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Archive for the ‘theater’ Category


Natasha McElhone and Jodhi May as Mary and Anne Boleyn (2003, BBC The Other Boleyn Girl, written and directed by Philippa Lowrthorpe)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just been watching the powerful 2003 BBC film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, written & directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, with (most notably or memorably) Jodhi May as Anne Boleyn, Steven Mackintosh as George Boleyn, Natasha McElthone as Mary Boleyn and Philip Glenister as William Stafford. This is part of the term’s work I’m doing with a class in order to delve with them Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as a A Fresh Angle on the Tudor Matter. Anne Boleyn is presented far more sympathetically in this movie than in Philippa Gregory’s book; we are allowed to understand how Anne came to be so ambitious, angry, rigidly vindictive, envious — if indeed she was all or any of these things: we must remember this is the same woman who worked with Thomas Cranmer and her brother to spread an evangelical Catholicism among many people. The one non-fictional historical text to do real justice to Anne Boleyn is still The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives.

Anne Boleyn gets such a hostile interpretation so often, that I can’t resist putting onto this blog a proposal (which has been rejected) I wrote for a panel on feminist approaches to the work of Henry and/or Sarah Fielding, for the upcoming ASECS conference in Denver, Colorado. One third of it was to have been on Anne Boleyn as a figure in mythic, literary, film, feminist, and anti-feminist writing.

Anne Boleyn, Jenny Jones, and Lady Townley: the woman’s point of view in Henry Fielding

I propose to give a paper discussing Anne Boleyn’s self-explanatory soliloquy at the close of A Journey from this World to the Next, Jenny Jones’s altruistic and self-destructive constancy to Mrs Bridget Allworthy across Tom Jones, and in the twelfth book of said novel, the character of Lady Townley in Cibber and Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Husband as she fits into a skein of allusion about male and class violence and marital sexual infidelity in Punch & Judy and the Biblical story of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:30-40). I will argue that the Boleyn soliloquy is probably by Henry Fielding and fits into Fielding’s thinking about women’s sexuality, and other female characters’ soliloquies in his texts; that Jenny’s adherence to a shared set of promises parallels the self-enabling and survival behavior of other women, which is seen as necessary and admirable in a commercial world where they have little legal power. I will explicate the incident in Tom Jones where Cibber and Vanbrugh’s play replaces the folk puppet-show to argue that these passages have been entirely misunderstood because the way they are discussed omits all the immediate (what’s happening in the novel) and allusive contexts from the theater and this Iphigenia story. I will include a brief background from Fielding’s experience and work outside art. I will be using the work of critics such as Earla A Willeputte, Laura Rosenthal, Robert Hume, Jill Campbell, and Lance Bertelsen. I taught Tom Jones to two groups of retired adults in a semi-college in the last couple of years and will bring in their intelligent responses to a reading of this complicated book in the 21st century. My goal is to suggest that Fielding dramatizes out of concern for them and a larger possibly more ethically behaved society the raw deal inflicted on women by law, indifference to a woman’s perspective, and custom.

These are the three areas I was going to show Fielding’s brand of feminism through. They are merely sketched here; I was going to do much more research for each:

In the case of Fielding’s Anne Boleyn, she speaks at length to justify her entry into peaceful oblivion or Elysium this fiction, to the judge Minos, who stands guard over the gate. She explains how she came to withhold sex from Henry VIII for so long, then as his wife treat him shrewishly and domineeringly, and finally (only perhaps) betray him with other males at court. She never loved him. It was a relationship coerced by her family. Fielding believed woman will willingly have sex with men when they care deeply for a man as a center to build a new family around (such a woman might not demand marriage first), but they won’t or are very reluctant to have sex when they do not love the man who wants or has married them. Who then did Anne Boleyn love? Henry Percy. They were betrothed, their love consummated directly after the wedding was over, and then they were dragged apart by Wolsey’s disapproval (he wanted to use Anne another way), and forced to deny what had happened. Fielding gives Anne a long poignant soliliquy. It echoes the opening section of Amelia by Miss Matthews. There is no reason to believe this is by Sarah Fielding; she has not the psychological acumen nor would have made this type of male-oriented love.

