, and she will have his baby, our hero while Mr Allworthy is gone — a stealth female character (BBC Tom Jones, 1997)

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve come to the end of my lecture notes: my fourth blog will lead you to the whole set. Here I tell our topics in the last third of the novel, and the essays I assigned and discussed, with a coda on the two movies and adieu from our narrator.

An interesting aspect of the last part of the book is Jones’s depression – both movies try to make something of this in the prison scenes. They both have Tom stay in prison and be almost hung in order to do this. His passivity and then self-defense against the crazed male Fitzpatrick is excuse for framing him by bribed lawyers — until Mr Allworthy at least alerted intervenes. The film-makers work up the press gangs subplot in both movies too.

Important in the book in this last phase is female libertinism as seen in Lady Bellaston and Tom’s willingness to be a kept man for a while: so that brought in the word and needed discussion. We read cogent debates between Sophia and her aunt, Sophia and her father, Mr Allworthy and her father, with the stories of Mrs Fitzpatrick woven in so that there is a dramatization supporting Sophia’s defense of a woman’s right to choose her own husband. There is a break for more interwoven histories where in this last third we hear the pathetic widow’s story of Mrs Miller (an epistolary letter from another widow to Tom showing willingness to buy him in a marriage). Women’s stories.

A long chapter on a trip to the theater to see Hamlet.

And after Tom helps Nightingale to do the right thing by Nancy Miller, marry her and have a loving happy marriage, and he is freed from prison, he becomes the most exemplary of characters, even providing Blifil with an allowance. Sir Charles Grandison could talk no more nobly; Tom is in fact more unreal than Sir Charles Grandison. A protracted ending does not exclude the idea that Fortune has ruled what has happened, but the structural emphasis is a benevolent providential pattern, with Blifil alone ejected from the group.

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John Sessions as Fielding eating and drinking and telling us what is happening, a gleam in his eye (BBC 1997 Tom Jones)

Over the term we also discussed the “peculiarities” of Tom Jones, the introductory chapters, the inset histories, the narrator, epistolary chapters and I offered a kind of potted history of the novel and when the subject came up, we’d go at it again. I’ve put some of this in a orderly postnote in the comments.

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Celia Imrie and Kelly Reilly as Mrs and Nancy Miller (BBC Tom Jones)

Jones at one point marvels at the blindness of Mrs Miller to her daughter’s condition; it’s a repeat of Mr Allworthy’s blindness – in part a convenience for the plot. In her case it’s presented as making her happier – she has this sanguine disposition of mind (p 621). Our narrator says this accounts for happiness more than anything else.

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The attempted rape scene in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963) is presented oddly gently

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The rape scene in the BBC film (1997) is for real: here Peter Capaldi as Fellamar corners Samantha Morton as Sophia terrifying her

Sexual Violence towards Women in Fielding

Well the essays the class seems to have read was Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.” Review of English Studies, new series 61:251 (2010):572-90. They also read a pdf of Fielding’s defense of Elizabeth Channing that I sent by email. Dickie’s essays is written in lively easy English and the title provoked curiosity. While the first part of Dickie’s essay is about the plays of Fielding, especially Rape upon Rape (which Fielding later under pressure retitled to The Justice Caught in His Own Trap – a justice who is corrupt among other things tries to get to one of our female characters to lie and pretend she was raped) Fielding in these plays regards rape as minor problem, women think it’s okay, want it, it’s treated as a good joke, they fake it; they fantasize; the danger is not that you rape a woman (you being a man) but that someone bribes her to lie, to blackmail you. Simpson’s essays make short shrift of this. Some of scenes in Fielding’s worst later voyeuristic treatises put a different and rather deadly spin on Austen’s famous: “run mad as often as you please, but do not faint.”

It’s when Dickie turns in the second half of his essay and shows how these attitudes play out in the nuanced complex texts of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones and Amelia, it became relevant to Tom Jones and appropriate to talk of how false testimony and sexual violence is treated by Fielding and how his distrust intersects with his misogyny. Alexander Welsh in his book shows in these novels there is a pattern of women’s accusations which are mocked immediately or dismissed; very often when we are sympathetic to the woman we later find out she was somehow at fault: the old way of finding fault: Northerton did not just attack Mrs Walters, she was deeply involved with him, fond of him, arranged to meet him in the wood; he tied her to a tree not to kill her but to escape from her. The way Fielding treats the heroine in Joseph Andrews shows class bias when someone tries to rape her: she is strong armed, thick skinned in mind. Made me wonder how Fielding regarded his second wife, Mary Daniel. He hardly brings her up in any of his work. A curious detail in all is when the man tries to touch the woman’s breast is when she gets excited and angry. In Tom Jones there’s Lady Bellaston persuading Lord Fellamar to rape Sophia and into her mouth is put all the arguments of how unimportant this is, how women want to be raped (p. 699, Bk 15, ch 4) it makes for marriage (Squire Western would like that), comes sort of sinister.

