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

Written near a port on a dark evening

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fame Decorating Shakespeare’s Tomb (Kauffman)

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

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Athra and Theseus (Kauffman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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From closing frames of S&S (modeled on Andrew Wyeth picture?, Liew, Molinari, Sabino)

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From closing frames of NA (imagery of pastoral intermixed with nightmare, novel as Catherine’s dream, Lee, Pildari, Eckelberry)

Dear friends and readers,

Surely it’s time to write about Austen here again. Long overdue some might say.

Last night I read and perused the latest graphic novel of Northanger Abbey, words chosen and written by Nancy Butler, the artist Janet K Lee; colorist Nick Pilardi, letterer Jeff Eckleberry. It’s a Marvel product and since in just the way the company that produces a film predetermines the shape and much that is indefinably the film so the comic book publisher Marvel predetermines elements of the commodity they sell. Thus it’s no surprise if the other Marvel graphic novel I own, which I also reread and looked at the pictures for far more carefully and deeply than I’ve done before, Sense and Sensibility, also by Nancy Butler, but this time artist Sonny Liew, colorist L. Molinai, Letterer Joe Sabino, showed a strong family resemblance.

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The Dashwood family approaches Barton Cottage (Liew, L. Molinar, Joe Sabino, angle and shot from the 1996 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson S&S)

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Catherine and Isabella exploring Bath (based on general gothic mode, Lee, Pilardi, Eckleberry) Isabella “easy, unreserved conversation” (!), showing Butler can do irony

Both have marvelous large pictures at the close of the most striking of the panels that are smaller inside the story — and here both are highly original or they allude to famous works of art or movie/movie genres.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them — I have a strong tendency to see these books as comic books but under the influence of Simon Grennan’s Dispossession, which I bought at the Trollope conference meeting, and is a graphic novel adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s John Caldigate, I began to look at the individual panels seriously for the first time, and could see they are genuinely art; in these two cases expressionistic, and project a general outlook and mood, not necessarily Austen’s but a reading of her. It’s obvious that Posy Simmonds and Audrey Niffennegger’s graphic novels are art, Simmonds’s images are so distinctive — and Niffennegger’s spun art in the manner of artistic poem books. These Marvel books are not so; they are deliberately set up in frames and use typologies resembling more comic book images — probably not to put off the comic book buyer. I can’t say that all Marvel comics are genuinely good; and I know some of the recent autobiographical graphic novels rich on text are poor on images (which makes them poor graphic novels), but these are worth perusal.

As with Posy and Niffennegger, one aspect of the enjoyment is the text. In both cases Butler is the writer and she choses wisely to take as much from Austen’s text straight as she can. I once had a publisher tell me when you publish about Austen let your guide by to quote her when you can. You are sure to please that way. So you are reading Austen epitomized, in bits and pieces, sometimes altered and expanded with piquant details, often from the era, but they are well chosen.

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Mr Willoughby and Marianne have their first literary discussion: it’s about Scott

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As Henry and Catherine drive up to the Abbey, it is gothic — purples, greys, angles which are edgy

The pictures matter of course, maybe more than the words. In the case of NA I was surprised to find very dark colors used for Bath itself, Bath made gothic, with overlarge oddly angled depictions of the characters (so we are inside their minds), haunting kinds of shapes for what happens. In the case of the S&S, there are zoom shots, the characters look so overawed and powerless against the screens they are caught in, especially Mrs Dashwood in her widow’s garb, at a kind of great distance angle of shot from on high, very sudden too.

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The page where Catherine receives the invitation to go to the Abbey and discusses it with the Allens

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Fanny Dashwood needling Mrs Dashwood to make her take Elinor away, Mrs Dashwood vowing not to take this punishment

Butler (in a preface) talks of Northanger Abbey as sending up the gothic, but the artist and especially the colorer made Bath into a gothic image, with the characters sometimes looming and scary in context. Everything feels pervasive from colors seeping around to lines — lots of odds oranges, off-color yellows, browns. As if a page is the inner or deeper feeling of Catherine. The lines on the face of John Thorpe make him menacing. Real grit in the S&S: this frame combines the melancholy of the three Brandons: Robert Swann who uses a cane (1983), melancholy Alan Rickman with that brown jacket (1996), David Morrisey brooding most of all:

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(You do have to abandon your critical faculties to the cartoon’s edge into absurdity)

In the S&S panel you see the characters drawn as on a stage from different angles and then squares within squares with faces close up, so tensions from social life come out: in the preface to S&S Butler speaks of the book as about sisters, and outrage over the way the Dashwoods are treated by the laws and when they arrive in Devonshire custom. Butler and Lee’s S&S takes off from the movies.

It’s undeniable that many of the characters are drawn to recall specific actors in either the 1996 Emma Thompson S&S or the 2008 Andrew Davies one; the dresses; the way Colonel Brandon is figured as so strong, manly, and melancholy with a cane. Many of the frames prefer what happened in one or other other of these two S&S than Austen’s more simple lack of particulars. So Barton Park recalls the 2008 S&S grand mansion (even photographed or drawn in the same way) and Barton cottage the 1996 S&S house (as they come up the walk) though the inside is more like the 2008 (as they go through the place, with the same clothes as Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan had on). As this is the third time I’ve read this one I started to see new things, and for the first time recognized some memories of the 1983 S&S film too — in the dresses, in some of what’s emphasized in the choices of text, occasionally a frame resembles a shot in the 1983 film — the script writer for the 1983 film was Alexander Baron, a fine novelist in his own right who did quite a number of the Dickens and one notable Bronte adaptation for the BBC in the 1980s. Mrs Jenkins is even modelled on Patricia Routledge from the 1971 S&S (Denis Constanduros the writer), with this wild page showing Ciaran Maddan as Marianne and Joanna David as Elinor:

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The hairstyle suggest Irene Richards is remembered in the grieving Elinor

Yet at the same time similarly there is a particular interpretation which is Butler and Liew’s own and it’s poignant because of the high shots. It’s more daylight mind (Molinari did the colors) here than the Marvel NA, with normal perspectives on the size of the characters (they don’t overwhelm a page) and the background made into light of the day or quiet of an evening so there is a quieter feel to the work.

