Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘women’s art’ Category


Photo of Virginia Woolf by Barbara Strachey (1938)

A Syllabus

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Eight Mondays, 1:45 to 3:15 pm,
March 5 to May 9
4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW. Washington DC

Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

We will read and discuss four of Woolf’s later books: two playful satires, Flush: A Biography [of a Dog], owned (so she thought) by the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Orlando, a biography cum novel, which is also a time-traveling tale through literature and culture and gender changes from the Renaissance to our own times; two books written during the crisis time just before and as World War Two began: Three Guineas, an essay analyzing the origins of war and suggesting how we may prevent future wars; and Between the Acts, a novella in which a group of characters put on a historical pageant. The contexts will be literary (about biography, fantasy, historical novels), political, and biographical. We will see clips of the film adaptation, Orlando, in class. Our aim is to understand and enjoy these original, delightful and serious books.


Virgina, Leonard and Pinka Woolf

Required Books & an essay (in the order we’ll read them):

Woolf, Virginia. Flush: A Biography, ed. introd Trekkie Ritchie. Harcourt, 1983. ISBN 0156319527
Woolf, Virginia. “The Art of Biography:” online https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91d/chapter23.html
Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography, ed. introd Maria di Battista. Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 9780156031516
Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas, ed. introd Jane Marcus. 2006. ISBN 9780156031639
Woolf, Virginia. Between the Acts. ed. introd Melba Cuddy-Keane. Harcourt, 2008. ISBN 978015603473

One film: Sally Potter’s 1992 Orlando, featuring Tilda Swindon, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp, Simon Russell Beale.


Tilda Swinton as Orlando as a young Renaissance man

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

March 5: 1st session: Introduction: Woolf, & the art of biography, Begin Flush

March 12: 2nd session: Flush: Non-human animal point of view; Elizabeth Barrett Browning

March 19 & 26: Class cancelled: Read essay, “The Art of Biography” on your own.

April 2: 3rd session: begin Orlando: Knole & Vita Sackville-West, as and about biography

April 9: 4th session Orlando: history, time-traveling novel, tranvestite tale;

April 16: 5th session Orlando, we’ll see & discuss clips from the movie; begin Three Guineas

April 23: 6th session Three Guineas: political context, anti-war, anti-patriarchy, anti-colonial

April 30: 7th session Between the Acts as historical pageant, as history

May 7: 8th session Between the Acts: as a novel with story & characters. Last thoughts.


Vita Sackville-West photographed to look like Orlando in 1840

Suggested supplementary reading:

Briggs, Julia. Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life. Harcourt, 2005.
Forster, Margaret. Lady’s Maid. Penguin, 1990. A novel from EBB’s maid’s point of view.
—————–. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Biography. Doubleday, 1988.
Maurois, Andre. Aspects of Biography. 1929; rpt. Ungar, 1966.
Raitt, Suzanne. Vita & Virginia: Work and Friendship of V. Sackville-West and V. Woolf. Clarendon, 1993.
Sackville-West. Knole and the Sackvilles. Drummond, 1948.


Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent (2009)

Ellen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


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

Read Full Post »


A portrait of Johnson’s biography of Richard Savage


Photo of Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry

“Could not biography produce something of the intensity of poetry, something of the excitement of drama, and yet keep also the peculiar virtue that belongs to fact — its suggestive reality, its own proper excitement ….” Woolf, “The Art of Biography”

Bayle’s Dictionary is a very useful work for those to consult who love the biographical part of literature, which is what I love most … Johnson, quoted by Boswell

Friends,

This past Thursday after reading away for weeks and weeks, I gave a working name for a paper for a volume of essays on Johnson: “Presences Among Us Imagining People: Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf’s Biographical Art.” Here is what I then came up with for tentative theses, plan or lines of argument. It’s a document to work from:

“Presences Among Us Imagining People: Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf’s Biographical Art.”

In histories, theoretical works on, and close readings of the art of biography, Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf have been credited with themselves writing, and having stirred others to write significant and transformative essays on and works of autobiographical and biographical art. The reactions of people who knew Johnson or Woolf or the circles of people in which they throve, or who read them early on, have been so strong that it has been a source of distress to scholars and fans alike that many readers’ perceptions of Johnson derive from Boswell’s Life of Johnson and not Johnson’s writing; or of Woolf from misogynist, politicized and ignorant distortions of Bloomsbury and not Woolf’s writing. As a presence among us, like many women and 19th century writers, Woolf has further suffered from the family biography and control (e..g., Quentin Bell’s biography), and films ranging from ambivalent to hostile towards a woman intellectual who killed herself (e.g., The Hours). The mission of this volume is to refute through his own writing the apparent misfit and caricatures of Johnson to post-modern, post-colonial minds.

Woolf’s biographies fall into the specifically modernist type of biography beginning most notably with Lytton Strachey’s ironic Eminent Victorians and Queen Victoria: a socio-psychoanalytic portrait written in aesthetically appropriate ethically invigorating forms true to the human experience of time. It need not follow the conventions for verisimilitude or literal documented supposed evidence, and her Flush and Orlando do not. The crucial feature of modernist biography is the recreation of convincingly particularized felt life in a documentable individual. Woolf was influenced by her father, Leslie Stephen’s interest in, writing about Johnson and the 18th century, and work as the editor and writer for the British Dictionary of National Biography. But in what Woolf writes in her life-writing and her journalism, it seems impossible to distinguish a sense of Johnson as a man apart from Boswell’s biography (especially “The Genius of Boswell,” “Saint Samuel of Fleet Street”). In his literary biographies, Johnson imagines their subjects through his encounter with his subject’s texts where time is irrelevant or timeless, while he takes what he can find out from others, from documents about their lived lives, and from specific political and cultural pressures, all to help account for the form these texts take. For Woolf also the life and personality of her subject is brought forth from their papers and environment, but she goes well beyond this consciously to take on board fictionalizing techniques and fantasy. Beyond this alignment and difference with and from Johnson, Woolf seems to have been influenced by Boswell and Johnson’s twin-tours to the Hebrides in her fiction; in To the Lighthouse Cornwall becomes the Hebrides.

Texts possibly to be discussed and examined: opening more general framing discussion from Johnson’s lives of Dryden, Pope, Milton, then for specific close reading The Life of Savage and the lesser known texts lives of Prior, Gray, and maybe Swift because there exist good modernist and portrait biographies for comparison; ending on how the lives as a whole cannot be regarded as literary history (too many important people left out), but can be seen as projecting the interconnection of politics in the era with poetry; maybe bring in fictional types in Johnson’s journalism in order to include women.

Turn to Woolf: texts possibly to be discussed and examined: opening more general framing discussion from her biography, Roger Fry, her Orlando (highly problematic as a literary life of Vita Sackville-West), then for specific close reading from Flush, her “Lives of the Obscure,” her Memoirs of Novelist (“Miss Joan Martyn,” “Mysterious Case of Miss V”). She argues fictional characters are more real and remembered more than non-fictional except in rare cases (like Boswell’s Life of Johnson) even if fiction is de-centered (Lighthouse, Jacob’s Room). We should read her fiction as autobiographical despite all the prejudice again this

[I’m not sure of the above: Maybe I’d do better in the central section just to analyze Life of Savage first and then her Roger Fry.]

Conclusion: Johnson alive, relevant to our age: his work can function as a good antidote against hagiography prevalent today despite all the supposed “interrogation:” he idolizes no one. He takes an ethical stand so often avoided in today’s academic literary study (candid talk about why this is so). Johnson keeps to strong standards of truth and is against acceptance of delusions & corruption (found in post-modern discussions of literary works, misled scholars, and fan groups). Woolf is crucial today, for she anticipates experiments in getting beyond impasses in biographical art: e.g., the aftermath life (Janet Malcolm on Sylvia Plath); the life made up of fragments; the quest biography; where the subject’s family or friends are obstacles and have held back letters. She is intensely aware how biography is a form of autobiography;he may be. Both respect serious literature of the past as a journey, an adventure, lending identity and meaning and distinguish it from trash, junk, and the mediocre.

