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Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825), A sketch of Klaarfontein, South Africa

Dear friends and readers,

My third and last report on the EC/ASECS conference held 12-14 November at West Chester University, Pa, with the broad topic of networks: (see 1 and2)

We are now at mid-morning, the second session on Saturday, 10:30-11:45 am. I chose a session which seemed to be about the colonialist and global experience of British people as recorded in their writings, “Oriental Networks: Culture, Commerce and Communication.” Greg Clingham chaired. Jennifer L. Hargrave’s paper was on the early and still remembered British missionary. Robert Morrison as reflected in his didactic outline for educating his two children in India. Her text was Morrison’s China: A dialogue (1821), a series of ten imaginary conversation with his children where Morrison imagines himself teaching his children about Canton, China. Within his limits, Morrison attempts to teach understanding and toleration, to enable his children (and by extension readers) to see analogies between some British and Chinese practices towards women. He sees the Chinese as having a highly literate and sophisticated society, and thought Westerners could learn from China (and elsewhere).

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William Zoffany (1733-1810), The Palmer Family

Baerbel Czennia also talked about the intersection of cultural practices, and used contemporary paintings by British travelers and agents, and Anglo-Indian (the phrase had not achieved currency as yet) ones from the Indian communities to demonstrate that in India the colonializers attempted to make out of their allotments of the Indian private landscape small English worlds through landscape and by appropriating the British picturesque conventions. She had reproductions of watercolors of English and Indian landscapes.In these it’s a matter of erason, omission and what we have left are Europeanized Indian landscapes. Baerbel had slides of the work of Zoffany, of William Hodges, of their successors.

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William Hodges (1744-1797), A view of the City of Benares (1783)

Hastings’s home in England, Daylesford shows the influence of Indian forms. Kew would combine scientific research with the bogus landscape gardens. She talked of individuals involved in intercultural networking so the gardens we have today derive from a complex of complicated relationships in previous history.

The third paper, Greg Clingham on Lady Anne Barnard’s diaries and journals from South Africa and her drawings. Happily, there are editions of her watercolors and drawings, which give us insight into settler colonialist and sheerly imperialist communities; and of her Cape Diaries, abridgments as well as vast compilations. He particularly recommended the riches to be found in her letters: there she combines a colonialist, personal caustic melancholy, and Scottish aristocratic sensibility and perspective.

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She has a need to tell of what she sees while deprecating her views: she will tell of watching slaves carry heavy bundles on their bare-backs to pack up a family who are leaving; these bundles contain sticks and other objects the slaves count on getting once the day is done and they can go back to their living quarters. She shows how attached she is to her close family and friends, including low status women. she also drew people and scenes that she saw, did watercolors. It’s hard to tell what readings she wanted us to take from her pictures: we can notice that most of her white women are turned away from the camera- or painter’s eye, while the slave is seen frontally; she cannot hide her breast-feeding or body from the viewer. We cannot know how accurate these drawings are and how much they reflect conventional ways of drawing disparate classes of people, but there is a depth of feeling in them.

The discussion afterward was as wide-ranging as the three papers put together. There was not much critique from a post-colonial perspective but rather specific questions on the specific people brought up and some of the texts quoted, e.g., Baerbel had quoted Pope’s Windsor Forest. People wanted to know about Morrison in later life. I mentioned how I had heard paper about slave-dealers’ letters and that from these we can gather that an African woman with hanging breasts was seen as especially desirable (fecund, healthy, as a wet-nurse, sexy?) at the same time as small high breasts were valued as that was seen as the European white norm. So if Lady Anne draws black women with full hanging breasts (as one of Greg’s pictures showed) this might not be a mirror of what she saw but conventional prescriptive norms.

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After lunch, Daniel Edelstein offered a description of a digital mapping of the French enlightenment, using the most recent standard editions of letters by universities. The following YouTube will provide an explanation by Prof Edelstein himself. He is talking about some of the details he used in his address:

The YouTube also leads to a site that explains a good deal of the project’s resources, aims, interests. Prof Edelstein first described in detail the categories used, justified the way the letter-writers were divided, which writers were brought in by virtue of their having written a number of letters. He seemed to concede his team seemed often to be going to a great deal of effort to come up with a confirmation of what many people reading the upper class French respected philosophes in France and elsewhere had thought: Paris for example, was an important nub. His data showed the group was a highly aristocratic set of people, mostly male, well-connected, often holding positions of authority in gov’t, a very literary group (tiny percentage of people working in scientific endeavor).

The paper stirred more opposition and fundamental debate than I’ve seen in a long time. It came out very quickly that his team did not take into consideration as central players women’s letters for which there is no standard edition. They seemed not to have taken into consideration lost letters; letters not saved because not valued, not written by upper class people. One woman said if Prof Edelstein had said his data was about an Enlightenment group that would have been more accurate. I asked if we were to do the same kind of winnowing, using standard university editions for English writers, if we found most of the people did not have high positions in gov’t, that might help explain some of the differences between what happened in the 1780s in England and in France. Someone said one value of such data is that it will help against unexamined assumptions: now we see how few of the philosophes were science-minded. As the debate became a little hot, Prof Edelstein answered one query about why they omitted English sources with the half-quip that England did not have an Enlightenment. What about Edinburgh? How does one define Enlightenment?

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Mid-20th century suggestive illustration for masquerade ball

I was able to stay for the first two papers of the afternoon sessions and my last choice was for “Little Explored Networks in Frances Burney and Jane Austen.” Linda Troost chaired. Julian Fung argued that Burney’s Cecilia is a dark and pessimistic complaint/satire about the depravity of society, a society unlikely to reform. We see a network of vice, characters are intricately connected to people who want to do them harm. You cannot escape corruption because you are dependent upon people deeply engaged in it. She has some good characters outside of these networks but by force of custom and obligations conferred they too are compelled to make bad decisions. Characters debate whether you can go against society’s norms (theoretically) while the action of the novel shows people trying to resist and failing to. We see serious problems (such as how to make money, how to avoid debt). He felt the novel is a dystopia. It ends with a qualified seemingly cheerful resignation, but we can see underlying it currents of anger and grim realism.

Sylvia Marks began with Burney’s first novels (Caroline Evelyn, burnt and Evelina) and then discussed how Cecilia emerged from Burney’s Witlings after her two fathers (Charles Burney, and “Daddy Crisp”) prevented her from finishing and having the play staged. Sylvia drew out the parallels between characters in the play and novel, show how Burney’s use of the genre “conduct book” allowed her to avoid offending any specific individuals she might have had in mind (e.g., Elizabeth Montagu). Sylvia too saw Burney’s second novel as dark: it’s an uneasy depiction of treacherous, prodigal, blind, sycophantic elitist characters; experience teaches very few anything. As with The Wanderer we have a woman looking to support herself, who comes across ordinary nightmare situations along the way.

It was growing dark and I had a three hour drive home so felt I had to leave. I regretted not being able to stay for the papers on Austen, the last reception (hors d’oeuvres, beer, and wine) and, even more, a workshop led by John Bellomo, a fight choreographer, with student actors, where members of the society were invited to learn the simpler movements of saluting and stage combat. From photos it looks like it was fun. As we all know duelling was (unfortunately) central to male upper class culture, and violence remained on the surface, part of daily life, what with executions, the brutal treatment of animals by many, permitted violence inflicted on wives and children, pressing and flogging of servants and sailors.

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The close of David Nokes’s 1991 BBC Clarissa: a duel to the death between Lovelace (Sean Bean) and Belford (Sean Pertwee)

As usual I can’t take into account all sorts of talk about the 18th century and academic studies and teaching which occurs in the interstices of time. One conversation I remember in particular about pregnancy, childbirth in the 18th century, how new sources and methods and perspectives are providing a new outlook on this aspect of women’s lives in the era. I came away with new titles, and possible projects to join in on.

Ellen

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Moment of hope for narrator (Martina Gedeck)

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The despairing end as she ceases to write her report any more

Dear friends and readers,

Marlen Haushofen may not seem a daughter of Jane Austen, but she is certainly a sister to Anne Radcliffe and the visionary women novelists emerging at the time. If we see two types of women’s fiction emerge at the close of the 18th century, the realistic domestic fiction (often conservative) school of Austen, and the gothic-fantasy critique school identified first with Radcliffe and then Mary Shelley. The Wall is an extraordinary distopian/utopian story about which Doris Lessing was right to say it seems that it could only be written by a woman. Polser’s film Here is the core plot-design:

The novel’s main character is a forty-something woman whose name the reader never learns. She tries to survive a cataclysmic event: while vacationing in a hunting lodge in the Austrian mountains, a transparent wall has been placed that closes her off from the outside world; all life outside the wall appears to have died, possibly in a nuclear event. With a dog, a cow, and a cat as her sole companions, she struggles to survive and to come to terms with the situation. Facing fear and loneliness, she writes an account of her isolation, without knowing whether anyone will ever read it

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Her friends driving off

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When she first discovers she is cut off

She realizes or surmizes all the people in the world have died suddenly and mysteriously when she comes upon two elderly people frozen in mid-gesture. The scene is of course fantasy as a corpse would rot:

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She cannot reach them as they are on the other side of the glass wall which seems to surround her. It is possible that she could get beyond it, but she would have to climb and walk hundreds of miles into a forest of mountains, and she knows instinctively she is safer in the house with all the things her friends (unknowingly) left her to provide herself with: wood, implements, seeds, pototoes. She worries about her lack of matches. She has a strong will to survive. Early on she says she is no longer young enough to want to kill herself.

The story occurs over a succession of seasons: it begins in summer and we watch the narrator live through two winters, and two summers, where she goes to live in a meadow and thinks she is in a paradise but there she mets the savage male who murders her dog

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A Robinson Crusoe story? it doesn’t feel like it; it shows us the stoic comfortable survival of Crusoe with his loyal man Friday is a myth: Friday would have murdered the master. I sped half-way through Haushofen’s book and (because I just couldn’t resist) since the disk arrived yesterday from Netflix in the later afternoon just as I had had enough, I watched it later at night.