I have read a previous graphic novel adaptation of Northanger Abbey (words Trina Robbins, illustrator Anne Timmons): a Gothic classics volume which contains 5 novels so each one is shorter (it includes Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, words Antonella Caputo, illustrator Carlo Vergara); I want to say that the pictures are in black-and-white makes them limited only I know that Posy Simmonds makes beauty, gives depth with drawings on white too. I think it’s the wild angles of the frames themselves, sudden thrusting and most of all that the gothic is kept to throughout.

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Swirling

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Also the use of Austen’s words: in the NA and S&S both occasionally Andrew Davies’s superb perceptive scripts.

I probably enjoyed them strongly because I’ve not been reading Austen in a while and when I return (I am grateful this is so) after having been away for a while, I forget all the outside materials I read about Austen: while some adds and enriches, so much is said or has been that to say something new or different (which is required) mars the experience because it’s so intermixed with the critic-writer’s political/social point of view and my feeling of how this book is supposed to operate for them in the Austen world, or just things that are said that are a new extreme and grate, or simply ignore the book altogether or mock it (in effect it’s so over-the-top in its reactive reading) though the person writing does not always know that.

Post-texts. S&S has the occasional wink as featured in the upper frame of its windowed cover:

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while the NA is not above bats, and allusions to vampires, Udolpho and bookishness (the ancient table the two sit on are held up by fat ancient tomes)

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I should not have been surprised as I love studying film (and films are moving pictures), loved art history and see pictures as endlessly meaningful when well done. In this Marvel NA, we have many narrowed eyes, on the male and female faces, suggestive; in this S&S really detailed developments out of Austen via different movies.

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It’s a small vindication of the readings each perform since Austen’s words are used to pull NA into gothic realms, and easily host images from across 4 S&S films

My daughter Izzy bought the Northanger Abbey one on Sunday, November 1st, and we said it was appropriate to the season and All Saint’s Day — which for me would have been very lonely but for her and my two cats – and Austen and memories of the Austen movies.

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor

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Charity Wakefield as Marianne

Ellen

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Caspar Friedrich, Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818-22, a detail)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m gratified to be able to report the Times Literary Supplement has published a review of Valancourt Press’s edition of once the most rare of the Northanger Abbey gothics, Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine; where I come in for praise for my introduction. I quote from part of Julie Peakman’s review (TLS, October 9, 2015, p 26)

Little was known about the author until recently, except for an incorrect suggestion by Michael Sadleir that she was a Roman Catholic, based purely on the Catholic sentiment in her writings. Recent research by Becky Czlapinski and Eric C. Wheeler has discredited the idea; she was in fact a Protestant, born Eleanor Carter (1770-1847), lived in Leicestershire. and married at twenty-one. Her husband. a military doctor called Joseph Barnabas Sleath, died four weeks after the death of her first child in 1794. leaving her bereft and in debt.

Peakman retells of Eleanor’s liaison with an already married clegyman, John Dudley, and how it connects to “a creative period for her:”: between 1809 and 1811, she published The Bristol Heiress, The Nocturnal Minstrel and Pyrenean Banditti. She married Dudley in 1823 after the death of his wife. After recounting the stereotypical gothic elements of the story, Peakman goes on to highlight some of the novel’s strongest features:

Sleath describes the wildness of the natural Iandscape, with its rugged rocks and dark, horrifying forests, in detail. The moon is ever-present as the mists waft over the darkened skies, and mysterious spectres glide through unlit corridors.

She makes the mistake of seeing the back-stories as secondary to the book. To quote from my introduction:

Large swathes of Sleath’s novel are given over to tranquil stories of Madame Chamont who we first meet as Julie de Rubiné (an allusion to Mackenzie’s novel Julia da Roubigné), as a mother nurturing and educating a boy, Enrico de Montferrat, and girl baby, Laurette whose true parentage are learned at the book’s close.  This boy and girl emerge as the ostensible central pair of characters who experience a Longus-like Daphnis and Chloe (Greek, 2nd century romance) semi-incestuous erotic childhood that becomes a shared adolescent love … Some of its paradigms do recall particular obsessions in Radcliffe: e.g, the dark father-lover who seeks to murder his daughter-niece and worldly callous aunt, and a ghost is explained away, but the one character who stays in the narrative from beginning to end is the older woman, the romance’s mother.  Madame Chamont stands in for Sleath.  The book’s back stories often parallel Madame Chamont’s and project many intense retreats into solitude from the severe calamities of the social world that we find in the main narrative. Gothics lend themselves to psychoanalytical parallels, but it is intriguing to note that, like Madame Chamont, the book’s true central male character is the Conte della Croisse (called LaRoque).  Della Croisse is the most carefully delineated complicated male character who Madame Chamont comes upon early in the book, and who keeps turning up at hinge-points in the plot-design, and himself gradually presents a believably mixed personality (amoral with virtuous impulses). Like Madame Chamont, at this point LaRoque seems at a central male (it is he whom she hears being tortured) …

The second half of my introduction tells the story of Eleanor Sleath’s life. The first half (which I quoted from above) is written in academic style and really tells of how the book is mostly misunderstood (it’s not a German horror story but rather Radcliffian – imitating and inspired by Radcliffe) and how the older main characters — a woman and man he mother and the unmarried priest — reflect Sleath’s life. It’s common to think that women in the earlier period lived these chaste obedient dull lives: they wisely hid themselves. She is typical in being widowed young, though the first husband died too quickly to make her endlessly pregnant and leave her with too many children. In this era they did know of contraceptive methods, but often people didn’t use them.

Sleath was part of the same milieu as Austen; since we now know of this life of hers, its events and hiding makes me wonder what we don’t know of Austen’s. Was Austen so closely chaperoned that she never came near any of Sleath’s experiences? probably. Unlike Austen, Sleath was freed by a marriage and widowhood.