The happy out come of Fielding’s novel, Tom Jones, is the result of Jenny Jones having kept a promise, a pact she signed to with Miss Bridget Allworthy who had a love affair with a young clergyman, Will Summers, who dies before they can marry. The outcome of the book depended on these two women’s promise and contract whereby Jenney offered to present herself as having become pregnant outside marriage to enable Bridget Allworthy to keep her illegitimate baby under her blind and rigid brother’s nose. Mr Allworthy continually scolds lower class people (Partridge) and women for having sex outside marriage: he predicts dire things; he says it dehumanizes them, they become animals. In fact in the novel, only through having sex secretly or for money can most of the women survive. Tom is suddenly lifted up from being a victim of capital punishment or transportation to the liberty of a gentleman because (it is discovered when such a legitimate heir-type is needed) because he is found on the spot to be a bastard nephew of Mr Allworthy.


Joyce Redman as Mrs Jenny Jones Walters (1966 UK United Artists, Tom Jones, directed by Tony Richardson, written by John Osborne)

Fielding’s Tom Jones plays a part in my third example of Fielding’s empathy with women. I separate it out as it is a bit more complicated even in a sketchy outline.

At first we assume we (and our favorite friends) are going to watch on the street or in a countess’s public rooms in her house, a puppet show of Punch and Judy (Book 12, Chapter 5). A puppeteer at said inn after Upton refuses to use his puppets to put on a Punch and Judy show because it is “idle trumpery” and “low.” Instead he has his puppets perform a “fine and serious Part of The Provok’d Husband.” Much of Book 11 is taken up by Mrs Fitzpatrick’s story of how her husband married her for money, took her to Ireland, had a mistress, abused her; she is likened to a “trembling hare” fleeing him and his servants. 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 (Book 11, Ch 12, p 320).

Vanbrugh and Colley Cibber’s The Provok’d Husband is a play which runs on lines similar to Fielding’s own The Modern Husband and is a companion piece to Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Wife and one of Cibber’s plays about the same brutal male character called The Careless Husband. Repeatedly we find ourselves concerned over a couple who treat one another as commodities; they live in an adulterous world and to find any status, compete with one another over everything, including adultery. There’s a scene between Lord and Lady Townley where she says he is so abusive she will leave him and he replies, leave this house madam, and you’ll never come in again and I will give you no money whatsoever. She is subject to him. At its close there is a moving dialogue between husband and wife where she reasons with him – oh she’s had a lover but so has he had a mistress: “what indiscretions have I committed that are not daily practiced by hundred other women of quality” (II: 675).

No critic I’ve read mentions the Punch & Judy is misogynistic farce — and clearly the play substituted stands up for women’s rights (however ironically). Right afterward the scene we hear the landlady’s maid defend herself from being beaten by her mistress on the grounds that her betters are not better than she; “what was the fine Lady in the puppet-show just now? I suppose she did not lie all night out from her husband for nothing” (p 563). As the characters talk, the landlady remembers when good scripture stories were made from the Bible (as opposed to either Punch and Judy or The Provok’d Husband), and she refers to Jepththah’s rash vow? (p 564). Jephthah vowed to sacrifice his daughter on return from battle if God would only give him a win (it’s an Iphigenia story, note p 946). Before he sacrificed her she sat around bewailing her virginity. The idea is she wouldn’t have minded had she had sex, married, had a husband.

Partridge is one of the few companions on this road to prefer the play to the farce. Partridge told the cruel story of the London hanging judge, is himself an abused husband. Once they get off the road, we find ourselves in the story of Lady Bellaston, a female libertine who hires males for sex, but is herself deeply unwilling to marry for then she will be subject to a master. The chapter ends with the gypsy incident (where a husband uses his wife to decoy a gull) and Jones going off to mouth his muff — which stands in for Sophia’s vagina. There is a curious wild hilarity behind this final moment, something I’ll call uncanny. I was going to show Fielding is our puppeteer showing us how women get a raw deal from men, and is not as indifferent to violence or delighted with violence as is sometimes supposed.