Dickie ends on how Fielding was deeply upset by Richardson’s portrayal of the rape of Clarissa by Lovelace: he wrote Richardson a letter; for once someone has pushed him out of this comfort zone of his, but he moves quickly to show he doesn’t take sexual violence seriously and wants Richardson to marry Clarissa off to Lovelace as an okay ending. I should mention Lovelace drugs Clarissa, she is held down by prostitutes, and kept awake in part and there is a good deal of transgressive sex in the scene forced on her. She has a psychically tramatized week afterwards. Tom Jones has a lot of careless violence in it; Tom is upset to think he’s murdered Mr Fitzpatrick but Nightingale seems to think it’s okay if Tom was just defending himself.

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Strong-minded as she is (with pistol), Sophia intensely relieved to meet her cousin, Harriet on the road, and Harriet likewise (BBC Tom Jones)

It was at this point I told them about the Elizabeth Channing and Mary Hamilton cases and what Fielding did and wrote about these. Elizabeth Canning, a servant girl marked by small pox, plain, with no father (an orphan), was accosted on a dark road, perhaps fell into an epileptic fit (it’s the story of a disabled girl), finds herself imprisoned and pressured into becoming a prostitute. Happens all over the world today. Movie in theaters just now is about a woman imprisoned by a man who rapes her continually (Emma Donoghue’s book, The Room). Starved, humiliated, finds a way out, escapes; her mother horrified by her appearance when she turns up, had been advertising about her loss of her daughter. They went to court. Elizabeth identified the house and Mary Squires, apparently working as a prostitute and bawd herself (procurer). The abductors (if they were abductors) found discrepancies in her story, said she lied – they would, wouldn’t they? Virtue Hall working for them was terrified to give evidence – I presume they’d have beat her up – but she corroborated Elizabeth’s story. Mother Wells found guilty to, Mary Squires sentenced to death for stealing Elizabeth’s stays and for assault. People began to give evidence for Squires, an alibi produced; Fielding accused of having presided over injustice and he writes in his defense. There was a gypsy woman involved; someone said it was a plot to discredit Fielding. Mystery never resolved; Mary Squires got off; Elizabeth accused of perjury, of trying to hurt the gypsy woman; it was decided if you put Elizabeth in the stocks, she’d have been stoned to death by the populace so she was sentenced to transportation (indentured servitude) and ended up in Connecticut where she died in 1773. In the end Fielding apologized where he couldn’t explain; he ended up not being respected for all he had done. No good deed goes unpunished. His pamphlet is of interest because of how often he appeals to probability, evidence, common sense.

He comes out much less well in the Mary Hamilton case. In this case I sent them Terry Castle’s “Matters not fit to be mentioned: Fielding’s Female Husband,” ELH, 49:3 (1982):602-22, but I doubt they read it because it is so jargon. I told them about it ans we discussed the contrast with Fielding towards Elizabeth Channing. Mary Hamiltone was accused of fraud for having personated a man, found guilty, whipped sentenced to hard labor in Bridewell. She had a history of doing this before (14 times it was said); he seems to have read the transcript (deposition) where Mary tried to excuse herself by saying she was seduced by one Anne Johnson and suffered under the baneful influence of methodism. He wrote this novelistic tract to make money. It’s prurient and voyeuristic; it reads like a cheap soft-core porn novel; the attack on methodism is pure Fielding, he laments how after her first whipping she tried to buy “a young girl to satisfy her most monstrous and unnatural appetites.” It’s a classic in euphemism – like Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Of course it exposes his masculine point of view.

I also summarized myself Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried:” Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” Modern Language Review, 95:2 (2000): 324-35 Willaputte argues the women at the center of the story (Sophia, Lady Bellaston, Molly, Mrs Walters, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Nancy, Mrs Miller) also show how law and custom render women powerless. The women at the edges yes worse. Mrs Bridget Allworthy who disappears, Mrs Western and the various women we are told of in the stories are stronger examples of how society makes invisibility safety; women are turned into servants of law and family and live in a liminal kind of space.

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Tom tenderly rescuing Molly in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones

We do see fearful and arbitrary control; women as “other.” We see scenes where what they want is simply not paid attention to at all. Willaputt instances the Elizabeth Canning case. Women protests against being slaves. Sophia is eloquent even if taken advantage of and not listened to. Even if what Mr Allworthy likes best is her obedience to men.