I found the Julian Polser’s film adaptation (the transposition or apparently faithful sort) a masterpiece equivalent of the masterpiece book; I was just gripped as our heroine (who seems to be another of these nameless women called just Frau) slowly realized that she was cut off from all other humanity and slowly evolved a family of animals.

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Her dog Lynx

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Cats, kitten is called Pearl

An important analogical text (even if improbably a source) is Randall Jarrell’s Animal Family: there is the same slow buildup of an animal community as family and friends/children. We see slowly evolve a family of animals and a fish (a mermaid for a mother) as they build a world and life for themselves. It too quietly critiques much in our society. It has lovely illustrations by Sendak. Unlike Jarrell though the ending of The Wall is devastating — let me say this much: from not far from the outset our narrator begins to talk of when Lynx , the dog who becomes her beloved, is dead, or after Lynx died and that makes for suspense, yet since there is no inkling of how this happens when it does, it is a shock.

On the other hand, in the film she twice turns on a radio in a car and hears a song about freedom. Paradoxically she is free — at liberty to live the way she wants. Only we see this liberty is illusory because it takes her such effort to stay alive and she has nothing to exercise her liberty on but the papers and writing implements she (conveniently) finds and writes on.

While the book and film may be called dystopian fantasy and is compelling that way, it is also a woman’s story too: while she has no one to obey, she is all alone and sad, and in natural response it seems she begins to develop a small family, a dog (who early on the book is referred to as having died at some later date — so immediately we worry), and stays alive (she feels) out of her responsibility to the dog, the cats (the mother cat kittens), a cow (and eventually bull and calf). She is delighted each time she comes upon another animal and brings home all but those she is forced to kill (with a shotgun she naturally knows how to use) and eat. She dislikes hunting but does it.

The novel and film are also critiques or mirrors of the world’s way of treating women and how women behave. We see our heroine enact the behavior this leads to: one scene shows us all the food she has grown, managed to cook and put in bowls. We see her eating amidst her animals who she provides for:

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Since at the climax of the story, its tragic close, a man suddenly appears out of nowhere, ragingly violent with an ae who proceeds to murder apparently wantonly the bull and the dog, this confirmed my sense this is a woman’s story — men are the killers of our world. Haushofen also builds no world of people (like Charlotte Perkins’s Herland), but rather mirrors inner experiences of isolation, terror, the desire to escape, to find some peaceful place free of competition (mentioned early on as awful, the worst manifestation of the human spirit). Yes depression too: a story that images or captures a mood of deep depression. When our heroine partly in an effort to save her dog runs back to her cottage to get a gun and comes back and kills the man (but alas too late for the dog), she confirms the sense I have from the book one of its assumptions is we are better off without people. People are the worst, and the narrator thinks again and again how she is an alien in nature (unlike her animals) — but this seems wrong and unfair. She is as much as part of the natural world as they and they depend on her. The novel is a parable — the film emphasizes her de-sexed appearance and behavior — she is the hunter shooting deer.  It is of course unrealistic — for enough food does appear; the deer, all that she needs as a minimum to survive.

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Sudden appearance of a murderous savage man

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Her attempt to kill the man and/or save Lynx

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Her grief for Lynx

I identified with her aloneness. The last 3 days and now this one I’m alone all day — except for my girl cat who is continually with me. She was sitting in my lap as I watched the movie and seemed to me a version of Lynx. The woman narrator adopts a stray cat who then has a long haired white kitten (who also dies as a natural victim) but the cats are not presented as companions. Well mine is and I do think to myself how I have an obligation to them to stay alive. It wasn’t cathartic for me nor therapeutic but rather an intense reliving of what I am experiencing just now.

Women are so isolated in our society by various structures: when your children are babies or young, the society structures itself to make you the constant caretaker and the renewed ferocious insistence on breast-feeding is a nailing down of the woman.  Why is widowhood so bad? becuase you have been put into a partnership dependent on a man often — not necessarily financially any more but he is often the leader.

Here is Fran’s explication from Women Writers Across the Ages:

One of the most obvious is the novel as a feminist critique of gender roles and especially the position of women in Austrian society as Haushofer had experienced it up to her writing of the novel between 1960 and 1962. The Austria of that time was still a very much male-dominated, highly conservative, catholic society, where women were often marginalized and expected to adhere to their traditional roles oriented around the (in) famous three Ks, Kinder, Küche, Kirche – children, kitchen and church – and rapidly ran against walls of inacceptance that were difficult to overcome if they tried to break out and expand into other non-traditional spheres of activity. 
 
Haushofer experienced this as oppressively claustrophobic, stultifying and frustrating, both as a child and as an adult. As a child, when her highly religious mother forced her to attend a convent boarding school, the cloistered restrictions of which came as a complete shock to one used to playing in the freedom of Austria’s beautiful countryside (her unromantic love of which is everywhere evidenced in the novel); as an adult in her role as a stay-at-home provincial wife and mother, whose household chores made finding the time to write and realize her artistic ambitions very difficult indeed. In both instances she reacted with serious depression and physical illness. The confining or excluding wall can be seen as a projection of such feelings and experiences as mentioned yesterday.
 
On the other hand, as Haushofer herself said, the wall seems to be not only negative in effect. Being cut off from the rest of society means that the significantly unnamed narrator, whose rmemories of her old life beyond the wall indicate an unfulfilled, already alienated existence, is thrown back on her own resources to survive and is able to rise to the occasion and carve out an autonomous, if precarious, existence and new life and identity for herself as a guardian and preserver of her corner of nature and the animals that she has found there. 
 
This goes hand in hand with a critique of the kind of education she’d received as a woman on the other side of the wall that had ill-equipped her for such a task.
 
The novel can then also be seen as one of painful female self-discovery and self-realisation, with the narrator going through various stages of numbing shock, denial, realisation, confrontation and transformation to acceptance of her new role and situation, if one sometimes clouded by the kind of suicidal thoughts that she experienced at the beginning.
 
You mention the violent incursion of the male survivor who irrationally kills the narrator’s animals which both would actually need to survive and who is in turn killed by her, though she’d previously been reluctant to kill anything even to survive. Haushofer seems to be building up a gender oppostion here: the female in the classic role of caretaker and protector of life who lives with nature and the male as the aggressor who kills and wants to dominate nature and others and has to be stopped from doing it. The incursion of the male infects her with his violence, too.
 
The wall takes on a double quality here as well, at once marginalizing and excluding, but also normally protecting from potential predators and aggressors.
 
Male war machinery is also presumed responsable for the catastrophe that created the wall and petrified the people and animals on the other side in the first place. In this respect the novel can  very much be seen as an anti-war novel and topical critique of the kind of patriarchal society that leads to such.
 
At the time of writing, the Berlin Wall was built (1961), arbitrarily and randomly cutting off people from their families and neighbours, the Iron Curtain was  firmly in place, the Cold War at its height and the Bay of Pigs incident had raised fears of an imminent war and nuclear or biological catastrophe.
 
Haushofer’s reaction was to produce a novel that was both a kind of Robinsonade and warning end- of-days scenario, criticizing so-called civilisation and what it had already done and threatened to do to people, nature and the ecology.
 
Interestingly, too, it’s also a novel about writing. As a housewife Haushofer seldom had a lot of time to write and didn’t have a room of her own to do it in, normally writing at the dining or kitchen room table. The narrator in the novel, who develops increasingly androgynous features in the course of the novel, has oodles of time, plenty of room of her own, but probably no audience other than mice to write for and at the end no more paper to write on either. It’s like a very macabre riff on Virginia Woolf, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.
 
Almost endless possibilities of interpretation and speculation

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As we first see her in the film, the first shot: she is with her friends in a fine car apparently off for a holiday in a rural retreat

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In the middle of the movie somewhere: she is washing her face after hard work

After I finished the novel, I watched the movie twice and was really gripped: the novel differs from the movie in ways one might expect. The movie opens as a flashback with the heroine at her book writing and then we move backwards to how the situation first happened: we are told slightly more about Hugh and Luise in the movie. The book moves forward with lots of tiny flashbacks interwoven throughout. There are more animals in the book, and consequently more losses: the movie leaves out the birth of Tiger, the tom-cat, the developed relationship and how he disappears one day. She works very hard in both novel and book to survive: each stroke of a instrument, each killing of a deer, each harvesting, cooking is a tremendous effort and she show it physically. She becomes one with nature, but not de-gendered.

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The movie succeeds in bringing out the deep individuality of the animals: each is individually filmed and as all but the cow and mother cat die, we grieve for them as valuable lives. This is a film that brings home to the viewer how animals have lives like humans through showing us the companionship of the animals and the central heroine.

The book weaves in thoughts she has of her life before: as a young woman, young mother, the sense of loss she had when her children started going to school and she was not able to help them, her dependence on her husband, and various less concrete thoughts — all really depressive and melancholy. They provide analogies and pointers to how to take the book as a parable which are not voiced in the movie. Most of all the horrifying  closing scene is much more prepared for with hints and memories, and the growing constant references to Lynx now dead, not being there any more, and then it is or feels much shorter.

We are also led to feel maybe she could have been smarter and not told the dog not to attack the man and maybe the man would not have been able to kill the dog. But that is her thought.  So the movie uses it more melodramatically, singly without qualification, and all at once with a big blow and then the ending is swift. I felt at the end of the movie what could be suggested is suicide, while at the end of the book it seemed to me obvious she carried on and on and on.

What the movie can do is provide alternations between silence and sound, the voice of the narrator thinking and her silent face looking on and remembering the scenes she’s lived through as she writes them down. The camera during moments of intense horror and sadness slows down the movement and the actress appears to float in air, to be part of a dream fragment. The music can be deeply melancholy with oboes and violins. often discordant and disjunctive, and again crash down with percussive hits to grate on us.