Mrs Francis Abington as Miss Prue in Congreve’s Love for Love; she played Lady Townly in Vanbrugh and Cibber’s Provok’d Husband

As I said, my proposal was rejected, which I heartily regret because beyond my initial focus on Anne Boleyn, the first and last third parts of my argument are original, go against the grain of consensus about Henry Fielding, and it would have been fun to discuss the frank disillusioned drama of the 18th century stage.

Another though was accepted, on topics I’ve often written about here: historical fiction and Winston Graham’s Poldark novels. This time I will talk about the art of blending fact and fiction:

The Poldark Novels: a quietly passionate blend of precise accuracy with imaginative romancing

While since the 1970s, Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark novels set in Cornwall in the later 18th century have been written about by literary and film scholars as well as historians because of the commercial success of two different series of film adaptations (1974-1978; 2015-2019), very little has been written about these novels as historical fictions in their own right. They emerge from a larger oeuvre of altogether nearly 50 volumes. Most of the non-Poldark books would be categorized variously as contemporary suspense, thriller, mystery or spy novels, with one winning the coveted Golden Dagger award, and others either filmed in the 1950s, ‘60s and 1970s (e.g, The Walking Stick, MGM, 1971), or the subject of academic style essays. One, Marnie (1961) became the source material for a famous Hitchcock movie, a respected play by the Irish writer Sean O’Connor, and in the past year or so an opera by Nico Muhly, which premiered at the London Colosseum (English National Opera production) and is at the present time being staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Some are also set in Cornwall and have been the subject of essays on Cornish literature. But a number are also set in other historical periods (early modern and late 19th century Cornwall, Victorian Manchester) and Graham published a non-fiction history of the Spanish Armadas in Cornwall. His historical fiction is usually identified as verisimilar romance, and he has been given respect for the precision of his archival research and his historical and geographical knowledge (especially of Cornwall).

It is not well-known that Graham in a couple of key passages on his fiction wrote a strong defense of historical fiction and all its different kinds of characters as rooted in the creative imagination, life story, and particular personality (taken as a whole) of the individual writer. He also maintained that the past “has no existence other than that which our minds can give it” (Winston Graham, Memoirs of a Private Man, Chapter 8). I will present an examination of three of the Poldark novels, Demelza (set 1788-89, so the fall of the Bastile is woven in, written in 1946); The Angry Tide (set 1798-99, year of the Irish and counter-revolutions in France, strong repression in the UK, written 1977), and The Twisted Sword (set 1815, partly a Waterloo, written 1990), to show Graham deliberately weaving factual or documentable research with a distanced reflective representation of the era his book is written in. The result is creation of living spaces that we feel to be vitally alive and presences whose thoughts and feelings we recognize as analogous to our own. These enable Graham to represent his perception of the complicated nature of individual existences in societies inside a past that is structured by what really happened (events, speeches, mores that can be documented) and an imagined space and credible characters who reach us today.


Elinor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner as Demelza and Ross Poldark (from the first season, 2015 BBC Poldark, scripted Deborah Horsfield)

This is my third paper given at an ASECS conference.

The first was just on the books and it was EC/ASECS (“Liberty in the Poldark Novels: ‘I have the right to choose my own life!'”) and the second at a LA, ASECS, on the two TV series (“Poldark Rebooted: Forty Years On”).

I’ve been watching the fourth season of the 2015 Poldark series once again, and will be blogging about it here soon. I’ve never been to Denver, so now I’ll see a new city for me. Winston Graham and his fiction and characters no longer need vindication but I shall try to make the books more genuinely respected as well as both film adaptations (the one in the 1970s and the one playing on TV these last four years).