Then what probably happened was the woman had a stillborn child by this clergyman out of wedlock (who La Roque is surrogate for) — very dangerous in this period because of what she could have been accused of. Being middle class with connections she was able to hush it up. A dead husband, two dead babies, and an intense love affair. And one result of all this were these books. (Peakman calls the love affair “ill-advised:” by whose criteria?)

My introduction does not say Sleath probably had this stillborn child or very bad miscarriage, only refers to the rumors that she had one and how this hurt her position with her “friends” and broke up the coterie. It’s speculation I can put here.

But Peakman is right that for “a modern-day reader accustomed to a linear narrative,” these may seem a distraction instead of what they are: the core of the novel.

She concludes however that

while the novel is by no means high literature, it makes for good bed-time reading. It is also fun to understand what the eighteenth-century reader was enjoying. This new edition, with an informative foreword by Professor Ellen Moody, is a valuable addition to the modern study of a work formerly all but lost to public view.

I hope this review helps sell The Orphan of the Rhine, and my introduction makes Sleath’s narrative content and the book’s autobiographical context better understood.

I look forward eagerly to when Valancourt publishes my edition of of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake, where I prepared the text itself, wrote explanatory notes as well as an introduction. We are promised the coming spring.

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

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

Ellen

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annotated-northanger-abbey-cover

In one [room] perhaps there may be a dagger, in another a few drops of blood, and in the third the remains of some instrument of torture; but there being nothing in all this out of the way …

in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies … (NA:2:5, 237 and 2:9, 275)

Dear friends and readers,

In an earlier posting on a plan for a course on the second half of Jane Austen’s publishing career (Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion), I mentioned the publication of a new annotated edition of Northanger Abbey by the Belnap Press (a division of Harvard University Press). Due to the kindness of the editor (a reader of this blog), I now have a copy of my own, have read it, and am happy to declare it’s more than another book in the spirit and done much in the manner and with the expertise of Patricia Meyer Spacks’s edition of Pride and Prejudice, which if the reader clicks on the link she (or he) will find I reviewed on my live-journal Under the Sign of Sylvia blog.

Similarly, its indisputable value and addition to previous editions of Northanger Abbey are its plethora of unusual pictures, all appropriately chosen, numbers of which I’d never seen before — and I am a confirmed lover of this parody-as-gothic novel as well as gothic novels, which are themselves sometimes profusely illustrated. And similarly too, if you are a student and what you are seeking is a text annotated line-by-line where the editor assumes you know very little about the 18th century and offers paraphrases as well as continual basic information, the annotated edition to buy is not this one, but rather David Shapard’s annotated Northanger Abbey for Anchor books. I link in and append a brief history of the recent editions of Northanger Abbey, which, as Wolfson demonstrates, has a more complicated publication history during Austen’s lifetime than the four novels published while she was alive.

Wolfson’s edition differs from Spacks’s edition in that she addresses herself directly and at times aggressively to arguments over how to read Northanger Abbey and its target audience is as much a scholarly and theoretical as it is a popular one. To achieve this scholar’s intervention Wolfson alludes to sophisticated perspectives. Although its first draft is early, since the text we have represents some of Austen’s most mature writing after 30 years of writing and reading as a novels; and since Northanger Abbey is a self-reflexive bookish book about books, Wolfson’s edition has even more extensive annotation than Spacks.

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A typical illustration in this book

Wolfson’s introduction is more than twice as long as Spacks’s and divides into several parts. The first phase (MAD-Woman Jane Austen) describes the as yet small commercial world of novel publishing in which as Susan, Austen attempted to publish Northanger Abbey for the first time (1803). Wolfson reprints Austen’s letter (1809) revealing a thwarted attempt to wrest the manuscript back from a publisher who had held onto the book without publishing it for 6 years. This documented history is significant because it helps situate the book’s early versions in at least 3 eras: the 1790s when it was first drafted, 1798-99 when a full copy was achieved (according to a note by Cassandra, Austen’s sister) and 1803, after the first gothic craze was over and a time of war: Wolfson writes:

the novel is an odd repository, of strange and uneven power … it is the earliest drafted, longest gestated, last published of Austen’s completed novels (10)

The history of Austen’s life that follows is of her reading life and the literary world of the reading and writing Austens, with especial attention paid to the gothic books she imbibed (rather like Austen on Catherine Morland’s early years), especially Anne Radcliffe; and about how Austen’s family’s marriages as well as careers connected directly to the fortunes of the French revolution and Napoleonic wars, and local mutinies and riots too: Eliza de Feuillide’s French husband was guillotined: Henry was an offer at the savage punishment of a mutiny; Francis and Charles saw action at sea.

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Wolfson includes an image of Anne Radcliffe I’ve never seen before: she was highly reclusive and usually all you see is one poorly drawn image — look at the somewhat withdrawn expression on her face, her withdrawn eye contact.

Byron is not forgotten as Wolfson surveys Austen’s letters, with an emphasis on their understandably jaundiced recitations of the endless pregnancies of the worn out (and sometimes dying) married women she knew. Wolfson does omit Austen’s thwarted attempts to create a community of single women for herself and Cassandra once they left Steventon.

Wolfson then surveys the specific world of gothic novels, how they were disregarded, mocked, parodied, moralized at, and yet sold, were avidly read (to pieces many of them) and persisted, and that their political slant was more often sympathetic to Jacobinism than the authors could afford to admit during this repressive time. Wolfson suggests these gothic novels mirrored the violences of the time, real undercurrents picked up in one Monthly Review , which labelled them “The Terrorist System of Novel Writing.” All this is necessary because Wolfson is of the school that sees Northanger Abbey as more gothic than parody, more serious in its critique of the real injustices and tyrannies of social life (especially for women)

The 1790s was, after all, a decade of high political anxiety: the cataclysm of the French revolution just over the channel, and a reactionary alarm that by 1792 was turning Britain into a police state, with a vast network of surveillance and severe prosecutions for dissent and treason. It wasn’t just that gothic novels were haunted by political anxiety; they were prime supporters of its language and metaphors (25)

