Dear friends and readers,
The yearly meeting of the East Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies concluded a couple of days ago. Its topic, “Networks” provided a perspective that made for new alignments of information and insight: concrete human relationships may be said to be the basis of many lives, of many political and social movements, of every kind of artistic project; finding out and describing people’s interconnections, how they connect, why, what they use connections for, turned out to tell the story of history and works of art in fresh ways. This first of three reports covers the panels for Friday morning and early afternoon. As usual this report is not meant to reflect a general view of what went on, as I simply followed my own interest in what I choose to go to; I also give just the gist of the papers I heard.
Thursday night was our customary Oral/Aural experience organized by Peter Staffel. Some years people have done parts of plays, and read poetry chosen by Peter, but this year we “went full circle” back to 20 years ago when a few performers played the romantic subplot of Dryden’s Marriage a la Mode. We listened to and watched members of our society enact this play again, with all its wry and perceptive remarks on love and marriage.
Friday began at 9:00 am and the first panel, “Friendships and Their Networks” was chaired by Linda Merians who gave one of the two papers. Elizabeth Lambert spoke first on Edmund Burke’s different interconnecting worlds of people and projects going on in his Irish country estate, Beaconsfield. She covered a small portion of the material of her book, Edmund Burke of Beaconsfield: Burke’s life at Beaconsfield after his retirement.
Beth began by telling us that Burke studies are in a healthy state with two new books published recently (e.g., David Bromwich) and Fred Lock’s day-by-day biography. She told of Burke’s state of mind as he retired, his relationship wih his wife, and then took us to Burke in his later years. The list of his guests reads like a roster of the finest minds, people with the most interesting experiences in the UK at the time. It’s piquant to see how differently Burke was regarded by his friends as a group and then separately. Elizabeth Montagu saw a farmer, husband, neighbor, good companion. Hester Thrale noted the dirt and informality of the house and how Burke’s wife, Jane, enjoyed drinking and dressing up. Guests included Garrick, Frances Burney, French exiles, local Irish associates. Burke fought with neighbors over property rights (a small pond, the right to kill rabbits). We read about their amateur theatricals, about how Burke provided an outfit for one man by sneaking it out of a closet. Beth painted a delightful picture of a Burke not often discussed in books about his political life or philosophy, the man in the country, the life at his table. Among other projects of his late years (which included a vexatious incident of litigation she referred to under the label “rabbit killing and pond wars”), Burke set up a school for the children of the French exiles, and in his letters we can watch him setting the place up: hiring teachers, selecting books, providing mattresses, blankets, soup plates. Beth said the school and Beaconsfield provided a place for the healing of Burke’s soul after his years in Parliament.
Matthew Prior (1664-1721)
Linda Merians began by quoting Samuel Johnson’s famous definition of a network (it’s of a concrete fishing net), suggested that for some the word has very negative connotations (the New York Times defined a networker as a “leech”), and said how we look at this part of human behavior depends on our age, what career we had, or the stage we are in, how good we were at networking. Networking was central to Prior’s career success: at age 10 when his father had died, he was working in a pub and so impressed the Earl of Dorset, the man paid for Prior to go to the best schools, and Matthew learnt to read and translate Latin, made the right friends and eventually became a career diplomat. He is said to have written 3000 letters (where he expended some of his sharpest sallies). Linda also gave us a picture of the man’s at-home social life and how in his case it spilled into the making of his career. He enjoyed entertaining guests and wrote social verse for them. He was employed by the Tories, and when Harley (Earl Oxford) was thrown out of office Prior visited him in prison. Undaunted (in effect), he carried on writing to a friends and people who could help him and others, e.g., Shelton. Sometimes Prior does sound the note of bitterness (as Samuel Johnson did in his famous letter to Chesterfield) writing that this help has come too late and while he is now in bad health. Late in his life Prior had to keep writing to support himself. He wrote to cover debts, sought patrons to subscribe for his next publication (as did Swift) and performed in letters, but he also maintained friendships important to him (he wrote “friendship can be no more forced than love”). Linda found endearing how Prior refers to his verse as his “little stuff.”
In the talk afterward people said you could buy rare books by Prior for very little. Alas he is not much read nowadays. Nor is Pope outside 18th century and literary and scholarly circles. A couple of people suggested that Prior was himself the (unsung) hub of a network. We agreed that a house and place were central to who became a hub for networks. The house may also be central to the identity of the writer and others living there.
Richard Samuel’s The Nine Living Muses (1779): The sitters are (standing, left to right): Elizabeth Carter, Anna Barbauld, Elizabeth Sheridan, Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox; (seated, left to right): Angelica Kauffmann, Catherine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Griffith
At 10:30 the second set of panels began, and my panel was part of this set: “Forging Connections among Women.” Catherine Keohane spoke first: she presented the triangular relationship of Hannah More, Elizabeth Montagu, and Ann Yearsley where More was cultivating Montagu to further herself while she supposedly commended Yearsley’s writing to Montague.
Catherine focused on a nine-page letter from More to Montagu most of which consists of More’s praise (flattery?) of Montagu’s critical work on Shakespeare. More is showing how women have the right to produce literary criticism based on the excellence of Montagu’s book. The uncomfortable part of this networking is More describes Yearsley’s work in terms much more fitting either to stereotypes of Shakespeare or to Montagu’s work. Yearsley is given the backhanded compliment of imitating the Bible in place of the classics. We have no sense of Yearsley’s voice. We do have a accurate sense of what contemporaries valued Montagu’s criticism for.