Ellen

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Opening scene: Henry-Mirabell (Luigi Sottile) and Charles-Witwoud (Brandon Espinoza)

A remarkable adaptation of William Congreve’s The Way of the World at the Folger. As part of the on-going women’s festival of plays in DC, Theresa Rebeck updated Congreve brilliantly and then directed it with bravura and panache. Very effective. Interesting for anyone who has read or seen Congreve’s play and equally great fun for anyone who has not. Strongly recommended

Witwoud: “Truths! ha, ha, ha. No, no, since you will have it. I mean he never speaks truth at all — that’s all. He will lie like a chambermaid, or a woman of quality’s porter. Now that is a fault. (Congreve, Act I)

Friends and readers,

Although it’s too late to get to this surprisingly apt and often funny-cruel adaptation of Congreve’s The Way of the World by the successful woman playwright, Theresa Rebeck, at the Folger (tomorrow night is the last performance), I write to say hurry out to see it if is is revived anywhere near where you live. You need never have read or seen Congreve’s The Way of the World, so thorough going and consistent is the adaptation, though if you have, the parallels and comparisons reinforce the bitter things that happen and are said in Rebeck’s play. They also show the timelessness of Congreve’s types and situations which seems so easily retrofitted in 2018. The lavish costumes (over-the-top priced shoes, handbags and accessories) reflect actual realities in shopping today. Rebeck’s wit is penetrating as her doubles for Congreve’s players enact the aimless luxurious self-centered lives of the 1% to be experienced in the Hamptons on Long Island.

Three out of four reviews give it high marks

for fitting into other smash hits she’s engineered and written

Nelsson Presley: “What’s a hard-nosed Hollywood survivor like “NYPD Blue” and “Smash” writer Theresa Rebeck doing inside the cool, Shakespeare-ghosted marble of the Folger Theatre?

Letting blue language fly in her update of the Restoration comedy “The Way of the World,” for one thing. William Congreve’s takedown of money-grubbing nuptials is being updated to the Hamptons in a voice that sounds like pure Rebeck: energetic, contemporary, funny and brutally honest about gender and leverage.

for screwball cynical farce:

Jayne Blanchard: “The characters in The Way of the World are pros at sniping and subterfuge and show us peons how snark can be done with style … In other words, it’s a bitch to be rich.

No one feels that more acutely than Mae (Eliza Huberth, grounded and gleaming with goodness), an American heiress who wears her $600 million fortune like a giant price tag on her head. Well-meaning and altruistic, Mae feels—and rightly so, the way she is treated by family and friends—that no one really sees her, only a bunch of dollar signs and zeros.

and a paradoxical feminism, appropriate for this play, part of a festival of women’s plays going on in DC:

Caroline Jones: “As the male characters trip over themselves in search of sex and money, the women reveal that they, in fact, hold the power in most situations. It’s an appropriate theme for the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, which celebrates the work of tenacious female playwrights from around the world … Thematically, it’s clear that Rebeck wants her adaptation to focus on the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. That idea comes through, but what makes the play fascinating is the relationships between the characters and the ways they abuse the people they love. Their desires, both long-term and temporary, are wrapped up in other individuals, something you don’t typically see in a comedy that includes regular uproarious laughter.”


Rene-Lady Wishfort (Kristin Neilsen) and her super-rich niece Mae-Millamant (Eliza Huberth)

What I enjoyed most was the superb comic-acting, which in a couple of cases is suggestive enough to make one feel sorry for the character. The brilliant timing, wild-letting go, and seeming unself-conscious self-expose of Kristin Nielsen as the lascivious aunt who is grieving for her loss of beauty and lonely is the power-house at the center. Truly funny soliloquies by Ashley Austin Morris, the desperately over-worked, rich-people worshipping and thieving waitress who is snubbed and taken advantage of, sometimes in a very ugly ruthless way — Mirabell is turned into an utter stud: Henry fucks every woman in the play and one of the men threatens to take her to the police unless she uses her Foible-like talent for manipulation to help him corner Mae-Millamant.