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Carrying Lynx tenderly to bury him

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Ceasing to write her reports

My gut feeling is the story whether conveyed through novel or film is deeply humanizing. That might sound paradoxical — for after all she is living without human beings and the only one to show up is savagely murderous – maybe his response to finding himself alone. But she grows and we do with a sense of pity and identification with the animals as presences every bit as valuable and varied as the human being at the center.  I don’t think it is a distopia or a utopia — at any rate it’s not a newly built world somewhere else but is the natural world we know only she’s walled in and has no people about; it’s fantasy because she just happens on just these animals she needs and can love and love her. I felt a strong sense of bonding — when she loses all the animals but the cow and the old cat I remembered how I have lost my husband, mother, father and am left with a daughter living with me, one further off and two cats. I have to survive and get along and I wasn’t doing very well in November; I am doing better with my new regime of sleeping and eating regularly.

There are two marvelous critique/explication/evaluations of the book and movie on-line: Laura Kapelari’s Feminist Utopia and Dystopia: Marlen Haushofen’s The Wall: Kapelari argues for the relevance of Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex and Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun; she tells of Haushofen’s life; she relates the fiction to events in WW2 and Austria. Lorraine Markotic in “Melancholy and Lost Desire in the works of Marlen Haushofen where Markotic explicates the sources and nature of depression for women in Haushofen’s novels. Markotic defines depression as the very loss of desire: by that mark I’d say our heroine does not seem a depressive, for no one ever worked harder to provide beautiful meals for herself and her animals; to keep the room tidy and neat, to adhere to a schedule of normal day and night time, to write, to wait (it seems) in hope for some change, someone to come.

Julian Polser has also discussed on line what he thinks the most significant incidents, the universality of the film and difficulties in filming it. He finds the woman’s developing reaction isolation to be central to what happens to her, and seems to find her unhinged by its end.

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She carries on alone for a while before finally stopping and saying she will join the white crow

Ellen

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S&S, P&P, MP — all published

Tomorrow Mr Haden is to dine with us. — There’s Happiness! — We really grow so fond of Mr Haden that I do not know what to expect — Austen to Cassandra

Dear friends and readers,

Three letters from the series Austen wrote when in London with Fanny Austen Knight in 1815, nursing Henry, negotiating a deal and overseeing proofs of Emma, meeting with Stanier Clarke, delighted with the apothecary, Charles-Thomas Haden.

Stanier Clarke shows himself to be a manipulative courtier and while he genuinely likes MP and may have been the moving spirit in the invitation (though Scott was invited 6 months earlier and to dinner with HRH), he does not seem to understand its mood if his analogies are anything to go by. For those interested in Stanier Clarke, Chris Viveash also wrote a short biographical sketch, “The Divine and the Donkey,” Persuasions 16 (1994):16-20.

In her letter Austen is on the side of someone waiting on someone else, feeling she has precious little to offer to get Murray or the printer who have have promised to do work for her to get her project moving, which is the publication of Emma before she leaves London, which is looming. Henry’s business is still sliding away, and though he’s better he is not well (who would be, considering, she asks in her next letter). Her own feeble weapon is to ask if the supposed displeasure of HRH because the book is dedicated to him will hasten things. And if not incompatible with Murray’s stock needs, Henry would dearly like another book by Scott.

But then comfort comes, showing Murray perhaps the better person than Stanier, or at least brighter, and a wise businessman, since courtesy and attention cost so little (and yet more people are like Stanier Clarke than Murray in these exchanges), for very quickly at least a few proofs arrive and two books! The third letter to Cassandra is far cheerier, indeed suddenly her cup runneth over for our Jane is taken with yet another man, Charles-Thomas Haden: she senses a fellow spirit, though apparently her age and his lack of rank make it out of the question. She fills Cassandra (and us) in on the gaieties such as they are of Henry’s house (the Fowles have sent a brace of pheasants) and does little acts of verbal kindness towards those in Chawton: Frank is remembered through his long-suffering endlessly pregnant wife whom Janes “hopes” will “continue to get well fast.” Keppel street and servant Richard not forgotten nor the cold. She concludes asking (demands) in return that Cassandra tell in her next what Martha’s plans are and that she be remembered to Miss Benn.

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125 (A), from James Stanier Clarke, Thurs, 16 Nov 1815, Carlton House, to JA at Hans Place

Austen’s letter 125D, 15 Nov, was a sincere request for real information: she wanted to know what is the unwritten or socially inarticulate meaning of of her being told she was “at liberty to dedicate any future work to HRH the PR without the necessity of any Solicitation.” The rub clearly is that the phrase is precisely what she might not be: she might not be “at liberty” to not dedicate the work.

And like so many people I’ve met all my life this man does not explain to her what is meant, oh no, he simply repeats the code in different words; what is particularly grating is he understands that she is worried that she is not at liberty. Sometimes when you ask for the subtext of some statement the person genuinely can’t or won’t tell you (so deeply ingrained in the person are such kinds of meanings that for anyone not to be sure makes them uncomfortable). On top of this aggressive obtuseness, he gives himself power here by saying “I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part.” What’s implied here now is that she has asked to dedicate the book, which (as he very well knows) she has not done. I don’t find such behavior ridiculous but all too often the way of the worldly seeking to dominate however pettily.

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Stanier Clarke (Jason Watkins) greeting Jane Austen (Olivia Williams) (from Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)

Here is the whole document:

12S(A). From James Stanier Clarke, Thursday 16 November 1815, Carlton House

Dear Madam, It is certainly not incumbent on you to dedicate your work now in the Press to His Royal Highness: but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period, I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part.

Your late Works, Madam, and in particular Mansfield Park reflect the highest honour on your Genius & your Principles; in every new work your mind seems to increase its energy and powers of discrimination. The Regent has read & admired all your
publications. Accept my sincere thanks for the pleasure your Volumes have given me: in the perusal of them I felt a great inclination to write & say so. And I also dear Madam wished to be allowed to ask you, to delineate in some future Work the Habits of Life and Character and enthusiasm of a Clergyman-who should pass his time between the metropolis & the Country-who should be something like Beattie’s “Minstrel:”

Silent when glad, affectionate tho’ shy
And now his look was most demurely sad
& now he laughed aloud yet none knew why

Neither Goldsmith — nor La Fontaine in his Tableau de Famille — have in my mind quite delineated an English Clergyman, at least of the present day — Fond of, & entirely engaged in Literature — no man’s Enemy but his own. Pray dear Madam think of these things.
P.S.
I am going for about three weeks to Mr Henry Streatfeilds, Chiddingstone Sevenoaks — but hope on my return to have the honour of seeing you again. Miss Austen

Then a second paragraph that reads sincerely: Stanier Clarke’s favorite among Austen’s novels thus far is MP: he speaks of it in a way that shows he thinks it is matured version of her earlier, more developed, things coming out that were latent: it “reflects the highest honour on your Genius and Principles: in every new work your mind seems to increase its energy and powers of discrimination, but the next paragraph makes us wonder if he has been reading Austen aright.

What is commonly discussed is Clarke’s vanity asking Austen to put a version of himself into her next novel (showing by the way that the use of real people in novels as parts of portraits has been well understood since novels began). More telling from a literary standpoint, his mind leaps to romantic sentimentality unlike anything in Austen: Beattie’s “Minstrel”. Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield is read by Frances Burney d’Arblay in her journals as somewhat radical, questioning social arrangements of the day, the church. Stanier Clarke may be innocent of this but the association with La Fontaine is suggestive: “La Tableau de Famille” is satiric. I’d always linked VofW with parables like Rasselas (or, a stretch but of the same period and when showing war quite similar, Voltaire’s Candide) — or Prevost’s Le Doyen de Killerine, Killerine, histoire morale composée sur les mémoires d’une illustre famille d’Irlande (sceptical work of fideism).

He returns to himself, “no man’s enemy but his own” — and others may disagree but I feel the lengthy salutation in a man as learned in the manipulation of subtexts as this man is signalling to Jane Austen he has the highest respect and regard for her (despite her being a woman, not aristocrat &&c). He hobnobs with high sheriffs of Kent and stays in their country houses. He seeks a degree of intimate friendship (the word intimate had different connotations then what it has now and I mean the 21st century ones) and really would like to meet again. One has to wonder who was the mover in this? I suspect not HRH at all, but Mr Stanier-Clarke who even if he partly misread MP, really liked it.

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126: Thurs, 23 Nov 1816, to Murray, from Hans Place

A full month and two days after Henry attempted to negotiate more favorable terms for the publication of Emma (letter 122A & D, Fri/Sat, 20/21 Oct 1815), and nearly 3 weeks after Jane wrote Murray that her brother’s illness (which began around October 18th) still prevents Henry from replying (letter (124, Fri, 3 Nov 1815) but she is anxious to have the terms settled. Her first version more openly shows her to be the less powerful between herself and Murray (“I must beg the favour ..”), but both are to the same effect. For those who might like to speculate how Austen might have reacted (in her time of course as she would not be the Jane Austen we read had she been born in say 1946) to the Internet. In both versions of her letter, she declines to write any negotiation or offer in the Letter: “A short conversation may perhaps do more than much Writing.”

Also signing contracts.

Had the next letter (written the next day!) not immediately shown the reader that the printer’s sheets were in the house before Henry’s note to him and that Murray responded with replete reassurances (“He is so very polite, that it is quite overcoming”) before Jane’s to Murray got out of the house, Letter 126 might seem more pathetic.

Thursday 23 November 1815, 126. To John Murray

Sir,
My Brother’s note last Monday has been so fruitless, that I am afraid there can be little chance of my writing to any good effect; but yet I am so very much disappointed & vexed by the delays of the Printers that I cannot help begging to know whether there is no hope of their being quickened. — Instead of the Work being ready by the end of the present month, it will hardly, at the rate we now proceed, be finished by the end of the next, and as I expect to leave London early in Deer, it is of consequence that no more time should be lost. — Is it likely that the Printers will be influenced to greater Dispatch &Punctuality by knowing that the Work is to be dedicated, by Permission, to the Prince Regent? — If you can make that circumstance operate, I shall be very glad. — My Brother returns Waterloo, with many thanks for the Loan of it. — We have heard much of Scott’s account of Paris — if it be not incompatible with other arrangements, would you favour us with it — supposing you have any set already opened? — You may depend upon its being in careful hands.