Erlis Wickersham described the arduous unceasing work of Sophie Von La Roche during the time she was producting a periodical called Pomona for “Germany’s daughters.”
Sophie was the only German woman writer to produce and write in a periodical in this era. She wanted to provide other women with cosmopolitan knowledge of the world outside their local worlds, to recognize and understand the cultural icons of their day. She kept up the periodical almost single-handedly, producing an issue every month for two years, using other women’s writing sent to her (not always identified) but writing most of the material herself. She herself was well-educated by a liberal father. She translated, provided songs, musical accompaniments for poems, discussed issues of the day (abolition of serfdom), American Quakers, German translations from Naples, material about and from Greece, Switzerland, Italy. Her message was it’s acceptable for a woman to be an intellectual.
My paper came next – on Anne Home Hunter and Anne Macvicar Grant: I’ve put the text on academia.edu: Poetry and Prose from the Center and the Periphery. My argument is that we need to study these two women from the point of view of their lives and art as women; when we do, their full oeuvres emerge as of great interest to us today: they deal with global and political issues; they are also most moving when they intermingle their personal experiences, friends and poetic concerns with the larger historical and geopolitical perspectives they carve out. Grant is a fine poet, but she reveals her friendships and is is at her most interesting and original in her prose writing; her ethnographic studies and transations and literary criticism are worth perusual. Hunter left few letters but reveals her connections with women in her verseis a great poet, and although I argue her lyrics for Haydn are a small part of her oeuvre, they are extraordinary and so I include here a performance of “The Wanderer:”
Elizabeth Childs talked about using a variety of Austen post-texts (movies, sequels, other analogues) to teach Austen in an all-girls’ college. The larger question is what is Austen’s cultural role in the 20th century. She focused on the Austen project, a publishing venture where best-selling authors are supposed to re-write Austen’s famous six novels. Thus far Joanne Trollope has published a Sense and Sensibility, Val Mcdermid, a Northanger Abbey, and A. McCall. Smith, an Emma. The publicity emphasizes these authors’ celebrity status; what evaluative criticism there has been suggests the authors have been too reverential, and the attempt to align closely modern day circumstances with Austen’s plot-design and themes can be jarring and anachronistic. Liza suggested that Smith’s Emma set in Botswana is concerned with the nature of male authority in the local culture.
Among the topics discussed afterward were the recent demoralizing falling out of print of those women’s texts that had been made available for the first time in the 1980s, and the continued lack of scholarly annotated editions for many women’s non-fiction books. There is still also the problem for Austen world books that the identification of women with sentiment skews the way these originally ironic books are written and framed. It was agreed that Jo Baker’s Longbourne because it introduces a new perspective (that of the servants), new characters, takes place in areas connected to Austen and yet far from her immediate concerns (the Peninsular war) helps account for its strength and success.
After lunch, the presidential address was given by Sondra Jung and was about Pamela Chapbooks and their illustrations. Richardson’s Pamela was the focus of a central popular media event of the era, and among the enormous amount of paraphernalia produced were illustrations. These visualized scenes from the novel provide us with different readings of the book and basically what Sondra demonstrated was that insofar as the illustrations can tell us what working and lower middle class people felt as they read, Richardson’s message came across to them in abridged and other editions as deeply conservative, religious, pious. He described what 20th century critics write of Pamela (elite, ironic, complex meanings) to what we may surmise from these chapbooks, abridgements and illustrations, most of which remove the erotic ambiguities we find in Francis Hayman, Hubert-Francois Gravelot, and the best known today, paintings of Joseph Highmore. He then took us through a history of different editions, engravings, and included in his purview the US. Pamela, he suggested, was by most readers read as a conduct book. These lesser-known but important illustrators include John Arliss (he illustrated a juvenile library edition of Pamela); Sondra cited the names and talked of the publishers of these books, the style and interest in the pictures found there: they are small, blurred, and seem sometimes intended to show the fashions of various readers’ eras.
There was considerable discussion of Sondra’s presentation afterward, most of it querying the reliability of statistics, problems in ascertaining who were the readers of the different Pamelas, the perspective of book history people.
I didn’t get to make a small contribution I might have made, though I’m not sure I could have (I cannot resist saying how proud I felt but also much flustered at having been awarded the Leland D. Peterson award at the beginning of the luncheon): when I was around 14 my father had in our house several sets of English novel classics first printed in the 1930s and 40s: these were not abridged, they were printed and distributed by mainstream book-of-the-month type publishers in inexpensive hardbacks meant to look like serious books (dark brown, silver-colored designs). Most of these sets did not have novels with any kind of open sexual matter, overt politics and probably violence too, so Jane Austen, Dickens’s David Copperfield, George Eliot’s Silas Marner were repeated choices, with individual ones Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Only one set included a copy of Pamela, but I remember that the story, characters and what seemed to me heroine’s obsession with her virginity, indeed the whole attack on her seemed obsessive and surprised me greatly, seemed very strange in the context of 1950s New York City. I couldn’t take seriously its obvious reiterated theme of “virtue rewarded,” but now surmise that this theme enabled the inclusion of this book in just one set out of many classic books. My point would have been that ordinary readers and publishers of the 1930s through 50s saw Pamela as both ostensibly about virtue and highly erotic.
A second report will follow in (I hope) less than a week.