Henry oddly venomous as after fucking Ashley Martin Morris as the waitress-Foible

The critics above all write of Mae as effective, but I thought the part made her silly: she wants to give all her money to Haiti but seems to have no idea how to go about handling or keeping her money herself, much less disbursing it to anyone. After the terrific anger she displays at Henry, and she utters the most lines taken straight from Congreve that I recognized and some of the best in Rebeck’s play, she becomes blandness itself, almost a silent woman, saved for comic effect by her tasteless golden-hard wedding gown, which she keeps complaining is “too tight.”

For witty lines Rebeck did much better with the modernized Mrs Marwood, Erica Dorfler as Katrina, the ex-mistress (old-fashioned word but “previous love” doesn’t seem right either) of Henry, one of a trio there to needle the other characters. She gets some hard lines.


Erica Dorfler as Katrina-Marwood, Daniel Morgan Shelley as Lyle (a fop?) and Charles

I found myself remembering that in Congreve’s play Mrs Marwood was the bitterest and the most hurt of the characters: she has carried on adultery with male named Fainall, who has used, abused, and reproached her for betraying her friend, his wife; he hates being married, but she cannot bear that she has been “vicious” on his behalf and only gotten punishment for it (Congreve, Act II, lines 145-220).

Both Charles and Lyle are given wry lines reflecting on our world today: both are gay and would much prefer to go to bed with Henry, but that he prefers women. Not all of Congreve’s characters are transposed. The Fainalls (Mr and Mrs) are missing, and there is no fop (unless Lyle is meant to be), but there is a clown-fool: Elan Zafir as Reg, the bumpkin from the country is a Trump male type, crude and concerned to protect his manliness. When he goes to bed with Rene, he manifests intense distress lest she tell anyone.


Reg-Witwood is the one with the crass jacket and beer in his hand

All four didn’t have enough to do with the story of Henry’s quest for Mae and her money — unless that was the point. Much of the skilfull manipulation is done by Henry in a final battle with Rene over who knows more than whom and can therefore cheat and exert power over the other. As in Congreve’s play this one ends with a final duel of words and threats and compromises between Henry and Rene (Mirabell and Lady Wishfort). Some of the themes were startlingly apt for the year 2017: everyone lies and it’s asserted repeatedly there is no such thing as a truth that counts if you can shove it out of sight and delude others. Money conquers all.

Congreve it’s not. Nowhere as deep or thorough, or angry or pessimistic or deeply felt — or witty. But I hope it doesn’t disappear because it is more than a flippant rancid-stew. There is feeling now and again. Katrina or Mrs Marwood is really hurt when Henry escapes quickly after their night together and never phones. She is told by Charles (Witwoud) that men do not feel about phones the way women do. Other characters want someone to phone them back — this is not a group into texting though they walk around with cell-phones.

Most of the emotion is felt by snubbed waitress and the ridiculed Rene, who gives a final speech which would seem to contradict the whole play: Rene asserts what makes life worth while is devotion, relationships, loyalty, even love. This is not let to stand for too long, but it is part of the plot-design that what the heroine, Mae, wants is for the hero-stud, to be concerned for her feelings, truly in love with her, not to lie, and to be sexually faithful.

Ellen

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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.

charm
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).

the-sense-of-sight-philippe-mercier
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.

portrait_frances

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

burneyhatted

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

fannyburneyjohnbogle
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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austenisobelbishop1902to88
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.

dora-carrington-woodcut-for-bookplatecat
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.

tinselonglass
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.

manydown

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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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Noyes

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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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. I went over Dickie’s essay in the previous blog on Tom Jones (on feminism, commerce and contracts).

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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)

Here I will cover 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 now briefly  restated 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 libertinism is defined as illicit transgressive sexuality which defies orthodox religion and morality – loosens family bonds, and 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 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 in the inset history of Mrs Miller we get another story of money, gender, power from a helpless woman’s point of view. 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 –  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.  Brutal, promiscuous, raped women, insouciant, proud of his conquests as conquests; 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. Over the course of the century (as in our own era) the type changed as times changed. The growth in secularism strong and a rise in sentimentalism corresponds to repression of some of more frank crude ideas. 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 theater: 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. Again I’ve gone over this in a previous blog (on superstition in the era).

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

The class members inclined 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.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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