I remain, Sir, yr ob. HumServ
J. Austen, 23 Hans Place

From the opening of letter 127 — written the very next day to Cassandra:

I have the pleasure of sending you a much better account of my affairs, which I know will be a great delight to you. I wrote to Mr Murray yesterday myself, & Henry wrote at the same time to Roworth [the printer]. Before the notes were out of the House I received three sheets, & an apology from R. We sent — the notes however, & I had a most civil one in reply from Mr Murray. He is so very polite indeed, that it is quite overcoming. — The Printers have been waiting for Paper-the blame is thrown upon the Stationer — but he gives his word that I shall have no farther cause for dissatisfaction. — He has lent us Miss Williams & Scott, & says that any book of his will always be at my service. — In short, I am soothed & complimented into tolerable comfort. —

Murray: none of it his fault, the printers have been waiting for paper, so you see no blame on anyone Henry or Jane is in contact with, but rather the Stationer. Which ploy Jane quite sees through. He also sends two books not just precisely the one Henry requested, but a book by a woman journalist (Helen Maria Williams, A narrative of the events that have lately taken place in France) on what’s happening in France, which Murray might suppose would please his authoress.

Henry’s business is failing; that’s why they are leaving London. He has been made seriously ill by the pace he kept up and his worries. Apparently he wrote that Monday and had no answer. They are on pins and needles waiting for the proofs. Is there no hope they will be read by the end of November? She leaves early in December. In fact though these first proofs were sent Emma was first advertised 21, 22,23 December. Jane is so desperate she’s even willing to imagine that a dedication to the prince will expedite it. Can he nag the printers, frighten them with that? (Doubtful, to expedite something you need to pressure people directly about their own concerns, e.g., their jobs.)

It’s interesting to see how readers at the time kept up with Scott. Remember Scott still did not sign his works so the Austens are among those in the know — while many many still not everyone. Is there a set already opened? she would not want to disturb packing arrangements. She promises to take care of the book.

I believe her and believe she was the sort of person who valued books and would return them. Many people really do not – value a book and not think it’s important to return them. (Consider the swift popularity of kindle).

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Austen’s letter 127: Fri, 24 Nov 1815, to Cassandra, Chawton, from Hans Place

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Jane (Olivia Williams and Charles-Thomas Haden, apothecary (Jack Huston) in the park walking and talking (from Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)

The full text (longish)

It is a cheerful letter and there are small acts of kindness in it – to the niece at Chawton, remembering the servant, Miss Benn, the hope that Mary recovers faster is a reference to this perpetually pregnant woman (who would die of exhaustion and probably complications over time). Everything seems to be going well. Jane is filling out the London life going on for Cassandra while Jane is doing proofs, negotiating, having her first chances at wider social life due to her books and the early slow growth of recognition that had begun.

Murray is clearly doing all he can no longer to appear to be procrastinating, but we should probably see this incident from his standpoint. He has numerous books to publish, to distribute, to have edited, keep his accounts, other authors to soothe and to add to his list or discard and I would imagine in his mind finds the Austens more than a little self-involved. Nonetheless he values the book and any future books that means enough to “soothe and compliment” his author into “tolerable comfort.”

Except and it’s a big except Henry’s business; the importance of that she does not discount.

I must have misunderstood Henry, when I told you that you were to hear from him today. He read me what he wrote to Edward; — part of it must have amused him I am sure; — one part alas! cannot be very amusing to anybody. — I wonder that with such Business to worry him,
he can be getting better …

His health is better but Austen does not think the climate (temperature? Air?) of London is doing him much good; she will not deceive Cassandra whatever she tells others. He has after all been ailing now for 2 months and for a period gave them a fright. Mrs Tilson by the way is one of these endlessly pregnant giving birth and miscarrying women:

but he certainly does gain strength, & if you & Edward were to see him now I feel sure that you wd think him improved since Monday. He was out yesterday, it was a fine sunshine-y day here (in the Country perhaps you might have Clouds & fogs — Dare I say so — I shall not deceive you, if I do, as to my estimation of the Climate of London) — & he ventured, first on the Balcony, & then as far as the Greenhouse. He caught no cold, & therefore has done more today with great delight, & self-persuasion of Improvement; he has been to see Mr Tilson & the Malings. — By the bye, you may talk to M’ T. of his wife’s being better, I saw her yesterday & was sensible of her having gained ground in the last two days. —

Another little Disappointment. Mr Haden advises Henry’s not venturing with us in the Carriage tomorrow;-if it were Spring, he says, it would be a different thing. One would rather this had not been. He seems to think. His going out today rather imprudent, though acknowledging at the same time that he is better than he was in the Morng.-

I’m glad to see that Austen has concern for servants once again. This note also re-emphasizes this is November weather which in England can be raw and chilling through your bones

Supposing the weather should be very bad on Sunday Evens I shall not like to send Richard out you know-& in that case, my Dirty Linen must wait a day

She does seem more exhilarated over Mr Haden’s presence than the publication of Emma.

A Sheet come in this moment. 1st & 3d vol. are now at 144. — 2d at 48. — I am sure you will like Particulars. — We are not to have the trouble of returning the Sheets to Mr Murray any longer, the Printers boys bring & carry

We must add Charles-Thomas Haden to the men she was drawn to as a marriageable man. What made it impossible and just a flirtation: his rank, he is beneath her; shades of Emma. And he is equally attracted to the younger woman, Fanny Austen Knight. Austen goes so far as to regret having specific individuals over as getting in the way of open tete-a-tetes. I am not sure that she recognizes that for Haden the patient comes first: she suggests that Captain Blake must be in a bad way to take Haden from them. No it’s that Captain Blake will pay Haden a fee. Edward is her brother Edward’s son and heir and she has shown affection for him all along – remember the incident of the skirts when he was three.

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Fanny (Imogen Poots) playing, Mr Haden (Jack Huston) listening (from Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)

Tomorrow Mr Haden is to dine with us. — There’s Happiness! — We really grow so fond of Mr Haden that I do not know what to expect. — He, & Mr Tilson & Mr Philips made up our circle of Wits last night; Fanny played, & he sat & listened & suggested improvements, till Richard came in to tell him that “the Doctor was waiting for him at Capt Blake’s — and then he was off with a speed that you can imagine. He never does appear in the least above his Profession, or out of humour with it, or I should think poor Capt Blake, whoever he is, in a very bad way. —

Evening. — We have had no Edward. — Our circle is formed; only Mr Tilson & Mr Haden. — We are not so happy as we were. A message came this afternoon from MrsLatouche & Miss East, offering themselves to drink tea with us tomorrow — & as it was accepted, here is an end of our extreme felicity in our Dinner-Guest. –I am heartily sorry they are coming! It will be an Evens spoilt to Fanny & me. —

She can still be amused of his jokes:

I have been listening to dreadful Insanity. — It is Mr Haden’s firm beleif that a person not musical is fit for every sort of Wickedness. — I ventured to assert a little on the other side, but wished the cause in abler hands. –[ Continued upside down at top p 1J)

An interesting aspect of this letter: how to look at it in this subset is that it gives a sense of the daily and evening life of Henry’s household at the same time as Austen is reading her proofs and general life going on which impinges on them. This includes the usual shopping, her love of what luxuries they have in London; she does not forget to thank Lizzy – a kindness – and she has in mind Martha, reminding Cassandra who has left Martha out:

Jane wants to know her plans and Cassandra will not forget them in the next letter (so Cassandra did at times try to dampen that relationship)

Fanny has had a Letter full of Commissions from Goodnestone; we shall be busy about them & her own matters I dare say from 12 till 4. — Nothing I trust will keep us from Keppel Street. — This day has brought a most friendly Letter from Mr Fowle, with a brace of Pheasants. I did not know before that Henry had written to him a few days ago, to ask for them. We shall live upon Pheasants; no bad Life! — I send you five one pound notes, for fear you should be distressed for little Money.-Lizzy’s work is charmingly done. Shall you put it to your Chintz? … I hope Mary continues to get well fast-& I send my Love to little Herbert.t–You will tell me more of Martha’s plans of course when you write again . — Remember me most kindly to everybody; & Miss Benn besides.-Yours very affec’t.

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Her cup runneth over in London. Haden a soul-mate whom however she must soon leave. I can’t resist adding though we will have a little more of Mr Haden i these letters that the man died young (1824, so he was 38, having been born 1786) of TB at Malta where he went to practise -– everyone knew that to go out to such a colony was dangerous: Cassandra lost her one suitor we know about; to look at fiction in Vanity it’s assumed Rawdon Crawley’s appointment by Lord Steyne is a death sentence and it is. Haden had married by that time and left a son.

Ellen

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Jim Carter as Mr Carson; Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley (Season 2, Episode 6, Downton Abbey) — the equivalent characters in WWWWDA are Edward, the concierge seemingly in charge of the Alexander, an expensive building in mid-town Atlanta, Georgia, and the super-rich heroine who married for money, position, and to support her siblings, Samantha Jackson Davis

Dear friends and readers,

This is a blog about a novel that is what many people (including those who have read Ausen’s six famous novels) seem to assume Jane Austen’s books are: light romantic amusement about privileged women whom nothing dangerous happens to. Oh yes the characters feel deeply at moments, they seem to be at risk of poverty now and again, but we never see anything really unpleasant, in fact everyone is doing fine financially and at book’s end all are reaching some form of their heart’s desire however qualified; there is a strong hierarchy in place which is defended; sex is kept in bounds. Indeed Wendy Wax goes further than this: she justifies taking menial occupations (like working for a butler service and as part of a building staff, the equivalence of service in a great house) as somehow work that will give people strong self-esteem because they are contributing to the ease and convenience in what seems the most trivial things of others (which turns out to be what happiness we can have); the immiseration of the middle class in the US today is made to appear fun, glamorous, like being in a play (or PBS serial costume drama). This is chick lit without the stings Helen Fielding or Karen Joy Fowler provide.