Closure: She does seem very fond of him, and politically she is deeply of the left liberal anti-war anti-hierarchical, anti-colonial persuasion. A married lesbian. He seems to have great compassion for the marginalized, from a young boy who would have been a slave (whom he leaves his property to) and cats (much abused in the era), to at least an awareness (as a disabled person) of the place of disability in people’s lives, with affection for a number of women, e.g., Fanny Burney, Charlotte Lennox, Hill Boothby, Catherine Desmoulins (the latter two less well-known). He is fiercely anti-war (one of his Ramblers has a vulture teaching her young how to live by watching men slaughter one another), loathes debt-collectors and the unjust prison system of his age.

Why did I agree to do this? A friend asked me and for me this is not an unlikely pairing. I’ve loved both authors’ books and have been absorbed reading about them, their lives and work for many years now; like Johnson, the biographical part of literature is often what I love best.


Cover of the book I read in 2000s

First Johnson: as a graduate student I fell in love with Johnson as he presents himself in his writing. I took a course with Frank Brady (well-known scholar of Boswell, pupil of a once better-known scholar, Frederick Pottle), which turned out to be 3/4s Johnson and Boswell. My trip this past summer to the Scottish Highlands was partly prompted by reading more than 40 years ago now Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, together with its twin book, Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides. In my later 20s I used to solace myself reading to myself one a night of Johnson’s Ramblers, Idlers, Adventurers. They inspirited, strengthened, helped me to accept life because after seeing it fully, Johnson did — ironically.


Reynolds’s famous portrait of Johnson supposedly devouring a book — he seems to have become blind in one eye when a toddler

Jim liked Johnson too and when he took an undergraduate course in 18th century literature to finish his B.A. here in the states in the 1970s (in order to go to graduate school in math), he wrote a paper he called “The War of Johnson’s Ear.” He tried to demonstrate Johnson had a good ear for poetical rhythm. The professor was not impressed and gave him a B :(. Jim hadn’t like the course: he had looked forward to reading Johnson and Boswell (as I had), Burke, Paine, Reynolds, great poetry (Goldsmith but also women poets) and novels and memoirs. Maybe a couple originally in French (Voltaire). Admittedly his view of the great works were shaped by an old canon. He was appalled to be given the marginalia of Blake in Blake’s edition of Reynolds’s treatise on art. He found himself reading Eliza Fenwick whose texts Jim found beneath contempt. There was Goldsmith, Christopher Smart and early Wordsworth. Maybe Burns and Cowper. No Crabbe. And he probably let the professor know what he had felt. In the mid-1990s I taught a selection of Johnson in a Penguin book (edited by Patrick Cruttwell) for a literary survey course at George Mason university (British Literature first half): my representatives of the era were Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and this volume of Johnson. I didn’t use an anthology. I said we were reading intensively not extensively.

Then in the early 2000’s I and a friend opened a list for Eighteenth Century Worlds @Yahoo, and among the books that sustained it through the life it had, were Boswell’s Life of Johnson (there is apparently a fan group for Johnson as he appears in or with Boswell), the twin-tour books, then Johnson’s Ramblers, Idlers, Adventurers, and a single volume selection of Fanny Burney’s diary and journals (part of their circle). On my own, I turned to Hester Thrale Piozzi then, her travel book, Clifford’s biography of her, then just immersed myself in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters and poems — a member of a tangential world. I love to read and to write life-writing, letters, biographies. I would always go to the sessions on Johnson at ASECS and EC/ASECS. I’ve blogged on Johnson too.


The cover of the book I first read her in

That’s but one half of the diptych. My love for Virginia Woolf goes back to when Jim and I were first married and we used to take turns reading her letters and diaries aloud to one another in the evening (in Leeds where we didn’t even have a radio). Her Common Reader I read and remembered before that — in college. And before that for me in my later teens, The Voyage Out. He liked her too, and bought her essays and diaries — all the volumes, which I now possess in my library house. But even better or as much he read Leonard Woolf, the many volumed biography and novel — I read Glendinning’s magnificent biography on Leonard aloud to Jim on a long train trip. Teaching her brilliant anti-war, anti-patriarchal treatise, Three Guineas, in those same mid-1990s classes (the second half of British Literature where I also taught Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day) taught me so much.


Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway

It had been Woolf’s essays and life-writing that entranced me; but again in the 2000s, on another Yahoo list (Women Writers through the Ages) we had a Virginia Woolf summer and I listened to and read The Years and read her essays on early modern and 17th century people. Hooked once again. I went to Woolf sessions at all the MLAs I attended, even, with Jim by my side, a Virginia Woolf Society party — how daring of me. Since then I’ve belonged to the International Society, and get the yearly rich newsletter. For three years now I’ve been reading her on and off, begun again with on Wwtta, through Hermione Lee’s biography, posted about mostly on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two. I’d go off and read the shorter of the works she analyzed. A year and a half ago, an OLLI course at AU took me through Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, books, and wonderful films & YouTube (Eileen Atkins). I just joined a Virginia Woolf list.

I love the short and long works, and this summer listened to, skim-read Between the Acts, just now finishing the deeply life-filled Jacob’s Room. I listen as well as read, and find Wanda McCadden’s cadences (her other name, Nadia May) emphasizes the more outward or dramatic aspects of the work: she does lose its peculiar combination of poignancy and comedy. It ought to be read as often as Mrs Dalloway. Jacob is a lover of the Greek classics: they are what he escapes from the modern world to, what paradoxically help him to understand at least one skein of the complicated life all around him. The feel of the text is captured in the lines of Patricia Fargnoli in one of her poems: “Life moves on like shadows of the windblown willows/to other lives …” Jacob keeps these beloved books in his room.

Jacob’s Room begins as a widow’s story. No where is this mentioned in the literature. Mrs Betty Flanders’ husband died in an accident years ago, leaving her with three children, one so young it cannot have been that many years. But we are made to feel her husband’s death happened a long while ago to her. She is in Cornwall for the holidays and writing a Captain friend, Barfoot (he’s married so safe) in Scarborough. There is a painter about whom Woolf writes in similar ways to what she says of Lily Briscoe, color, and lonely people who don’t fit in: Mr Steele. On the beach, a little later Mrs Flanders hears the waves, the ship — her husband died of an accident at sea. We are told he left her impoverished, but Woolf’s idea of poverty is different from some of us it seems. She has a nanny, doesn’t cook her own supper, doesn’t have to work for money. But she is at a great loss with these boy children, hanging from her….

She continually moves from inward presence to inward presence and by so doing uncovers a real feeling of living life which includes sex bought from prostitutes by our hero. Many of the presences come from utterly different classes in different areas of life. We also experiencing Jacob in a large variety of social worlds and deeds. Suddenly too the narrator will go into deep dream time on the place where the narrative has settled and allude way back in time so it becomes a movement through centuries, deep history embedded in people today One aristocratic lady likes such-and-such food because her ancestors have been enjoying it since their death, this partial recreation. The novel of manners or social life is left far behind.

Jacob’s Room is as decentered as unheroic as Roger Fry as de-centered as The Waves, Between the Acts. While we can believe in Jacob, he is just a center knob in a wheel where all the spokes — all the many living presences and places come out of. I just love how he loves and thinks in terms of the Greek classics. This morning I listened to how Woolf manages to bring in tandem a sense of a desperately homeless (near) prostitute trying to get into the house where Jacob lives and other street people and the people at a party he went to — when he came home he thought how delightful to be with 10 new people (themselves beautifully captured), and we find a long reverie on the books at the British library, all by men, Jacob is spending his evening’s reading.

3/4’s through I began to worry about Jacob. I’ve read somewhere that he dies at the end — perhaps that’s why people say (carelessly) this book is about her brother. Jacob is the central node of the book, but it is in space equally about many people whom he comes across and spends time with. Especially women who are vulnerable. I am so touched with those women Jacob goes to bed with — this is indicated discreetly. They are the models paid to strip naked by his friends or at the Slade: ignorant, even dumb, without a chance in the world for respect or security or comfort. Prostitutes. His mother, the widow, whom the book opened with hardly goes any where in her life, hardly meets anyone outside her narrow class sphere and local area.