I recited one of the most reprinted poems by a woman in the period in anthologies – appears in major ones: Mary Lady Chudleigh’s “To the Ladies:”

Wife and Servant are the same,
But only differ in the Name:
For when that fatal Knot is ty’d,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said, [5]
And Man by Law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but State and Pride:
Fierce as an Eastern Prince he grows,
And all his innate Rigor shows: [10]
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the Nuptial Contract break.
Like Mutes she Signs alone must make,
And never any Freedom take:
But still be govern’d by a Nod, [15]
And fear her Husband as her God:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty Lord thinks fit,
Who with the Pow’r, has all the Wit. [20]
Then shun, oh! shun that wretched State,
And all the fawning Flatt’rers hate:
Value your selves, and Men despise,
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.

I like how in Tom Jones we find the narrator objects to mockery of women when they have been sexually seduced or impregnated – Tom calls “jesting” “pieces of brutality.” It’s worth noting that the narrator and sometimes good characters deplore ridicule as very unkind especially of vulnerable or exposed people – like mocking playwrights. None of the critics I read or assigned mentioned this aspect of the book. To me it’s a redeeming feature.

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From the masquerade dance in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963)

Illicit transgressive sexuality in Fielding

On libertinism, the best writing I could find (and shortest) were the opening pages of Robert Erickson, “A review of James Turner’s “Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London,” Eighteenth Century Fiction, 17 (2005):269-76. Sophia does call Tom a libertine in his behavior with Mrs Walters and the narrator brings out the idea but he’s such a “good-hearted libertine”. In Erickson’s few pages libetinism is defined as illicit transgressive sexuality which defies orthodox religion and morality – loosen family bonds, respect for maternal authority. Erickson says that Turner uses trash and junk rather than high literary texts (like Tom Jones)and in so doing reveals women’s behavior and attitudes to women in the era. From the second work by Pamela Cheek that Erickson reviews it emerges that women who were educated, or serious intellectuals saw prostitution and especially the female libertinism as something deeply harmful to women’s rights and causes. So Lady Bellaston is someone as destructive of Sophia and Mrs Fitzpatrick as the bully tyrant Squire Western or potentially Blifil or as played by Peter Capaldi Lord Fellamar. A female libertine is a sinister figure. I agree with that — though in the book Lady Bellaston’s words do reveal her to believe she loves Tom Jones, is jealous of Sophia and just wants an ordinary revenge and to get Sophia out of the way by having Fellamar rape and marry her.

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From the sexually-suggestive pantomime put on before Sophia by Lady Bellaston in her London townhouse (BBC Tom Jones)

I suggested a kind of wild debauchery & sublimity can be found in abjection (for those who have the appetite and strength for this); it’s sadomasochistic sex seen from the masochistic point of view reveling in itself. In texts low crude stuff enters upper class culture: the aristocratic libertine aligns himself with shamed abject whore. Now in Tom Jones the gender roles are reversed. There is a sense where both Lovelace and Tom Jones (especially in the 1966) film allows himself to be acted upon, is the passive person. The rest of Erickson’s article is on exploitative sexuality in the colonies: global reach. Female libertine could also be a stance that allowed for philosophical radicalism and I brought in Therese Philosophe, showed the illustrations and the elegance of the volume (I tried to show this) startled them.

We looked at the scene of Sophia and Lady Bellaston where Lady Bellaston needles Sophia successfully about Jones because Sophia will not admit the gentleman who came was Jones nor that she loves him, and Lady Bellaston knows that was Jones, she loves him and Sophia learns that Lady Bellaston knows. As Nightingale’s friend Enderson is another male subject victim so Jones has had to let himself be up for sale; and then inset history of Mrs Miller to come we get another story of money, gender, power. To me the target of the book is the very connections of people are utterly corrupted and they can be victimized because they have connections but if they don’t have them, they are in grave trouble. In the scene of Lady Bellaston and Sophia we see an intimate experience of this: Jones is despised because he’s a bastard, homeless: we see how that corrodes the soul. Libertinim is beside the point.

We don’t have a true male libertine in this book: man about town yes, gaming crooks; corrupt gamekeepers, and I suggested Lady Bellaston and Lord Fellamar are the closest we get. I tried to cite examples from works the class would know and could come up only with Les Liaisons Dangereuses Valmont and Madame de Merteuil – you may have seen the film with John Malkovitch and Glenn Close. After class was over I was very glad when someone mentioned Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Yes that’s perfect and many here will have seen it. Brutal, promiscuous, raped women, insouciant, proud of his conquests as conquests and especially he would be taken as an atheistic, irreligious and at the play’s close he is taken down to hell. Libertinism was bound up with radical thought in this era. The first and influential literary text or character is by Thomas Shadwell, the play 1712 called The Libertine. That over the course of the century (as in our own era) the type changed as times changed. Over the course of the century a growth in secularism strong and a rise in sentimentalism with corresponding repression of some of the more frank elements in earlier literature. People parodied the concept too: one night Austen goes to a burlesque play of Don Juan, she finds it funny but says the main character is brutal. Fielding belongs to the first half of the century more or less, Austen to the second half, but we can see sentimentality when Tom weeps over Enderson’s story. Tom is good-natured and wants to be virtuous; is he a moralized libertine? That makes nonsense of the term. We had already talked of seeing him as a low-born scoundrel rogue and Tom Jones an imitation rogue story.