Then amid citations showing how Northanger Abbey is a text “rife” with [allusions to, discussions of] “books”), Wolfson launches into what is the basic outlook of the edition: most of Wolfson’s extensive annotations across the book (when not about the era, its landscape art and buildings, or about commercial book history), are intended to bring in arguments from elsewhere which demonstrate that Austen’s book is far more a serious gothic than it is a parody of the gothic mode. She does not neglect the Bath sections:

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The ground plan of the lower assembly rooms in Bath

But the emphasis is not there. When she is not contextualizing with references to the commerce in books or landscape, it is the gothic she elaborates upon. A central reader for her is William Galperin in his Historical Austen where he argues that Austen’s narrator is not the author, and suggests the views the narrator takes do not adequately account for the gothic materials in and outside Northanger Abbey. If you then follow the trail of scholarship cited in the notes in the introduction (and later in the text too) you come upon an essay by George Levine (“Translating the Monstrous: Northanger Abbey,” Nineteenth Century Fiction 30:3 [(1975]:335-50) where he makes a persuasive case for seeing the narrator as blind to the implications of her text. This matters because Austen’s narrator may seem to dismiss the gothic, or confine its reach to places other than southern England. There has been a long tradition of disparagement and dismissal of Northanger Abbey (i.e., claims the gothic sections are inferior, the use of Catherine as a naif in a satire interferes with its realism, the two parts jar &c&c): Wolfson is having none of that.

I agree and wrote and delivered and published 2 papers to this effect, one at a conference demonstrating that the two “parts” of novel are beautifully intertwined and held in a kind of equilibrium (“The Gothic Northanger Abbey: a Re-evaluation“); the other published in Persuasions arguing for Madame de Genlis’s tale of female abuse, one of Smith’s novels about sexually transgressive woman and another (relatively unknown) part gothic parody as sources for Northanger Abbey (“People that marry can never part: an Intertextual Study of Northanger Abbey, Persuasions 31:1 [2010]).

Wolfson goes further than this, and seeks to make Northanger Abbey into a kind of post-modern gothic text where strong feminist protests mingle with sceptical acceptances of dark metaphysical realities beyond the natural and probable world (41). Again follow the trail of citations and you find yourself reading Paul Morrison’s “Enclosed in Openness: Northanger Abbey and the Domestic Carceral” (Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 33:1 [1991]:1-23) which makes the (perhaps puzzling to a non-academic reader) that we can find ourselves in a prison when there are no visible walls around us — I’d put it through social restraints and surveillance.

I recommend to common readers Andrew Davies’s film adaptation of Northanger Abbey (Granada, 2007) where through small changes and additions Davies conveys just how unhappy and tyrannized over Eleanor Tilney has been, with no more “distressing” (Catherine’s word) scen than the one in which Eleanor tells Catherine she dare not attempt to keep Catherine at Northanger past the following dawn. Early on Liam Cunningham as General Tilner conveys a threat of some unspeakable sexual punishment he is prepared to wreak on Eleanor. Henry tells Catherine he is grateful to her for visiting Northanger because of his sister’s usual isolation and suffering. When Austen dismisses Eleanor to happiness at the book’s close amid the self-reflexive amusement and witty plays on romantic conventions is this unfunny sentence: the narrator knows “no one” “better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity” (II:16 [31], 234).

More problematic is the aligning of this text with the kinds of insights into the gothic Jack Sullivan outlines his his Elegant Nightmares: Kafkaesque experiences which point us to an unknowable perhaps malevolent-feeling universe, caught up in the romantic poetry and art of the era which Wolfson uses Coleridge, Richardson, among other texts to illustrate, ending on (as is common with deconstructive criticism) with what is not there, e.g., the window curtains in Catherine’s room which keep moving.

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Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman at the Window (1882)

The turn here — Wolfson is too clever to go explicitly this far — could take us to guilt, persecutions, torments (which are found in Genlis and Smith’s texts) and metaphysical contemplations (see Sabine Rewald’s Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th century, a text accompanying and explicating an exhibit of pictures seeking peace from such intimations). Instead for the last phase of her introduction, she returns to the text she has put before us, and explains aspects of her freshly-edited text where she returns to a Chapman emendation that captures how the “malicious fun” in some of the scenes in Bath where characters are not “just objects of ridicule,” but become participants in the sport” (49).

There is a problem in all this: Wolfson occasionally over-presses her text, she over-reads and she will puzzle many college-educated readers (say someone who did not go on to graduate school after the 1990s). Who is this book for? As I looked at it I had myself no doubt that had my parents bought me such a book when I was 14-15 and falling in love with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park (see First Encounters), adoration might have been the result. I might not have waited 40 years to get to Bath so that from the top of Beecham Hill I too could reject the scene as unworthy to make part of a picturesque landscape. How I would have been charmed by reproductions of David Cox’s lithographs

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The Royal Crescent in Bath (1820)

Wolfson is deft at intertextual citation, and in the modern academic way of talking about commercialism, weaves pop and arch language into her stories (Austen’s narrator is said “to go rogue,” 226n1). It seems churlish to complain that the way Austen is discussed as a professional author in a networked career marketplace is anachronistic (e.g., 7 where Murray is described as “savvy,” “massaging his network” when he asked Scott to review Emma), but in the service of accuracy and my own vision of her I’d say she had a serious vocation which she followed with a genuinely sincerely-held set of ethical beliefs. And these went counter to much that was popular as well as much of what passed for salon talk among the elite — plus of course she was very much fringe gentry, had lived a life on the margins and edge in Bath for years. Her time out in the “world” apart from her family as she would have mocked it was limited and what it offered had rightly shown her for books her father’s library was preferable:

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Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, The Gatehouse, Reading Abbey (included by Wolfson — an experience that killed Austen had to be rescued from lest she die of a contagious disease badly cared for)

She had to begin by self-publishing even though this is a period where the small number of distributed copies and needs of publishers made them hungry for books from women trying to add to the family income or fulfilling some spirit within them.She lived all her life inside her family group who she remained dependent upon financially; Wolfson points out sadly how little money she made in her lifetime. Nonetheless, she had to be pressured to dedicate Emma to the Prince Regent.