By near the end of the book Jacob has fallen in love with a married woman he meet while touring, but he has not connected deeply with anyone (not her either). He is not married. It’s hinted people think he’s homosexual and he writes to a male friend Bonamy. I can’t see any other ending but death. Probably in World War One. The book takes place just earlier. At the end of The Voyage Out Rachel dies. In the middle of To the Lighthouse Mrs Ramsay dies, and in the last third we are told of three other deaths of characters who meant something. I wonder if anyone has written about this urge to death in Woolf’s novels — probably, this one seems the saddest of all. We cherish this character as we are told his close friends do. Others say he is the best person they ever met. He never hurts anyone. He has truly intelligent (sceptical) attitudes towards politics. Acts with compassion and courtesy. The book is about life itself as a stream of feeling; she feels equally intense over say a crab or some other creature endlessly trying to say jump over something and it cannot.

I even managed The Waves (just) using a reading aloud on CDs (I couldn’t have managed without Frances Geater). This morning I began a second reading of her biography of Roger Fry, this time in the superlative edition by Diane Gillespie.


Fry’s portrait of Virginia Woolf — they were at times very close

I’ve lots of wonderful reading ahead: other “modern biographies,” more on visual art, portraiture. I use the titles Dr and Mrs for fun — that’s how he is known popularly and what she was called, how addressed in her lifetime.

So now I will listen to Boswell’s Johnson read aloud (unabridged), from Librivox, which I have put here, with a hope of reading/listening to it late at night — if the MP3 of the same work there called The life of Samuel Johnson (unabridged) read by Bernard Mayes doestn’t work well in my car.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

My soul is sick with everyday’s report of wrong and outrage with which the earth is filled — William Cowper (anticipating Alice Oswald, Simone Weil, Iris Murdoch and Anne Carson below)

Friends and readers,

This week on Janeites, the subject of Austen’s knowledge and use of the Latin and Greek classics in her novels came up. What I discovered as a result of looking at women’s translations and adaptations of the classics then and now, and what the age of sensibility and romance poets said was on the one hand, a continual turning away from the violence, a love of the Horatian ideal of retirement and friendship, and on the other how these older classics even if individuals enjoy them, love translating them, are used to separate and stigmatize women, lower class people (by excluding them) and teach forms of elitist. No fault of theirs this latter.

Diane Reynolds had bought Mary DeForest’s slender self-published kindle book, Jane Austen Closet Classicist, where (like several other writers recently) claims to uncover a secret of hidden Austen, this time finding a systematic use of stories from the classical pantheon into novels “by, for and about women.” We had been talking of intertextualities in Austen, and enthused by the idea I went to see what in the consensus handbooks/companions, Margaret Anne Doody, Alan Richardson (“Reading Practices” in Todd’s JA in Context) and Chapman had to say. Alas, they could not find any quotation from the Latin or Greek classics in any form, no sense of enjoyment in the one citation in one of her letters Jan 24, 1809) where she writes of “Homer, and Virgil, Ovid and Propria que Maribus,” thus associating the two major writers with an Eton grammar, and thereby boys’ lessons which maybe she shared in with her brothers. The one reference in her novels is indirect, the statement in Northanger Abbey where she decries the mindless and unfair praise of pseudo-scholarship and learning in snippets from much-respected non-fictional male texts on comparison to disdain for novels, especially those by and for women. The one reference to learning in the novels is the absurdity of the way the Bertrams’s girls boast of their “knowledge” to Fanny: they know “the Roman emperors as low as Severus; besides a great deal of Heathen Mythology.”

The trembling Pilot, from his Rudder torn,
Was headlong hurl’d; thrice round, the Ship was tost,
Then bulg’d at once, and in the deep was lost.
And here and there above the Waves were seen
Arms, Pictures, precious Goods, and floating Men.
The stoutest Vessel to the Storm gave way,
And suck’d through loosen’d Planks the rushing Sea.
From Dryden’s Aeneid

It so happened that at the same time I was reading in Dryden’s wonderful translations of Virgil (The Aeneid, the Georgics) and from Homer, and some of the medieval and Renaissance poets, my favorites once upon a time, The Flower and the Leaf (visionary faery poetry), Palamon and Arcite (from Chaucer). I was reading James Winn’s great biography of Dryden as part of a project where I was reading Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, comparing these to other biographies and critical studies (his life of Gray against David Cecil’s and Edmund Gosse’s, his life of Swift against Victoria Glendinning’s, his Pope against Peter Quennell’s and Maynard Macks’). It was sad or hard to think that Austen had never enjoyed Dryden’s Virgil, or Pope’s Iliad, or another of the many translations and imitations from the classics in the era, at least two by a woman, Madame Dacier’s Homer and Sapphic lyrics (Dacier read Greek). And Anne Finch did many, though from Petrarch, and French author’s translations of the Latin and Greek

Leauing my Soul, and this forsaken air
With darknesse cover’d, and with black dispair,
I by the rising streaks of Cynthia’s light,
My greifs bewail, and dread th’approaching night . . .
My soul, till morning, thus her anguish shews,
When soft Aurora cheerful light renews.
— From Finch’s translation of a Petrarch sonnet

From her Tasso:

. . . . Thyself may’st be
Transform’d into a Flame, a Stream, a Tree;
A Tear, congealed by Art, thou may’st remain,
‘Till by a burning Sigh dissolved again
(Reynolds’s edition of Finch, p 117, lines 61-54)

I was also thinking about how Johnson’s biographies of these male poets (Dryden, Pope) relate to Virginia Woolf’s, both highly innovative in their era, on the cusp of significant change, Johnson into psychological analysis, character creation through finding the life of the poet in his work, Woolf through reading biography as an imaginative subjective art, no longer a commemorative pious family product, but inextricably bound up with the historical period in which the individual lived. (Woolf too when she writes of these male classics Latin or Greek texts, like Austen, tellingly, rarely, domesticates them; there is often an old woman on the scene carrying sticks, e.g., in Orlando her book, and then Sally Potter’s movie too).

To return to biography, we can see the first two steps of this biographical history, in which Johnson and Woolf partcipate, epitomized in the biographies of Austen: first the nostalgic family exemplary impressionist type, in the memoir of his Aunt Jane by her nephew; then the Bloomsbury portrait type in the early 20th century by the gentlemanly David Cecil:


This older edition (mid-century) shows how classical forms are associated with Austen’s 18th century

The third step or phase is of art, part fiction, sticking to facts still is first seen in Elizabeth Jenkins and more recently Claire Tomalin and David Nokes. Appropriately the thrust into fictionalization Woolf suggests biography must turn to (from Nigel Nicholson, in her own “Lives of the Obscure”) is found most graphically in films, with Gwyneth Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets (2008), basing her script on Nokes’s apprehension and portrait of Austen in her letters.


Olivia Williams as Austen writing on her desk on a bench in the garden, a probably invented scene

Diane wrote she was interested in how (according to DeForest), Austen “upended the heroic, epic tradition and made love and domestic concerns central—seeing this not as a deficit but actually a positive—a subversive positive, an assertion of the equal or greater importance of the realms of relationship and domesticity. The minor poets didn’t background or submerge or subordinate war and conquest and heroism by mistake or because they were bad writers or limited, says DeForest, but because they consciously wanted to show that these ‘grand’ things were less actually important that what is usually called the ‘small stuff.'”