And yet I enjoyed it — read it with ease, kept at it, it made me smile at times, it helped me through a nervous patch at night; the idea is very like The Jane Austen Book Club: the characters in the novel were parallel to some in DA and the book itself a kind of intermediary between US culture today — presented in a way that removes all real troubles and changes what is a misery into a grace — and DA — where the trick is similar. And her seductive technique of at the core presenting characters whose emotional problems and fears are like women’s today are seen in the three chapters of her next book offered at the book’s end: The Beach Road. Our heroine is in her fifties, her children are “out of the nest,” and for the first time in years she has time to herself (she feels) and she is planning to make herself a room of her own, when she discovers that her husband, a financial adviser of some type, has been hiding from her for the last six months that he was fired and has lost all their money …

I suggest this is the kind of book Ann Patchett writes, only she disguises hers as liberal and sophisticated politically when they are not (see Bel Canto, How much does a house know?; Another patron saint of liars).

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A couple of weeks ago now, the night before All-Hallow’s Eve to be exact, with my friend, Vivian, I went to Politics and Prose expecting to hear Azar Nafisi talk; instead I watched her smooch and present obviously false hype for a fellow reactionary Iranian woman author who had come to this wonderful bookstore to sell her book. Nafisi did talk on a level of conscious larger understanding that Goli Taraghi was incapable of, but alas Taraghi was allowed to natter on.

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All was not a total loss because I had a good time with my friend in a nearby pizza place, and while there I ascertained the third sumptuously produced book of lavishly beautiful photographs on heavy art paper, Behind the Scenes in Downton Abbey is not simply a reprint of the first two books (The World of Downton Abbey [Season 1], The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A new Era [Season 2, WW1]) but a book in its own right. But also that there is less text than ever, more hype, though more photographs. I couldn’t see my way to spending over $30 but did buy a paperback for less than $15 (I feel one should support the bookstore), Wendy Wax’s While we were watching Downton Abbey, and whatever I may say about it in the following remarks, I should confess that not only did I enjoy it in a deep way as I read, but found I could read it anywhere, at any time, it cheered me with its cleverly allusive wit, and even helped me get through my nervousness during a weekend where I went to my first longish conference by myself.

The hero of the novel is Edward, Mr Carson (showing Max’s values) who has shepherded them all gently into knowing one another, watching the programs, discussing them, teaching the arrogant brother to Samantha, Hunter a false third-grade lesson, who in turn brings investment to Edward. None of this is unbelievable in terms of the given fiction.

At the same time it’s important to know the world of this novel has never heard of CEOs, tax rates, real salaries, how physical work is hard, the stigmas of lower ranks, how no oe wants you when you’ve no connections to offer. The US has brought up a generation of women who believe in this trajectory of the novel’s hero’s success:

No matter how weird the revelation, Edward never lost sight of the fact that one of a concierge’s most valuable assets was discretion; a trait his grandfather, who’d been’in service’ at Montclair Castle in Nottingham just as his father before him had been, had begun to teach Edward somewhere around his tenth birthday.

Edward reached for his cup of tea; taken at four each afternoon and allowed to go slightly tepid just the way he liked it, and looked around his small office tucked away in a corner of the Alexander’s lobby. He’d hung his black blazer on a hanger on the back of his office door in much the same way that his grandfather had removed and hung his jacket when he went ‘below stairs’ at Montclaire. But Edward had hung his own diploma from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration next to it.

He’d begun to fully understand-and practice discretion-when he landed at a Hilton property in Maui as an assistant manager-a glorious posting from which he’d sent two years’ worth of sun-filled postcards home to the Hungry Fox, the family pub in Newark-on-Trent, upon which Edward estimated some fifty to sixty inches of rain fell annually. It was in the Aloha state that he’d handled his first celebrity peccadillo and learned the art of misdirection and the value of resisting bribes. The lessons-and postcards-continued in big-city hotels it} San Francisco, New York, and Miami Beach.

There’d been smaller postings, too; a fancy dude ranch in Montana where he’d fallen in love with the sweeping vistas of the American West and bought a pair of snakeskin cowboy
boots that he owned to this day. A charming Band B in the historic heart of Charleston where he’d reveled in the beautifully restored buildings and come to terms with the pairing of shrimp and grits, and enjoyed the languid blend of heat, humidity, and manners.

The Hungry Fox would go to his older brother, Bertie, much as the title and country estates his forebears had served in had gone to oldest sons. But that was all right with
Edward, who had pulled plenty of pints behind the Fox’s scarred wood bar but could never imagine staying there; not even to keep the woman he’d loved.

Bertie continued the tradition of mounting Edward’s post-cards, which now papered an entire wall of the bar. The last seven years’ worth had been sent from Atlanta, making the Fox’s patrons among the lucky few in England to know exactly what the Fox Theatre, a restored Egyptian-themed 1920s movie house, looked like. He’d sent postcards of other Atlanta landmarks-like what was left of the apartment Miss Mitchell had written Gone-with the Wind in; Stone Mountain, Atlanta’s answer to Mount Rushmore with its three-acre mountaintop carving of three Confederate heroes of the Civil War; CNN Center; Turner Field; the World of-Coca Cola.

Six months ago he’d sent not a postcard but a sales piece he’d had printed after his newly formed personal concierge company, Private Butler, had been selected by the Alexander’s condo board.

What do children learn in schools? the above is a mirror of dream (very loud) commercials which invent stories of ever increasing fairy tale upward mobility (it’s called).

The interest for me is to see what is the charm of such a book — and by extension why is this view of Austen so pervasive and contributory to her supposed popularity. Its matter does not correspond to any of the narrow typologies Diane Philips worked out for women’s novels of the second half of the 20th century, but contains the single woman-mother novel, the sex and shopping novel, and the aga paradigm all in one book.

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Deborah Findley Brown as Lady Sybil as first seen in Downton Abbey, Season 1 — there are three heroines in WWWWDA; in DA there seem perpetually to be 3 young women upstairs and 3 down

It is that beneath the glamorous patina, beside the plot-line where three troubled women find friendship, escape and relaxation by watching Downton Abbey once a week on Sunday evenings, Wax manages to dramatize real fears, insecurities, anxieties problems lower to middle class women in the US experience today. Far from advocating challenge and take a chance, these are books which show how if you follow a modified conventionality you’ll have all the material goods you want and some moderate happiness; you can cope.

Samantha’s father had embezzled a huge amount of money from Jonathan Davis’s firm, and found herself without the means to support herself or her siblings at age 21, and being beautiful (as are two of the three heroines) had no problem attracting Davis’s proposal and marrying him as a solution to being able to live a comfortable life (which includes ordering fancy food from restaurants when she feels expected to produce the exquisitely delicious upscale meal), and having stability, respect, safety. Samantha’s thoughts as she copes with her mother-in-law, her spoilt siblings, her own guilt at never having gotten pregnant capture the mind of someone who married for presentability, career, social success. Trouble is she feels she does not love him and assumes he married her out of pity. She does all she can to please him in every way and the pleasantest sense of sex life is projected by the tasteful scenes of their love-making. I enjoyed these.

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Downton Abbey, opening of Season 3

Claire Walker early on in her marriage discovered she didn’t like or respect her husband, was tightly constricted by him and his parents, so bravely left him to endure 16 years of single motherhood during which she did manage to publish two (absurd) romances, with very Scottish highland type titles, which did make enough money that she has now taken a year off work to write a novel, moved out of the far-away lower-cost suburban rings around Atlanta (yes it’s registered but not with awareness of what this means that all the poorer and low middle people in Atlanta live outside its center, and must have cars to get into the center with any regularity). She also lives in the Alexander, a “beautifully renovated Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival-styled apartment building” (Claire is the first to describe the place), into a small flat of her own. Her daughter, Hailey, is in the usual upscale live-away college (aren’t all American young adults there?) and determined (like the good American she is) to support herself as far as she can. Trouble is now that Claire is not driven by so many other things to do and really has time when she looks at her computer screen nothing comes. What’s happening is she’s trying to write something real for the first time as she has the time to reach herself.

Lastly, Brooke Mackenzie, chubby (a horrific no-no), awkward, clumsy, mother of two, never worked for a living, and now deserted by her husband after she worked for years to support him through medical school; he is now making huge sums doing cosmetic surgery and has remarried a woman like a Barbie doll (he is likened to a Ken doll) and they have moved into the Alexander too. She is the Edith of the piece — and it was when at the gym half in the mind of Samantha Wendy Wax as narrator delivered her complacent moralizing condescension and exhortation over Brooke’s overt depression while Brooke is on a gym machine, I knew I was in a mean or small book however entertainingly written.

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Laura Carmichael, Edith-as-susceptible-librarian averting her eyes from the hideously scarred Patrick Crawley, a phony revenant in Season 3

The stories of these three women play out poignantly and through ordinary human emotion. I found that the upbeat tendency of them over-all was comforting. It turns out Jonathan after leaving Samantha for a month, no longer able to endure her obvious desperate sycophancy, loves her. It turns out Claire begins to write of the women in the building as heightened by paradigms she discerned in DA. It turns out Brooke can work as a party-thrower, consultant for Edward and begins to be attractive to a man who is a widower.

Of larger schemes or perspectives this book of course is utterly innocent — of the real hard world in which these human emotions occur our author appears to be innocent. Of course she’s not or she’d not have gotten as far as she has as a novelist. As in a formulaic subgenre, there is no sense of how Wax as a woman or person relates to her fiction.

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It’s also a sort of sequel to Downton Abbey as several of the characters have their equivalents in DA. We all know — or it used to be assumed — how popular are these sorts of sequels to Jane Austen. I would be much surprised if Wax has not hoped for a film adaptation along the lines of Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen’s Book Club;. At any rate not yet.
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Rob James-Collier (promotional shot to the right) as Thomas Barrow — the equivalent character is Samantha’s brother, Hunter, a supremely egoistic wheeler-dealer who presents a face to meet faces but has to bow-down to Edward in order to survive when upon his losing yet another large sum of money in a capital venture Samantha cuts off his allowance

So I also found myself eagerly looking forward to the discussions of the shows, though repeatedly these were neutral descriptions showing Wax’s cleverness as none of them deviated into presenting what was the reactionary take we were to get. Nor did any discussion relate what was on the TV screen to what has happening in the Alexander. So not interesting and yet I underlined the bits that were there. They seemed to make visible what one might think viewers thought as they watched — except they were so conventional. Fellowes’s notes to his scripts shows that readers have far more amoral and idiosyncratic reactions than people assume. So, e.g. Claire musing:

Over the last two Sundays she’d watched Anna and Bates fall in love with each other despite some dark secret that kept him from being free, seen sparks fly between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, and watched Lady Sybil begin to notice just how attractive the Irish chauffeur was. Then there was poor Edith, who had stirred the pot by writing a letter to the Turkish embassy that would presumably implicate Mary in Kemal Pamuk’s death.
The plot had been thickening and the story lines racing rorward at a pace that Claire couldn’t help admiring even as she compared its graceful dance to the fumbling, halfhearted steps of her own manuscript.