There is a continuum of males in the novel. Fielding explores what happens to masculinity in the world, the norms that people follow, and what these do to people. – he’a a man of wit and pleasure. We are not shown him having much fun. Among the things he enjoys is going to a play and damning it among a mob. Theater at the time was not all silence and passivity – but people went there to meet other people, they booed, hissed, interrupted – again it was at the theater that someone insulted Nancy and Nightingale took this point of view seriously.

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The theate: Our characters go see Garrick act out Hamlet

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Garrick as Hamlet (contemporary print)

In the midst of the book, time out to see Hamlet. People did go to the theater a lot; in all ranks that could. It was a popular art form. So off go Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge.

What’s really strange or wants explanation here is that Fielding goes through the whole play step by step. He really touches upon each of the phases of Hamlet. If you ‘ve read and remember it, it’s uncanny. Even Hamlet with his mother. Critics have expended much ink on this one. On one level obviously it’s making fun of superstitions, the belief in ghosts we see in Partridge. Partridge is also the naïve audience member who believes the people in front of him are real and gets intensely excited. I suggested we not knock this as if it’s not done anymore: actors have to be careful who they enact, viewers treat repeating characters as real people.

I’m not persuaded the incident has a political Jacobite application – I told them how Stevenson sees this, and that the political application links up with the other politics of the book: that Partridge is a Jacobite, and so worships numinous people; that since Hamlet is a revenge play about a usurpe (Claudius is usurping the throne having killed Hamlet’s father) links because the Hanovers are usurpers or if you like the Stuarts want to usurp a new legitimate king’s throne. Tom says at one proint that the cause of George III is cause of common sense (Protestantism and liberty). But this great play is about common sense.

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Max Beasley and Ron Cook as Tom and Patridge at the Miller wedding (BBC Tom Jones)

I wondered if it’s meant to fill out Partridge. Make us like him. If Fielding not so anti-Jacobite, then maybe he feels affection for this man. Fielding loves how Partridge is totally involved with the characters from moment to moment. The class members inclinded to the idea the book is sympathetic to Partridge; that Patridge is the most loyal father to Tom in the book.

There ‘s a tribute to the actors and Garrick as Hamlet, to the theater itself which is part of the skein of metaphor in the book . We are all actors and audience. Against that Fielding as playwright had to cope with this level of delusion in his customers.

Or is Fielding himself taken with the ambivalent presentation of the loyal son and corrupt father?

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Thomas Gainsborough, A Suffolk Landscape

So what we were to make of this book?

In the last session I invited them to take a post-modern point of view and give up on conventional moralizing as well as ideas about human progress. What I ended was the amount of caustic and multiple pointed ironic satire in the book. What is the nature of the satire in Fielding? What is its target? He shows how all our human ties, the way we have to conduct ourselves in society forces us to behave corruptly and badly – the target is not the corrupt selfish stupid people but the society they create as a whole, the social connection – force of custom; a complaint against the depravity of society which is unlikely to reform. In that sense Fielding’s conservative -– everywhere we look from people going to a play, a masquerade, we see a network of vice with a few good souls here and there who are very vulnerable. In his writing as a magistrate Fielding recommended harsh justice and punishment even if he recognized at core the source of much evil in the society was mass poverty and not giving people enough useful that they could respect to do. I paraphrased from John Richetti’s review of Bertelson’s book on Fielding as magistrate, man and journalist: “Bertelsen finds in Fielding’s last book, a journal of a trip to Lisbon as he knew he was dying; an associational style so the way to draw the meaning is to look at the self-reflexive stories, contradictions, incongruities – that it’s spontaneous and at its best relativistic and free-wheeling.”

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Squire Western in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (at the hunt, 1963)

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Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Allworthy towards the end of the story, finally realizing what Blifil is (BBC Tom Jones)

I then showed clips from the 1966 and 1997 movies. We had sent them some short reviews and suggested that the actuating impulse of the two films was different from one another and from Fielding. Richardson and Osborne were showing us the animal savagery of people; their absurdity but also their pathetic ruthlessness. They also presented the book as a sexual romp and zany witty comedy. The BBC film-makers turned Tom Jones insofar as they could into proto-feminism, building up the character of Sophia and bringing her out as strong wherever possible; they tried for sympathy for the defeated Aunt Western (played by Frances de la Tour), a moral romances. John Session was acted the character of Fielding himself as enigmatic, ironic, well-meaning, keeping apart; they dedicated the film to him.