Mnesius rolled in sand Thrasius lost in silt
Ainios turning somersaults in a black pool
Upside down among the licking fishes
And Ophelestes his last breath silvering the surface
All that beautiful armour underwater
All those white bones sunk in mud
And instead of a burial a wagtail
Sipping the desecration unaware.
–Like Virginia Woolf and Samuel Johnson too Oswald values the obscure people shattered and thrown away meaninglessly

I thought of how later 20th century women poets rewrote the Iliad as an fierce anti-war poem, Alice Oswald’s Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad (a small hardback): it’s made of up paragraphs of all the people who died, with surrounding poignant descriptions. The original’s horrific violence is brought out. And Simone Weil’s The Iliad or The Poem of Force, which I own in French, with her commentaries on her translated verses and James P.Holoka’s English commentary and translation following hers (it’s a critical edition published by Peter Lang as a paperback).

From Weil Englished:

…violence obliterates anybody who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim. And from this springs the idea of a destiny before which executioner and victim stand equally innocent, before which conquered and conqueror are brothers in the same distress. The conquered brings misfortune to the conqueror, and vice versa.

And

…war effaces conceptions of purpose or goal, including even its own “war aims.” It effaces the very notion of war’s being brought to an end. To be outside a situation so violent as this is to find it inconceivable; to be inside it is to be unable to conceive its end. Consequently, nobody does anything to bring this end about.

There’s also a brilliant graphic novel about Iris Murdoch’s use of the classics to overturn a patriarchal order (by Brian Nicol, see Her Moral Depth). One of the changes and transformations Samuel Johnson comes up against is the older neoclassic male-centered ideals and satiric norms of poets like Pope and Prior were being replaced by a poetry of sensibility, and romance and private agons found in Collins, Byron, Cowper, with Crabbe attacking the hierarchical establishment as ferociously unjust.

Austen does give us a sense of how she felt about these classics in the fragmentary two passages I cited and described above: she looks upon the classics as school texts and men’s scholarship out of an acute awareness of her body, gender, class — as a woman stigmatized. Is this imposition on women still true. Yes. Woolf reminds us in A Room of One’s Own of a history of public schools and libraries, universities women are excluded from without special permission, men’s luxurious clubs. From the 16th through early 20th century the classics and learning Latin and Greek functioned to segregate upper class men (gentlemen) from all other men and men from women. A rare woman poet to show a sense of the culture is Mary Wortley Montagu in her satires and Horation retirement poetry.

Give me Great God (said I) a Little Farm
in Summer shady, & in Winter warm
where a cool spring gives birth to a clear brook
by Nature slideing down a mossy Rock
Not artfully in Leaden Pipes convey’d
Or greatly falling in a forc’d Cascade
Pure & unsully’d winding throu’ ye Shade.
All bounteous Heaven has added to my Praier
a softer Climate and a purer Air.

Our Frozen Isle now chilling Winter binds
Deform’d by Rains, & rough wth blasting Winds
ye wither’d Woods grown white wth hoary Frost
by driving storms their scatter’d beautys lost
The Trembling birds their leaveless coverts shun
And seek in distant Climes a warmer Sun
The Water Nymphs their silenced Urns deplore
Even Thames benumb’d a River now no more
The barren Meadows give no more delight
by Glist’ning Snows made painfull to ye Sight ..
The opening of Montagu’s Constantinople

We see in men’s novels of the 18th through 20th century they use Latin tags — a rare women to use these is Elizabeth Gaskell (she went to very good all girl dissenting academies). Nancy Mayer pointed out that at the end of the 18th century Erasmus Darwin advised women they were allowed to read the classics, and urged them to read translations. Nancy provided the list offered to women: Horace, Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, Sailust, Terence, Phaedrus, Persius, Nepos, Pliny, Juvenal, Justin, Cato, Tibullus. It omits some beautiful poetry (Propertius) and the Greek anthology (also translated very early and part of the background of 17th century lyrics by poets like Cowley and Anne Finch). Upper class or genteel women’s substitute for learning Latin or Greek was to learn French; in the later 18th through 19th century we find them learning Italian (reading Dante while stirring soup); George Eliot went further and learned German when German Bible studies came in.

Texts function in a habitus, a context. The original immediate ones matter, are felt too. Shakespeare presents a picture of himself as a boy in school learning his Latin grammar (Merry Wives of Windsor). Dryden did all his translation in the last ten years of his life to make ends meet. Once William & Mary were in, he was out as a Stuart person. No more plays to be produced for him. His pension taken. So these beautiful verses are the product of hard desperation- and an ability to escape. He was escaping to the world of The Flower and the Leaf in his Fables ancient and modern. Anthony Trollope did not go to university and created his own self-esteem in how good he had been at Latin as a boy in public schools (where he was otherwise disdained for not being able to pay his fees, having shabby clothes) and late in life turned to Horace (we see this in his Old Man In Love). Horace was also a class marker for him that meant he belonged.

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


A photo of Remedios Varo, escaped from the horrors of WW2 to Mexico (with her beloved cat)

Can we empathize with Austen’s sense of exclusion? Not quite. Looking at individual cases, we find that the spread of public schools has disseminated these texts with their wisdom, beauty, terrifyingly human stories. And yet exclusionary practices carry on, partly because the classics are seen as “not useful” and “hard.” Also they too emerge from particular and often anti-intellectual contexts in the US and social and racial conflicts.

On Janeites Catherine Schmick Janofsky who today holds an advanced degree in the classics and archaeology (they go together today) provided details of her younger years and when she taught in schools. “My junior high in Arizona, a school with maybe 200 students, offered Latin and Greek. I was in heaven. Alas, we moved home to San Diego when I was a sophomore and the school of 3000, Patrick Henry, did not. I took three years of German and continued through college. I had to wait til college at SDSU to continue. I majored in Latin. Latin, German, and Greek studied at one time makes for an interesting year. Classical archaeology at that time demanded it, two ancient, one modern. I took Spanish and Latin in grad school, in preparation for a royal dig in Belieze.” Then as a teacher in a charter and in a public school, children were taught Latin and this made them feel part of an elite. The public school children may not be able to eat (free lunches to the poor are now cut) but they could decline verbs and be part of an elite. Ironic human experience. Surely ambiguous — the child is being taught to reject its own background. So however good the texts might be in themselves, the context is teaching elitism and valuation of private schools poisons the public.

Diane Reynolds wrote that when her parents moved the family to where the children could go to a better school, she hoped for Latin but “the list of classes only meant that a class had been taught or might be taught again, not that it was currently on offer. My high school not only didn’t offer Latin, it didn’t offer German. I took French, which I had already started, and Spanish, the only other possibility. I picked up some reading German in college—two semesters worth—just enough to pass PhD language exams, which was why the course existed. And took Old English in graduate school and Hebrew in my Mdiv. (I tell my students, Jane Austen novels are not written in Old English, as they insist!) I suppose my point is to lament the general dearth of teaching foreign languages in this country. It really is a loss. I also find that taking just a few semesters of a language, at least for me, is not enough: it simply doesn’t stick without longer exposure.”


Alice Neel, a painting of Isabel Bishop (mid-20th century American artist) arriving at the studio

My story: as with Diane, in most schools I went to in NYC in the 1950s or 60s the two languages on offer were French or Spanish. Spanish was taken by the large numbers of Spanish speakers, and French lingered on as an instrument for college, and thus elite learning. Richmond Hill High School where I went was an unusual school for actually offering Latin. I heard that was dropped not long after I left — it used to have a good reputation as a public school (when humanities were valued). German classes in my experience are offered where there are German immigrants: again it’s a kind of cheat: the child is not extending his language or culture base. In Richmond Hill we did have Italian classes because there was a population of Italian people in Richmond Hill itself.

Fast forward to the 1990s in Virginia, in TC Williams High School, on offer are French, Spanish, and Latin, a lot of Latin, at least one Latin class for every hour of the day. How is this? I was one among many parents who put their kids in Latin classes in order to stream them automatically with other kids going to college. If you took Latin, you were streamed automatically into academic type classes. Who would take Latin? very few black kids (there were some), hardly any hispanic (one a class maybe). There were separate vocational streams in TC. There were also streams for AP.