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Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle): a on-running joke of Max’s book is the Isabella who has been hired to be a 19th century servant, acts the part of Anna and her like out all wrong. She thinks it relies on accidental sounds we make. It does not, at any rate not entirely — mark of WWWWDA’s conservatism is there is no equivalent for Mr Bates, no disabled characters either.

The witty allusions told me what a sophisticated woman the author of the book is – so often so amusing, mocking the inner life of the fairy tale (or Downton Abbey episode) from a deconstructive point of view at the same time as it’s validated in the patterns of the three central stories. (There are others adumbrated.) E.g.

There was plenty of precedent for prince-marrying in the fairy-tale world. Sleeping Beauty had not ignored the prince’s kiss in favor of a few more years of shut-eye. Cinderella never considered refusing to try on the glass slipper. And Snow White didn’t bat an eyelash at moving in with those seven little men. (p 2)

I wish I could write like this.

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To sum up: The questions for readers and study and reading groups afterward concentrate on what Wax feels are the parallels between the TV serial drama and the book and “real world” women’s problems and characters’ troubles in the book. I wonder if Wendy Wax is her real name: it is so pattern-y.

I should have mentioned at the opening of the book the characters have all heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, and they have no trouble understanding why it is so popular: it is the same dream as this book, a fine good man supports the heroine in easy comfort and the sex fun. That is how the 50 Shades is seen here.

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Coda:

I notice some of the actors in the series who have stayed on are concerned to make sure their promotional shots and appearances utterly undermine their roles lest they end up permanently typecast and these are the downstairs characters:

Jonathan-Ross-with-Joanne-Froggatt-and-Rob-James-Colliersmall
Who are they?
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One guess. This one is easy. Why?

Obviously Sophia McShea aka Daisy

Ellen

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August1985blog
The author of this blog, her husband, their children August 1985, so Jim 36, baby Izzy one and a half, Laura over 7, me, 38, @The Cloisters, NYC

Dear friends and readers,

This is not a foremother poet posting — as after all Mary Oliver is still with us. I preface it with images that have nothing particularly to do with Oliver, but everything to do with why I’m putting some poetry for Sunday here. My husband and I used to love to walk along the top of Manhattan by the Hudson River where we could see the cliffs, though on most days they lacked the gorgeousness of Bellows’s vision

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George Bellows (1882-1925), Terra

and some of Oliver’s poetry (as in her famous often-reprinted “Poppies“, where I fancy a less green-blue is intended).

As some may know, my beloved husband, Jim Moody, died October 9th, 2013, and by way of informing the people who read this blog (as I may recur to this topic again) I’m offering some of Oliver’s intendedly consoling poems and a brief excursis and critique. Call this a sort of foremother poet posting.

It is now autumn; during my husband’s illness (esophageal cancer metastasized into his liver) for us time outside us stood still; we never noticed summer had come and gone:

Fall Song

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Mary Oliver is said to combine environmentalism with a woman’s voice. As I am now a committed environmentalist I like this, but agree with feminists who suggest that identifying women with the natural world (as she sometimes does) hardly empowers them as people.

This blog was prompted by my coming across this characteristic poem:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I’m not there yet; it’s more like this for me:

Dogfish

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know
what a smile means,
don’t you?

*

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was

alive
for a little while.

*

It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.

*

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don’t we?

Slowly

*

the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.

*

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway it’s the same old story – – –
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

*

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.

*

And probably,
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Nature savage in tooth and claw, as Tennyson put it.

Another accusation which has justice is Oliver forces her endings to be optimistic. No more than Jane Austen (say, reading Hannah More or Laetitia Hawkins) do I like to be coerced into certain conclusions. Do you think she would have liked Oliver’s poems?

As one of the members of Wompo (Ann) wrote a few years ago, if only Oliver had left off the last line of this:

Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stetching her black body from the pillow.
The way she makes her curvacious response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch her a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

Ann said we should end with the cat:

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I haven’t got a black cat: we have Ian, our ginger tabby, and behind him you see our copy of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

A good friend, however, pointed this one out to us on Women Writers through the Ages (@ Yahoo), discerning in the ending needed irony:

When I am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Judy Geater suggested the poem is about the “difficulty of writing , and the need to find quiet moments which can give strength to cope with the rest of life.” So there is a Wordsworthian romantic current here (“The world is too much with us, late and soon … “)

I could end on that note, but an attentive reading of Oliver also yields the insight life, the world are harsh and exciting:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The world announces your place–not that we announce our place. It is pre-determined, like being born a wild goose … For my part I have ever preferred the quiet, as in Cowper’s:

Scenes must be beautiful which daily viewed
Please daily, and whose novelty survives
Long knowledge and the scrutiny of years …

but I recognize the truth of the poem, only must we stay in the place we are thrown. I did not — and without having broken away I would not have had my 46 fulfilled years with my Jim.

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

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Mary Oliver and a sweet dog

There are many on-line sites about Mary Oliver with selections of poetry. Poetseers, the Poetry Foundation; an npr interview whose problem is the usual: Oliver and and the interviewer do not so much as mention what is destroying the natural world and its people, let off the hook those who continue to profit from all that makes and is the cancer scourge (see also Vigil and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring).

Ellen

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Lichfield Cathedral: Honora Sneyd lived here for a time with Anna Seward

Dear readers and friends,

This blog has two subjects: lesbian arts and spinsters. About a year ago I was so enthused by a review of Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts, and now I’ve been sent it to review and have skimmed the book as a preliminary move. First it’s a beautiful book, an art book, about 18th century landscape and gardening and the popular images conferred and imposed.

If one wanted seriously and earnestly to persuade readers that Jane Austen had some lesbian tendencies (as when she and Martha spent the night on the floor together one fall evening at Steventon), to substantiate Emma Donoghue’s thesis about a type of individual recognizable in the 18th century (thought not openly admitted), the lesbian spinster, one could not do better than advise the person to read this book and Moore’s previous, Dangerous Liaisons, together of course with reading selections of letters and diaries from literary women of the later 18th and early 19th century. Dangerous Liaisons close reads the overt lesbian patterns in Edgeworth’s Belinda, Austen’s Emma and Sister Arts takes us from a group of 18th century artists (including Mary Delany and Anna Seward whom Moore claims had a sexual love relationship with Honora Sneyd) to 20th century lesbian poetry and art through nineteenth century poets (Emily Dickinson one) and into contemporary aligned art, Mickalene Thomas. The purpose: to demonstrate a lesbian aesthetic.

I am also reviewing for a Burney newsletter Volume 5 of Burney’s Early Journals and Letters and there I’ve come across long pieces on Mary Delany and have been reading about her. She’s a woman who may be said to have begun life all over again several times, from devastating falls/disappointments (except maybe the second husband). As a biography about her says (Mary Peacock’s The Paper Garden), Delany’s best time began at 72!

As background one has to read books like Ann B. Shteir’s Flora’s Daughters: Cultivating Women, cultivating science. I cannot say this is an entertaining read; Shteir’s style is dull, but she does convey important information about women in science in the earliest days they entered consciously. She tells of how plants were organized by different taxonomies and the superiority of Linnaeus’s precisely because he used sexuality as a marker; the arguments to keep even this knowledge from women as too sexualized. How that was successfully fought off. Latin could be used to exclude women, but Lineaus’s terms had just two words. Then a chapter on the popularizers, who women read and where they got these texts. I’ve been aware of how much information women in the 17th through later 18th century had of what was useful in medical science as well as plants and vegetables. They were responsible for putting food on the table. (Shteir does not make that kind of point).

LetitiaBushDrawingMaryDelanysfirstIrishloveblog
Letitia Bushe, Mary Delany’s first Irish love, a drawing (1731) in the et Arcadia Ego situation: I too (Death) am here in this idyllic place.

Moore opens by going through lesbian genres, lesbian type arts hitherto not recognized as lesbian specifically. Sister Arts is filled with color plates and drawings — all by women, often flowers and still lifes. Moore wants to show us a kind of taste or aesthetic crossing across countries and time too, and claims should be part of the lesbian matter we will attached to Virginia Woolf. I’m not sure Moore is not simply identifying l’ecriture-femme (the best book is still Beatrice Didier’s) . One source of botanical knowledge was a book by Rousseau: Lettres elementaires sur la botanique (1771-73). The readers and comments in letters on botanical knowledge include the French Swiss (the Constants) and English so-called bluestockings whose lifestyle again exemplifies Emma Donoghue’s findings.

But I wonder.  Charlotte Smith who lived an anguished life of much hardship turned to botany for solace. Her Rural Walks were not meant just for children, but contained available sound scientific women’s delights.  As “To the Goddess of Botany,” tells you, she was also escaping a hard life and resulting depression (she had a violent abusive husband, many children to bring up and place and was cheated out of a legacy for them).

To the Goddess of Botany

Of Folly weary, shrinking from the view
of Violence and Fraud, allow’d to take
All peace from humble life; I would forsake
Their haunts forever, and, sweet Nymph! with you
Find shelter; where my tired, and tear-swoln eyes
Among your silent shades of soothing hue,
Your “bells and florets of unnumber’d dyes”
Might rest — And learn the bright varieties
That from your lovely hands are fed with dew;
And every veined leaf, that trembling sighs
In mead or woodland; or in wilds remote,
&;Or lurk with mosses in the humid caves,
Mantle the cliffs, on dimpling rivers float,
Or stream from coral rocks beneath the Ocean’s
waves.

Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Sonnets, 1797

In an exhibit of the art of Mickalene Thomas I saw recently at the Brooklyn Museum of life the accent was on how she also turned a life of hardship and abuse into beautiful art:

mickalene-thomastwowomenblog
Mickalene Thomas

It may be because the general culture at large either ignores women-centered writing and its characteristics or downright despises it. Or is there some other motive here? some other tabooed type of woman?

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

Now three days ago I queried Austen-l on the uses of the term spinster:

In a hispanic film adaptation of S&S, From Prada to Nada, Mary (Marianne) arrives home the morning after the central party of the film. Mary has gone to bed with Roderigo-Willoughby; she says she wants to marry Roderigo for his money, class, all he can give her of freedom from having to work for a livingt. Nora (Elinor) says “that makes you a whore.” To which Mary replies, “that’s better than being a spinster.”

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Hot quarrelling

Now I know the word “whore” is nowadays a slang word for slut, promiscuous. It’s not used in its more accurate sense of prostitute receiving money for sex. But I find the use of “spinster” as an opposite fate to selling oneself to a man odd. I asked on Austen-l, Janeites and Women writers through the ages whether spinster was still in common use and if this use struck them as unexpected.

After 3 days & nights one person had responded by referring to an essay on spinsters as represented in films and dictionary definitions of the term: the term is not just to refer to a woman who “spins” – it was until the turn of the century [1900] a legal term meaning an unmarried or single woman – it is used in legal proceedings as a title, or addition to the surname; as it was / is? in the Book of Common Prayer.

Well I knew that. So I asked her: “Do you use the word spinster?” No reply.

I had thought the term “spinster” had gone out and was to be found only in older texts or historical fiction or history. “Jane Austen would have been called a spinster.”  In Ross Poldark we are told that “Verity Poldark was on her way to be a spinster.” When I was young I did want to grow up, get married, have children; around age 9 I dreamt of a wedding, and husband (never very distinct image) and 3 children. But the state to be dreaded was “old maid,” the word in use was “old maid.” I used the term “old maid.” I used to show in my undergraduate classes a powerfully great movie, Wit, about a woman who is a professor in her later 40s diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. It was a shock to me the first time the students wrote about it, how many of them held against her that she had never been married. I cannot remember if they used the word spinster but a whole host of negative terms for her as cold, dried up, isolated (that’s a negative one) were trotted forth.

It seems that people think with the word “spinster,” but do not voice it aloud. Is it such a horrifyingly unacceptable state for a woman. The implication is not bachelor girl but someone who remains a virgin. I think an ambivalent attitude towards the real Jane Austen as we find her in her letters and fiction derives from having been a virgin, especially the refusal among other things to see that she’s basically asocial outside her family — much of the false way of presenting her comes from hiding from, compensating for her spinsterhood.

CassandradiscouragingJaneblog
Cassandra (Gretta Scacchi) discouraging Jane (Olivia Williams) from going through with her promise to marry Bigg-Wither (MAR)

In both Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets Jane Austen is presented as depressed for much of her life because 1) she never married, and/or 2) everyone is nagging her to marry. Miss Austen Regrets has her trying to tell people she didn’t want to marry but they refuse to believe her, and the final scene implicitly suggested she and Cassandra had an inactive lesbian relationship. In the film’s opening scene we saw that Cassandra convinced her not to marry Bigg-Wither and now in the closing one Cassandra is drenched in remorse and asks for forgiveness.

Women alone in modern movies are often semi-promiscuous (aggressive detective type)s. When Helen Mirren is Jane Tennison, her state of mind remains opaque. Such programs are said to be transgressive. A few hours did do much to convey what’s it’s like to live as a single woman having a career, and much of the time we were to see that Helen was not personally happy though she was professionally fulfilled. She was useful to other women and the vulnerable and powerless.

Episode4WantingProfessionblog
Season 3, Part 4, morning: Edith (Laura Carmichael) getting up early for breakfast (nothing to keep her in bed) now wants a profession

To invoke Downton Abbey the coarse (insensitive, unsubtle, prejudiced) way of understanding the humiliation of Edith for trying to marry Sir Anthony Strallon was she was so despicable as openly to chase him rather than be a “spinster”. I believe one of the characters throws the word of her. She’ll be a spinster. So Lady Edith (Downton Abbey) brings us back to Nora’s insult of Mary (From Prada to Nada), both women’s films. The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn is the only movie I can think of that tries to defy the stereotype – there the heroine was framed as eccentric.

On commercial popular TV, the program “Girls” seems to me not to have made much progress. (See Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker article, Barbaric Hannah.) Why? well for a start all these girls are into sex, and supposedly realistic sex at that. Like many a women’s film the sex in Girls is not idealized. I did watch 3 episodes of the first season myself and went from feeling liberated by what I was seeing to feeling it was a one joke or one paradigm scenario. Girl rises above humiliation, puts her clothes on, and walks away, only to return the next day. Does this show really put an end to the demand that women marry, have sex with men and babies? No. it does show an alternative lifestyle going on for a small group of upper class white women living in Manhattan for the time of their later 20s. These are precisely the terms of Sex and the City. And fashion, however differently presented, is central to both, the women costuming themselves.

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Lena Dunham and her “girls:” Illustration by Michael Carson. Do not they look like they are waiting to be taken by a man?

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

My two topics come together in the strong prejudice against, refusal to recognize lesbians and continued hostility to unmarried women and women who haven’t had any children. The sources of the stigmatizing, ostracizing are the same. Women’s central function is to provide sex and children for men. ? Paradoxically if you try to write a book on women living independently and with other women and show their power relationships from the aspect of power but not sex you are misunderstood: that’s what happened to Betty Rizzo’s Companions without Vows — many of whose subjects were women who were unmarried at the time of their jobs as companions.

Ellen

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Hodge, Samuel Johnson’s cat, a memorial statue before “Dr Johnson’s house” in London

Dear friends and readers,

I remarked on my blog on my time away this summer in NYC that I had read a couple of books beyond Ashford’s Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, one of them being, Doris Lessing’s wonderful On Cats, and had blogged about Lessing’s books and my two cats on Under the Sign of Sylvia.

I told about my blog on Lessing’s On Cats on C18-l (a list-serv dedicated to any and all things having to do with the 18th century), and the topic morphed to postings on the illustrations to Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the death of his Favorite Cat,” about its illustrators, and then, morphing again, to attitudes towards cats and primates in the 18th century, finally ending on Samuel Johnson and his cat Hodge.

An article by Lisa Berglund was recommended and I read it: “Oysters for Hodge, or Ordering Society, Writing Biography, and Feeding the Cat,” Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 33:4 (2010): 631-645. I found her insightful and informative. Much of the article is about the specifics of Johnson and Piozzi’s relationship and Boswell and Johnson’s relationship, how their presentation of Johnson’s relationship with his cat differed and reflected their own outlook. For me what I liked was the material that comes through on Johnson as a person, especially some of the most loveable aspects of the man, and Johnson and his favorite cat, Hodge. (We must recall of course that we don’t know for sure that Hodge was Johnson’s favorite cat; perhaps Johnson just said that to make Hodge feel especially valued, so Hodge’s feelings would not be hurt — joke alert.)

The basic stories told and retold by Johnson’s biographers (and again by Berglund) are taken generally this one: we see Johnson sitting and stroking his cat, Hodge, and informing his visitor, say Boswell, who (part of the context of the anecdote) tells us he hated cats and had been telling Johnson about Mr Langton, “a young Gentleman of good family. ‘Sir, when I heard of him last he was running about town shooting cats.’ Langton is treating cats the way Hancock and Hasting’s self-perceived spiteful neighbor (or ex-friend) treated their expensive Siamese (see my Doris Lessing blog). A cat is a shooting target. Johnson proceeded to assert vigorously that Hodge was as “a very good cat”, “a fine cat,” and (especially) that no one would shoot him.

Johnson had years previously bought a little black boy as a toddler, whom he named Francis Johnson, brought him up, educated and freed him. Francis as an adult worked as Johnson’s servant. Johnson also left his money to Francis who was basically cheated out of it (but that’s another story). Johnson himself defied hierarchy by going out himself to buy himself oysters for Hodge. That is, he did not ask Francis to go. Gentlemen and ladies were not supposed to go shopping and (perhaps) bargain and haggle. That’s what human servants were for. But Johnson did not want to ask Francis lest it derogate in Francis’s mind from Francis’s dignity. Note Johnson was thus sensitive to a man who was an ex-slave and black. Nor did Johnson want to bother any other servant: Johnson feared they’d get back at the cat, and he knew the cat was helpless. Cats in the 18th century were expected to find their own food, make it (by say killing a bird or mouse or rat.)

(It’s telling to me that When I told Jim about this he remembered how in Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, Sam Weller says “”It’s a wery remarkable circumstance, sir”, said Sam, “that poverty and oysters seems to go together” (Chapter 22). Jim was suggesting maybe Johnson’s value for Hodge only went so far as oysters were cheap. In other words, undercutting the thrust of the story, which is to show Johnson tenderly concerned for his cat.)

To return to Berglund’s article and one of her major theses. She allows to emerge from her materials the reality of thought or feeling behind the intellectual justification for dis-valuing non-human animals. To do so defies subordination, hierarchy, ranking. Boswell and Piozzi object to the way Johnson values Hodge in ways analogous to the way they (by implication) object to the way he values Francis (a black man).

Berglund quotes Piozzi: “Piozzi reports, ‘Francis the Black’s delicacy might not be hurt, at seeing himself employed for the convenience of a quadruped’”. To be fair, Piozzi also has an “impassioned statement” about “the place of pets in the lives of human beings occurs in British Synonymy. A lengthy entry in that book of English usage, discriminating the terms ‘hunting’, ‘coursing’, ‘shooting’ and ‘setting’, concludes with an idealised description of human and animal sympathy, exemplified in the hierarchical relationship between a dog and his master.” But note how central hierarchy still is. Piozzi’s story about Johnson buying the oysters occurs in a context where Johnson himself complains about the behavior of Piozzi’s mother’s spaniel at the dinner table, where Johnson felt the dog was overvalued. Spoiled, we’d say.

Boswell’s passages are also shaped (Berglund shows) by Boswell’s profound “discomfort” with Johnson’s physical and emotional direct engagement with his cat.