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Cruickshank, another illustration I’ve not seen

This is an edition which offers the beginner in Austen novels plenty of pictures and conversations and hard information too in the form of a coffee table book. It also offers beginning and more serious students readings of the novel that enable us to ask new questions of it. Of course amid all this apparatus, the novel that can delight the heart with comedy is still there and make us bond with the heroine and hero (see my blog on the 3 Northanger Films for “Jane Austen’s World” where I single out Felicity Jones and J. J. Feild for jell as a pair of characters whose mutual kindness, intelligence, and integrity of heart emerges gradually as very precious indeed against the novel and film’s ‘crimes of heart’). The crowded ball room, the real experience of frustration and desolation upon finding oneself a wallflower (unjust as Catherine should have had a partner — showing the dangers of pre-engagement), real anxiety when supposed friends pressure us to do that which we know will hurt us with real friends (and rightly). All the ink spilt in recent essays attempting to persuade me that Henry Tilney is a bully and pedant faze me not: I know such an intelligent, generous-hearted, tactful man is excellent husband material, especially when he comes equipped with a competency and house with lovely sitting rooms such as Catherine is shown on her visit. We do learn to distinguish real evils in life as we learn to feel for the now dead Mrs Tilney (married for her money), why accepting lying can do such harm.

So now we have yet another version of the text Austen left her brother and sister to publish — and perhaps name. I’ll end on a personal preference: I wish these Belknap Press book editors had not made the decision to have these details from nineteeth-century reproductions of upper class young woman as uniformly the cover for the set. We really should have had a modernized abbey. But no matter, Wolfson does provides several illustrations, including this modern photo of Stoneleigh Abbey, a huge pile which Jane Austen visited with her mother when a distant cousin thought he had a chance of inheriting it merely by coming to live there, as a kind of grab.

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Ellen

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Parapet on Afterward (BBC film adaptation of Wharton’s ghost story)

… but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid? — Austen, Northanger Abbey

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve sent and have good reason to think this proposal has been accepted by the OLLI people at GMU for this coming fall 2014. The emphasis is not historical; I’ve chosen short, contemporary and turn of the 19th century texts, and recent powerful films:

The Gothic

This course will explore the gothic mode in fiction and film. It’s an outlook found in a vast terrain of sub-genres, where images, plot-, and character types repeat like a recipe. Take one labyrinthine or partly ruined dwelling, fold inside one murderous incestuous father or chained mother (preferably in a dungeon), heroes and heroines (various kinds, as wanderers, nuns, friars), stir with a tempest; be sure to have on hand blood, night-birds, and supernatural phenomena, with fore-action or back-stories set in the past. We’ll be reading short stories, beginning with ghosts, witches, moving to vampire, werewolf, and then modern socially critical mysteries and the paranormal (stories of possession). We’ll cover terror, horror, male and female gothic. The course culminates in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly; Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963 version) and an excerpt from The Dark Angel (featuring Peter O’Toole). Most texts will be found on-line and include: LeFanu’s “Green Tea” and/or “Carmilla;” Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life;” R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Doyle’s “Adventure of Abbey Grange;” Wharton “Afterward” and/or “Kerfol;” M. R. James’s “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral;” and Suzy Charnas’s “Unicorn Tapestry.”

The course lasts for 8 weeks and begins in early September.

We have on Trollope19thCStudies in the last few months read and discussed Sheridan LeFanu’s Wyvern Mystery and the fine film adaptation of it, read 5 of LeFanu’s ghost stories, and will soon embark on Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Making of the Marchioness which combines with a sequel, was turned into a gothic film adaptation for PBS, The Making of a Lady, and LeFanu’s Uncle Silas (the source for Dark Angel).

I am still typing Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, and have embarked on reading Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine to write an introductory essay — both for Valancourt Press. Recently I wrote a review of Tyler Tichelaar’s The Gothic Wanderer where I also went over an excellent anthology of different ways to teach the gothic too. I will be reviewing Susan Wolfson’s Harvard Press edition of Northanger Abbey too — it has the loveliest of illustrations throughout.

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Fuseli, The Shepherd’s Dream

I seem never to let go of the gothic. I’ve got Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe beat … .

Ellen

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Northanger Abbey, annotated ed. Susan Wolfson (Harvard)

Dear friends and readers,

On the NASSR-l listserv today, this new annotated edition of Northanger Abbey (yes, yet another!) was mentioned, prompting me to mention here that although I will be teaching Anthony Trollope: the first half this coming fall at OLLI at AU, I also submitted a proposal to teach Jane Austen: the second half, which unless the Poldark novels are screened in the US in spring 2015, I’ll teach then. As all my readers of course instantly recall, I’ve been teaching Jane Austen, The first Half, this season — still a joy to myself.

Well this will be the sequel eventually:

Austen II: Chawton, Gothic, French-influenced novels

This study group will read Austen’s last published and two posthumously published novels in the order they were published:  Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. We will contextualize them through her artistic development and life, and their particular literary contexts. To observe the French connection, we will preface Emma with Lady Susan, her letter novella about an adulterous widow, completed just before she moved to Chawton. To understand her central connection to the gothic we will preface Northanger Abbey with Anne Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest. Persuasion will enable us to see her among the romantics Our epilogue will be a text that reveals her traveling years, Sanditon, a fragment she wrote while she was already fatally ill and shortly before she died. We will end on later close followers by viewing excerpts from Andrew Davies’s 2007 BBC films, Northanger Abbey and (from E.M. Forster) A Room with a View.

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Henri Fuseli (1741-1825), Silence (1799-1801) —

Ellen

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Birgit Schossow, from a New Yorker cover: Big City Noir

Dear friends and readers,

Over on WomenWritersAcrosstheAges @Yahoo, quite a number of us have read (or tried to read) some of Jane Smiley’s novels, and two of us have just finished her mystery-crime novel, Duplicate Keys, with three now going on for 13 Ways for looking at the Novel. Having once tried 13 Ways where Smiley defends “the virtuous and good character” (though on what grounds I no longer remember) and remembering the ferocious quarrels that once flared on Austen-l over Fanny Price, I thought those of Smiley’s novels I’ve read thus far a good opportunity for discussing the good or exemplary heroine. All three novels I’ve read have at their center, Private Life, A Thousand Acres, and now Duplicate Keys, have such a presence as their point of view.