How this happens? here are not that many classes for each subject. Say you are in AP English, it’s given but once a day, and so all taking that begin to have schedule which resembles others. Let’s say 50% of them take Latin — it was not as big as that. The largest number of language classes were in Spanish because of a sizable hispanic population in Alexandria. Izzy is Aspergers Syndrome (or Autistic Level 1) and I protected her from bullying, stigmatizing and cruelty (disabled children are mistreated) by putting her in Latin; she did love it from a young age: she read Edith Hamilton at 8 and had books of mythology and was keen on Latin because of her father. We what was the social result of her taking Latin. Laura, our older girl, was having bad difficulties too: as a pretty and sexy-looking girl, she was harassed (damned if you do and damned if you don’t), and she fought back by hitting someone hard with a book. She got into trouble, was shamed. Putting her into the Latin classes automatically put her in different classes from these thug boys and nasty girls. Other parents knew about this so in TC Williams at the time there was not only a Latin teacher, but two assistant teachers and Latin was taught every hour of the day; in the junior high at the time which took a population from Old Town the Junior High Latin was given four times a day.


Front Page (there is a 1966 reprint available on Amazon)

I was told most of these children did not go on for Latin in college. My two daughters did — and that is the family background. I’ll begin telling of this family background with a description of a family book owned by Jim, which I’m now told is called a “pony.” A slang name again suggests a coterie with its own inner language. It’s a fat Aeneid first published in 1882 and reprinted in the US in 1952 by the David McKay Company in New York. This one is a volume from a set of books called Classic Interlinear Translations; this one for the Aeneid (one volume of The Works of P. Virgilius Maro.” It’s described as a “interlinear translation, as nearly literal as the idiomatic difference of the Latin and English languages will allow, adapted to the system of classical instruction. Combining the methods of Ascham, Milton, and Locke by Levi Hart and V. R. Osborn. For each line of the Aeneid as Virgil wrote it, there is one beneath where the Latin is rearranged as an English sentence. And beneath that an English translation. This was Jim’s book in England (so it traveled across the pond) in the later 1950s, which he used in a local public (=private) school. Laura has said since Dad’s book made her very popular in college. She never let it out of her sight; when others used it they had to sit next to her. Izzy took it to Sweet Briar.

James Edward Austen-Leigh and Austen’s brothers were part of the male culture that read Latin — it made them superior to lower class men too, they were gentleman. My husband had many years of Latin in a public school as a day boy (wearing a different colored shirt so as to stigmatize him). Yet as an man he was fascinated by the history of the period as many of those who have such backgrounds. He had been taught manners and how to negotiate with middle class people in conferences. But his original context was the canning, caned when he didn’t do it right, buggery, suffering (the boys had had to stand in the pouring rain one day ruining their clothes as limousines ferrying MPs slid by). He still had the left over signs of welts in his palms from when he was struck with a hard stick in the hand hard. He was supposedly being lifted into another class by this training. Right. Still He could be amused by Winnie-the-Pooh in Latin – I still have that his copy of that book.

Years later when Izzy returned from Graduate school with her MLIS and was having brutal time getting a job, and becoming utterly isolated, she started at George Mason at night taking senior level BA courses and graduate for no credit or just a pass, so she would be people. And for the first 5 terms she took Roman history and yet more Latin classes. Alas, the 11 people she me and were with her for all that time lost out at the 6th term. Mason abolished the Latin and Greek or classical department because they said there were not enough students. They pretended not to and said they were merging just Latin with the Italian department because the Italian teacher (just one – -see the state of foreign language learning) could also teach latin. Izzy went on for 2 more terms at night and there was not one class offered. All 11 people who had been known to one another, sort friends, broke up. One of small tragedies of budget cutting. We have just seen a repeat of this in Fairfax county in disabled services where the people are deeply in need of the social environment and contact and pleasure.


My other Aeneid

As to myself I took 2 and 1/2 years of Latin in college (Queens, CUNY, I got there by two buses and livd in a rent control apartment in Kew Gardens) and got to the point where I could read simplified Latin texts. I used this groundwork later in life to pass an exam in medieval Latin for my Ph.D. (we had to pass two tests for an advanced level of language or 3 for a beginner or reader’s level). So I passed a beginner in Latin, French and Italian. Many years after this while translating Vittoria Colonna’s poems, I tried to read Renaissance Latin by one of Vittoria Colonna’s cousin, a treatise in which he was supposedly commending women and her as the great example of virtue. It dripped with condescension, and that it was in Latin made it unavailable for women to read. It’s claimed she read Latin but I’m no sure. I’m skeptical of all claims of women reading Latin in the Renaissance unless we have some proof. She wrote an Italian mixed with Spanish and never refers to a Latin text she read. Veronica Gambara by comparison translated a Latin poem and wrote a poem herself in Latin. But my real knowledge such as it is comes from translations and I enjoy translations and translating as such and enjoyed the different ones as a result of the translator. I knew Allen Mandelbaum who was a teacher in my graduate school and took and read his translation of Dante (as well as The Aeneid) and I have some good memories of this time – mixed as everything is too — each has its context and history.


Still l’ecriture-femme: women interested in home, domestic setting, a travel book in time

Izzy today enjoys reading Mary Beard, her Christmas present last year was Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, this year Pompeii: The life of a Roman Town. She doesn’t like the Aeneid herself, much prefers Horace to other Latin texts. She remembers Pliny the Younger whose letters seem to have charmed her. For me Confronting the Classics is a favorite book, in which I’ve stuffed paper essays by Beard from the TLS. I do not ignore Beard’s upper class antecedents and her present prestigious position at Oxford. That’s why she has her “A Don’s Blog on the TLS website. I own Anne Carson’s strange book of grief over her brother’s death, Nox, through a translation of Catullus’s poem on his brother’s death with many pages from other books (meaningful to her and him) and papers cut out and pasted into a series of accordion like pages. My favorite classics are the translated texts I’ve mentioned

I seem to have traveled a long way from Jane Austen and the classics. I’ve been exploring how the classics function in two friends’ lives and lives I know best today, how class, gender, monetary circumstances, local culture and our individual natures shaped how we understand and remember what we read and how these texts function for us. All this connects back to Austen — if only to say how long this stigmatizing of women and lower class people has been going on. And along the way I’ve shown how men and women have translated and responded to this poetry, these stories. I end on the poet thought the greatest of Austen’s period, Pope, his original Epilogue to his two last Horatian-Juvenilian satires: peculiarly apt for today’s times once again.

Vice now in charge.

In golden chains the willing World she draws,
And hers the gospel is, and hers the laws:
Mounts the tribunal, lifts her scarlet head,
And sees pale Virtue carted in her stead!
Lo! at the Wheels of her Triumphal Car,
Old _England’s_ genius, rough with many a scar,
Dragg’d in the dust. his arms hang idly round,
His Flag inveted trails along the ground.
Our youth, all liv’ry’d o’er with foreign gold,
Before her dance; behind her crawl the old.
See thronging millions to the Pagod run,
And offer country, parent, wife, or son.
Hear her black Trumpet thro’ the land proclaim,
That ‘Not to be corrupted is the Shame.’
In soldier, churchman, patriot, man in pow’r,
‘Tis Av’rice all, Ambition is no more!
See, all our nobles begging to be slaves.
See, all our fools aspiring to be knaves.
The wit of cheats, the courage of a whore,
Are what ten thousand envy and adore.
All, all look up, with reverential awe,
On crimes that scape, or triumph o’er the law;
While Truth, Worth, Wisdom, daily they decry —
‘Nothing is sacred now but villany.

Yet may this Verse (if such a verse remain)
Show there was one who held it in disdain.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Ciarhan Hinds as Wentworth lifting Amanda Root as Anne Elliot into the carriage with the Crofts (1995 BBC Persuasion)

Henry: ‘Condemn’d in lonely Woods a banish’d Man to rove’
Emma: ‘That I, of all Mankind, will love but Thee alone’– Prior, Henry and Emma

Friends and readers,

Still on this question of how intertextuality’s layers deepen the meaning of a text (or film).