I ended on Fielding’s own good-natured adieu as, which I suggested was the sort of passage that influenced the BBC people’s film:

And now, my Friend, I take this Opportunity (as I shall have no other) of heartily wishing thee well. If I have been an entertaining ompanion to thee, I promise thee it is what I have desired. If in any Thing I have offended, it was really without any Intention. Some Things perhaps here said may have hit thee or thy Friends; but I do most solemnly declare they were not pointed at thee or them. I question not but thou hast been told, among other Stories of me, that thou wast to travel with a very scurrilous Fellow: But whoever told thee so, did me an Injury. No Man detests and despises Scurrility more than myself; nor hath any Man more Reason; for none hath ever been treated with more: And what is a very severe Fate, I have had some of the abusive Writings of those very Men fathered upon me, who in other of their Works have abused me themselves with the utmost Virulence.’

    All these Works, however, I am well convinced, will be dead long before this Page shall offer itself to thy Perusal: For however short the Period may be of my own Performances, they will most probably outlive their own infirm Author, and the weakly Productions of his abusive Contemporaries.

I very much enjoyed reading Tom Jones and the recent criticism of Fielding. It was quite a journey for me to discuss this text with a group of adults my own age. My view of it underwent a sea change. Read aright — deconstructively, historically, autobiographically, from a post-modern standpoint — it still has a lot to teach us. Robert Hume’s idea is that the one way you can bring all Fielding’s stances into one is as a teacher. Yes.

Ellen

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Glastonbury Tor, Sometsetshire

Dear friends and readers,

This is another blog of lecture notes for a course I’m teaching at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at American University. As happened last spring, the second week I was supposed to teach, the first class was cancelled (not the course itself, we will begin meeting next week for 10 weeks), this time because the church the organization rents the space from scheduled a massive funeral for today. Thus once again, I’m putting my lecture notes for the first session on-line in a place where they will be readily available so the course might start this week without a meeting. The aim of the course is to read and to discuss Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together from points of view that bring out its meanings and larger significance accurately so readers might enjoy it, see its relevancy, appreciate it. Nearly three weeks ago I put the syllabus online here at Austen Reveries; anyone not in this class wanting to read this blog can read that as an explanation for this first set of lecture notes.

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Fountain Court, Middle Temple — Fielding a law student here in late 1730s

How to get past some of the obstacles of reading Tom Jones:

As we set out together on our journey through the single massive volume that is Tom Jones, I feel I have to preface where I usually start a reading together and class on a book, the author’s life story insofar as we know it, and especially those aspects of that life which fueled the particular book, by talking of the difficulties or barriers this text presents.

A book is after all made up of words and Fielding’s idiolect may be very foreign to today’s readers. It is larded with his reading and memories of not only the Latin classics and contemporary (by which I mean 18th century) writing. Looking things up is tedious, and once you have had to explain a joke, it loses its humor; often an allusion to be deeply understood requires that we’ve read and remember the original text. As either Keymer or Wakeley tells us in the few paragraphs preceding the glossary of Latin tags, Partridge often misapplies or has misunderstood the texts he quotes from; at one point Tom (who we are asked to believe has become well read despite his appalling pair of tutors) grows very irritated over one such misapplication. What’s more Fielding assumes the importance of the classical tradition; in his introductory chapters he will go on about places in Aristotle where he Fielding disagrees with Aristotle. But who today cares about Aristotle? Aristotle’s treatise on tragedy which is really an explication of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex applied to all tragedy was hopelessly inapplicable in Shakespeare’s time.

Determination, diligence, and if you have a respect for intelligence, what has been considered beautiful and thoughtful ideals, can overcome some of this. What cannot be overcome but must be (as it were) eaten (like one of the dishes he opens up with talking about) or read intensely through is his abstract style, his use of general words and formal syntax to convey real psychological experience that is particular to a scene or character. People today might have a tendency when they see an abstract style not to visualize what the author wants us to see; we are so used to “a talking style” where sentences are short, and concrete particular words are used, and especially an emphasis on the pictorial, communicating through images where we are shown emotionalisms, we are in danger of not bonding with characters’ emotions and their situations which despite the slippery ironies within ironies of the text that Fielding does want us to take seriously. It may sound mad but my advice to someone reading this book is to try to treat it each paragraph as a 10 line poem, pay alert attention to what the words signify.