Duplicate Keys may be said to be centrally about whether such a heroine is really “good” or is she a fool (cannot see the world in front of her), a “free rider” (she — horrors! — lives off a man or someone else), “dependent” on others, unfairly entangling them with her devotion, idealization (so much emotional blackmail), in reality a “passive-aggressive” (what could be worse than the hypocritical bully in disguise?). It’s also a Radcliffian sort of gothic (heroine terrorized by locks and doors), a woman’s novel re-engineered to look like a crime/mystery book, similar to Hughes’s TV film, Five Full Days, and is reminiscent Jane Elizabeth Howard’s Falling & Winston Graham’s Walking Stick.

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First, about the book: the commentary on it online suffers because people stick to this anti-intellectual and silencing idea we are not supposed to tell the ending (or in some versions anything about the book the person doesn’t know) especially stubbornly when the book is a mystery. If you can’t tell anything or the ending, you can’t discuss its meaning. A book’s meaning includes the whole design. (See What do spoiler warnings spoil?).

Far from being like a Hitchcock story (though why this should be a term of praise is beyond me, Hitchcock being a mean film-maker who loves to do cruel things to women), it’s a woman’s novel re-engineered to be a mystery; or mystery-crime-detective re-engineered to be a woman’s novel. Rather like Gwyneth Hughes’s Five Full Days or Prime Suspect featuring Helen Mirren — with the detective, whose name is Detective Honey (perhaps a joke) marginalized. And I liked it for the reasons I liked her others: a deep-feeling study of a cultural milieu through the eyes of a heroine: the difference is this time we are in a big, no a world city, and the time is contemporary. I long for books to be getting on with, a kind of friend to be dialoguing with someone and I can go for quite a time without finding a new one, but admit I’m now sure Alice, her heroine, was quite someone I could identify with. Bond and care about her, but not love and be intensely anxious for. I had the same problems with her previous two heroines.

It has a story which swirls around the friendship of two women: Alice Ellis and Susan Minehart. Alice comes to Susan’s apartment one day to find murdered in two chairs next to one another Susan’s husband, Denny and his best friend, business partner in a firm making and marketing popular music, and hanger-on, Craig Shellady. Who did it? and why? we slowly hear about a tiny circle of friends, associates and meet Noah Mast and his wife, Rya, whom it seems he bullies, while she clings to him. I realize now that they are a weak parallel for Alice and her ex-husband, Jim Ellis, who left her for a younger woman, Miranda, because he couldn’t stand her idealization of him, her “goodness,” her dependency; at the same time we learn, through the phone calls he sets up, that he continues to encourage this dependence, is himself still sexually jealous of any other suitors. The back story as Alice remembers away in one chapter tells something rather different: Miranda was an idolizing beautiful and much younger student, and Jim preferred her as a rebel, as a romancer, and because Miranda never asserted herself in any way whatsoever, not even achieving the minimum of job and profession.

There is also the homosexual Ray, doing well in his music businessman, big spender in expensive restaurants for all, and a drug dealer, with a cool (nasty-minded) lover, Jeff. The cast of characters is small: the last is Henry Mullett, a man who lives in her apartment house, and whose window faces hers (he has been watching her for an undetermined time) and with whom she commences a sexual affair and friendship. Craig is a domineering abusive type and both Alice and Rya have become his mistress-punching bags for a time.

Did I say Alice is a librarian? but perhaps gentle reader you guessed that. It seems in the cliched universe of popular novels librarians are characters who embody “good girl messages” by their love of books, lack of ambition (librarians are assumed to be without ambition) and typical activities (shelving books, cataloguing, and worse yet, helping other people to find and read books). In a way she reminded me of the heroine of Graham’s The Walking Stick, also a mystery: Deborah Dainton is a kind of cataloguer and librarian for an expensive art-jewellry-antiques shop.

It seems there has been drug dealing and someone murdered Denny and Craig over money and/or drugs — Ray is a suspect; so too Noah who is at one point arrested. Susan has throughout a severe tongue, apparently hating Craig, whom she characterizes as a predator a neurotic abuser. Alice (as ever, traditional good heroine again) tries to understand which means excuse, even justify Craig. Alice also turned to Ray after Jim left her; as a gay man, she was a companionable friend and he a support. This feels sinister feel as Ray is one of those people who took keys from Susan and gave them out. While Susan spent for the funeral, she defied other taboos too: she will not leave the large comfortable apartment and after she and Alice do a ritual cleaning out and throwing out, begins to return to sleep there. Denny who seems to have loved Craig has a Catholic family who insist on an expensive burial and Susan feels she must make a Catholic funeral and has to go yet further into debt to pay for it, about which she is endlessly bitter. Never made explicit after a while the reader realizes Susan has turned to Alice for friendship because her husband, Denny, made Craig his alter ego.

Coverblog

The title refers to how Susan has been in the habit of making duplicate keys and giving them out to everyone who has a relationship with Denny and Craig as a matter of business policy, a way of networking. Those given duplicate keys can of course make more copies. So anyone could have gotten into the apartment and murdered Denny and Craig. Alice has followed suit (she often imitates Susan) and given keys for her apartment to others. The cover illustration to my book show two doors that seem to be at right angles, an old-fashioned glass-looking doorknob on one, the other in shadows, both having reflective light glancing over them.

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What there is of suspense is as Radcliffian as the business of doors that can be opened by others at will, doors Alice cannot lock: it’s the result of Alice hiding from Susan and everyone else her growing relationship with Henry.