Last time I wrote of Persuasion, I traced the threads Austen wove therein from Charlotte Smith’s elegiac poems and Austen’s knowledge of Smith’s difficult life (betrayed by a husband, impoverished, crippled) in the context of other intensely romantic poets and texts (Byron, Shelley, Edmund Spenser): the characters from this angle in the novel present themselves as melancholy, plangent, drenched in irretrievable loss, with anecdotal counterparts presenting a prosaic buoyant hope in renewal.


Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot cracking under the strain of remembering what was (2007 ITV Persuasion)


Helen Schlesinger as the cheerful disabled Mrs Smith (1995 Persuasion)

Tonight I want to write of another briefer skein of allusion in Persuasion, which if examined turns out to reach across the novel, and offer readings about loyalty, male obduracy and suspicion of women, female abjection, constancy in love, sex, men and women’s natures and circumstances from Pride and Prejudice through to this last sixth full novel. This time it is a case of a text redolent with a cynical realistic disillusioned wit, which connects to the most plangent poignant moments of Persuasion and its comic-ironic, and burlesque elements too.


Dancing at Uppercross (1995 Persuasion) — one of the lighter moments in the film

I move to the first half of the 18th century, to Matthew Prior whose forte in lighter verse, tales and narratives, and lyrics was ironical sentiment. Once very well-known, to 18th century audiences and perhaps into the early 19th (I surmise Byron could have enjoyed his poetry, and his more serious philosophical metaphysics continued to be read), technically speaking, Prior is said by some to be the best male poet between Dryden and Pope. His Poems on Several Occasions (1709) appears to have been well-known until late in the century, and printed there are the two poems we will deal with, The Nut-Brown Maid (1503?), followed by Henry and Emma (by Prior), as an imitation (an invitation to the reader to compare), frequently alluded to.


Prior’s Collected Poems (1719), with featured frontispiece an imagined moment from Henry and Emma

There is another edition of Prior that Austen could have read these two poems in. At the close of an honorable career as a diplomat (if competence and producing useful treatises hard to negotiate means anything), in 1719 underpaid, undervalued partly because of his original low rank, Prior found himself near broke. His many influential political and poetic friends, Pope, Swift, Harley, Bathurst, Arbuthnot (see Ripply, Matthew Prior, a Twayne Life, Chapter 1), using Tonson as publisher, helped him produce an immense volume of poetry by subscription (a large handsome folio, 500 pages long, 1,445 people subscribing for 1,786 copies). The sale made Prior independently secure (it’s thought he may have made as much as 4,000 guineas at 2 guineas each volume). Prior’s poems were reprinted in the 18th century and Austen could have read his poem elsewhere (the type of thing is exemplified by Dodsley, A collection of Poems in Six Volumes by Several Hands with notes, 1748, reprinted and enlarged numerous times, which however does not contain these poems). She probably read Prior in the 1709 edition where the medieval poem is included, but the 1719 reprint is as much a possibility.

Austen mentions Prior twice, both times in the posthumous sister volumes of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published by her brother and sister after her death. In the famous Chapter 5 of NA she inveighs against the over-valuation of male pseudo-scholarly texts over novels:

… while the abilities of the nine–hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens — there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.

If by chance a female reader is found reading a novel, she is shamed into self-deprecation and condescension:

‘It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. ‘It is onlyCecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda;’ or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of The Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it (1:5).

Not a very high recommendation. In his “Life of Prior,” Samuel Johnson is not keen on Prior’s comic and witty poetry about sex and love either. By this time in the century what was wanted in a lyric was something emotionally deep, and the libertine and pessimistic are never openly popular. Prior’s verse linsk to the vein of John Gay’s insouciant wit. Austen might have concurred as the poetry of sensibility was apparently her preference too: Cowper, Johnson himself, Crabbe, Charlotte Smith.


Louisa has just fallen and Wentworth and Anne are the first there (1995 Persuasion)

The second reference is in Persuasion. Louisa Musgrove has just fallen on her head and all are gathered around her, at first fearing a death from concussion. When Louisa is seen to be still breathing, everyone around her appears in a state of distress about her mental faculties, motor skills, general health from here on in. Anne has just felt rapture at overhearing Captain Wentworth describe her value as a nurse and organizer over Louisa (“No one so proper, so capable as Anne!”), but when Mary Musgrove, pettily meanly ceaselessly actively jealous insists on taking Anne’s place, and Anne observes Wentworth so crestfallen and indifferent to her, Anne; caring intently about Louisa it seems above all, the “mortifying” conviction arises in Anne’s mind that she was “valued only as she could be useful to Louisa.” Prior again comes to Austen’s mind as partly narrator partly Anne:

She endeavoured to be composed, and to be just. Without emulating the feelings of an Emma towards her Henry, she would have attended on Louisa with a zeal above the common claims of regard, for his sake; and she hoped he would not long be so unjust as to suppose she would shrink unnecessarily from the office of a friend (1:12).

Anne is intensely conflicted but the parallel makes plain that while (as is implied) not quite as fanatically in love as Emma towards “her Henry” (it is clearly a case of love), Anne would have done everything she could for this girl that Wentworth seems to love so — in place of her whom he was once so devoted to.

The matter alluded to is, as I’ve suggested, Matthew Prior’s rewrite or sophisticated ironic imitation of a medieval ballad, The Nut-brown Maid turned into Henry and Emma, one of the more popular poems of the 18th century. Prior rewrites the medieval enigmatic narrative fully, adding all sorts of concrete circumstances in a spirit of part ironic mockery part sweet love tone. Both versions of the poem are stanzaic. In both Henry tests Emma: they have fallen in love and maybe have had sex (unclear in both medieval and Prior’s poem) and in the 18th century poem have hunted, danced, and courted to their heart’s content. It is over-time to marry.

In the medieval and then 18th century poem Henry tells Emma (a lot more is made concrete in the later poem) and the narrator provides believable background that, Emma’s father has rejected him. He is now “Condemn’d in a lonely Woods a banish’d Man to rove.” She will have immediately to elope with him if they are not to be parted and if they are to marry. He tells her they will have nothing if they wed. He outlines a series of terrible deprivations: she will have to live in forests, go hungry, be despised for running away with him. In both poems, Emma says nothing of this matters. She throws all caution to the winds and trusts to him and time. She of “all mankind” will “love him alone.” That’s the dual refrain. He keeps at it and names sacrifice after sacrifice, and at the last says he has another mistress and loves her too. Is that all right? Will she still come? She will have this other woman as rival. Well, she’s up to each turn of the screw: she will herself care for this other woman. At that Henry is satisfied and tells her in fact they will be okay; there has been no such forbidding, he has no other mistress. The reader the first time through is fooled too (rather like Austen’s novels at first often leaving out information). Henry had decided to test Emma’s loyalty to him, her resolve, her faithfulness, chastity, if you will. She has proved herself faithful and worthy of him. In the medieval tale he had pretended to be a peasant and now reveals himself as a prince. Of interest is Prior’s tone. Unlike the melancholy wildness of the ballad, it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek.


Anne musing climbing the stairs (1995 Persuasion)

Is Austen likening Anne Elliot to Prior’s Emma and that original nut-brown maid? If so, because the Prior poem is satiric, is she partly mocking Anne Elliot. One critic, Galperin (The Historical Austen) argues the whole novel is burlesque, and we have been misreading it. The cancelled ending is in fact the true and better one, and there we see how comic it was supposed to be. Galperin insinuates not only did Henry and Cassandra misname the books, but they chose a different text than Austen intended. Persuasion was supposed to be a send-up of the serious issue that Crabbe had a closely analogous poem about in his Tales: in’Procrastination’ (and other tales too) a young couple are made to wait prudently and in this one never get together and live out their lives apart in grief and desolation. I think Persuasion is not burlesque (though there is much comedy and one ribald moment, oddly enough over death), but Austen does make gentle fun of Anne’s high musings of constancy and romance as she walks the streets of Bath. All the while (as in Mansfield Park and Austen’s treatment of Fanny Price) on my pulses I know it’s deeply felt.