When we are told in general words that Sophia feels anguish, we are endow her with the anguish a 21st century heroine might know although the words would be particular. Wholly at random, I turned to p 320 in my edition, Book 11, Chapter 5, where Harriet Fitzpatrick is telling of a devastating experience she had as a married woman. Men were allowed to lock up their wives; they could beat them; a woman was supposed to obey, and people did marry for money sheerly (it was the only way to become rich if you were not born to it). Harriet tells Sophie her “companions” were “my own racking Thoughts, which plagued and and in a manner haunted me Night and Day. In this situation I passed through a Scene, the Horrors of which cannot be imagined …” – a childbirth alone, and childbirth in this period was a hard ordeal often ending in death.

We are not only to laugh hard, and the laughter in this book is not benevolent, it’s Swiftian – very like Jonathan Swift – but feel hard. Lethal hatred is what swirls everywhere either there already or easily erupted in Paradise Hall. By Book 7 Tom is homeless, without any money (he has been given a considerable sum by Mr Allworthy but in his anguish he did not realize he dropped the pocketbook and the money was taken by Black George), a bastard, despised by all, a vagrant. This is a book about a vagrant. The narrator’s perspective is, philosophical distanced and ethical, I had almost said judicious except that the narrator is often satirized too. So at this crux of poor Tom’s career we get an essay on how people in life are like performers on a stage, p 289, Book 7, chapter 1 – but for all that we are given a situation meant to be taken fully which we are to care about. Feel the rage, the bitterness, and puzzled bewilderment, the hurt, the fear. This is an era where torture (especially of animals) is a form of entertainment.

The narrator is not Fielding. The book as a whole intensely mirrors the particulars of Fielding’s experience of life and like most great novels is a disguised autobiography, but it’s displaced. My sense is from other recent readers is the more you see real history of the era here and Fielding’s real life here the stronger the book becomes for you. The narrator is a cover-up for this, a device that enables Fielding to hide himself. He is continually half-wrong; he’ll give us five views of something and say View 5th is the right one, but I suggest not so, for if we were to dismiss views 1-4 why give them? We need both to believe things he says and dismiss him. In one of his chapters Fielding says something may seem to be irrelevant to have nothing to do with his text but everything in it pertains, it’s designed. It’s nowadays thought the book was long in the making and writing, at least a few years.

First chapter he tells us the content of the book is human nature, pp 35-37, Book 1, Chapter 1. He is not here to present any particular animal but animalness as such. His story is prism. But then he says true nature is very hard to find in authors or books – and for good reason and the difference between authors is how the dish is set out. The second idea contradicts the first. Fielding is never plain though he does loathe “affectation” – in our terms phony self-presentations, a subdivision of hypocrisy (knowing lies people understand they can get away with). By these means he will induce us to read on forever – this is a joke, though in the latter part of the book it’s clear Fielding does want his book to live beyond his time.

So what have I said, what does this amount to? Get past the language, read it as you have other deep feeling dark books written in a modern idiom. The narrator is an ironic device: in Jonathan Swift’s famous treatise, “A Modest Proposal,” his narrator says the way to stop the Irish from starving is for them to kill their babies and eat them. This not only solves the problem of producing food, but will reduce the population. He’s deadly serious; he says it’s what the English want. So much that this narrator says is deadly serious and it’s also a deep expose of outrage and preposterousness.

The narrator and his discourses and introductory chapters are also intended as Fielding’s way of making respectable long prose narratives so that they – his especially – can form another genre than those hitherto respected (tragedy, comedy, satire, romance): the novel. We can’t talk of everything this novel requires to understand it even in one term, much less the first day so I put off describing what passed for novels and romances from the 1st-3rd century AD to the middle 18th century for next week. Another thing this book is doing is inventing a form of novel which was taken up by other great writers of the era (mostly male, this is a very male book, a male’s book and outlook) and then transformed in the 19th century, first by Scott into historical fiction.

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Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Brian Blessed as Tom Jones and Sophia and Squire Western (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

A word about the movies: the concentration or emphasis will be on the books. For a start the films distort the books; they present a false common misunderstanding which was prevalent in the mid-20th century and has not gone from us today: that this book is a pastoral erotic romp – Tony Richardson and John Osborne’s movie. That’s certainly on the surface of the book. Or that it upholds common normative values – the BBC movie which comes closer in attempting to bring out the moral devastation now and again, a real rape. Lots of people want their books to validate their worlds and movies which are popular do this. This one does not.