What an energetic description Boswell gives us, full of physically evocative verbs: ‘scrambling’, ‘smiling’, ‘half-whistling’, ‘rubbed’, ‘pulled’. We experience Johnson very much embodied here, rather than as detached intellect or dictatorial moralist. And yet what makes this passage engaging and at the same time odd is our realisation that Boswell’s vivid portrait emerges from profound discomfort. Boswell has an ‘antipathy’ to cats. If he observes Johnson and Hodge’s caresses so closely, it’s because their intimacy makes him nervous. He can barely force himself grudgingly to ‘observe’ that Hodge is ‘a fine cat’. (Three monosyllables are very atypical of rattling Bozzy.) Indeed, the words applied to the cat and his master graphically contrast to those with which Boswell describes himself: ‘antipathy’, ‘uneasy’, ‘suffered’. Boswell is uncomfortable, almost in pain, as he watches Johnson’s interaction with his pet.

Johnson’s affection for his cat, and his behavior to Francis is more than eccentric. It threatens “Boswell’s “sense of his perogative.”

This perogative is what we as human beings are entitled to do to animals because we are superior, not because (the real truth) we can. As Stanley Holloway dramatized in his brilliant music-hall routine, “Evings’ Dog Hospital” (unfortunately I can’t find it online), where the animal-keeper or “Mrs Evans” (he blames his wife) is clearly sadistic towards the “petted creatures,” animals who can’t talk.

They don’t have hands with thumbs either.

Yes there have been some changes, and the first are seen in the later 18th century, in the Romantic era, but only very grudgingly. More:

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Jim, age 24, with our dog Llyr, age 3

I suggest this kind of argument and these sorts of “pregative” feelings are still very strong with us today. When my dog died and I grieved so, I was told it was “inappropriate” because Llyr (her name) was “just a dog.” That phrase was repeated at me in tones of hostility at my absurdity. A central thesis in Sy Montgomery’s Walking with Apes is the reality that the three women scientists she writes about all were intensely concerned that non-humane primates have lives as valuable as human beings, as worthy. Goodall put an obituary for Flo, a female chimp, in the Sunday Times. Gildikas shows the loving relationship orangutans are capable of.


Gildikas herself mothering Supinah who herself takes her job as mother seriously (the way Lessing’s black cat does)

Family life is concentrated on by Goodall in her books:

Fossey fought a war for gorillas to have equal space and food as human beings. She lost.

Temple Grandin understands this seemingly ineradicable idea that there is this subordination of all creatures, this hierarchy and some of us are just ontologically more valuable than others. When one group of people exterminate another group, they are treating this other group as vermin (see film, Marcel Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity on WW2 holocaust of Jews) and presents her objections with tact in her Animals in Translation. She tries to persuade you it’s in your interest to regard your farm animals this way at least until the moment you kill them for your profit. But her case is harder since she write about non-pets and animals people kill and eat for food or use for materials for clothes &&

We do more than eat animals. We experiment on them ruthlessly. See my blog on Frederick Wiseman’s Primates: Watch what these primates do.

Against Thomas Gray’s cruelty and those who think it inappropriate somehow that Blake’s illustrations make the cats and fish so human-like, here are two cat and one caterpillar poems, two (appropriately) from the long 18th century:

“The Retired Cat”

A poet’s Cat, sedate and grave
As poet well could wish to have,
Was much addicted to inquire
For nooks to which she might retire,
And where, secure as mouse in chink,
She might repose, or sit and think.

I know not where she caught the trick,—
Nature perhaps herself had cast her
In such a mould philosophique,
Or else she learn’d it of her Master.
Sometimes ascending, debonnair,
An apple-tree, or lofty pear,
Lodged with convenience in the fork,
She watch’d the gardener at his work;
Sometimes her ease and solace sought
In an old empty watering-pot,
There wanting nothing, save a fan,
To seem some nymph in her sedan
Apparell’d in exactest sort,
And ready to be borne to court.

But love of change it seems has place
Not only in our wiser race,
Cats also feel, as well as we,
That passion’s force, and so did she.
Her climbing, she began to find,
Exposed her too much to the wind,
And the old utensil of tin
Was cold and comfortless within:
She therefore wish’d instead of those
Some place of more serene repose,
Where neither cold might come, nor air
Too rudely wanton with her hair,
And sought it in the likeliest mode
Within her master’s snug abode.

A drawer, it chanced, at bottom lined
With linen of the softest kind,
With such as merchants introduce
From India, for the ladies’ use,
A drawer impending o’er the rest,
Half open in the topmost chest,
Of depth enough, and none to spare,
Invited her to slumber there;
Puss with delight beyond expression
Survey’d the scene and took possession.
Recumbent at her ease ere long,
And lull’d by her own humdrum song,
She left the cares of life behind,
And slept as she would sleep her last,
When in came, housewifely inclined,
The chambermaid, and shut it fast,
By no malignity impell’d,
But all unconscious whom it held.

Awaken’d by the shock, cried Puss,
“Was ever cat attended thus!
The open drawer was left, I see,
Merely to prove a nest for me,
For soon as I was well composed
Then came the maid, and it was closed.
How smooth these ‘kerchiefs and how sweet!
Oh what a delicate retreat!
I will resign myself to rest
Till Sol declining in the west
Shall call to supper, when, no doubt,
Susan will come and let me out.”

The evening came, the sun descended,
And puss remain’d still unattended.
The night roll’d tardily away,
(With her indeed ’twas never day;)
The sprightly morn her course renew’d,
The evening grey again ensued,
And puss came into mind no more
Than if entomb’d the day before.
With hunger pinch’d, and pinch’d for room,
She now presaged approaching doom,
Nor slept a single wink or purr’d,
Conscious of jeopardy incurr’d.

That night, by chance, the poet watching,
Heard an inexplicable scratching;
His noble heart went pit-a-pat,
And to himself he said—“What’s that?”
He drew the curtain at his side,
And forth he peep’d, but nothing spied;
Yet, by his ear directed, guess’d
Something imprison’d in the chest,
And, doubtful what, with prudent care
Resolved it should continue there.
At length, a voice which well he knew,
A long and melancholy mew,
Saluting his poetic ears,
Consoled him, and dispell’d his fears;
He left his bed, he trod the floor,
He ‘gan in haste the drawers explore,
The lowest first, and without stop
The rest in order to the top;
For ’tis a truth well known to most,
That whatsoever thing is lost,
We seek it, ere it come to light,
In every cranny but the right.
Forth skipp’d the cat, not now replete
As erst with airy self-conceit,
Nor in her own fond apprehension
A theme for all the world’s attention,
But modest, sober, cured of all
Her notions hyperbolical,
And wishing for a place of rest
Any thing rather than a chest.
Then stepp’d the poet into bed
With this reflection in his head:

MORAL.

Beware of too sublime a sense
Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who dreams himself so great,
And his importance of such weight,
That all around in all that’s done
Must move and act for Him alone,
Will learn in school of tribulation
The folly of his expectation.

(I’d have made the moral show us the humanity of the cat in its irrationality, its fear. Lessing says cats retreat so, often are scaredy cats, wary in ways that threaten them because we take them too early from their mothers).

Readers may know of Anna Barbauld’s poem against animal experimentation (Priestley against mice), but few probably know this beautiful one which takes in the complexities of people’s relationships with even insects:

“The Caterpillar”

No, helpless thing, I cannot harm thee now;
Depart in peace, thy little life is safe,
For I have scanned thy form with curious eye,
Noted the silver line that streaks thy back,
The azure and the orange that divide
Thy velvet sides; thee, houseless wanderer,
My garment has enfolded, and my arm
Felt the light pressure of thy hairy feet;
Thou hast curled round my finger; from its tip,
Precipitous descent! with stretched out neck,
Bending thy head in airy vacancy,
This way and that, inquiring, thou hast seemed
To ask protection; now, I cannot kill thee.
Yet I have sworn perdition to thy race,
And recent from the slaughter am I come
Of tribes and embryo nations: I have sought
With sharpened eye and persecuting zeal,
Where, folded in their silken webs they lay
Thriving and happy; swept them from the tree
And crushed whole families beneath my foot;
Or, sudden, poured on their devoted heads
The vials of destruction. – This I’ve done,
Nor felt the touch of pity: but when thou,
A single wretch, escaped the general doom,
Making me feel and clearly recognise
Thine individual existence, life,
And fellowship of sense with all that breathes,
Present’st thyself before me, I relent,
And cannot hurt thy weakness.– So the storm
Of horrid war, o’erwhelming cities, fields,
And peaceful villages, rolls dreadful on:
The victor shouts triumphant; he enjoys
The roar of cannon and the clang of arms,
And urges, by no soft relentings stopped,
The work of death and carnage. Yet should one,
A single sufferer from the field escaped,
Panting and pale, and bleeding at his feet,
Lift his imploring eyes,-the hero weeps;
He is grown human, and capricious Pity,
Which would not stir for thousands, melts for one
With sympathy spontaneous:-Tis not Virtue,
Yet ’tis the weakness of a virtuous mind.

And Marge Piercy’s Sleeping with Cats from her memoir with the same name. In the book it has a subtitle: “On Guard”

I want you for my bodyguard,
to curl round each other like two socks
matched and balled in a drawer.

I want you to warm my bedside,
two S’s snaked curve to curve
in the down burrow of the bed.

I want you to tuck in my illness,
coddle me with tea and chicken
soup whose steam sweetens the house.

I want you to watch my back
as the knives wink in the thin light
and the whips crack out from shelter.

Guard my body against dust and disuse,
warm me from the inside out,
lie over me, under me, beside me

in the bed as the night’s creek
rushes over our shining bones
and e weak to the morning fresh

and wet, a birch leaf just uncurling.
Guard my body from disdain as age
widens me like a river delta.

Let us guard each other until death,
with teeth, brain and galloping heart,
each other’s rose red warrior.

My father’s cat, Pushkie: the poor cat was so afraid and nervous, she hid in the bedroom most of the time; she died young the way Siamese often do. My father was very fond of her because she was so loving to him, and he grieved severely when she died

Ellen

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