Is Austen then at least saying Anne over-does it? Anne Elliot is not quite an Emma but she is coming close because she is so in love, so desperate and so abject. Now Wentworth is not deliberately testing Anne: Persuasion is no literary stereotypical non-serious text. In the 18th century this testing theme is used in mostly misogynistic texts where the assumption is woman are fickle, promiscuous, can be turned like weathercocks. Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte (thus do all females) is only the best known. These are misogynistic texts about women and Austen is concerned to defeat the whole idea of the test.

The misogynistic perspective is one Austen may be eager to counter. This is confirmed in a long dialogue at the close Persuasion that links to the theme of inconstancy, using the 18th century language we find in Persuasion, loyalty to an attachment after the person has died. All will recall how at the White Hart Inn, Anne finds Wentworth’s friend, the disabled Captain Harville grieving openly for the death of his sister, Phoebe, because he is hurt for her: “Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!” Captain Benwick had claimed he would never forget Phoebe, or know another love, but has nonetheless within a very few weeks fallen in love with Louisa Musgrove. Where was his vaunted depth if he could forget so soon? Harville has not forgotten his sister. One could say (were one privy to scenes not dramatized in the book) Benwick took advantage of Louisa, however half-unconsciousy in his own need. Louisa was susceptible because she was emotionally and physically weak and vulnerable after falling from a stone stairway. Harville explains that Wentworth is taking the framed miniature of Benwick that had been meant for Phoebe, and having it re-framed it for Louisa so Harville need not do this (Persuasion, 2:11).


Robert Glenister as Captain Harville and Anne having their talk over the re-framed miniature

The word used is “inconstancy:” Benwick has not remained in grief, and out of this incident Harville and Anne debate over who is the most inconstant: men or women. Paradoxically, in the face of his assertion that Fanny Harville would have been more faithful, Harville insists men are most constant, most in need of their families and emotional support because they must sail far away and spend so much alone (it seems) on a ship. All literature proves this. Anne objects that literature proves nothing of the sort as it is written by men and eloquently protests that precisely because women don’t go out and endure wracking and dangerous adventures in the world, but stay at home, they are “preyed upon” by their feelings. They have no other outlet, cannot forget, as they are given no other object. Still Harville is not convinced and she not contented with defending women based on the idea they have no way to be inconstant, pivots on the idea on the need for an object. She has not read Donald Winnicott but she knows how central to women the need to feel attached and needed:

‘I believe you [men in general] equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as — if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone! (2:11 or 24).

This extraordinary compelling moment of Anne asserting the privilege of something self-destructive, deeply hurtful to the personality structure shows Austen has moved full circle. Are we to value that which has ravaged Anne? Austen began with alluding to Prior comically over abject love to finding something deeply disquieting in the pains of unreciprocated love which still holds out. Constancy is not a matter for misogynistic testing, and if it truly exists in women (quite contrary to what men claim), it’s because they are given nothing else.


Joseph Mawle as Harville and Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth half-discussing Wentworth’s change of heart (2007 Persuasion)

Why Anne does not use the instance before them of an inconstant man (Benwick) and probable constant woman (Fanny) I do not know.

As it turns out, in fact Wentworth by seeing everyone’s response to what happened to Louisa after she falls, and that he is now expected to behave like a bethrothed, realizes he has gone too far. He wakes up to feel he is not in love with a girl who had such a simplistic understanding of what he was getting at in his lectures on not being persuaded away from what you had determined upon. He does not want to spend his life with her, but is now in too deep. When he leaves Anna off at Uppercross and returns to Bath, he wants out. We never see the scenes of his return and realization. Anne finds out only much later that he visited his brother — leaving the field open to Benwick. Anne is not quite an Emma. Anne (and Lady Russell) had been hoping for Benwick to come to her as he seemed about to propose to her. Benwick for reasons that remain unexplained until this later time says he cannot come. Louisa not deeply committed to Wentworth (as her nature is not to be) cannot be accused of inconstancy. The attachment was superficial and she easily moves to Benwick. Wentworth’s removal of himself succeeds.

What is the gain of this layering of meaning interwoven here? The first allusion provides a hard edge to the text: in this November fall Wentworth has been flirting with Louisa and holding dialogues over people who are over-persuaded from seizing their heart’s desires. He has Anne in mind during these. Then when Louisa takes this too seriously and has an accident as she attempts to proving her determination, uses Anne as nurse without truly thinking of her as a person. Anne is overly abject, but pulls up just in time as she feels resentment (however slight) for being valued only for what she can do for Louisa. Anne is also conflicted, wanting to do what Wentworth wants, for him and for Louisa. Again, strikingly the example of constancy for Harville is the dead Fanny (so we cannot know), and we see how Wentworth torments Anne and almost marries Louisa, and yet Harville argues men are the most loyal to an attachment.


A scene from the BBC 1971 Persuasion: Anne not strong almost falls (early in this not-well-known film)

The second makes us look more deeply into this notion of constancy: why is it not true what Harville contends (and the medieval and Prior Henry assumed), i.e., that women are inconstant. Not, according to Austen, because they manipulatively make themselves over to men as possessions for male pride to show off. No. Their circumstances and psychology makes them vulnerable to emotional attachments, however painful and potentially destructive to them. After 8 years of Wentworth’s absence, Anne has aged and became haggard. She has been given no adequate substitute our narrator says. She rightly does not like the superficial Bath, and Charles (offered as an appropriate partner at age 22) is not an adequate partner for her.

The novel does not discount the harm that may be done by marrying someone unfitted to our temperament — without saying there can be only one partner. Charles is much the worse as a character for having married Mary. So constancy as an ideal has also to be questioned. We are given enough to suggest that in future Benwick and Louisa will be another of the many mismatches in Austen. For the moment sex, love, emotionalism takes both over but as time goes on, Wentworth says, Benwick is a thinking man and (it’s implied) will be bored and Louisa will want someone far less sensitive, and show she cares little for books for real. It’s the non-thinking Charles who mistakes his sister to think she’ll change her nature and they’ll be ever so happy. In the assembly rooms in the spring Wentworth of course is also thinking of himself and Anne as he speaks to her, trying to reach her:

‘I confess that I do think there is a disparity, too great a disparity, and in a point no less essential than mind. I regard Louisa Musgrove as a very amiable, sweet-tempered girl, and not deficient in understanding, but Benwick is something more. He is a clever man, a reading man; and I confess that I do consider his attaching himself to her with some surprise. Had it been the effect of gratitude, had he learnt to love her, because he believed her to be preferring him, it would have been another thing.'(2:8 or 20)

Eventually, not so long as a few years from now Louisa and Benwick will be another of Austen’s several mismatched couples who were drawn together originally by sexual attraction and over-emotionalism and youth: from Mr and Mrs Bennet, the Palmers, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, to perhaps Mr and Mrs Woodhouse, Admiral Tilney and poor Miss Drummond that was (Mrs Tilney’s birth or maiden family name), and Sir Walter and Lady Elliot. In the earlier novels the intelligent men mismarry; in the later, the women. We never do see Benwick and Louisa together after we leave them at Lyme.

Not only are there these complications of very different nuances coming out of this intertextual embedding of Prior, but the novel has another whole skein, which I began with, of very different sources and memories. The poems of Charlotte Smith, the story of her life, the poetry of Byron, of Scott, and if we want to extapolate what is not specifically alluded to, but in the 18th century grain: Crabbe’s stories of struggling poorer and middling couple who are deprived of joy altogether out of too much prudence. We all remember the famous marginalia of Cassandra scratched out next to Austen’s line: “She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older — the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning:”

‘Dear, dear Jane! This deserves to be written in letters of gold’ (quoted in Tomalin, JA: A Life, 260)

Not that the intertextualities take precedence over the naturalistic art in the book and how it mirrors Austen’s own self. The book does not stay autumnal, nor is it called Melancholy, Abjection nor Constancy, but Persuasion. Persuasion opens the book up to wider themes than erotic passion: it includes Austen herself as someone over-persuaded. It is limiting to see this as her remembering her youth when she was deprived of Tom Lefroy, or say remembering her own decision not to marry Brook Bridges (if Nokes is right and this romance as played out in Miss Austen Regrets was a second serious possibility), or give herself utterly to some other partner, we don’t know about, man or woman, for example, the mysterious romance by the seacoast Cassandra dreamt of, or Martha Lloyd. The cancelled manuscript reveals that her mother had given her a hard time over how she presented authority in the person of Lady Russell.