When I think of some 21st century version of the large world it presents I think of the insanity of the way highways are nowadays configured – after all a lot of this book occurs on the road – two lanes for E-Z passes, two for those who won’t pay ahead and don’t want to pay to exit, when if you are going to divide up to make inequality visual you should have 6 lanes for “everyone else.” The result is a hideous traffic jam for one side of the highway and cars speeding through the other. Why does no one protest? There are surveillance cameras everywhere so if you don’t have an E-Z pass you had better not get on E-Z pass lanes. You don’t want to go before a judge and complain. As in Fielding’s book the characters we see justify what is happening and take petty advantages where they can: the dream here is a small percentage of the take.

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Hogarth’s depiction of a “laughing audience” in the 18th century theater

The 18th century reader knew this was a book which presented amorality as central to life, that whatever the narrator may profess it’s deeply secular (sex in it is far more often like Sade than National Lampoon). I didn’t want to ignore them as that’s to be an ostrich and I’m nowadays a person who writes on and studies film adaptations. If you are having trouble reading the book, they can function like an explication.

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The house at East Stour in Dorsetshire where Fielding grew up

So for the second half of this blog-lecture I’ll present something of Fielding’s life as it relates to Tom Jones. This is mostly taken from Thomas’s and Paulson’s biographies.

A simple pair of metaphors: a book may be regarded as a lamp and a mirror. As a lamp, it is filled with the spirit of the author, his or her feelings, thoughts, memories, imagination as filtered through a genre’s conventions. As a mirror, it cannot but reflect the realities of its era, the issues, laws, customs, mores, furniture, technology, economics, politics of its age and place. This book is a product of southwest England where Fielding was born and spent formative years, and of 18th century London and its environs. Fielding never was a soldier; he lived at the University of Leiden (17828-29), near death (he died at age 47) he traveled to Portugal thinking the climate would be easier on him in his wretchedly sick state, warmer anyway. Maybe he did want to escape at last, he’s buried there.

Fielding was the first child and son of Sarah Gouge, a woman who in position if not great wealth (still part of the 1% of the era) is very like Sophia Western: the daughter of a squire, Sir Henry Gould and Lady Sarah. He was a justice of the peace and magistrate as were at some point many of these landowners in counties. Fielding may not have had Sharpham Park (near Glastonbury), the Gould seat in mind. It’s more likely to have been Ralph Allen’s house near Bath, Prior Park which you can now visit as a tourist, but it was certainly an Allworthy type mansion. Sarah had one brother, David Gouge who inherited the house and rents and legacy of money.

At age 24 she married an army officer, Edmund Fielding, in 1706, they said afterward against their wishes. Within a year Henry was born and back living with her parents. Edmund was a spendthrift, gamester, duellist, and libertine but a man of position and rank: he was related to Fieldings who claimed descent from the house of Hapsburg, and certainly a William Fielding was Earl of Denbigh in 1620, with a son who was an ambassador; there were canons, an Archdeacon and a royal Chaplain to Wm and Mary in the family. So there was this prestigious but distant heritage.

If Edmund imagined he’d get money with Sarah, he didn’t. Sir Henry had made a will which left considerable money to his daughter, £3000 but held in trust by her brother, and tied up in leases so that Edmund Fielding should not get his hands on any of it. Edmund Fielding’s first years of manhood were spent as a fighting soldier, in France, Holland (Liege), on the continent, rewarded for being courageous (£30), proud of his time in Marlborough’s armies. While there were a couple of later periods where he fought again (as late as 1740), basically he spent decades on half-pay. He died trying to escape debtors’ prison, within the jurisdiction of Fleet Prison, leaving considerable debts and assets of £5.

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Woodspring Priory, Somerset (built before the Reformation in honor of St Thomas of Canterbury)

Henry was not a foundling, but he was not an heir and much of his life was spent working for enough money to live in genteel style, with periods of poverty – not like that of say a Black George, more like a character out of Thackeray. Glastonbury in Somerset is a place associated with Arthurian myths, celtic mythology which was known at the time; people believed in ghosts. A remote country place which Fielding knew very well – it’s what Tom travels through in the first part of his walk (in effect), Monmouth had landed not far from there, in Devonshire, a rebellion which ended in savage reprisals at assizes. James II on the throne at the time was Catholic, so in Fielding’s background is a world of understandable anti-Catholicism. When he was three and his mother pregnant for a fourth time, the father-in-law purchased East Stour, a large stone farmhouse in Dorset, with several hundred areas, brew and malt house, coach, and tenants – providing income. Think of this place as Thomas Hardy country. One of his known sisters, Sarah, later a novelist, was born in 1710. Henry grows up there for another 10 years while his father sinks into debt in London; his mother died in 1718. A year later Edmund married a Roman Catholic widow, Anne Rapha, and brings her to East Stour.

And around that time enrolls Henry at Eton. He was early on recognized as gifted, already studying Latin and Greek at a school in Taunton; much later at Exeter College, Oxford. A brother Edmund preferred dogs, guns, hunting. There was a harsh tutor (beat the boy) named John Oliver whom Parson Trulliber is said to be modeled on – from Joseph Andrews. Meanwhile at East Stour stories of the stepmother’s treatment of her husband’s children by his first wife suggest intense conflict too. Henry saw the idle lives of these military officers up-close; one of Henry’s plays has as subplot how a man cannot get a promotion because he will not allow his wife to go to bed with someone who could advance him. There are stories of swindlers of these officers, of Edmund Fielding’s life in London, of how he went to court: fraud and violence abounded.

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Thomas Rowlandson, The Hazard Room

In 1721 the grandmother initiates litigation in the court of chancery to gain control of her grandchildren and their legacy she said her son-in-law was dissipating away. There’s a story of Edmund sending a servant to wrest Henry back from his grandmother and the two barricading themselves in and Henry shouting, but he was also close to his father in his middle or young teen years. For example between 1724 when Henry left Eton for good and 1728 Henry shuttled between London and a house in Upton Grey rented for him by his father; his father had a way of suddenly going up in the world (1727 Edmund promoted to Brigadier general and he gives his son a small allowance). Henry himself resorts to violence to get his way. He was ambivalent about his father, and he really loved the grandmother: when she died in 1733 Fielding the grandson paid to have her body moved to East Stour and buried next to his mother.

One last story of these early years: he fell in love with an heiress, Sarah Andrew, around 1725, said to be attractive but the money mattered too; the match was forbidden: her guardian and brothers did not want Fielding He was assaulted by hired ‘bruisers.” He couldn’t get to her, tried to abduct her, but was thwarted. A repeating theme in his writing is the coerced marriage, and its results.

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Frontage of the Little Theater in Haymarket, where Fielding had his greatest triumphs

Fielding as a man of the theater (cont’d in comments).

Fielding’s reading and other works before Tom Jones, more briefly his life up to and beyond the writing of Tom Jones: hack writer, journalist, barrister, magistrate (cont’d in comments)

Ellen

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Beaumarchais (Will Liverman) and Marie Antoinette (Melinda Whittington) to the right and Susannah and Figaro (Morgan Pearse, Sarah Larsen) to the left

Dear Friends and readers,

I feel I should report here on the recent production of the second operatic adaptation of the third of Beaumarchais’s famous Figaro trilogy, La Mere Coupable, has been adapted twice. The first by Darius Milhaud, an apparently reasonably faithful production is very briefly described on Wikipedia. The second commissioned by the Metropolitan opera, music by John Corigliano and libretto by William M. Hoffman, first played using the full text in 1991 at the Met in New York City. It has since been much reduced in size, scope, number of player-actors needed and was performed this summer at Wolf Trap as the second of two linked operas (see At Wolf Trap: The Marriage of Figaro.

I regret to have to say from the evidence of this production, the opera is in fact embarrassingly poor; the best one can say of it is perhaps it’s meant as a sort of vulgar post-modern parody of opera. The value of reporting this truth will be in suggesting that someone should return to the first adaptation or produce a seriously work of operatic music and story. The Washington Post review admits (sort of) it’s pretty bad, spoken of what is so desirable to do (but not done), but I suggest Izzy’s concise review is accurate. As she says, she majored in music (and her masters thesis was on the 18th century baroque composer, Handel), so she was eager to see what the department chair suggested was interesting, and then was disappointed.

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From the current Wolf Trap production — a typical messy moment

It is true that musically the best moments were those where the composers self-consciously imitated beautiful music from The Marriage of Figaro (in the same place — so the Countess and Susanna have a beautiful duet at the opening of the second of two acts). For me, though, what made the experience tedious was not so much that the new opera is unfaithful to the original text (turning its story into background material) nor even its reversal of the original politics (I thought to myself how Burke would have loved with worship of “Antonia”), but the pastiche quality of it. It was a self-conscious sequel, where we were asked sometimes to put some emotional investment in what we were seeing, which felt impossible because of the jarring awkward sudden relapses into jocular modern English. I was also astonished to see the kind of orientalism Said described brought right back in some central scenes said to occur in Turkey. You could argue well, they mean to burlesque these stereotypes; no they didn’t. The “mash-up” Enchanted Island the Met did some years ago worked, was splendid, with rousing and beautiful music, playful. This descended into vulgar leering.

That Izzy and my reaction was common was made obvious by the tepid applause. In most productions nowadays audiences feel it incumbent upon them to stand to applause, so that not standing becomes unusual — a decided sign of a lack of enthusiasm. That’s what happened here. And consider the title: what a missed opportunity.

Ellen

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