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18th century illustration for Radcliffe type novel

Duplicate Keys reminded me of The Walking Stick because of the way Henry Mullett quietly pursued Alice. We see he watches for her from the window; she half realizes this and does not (like Deborah trying to avoid Leigh Hartley) want the man’s company. She is though reading her ex-husband’s poems to his second wife as a substitute for phoning him, which she has not quite got out of the habit of doing still at the crises of her life. Henry insists she come downstairs as a much better way to pass the time. He cannot get her to go to a movie with him as she has to work tomorrow — to to her librarian job her basis for support.

Heny’s slow moving into Alice’s life is worrying — because of the way he is insistent, from the time he got her to pick him up (and we realize now that he was aware they lived near one another so he was watching her go in and out of the apartment house), and from her dropping the remark that she did not know why she had not told Susan about him.

This feels like a Hitchcock motif and to be sure he uses it, but I’d like to suggest it’s more endemic of women’s books. A very powerful one I read a couple of years ago, Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard has another Henry insidiously take over a woman’s life to the point she is in mortal danger from him; it was made into a chilling film by Andrew Davies. The man can take advantage of this divorced woman now in the country, partly retired. At the core of Graham’s Walking Stick: the lame or crippled heroine discovers that she has been a target for the man whom she regarded as so beautiful and the rare friend; we don’t learn of this quiet stalking and plan all along to use her to steal jewels form the firm she works for until the very end.

Tricky this business of caring about, being anxious about characters. On Trollope19thCStudies we talked about how this is central to our love of particular books or authors …. Remember when we read A.S Byatt’s Imagining Characters where Byatt and Sodres talked about how filmed characters can get in the way of people’s memories or they can be very disappointed in the choice of an actor as he or she interferes with a previous conception. What happens to me sometimes is the actor almost replaces the preconception or character as I’ve felt it before I saw the movie.

Alice is carrying on a genuine affair with Henry (going to bed with him) and hiding this from her friends. This spells disaster: how will they know to help her or where to find her if he should spirit her away? Smiley accounts for her hiding where she’s been by her fear of a new failure or rejection. Alice fears Mullett will desert or hurt her as have all the others. The heroine of Falling is saved because her friends know of her Henry (hmmn the same name) and find out about him and are there to help her if she should phone.

This hiding reminds me of how Ginny in A Thousand Acres kept getting herself pregnant by not using contraceptives – and telling Tyler she was – and when she’d miscarry hiding this. Come to think of it this is a bit improbable. But Margaret also kept secrets in this way.

Remember the trio of lies, secrecy, silence as the way women get through life — and also the pathologies that result – this begins with Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, it’s central to Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and many a woman’s novel. In the 2002 film adaptation of Forsyte Saga we see that after sex with Soames, Irene goes to take a bath, and uses a syringe to push up into her vagina vinegar (and whatever else she can think of) to stop any conception.

She’s learn of more adulteries and betrayals among her group of friends. Rya was having an affair with Craig (he got around, so did Alice, so did Denny now dead and murdered too) and her deriding husband, Noah knew. And suddenly Ray shows up and asks to stay with her.

The novel held me mostly through the my fear for Alice over Henry … What I liked about the one Susan Hill mystery, The Various Haunts of Man (a Simon Serailler novel) I read – which made me very anxious — was there too a woman was threatened who was alone. I have liked mysteries when they are comedies of manners too (Sayers) and romances (Byatt); this is combining female gothic justifiable paranoia …

Ray and his slinky boyfriend Jeff now somehow force their way into Alice’s apartment and while she sleeps they take her key. I feel for her because I know that I could be pressures this way. The screws are turned as Henry Mullett is also pressing himself on her but then suddenly vanishes from the narrative and Alice wonders where he is.

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Semi-comic image of gothic library — libraries are replacing labyrithine castles (e.g., The Name of the Rose, Charnas’s Vampire Tapestry)

But our Alice takes satisfaction in her job as a librarian; what a release to escape to one’s job. (I knew the feeling even as an adjunct, when I would turn to what I was doing with books and writing and for my students). J. L. Carr has a wonderful line in Month in the Country about escaping into the mask of one’s job to meet others through. But as she works into the night she finds herself downstairs among the stacks. The light seems to go out after she has put it in and suddenly for a sequence we get this uncanny nervous fear that such books usually have on offer. From Radcliffe to Susan Hill this is part of what we are to feel; in Falling once the heroine lets Henry live with her in the house we have it continually.

But then Alice calms down. To me this calming down is a sign that Smiley’s real talent is not in the gothic area as she really is at play unseriously when she does it.

I should say it’s very easy reading and if you get lost on the subway (as I did yesterday on the DC metro) it is a good companion. There is Alice having her hard time and there are you lost. There is Alice unable to hold onto her keys. There are you unable to make the machine add $10 to your “smart” card (proving of course you are not worthy a smart card as you are not smart enough). Both incompetent before life’s demands. You feel not so alone …

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And then it happened, I was 23/s the way through and got to what Margaret Forster called in Smiley’s Blind Horses and A Thousand Acres “the sudden pull, the shocking jerk as the point of it all pushed home …” The brutal reality that was staring me in the face all along. Alice comes to the conclusion Susan did it. And we realize how Susan has been managing Alice’s life: Susan does all the cooking when she is there, takes over Alice easily.

At first when Alice come to the conclusion suddenly that Susan did the murders we are not sure. It might be all in her mind and Smiley wisely keeps up the uncanniness at the same time as we cannot be sure Alice is right. If Susan did it, that is the sudden pull though: so now we have a picture of private life in the city as lived by people making it through the arts (or not making it as the case is), and then we get the proof. It’s also about what constitutes success and what failure and how the lack of admired success can destroy people, and when it destroys an individual it can poison the circles he’s in.

It seems that what Susan loathed was Denny and Craig’s continual “whining” over their lack of success. They had one success with one hit and never made another, and they have spent the rest of their lives trying to make another hit, to become stars or businessmen like Ray. She has had to listen to them talk about this for years, plan this networking, that strategy, watched them fail, vow to do something else, but come back to the dream all over again. And take drugs in the meantime, sell them, deal, get into worse and worse debt.

A bit improbable: Alice twice sends away a locksmith, once after Detective Honey urges her to change her locks, and again after Ray and Jeff get in and leave without permission. After the first time she is left without a door. Could Susan have engineered a “difficult” locksmith? At any rate, after the second attempt she has no locked door again — we are in Radcliffe country now. Susan thinks she again hears that same sound she did before and escapes — out the window.

Great movie cliff-hanger as she literally hangs 4 floors up form a ledge; as she improbably rounds the bend, she sees Susan looking out the window gun in hand, looking for Alice.

Things fall into place: all the bitter conversations, Susan’s disgust (for that’s what it is) with Alice’s way of coping with life and men — Susan scorns the way Alice lived with Jim and blamed Alice for Jim having left her and we are asked to take this seriously.

Alice has so dithered and insulted Henry by this time — for example at one point letting him buy an expensive set of food from Zabar’s to bring back, and then when Susan shows up on the sidewalk hurrying off with her without telling Henry. He slams the door in her face the next time she comes to his apartment. We are to see she mishandled a relationship that would have been satisfying — though at the beginning we distrusted him too (Hitchcock-like looking at her from his window). The romance is weak because Henry disappears and at the close of the book is apparently suddenly happy to start up again — to furnish us with a supposed happy ending?

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A excellent thoughtful posting by Anna on our listserv awakened me to the function of this book as a woman’s novel. Anna said she was ambivalent about the book and heroine, and had a friend who disliked it — presumably because she disliked the heroine. I know I did dislike Ginny at times, not because she was good but because she was conventionally good, because she bought into the mores of her community, many of which were awful, and she hid the incest inflicted on her by her father and kept on justifying him to the end. The way for example, at the close of Persuasion Anne Elliot justifies Lady Russell.

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Leonora Carrington, The House Opposite (a depiction of women’s worlds, women’s relationships)

Women’s friendship is central to this book, to me unexpectedly,
and also the good heroine. Alice is good and her goodness is
presented in this novel as under attack and somehow false — at least I suggest we are to believe Susan that Jim left Alice because Alice was”‘too dependent,” “loved him too much.” Susan shows a great deal of hostility towards Alice while dominating her, being the lead in the relationship. Susan resents this while taking advantage — as if somehow Alice were lacking and
irritating by not being aggressive and competitive. It’s false Susan thinks, a coverup for what? laziness? not seeing the truths of life. Alice is accused of not seeing the truths of life.

Ginny is similarly a good heroine and she gets some hard knocks because of it but her genuine helpfulness, cooperativeness, love and the rest are not turned into Freudian “passive-aggressive” nonsense (partly because her sister does not have the language for this kind of charge). This phrase is a badmouthing out of resentment and even jealousy. Many readers nowadays are perfectly comfortable with their more ugly and cruel impulses, told these are fine (such is the rhetoric of our time which supports unqualified competition, capitalism in the very corners of our souls). Ginny married Tyler out of her relationship with her father. He is NOT-her father, not a bully, not aggressive, not hurtful (and does get hurt for this is not a good reason to have married him just alone) Margaret is also good and has her life sluiced from her, but she is at the same time very strong and her husband lived off her.

Susan is also the bad heroine and fascinates Alice. Alice thrills to imagine Susan’s crime and for a while does not want to tell Honey what she saw. She admires Susan too. Only when she realizes that if she does not tell what she knows, Susan will kill her does she go to Honey.

The problem in Duplicate Keys for me is Smiley never defends Alice. We can see her goodness as real; how kind she is at the end to Noah, how she does the right thing to Rya. That she’s a good librarian Goodness ought to be defended more. I’ve had students write explicitly out of an assumption they’ve been taught: we are not to allow our human sympathies to decide our moral judgements. The best of judges know that this sympathy is what guides them in their determination. Yes there are pious books which teach women to hurt themselves centrally (good girl messages). And where I didn’t like Ginny was where she was this sort of good girl.

I believe the attack on the traditional heroine mostly comes out of resentment and jealousy when such a character is supported by loving people. Alice is acceptable to Susan because Jim left her. Susan then stepped in; she’d hate it if she saw Alice succeed by her goodness and it be accepted at face value — as well as having ambiguities.

People who want to be bullies and to win out at all cost want us to define the victims they make (as they often do make them) as “passive-aggressive,” and really wanting to do the same only too cowardly. Not so.

I liked Walking Stick so much better because Graham did not blame the victim. It’s true that Elizabeth Jane Howard is content to allow the villain to be simply pathological (Graham is not) while the portrait of Susan is sympathetic to her. Only it must be admitted Susan does not herself question success, she only wants Denny to get into another business, and drop Craig.

This is an important quarrel among women today. Many women just hate Austen’s Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) and call her every name they can think of including “creep mouse.” I suppose Ginny is a creep mouse, so too Alice – Esther Summerson has phases like that. This point of view hurts feminism, is anti-feminist, comes out of pride unwilling to admit women are victims, oppressed, and their goodness taken advantage of — if you want it to be socialistic, caring, supportive, a group effort for us all. I’m sure my readers have seen this “I hate the good heroine” syndrome; the good heroine is the traditional heroine from 18th century on to today. Nabokov openly despised this “type” and made her the mother of Lolita and had his Humbert Humbert kill her off.

A crime novel is a perfect place to bring out this debate as many womens’ enjoyment of these seems to be an enjoyment of femmes fatales, bad women, and the aggressive hard kind of heroine we see in Susan. There are (mistaken here) women justify violent revenge movies as feminist (these are serving the misogynist vicarious thrills of men viewers and movie-makers).

I’d like to read 13 Ways now to see if Smiley goes into this matter with insight and explicitly. I gather Smiley does what I call avoid the issues her own women’s novels sets up. She seems to treat “the novel” as if novels by men and women are seamlessly one. Myself I’ll guess it gives us more than insight into her books, but also insight into her Americanness and strong tendency as central heroines to justify (if in Private Life especially) undermine “good girl messages: Maybe though in the details she does not treat of novels and values as if they were universal and not continually gendered. Her own fiction is deeply gendered.

Ellen

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