Fiona Shaw as Mrs Crofts (1995 Persuasion)

The book’s deepest theme and its grief is over allowing oneself to be thwarted, to be repressed: how bad it has been for Austen to stay at home and have her feelings preyed upon. Austen herself as a writer and woman is involved, how she has allowed herself to be over-persuaded, and now that she is ill (for that is felt in the novel too) longs to have had or have more from life than has been granted her as a woman. She could have written more. She dreams of going to sea in the figure of Mrs Crofts (so beautifully acted by Fiona Shaw in the 1995 film). I find the final moments of the 1995 Persuasion with Amanda Root as Anne in the sun on the bridge of the ship pitch perfect


Amanda Root as Anne looking out to sea aboard a ship with Wentworth (1995 Persuasion)

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bough towering over, attempting to bully Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth out of Darcy (Fay Weldon’s 1979 BBC P&P,)

The Birthday. Whose? how can you ask? Jane Austen’s on a cold day, where much snow lay on the ground, December 16, 1775. In previous years I have remembered this day by putting here her poetry written on and about this day, or an essay about an aspect of her work overlooked (say what she said about Elizabethn queens in her History of England) or poems by others about reading her, how she loved to dance. This day I use a comic twitter thread (why not? all the rage, and she wanted ever to be fashionable or seeming so) to introduce two juxtaposed familiar scenes and my contribution to the twitter feed which asked for appropriate images of animals with an quotation from Austen:

For today a little less solemn framing: Izzy showed me a thread on her twitter feed where people were asked to cite a line from Austen and find a matching picture, preferably about non-human animals in the wild and comic. This is what they came up with, which I record under the line (one I like and quoted here):

I am excessively diverted

Alas a few of those who contributed made up lines that they thought sounded like Austen or offered lines they perhaps thought were by her. I did like “This has cheered me up no end.” There is also a gif image of someone laughing hysterically who resembles Meryl Streep (probably not her). I’d transfer that only there is no device to. So instead this quieter one: under the quotation: “On opening the door, she perceived her sister and Bingley standing together over the hearth, as if engaged in earnest conversation; and had this led to no suspicion, the faces of both, as they hastily turned round and moved away from each other, would have told it all” — Elizabeth coming upon Jane and Bingley

I’ve used this one in jest while meaning it too: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

I end with the scene (alluded to above by the still from the 1979 P&P), a fierce confrontation, from Pride and Prejudice, Vol 3, Chapter 15, which in the book immediately precedes Elizabeth’s scene with her father where he calls her in to his office-lair because he has received a letter from Mr Collins warning him against a possible engagement between Darcy and Elizabeth, and we get this indirect meditative (thinking of our implied author) apparently lightly comic but in its true feel ironic and plangent scene:


Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet regaling Jennifer Ehle as Jane (Andrew Davies’s 1995 P&P)

She followed her father to the fire place, and they both sat down. He then said,

“I have received a letter this morning that has astonished me exceedingly. As it principally concerns yourself, you ought to know its contents. I did not know before, that I had two daughters on the brink of matrimony. Let me congratulate you on a very important conquest.”

The colour now rushed into Elizabeth’s cheeks in the instantaneous conviction of its being a letter from the nephew, instead of the aunt; and she was undetermined whether most to be pleased that he explained himself at all, or offended that his letter was not rather addressed to herself; when her father continued,

“You look conscious. Young ladies have great penetration in such matters as these; but I think I may defy even your sagacity, to discover the name of your admirer. This letter is from Mr. Collins.”

“From Mr. Collins! and what can he have to say?”

“Something very much to the purpose of course. He begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter, of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases. I shall not sport with your impatience, by reading what he says on that point. What relates to yourself, is as follows.”

“Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mrs. Collins and myself on this happy event, let me now add a short hint on the subject of another; of which we have been advertised by the same authority. Your daughter Elizabeth, it is presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet, after her elder sister has resigned it, and the chosen partner of her fate may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land.”

“Can you possibly guess, Lizzy, who is meant by this?”

“This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire, — splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. Yet in spite of all these temptations, let me warn my cousin Elizabeth, and yourself, of what evils you may incur by a precipitate closure with this gentleman’s proposals, which, of course, you will be inclined to take immediate advantage of.”
“Have you any idea, Lizzy, who this gentleman is? But now it comes out.”

“My motive for cautioning you is as follows. We have reason to imagine that his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye.”

“Mr. Darcy, you see, is the man! Now, Lizzy, I think I have surprised you. Could he, or the Lucases, have pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related? Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life! It is admirable!”

Elizabeth tried to join in her father’s pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant smile. Never had his wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to her.

“Are you not diverted?”

“Oh! yes. Pray read on.”

“After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it become apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, that she and her noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.”

“Mr. Collins moreover adds,”

“I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Lydia’s sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it. You ought certainly to forgive them as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.”
“That is his notion of Christian forgiveness! The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte’s situation, and his expectation of a young olive-branch. But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be Missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

“Oh!” cried Elizabeth, “I am excessively diverted ….

And my comic rendition of Lady Catherine versus Elizabeth as well as the contemplative Mr Bennet and Elizabeth overlooking an artifical object:

Not from the wild, as that is not quite appropriate, and from her era, attached to a writer she may well have read: Madame Du Deffand who of course had the fashionable kind of cat just then. Alas, there is but one mention of cats in Jane Austen, when she observes somewhat detachedly a black kitten running up and down the wide stairway in a lodging house in Bath.

I hope someone who comes over here will close read or comment on this scene between Mr Bennet and Elizabeth in context for us by way of commemorating Jane Austen’s birthday. If not, I’ll try tonight by way of filling up my evening with Jane.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Amanda Root as Anne Elliot walking among the autumn leaves (1995 BBC Persuasion, scripted Nick Dear, directed Roger Michell)

Dear friends and readers,

I am chuffed (proud, happy) to say two new essays on Charlotte Smith by me are now available from the power and liberty of the Internet. The first is my essay for Sarah Emsley’s new series of blogs, “Youth and Experience: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion,” due to start December 16th. Mine is one of two previews;

“For there is nothing lost that may be found: Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s Persuasion

The other is by William Hutchings, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, UK, “A Sense of An Ending: Persuasion and Keats’s “Ode to Autumn.”

It will be seen both of us chose to dwell on the autumnal aspects of Austen’s Persuasion and how she uses or provides an analogy for autumnal poetry by two contemporary or near contemporary poets. Thus Sarah put ours on her blog before Austen’s birthday in order to be seasonally on time.

I am writing this separate linked-in blog since I want to make sure there is no misapprehension about the four years worth of blogs on this site about Jane Austen’s letters and the Austen papers. The blogs came out of a group read we did on the two Austen lists (Austen-l and Janeites) several years. It was my idea to do the letters slowly, one a week. However, what insights emerged were a “hive” effect, the result of all of us putting our collective heads together to close read and add our own bits of knowledge and insight—and sometimes clashing on who Austen was as a person. It was a wonderful experience.

The second is on Charlotte Smith in a different or wider vein: I’ve decided to put my paper on “The Global Charlotte Smith: migrancy and women in Ethelinde and The Emigrants on academia.edu where it may be read now. It is also timely in a different way: for its political perspective on women and emigration.


A photograph taken in Oxford, Wytham Woods this November 19, 2017 by a friend

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »